Won at last : or, Mrs. Briscoe's nephews

Transcriber’s note: Unusual and inconsistent spelling is as printed.









“A bank-note,” she said slowly,

putting it into my hands.




Won at Last


Mrs. Briscoe’s Nephews























BEHIND THE VEIL. A Story of the Conquest E. S. HOLT.
WON AT LAST; or, Mrs. Briscoe ’a Nephews AGNES GIBERNE.
UNDAUNTED. A Tale of the Solomon Islands W. C. METCALFE.
OUT IN GODS WORLD; or, Electa’s Story J. M. CONKLIN.
ROBIN TREMAYNE. A Reformation Story E. S. HOLT.
A REAL HERO; or, The Conquest of Mexico G. STEBBING.
ALL’S WELL; or, Alice’s Victory E. S. HOLT.
SISTER ROSE; or, The Eve of St. Bartholomew E. S. HOLT.
JACK. The Story of an English Boy Y. OSBORN.
LADY SYBIL’S CHOICE. A Tale of the Crusades E. S. HOLT.
CLARE AVERY. A Story of the Spanish Armada EMILY S. HOLT.
LADY ROSAMOND; or, Dawnings of Light L. E. GUERNSEY.
GOLDEN LINES; or, Elline’s Experiences LADY HOPE.
OLDHAM; or, Beside all Waters L. E. GUERNSEY.
TWO SAILOR LADS. Adventures on Sea and Land GORDON-STABLES.
BEATING THE RECORD. A Story of Geo. Stephenson G. STEBBING.
DOROTHY’S STORY. A Tale of Great St. Benedicts L. T. MEADE.
WELL WON. A School Story J. T. THURSTON.
More than Forty Volumes in Series













































“MOTHER,” Cherry said, slowly drawing some thread through her needle, and sighing,—“Mother, Cress wants another pair of outdoor shoes.”

It was the old story; Cresswell always wanting something new, and Cherry his twin-sister having to tell me of his needs. Jack did not require half so many things.

“Cress must wait a little longer,” I answered.

“I don’t think he can, mother,” Cherry said, lifting her quiet eyes to mine. “He spoke about it this morning, as he was starting for school. I told him I was afraid you mightn’t be able to get them just now; and he said he must have a pair.”

Cherry was at that time close upon sixteen. She had no pretensions to good looks, but was rather short, with a plump figure, and smooth hair. I never saw anybody with a more beautifully smooth head than my Cherry, or with more delicately clean hands. No matter what Cherry had to do, she always managed to keep herself nice. That word exactly describes her. She was perpetually busy, and ready to undertake any sort of work that had to be done; yet nobody ever came across Cherry in an untidy state. She never failed to look nice. I used to think I wouldn’t exchange this in our girl for any amount of mere prettiness.

“Cress’ 'must’ may have to go down before a stronger 'must,’” I said. Yet even while I spoke the words, I was wondering whether something else might not be given up instead. “How if there is not enough money to pay for the shoes?”

Cherry looked troubled, and made no immediate answer. She was putting a patch into a small pair of trousers, and her fingers went deftly on with their task. It was late in February, and the afternoons were growing quickly longer: no small comfort as regarded candles and work. We had much mending to get through, for the task of keeping six growing boys respectably dressed, upon our small income, proved to be one of increasing difficulty.

My husband was clerk in a London mercantile house. His father, old Mr. Hazel, had been a farmer in one of the midland counties. Had Robert taken to the same line, he might have done well. But neither my Robert nor his brother Churton seemed to have anything of the farmer in them. Robert came to London, expecting to make his fortune. He was fond of books, and his own family thought him clever; only there are so many clever men in the great city. He managed to get a small clerkship, and there he remained year after year.

Once or twice he had a slight rise, and that was all. When Robert fell in love with me, and we married, both of us were young, and life looked hopeful, and we expected all kinds of good things to happen. But by the time of which I am writing, Robert and I had pretty well left off looking for any change, except of course that by-and-by some of our boys would be out in the world. The difficulty was, how to get them out, and where to place them.

Robert’s position did not imply much money for a family of nine. We had no regular servant, beyond a girl in three times a week for half-a-day, to do some of the cleaning. Even this help we sometimes talked of giving up altogether.

My husband and eldest boy had not yet returned from the City, nor Cresswell and Owen from school. The three younger boys, Frederick, Robert, and Edmund, varying in ages from ten to seven, were learning their lessons in the basement-room. I could trust them all, even my little Ted, to keep to their work till it was done.

That was one comfort about our poverty, I had always spoken frankly to the children of our circumstances; and even the younger boys seemed to understand how, by care and steadiness, they might be a help instead of a hindrance to their father and me. Cresswell was the one exception. I should not like to say that he loved us less,—but—well, he certainly loved himself more; and that comes to the same thing.

Cress was clover and handsome. He knew this well, and always seemed to expect to be treated differently from the other boys. He was bent upon being some day rich and distinguished; yet he was not really fond of hard work, and without hard work how can one hope to succeed? I think he inherited something of Robert’s early wish to strike out a new line for himself, and to rise in the world. And Cress was not willing to learn from his father’s failure. It was useless to speak of that to him. He never could see why he might not do well; whether or no his father had so done. And of course no one could say that he might not; only we had no money to throw away upon doubtful experiments.

So Cress was a care to us all; not least to Cherry and me.

Jack, our eldest, my dear good Jack, was a year and a half older than Cresswell; and was in every way a contrast to him. Jack was a fine well-grown lad, strong and active enough in body, but not very quick in mind. At least, he had not the quickness which would have helped him on in the line of life open to him.

Poor Jack! his slowness was a terrible worry to himself. He did so long to assist us all.

But at school he had always been the lowest in his class. And now he had left school, the same sort of thing went on. His handwriting was altogether at fault; he seldom spelt the same word twice alike; and he could make nothing of arithmetic. Naturally these things told against him. My husband’s employers would willingly have taken Jack on; and they did make trial of him: but it was of no use. They had to tell us kindly that Jack was not fitted for that sort of thing.

It seemed hard to know what he was fitted for. My husband found him work in another office, where so much was not expected of him, and now, he was trying to do his best. Yet none of us felt very hopeful.

He always looked so pleasant and good-tempered, and he was so full of kind-heartedness and thought for others, that it was impossible to blame him. Not one of my children lavished upon me a tithe of Jack’s tenderness. Still he could not learn his multiplication table, or write a decent hand, even for my sake.

“Mother,” Cherry said presently, “I don’t think Cress really believes that father means him to go to Peterson’s. I don’t think he counts it settled.”

Peterson & Co. was the firm to which my husband belonged.

“Does he not?” I asked. “It has been spoken of often enough.”

“Yes, I know,” Cherry answered, rather sorrowfully. “But Cress always says afterwards that it is bosh, and that he won’t go. He says he knows father will not make him. I think Cress has a sort of dream—of going through college and becoming a lawyer—a barrister, he calls it. He says he would get on then, and by-and-by he would be able to support us all.”

“And meantime!” I said. “My dear Cherry, your father’s whole income would not do much more than carry Cress through college. What does he suppose we are all to live on meantime?”

“Cress never seems to understand that money can’t be made to go farther than it can.”

“You must try to make him understand,” I said. “Sisters can do a good deal with their brothers, you know.”

“Not I with Cress, mother. He thinks nothing of anybody who is not clever, and I am so stupid.”

“Not stupid, Cherry.”

“Oh yes, mother. I am not clever—not a bit,” said Cherry, smiling, though I fancied tears were in her eyes. “Cress never cares for what I say. If it were Jack—”

Cherry’s face changed with the last four words. It is always supposed that twins are united by peculiar ties of affection; but if so, the present case was an exception. Cherry loved all her brothers, Cress included, no doubt; yet Jack was far more to her than Cress. How could it be otherwise? Jack was always good to his sister, while Cress incessantly contradicted and snubbed her. It was “only Cress’ way,” she said—as we all said; nevertheless it was a thing impossible that she should feel towards Cress as she felt towards sunny-tempered, loving-hearted Jack. I often thought Cherry’s love for our eldest boy was beautiful to see.

“Yes, if it were Jack!” I repeated. “There would be no need for any words then. Jack never has unreasonable wants.”

And for a minute or two we both praised Jack to our hearts’ content. I think it did us good. Cherry and I were quite at one on that subject. Then we both began to feel some compunction about Cress—our handsome, clever, spoilt Cress!

“After all, it isn’t Cress’ fault,” Cherry observed. “He never does understand about household matters like Jack.”

“It is time he should learn,” I said; but already my wise resolution was giving way. Cherry saw this at once.

“Mother, you meant to get me a new jacket soon. There’s no need. I can do without it one more year, and Cress can have his shoes.”

“My dear Cherry, you simply cannot squeeze yourself into the old jacket,” I said. “Think how long you have had it, and how much you have grown. It is so brown too.”

“I’ll try if I can’t freshen it up and put in one or two gussets somewhere,” Cherry said, in her bright way. “That will be the best plan. You see, mother, it won’t do to let Cress get his feet wet. It would make him ill. And he says he has holes coming in his best shoes, just where they can’t be properly mended.”

“He is a terrible hand at wearing out his clothes,” I said; yet I knew the matter to be pretty well settled.

“Then I can tell Cress, can’t I?” said Cherry. “And now I must go downstairs to see about tea.”

We did not dine late, but there was generally a slice of cold mutton or a chop for my husband at teatime, whether or no the children had had meat at our mid-day meal.

To save trouble, we had breakfast, dinner, and tea in the basement-room, close to the kitchen. Indeed, that was our only second sitting-room. The other ground floor room, behind the front parlour, had to be used for sleeping purposes.

Cherry always laid the table, and she did it in her own peculiarly dainty fashion. The food might be simple, might even be scanty, but the cloth was always white and smooth, and the china spotless.

On that particular day, I remember that we had a large loaf of brown bread, and a little pat of salt butter. Also there was a big plum-cake made by Cherry,—hardly more than dry bread with a few currants, yet the boys liked it.

The said boys had put away their lesson-books, and were clustering round the table. My fair-haired Ted was in his favourite seat, by my side.

I can recall so well my husband’s face as he sat opposite. The ceiling of the basement-room was low, and the light from the one gas-burner fell upon his haggard and furrowed face. He ought not to have been either haggard or furrowed yet, so far as age was concerned. We had been married eighteen years and more; but when our wedding took place Robert was only twenty-two, and I only eighteen.

That early marriage was foolish, of course. Friends told us so at the time, and we have seen it so since plainly enough. If we had been content to wait a few years, and to lay by something first, many an after-hour of heavy anxiety might never have come. But, like most young people, we counted our own way the best, and refused to hear advice. So the burdens of life fell upon us early.

I think they weighed more upon Robert than me. He might, from his look in those days, have been a man of fifty-five instead of only forty. His disposition was naturally more depressed than mine, for I had by nature a fund of high spirits which stood me in good stead, though the fund had become lower than of old. People said, however, that I looked young still,—more like Robert’s daughter than his wife. Fair hair often does not turn grey so soon as dark hair, even under worry; and I was very fair in colouring, as well as slight, and active, and impulsive. Cherry took more after her father than after me; but I do not think she resembled either of us closely.

Jack was very merry that evening, or he seemed so. It always did my heart good to hear his laugh; and I remember how often it sounded, and how I looked at him and Cress, wondering in my heart what was to be the future of those two boys. It is well for us that the future is hidden, and life’s volume unfolds page by page. Sufficient for the day is the duty as well as the evil thereof.

Jack was tall for his years, and broad-shouldered, with warm healthy colouring and honest grey eyes like Cherry’s. Cress was short and thin, with pale handsome features, and his curly light hair and blue eyes resembled mine. He seemed that evening listless and fretful—no uncommon event—and snapped often at Jack. But nothing ever put Jack out of temper.







TEA was coming to an end when the postman’s knock sounded, and Ted rushed upstairs for what had come. That was his privilege, as our youngest. The postman was not wont to rap often at our door, for we had no spare money to spend in unnecessary correspondence.

“It’s for mother,” Ted cried, as he dropped a square envelope in front of me, and bounced down on his chair.

The arrival of a letter generally caused some excitement in our quiet life; but I knew well enough who it was from, even before my eyes fell upon the handwriting; and so did the others. My husband said, “Aunt Briscoe, of course;” for she was as regular as clockwork in her ways, and never failed to write to him or me on Thursday morning, so that we might hear on Thursday evening. I cannot say why she chose Thursday. Perhaps all her correspondents were parcelled out among the days of the week.

I did not expect the letter to contain anything of particular interest; still we were all pleased to hear from her.

Mrs. Briscoe was my husband’s Aunt by marriage; and in his boyhood she and her husband had often asked him and his younger brother Churton to stay with them, at their pretty little country home, not far from London. Mr. Briscoe had died only three years before the time of which I am writing. He had left all he had to his widow, and she lived on at “The Gables:” by no means then so country-like a residence as in Robert’s boyish days, yet pretty enough still.

Mr. Briscoe’s father had been a successful man in trade, and Mr. Briscoe himself had known how to take care of that which came to him. But the only child had died not long before Mr. Briscoe’s own death. It was a generally understood thing that Mrs. Briscoe would leave her money, or the chief part of it, to my husband.

Not that Robert and I could feel any certainty. We knew this to have been Mr. Briscoe’s wish and intention, and while he lived many a helpful gift had found its way to us. Mrs. Briscoe was of a different nature, however. Giving presents was not at all in her line; and nothing would have offended her more than to hear that we expected to receive anything at her death as a matter of course.

We were on pleasant terms, so far. She liked to see us sometimes; and she wrote regularly; and in her own way she was kind: yet we could no longer look to “The Gables” for help in times of difficulty.

I think Mrs. Briscoe was a well-meaning woman; but she had not the great gifts of sympathy and generosity.

The letter which came that evening I have by me still, though why I kept it I can hardly say. I read it first to myself, then aloud:—

“MY DEAR NIECE MARION,—I hope you and your
good husband and all your party are well.
I cannot say I am in health myself, but
doubtless it is only to be expected that
I should not feel quite so young as I
once was.”
“It is now three months since I have
seen any of you. Will you tell your husband
that I shall be pleased if he will come to
visit me some day soon; either taking early
dinner or tea at my house, whichever he may
prefer. Also I should like to see one of
your children. If Jack has been a good boy
lately, he has the first right as eldest.
Otherwise my nephew may bring Cherry.”
“I am aware that he will have to wait
till he can find a leisure day. The expense
may be a matter of consideration to you,
therefore I will undertake it. Of course
Robert travels third-class.”
“Excuse a short letter, as my hands are
rather disabled by rheumatic gout; and
believe me, your affectionate Aunt,”

“Well, Jack, are you a good boy?” I asked laughingly.

“No, mother, I’m afraid not,” Jack answered; and his face was overcast all at once. “I made some awful blunders to-day, and had a regular rowing.”

Ah, I might have guessed that something was wrong, when I saw him so extra merry.

“But it wasn’t your fault, Jack,” cried Cherry.

“I don’t know. They said it was.”

“Two and two made five, I suppose, by way of variety,” Cress said, with a superior air.

“No, not quite so bad as that,” Jack replied humbly.

I did not want to have any more about it in public; so I got up, and there was a general move. The children came flocking upstairs after us, but I soon sent the three youngest down again. My husband looked more than usually tired, and was quickly nodding in his arm-chair, instead of reading. Cherry stayed behind to wash up the tea-things. She was very quick, however, and in no long time came among us. Cresswell and Owen were learning their lessons, and Jack had taken a seat near me, with his chin on his hands, and his eyes following my needle.

“What a shame it is boys can’t work!” he said, as Cherry came in.

“I don’t see why they can’t,” said Cherry, taking up a half-knitted sock. “Some do.”

“My fingers are much too clumsy for anything of that sort,” said Jack.

“I don’t think your fingers are really clumsy, Jack,” Cherry answered, and she looked earnestly at him. “They are so clever at carpentering. And if any one is ill, your hands are so strong and gentle. It is only writing that they find difficult.”

“Stupid things!” Jack muttered, and he struck one hand with the other quite savagely. “Mother, what shall we do if they won’t keep me on there?”

“There” meant the office where he was at work.

“But they must, Jack,” Cherry said before I could speak. “You must please them.”

Her answer was so good that I attempted no other. We were silent for half a minute, and in that half minute there was a sharp peal at the front door. Cherry rose to answer it, but Owen forestalled her.

Owen came next after the twins in age. He was not quite fourteen, a steady lad, rather slow in his way of doing things, but always ready to help other people. Sometimes I wished I could put a little of my own quicksilver into him. Perhaps he did as well without it.

He left the room in his usual deliberate way; but his return was not so deliberate. There was a short parley outside, a childish voice chiming in with his. Then our door was flung wide open, and Owen came in with a leap, his face crimson.

“Father!” he cried. “Mother! She says she’s our cousin.”

Robert sat upright, startled out of his doze, hardly yet awake enough to speak. Cress muttered, “What a racket!” and I said, “My dear, what do you mean?”

“She says she’s our cousin. I’ll bring her in,” cried Owen.

He was off again before we could check him; and indeed I think we were all bewildered. The next moment Owen stood once more before me, and beside him was a girlish figure, not much shorter than Cherry, with thick fur round throat and wrists, and hair of pale flaxen curling down her back from under a small furry hat. The delicate little face showed no trace of colour, except in a pair of bright red lips and the black eyes looked wistfully up into mine.

“Are you Aunt Marion Hazel?” the rosy lips asked.

“My name is Marion Hazel,” I said coldly, while the boys drew round, and Cherry seemed spellbound. “But there must be some mistake. I have no niece.”

She turned slowly from me to my husband and back again.

“My name is Mary,” she said, “but every one calls me 'Maimie.’ I am Maimie Browne,—and my mother married Mr. Churton Hazel.”

“Churton! Is it possible?” said my husband. We had heard for years little or nothing of his only brother. Churton had spent a somewhat wild youth, and had gone out to Canada long before.

“Mr. Churton Hazel is my stepfather,” the girl said, standing still with clasped hands. “And after mother’s death he was so good to me. He often talked of 'Aunt Marion’ and 'Uncle Robert,’ and he has sent me to you. He said he would write and explain. He said you would give me a home—such a happy English home.”

“And so we will,” burst from impulsive Jack. “Mother, so we will.”

But I only looked at my husband, and said, “It seems a strange story.”

“Churton has never written,” said my husband. “It is nearly six years since his last letter to me.”

“But Maimie is our cousin, mother,” put in Cherry.

“Not exactly,” I said.

Maimie’s bright eyes were glancing from one to another. “Has not father written?” she asked, in a tone of surprise.

“No, my dear,” Robert said.

She sighed deeply, and murmured, “O how strange! He promised!”

“It is—very strange,” I said, and my voice sounded hard even to myself. “Very odd that no news should have reached us, even of my brother-in-law’s marriage.”







MAIMIE BROWNE looked steadily at me. Then she took off her hat, and the gaslight shone down upon such a head of soft flaxen hair, all curls and ripples. Was this a step towards making herself at home? Maimie pushed back some stray ripples from her forehead, and came a step nearer.

“Aunt Marion, don’t take me for an impostor,” she said. “O please do not. Indeed it is all quite true. Please don’t take me for an impostor.”

I was fairly at a loss what to say, and while I hesitated Jack burst out, “Nobody takes you for an impostor, cousin Maimie; of course it is all true!” And Cherry edged closer to me, whispering,—“Mother, shall Maimie sleep with me?”

“Really,” I found myself saying, “a little more proof seems needful. We do not know anything about your uncle’s marriage, Jack.”

“It was five years ago,” Maimie said readily. “I can show you letters which will prove everything, Aunt Marion. You will see it all,—truly you will.”

But for the first time she seemed to realise her position. A sudden flush passed over her face, and she clasped her hands.

“Oh, don’t, please don’t, send me out into those dreadful London streets. I should die there. I have no friends in England. Father made me come, though I wanted so much to stay with him. He said you would be so pleased,—indeed he did.”

It sounded very like Churton Hazel. I was obliged to admit this to myself.

Robert stepped forward, and gravely took her hand between his own. “My dear, do not be afraid,” he said. “We should not think of turning you out into the streets. But you must not be surprised that we think it right to make a few inquiries. Your stepfather has acted in a very strange manner,—in never telling us of his marriage, and in not writing about your coming. Where is he now?”

“In the States,” she said.

“Have you always lived in the States?”

“O no,—in Canada. We have lived in Canada. But he was not getting on well, and he heard of something to do in the States, and he said he couldn’t take me with him. I don’t exactly understand why. He said he must send me to you, until he could come to England for me, or else have me out to him there. And he seemed so sure that you and Aunt Marion would be pleased to have me for a few months.”

“What is your father’s present address?”

Maimie’s eyes gave a startled flash. “I don’t know,” she said. “He promised to write and tell you. He could not give me his address beforehand. I think he was going first to New York.”

“And you have travelled alone all the way from Canada?”

“Father saw me off. He put me in charge of the captain. And one of the passengers, Mr. Bowen, promised to see me to London. He had to go to Canterbury; but he put me into my cab, and I thought I was all right then.”

“How did your father know we were still living in the same house?” asked my husband. “Suppose you had found strangers here, Maimie,—what would you have done?”

There was another startled flash of the black eyes. “I don’t know. I never thought of such a thing. Father seemed so sure.”

Silence followed, and Jack said,—“Mother!” entreatingly.

I felt hard, and by no means inclined to respond. “It is an extraordinary tale altogether,” I said.

Maimie looked even paler than on first coming in. Her eyes travelled wistfully all round, and then she again pushed the wavy hair from her brow, with a faint sigh.

“I am so tired,” she said. “I wish I might sit down.”

Jack was bringing a chair instantly, and I saw him place her in it, with a look of kind and gentle encouragement. He had taken one of her little hands into his own as he did this, and the hand was kept by him. A smothered sob broke from Maimie, and Jack bent to one side, and exchanged a whisper with Owen. “Doesn’t Maimie want something to eat, mother?” asked Cherry.

I had never felt so utterly perplexed in my life, so bewildered as to my duty, so reluctant to accept an offered burden. Were we really called upon to support this stranger, thus thrust upon us? We had not enough for our own children. Yet what could be done? Cast a delicate girl, homeless and destitute, into the streets? Impossible. My heart would have been the first to cry out against that step: nevertheless it rose strongly against the only other step which seemed open.

“You had better go and cut some bread and butter downstairs,” I said coldly to Cherry. “And, boys, you may all leave us for a few minutes. Your father and I must speak with Maimie.”

Cherry and Owen obeyed at once. Cress moved slowly after them, with side glances of interest at the little flaxen head, which was drooping so gracefully, with one small hand over the eyes. The picture was very pretty, and evidently quite natural. The other hand was still in Jack’s clasp, and he stood still.

“Mother, shall I pay the cabman, and have Maimie’s trunk brought in?” he asked. “Owen says there is only one trunk. The man will be tired of waiting.”

I had it on my lips to say,—“No: let him wait a little longer.” But my husband spoke first, “Yes: do so, Jack.”

“There is nothing else to be done, I suppose,—for to-night,” I said unwillingly.

“And Maimie will sleep with Cherry?” asked Jack eagerly.

“Nothing is settled yet,” I answered, determined this time to be beforehand with Robert.

“Don’t be afraid, Maimie,” Jack said in a cheery tone, “It will all come right soon. I’m going now to see after your luggage.”

“Oh,—the cab!” she said, and drawing away her hand, she hurriedly pulled out a small purse. “Please pay him for me.”

I was glad not to be called upon for the cab fare, since our funds were very low. Jack disappeared, and Maimie’s fingers went over her eyes again. It was an attitude natural to her in distress, I found later. Robert and I exchanged looks. He signed to me to speak, and I shook my head. So then he went nearer, and sat down close beside Maimie.

“My dear,” he said.

Maimie lifted her head and looked up wildly. “Oh, I wish I hadn’t come! Oh, I do wish I hadn’t come!” she cried. “What shall I do? There’s nowhere else to go. If only I had stayed with father! He might have kept me there. I have no friends in England, nobody to care for me. Oh, if only I hadn’t come!”

“Hush, my dear; you must not be distressed. It will all be for the best. We shall see our way in time,” Robert said, in what he meant for a soothing manner. But I hardly think his words would have comforted me in Maimie’s place; and they were not successful with her either.

“Oh, I don’t know—I don’t know,” she said passionately. “It is so dreadful to be where one is not wanted. I would rather go anywhere. Couldn’t I work for my living? Is there no way that girls can earn money in England? Oh, if only I had not come!”

“How old are you, Maimie?” asked my husband.

“I am fourteen,—nearly fifteen,—and I feel older. Mother’s long illness, and all the nursing, and being alone so much since, seem to have made me older. Father said it would be good for me to have a few months in England, and to be with my cousins. But if I had known—if I had guessed—I would never never have come. I would have made father take me with him.”

“Maimie, I want you to listen to me for a minute,” my husband said, in the kind of still manner he put on always when troubled. “I am afraid you think your Aunt and me unkind not to welcome you more warmly.” The flaxen head made a quick nod. “But it is not unkindness. I want you to understand this. The truth is, your stepfather has put us into a difficulty. We are poor people, and it is not easy for us to get along at any time; and our house is already overcrowded. It is not so slight a matter as you think to find room and food for another.”

“Are you poor?” asked Maimie, with an astonished look. “I thought poor people lived in cottages.”

“Perhaps if we lived in a cottage we might have more money at command,” Robert replied. “Yes, we are poor, Maimie. It is often hard work to pay our way.”

“Father was always telling me that he was 'hard up,’” remarked Maimie. “But somehow we always had what we wanted.”

It sounded very like Churton Hazel again.

“But your stepfather had not seven children to provide for,” said my husband. “That makes a great difference. We are able to get very few things that we want.”

“Seven children!” repeated Maimie. “And while I am here it will be eight. But, Uncle Robert, my father will send money, of course. He said he would.”

“He has not even written yet,” I observed.

“Father can’t bear writing letters,” said Maimie. “He always puts off doing things that give him trouble. But he really did mean to write, and he soon will.”

My private belief was that Churton Hazel had really meant to do nothing of the kind.

“He ought not to have waited,” said Robert. “It was treating us wrongly.”

“Yes; I suppose so,” Maimie admitted reluctantly. “Only he does so hate writing. If you only knew how he hates it! Perhaps you will hear to-morrow—or next week.”

“I doubt it very much,” I said.

Maimie gazed at me with wonder.

“I do not suppose your stepfather meant to do anything more than to get you off his hands.”

The words escaped me without intention. I felt that they were wrong and unkind; wrong to be uttered, even if true, and certainly unkind to the child. Robert looked pained, and Maimie’s very lips whitened.

“It isn’t true,” she said. “Father does not want to get me off his hands. It is cruel to talk so. Father was always kind, and he never thought me a burden. I shall never never love you if you say such things, Aunt Marion,—never!”

Then, with a quick movement, her face was hidden, and she was sobbing violently.

It was rather an unpleasant moment. I was vexed, alike with myself and with Maimie. We were both at first silent, but soon my husband said—

“Maimie, that was wrong. You must not speak so.”

“Aunt Marion is cruel—cruel,” sobbed Maimie. “Poor father!”

“Hush! I cannot allow any more of this. You understand me? There is no unkindness in the question.”

Robert’s very quietness gave added force when he chose to speak with decision. Maimie lifted her head and looked at him with eyes that were half-defiant, half-beseeching.

“Father couldn’t do such a thing,” she said huskily. “Poor father! I would go back to him this moment if I could.”

The independence of tone struck me as curious. She was nearly three years younger than my submissive Cherry. I half expected an apology to myself after Robert’s rebuke; but none came.

“Mother!” Jack called at the door, “may I come in?” He entered without waiting for leave. “Cherry has tea almost ready to pour out; and I have taken Maimie’s trunk down into the basement. Cherry doesn’t know where it could stand in her room. Is everything settled, mother?”

“Nothing is settled,” I replied, “except that of course Maimie Browne must stay here for a day or two, as she has nowhere to go, until we can find other relations.”

“I haven’t any other relations. I am going to work for my living after a day or two,” Maimie said. The defiant look came again as she faced me, her colour rising and her eyes sparkling.

“Bosh!” said Jack indignantly.

My husband laid his hand on her arm. “Maimie,” he said, “you must not wilfully misunderstand us or count us unkind.”

“Not you, Uncle Robert!” and she threw herself upon him and sobbed again, with her flaxen waves of hair flowing over his shoulder. He petted and comforted her, and Jack finally led her away with an air of admiring protection.

I felt strangely icy at heart. When they were gone I took up my work, and said nothing. Neither did my husband utter a word. I think he wished to leave me time for thought, perhaps for prayer. But I was in no mood just then for looking upward.







THIS silence lasted, I suppose, some eight or ten minutes, each waiting for the other to speak first.

Then the door burst open, and Maimie rushed in,—her eyes sparkling, and a packet of papers in her hand.

“Look!” she cried,—“these are for you to see, Uncle Robert,—and Aunt Marion too, if she likes. Three are letters from father to me—one before he married mother, and two afterwards. And there are letters from him to mother, which she gave me, and told me I was to keep. And the others are between mother and me, when I was at school, and she was thinking of marrying again. I didn’t like it at all then, for I did not know he would be so kind to me.”

She laid the letters on my husband’s knee, breathing quickly with excitement. I saw Jack hovering outside the door, in attendance on her steps. He thrust his head in now, and said,—“Come, Maimie! Couldn’t get her to touch a drop of tea, till the box was open, and she had hauled out those papers. Come along, Maimie!”

And Maimie went. I kept silence still; and my husband as silently opened the uppermost letter, and read, passing it on to me. He was always a man of few words. I, on the contrary, was burning to speak; yet a certain dread of saying the wrong thing restrained me.

The letters between Maimie and her mother made the matter clear enough. They were very free and affectionate outpourings. Mrs. Browne spoke cautiously at first of a certain Mr. Hazel, but very soon went on to the mention of a coming stepfather. Maimie’s answers were full of passionate remonstrances, gradually lessening. A kind little note from Churton came in here, addressed to the excited school-girl. “Churton himself!” my husband murmured over it, and I could have echoed the words. The two from him, after the marriage, were equally characteristic. He called her rather effusively, “his dear little fair-haired dove.”

“By no means a dove-like nature,” I muttered.

The two or three letters from Churton Hazel to his wife came last; and had any further proof been needed they would have supplied it.

“Well,” my husband said at length. He pressed the little pile of papers together, sighed, and turned to me. “Well, Marion?”

“Churton has acted disgracefully,” I said.

“He means to write, I have no doubt.”

“I have very strong doubts.”

“Churton generally means to do the right thing, my dear,—but he very seldom does it.”

“The question now is what to do with the girl,” I said impatiently.

“Of course we must keep her till we hear from him,” observed Robert, a touch of hesitation or timidity coming into his voice.

“I don’t see any 'of course’! She is no relation,—has no claim upon us.”

Robert moved his head,—whether in assent or dissent I could not tell.

“And we cannot afford to support her, Robert. We cannot possibly afford it. She must go.”


“I don’t know. Somewhere.” My husband’s composure exasperated me. “That is for you to decide. I only know that we cannot afford to keep her.”

“Till Churton writes,” suggested Robert.

“And suppose he does not write at all? As likely as not, this is a trick for getting rid of her.”

“Marion, don’t hint that to Maimie again.”

“No,” I said. “But it is probably the truth.”

“We have no reason for supposing so,” said Robert.

“Well,—think as you like,” I said shortly. “I only know one thing,—that we cannot keep her.”

“But, my dear Marion, what do you propose to do with the child?” asked Robert seriously.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I only know we cannot afford any extra expenses. And you know it too. The pull upon us now is terrible.” My voice choked as I spoke. “It is no rare thing that the children have barely enough to eat. And as for clothes—”

“I do not forget all that,” he said sadly.

“And yet you want to take up this burden too!”

“I! no,” he said, in a low voice. “I do not want it. But what if our Master gives it to us to be carried?”

Both were silent, till Robert said again, “That is my feeling. And also,—I do not think one can ever be really the poorer for money lent to God.”

No doubt this was true. But money given grudgingly is not lent to God. I had the thought strongly in my mind, yet could not utter it.

“Come, Marion, my love,—” and he looked anxiously at me,—“you know as well as I do that only one path lies open to us. We must give the child shelter for a little while. Possibly on inquiry we may find some clue to Churton’s whereabouts,—or he may write. In any case we must have time to consider our next step.”

“Could you not consult Aunt Briscoe?” I asked suddenly.

“Would she give advice that I could follow?”

“I think she would like to be consulted,” I said.

“Well, there is no harm in talking matters over with her. I think I can arrange to go for half-a-day on Saturday. And you must come with me, Marion, instead of Jack or Cherry. That will please Aunt Briscoe, and we shall enjoy the little trip together.”

I did not think I could enjoy anything just then; but I made no objection to the plan.

Maimie came up presently from the basement-room, with one arm linked in Cherry’s, and a circle of fascinated boys hovering round. Nobody seemed to feel as I did about the intruder.

Food and rest had brought back a delicate tint to her cheeks, and the black eyes were shining with a satisfaction in which I had no share. But as she crossed the room, a look of anxiety dawned, and she went straight to my husband’s side.

“Have you read the letters, Uncle Robert?” she asked eagerly.

“Yes, Maimie.”

“And it is all true, isn’t it? I am not an impostor. Your brother really is my stepfather.”

“Yes, it is all quite true,” Robert said. “There can be no mistake about my brother’s handwriting.”

“I am so glad you are convinced. It was dreadful just at first, when I almost thought I was going to be turned out into the street.”

She gave a half shudder, and crept closer to him. Robert’s arm went round her, and the flaxen head lay on his shoulder.

“Oh, that is so nice,—so nice. It’s like mother.”

A sigh broke into the words. She must have been very tired, for after sitting thus for some minutes she dropped asleep. A “hush” among the children first drew my attention.

I could not help lifting my eyes from time to time, just for a look. Maimie asleep was even more lovely than Maimie awake. The parted lips had such a sweet sad curve.

Robert would not have her disturbed. He was not generally caressing in manner, but Maimie had won upon him from the first moment. I wondered if Cherry would feel jealous. But no,—Cherry was knitting away with a bright face, glancing often from Maimie to Jack with looks of positive delight. Jack simply sat and watched Maimie, in his favourite attitude, propping his chin on the palms of his hands, and seeming oblivious of everything else. Cresswell made scant advance with his lessons that night; and even steady Owen worked with but fitful attention.

It must have been at least an hour before Maimie awoke. When she did, I saw a tremulous start, and her eyes wandered round in bewilderment. “Mother!” burst from her lips, and then there was a mournful,—“Oh, I forgot;” and a deep sigh.

Jack could not stand it. He sprang up, and came a step or two nearer, saying quite pitifully,—“Don’t, Maimie,—please don’t, Maimie.”

My husband put his arm round Maimie afresh; and Cherry left her work to comfort the girl. But I could say and do nothing. I felt as if I stood alone,—outside the circle interested in Maimie. It was the first time I had ever known the sense of separation between me and mine. And there is no separation like heart-separation.

“Maimie is tired out now. She will feel better in the morning,” Cherry said cheerfully.

“Oh, I wish I hadn’t come! Oh, I do wish I hadn’t come!” I could hear Maimie murmur in smothered tones.

“You mustn’t wish that, Maimie, because we are all so glad to have you,” said Jack. “We’ll do our very best to make you happy.”

“Maimie, I shall take you to see St. Paul’s and the Tower, and all sorts of London sights,” put in Cress, as his offered share of consolation.

“Not Westminster Abbey. You’ll leave that to me,” Jack said, with a touch of unwonted sharpness. “And the Houses of Parliament, and—”

“There is plenty for everybody to show Maimie,” said Cherry, in her peace-making way. “But I think she wants nothing now so much as to go to bed. Mother, may she—without waiting for prayers? she is so tired.”

“Maimie may go when she pleases,” I answered, hearing again the hard sound in my voice.

“I’ll go up with you, Maimie, and see that everything is comfortable,” Cherry said kindly. “Don’t cry any more, but come.”

And she was led away, sorrowful still. I think I just kissed her, yet not cordially or willingly. If I saw that the burden had to be accepted, at least for a while, I would not take my share of it with a free heart.







THE day of Maimie Browne’s unexpected appearance was Thursday; and my husband decided to go to “The Gables” on Saturday, taking me with him. I should have enjoyed the prospect a good deal, but for this new anxiety about Maimie, and what to do with her. Robert and I so seldom went away together.

Friday passed quietly. I did not see much of Maimie, for she was in constant request among the boys; and she seemed quite happy, flitting from room to room, with a show of being busy, yet doing very little.

Once I advised her to sit down and work, suggesting that she might have mending to do. She said,—“No, there was nothing to mend;” and then very prettily offered to help Cherry. Bub before the thimble had been ten minutes in use Maimie was gone again; and once gone she did not quickly return. There seemed a restlessness upon the child which she could not control. At the time it vexed me. Now I can look back with a better understanding of how she felt her position.

Not many words passed that day between her and me. I did not wish to speak hastily, so grieving Robert; yet I could by no means feel cordially towards Maimie, or like to have her in the house.

Her manner annoyed me often. She was so entirely independent, and seemed not to have a notion of asking anybody’s leave about anything. With the boys she was all sparkle and brightness; with Cherry and my husband all sweetness and clinging affection. But with me there was constantly a look of slight defiance, as if she expected a battle. I knew this to be partly my own doing, but that made self-command no easier.

Saturday came, and after early dinner my husband and I started. There had been a good deal of discussion among the boys, as to where Maimie should go, and who should escort her. Jack and Cress had never come so near a downright quarrel before. As a rule, Cress’ sharp words seemed to have no power over Jack, but he showed unwonted irritation that day.

Maimie seemed rather to enjoy the dispute, looking from one to another with her bright eyes, and making no attempt to smooth down the difficulty.

But Cherry as usual did her best to keep matters straight. She proposed that the three elder boys should all have Maimie in charge, taking her by omnibus to Westminster, and showing her as much as they were able in a given time. Cress resisted, having set his heart on something else. After a while, however, he came round, and so it was settled. Cherry herself was unable to go in my absence, for she had the younger children in charge.

The boys were fond of saving up what little pocket-money they possessed for half-holiday trips; and I knew I should not be called upon for omnibus fares.

Meanwhile my husband and I started on our own separate excursion.

Aunt Briscoe was at that time getting on in years; yet she never had the air of being an old woman. Still less would one have described her as “a dear old woman.” There was about her nothing of the softness and mellowness of age. Some people’s angles rub off, and their natures grow rounder and smoother, with time’s action. But other people’s corners harden and become sharper year by year. I think the last was what happened to Aunt Briscoe.

“Well!” she said, when we entered, “this is an unlooked-for pleasure, to be sure! Robert and Marion together!” And her voice left me quite in doubt whether she really counted it a pleasure at all.

“Yes,” I said. “Robert wished me to come with him for once, Aunt. We don’t often go anywhere in company.”

“No, you don’t,” she said. “But that was only to be expected. People who choose to marry as young as you two did, can’t look for much ease and leisure in after life.”

“I have no doubt we should do the same again, if we had the same choice over again,” Robert said, giving me a kind look.

But this was an unfortunate remark, for Aunt Briscoe had not married at all young herself.

“I hope you would not,” she said sharply. “It’s bad enough when one person won’t learn from another’s experience. But if you would not learn even from your own, why, all I can say is, that you must be downright idiots.”

Aunt Briscoe was apt to be more plain-spoken than polite. It is a common fault, especially in old age, with those who have accustomed themselves to the use of strong words all through life. We were used to this, and knew how to meet it. Robert saw that he had made a mistake; and he took care not to double his mistake by carrying on the subject.

“How are the children?” she asked presently. “Has Jack been a good boy lately?”

“Very good,” I said. “Jack always is the best of sons to us.”

“Jack is his mother’s favourite, that’s easily seen,” said Aunt Briscoe. “You’d better take care it isn’t a case of being 'fond and foolish.’ But how is he doing his work? Giving satisfaction?”

“He does his best, I really believe,” my husband answered. “Poor Jack is not clever, you know.”

“Fudge!” Aunt Briscoe replied, in a tone of contempt. “Not clever indeed! As if the biggest dunce couldn’t learn to spell if he chose! Jack likes amusing himself.”

“Oh, but indeed it is not that,” I burst out. “Jack tries so hard.”

But Aunt Briscoe looked straight at my husband and went on, just as if I had not spoken—

“And how about Cress?”

“Cress certainly seems sharper than poor Jack,” said Robert. “We count him our clever one, Aunt Briscoe. Still, he is not too fond of hard work.”

“Cleverness is no use in the world unless there’s hard work to back it up,” Aunt Briscoe said. “The boys ought to have been made to work when they were young. That’s where the fault lies.”

I knew this to be a fling at me, and I chafed under it, for the fling was really undeserved. I had never been over-indulgent with my boys in that way; and Cress was the only one among them all who had not turned out a fairly steady hand at work. Perhaps I had been a little too easy with him in consequence of his health. But, anyhow, Cress’ faults were always my faults in Aunt Briscoe’s eyes, while the other boys’ virtues were their own virtues. Still, though I felt all this, I said nothing, for Robert’s sake.

“Owen is worth fifty of either of them,” Aunt Briscoe went on. “And Cherry is worth fifty of the whole pack of boys. I thought I had asked for Cherry to come to-day.”

“Cherry is at home taking care of the little ones,” Robert answered. “Marion came with me by my wish, Aunt. The truth is, we are in a perplexity, and we thought you might perhaps be able to help us with a little—a little—”

“Money!” said Aunt Briscoe; and she gave a sniff of disgust.

“No—advice,” Robert said gravely. “I do not think we have ever yet asked you for money.”

“No, you have not, that’s true,” she said. “All the more likely that perhaps some day I may give you some. If you asked, I shouldn’t think of such a thing. I never give where I’m asked, on principle. There’s such an amount of begging in the world. But as for advice, that’s all nonsense. Nobody ever takes advice.”

“Sometimes it helps one to see one’s way,” said my husband.

Aunt Briscoe shook her head. “What is it that’s the matter?” she asked, putting down her knitting and pushing up her spectacles. “Jack, I suppose. I suspected something wrong just now about him.”

“It is not Jack at all,” I said hastily. “It is Maimie Browne, Churton’s stepdaughter.”

Robert would have brought her to the idea more gently, I don’t doubt. She stared hard at me and said, “Is Marion out of her mind?”

“No, Aunt.” Robert was hardly able to help smiling. “But we have had unexpected news of Churton. He married a widow some years ago.”

“No reason why he shouldn’t,” said Aunt Briscoe. “He didn’t saddle himself with a wife at twenty. A man’s at liberty to marry later in life without wronging anybody, I hope. How many children has he? Not seven, I’ll be bound.”

“None of his own,” Robert said patiently. “There is only one stepdaughter. His wife is dead, and he has sent the girl home to us.”

“Sent her to you!”

“For a time—so she says—till he can have her with him again. He has gone into the States for some reason. Maimie expected him to have written, and he has not.”

“Send her back to him,” said Aunt Briscoe.

“We do not know his address,” Robert said. “And there would be the expense of the return voyage.”

“How old is the girl?”

“Thirteen,” I said.

Then there was a pause.

“What on earth did he do it for?” Aunt Briscoe asked at length.

“Nobody can imagine,” I said, “unless it is a trick to get her off his hands.”

Aunt Briscoe took up her knitting again in a deliberate manner.

“It may be that,” she said. “There’s no knowing, But I shouldn’t have thought Churton capable of it. Troublesome enough as a boy, but we didn’t count him deep. Always meaning to do right, and always doing wrong. That’s my notion of Churton Hazel.”

Curious that my husband should have taken much the same view of Churton’s conduct.

“But he has not written,” I said; “and no one knows where he is. He promised Maimie to send money for her support, and it has not come.”

“It may come yet,” said Aunt Briscoe.

“And meantime, what are we to do?” I asked. “Who is to support the girl?”

“That is for you to settle,” Aunt Briscoe said coolly. “The matter is in your own hands, and of course you are quite at liberty to say you won’t support her. Nobody can force you. Maimie, do you call her? What could make anybody give a child such a name?”

“'Mary’ is her real name. I don’t see that the matter is in our hands at all,” I said feverishly. “If we didn’t keep the girl, who would?”

“The Parish,” Aunt Briscoe said quite composedly. And that meant, in plain terms, that she herself was not going to help.

“The workhouse!” my husband said, in a very low voice.



“There’s the parish,” Aunt Briscoe answered again.


And I knew he was thinking, as was I, of the pretty delicate face and shining flaxen hair. The workhouse for Maimie!

“That is impossible!” I said, and my voice sounded fretful even to myself. “But we certainly cannot afford to keep Maimie.”

“Nobody will expect you to undertake what you cannot possibly afford,” Aunt Briscoe said.

Robert was silent, and his eyes were bent on the ground.

“And if we don’t?” I said.

“There’s the Parish,” Aunt Briscoe answered again, in just the same tone as before.

“I see you think that we ought to keep her,” I said.

Aunt Briscoe looked full at me. “I’ll tell you what I do think, niece Marion,” she said, “and that is, that you want to throw off the burden of the question on anybody except yourself. And I don’t mean to be that 'anybody.’”

“Then you will not even give us a word of advice,” I said. “I might just as well not have come.”

“Just as well, if that was all you came for,” Aunt Briscoe said calmly. “Next time you had better send Cherry.”

Then she stood up and beckoned my husband towards her neat little conservatory. Gardening had been quite a passion with her husband, and I really think the softest part of Aunt Briscoe’s nature had to do with her love for flowers. “I’ve got some new plants here,” she said, “worth your looking at, Robert.”

I went too, though I was in no mood to can for new plants just then. I could not help thinking how much Aunt Briscoe spent on her own comforts and pleasures, and how easily she could have spared a five pound note to help us. But after all, one can’t judge for another.

“The Gables” was a very cosy house, and it had been built before land in that neighbourhood grew valuable. So it was not tall and narrow, like most small houses near London. On the ground floor there was a nice-sized drawing-room and a neat dining-room, and the kitchen and scullery were behind on the same level. And overhead were three good bedrooms, besides a dressing-room; and over those were some really comfortable garret-rooms. Then there was a long garden at the back, well stocked with vegetables and fruit trees; and in front a little green lawn, with a round bed in the centre and a narrow bed all round, and a footpath from the gate to the front door. Robert knew and loved every inch of the place. I could not feel the same love, not having known it in my young days. Still it was all very familiar and home-like to me. Till the death of Uncle Briscoe we had always looked on “The Gables” as a sort of family home.

I knew how nice and cosy everything was about the house; and how well Aunt Briscoe lived; and how little her two servants had to do. It did seem as if she might have helped us, or have offered to take in Maimie for a time. But she would not. That could be seen plainly enough. We had gained nothing by our visit,—not even a little advice,—not even a grain of pity.

And yet, to think of sending that young girl to the workhouse! I was as ready as Robert, if not more ready, to cry out, Impossible!







BUT however impossible it might seem to me, as well as to Robert, that we should send Maimie into the workhouse, yet making up my mind that she had to be kept, and making up my mind to accept the new burden cheerfully, were two entirely different things. I saw that the addition to our family was for the moment unavoidable. I did not see myself bound to take the burden with a smile. There are two ways of going through life: either smiling or sighing; either singing or groaning; either rejoicing or complaining. There are burdens which must be borne, and we cannot escape them. God chooses our way for us, and that way has to be walked. It is of no use for us to try to choose our own path; or, as it has been beautifully expressed, to attempt to row our boat any way contrary to the rowing of our Father’s Hand. Still, though the choice of a direction is not ours, we must choose whether we will go in the direction He wills with a smile, or whether we will complain and resist and only give in because we cannot help it.

I am afraid the last was the case with me. I would give in, because I felt that the thing had to be; but I would not give in happily.

The journey home from Aunt Briscoe’s was heavy and sad to me, therefore to Robert. A cloud upon one heart cannot but react upon other hearts.

We said little by the way. Indeed, a long omnibus-drive, in company with strangers, does not generally make one talk much of the things which interest one most. But I do not think I should have talked, even if we had been alone. I felt so hopelessly dull and depressed. I saw Robert steal a glance at me now and then; and the shadow on his face deepened.

The spring days were growing long. Still we had remained so late at “The Gables,” that it was almost dark when we reached home.

Cherry came out to meet us, with our fourth boy, Fred. The two youngest, Bob and Teddy, were in bed. I knew in a moment that the others had not returned: for Jack never failed to give me a welcome, if I had been absent and he were at home.

It was not, however, till I asked Cherry that she said, “No, mother, they are not back yet. I suppose they have forgotten how time was going.”

This was an unusual matter. The boys knew well that their father and I liked them to be back early from such excursions. A trip into the country would have been a different matter; but London on Saturday evening was not so desirable. And they had Maimie with them!

“I suppose they have been drawn on farther than they thought,” Cherry added, as if in apology. “It is all so new to Maimie, you know, mother; and Jack was quite excited at taking her.”

“They would not find so very much to see at Westminster,” I said.

“The Abbey, mother, at any rate,—and they talked of a long ramble on the Embankment, and taking Maimie across two or three bridges. Oh, they will find plenty to show to a stranger; and Maimie says she can walk any distance. They must have mistaken the time. But they are sure to be in directly.”

“Directly” is an elastic word sometimes, and it seemed so in this instance. We brought out our work, to finish some little mending needful for the morrow. Fred was sent to bed, and my husband opened a book, but speedily went to sleep over it. After some time I said softly to Cherry—

“Aunt Briscoe will give us no help with Maimie.”

“Mother, did you think she would?” Cherry spoke in a tone of surprise.

“I should have been very glad,” I said.

“I really don’t see how we are to meet the additional expense.”

“Don’t you think it will come all right, mother?” Cherry asked.

“It may,” I said.

“I think it will,” she murmured.

After a pause, she added,—“Perhaps Uncle Churton will soon write.”

“And if he does not?” I asked.

“If not—won’t there be something else instead, mother? Isn’t there sure to be?”

I did so want a little comfort of some sort. I found myself catching at Cherry’s words, as if for help. And I put down my work, and said, lifting my eyes to her dear face,—“What do you mean, Cherry?”

Cherry’s work went down also. She drew her chair nearer, and took both my hands, kissing them lovingly.

“Mother, you know it all,” she said in a low voice. “You know all a great deal better than I do. It is only—only—that the Bible says we are not to take too much thought, because 'all these things’ will be added to us. Doesn’t that mean that we should be wrong to fret and worry?”

“Perhaps so,” I said. “Yet we must look forward, and try to arrange things.”

“O yes, of course,” Cherry said, smiling. “And of course it wouldn’t be right for us to spend money carelessly on anything we like. I think I should be quite wrong to have a new jacket just now, because there really is no extra money to spare. But that is different from being anxious and fretted.”

“I am both, this evening,” I said.

“Yes; about Maimie,” said Cherry. “But, mother dear,—if God has given us Maimie to take care of for a little while, won’t He give us food for her too? The Bible says 'all these things,’ mother,—and 'shall be added.’ That seems strong enough. And there is that other verse too about 'all your need.’ I am sure food is one need.”

I could not help stroking Cherry’s soft smooth hair. She had always been such a good loving child to me. But generally we were reserved, and said little on such subjects. It is often so with a mother and daughter,—I do not quite know why. This new pressure, however, seemed to have broken down the barrier for once.

I repeated the words,—“'All your need,’” only half thinking what I was saying.

“It is in Philippians, mother,” Cherry said, flushing, and looking almost pretty. “You know it, don’t you? 'My God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus.’”

“I have always supposed that to mean spiritual needs,” I said.

“But, mother,” Cherry said wistfully,—“But, mother dear,—of course we have those needs too,—but I don’t see that spiritual needs are our only needs. Because we do really need food and dress as well. And the words are—'all your need.’”

The simple common-sense of my child’s words struck home to me.

“Yes, I suppose so,” I said slowly. “I believe I have always found it easier to pray for spiritual things, than for everyday earthly things. One can ask for faith and love and patience, and really expect an answer. But when it is a question of food and money—”

“Mother,” Cherry whispered, “don’t you think that is perhaps just the reason why the people have not always quick answers about food and everyday needs?”

“What reason?” I asked, not at once catching her thought.

“Why,—because they don’t expect.”

“It may be,” I said. “But it won’t do for us to choose for ourselves in such things after all, Cherry.”

“O no,” and Cherry smiled. “If you were to choose now, perhaps you wouldn’t have Maimie to live with us at all. But that isn’t our choosing. So I am quite sure we may ask to be helped,—and don’t you think we may really expect an answer? Because of that 'all your need’?”

“Some would say we do not need so many things as we fancy we do,” I said.

“I dare say we don’t,” Cherry replied thoughtfully.

“Perhaps St. Paul meant that when he said,—,’Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.’”

“You have a good memory for texts,” I said. And then we both went back to our work and were silent.

But I thought over Cherry’s words a good deal.

For it seems a wonderful thing, with that promise lying in the Bible, how few make use of it. “My God shall supply all your need.” Why, of course that means bodily as well as spiritual need. Of course it does. One kind of need, leaving out other kinds, does not mean “all.”

And there the promise lies; and even God’s own children do not use it. Just as one might have a signed cheque lying in one’s desk, and might never take it to the Bank to be cashed. What good would the cheque be to one, in such a case?

Such promises as this are plainly spoken to those who serve God. True, God gives rain both to the just and unjust; He is kind even to the unthankful and to the evil. Still, while inviting all men to come and learn to be His servants, He does not promise “whatsoever” they ask, or the supply of “all their need,” until they do come.

But of those who have come, of those who do really seek to be “faithful servants” of Christ, how very few understand the power and beauty of this promise, “My God shall supply all your need.”

I know it never struck me before, as it did that evening, with the help of my child’s simple trust. Something else came into my mind, as I thought, and that was—

“Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.”

Was not Maimie a care? Then why not cast her upon the strong Arm of my God, Who was so willing to bear?

I resolved that I would try, and would not be so burdened.







HALF-PAST ten o’clock struck, and our absent ones at last came home.

Jack looked uneasy and out of spirits. I could see that at a glance. Cress was in high glee, laughing and talking with Maimie. Owen always took things quietly, and I noticed no particular change in his face. Maimie herself had a brilliant colour, and seemed excited.

“Mother, I’m awfully sorry we are so late,” Jack said, when they first entered. “May we have some supper?”

“Have you had nothing to eat?” I asked.

“Only some buns at five o’clock. We meant to be back earlier. I dare say Cherry will get out a loaf of bread for us. It’s too late for tea, of course.”

“Yes, it is,” I said, when Cherry looked at me.

Nobody offered any further explanation. I went down with them into the basement-room, leaving my husband still asleep. Bread and butter were there vigorously attacked by the three boys, Maimie taking little, as was her wont. She had evidently enjoyed herself thoroughly, and kept breaking out into little notes of admiration; while Jack made few remarks, but gave me some anxious glances furtively.

I gathered that they had taken Maimie to the Abbey, and had shown her a considerable part of Westminster. Then Maimie had treated them all to a trip on the river as far as Blackfriars, and a view of St. Paul’s had followed. Naturally they were late, after crowding so much into one afternoon. But why should they have attempted it all?

Robert made no complaint, and I too resolved to keep silence that evening. So when the boys had eaten enough, and we had had family prayers, all went to bed.

I thought Jack would certainly stay behind and offer some kind of fuller explanation. But he did not; and I was troubled.

Next day came, and Jack still said nothing; neither did Cress bring up the subject. It was Owen, not one of the elder boys, who said to me in the course of the afternoon—

“Mother, we really didn’t mean to be so long coming home yesterday.”

“It was not right,” I said. “And Jack has not told me how it happened.”

“No,” Owen replied. “The fact is, mother, he is afraid Maimie will be blamed. He wanted me to promise not to say a word; but I would not promise, and I don’t like to see you worried.”

“Then it was Maimie’s doing?” I said.

“Maimie doesn’t understand,” the boy said. “Jack wanted to come back in good time from Westminster, and he said you and father liked it best, and Maimie laughed. She says she has always done as she wished; and she seemed to think it so funny for a big fellow like Jack to have to obey. And then Cress laughed too, and he said he should please himself, and he didn’t mean to hurry. And Maimie proposed to go on the river, and to pay for all of us. We didn’t think at first of going to St. Paul’s; but the first boat that passed went that way, and when Maimie found we were near the Cathedral nothing could stop her. Jack was vexed about it all; but if he had come away, Maimie and Cress would have stayed behind.”

“Perhaps if Jack had been decided, they would have given in,” I said.

“I don’t think so, mother. Maimie was so bent on seeing St. Paul’s; and I’m sure Jack wouldn’t have liked to leave Maimie with Cress. He told me I had better stay too—I mean, he seemed to think we had better all keep together.”

“Maimie was not right,” I said.

“I don’t believe she knows any better, mother. She seems to have had a queer bringing-up. And she has always lived in a small sort of place, and of course she knows nothing at all about London.”

“Hardly a sufficient excuse,” I said.

“But, mother,—Jack was so afraid you would blame her. That was why he would not speak. He said he would much rather you should think it was all his fault. She’s a jolly girl, as full of fun as can be; and yet she can be grave too. She knows lots of history, and seemed as if she could never be tired of the monuments in the Abbey. It was as good as a history book to hear her talk. And once, when the organ was being played, she knelt down alone in a corner, away from us all, listening and looking—I can’t tell you how she looked. Jack said it was like something—a saint, I think. Cress laughed, but he told Maimie what Jack had said.”

“A saint means one who is holy,” I said. “If Maimie is going to lead my boys into wilful ways, and to teach them disobedience, she will prove herself to be anything but a saint, Owen.”

“Oh, but she won’t, mother,” he said affectionately. “Don’t you be afraid. She won’t do that, so you mustn’t be worried. Jack only didn’t like to get her blamed; and Cress always does like to be independent, you know.”

Yes; this was one of Cress’ failings, and it always had been. Jack’s stronger and more robust nature could more readily stoop to submission than Cress’ less manly nature. That is often to be seen. A little mind will fight against authority, where a great mind will at once obey. Cress’ failing in this respect was no new thing. But if Maimie were to back him up in his independence, how would matters be then?

“Jack will be angry with me for telling,” Owen remarked. And I promised that I would, if possible, avoid drawing in his name.

Partly for Owen’s sake, I resolved not to speak to Maimie immediately. Apart from Owen, there were other advantages in a slight delay. It is often a good plan to wait, when one has to find fault, until one has had time for weighing the matter, and deciding how much of blame is really due. Words spoken hastily on the moment’s impulse are apt to be needlessly strong, and so to cause needless irritation. Also, I was getting to know Maimie better each day.

She seemed to be quietly fitting into our home. I began to feel it quite natural to see her about.

Maimie was very winning in her ways. When she came down in the morning, with her rippling waves of hair, and her soft smiling eyes, kissing Cherry so lovingly, and throwing her arms round Robert, and greeting all the boys with such pleasant looks, I always was aware of a particular charm about her. She never threw her arms round me, or lifted her black eyes to mine with their sweetest expression. We just exchanged a kiss, and that was all. I admired the child, and did my best to feel rightly towards her, but somehow she held aloof. I think there was a feeling of resentment still at the words I had spoken about her stepfather.

It was quite touching, as days went on, to see her eagerness about the postman. Every hour when he might pass,—not seldom in a London street,—she was almost sure to be watching at the window. A flush would come into her cheeks the moment she saw or heard him in the distance, deepening each instant as he drew nearer, till he went by our door. Then her colour would fade quite away, and for half-an-hour or more she would look pale and spiritless.

But she said nothing, and she did not seem to wish for sympathy. Since her first arrival, she had not once asked whether or no we had decided to keep her. That appeared to be all taken for granted; unless indeed she spoke more freely to Cherry. This anxious watching for the postman, however, showed to me something of her real feelings.

The middle of the week passed, and still I had not spoken to her about the Saturday excursion. Another Saturday was drawing near, and I overheard a mention of “Hampton Court” among the boys. It might or might not mean anything; but I resolved to delay no longer. And late on Thursday afternoon an opportunity came.

Maimie and I were alone together, not a very common occurrence. She was watching at the window, in one of her periodical fits of anxiety. I knew by her rosy flush that the postman had approached. Suddenly she grew crimson. Steps ran up our flight, and the sharp double rap sounded. Maimie flew into the hall like a wild creature; but her return was slow enough.

“It is nothing,—only a stupid London letter,” she said brokenly, and I saw that her eyes were overflowing.

“Did you expect a letter from your stepfather, Maimie?” I found myself saying.

She straightened herself, and dashed aside her tears. “Yes, of course,” she answered. “He said he would write.”

I did not reply quickly. Maimie sat down on a chair facing me.

“Aunt Marion,” she said,—“I think father must be ill.”

I had it on my lips to say,—“No need to suppose that.” But looking up at her, a feeling of pity came over me, and I only replied,—“He may be.”

“And that would account for his not writing,” she said.

“If he is ill, it may go on a long time. Some illnesses last for weeks. He would want me with him, but he might be too ill to send for me. Poor father!”

I did not quite know what to say to this.

“So I have been thinking,” she resumed,—“thinking what to do—if he does not write soon, I mean.”

“I think you will have to stay here for the present,” I said.

“But I am only in the way here,” Maimie said abruptly, and tears sprang again to her eyes. “Uncle and Cherry and the boys are very kind; but I am not wanted.”

The leaving out of my name was marked.

“I hope we are all kind to you,” I said. “But that is hardly the question, Maimie. Where else can you go, if you do not stay with us? We are willing to keep you; and you must be willing to stay.”

“I am not willing,” the girl said; and there was another red flush. “I hate to be a burden. Aunt Marion, isn’t there anything I could do? I thought there were clerkships for girls sometimes. Couldn’t Uncle Robert hear of one for me?”

I tried to explain to her how much would be required; how little she was fitted for such work, not to speak of being too young; and how great was the competition for work in London.

“But I can do needlework,” she said. “Wouldn’t somebody pay me for that?”

I could hardly help smiling. “You can darn for ten minutes at a time,” I said.

“Oh—darning—I can’t bear darning. I could work hard, if it was to get my living.”

Her eyes flashed as she spoke. I said, after a pause—“If you really want to be useful, you might help Cherry sometimes.”

“What, in darning?” she asked.

“That, and other things. One more in the house makes more work to be done. Why should you not take your share?”

“And that will make me a little less of a burden! Yes, of course I will,” she said. “I do hate mending and washing up, but, of course I’ll do them. Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I am going to tell you one other thing,” I said; and I know I spoke quietly, as I should not have done some days before. “You must not laugh at my boys, Maimie, for their loving obedience to their mother. You must not lead them into wrong.”

She opened her eyes widely. “Lead them into wrong!” she repeated. “Laugh at the boys!”

“Last Saturday afternoon,” I said. “I do not know all that passed; but something of it has reached me. You must not do that again.”

“Last Saturday! Why, that is ever so long ago,” she said. Then, with a sudden smile—“But it was so comical—that great tall Jack—”

“There is nothing comical in a young man’s submission to his parents’ wishes. It is grand rather than funny. Obedience is a nobler thing, Maimie, than doing what one likes.”

“I have always done what I liked,” she said.

“Yes, I daresay you have. That is self-pleasing. Anybody can be self-willed, easily enough. But some amount of self-control is needed for obedience.”

“Only there couldn’t possibly be any harm in the boys’ staying away an hour or two longer,” she objected.

“Perhaps not,” I said. “But you could not possibly judge. You know nothing of London. Still, the question does not hinge there. What I dread for my boys is, that you should teach them to think it manly to please themselves, and unmanly to love their home and to follow home-rules.”

“Oh, but I wouldn’t do that.” Then she laughed again, and said, “It sounds so funny to talk of my teaching a great fellow like Jack.”

“Great fellows are often more teachable than little fellows,” I said. “You can’t help teaching by influence, Maimie, one way or the other. All of us are always teaching and always learning. What I ask is that, while you are here, you should use your influence in a right way, not to make the boys do wrong.”

“Very well,” Maimie said. She spoke shortly, and I supposed her to be offended. But the next instant there was a sob, and she ran out of the room. Smiles and tears seemed very near together in Maimie Browne.







MAIMIE was as good as her word, which was more than I had expected. She had seemed to me too flighty to settle down steadily to work of any kind, But I think this was mistaken judgment. I do not think Maimie’s was really a flighty nature. There was an under-current of right feeling and right principle; and there was strong force of will.

From the hour of our talk together, she began to take upon herself a full share of household work. Hitherto she had been treated as a guest, every one giving up the best to her, and waiting upon her. Now she began to wait upon everybody—to Cherry’s surprise, and to Jack’s disgust.

“Mother, has anybody been saying anything to Maimie?” he asked. “She’s washing up the tea-things.”

“Why not, Jack?” I asked.

“Why? Those pretty little hands!”

“Hands are none the worse for being useful. Cherry has nice little hands too, but you don’t mind seeing them employed.”

“Cherry! No,” Jack said, as if Cherry were quite another sort of mortal. “But Maimie!”

“If Maimie lives with us it is right that she should help in the work of the house,” I said. “I can’t have my good unselfish Cherry worn to a skeleton with waiting on idle people.”

“Mother! As if Maimie was ever idle! Cherry a skeleton, indeed!”

Jack’s tone had never so nearly approached anger in speaking to me; never in all his life. I hardly knew how to bear it, and tears were in my eyes. But I managed to laugh; for certainly Cherry was far enough as yet from any likeness to a skeleton. And Jack did not notice my tears, as he would usually have done.

“Then you did speak to Maimie, mother,” he said, staring out of the window.

“Yes,” I replied. “Maimie was in distress at not hearing from her stepfather, and wanted to know how she could work to support herself. I told her that was impossible at present, and I suggested that she should sometimes help Cherry. It seemed to console her a little.”

“Oh well, that isn’t so bad,” Jack said, heaving a sigh. “I was afraid somebody had been at her, scolding or lecturing. Well, I only hope we never shall hear from Uncle Churton at all, and then Maimie will belong to us.”

“That is hardly so kind a wish as I should have expected from you.”

“Why, mother?”

“Because Maimie loves her stepfather. And because your father naturally would like to hear from his only brother. And because we have not the means to support Maimie.”

“But we have no choice;” and his eyes sparkled. “We can’t turn her out, when she has nowhere to go. We really have no choice at all.”

“Not just at present,” I said. “As Aunt Briscoe said, there is only one alternative.”

“What’s that, mother?”

“The workhouse!” and I spoke the word as quietly as Aunt Briscoe herself had spoken it.

Jack turned on his heel with an explosive “Pshaw!”

“I am quoting Aunt Briscoe,” I said. “Jack, you don t often speak to me in such a tone.”

Jack was down on a chair by my side in a moment, kissing and begging pardon. Yet hardly had the apology passed his lips, before he was breaking out again into an indignant, “Workhouse for Maimie, indeed! The idea!”

“People with nothing to live upon cannot pick and choose.”

“Much Aunt Briscoe would like it for herself,” Jack said scornfully. “Well, as long as I have two hands to work with, Maimie shall never come to that. Mother, I wish you liked her better.”

I looked up at him, and said, “I like Maimie as much as can be expected in so short a time, Jack. Perhaps I am not quite so much infatuated as—some people.”

“Fascinated, not infatuated,” said Jack quickly. He rose and moved away, but came back from the door to say, “You’ll learn in time. You will love her in time, mother.” Then he was gone, and I began to realise, as mothers must, that my boy was growing out of boyhood.

It was so evidently a pleasure to Maimie to find herself of use in the house, that Jack ceased to resist, though he was always rushing forward to seize something from her hands, or to save her exertion. I wished he would take as much pains for Cherry; but though really a very kind brother, he did not at all object to seeing her hard at work.

Cress’ admiration for Maimie took a different form. Here, as in everything, he was disposed to put self first. He liked Maimie, therefore he liked her to wait upon him. He was accustomed to have much done for him, and he saw no reason for making Maimie an exception in the doing.

In respect of various household matters, such as laying of tables, washing of china, dusting of rooms, and cookery, Maimie proved herself an adept. She was very quick, and beautifully neat.

“I never liked housework, but mother always made me,” she said in explanation, when surprise was shown.

The real puli lay more in connection with needlework. Maimie seemed to have an unconquerable aversion to her needle. Delicate and pretty work would have been more to her taste; but in our house, patching, turning, and darning were the order of the day.

Maimie fought hard against her dislike, and forced herself to sit over it hour after hour, with burning cheeks, struggling to be “useful.” I did not at all realise how great the strain was. Cherry saw it long before I did, probably because she cared more for Maimie. But I think Maimie withheld her from speaking.

The change to our confined London home was very great to Maimie Browne, after her free country life, with fresh country air and abundant exercise. Cherry and I had seldom time to go out, except on little shopping excursions, or for a short walk with the younger children. And Maimie was too young and pretty, and too strange to London, for much wandering about alone.

She had some long half-holiday rambles with the boys, when weather permitted, and these helped to keep her in health for a time. But when she took so eagerly to helping us with work, we found it difficult to persuade her to go out as much as even we thought needful.

Had I fully understood the manner of Maimie’s life hitherto, the way in which she had spent her days among trees and flowers, the absolute freedom and ease which she had known from infancy, I think I should have judged much more to be necessary.

I did notice, as weeks went on, that she was drooping; but it seemed to me that her stepfather’s continued silence was enough to account for this. She had been pale when she first came, a pretty soft healthy paleness, with coral lips in contrast. But now a tinge of unhealthy yellow was creeping into the paleness, and the coral red was dying into a faint pink, and the black eyes were losing their sparkle.

I thought Maimie was depressed, and I offered few remarks. It is not always wise to make young girls nervous about themselves, by talking too much of their health. And I fancied Maimie was one who would give in readily, as soon as needful. But I did not then know the strength of her will.

“Mother, I don’t think Maimie is well,” Jack said sometimes. Somehow his solicitude made me less inclined to act, not more inclined. Was I jealous of Jack’s admiration for Maimie—my Jack, who had hitherto been only mine? How often the anxious looks which had been so often bent upon me, were now bent upon Maimie! Well, was it not natural? Jack was reaching an age when boys will begin to have their little fancies. He was as good a son to me as ever, only there was now somebody else too. Just the merest fancy of course on his part—he such a boy still, and she a mere child. Yet I know it was pain to me. I could have given Maimie more love, if Jack had given her less.

“Mother, I am sure Maimie is not well,” Cherry said one day. “She was awake ever so long in the night, crying with pain in her side. I gave her something for it, but I don’t think she is better yet.”

“Don’t let her do too much this morning, and I will see by-and-by how she is,” I said.

I was very busy that morning, and very tired myself. Somehow it went out of my head about Maimie’s side-ache, and I blame myself, for certainly I should not have forgotten if Cherry or Jack or any other of my children had been the sufferer.

Cherry did her best to follow my directions, but Maimie was not to be easily managed. She made beds, dusted, washed, much as usual, and insisted that Cherry should not say another word to me. Seeing her so bright and active no doubt helped me to forget.

We had a heavy basketful of clothes needing repairs that afternoon. Cherry proposed that Maimie should have a little walk before joining us, but so decisive a “No” was the response, that she said no more. This recalled to me Cherry’s words in the morning, and I asked at once, “By-the-bye, how is your side, Maimie?” She flushed up, said hastily, “It’s nothing to signify,” and began talking to Cherry.

“Cress as usual,” Cherry remarked, displaying a jacket out at the elbows. “Isn’t it wonderful how Cress’ things last only half as long as anybody else’s?”

“He does not make up his mind that they must last,” I said. “Give me that jacket, Cherry. You have enough to do with the stockings.”

“It’s a good thing I have a particular gift for darning,” Cherry remarked, with a smile. “Just see, what a foot! That is Cress’ too. O mother, wouldn’t it be splendid to have five pounds’ worth of new clothes all at once?”

“No use to begin wishing for impossibilities.”

“Fancy how one would spend the five pounds,” pursued Cherry, talking cheerily, as she liked to do over her work. “Three new pairs of socks for each of the boys, and for father. And three pairs of stockings for each of us. Mother, it is wonderful how much of the five pounds would run straight away on socks and stockings alone. And so many shoes and boots are wanted. Five pounds would hardly clothe all the feet of the family, so as to give us a few weeks’ holiday in that line from mending.”

“Better not begin to wish,” I said again. “It only means discontent.”

Cherry looked up at this, and smiled. “I was only amusing myself,” she said. “I don’t think I am avaricious.”

She did not look so, with her sunny face. Maimie made no response to all this, but sat silently, leaning back, and working slowly, with downcast eyes.

I do not know how long we all three remained thus: between one and two hours, perhaps.

It was a half-holiday, and Maimie had resolutely refused to take a ramble with the elder boys. They went out somewhat vexed at her refusal; but Jack returned early, as I expected him to do.

He came in upon us, as we sat together, a busy trio, and before I could look up, I heard his voice in a tone of consternation—

“Maimie! what’s the matter?”







MAIMIE’S work had dropped to the ground, and she was leaning forward, with eyes shut, one hand pressed to her side, the other holding a chair for support.

“Maimie!” Jack cried again; “are you ill? Mother, look!” he said passionately.

We were all three by her side in a moment. She made a kind of warding-off movement, and muttered, “Don’t move me!”

“You had better lie down on the sofa,” I said. “I think you have been working too hard.”

She shook her head, and then rested it against Cherry.

“Come, my dear,” I said, touching her.

After a moment’s hesitation she stood up slowly; but then there was a gasp, almost a cry, and she dropped back, white as ashes.

“O don’t make me move,—please, please don’t,—it is so cruel.”

“Mother, you must not,” Jack cried, in a trembling voice, as if he too thought me cruel. I could have borne anything but this. I felt my heart grow suddenly hard.

“Of course Maimie can sit here, if she prefers to do so,” I said coldly. “I thought she would be better on the sofa.”

Maimie hid her face on Cherry’s shoulder, and sobbed. I stood waiting, uncertain whether to go back to my work, and deterred by a fear of seeming unkind in Jack’s eyes.

“The wisest plan would really be to go upstairs and lie on your bed,” I said at length.

“If you only would leave me in peace!” moaned the girl.

She yielded presently, however, so far as again to stand up, allowing us to help her. It was evidently no mere case of fancy, for her lips were quite colourless, and the sharp catches in her breath, though partly hysterical, told also of severe pain. I suggested her bedroom again, and proposed a hot fomentation, but she shuddered, and almost petulantly declined; so Cherry ran for pillows, and tried to place her comfortably on the sofa. I heard two or three times an impatient—“That won’t do—” and “Oh, don’t,” followed by a low-toned,—“I’m sorry I was cross, Cherry.”

Cherry answered this with a kiss.

“Better, Maimie?” she asked.

“No. It’s dreadfully bad, Cherry.”

I came near again, and asked,—“Where is the pain?”

A motion of her hand to her side was the only reply.

“Have you had it before to-day?”

“Not so badly. Please leave me alone.”

“A hot fomentation would be the best thing for you,” I said again.

“O no; I only want to be left alone. Please don’t speak.”

So I went to my work, and Cherry retired to hers, both with a sigh. Jack took up his station watchfully near the sofa, like a faithful dog.

I did not know what to think. My own children, with the exception of Cress, had known remarkably good health. And even for Cress’ ailments, home-care and tending had commonly been sufficient. We had mercifully known almost nothing of acute illnesses, through my married life. Amid many troubles, that trouble had been spared us. If Maimie now were going to be ill, or were going to prove only delicate in a general way, it would be a serious matter.

It is curious how heavily any new anxiety seems to weigh upon one. I have been often struck with this. Old cares go on year after year, and in a measure we grow accustomed to the bearing of them. I suppose the back becomes fitted to the burden. But a new trouble does not fit at all. It frets and fidgets, and we cannot forget it for a moment.

After all, neither old nor new worries aught so to weigh upon those who truly serve God. For are we not told,—“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee”? If our burden is truly cast off upon God, then we certainly have not to bear it ourselves as well. And if we may indeed walk with no burden at all to bear, then how light and free our steps might be!

But I am quite sure I did not cast off my burden that day upon Him. If I had done so, it would not have pressed so hardly upon me.

I am writing about everyday anxieties,—just such as hundreds of people are constantly going through. I think it is in these commonplace anxieties that people most signally fail. If any very great sorrow comes, such as the loss of husband or child, then in our helplessness we rush to our God for help, and He bears us on. But the lesser cares and fidgety worries we try to bear ourselves,—and of course that means that we bear them badly.

Just so I failed that day. Things looked dark and sad, as I sat over my mending. I began to wonder if anybody ever had such troubles as I had. I could not see how in the world we were to meet the expenses of the coming half-year. It would have been difficult enough in any case. And now here was Maimie, not only thrust upon us for support, but also threatened with illness, perhaps severe illness. What should we do? What could we do?

From where I sat, I could see the pale face with its pretty outline, and the brows drawn into a fixed frown of pain. Maimie’s flaxen hair was tossed back in disorder, and the white lips stirred with a quick panting motion. I could see the slender hands clasped together, as if in a struggle for self-command.

As I worked, and looked, and thought, there came into my mind words of gentle rebuke—“O thou of little faith, wherefore dost thou doubt?”

Yet still I went on doubting. For mingled with the pain of anxiety was another pain—more like pain of jealousy. Why should my Jack sit there, watching Maimie with such fixed grieved eyes? Of course we were all sorry for Maimie—quite sorry enough. I could have pitied her tenderly—but for Jack. I did not like my Jack to wear that look to anybody except myself.

And I was wrong. I knew it even then; I know it better now. What! was I to demand a monopoly of my boy’s heart? He loved me none the less because he gave love also to this forlorn child cast into our midst. What business had I with miserable jealousy?







JACK stole presently to my side and whispered in distress,—“Mother, she’s no better. Oughtn’t we to have a doctor?”

“We will try home remedies first,” I said, “as soon as Maimie will go upstairs. I don’t suppose it is anything serious.” Yet my heart misgave me as I spoke.

“Mother, you wouldn’t take it so quietly if it was one of us!” whispered Jack.

And I knew this was true, but I said—

“You would not refuse to do what I wish.”

Jack moved away, with a vexed and unhappy look. There was half-an-hour of silence, almost unbroken, except by an occasional low moan from Maimie. She checked herself at once when betrayed into it; but each time I heard a little unconscious echo from Jack, and he wore a face of utter misery. Cherry looked often from one to another of us, seemingly afraid to speak.

On Robert’s entrance a change came about. Generally he was back on Saturday to early dinner, but a City engagement had kept him this day till between four and five o’clock. Cherry ran out to meet him in the passage, and there were evidently a few words of explanation. When he appeared, a look of relief crossed Maimie’s face.

“Why, my poor little woman!” he said tenderly. “What is the reason of this?”

“I dare say it will go off soon,” murmured Maimie. “I shouldn’t mind so much, only it gives trouble.”

“Nobody minds the trouble, my dear,” Robert said, and Jack echoed the words with smothered eagerness, “But, Maimie, you must go upstairs.”

So Cherry must have told him my wish.

She fixed her eyes on his face. “Do you want me to go, Uncle?”

“Yes,” he said.

Maimie was on her feet before he could guess what she meant to do; and then she staggered and fell against him, with a little cry.

“Gently, my dear,—that was too quick,” Robert said. “You must move slowly, and let me help you.”

Jack’s arm, as well as my husband’s, was needed for the going upstairs. I could no longer keep down the fear that something must be really wrong. Maimie grew whiter at each step, and her short breaths of pain were almost sobs.

Cherry and I followed till the room was reached, and then the task of undressing followed. Maimie seemed to dread every movement; yet, on the whole, she bore up well, and did not complain. Only, when she was at last in bed, I heard a distressed moan of, “O I don’t know how to bear it! I don’t know how to bear it!”

“So bad still, Maimie?” asked Cherry.

“Not the pain only! It’s that too. But I wish—I wish—if only Aunt Marion would go!”

This was quickly hushed by Cherry, and I thought it wisest not to seem to have overheard.

Beyond things absolutely necessary in the household, little could be done that evening, except to tend Maimie. I could not flatter myself that such remedies as I was able to devise took much effect; yet we persevered in them, hoping for improvement on the morrow.

Night passed quietly to Robert and me, for Cherry would not disturb us. She had little or no sleep herself, for Maimie tossed and moaned all through the darkness. Towards morning, Cherry went down to the kitchen, where she lighted the fire and made a hot poultice. But still the pain continued; and when, at six o’clock, I stole into the room, I found Maimie suffering acutely, and Cherry sitting dressed on the bed supporting her.

“You ought to have called me, Cherry,” I said, when I gathered what the night had been. “I should have come in, but I was afraid of waking Maimie, if she were asleep.”

“Maimie would not let me, mother,” Cherry said gently.

I did not like Maimie’s look, or the burning hand which lay on the counterpane. She just lifted her eyes to mine, and then closed them again. But a little later, when I had sent Cherry downstairs to lay the breakfast-table, and was myself putting the bedroom straight, she said unexpectedly—

“Aunt Marion, I had better go to a hospital.”

I came to her side and asked, “Why?”

“I think I am going to be ill; and I shall only be a trouble. I can’t bear to be a trouble.”

I hardly knew what to say. Suppose it were really the right plan! After a pause, I remarked, “This may prove to be nothing.”

“O no—it is inflammation,” she said faintly. “I had it once before,—years ago,—and I was very very ill. If I am in a hospital, I shall be out of the way.”

“That is no reason,” I said gravely. “It is only a question whether we can do all that you would need.”

“It isn’t that I want to go,—of course. I do love Cherry,—and Uncle,—and—and—Jack is so good to me. But I had better go,—please—I don’t belong to you really,—and there’s nobody else—”

She broke into weeping, and sobbed hysterically, struggling with acute pain which wrung moans from her. “I don’t know how to bear it! I don’t know how to bear it!” passed her lips repeatedly, and soon that cry passed into another yet sadder,—“Oh, mother, mother! O if only mother were here!”

Coldness and jealousy went to the winds that hour. None was at hand to comfort the poor child: so the task of comforting fell naturally on me. Without any distinct intentions, I somehow found myself kneeling down beside the bed, drawing Maimie into my arms. There was first a startled backward movement on her part, and then she held me with a convulsive clutch. “O Aunt Marion, if only you could love me!” broke from her wildly, passionately.

“I do love you, Maimie,” I said; and I spoke truly, though till that minute it hardly had been truth.

“Do you? I thought you didn’t! I thought I was only in the way! It has been so terrible, so dreary.”

“Why, Maimie, you have always seemed bright enough.”

“Have I? It was all outside. I’ve been thinking all night that if I was to die it would put everything straight. Nobody wants me. Was I very wrong? I’m not afraid to die,—and I should be welcome up there. Was it wrong? I know Jesus died for me,—so I needn’t be afraid. There doesn’t seem any use in my living. Even father doesn’t care to have me.”

I don’t know how she bore to say or how I bore to hear all this. The words seemed to break from her like the bursting loose of a great wave, long pent up, finding at last an outlet.

“Don’t let go!” she moaned, when I would have stirred from an awkward position. “O hold me tight,—tighter! It feels like mother’s arms again. O hold me tight!”

Then as tears, which I could not keep back, fell upon her face, she looked up, startled.

“Aunt Marion, don’t cry! Have I said anything unkind?”

“No, darling,” I said, hardly able to speak.

“Do call me 'darling,’—oh, do. It sounds lovely. It does comfort me so,” she said. “But I had better go to a hospital,—truly I had better. I don’t mind now. I shan’t mind anything, if you can love me.”

“We won’t think about the hospital yet,” I said, rallying my self-command, and speaking in a cheerful voice. “Plenty of time for that, Maimie. I want you now to lie quite still, and see if the pain does not get any better. Is it so very bad still?”

“Yes. But the other pain is better,” she said, with trembling lips. “Aunt Marion, kiss me,—once—once more.”

And the look of peace on her sweet face, when I stood up, was startling to me. What had I been about all those past weeks, with this poor lonely child longing for my love and sympathy, which yet I had studiously withheld?

Then I went downstairs, and told my husband and Cherry and Jack of Maimie’s proposal to go to a hospital. Robert heard silently. Jack burst into an angry exclamation.

“What do you think, mother?” Cherry asked.

“If Maimie goes, I’ll go too,” Jack said fiercely. “I’ll sit outside on the steps till she is well.”

“Jack, don’t be childish,” my husband said gravely. “The question is—would Maimie be best off here or there?”

“Here, of course,” Jack said.

“I would rather nurse her here,” murmured Cherry. “Mother, what do you think?”

I looked at Robert and said,—“I think Maimie might be actually better off there,—for food and medicine and so on. But she is a sensitive child,—and I think she would feel going among strangers. And Robert,—it does seem as if she had been given over to us, to be taken care of and I don’t like to send her away.”

Robert’s face lighted up with relief, and Cherry broke into a smile of happiness. But Jack threw his arms round me, and—big fellow that he was—burst into a flood of tears. I had my boy’s heart back again,—mine as much as ever it had been.







I HARDLY know how we got through the next month.

A doctor had to be called in, and Maimie’s attack proved to be, as she had expected, one of severe inflammation. She was very very ill, though by her own account not so ill as the former time.

A more patient and gentle invalid could hardly have been found. From the moment when she was acknowledged to be really ill, excitement and wilfulness were at an end. She did as she was told, submitted to painful remedies without a murmur, took the most unpleasant medicines smilingly, and smothered the faintest approach to complaint. “Maimie, I do wish you would indulge in a grumble now and then,” Cherry said one day; and she answered, “How can I, when you are all so sweet to me?”

Through two or three days, at the worst, we did not think Maimie would ever be up and about again. We were all very sad and grieved. Even Cress shed a few tears, though much ashamed of doing so. Poor Jack’s misery was touching to see. He spent hours on the stairs, outside the sick-room, watching for news. Still, in trouble he turned to his mother for comfort; and I was content.

Then the worst was past; and Maimie came slowly back to everyday life. As she improved, many little delicacies in the way of food were needed, and somehow we procured them, I hardly know how. Day by day we were just able to get on. The fog which lay ahead cleared away for us step by step, never more than one step in advance. Often I felt afraid as to the next step; yet, when it had to be taken it could be taken.

My children all put their shoulders to the wheel, and did their best to help. The younger boys had never been so quiet, so thoughtful, so ready in every way to assist Cherry and me with household work. Cress had never been so careful of his clothes, had never wanted so few things mended or bought. What little pocket-money they had was spent in delicacies for Maimie’s capricious appetite.

Kind help came too, in our time of need, from other quarters. The doctor, though a Parish doctor only, with a large family, himself an elderly and poor man, brought many a little gift to his winning patient.

Jack’s employers, hearing of our trouble, not only passed over various blunders committed by him under distress of mind, but sent eggs and fowls fresh from the country, and bottles of wine from their own cellars. And one day, when anxieties pressed with especial heaviness, the post brought an unexpected letter from Aunt Briscoe, enclosing a five pound note.

“I don’t say that you are not very foolish to undertake the girl,” she wrote. “Mary Browne is nothing to you, nor you to her. She may be very agreeable. Jack seems half insane about her—” Jack had been to see Aunt Briscoe, and no doubt he had enlarged on Maimie’s charms in his artless fashion;—“but I do not see what that has to do with the matter. However, I enclose a gift of five pounds towards your extra expenses just now. Of course you will not expect it to be repeated.”

No, that we certainly did not. But how thankful we were, and how I wondered over my own want of trust, my “little faith.”

Five pounds did not make things easy for us; and four times five pounds would not have done so either. But the gift came just in time to tide us over a serious difficulty. Help that is sent does so often come just in time,—not more, but also not less, than “just in time.”

So weeks went by, and at last the day came when Maimie might walk downstairs. Then in a little while she slipped quietly out of her invalidism, and joined our family life again; only we had to be very careful lest she should do too much.

I saw a great change in Maimie. I don’t know whether others did. Not only in her having grown thin and colourless, and having lost much of the flaxen hair. Her smile was as sweet as ever, sweeter than ever, I think; but she seemed more silent and gentle, and often more grave.

It was singular how she clung to me. Her love for Robert and Cherry was not lessened; but I think her love for me was greatest. When tired, she used to sit on the ground beside me, with her head on my knee. If I advised the sofa, she would say, “Please let me be here. I like this so much. It feels as if I had mother again.”

Maimie was very anxious to resume her share of work and mending; but at present Cherry and I set our faces against her doing so. She was still weak and easily worn out; and the change of air which might have set her up lay quite out of our reach.

“Aunt Marion,” she said thoughtfully one day, “I do think it so strange that my father never writes.”

“He may be ill,” I said to her, as she had once said to me.

“Would he be ill so long as this?”

“I don’t know. It does not seem likely, Maimie, but there is no knowing. We may hear yet, some day.”

“I am afraid he doesn’t care for me so much as I thought he did,” she murmured. “And yet he really did seem kind, he really seemed fond of me. Aunt Marion, I was so angry when I first came, because you thought he did not mean to write. But after all you were right.”

“We may hope the best still,” I said.

“Ah, but I should not have been so angry. It was very very wrong. I am trying hard not to be so easily vexed at things.”

“I think you are different since your illness, Maimie.”

“Things are different,” she answered. “I’m not so dreadfully alone now; and I know you do all love me. It is such a feeling, to know that nobody cares for one. When I first came to London, I had nobody in the world except father, and I couldn’t bear to think that perhaps he did not really love to have me with him. I’m not sure, Aunt Marion, that I didn’t really believe the same as you thought, deep down in my heart; but I wouldn’t let myself think it. I couldn’t! it was too dreadful, when I had nobody else.”

“Had you no friends in America?” I asked.

“Oh—friends—I don’t know. People were kind, but I don’t think I cared for anybody very particularly,—not as I care for you.”

“Perhaps, after all, we shall find some day that your father has had a good reason for his silence,” I observed. “Churton always did things in an odd way.”

“I would much rather think him, odd than cold,” said Maimie, sighing. “Yes, perhaps, some day,—we shall know all about it by-and-by, I suppose. But that may be a long way off. And I do so want to be useful now.”

“I can’t have you working again yet.”

“I needn’t begin with mending,—though I do really mean to make myself like that. But I could wash up, and make the beds.”

“Not just yet,” I repeated,—“more than you do already.”

“And that is so little,” she said.

I think it was the evening of the same day, that Jack came in with a grave face. After tea, he took a seat beside me, and fidgeted in silence with my scissors for a quarter of an hour or more. Then he said suddenly—

“Mother, I’ve had a warning to-day.”

“What, more blunders, Jack?”

“Yes. And the very next, I’ll have to give up. They are very sorry, but they say it really can’t go on.”

“O Jack!” I said sorrowfully.

“I wish I could help myself, mother! But what on earth am I to do? Sometimes I think I’ll run away and enlist.”

“And break my heart,” I said, in a low voice.

Jack buried his face in his hands, and breathed hard. I did not know what to say next. We had gone over and over the old ground so often and so uselessly. Jack was always sorry, always angry with himself and distressed for my sake; and he always meant to do better,—only somehow he never did do better.

“I don’t know what in the world is to become of me,” he groaned at length. “Only I don’t mean to be a burden on you and father,—that’s certain.”

I think I said nothing, for I could not trust my voice. Tears were fighting to make their way, and I could not bear him to see me cry. I knew it would make him still more unhappy. But this did indeed seem to be the one drop too much in our cup.

“How long a time will they give you?” Cherry asked mournfully.

“Just till my next blunder. That’s all. To-morrow, most likely.”

“They won’t dismiss you at an hour’s notice. Impossible, Jack!”

“O no. But that will settle the question.”

He had lifted his head for a moment, but now it was down in his hands again.

Only Cherry and I were in the room beside Jack,—except Maimie, who was, as we believed, sleeping on the sofa.

But she had not been asleep; or our voices had aroused her. For at this moment she sat up, and looked at us, one after another. Then she rose, and came softly to Jack’s side, and laid her hand on his shoulder.

“Jack, may I ask a question?” she said. “I want to see if I can’t help you.”







JACK caught Maimie’s little hand and kissed it. “To be sure,” he said. “Ask anything you like. I don’t see how you can help me, though.”

“What are all these mistakes that you make?” she inquired.

“Oh,—stupid things,—all sorts. In spelling,—words that I really know quite well I go and spell all wrong, and don’t see till the mischief is done. And then there’s scratching out, and spoilt paper, and wasted time. I’m an awful idiot, of course,—I know that well enough. You can’t think worse of me than I think of myself, Maimie.” And he sat as if he were awaiting her sentence.

“Jack,—” she said slowly. Then she stopped, and began again,—“But, Jack,—you know what it all means?”

He looked at her questioningly.

“It means want of attention,” she said. “It means that you don’t give your mind to what you are doing. And, Jack,—you can get over that.”

Neither Cherry nor I spoke. Jack stared hard at Maimie for some seconds.

“Yes,” he said presently. “Yes, of course I could get over that. It’s stupidity.”

“No, not stupidity. It is a bad habit of letting your mind wander. And bad habits may always be got over,—always,—only the longer you put off, the harder your fight will be. Jack, you can get over this, for Aunt Marion’s sake, and because it is right.”

“Yes; of course I can,” assented Jack, looking like one in a dream.

“It will be a fight,” repeated Maimie, standing by him still. “But you must fight it out, Jack. You must make up your mind that there SHALL NOT be one single more mistake from carelessness. I don’t mean only making up your mind to try a little more, but making up your mind to no. And, Jack,—if you pray to be helped—”

Jack looked up at Maimie, as if she had been a sort of guardian angel. “Yes, yes, I will really, Maimie, really and truly.”

“That would be like a man,” pursued Maimie. “But to be always blundering, and always saying you can’t help it, is not like a man.”

Jack stood up, and stretched himself. “Thank you, Maimie,” he said, in quite a different voice from his common voice. “I shan’t forget this. I will be a man now, God helping me; and I’ll fight against all this folly. I do really believe it has been half laziness.”

And where Cherry or I would have protested, and tried to make our dear Jack think better of himself, Maimie said quietly, “Of course it has. But you are not going to be lazy any more.”

“No, I’m not,” he said earnestly.

“Perhaps, though, there are some mistakes which you really can’t help making.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Jack said doubtfully. “I’m awfully stupid over figures, and I never can learn the multiplication table.”

“I have thought of that,” Maimie said. “I have often wished to help you there, Jack; only I didn’t quite like to propose it. But I know I’m good at figures, and I’m quite sure I could help you. There are all sorts of little catches and dodges for a bad memory at figures, and I could put you up to some of them. I don’t mean tricks, but real ways of helping you to be quick in calculation, and not to forget. I am quite sure you can learn the tables, and all the weights and measures too, if only you make up your mind not to be beaten.”

“Mother, you hear!” cried Jack.

“Maimie is right,” I said. “There is a wonderful difference between setting to work with 'I can’t’ and with 'I will.’”

“I’ll leave off saying 'can’t,’ and take to 'will’” said Jack. “But, Maimie, we mustn’t have you fall ill, teaching me.”

“O there’s no fear about that,” she said brightly. “I love books and teaching more than anything. It will be so nice to do something useful. Jack, I don’t see why we shouldn’t read history together too.”

Jack looked doubtful. “I’m not fond of history,” he said. “But I could read it with you.”

“If you don’t like it, you must learn to like it,” said Maimie. “I do wonder at you sometimes, Jack, when I see you wasting your whole evening doing nothing,—and you might be studying hard all the time.”

“I’ll begin to-morrow. I didn’t think before,” said Jack. “Mother has tried to make me read often enough, and I never took to it,—but I will now.”

And my love for Maimie was of such a nature that I could bear to see her succeed where I had failed, without even a temptation to jealousy.

“There’s one thing more,” she said slowly. “Jack, you must see your Mr. Morison to-morrow, and tell him you are sorry not to have done better, and beg for one more fair trial. Tell him you are going to make a fresh start, and really and truly to do your very best.”

“Well,—I will,” Jack said, though he did not look at all delighted with this last advice.

“And, Aunt Marion,” pursued Maimie,—“I want to ask something else of you. May I in a few days help with the boys’ lessons,—Bob and Ted’s, I mean? I should so like it. If you would only let me, I might take them quite off your hands. And that would leave you so much more time for other things. May I be your little governess? May I just try?”

I do not know exactly what answer I made at the moment; but before long this arrangement came to pass. The relief to myself was not small. I think I disliked teaching as much as Maimie disliked needlework. It soon became a settled thing that Maimie should give the two little boys their daily lessons, and should help Jack every evening with his studies.







ONE day, about four months after the visit which Robert and I had paid to “The Gables,” I was astonished to see a fly drive up to our door, and Aunt Briscoe descend from it.

She came slowly up the steps and into the house, panting a little, as she was given to doing. She had on a black silk dress, and a very handsome mantle, and a queer old-fashioned bonnet. Cherry had run to open the door, and I went quickly into the hall after Cherry.

“How do you do, niece Marion?” Aunt Briscoe said, in a short way.

“How do you do, Aunt Briscoe?” I said, hiding my surprise. “We are very glad to see you here.” And this was true, yet I could have wished for previous warning. An uneasy recollection of our larder came over me.

“I hope you are,” she said grimly. “Where’s Robert?”

“He will not be home for another hour. We have tea soon after six.”

“That will do for me,” Aunt Briscoe said. “I have ordered the fly to come again at seven. I don’t approve of late hours.”

“You will take off your bonnet,” I said.

“No, thanks. I’ve got no cap here. Where are all the children?” She was standing in the passage still, looking about her with sharp eyes.

“Jack is at his office.”

“Not turned off yet?”

“No; he has done much better lately, given satisfaction.”

“I always said he could if he chose,” said Aunt Briscoe.

I felt angry. Yet was it not quite true? But some people have a way of uttering truths which makes them distasteful.

“And the others?”

“Cress and Owen and Fred are at school.”

“Time Cress should be at work too!”

“Yes,” I said; “we are looking out for something that he can do. Poor Cress!”

“Poor!” she said sharply.

“He wanted so much to go to college.”

“Fudge! You have brought up your boys with ideas much too grand for their station in life, niece Marion.”

Now was this fair? Cress had ideas, certainly, which could not be carried out for lack of money; but none of the others had. I resented the words silently. Aunt Briscoe looked at me and laughed.

“You are like an old hen, my dear,” she said. “Always ready to cackle in defence of your chickens. Where are the little ones?”

“In the basement-room. Maimie is teaching them there; but lessons must be nearly over,” I said.

“Mary Browne, do you mean? Playing at lessons, I suppose.”

“O no; she makes them work hard. It is a great relief to me to have them off my hands; and Maimie is so clever at teaching. The boys get on capitally.”

“How old is the child? Fifteen! A chit of a girl! Why, she ought to be at school herself.”

“She does study regularly,” I said. “School for her is out of our power. She is making Jack study too.”

“Humph! Well, it’s a good thing she isn’t a few years older. I’ll take a look at the children in the basement-room, the first thing.”

I yielded, of course. We never opposed Aunt Briscoe. Otherwise I should have preferred first to put things tidy.

However, I needed not to have feared. Maimie never could work or teach in an untidy room.

She was at the table in the basement, with several books strewn over it, and a little boy on either side of her,—Bob reciting something in clear tones, while Teddie’s brown head was pressed lovingly against her flaxen waves of hair. Our entrance made her look round, and she stood up, flushing faintly, and looking her prettiest.

“So that is Mary Browne,” said Aunt Briscoe.

She drew nearer, and shook hands, giving each boy a nod, and then bringing back her attention to the young teacher.

“So this isn’t only play?” she said.

“O no; it is work, not play,” Maimie answered, smiling.

“What was the boy saying to you?”

“Some poetry.”

Aunt Briscoe despised poetry, and she gave a little sniff.

“What good will that do him, I should like to know?”

Maimie looked surprised at the question.

“Mother used to say no one was educated who had not a knowledge of the best poets,” she said. “And anything that exercises his memory, and makes him think, is good for him.”

“Makes him think!”

“We go into the meaning, line by line.”

“Humph!” Aunt Briscoe said again,—“I suppose you don’t attempt Latin?”

The boys exchanged looks, and blushed. Maimie said,—“A little,” half smiling.

“O Maimie, you didn’t mean to tell mother till we could say our declensions,” cried the children.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Maimie gently.

Aunt Briscoe looked hard at her again. “Who taught you all this?”

“My mother, partly,” said Maimie. “And I have been to a good school.”

“It’s you that have been so ill lately,” was Aunt Briscoe’s next remark. “Well again now, I suppose?”

“O yes, quite.”

“She is very far from strong,” I said. “The doctor wants her to get away for change; but just at present we can’t manage it.”

“Change wasn’t so much the fashion in my young days,” said Aunt Briscoe. “People are always wanting now to rush away somewhere. It’s a perfect mania.”

“I don’t want to go away,” said Maimie. But now that the little excitement of our coming in was over, she lost all her colour, and looked very tired and pale.

“You may as well leave the lessons, and come upstairs with us,” Aunt Briscoe said decisively. “I wish to see more of the girl, niece Marion.” Maimie looked at me, and I nodded assent, so she came, not without protests from the boys. She had such a curious power of making them love their books, unlike too many teachers.

We sat talking for nearly an hour, before Robert came in, and Aunt Briscoe paid more attention to Maimie than to any of us. Even her favourite Cherry was neglected; but unselfish Cherry never minded being in the background.

Maimie was put through quite a course of questions, as to her past life, her mother and her stepfather, how the marriage had come about, where they had lived, why Churton Hazel had sent her back, and much besides. Maimie bore the questioning patiently, though tears now and then came to her eyes.

“I always said Churton was a worthless fellow,” the old lady declared at length.

I could have contradicted this “always said,” but of course I did not.

A wave of colour rushed over poor Maimie’s face. She too was mute, however.

“We shan’t hear any more of him till he wants money himself. He had better not come to me then, that’s all.”

“Oh, I don’t think—” faltered Maimie.

“You don’t know him, child. Of course you don’t. How should you? He always had a smooth side to show when it pleased him. But see how he treats us now.”

“He will write some day,” murmured Maimie.

“I don’t say he won’t; but that isn’t the question. Why hasn’t he written already?”

Maimie could make no answer. She seemed a good deal upset, and I saw Cherry pass by, giving her a loving little squeeze of the hand.

“Worthless people are not worth crying over, child. It’s Churton all over, that’s all one can say.”

She then dropped the subject, and the two girls went away to prepare tea. Robert came in, followed by Jack, and Aunt Briscoe said—

“That girl looks frightfully delicate.”

“She has been ill lately,” I said.

“She will be ill again soon, if you don’t take care—fall into a decline, or something of that sort. You had better let me take her home for a week.”

Somehow I did not feel inclined to spring at the idea. There had been a time when I thought Aunt Briscoe ought to take in Maimie altogether. Now she was one of us, and I did not want to lose her. But my husband thanked Aunt Briscoe, and said it was the very thing Maimie needed, and I woke up suddenly to my own selfishness. Had I not been longing to give Maimie change? Well, here was change provided.

“She can come back with me this evening,” pursued Aunt Briscoe. “You had better tell her to put up a second dress.”

I went as directed, and said to Maimie that she was going home with Aunt Briscoe for a week. Maimie gave such a start, that the little toast-rack fell from her hand.

“But I don’t want to go,” she said, trembling. “O Aunt Marion, please, must I? There are the boys’ lessons—and Jack.”

“You will teach twice as well after a week’s rest,” I said. “'The Gables’ is a very pretty house, Maimie. We shall all miss you; still, I am sure you will enjoy yourself.”

“I would much rather not,” she said mournfully. “I am so happy here. It is like being cast adrift again.”

And she clung to me, and I found difficulty in comforting her. But neither Robert nor Aunt Briscoe would listen to any objections. So, at seven o’clock, Mamie drove off in the fly with aunt Briscoe. It seemed as if a shadow fell over the house with her absence.







AS Maimie went away, I had a conviction in my mind that her absence would not be only for one week. And my conviction proved true. The week grew into four weeks, before Aunt Briscoe would part with her.

It was strange how we all missed the girl. Jack was utterly miserable, and Robert seemed quite at a loss without her pretty caresses, and Cherry evidently found it not easy to be so cheerful as usual.

The month was one of trouble and anxiety to us, which made the matter wow. Bills had come in, which we could not tell how to meet, and worries and fears pressed heavily.

Then we heard of an opening for Cress in a mercantile house, and Cress fought against the notion, in a way that distressed us all much. I longed for Maimie to help us in persuading him. He was angry and excited. He said he had always hoped to go to college, somehow. Robert patiently explained to him the impossibility of any such thing. Cress argued and protested, and gave way to temper, and seemed thoroughly out of sorts. He had to go to bed at last for a whole day, to be nursed and comforted. But Robert would have no further putting off of the decision. He said it was an opening too good to be refused, and Cress must make up his mind to what was a necessity. Cress had to yield, but the boy looked wretched, and for days he spoke hardly a pleasant word to anybody.

So the month of Maimie’s absence was altogether a trying time to us.

Jack went once to see her, and found her very bright, only longing to come back to us. Aunt Briscoe seemed “awfully” fond of her, Jack said, and he thought Maimie liked Aunt Briscoe better than at first, only “not like mother.” And Aunt Briscoe had declared her intention of keeping Maimie exactly one month, which she did to the very day.

She brought Maimie back herself, at the month’s end, remaining again to tea with us. I never can forget how Maimie rushed into my arms, whispering. “O Aunt Marion, I thought I should never get home again!” Her sweet face was glowing with happiness, and the old look of health had fully come back. So I was very grateful to Aunt Briscoe.

While we were having our tea together, the postman came. Nobody seemed to notice the rap particularly, we were talking so much: but presently Ted ran out, and brought back a letter addressed to Maimie.

She sprang up with a little cry, as he dropped it on the table, and a glow flushed her cheeks.

“It’s from father!” she exclaimed. “Aunt Marion! A letter from father at last!”

There seemed no chance at first of the letter being read. Almost before I had gathered the sense of the words, Maimie was clinging to me, clasping the envelope, and sobbing violently. I had never quite known till that moment how the poor child had suffered under her stepfather’s long silence. Aunt Briscoe sat looking at her with an odd mystified expression.

“Don’t cry, Maimie,” I whispered. “You are not sorry, are you?”

She lifted her face, streaming with tears still, yet quivering with happiness.

“O no, no, no! sorry! no! He hasn’t forgotten me, you see. But oh, Aunt Marion—if he wants me—”

“Maimie, you shan’t go,” cried Jack hoarsely. “Nobody has a right to you now, except us?”

“Suppose Maimie sees what he says, before we go into that question,” I suggested.

“What does he say, Maimie?” cried two or three impatient voices.

“I don’t know. Only I am glad he has written.”

Poor Jack looked most gloomy. He evidently thought the loss of Maimie was becoming certain.

“Perhaps Uncle Churton is coming home,” said Cherry. “Do see, Maimie.”

Maimie heaved a sigh, stood up, and with trembling hands tore open the envelope. Something dropped out, and she stooped for it.

“A bank-note,” she said slowly, putting it into my hands. “That is for you and Uncle Robert.”

“Read the letter first, Maimie,” I said.

Maimie obeyed, not once only. A look of perplexity came over her face, and the bright look faded.

“The bank-note is for you, of course, Aunt Marion,” she said soberly. “He says it is a present towards expenses.”

“How much is it for?” asked Aunt Briscoe. Maimie glanced at it, and murmured something about “dollars.”

“We are not in America,” said Aunt Briscoe drily.

“O no,” and Maimie gave another look. “It is—twenty-five pounds.”

I could not but feel a throb of relief and gratitude. At that moment we were so needing help. I saw an echo of my own sensations in Robert’s face.

“Is your stepfather coming home?” asked Aunt Briscoe.

“He—doesn’t say,” faltered Maimie. “He only says he writes just to send a little present. He is going away somewhere else—I mean he was when he wrote,—so he couldn’t give his address.”

“Humph!” Aunt Briscoe said expressively. “Where is he now, child?”

“He doesn’t say.”

“No address on the sheet?”

“No,” Maimie said very low, and she gave the letter first to me, then to Robert.

“Well, my dear,” he said cheerfully, handing it back; “it is very evident that Churton means you to belong to us for the present.”

“It isn’t right,” she whispered.

“Bosh!” cried Jack, who had grown radiant. “As if we could ever bear to part with you!”

She really did smile then, and it was not a sad smile.

“But he might have told me a little more of his plans,” she said.

“You need never trouble yourself with thinking what a man 'might have’ done,” said Aunt Briscoe. “It’s sheer waste of time. They just care to please themselves, and that’s all.”

Maimie glanced at my husband, and shook her head.

“Maimie, you are happy here. You don’t really want to go to America?” Jack said wistfully.

“No,” she answered. “I am as happy as can be, and I don’t want to go. Only it is hard that I should be a burden on you.”

“If Mary Browne is a burden on anybody, she may come and live at The Gables,” said Aunt Briscoe.

Maimie looked from her to me silently.

“But she is not a burden,” I said. “She is our help and comfort. We really haven’t known how to get along without her this month.”

“Just as you please,” Aunt Briscoe said shortly. “I never press my favours on anybody. Only when you are tired of Mary Browne, you may send her to me.”

Then Aunt Briscoe rose to go away; and Maimie presently gave her a loving kiss, whispering gratitude, I suppose, for I heard the old lady answer, “There’s nothing to make a fuss about.” And when she was gone, Maimie came to my side, and sat down on a low stool, and laid her head on my knee, with a sigh of content.

“Aunt Briscoe is very very kind,” she murmured. “And I should like to hear more about father. But this is home, and no other place can ever be home to me, like it.”

Jack’s face beamed all over, and Cherry smiled, while I said, “We are all glad that you feel it so, Mamie.”







TWO years had gone by since Mary Browne came to us,—Maimie, the friendless and homeless girl, for a while unwelcome to my heart and reluctantly accepted, yet now completely one of us. I doubt if even my beloved Jack, even our good self-forgetting Cherry, would have been more missed from among our circle than flaxen-haired, black-eyed Maimie Browne.

Reluctantly accepted, for at first I would have done almost anything to be rid of the burden, anything short of sending Maimie to a workhouse. I could not resolve on that. Perhaps even from the first I was more under the sway of Maimie’s attractions than I at all guessed. At all events, not many months passed from the day of Maimie’s arrival, before we should have been grieved indeed to part with her. Poor as we were, Aunt Briscoe’s offer to give her a home was at once put aside.

I think it would have half-broken the child’s heart to leave us. Yet sometimes the wonder did cross me whether we were quite right. A home at “The Gables” meant ease and plenty. A home with us meant hard work and scanty fare.

But Maimie did not see things so. She said she loved us all more than anybody else in the world. She liked Aunt Briscoe and was grateful to her, but she counted me as a second mother. She said often that she knew she could be useful to us, and this was true indeed. But for her teaching, the two youngest boys must have gone to school months before; and though we now talked of sending them, she had them still in hand. Jack, too, had become quite studious through her influence. And though Maimie never was a good darner or mender, she had shown lately a new gift in the way of dressmaking and bonnet-trimming, which we found very serviceable.

Between all these employments and her own studies, it was no wonder that Maimie looked worn sometimes. She was taller and thinner than of old, with the same soft outline of features, the same pale skin and crimson lips. And the abundant flaxen hair was not a shade darker, and the black eyes were just as loving. I never saw a girl quite like Maimie anywhere—so very pretty, yet seeming to think so little about her own looks. She had a quiet, self-possessed manner, beyond her years. Many people took her at first sight for older than Cherry.

All through these two years, we had not heard a word of Maimie’s stepfather, my brother-in-law Churton Hazel. He had sent only the one cheque for twenty-five pounds, a few months after Maimie’s first coming to us; and that, I suppose, eased his conscience. No second cheque came; and we had not the very least idea where he was, or what he might be doing.

Early in June, Maimie’s seventeenth birthday would come. Jack was very anxious to make it a gala-day.

I ought to say here that my boys were doing well. Jack, at nineteen, was a fine broad-shouldered fellow, getting on capitally at his work, giving satisfaction, and really quite shaking off his old blundering ways, thanks chiefly to Maimie. Jack would never be brilliant, and we all knew that, but he was fast becoming as steady and dependable in his office as he had always been in his home.

He had never lost sight of his sudden resolution to “be a man,” and to conquer his faults. I am sure also that he had never forgotten Maimie’s suggestion that he must pray for help. I feel convinced that Jack did indeed pray, and that we saw the answer to his prayers in his life. We were all so fond and proud of Jack—Maimie as much as anybody.

Cresswell, at eighteen, had grown pretty well reconciled to office work. The old college dream had dropped into the background, and seemed forgotten.

He was rather small still, and handsome, and stronger in health than he used to be. People often said he was much better-looking than Jack. But Cherry and I never could understand how anybody could think so for a moment. Cress had straighter and thinner features, it is true; but Jack was so tall and manly, so protecting and kind to anybody weaker than himself, and so polite in his manners. Kindness and politeness are more to be admired than straight and delicate features. And poor Cress always seemed too much occupied with himself to have much kindness or politeness for other people.

The next two boys were off our hands, or at least away from home. There had come a good opening for Owen in a mercantile house in the north of England; and there our steady third son had been busy for nearly a year, winning good opinions from all around. And Fred had lately obtained the darling wish of his heart, by going on board a training-ship for the Merchant Navy. I did wish it could have been the Royal Navy; but this lay outside our means.

So the burdens of life seemed to be a little lessening, though perhaps it was so far more in seeming than in reality. For our absent boys were, of course, still a pull upon the home purse, and we often felt ourselves to be encompassed with difficulties. As one cloud went, another came. Yet always and always we were helped through.

Many a time, looking ahead, I have felt that the next step hardly could be taken. But when the step became needful, we found it to be possible. So, step by step, we not only went on our way through life, but step by step we were helped; and step by step we learnt more fully lessons of quiet trust in our Father’s loving care. I often thought in those days of Cherry’s favourite text, “All these things shall be added.” For they were added—all our real and actual needs, though not perhaps all the things we could have wished to possess.

But to return to Maimie’s birthday, a memorable day in my life.

After much talk and hesitation, Hampton Court was fixed upon as the scene for our excursion. Maimie’s birthday would happily be on a Saturday, so my husband and Jack and Cress could all accompany us. We determined to leave nobody at home, except a girl in charge of the house. Jack had put aside a little money, wherewith he undertook to treat us all; and he promised also to provide sandwiches and buns for the occasion.

The day came, bright enough to satisfy all hopes. I remember well what a glisten of sunshine was in the air as we rowed up the river, for the boys would not hear of going by train. This was far the pleasantest way, no doubt. My husband took an oar now and then, to relieve Cress; but Jack kept his untiringly the whole distance. Cherry and the little boys tried their hand at it, amid much fun; and Maimie proved herself an efficient steerer.

We were all very merry, Maimie being the merriest among us. I can recall how sweet and bright she looked, chatting and laughing, or sitting in a dreamy silence of complete enjoyment. I remember too how absorbed Jack and Cress were with her; how they seemed to think of hardly anybody or anything else, and how they were almost ready to quarrel for the honour of sitting near her, or lending her a helping hand.

After landing, we strolled first to a quiet nook, and there had our little meal together; for it was past two, and we were very hungry. There were sandwiches in abundance, and an ample supply of tarts, buns, cake, and soda-water. Jack had done the thing liberally; yet his provision proved not too great for our needs. Little remained over when we had all done eating.

We then separated, agreeing to meet at a certain part of Bushey Park, between four and half-past. My husband wanted to take a quiet dawdle through the grounds and in the palace. The other six went off together. But somehow they, too, fell apart, before they were out of my sight,—Cherry behind, with Bob and Ted; Maimie in front, with Jack and Cress.

I could not help sighing quietly. It seemed to dawn on me all at once that trouble in that direction might be lying ahead. Robert asked laughingly what the sigh meant.

“Only a mother’s worries,” I said. “I wish Jack and Cress were not both so devoted to Maimie.”

“My dear! Infants, all of them!” Robert said, in an amused voice.

“I don’t know about 'infancy,’” I said. “Jack is very fast becoming a man. And Maimie is as womanly as Cherry.”

“Maimie!” he said, in surprise.

“Yes; you don’t see it, of course, because she has soft clinging ways. But Maimie is grown-up in mind and character. Jack and Cress don’t think of her as a child. To them she is a woman.”

“You are a woman, my dear,” Robert said, smiling. “And women have fertile imaginations.”

“Women see further than men,” I answered. “I hope I am mistaken, Robert,—but I have a horror of brothers being rivals.”

I do not think we said any more then on the subject. It took us a good while to stroll through the gallery, and then we made our way to the beautiful lime avenue in Bushey Park. Robert and I sat down there under a tree, and presently he was dropping asleep. So I quietly got up, and walked about alone. It was just four, and I expected my children to appear before long.







WITHOUT thinking, I strolled some distance, till almost out of sight of my husband. Nobody else was near. And all at once I saw on the grass, a good way from the road, a prostrate figure,—somebody lying flat and still.

A tired excursionist, was my first thought; a sick man, my second; somebody in trouble, my third. For I noticed a slight writhing movement, suggestive of distress, and a low sound, much like a smothered sob, reached me.

I went slowly nearer, without knowing why, without thinking what I meant to do. And my attention was caught by a certain familiar look in the outline of the shoulders. I stood still, gazed hard for an instant, and then was kneeling beside the prostrate figure in alarm.

“Why, Jack! Jack?” I said breathlessly. “Jack, has anything happened? are you ill?”

“I wish I were,” groaned Jack.

“My dear boy, what is wrong?” I asked, relieved to hear him speak, yet frightened still.

“Nothing. I mean, nothing you can help. Mother, please go.”

“But you will tell me what it is,” I entreated. For hitherto Jack had always turned to me in trouble.

“No,—no use,—nobody can help me,—I only want to be let alone.” And then he actually broke quite down, and sobbed,—great strong fellow that he was. I put my hand on his, but he shook it off, as if hardly able to endure a touch.

“Jack, if anybody can comfort you, don’t you think your mother can?”

“Nobody can,” repeated the poor boy. “Mother, please leave me alone,—just a few minutes. I’ll come soon. I’ll meet you at the landing.”

“And you won’t tell me what is wrong?”

Jack rolled over and hid his face. “I’ve no hope of Maimie,” he muttered. “There! you have it now. I can’t talk about it.”

“No hope of Maimie!” I repeated, at the moment stupidly not understanding. Did he mean that he thought her ill,—hopelessly ill? This absurd idea actually occurred to my mind first.

“Yes,—no hope,” repeated Jack fiercely. “Isn’t that plain enough? She doesn’t care for me,—any more than for anybody else. O Maimie!”

The choking sobs came back. What could I do? To leave him was impossible; yet I hardly dared speak or touch him. After a minute I ventured to suggest,—“You are both so young,—Maimie almost a child.”

“Oh, I thought you were gone,” Jack said, with a kind of gasp, and he sat up, then started to his feet. “Mother, you needn’t say anything about me to the others. I’ll be at the landing—” and he rushed away.

Why Jack had come to Bushey Park at all, when he could not bear to be spoken to, was rather a mystery to me, since he knew we should be all there. But it was just like his simple and impulsive way of doing things. Probably he could have given no clear reason himself.

No others of our party were yet in sight. As I walked slowly back towards Robert, going through a motherly heart-ache on behalf of my boy, Maimie suddenly emerged from some trees, and flew rather than ran towards me.

“Where are the others?” I asked, surprised at her being alone, as well as struck by her crimson cheeks and bright eyes.

“Oh, they are somewhere,” she said breathlessly.

“I have not seen Cherry and the boys for some time. Cress is coming—and I don’t know where Jack is. Jack ran away from us, and I ran away from Cress. O please, Aunt Marion, I want so much to tell you something.”

“Tell me now,” I said, and I drew her arm within my own. “We will go for a little walk along the avenue. Uncle Robert is asleep, you see.”

She held my arm tightly, clinging with the air of one who needed protection.

“It has been such nonsense,” she said, breathless still. “I want to tell you everything at once, and then you won’t have any false ideas about me,—mistaken ideas, I mean. For indeed it has not been my fault. I never dreamt of such a thing. Why, I’m only seventeen to-day.”

“Yes, Maimie,” I said anxiously.

“Cress has been so absurd all the afternoon,—wanting to be by side, and trying to throw poor Jack into the shade. So I talked more to Jack than to him, and that, I suppose, vexed Cress. And at last it came to—to—I hardly know how to explain. It would take so long to tell exactly all that passed. But Cress said something about my being by-and-by 'his little wife.’ Jack laughed, and then Cress fired up, and said Jack might laugh if he chose, but it was no laughing matter, for I should be his wife.”

“Rather cool of Cress,” I said soothingly, for Maimie trembled like a leaf.

“Yes,—so I thought. And I said to him, 'I am not to be disposed of quite so easily, I can tell you, Cress.’ And he actually said,—I know you like me well enough, and I mean you to be mine some day. I’ll never give you any peace till you say 'Yes.’”

“And your answer?” I asked.

“I said I wished he wouldn’t be so ridiculous. As if we couldn’t be brothers and sisters all together, without such nonsense! Cherry was not at hand to help me, and Cress kept saying again and again,—'But you like me,—I know you like me,—say you like me, Maimie.’ And I said at last,—’ Yes, of course I like you,—and I like a great many other people too. I should like you much better if you did not tease me like this.’ And he said,—'It isn’t teasing, Maimie. I want you to say that you like me best,—better than anybody,—better than Jack.’”

“What did Jack say?” I asked.

“He said,—'Do you, Maimie?’ in a low voice. And I said,—'No, of course I don’t. I like you all,—Jack and Cress and Owen and all of you.’ I am afraid Jack didn’t like the way I spoke, he turned so white, and looked vexed. But what else could I say?”

“It was the best answer you could make, I dare say,” I said.

“Of course it was, because it was the true one,” Maimie said, with spirit. “Cress went on teasing me, and wanted to know if I was quite sure I liked him exactly in the same way as Jack. I said,—'No, because Jack is my pupil as well as my brother, and I am proud of his spelling.’ And Jack looked graver than ever. And Cress said,—'It doesn’t matter. You’ll never marry anybody but me, Maimie.’ And I said, 'Then I shall not marry at all, for I should never think of marrying you.’ I am afraid I was getting a little angry, for it really was too bad of him. I heard Jack say softly,—'Or me?’ and I wanted not to take any notice, but Cress said, 'You’ll not marry Jack!’ in a sort of threatening tone. And I said,—'I certainly shall not ask your leave, Cress. But I don’t mean to marry you or Jack or anybody. The whole thing is ridiculous. I love Aunt Marion more than anybody else in the world, and I don’t want ever to leave her.’”

“Thank you, Maimie,” I said, and I gave her a kiss; yet my heart was sore for poor Jack.

“Then you don’t think I answered too sharply. It was so provoking of them both. Jack must have been vexed, for he went straight off and left us. And Cress began upon me again, so I ran away in another direction and left him. I lost my way in the grounds, or I should have been here much sooner. I did so want to tell you first, before Cress.”

“I do not suppose Cress will say much to me,” I remarked. “He has behaved like a very foolish boy.”

“Yes, foolish,” repeated Maimie. “Just think of our ages—eighteen and seventeen. It is too absurd. There are all sorts of things I want to do and to learn before I even think of marrying.”

“I could never advise an early marriage upon poor means,” I said, speaking out of sad experience.

“No, indeed. And why should I? I am so happy as things are. I do wish Cress had let me alone. Cress, of all people! Of course I like him—as a boy, but that is all. I think a girl at seventeen is much older than a boy at eighteen or nineteen. And if I were to marry I must have somebody to look up to,—not a mere boy. Besides, they are both much too young to know their minds yet. Either of them might like me well enough now, and yet not care for me at all a few years hence. Do you think I did rightly?”

“Quite rightly,” I said. “Feeling as you do, I don’t see what other answer was possible.”

“Only they are your boys and I can’t bear to give pain to anybody belonging to you. But it always seems to me as if marriage were such a very solemn thing. To promise always to love and obey another, always to live with him, always to honour him and put him first,—oh, I couldn’t, unless I felt so very very sure of what he was. I should want such a good, good man, and so kind and pleasant,—somebody whom I could really love better than all the world beside. And, of course, it would have to be somebody I could look up to,—somebody cleverer and wiser than myself.”

Poor Jack!

“I don’t mean that I ever have thought very much about it,” she pursued. “Only, of course, I know the sort of people I like. Cress would never never do. He is kind to me, but he thinks much too much about his food, and his comforts, and having his own way. O no; I couldn’t be the wife of a person like Cress. I shouldn’t be able to look up to him.”

“You could look up to Jack more than to Cress,” I ventured to suggest.

“Yes,—perhaps. He is strong, and always kind. O yes, one does respect Jack’s strength, and the use he makes of it. Poor Jack is really good, I am sure; only he is rather slow over books. I can do a long sum in a quarter the time he takes.”

Alas, it was too true. And Maimie was devoted to books, and thought so much of knowledge.

“Anyhow, I don’t mean to think about marrying yet,” she said brightly. “Not for years to come. I shan’t mind now I have told you. Cress must learn to hold his tongue. I believe he was half in joke all the time.”

Cress might have been; but I knew it was not so with Jack.

We had gone some distance, and now we turned, Maimie continuing in the same strain, flushed and bright-eyed still. Cherry and the two small boys came to meet us, and Cress was sitting beside his father, looking moody and dismal. Poor silly boy! What could have become of Jack? That question rose next. I said in a matter-of-fact tone, “Jack was here before you all came back. He will meet us at the landing.”

Then Robert woke up, and we began to talk of going home.

Cress evidently wanted to show Maimie by his manner that he was very wretched. But Maimie hardly looked at him, and clung persistently to my side. On the border of the river we found Jack, looking so white and spiritless, that Cherry asked if he had a headache, and Maimie gave a guilty start, as if she felt herself to blame.

The return trip was not so cheery as the morning row had been. Jack worked at his oar persistently, saying little; while Cress chose to consider himself too tired for exertion, putting off his share of work upon other people.

Cherry was the merriest of the party, in her quiet way, but gradually she woke up to the fact of something unusual, and became silent like the rest. It was not till we had left the boat and were walking home that I found an opportunity to whisper a few words as to what had passed. She said only, “O dear, how silly! And poor Jack’s day is all spoilt!”

“We mustn’t let Maimie think we pity Jack too much,” I said. “I want her to feel perfectly free; and they are so absurdly young at present. The less we make of the affair, the better.”

“But it is no mere fancy with Jack,” Cherry said; and I felt sure from her manner that Jack had already confided to her his hopes for the future. “Mother she will learn to love him some day; don’t you think so?”

“I don’t know at all,” I said. “Maimie loves him now as a cousin,—as a brother, perhaps. But whether he could ever be anything more to her is another question.”

“Our dear good Jack,” Cherry said warmly.

“Yes; but Maimie is clever, and Jack is not. And for a wife to have more brains than her husband is—well, not always a thing to be desired.”

“O mother, you to say that of Jack,” Cherry murmured reproachfully. And then we were interrupted.

It was almost dark by the time home was reached. Jack opened the door with his latch-key, and disappeared. Maimie had been walking with my husband, and they came in close after Cherry and me. We made our way straight into the sitting-room.

“Cherry, do pull up the blind,” I said, “We must have lights directly. I suppose supper will soon be ready. You told the girl to lay the table, did you not?”

“How do you do, Maimie?” a man’s voice said.

I don’t think I am given to screaming, but I did scream then. I was dreadfully startled, never dreaming that anybody was in the room. Cherry had just pulled up the blind, and happily she had presence of mind not to let it drop.

A stout man with a black beard rose out of an easy chair, where he seemed to have been much at home, and came a step towards us. It was too dusk for any recognition of features.

“How do you all do?” he said again. “You don’t expect me, of course, Maimie,—why, how the child has grown! Much obliged to you all for giving her a home at a pinch. Well, Maimie, don’t you know me?”

“Father!” Maimie said hesitatingly. She did not greet him with delight, as she would once have done. His long neglect had naturally chilled her feelings of affection.

“To be sure! One would think you had lost your memory. It’s rather dark, certainly; but I knew you, child, in a moment. Haven’t you a kiss for me? Well, Robert, here I am at last.”







ROBERT found a box of matches, and lighted the gas; Cherry letting down the blind again. The brothers could see one another then.

I think Robert and Churton were always very different, even in their boyish days. Certainly it would have been hard to find any likeness between the two that evening.

For Robert was careworn and aged for his years, with grey streaks in his hair, and furrows in brow and cheek; and he had slow quiet manners, and a wonderfully good expression, always kind and thoughtful.

But Churton might have been twenty years the younger. His black hair and beard were quite untouched with grey; and he was stout and strong, with a loud voice. I do so dislike a loud voice, whether in a man or a woman. Churton had once been handsome. His good looks were gone now, however; for his features had grown coarse. While Robert’s had been a life of self-denial, Churton’s had been a life of self-indulgence. One could read the difference of the brothers’ lives in their faces.

“So you wouldn’t have known me?” Churton said to Maimie. She had let him kiss her, and now she was keeping close to my side, looking troubled and pale. “Nor you either, Robert?”

“No, I should not,” Robert answered. “You are a good deal changed. But we are glad to see you again, after all these years.”

“That’s as much of a welcome, I suppose, as the scapegrace of the family can expect,” Churton said, with his harsh laugh. I saw Maimie shrink under it. She had grown used to my husband’s quiet ways. And our boys, with all their high spirits, were not loud-voiced or noisy.

“What made you come to England?” asked Robert.

“What made me? Why, there was Maimie to see after, for one thing. And I wanted a look at the old country. I told the child I should come,—didn’t I, Maimie?”

“Yes, but you never wrote, father, so I thought you could not have meant it,” Maimie said, a touch of resentment showing in her manner.

“Couldn’t be bothered to write,—I never can,—it’s too much trouble.” There spoke the selfishness of the man. I looked back, in thought, to the first months after Maimie’s arrival, and remembered how happy a few lines might have made the poor child. But evidently Churton had no idea of blaming himself.

“Of course I meant it. You didn’t think I had forgotten my little dove.” He spoke the words in a manner more like the Churton of my young days. “Come here, child; I want a look at you.”

Maimie obeyed, not without an effort. He took hold of her arm, turned her round, and surveyed her from head to foot.

“Upon my word, you’re an uncommonly pretty creature; but London has left you no roses. You had plenty when I first saw you.”

“Never, since my mother’s death,” murmured the girl.

“To be sure,—yes,—that did knock you down a good deal. That was one reason why I thought a change to England would do you good. She was getting morbid,” he explained, looking at Robert:—“always crying, and going for long walks by herself, and poring over goody-goody books.”

Maimie’s eyes flashed. “Father, I used to be reading the Bible.”

“Quite right in moderation, of course,” Churton said.

“And if I loved it then, I love it more than ever now,” Maimie said hurriedly, her chest heaving. “I couldn’t live with dear dear Aunt Marion and Uncle Robert, and not love my Bible.”

Churton looked her all over again, as if he counted her a curiosity.

“That’s the worst of the matter,” he said to himself. “I might have known I was sending her into a hotbed of cant.”

“Father! if you say such things, I’ll not speak to you again.”

I had never seen Maimie in a passion before. It was not her way. She seemed completely upset,—probably from the shock of Churton’s sudden arrival, following close upon a trying afternoon. Churton said, “Hallo!” as if this were a new phase in the character of his “little dove.” My husband stood up, and went to her side.

“Maimie,” he said very low.

She turned and clung to him, with tears and sobs. But the very pressure of his arm seemed at once quieting. A few whispered words were spoken, too low to reach any ears except Maimie’s; while Churton sat looking in astonishment. Then Maimie had conquered her outburst, and stood upright, trembling.

“I was wrong to speak so,” she said. “I was wrong to give way to temper,—about that especially. But, father, please you mustn’t forget that Uncle Robert and Aunt Marion took me in when I had no home and no friends. And though they are poor, they have made me like one of their own children. And I love them—oh, more than I can tell—more than anybody else in the world. It is not cant in this house. It is real real religion.”

“Very pretty gratitude,” Churton said, after a pause, and I could see that he was not pleased. “Positively romantic and touching. I suppose the meaning of all this is, Robert, that you have been at more expense with the girl than you liked. Well, I’m ready to make it up to you. After that, we shall be quits, I suppose. I sent one cheque, and you shall have another.”

The manner of speech was very annoying,—almost offensive. I bit my lips to keep myself silent. Robert went back to his chair, followed by Maimie, and then said gravely,—“We can discuss that by-and-by.”

“As you like. I’ve not made up my mind yet about plans. Most likely I shall spend a few months in England. Maimie can do as she likes about coming to me directly, or staying a little longer with you,—if you don’t object to keep her, that is to say. I shall only be in lodgings at first,—not very comfortable for her.”

I could see Maimie’s shiver, and I heard more than one suppressed “Oh!” from other parts of the room. “Certainly we do not wish to part with Maimie a day sooner than need be,” I said.

“That’s as you like; I’m in no immediate hurry till I see my way. By-the-bye, what of the old lady—Aunt Briscoe? Alive still?”

“Very much alive,” Cress said, in answer to this.

“No signs of failing? She must be old. Worth a good deal, I suppose?”

“She has her house and garden, and a comfortable income,” Robert said.

“Where does it all go when she dies?”

“Where she chooses,” Robert answered.

“Wish she’d choose to leave it to me. I could settle down then in England with this child.”

“Really, Churton,” I could not help saying, “you seem to forget that you are the youngest son.”

“Not at all. But Robert says the old lady is free.”

“She is not actually bound; but of course she knows what her husband’s wishes were. Robert has always been looked upon as their heir.”

“There is no need to discuss the question,” my husband said. He always had a great dislike to counting for gain on the death of another. “Aunt Briscoe may live twenty years longer,—may live longer than either Churton or I.”

And the subject was dropped. But a strange feeling came over me, that Churton was harbouring secret designs upon the old lady’s property. I said nothing to anybody, and tried to put aside the suspicion as unkind. Yet it came back to me again and again.

“Oh, what a day this has been!” Maimie said, sighing, when I went with the two girls into their bedroom. “I am so tired.”

“I don’t wonder,” I said; and when she had dropped into a chair, I stood by her, stroking the soft flaxen hair.

“Aunt Marion, he wasn’t like that before,” she said, in a different tone.

“Not like what?”

“Like that—like what he is now. He seems so altered.”

“You were such a child then,—perhaps you did not notice.”

“No, no; he wasn’t the same. He was quieter; he didn’t speak in such a rough loud way. It isn’t like him. I think he must have had bad friends lately. O if only I were your child!” and she held me fast.

“I wish so too,” I said. “But I am sure we count you our child.”

“But father wants me, and he means to have me,” she said, a frightened look coming over her face. “He means it!”

“He seems in no hurry,” Cherry remarked.

“No, that is his way. He is never in a hurry. But he is set upon having me. Don’t you see it? Aunt Marion, must I go? I’m not his own child.”

“I suppose he is your natural guardian,” I said slowly. “If he really wished for you, I am not sure that we could refuse, or that we should be right to try.”

“To leave you and go to live with him! O Aunt Marion! It sounds dreadful. I would rather do anything. I’d almost rather—marry—Cress.”

“My dear child, if you cared for Cress, which you don’t, you could not marry for years. You are both far too young for even a serious engagement, and Cress has nothing to live upon.”

“No, I forgot that,” she said mournfully. “Then you think I must go, and there is no escape.”

“I think we shall see by-and-by,” I said. “We must not make up our minds in a hurry. You have to find out what is really your duty.”

“My duty is to stay and take care of you all,” said Maimie half-defiantly.

“Churton may think he needs taking care of.”

“Aunt Marion!” she sighed, in a reproachful tone.

“Don’t misunderstand me,” I said. “I can’t bear to think of losing you; and if I followed my own feelings, the matter would be very easily settled. But there are questions of right and wrong.”

“Yes, I know,” she said.

“I think we must wait to see what is right. We must pray to be shown. There must be one step which is the right one to be taken. And it is of no use for us to ask to be shown which it is, unless we are willing to take it.”

“Whatever it is?” Maimie put in sadly.

“Yes, whatever it is. I know you long to stay, and I am sure we long to keep you. But your stepfather has some claim on you,—some right over you,—not so much as if you were really his own child, but still some. We must not forget that.”

“If only mother had never married him!” whispered Maimie. “But I shouldn’t have known you then.”

“No, we should scarcely have met, but for their marriage: certainly you would not have come to live with us.”

“I’m glad she did,” Maimie said.

“It has all been so lovingly ordered for us up to this time,” I said, after a little pause. “We would not undo any of it if we could, even of what seemed trying at the time. Maimie, don’t you think we ought to trust still our Father’s care, and to believe that He certainly will still arrange for us as is really best?”

“That is just what I was thinking,” Cherry said.

Maimie looked seriously at me. “Yes; only things often do come as one doesn’t like.”

“As we do not like, perhaps,” I said, “but still as is really best. For, after all, we can’t see far with our short sight. When you first came to live with us, neither you nor I saw the arrangement to be 'best,’ yet we would not undo it now.”

“Wouldn’t you really?”

“Don’t you know better than to ask that question?” I said. “Maimie, I think we must take a lesson from the past. God always deals lovingly with His children, even when He sends things which at first they cannot see to be best.”

“I’ll try. I will try,” said Maimie gently. “I will try to trust.”

“And not be afraid,” added Cherry.

“Yes, I’ll try. But oh, I do hope I shall not have to go back to America with father.”

“Suppose we don’t even think of that at present, but just wait,” I said. “It will not be yet, Maimie.”

“No, and so much might happen first,” she observed dreamily.







THAT day seemed to work a change in our home. The peaceful monotony of our life was broken, and the waters could not get back to their former even flow. A kind of restlessness, of uncertainty, was upon us all, more or less. I do not think our placid Cherry was exactly restless, but she could not forget the fear of soon losing Maimie. And Maimie herself appeared to live in a state of chronic dread. The girl’s anxious looks and fluttering colour told of a constant strain.

Churton slept for some days in a room near. We could not have taken him in without much crowding. He was often in and out; but never “in” without putting our household into a flutter,—how or why I could hardly have told. To the younger boys he brought sweetmeats, and so won their hearts; but his visits meant no sugar-plums to us elder folks.

He seemed desirous to get hold of Maimie somehow, as if conscious that his former power over her was gone. I imagine that her extreme love for us was an annoyance to him. Sometimes he brought presents, which she accepted gratefully but not affectionately. Sometimes he tried petting, and Maimie visibly disliked it. Once or twice he gave way to positive anger, speaking roughly, telling her she was fickle and ungrateful Maimie attempted no defence, but only grew pale, and slipped away to my side as if for protection.

We had not seen anything of Aunt Briscoe for many weeks. Her Thursday letters came regularly still, so we knew that she was well. The next after Churton’s arrival mentioned him in a passing way, speaking of him as “much improved.” We could hardly have endorsed this opinion. But for the information thus obtained, we should not have known that Churton had been to “The Gables” at all. He made no mention of the call.

No further allusion had been uttered by him to the subject of Maimie’s expenses while with us. We were much pressed and harassed with need of money, hardly knowing how to get on, even with the strictest economy. I asked Robert one day whether he did not think of speaking to Churton about the offered cheque. He said, “Not yet.”

“It ought, of course, to come from Churton himself, without any reminder.”

“I doubt if it will,” Robert answered. “He has relieved his conscience by speaking once,—at a moment when I could not well take up the question. It is as likely as not that he will never bring up the matter again, of his own free will.”

“Then you will have to remind him, Robert.”

“I may have to do so. I am not sure yet,” Robert said, with a curious smile. “I don’t know whether you will agree with me, Marion. My own view is that if Maimie is to be our child still, we cannot claim Churton’s help. But if he demands her from us, as his child, then he becomes responsible for the last two years’ expenses, and I shall ask at least a measure of compensation.”

“I see,—yes, you are right. That would not pain Maimie?” I spoke questioningly, little knowing how the very same thought would later occur to Maimie herself.

“Maimie wishes nothing so much as that Churton should give us our due; for it is our due. Don’t you see, Marion, that this may supply us with a certain check upon Churton. It is the only curb we possess. Otherwise, if he chose to take her away to-morrow, what could we do? He is her natural guardian, undoubtedly. He has forfeited the poor child’s affection; but we cannot entirely fling away his right over her, if he insists on having his way.”

“And you keep this in reserve,” I said. “Yes; it is wise. I do agree with you, indeed.”



Jack and Cress were an additional care at this time.

A marked coldness had been apparent between the two brothers since Maimie’s birthday. Each knew the other to be set on the same object as himself; and while neither could boast of any encouragement from that object, each feared that the other might be his successful rival.

The thing sounds absurd, such boys as they were, and Maimie only seventeen. But the girl seemed growing each day prettier and more womanly. I could hardly wonder at my boys’ feelings about her.

She was the same as usual in her manner to them—kind and sisterly. But I could not help noticing that she no longer allowed a certain brotherly boyish freedom, which before had been natural enough. I saw Cress one day carelessly grasp her arm to enforce something he was saying, just as he might have done to Cherry. Maimie removed his hand, and drew back a step, looking at him gravely, in a way that could not be mistaken. Cress flung himself away in a pet; but from that moment his bearing towards her combined respect with admiration. There was no fear of Jack attempting to take any liberties. He never had thought and never did think of Maimie with merely a brotherly affection; and his manly strength made him gentle to all women and girls. To Maimie, of course, he was especially so. I wondered sometimes whether she noted, and in any degree appreciated, his patient reverent devotion.

Jack said not a word to me about his trouble after our brief meeting in Bushey Park; and I doubted much whether I could with wisdom be the first to speak. At all events, I resolved not to do so hastily. He went and came as usual; and worked and ate and talked as at other times. But I knew every turn of expression in Jack’s face; and I knew life was changed for him since that day.

I noticed that the evening readings were given up. Maimie made the excuse of feeling unsettled, and not knowing what her father meant her to do. Jack did not protest; but he locked up his books, and made no pretence at reading by himself.

More than a week passed thus. Then one day it came about that Jack and I had an evening alone together. It was a lovely evening, and everybody else had gone out. I was too tired to walk; and presently Jack came listlessly into the room, and sat down to watch me, just in his old style, propping his chin on his hands, and doing nothing.

“Don’t you mean to read this evening, Jack?” I asked quietly, though a little alarmed at my own boldness.

“Maimie has given it up,” Jack said, in a gloomy tone.

“She says she feels too unsettled.”

“Oh, it isn’t that. I know better.”

“And you cannot keep on for a time without her help?”

“It isn’t worth while. Nothing is worth doing.”

I looked up at him, and waited a few seconds before asking,—“Jack, is that right?”

Jack’s hands went over his face. Poor boy! I think he was longing for a little motherly comfort. I wondered what I might venture to say next. His face was hidden, with the exception of a flushed forehead.

“If I were you I would not think too much of what passed that day,” I said softly.

And then Jack, great broad-shouldered fellow, came down on the ground beside me,—just as Maimie herself would have come,—and laid his head on my knee and sobbed like a child. I left my work alone to pet and soothe him. “Don’t, Jack,—don’t, dear,” I said, more than once.

“O mother, it is hard! If you knew what she is to me!” he broke out at length.

“I think I understand.”

“I’m only a great stupid dunce, I know that,—and she’s too good, so clever and sweet. But somehow I did think she might care for me—just a little. And I could take care of her,—I could make her life easy.”

“No, Jack,” I said; “that is what no man can undertake to do for any woman. God chooses our paths. A husband can’t choose his wife’s path, though certainly he can make it harder or easier to walk on.”

“Well, I could shield her from some troubles,” Jack murmured. “I could live for her, and love her,—love her as nobody else can do.”

“I am not so sure about that either,” I said gently. “There will be many to love so winning a creature. But don’t be too certain that all must go against you in the future. Maimie is very young yet.”

“She said—plain enough—”

“Yes, I know that. Maimie is perfectly simple and free in heart. She likes you as a brother, and no more. My dear Jack, think of her age and yours.”

“She isn’t a child.”

“You are both children,” I said. “But if you think not,—then be a man, and have patience.”

“But Cress—”

“Cress does not care for Maimie as you do. It is a mere fancy on his part. And Maimie will never care for Cress. She does not admire his character.”

“She doesn’t admire my stupidity, mother.”

“Then don’t be stupid!”

Jack stared at me. “I can’t make myself clever.”

“You can make the most of what brains you have,” I said. “I hoped Maimie herself had taught you that lesson. People with only one talent are a great deal too fond of hiding it away underground, merely because it isn’t five or ten talents.”

Jack was silent.

“But—” he said presently, and stopped.

“You may be quite sure of one thing,” I said seriously. “If you are ever to have any hope of winning Maimie to be your wife, it will not be by proving yourself so poor and weak a creature, that you can’t even study for a couple of hours a day, unless you have a girl to sit by your side and keep you up to the mark.”

Jack turned crimson, and sprang to his feet. Then he sat down on a chair near. “Mother! that’s rather hard.”

“Is it?” I asked. “I don’t want to be hard on any one, least of all on my Jack. But I do want you not to make this one aim the whole of life and work and duty for yourself.”

“It doesn’t seem as if anything else were worth doing, if I can’t have Maimie,” Jack said, in a dejected tone.

“Yes, so you feel at this moment. It is natural, but it is not right. God may or may not grant you that wish of your heart. Either way, life has higher aims and higher duties.”

“I don’t see them.”

And I said, “'Whether we live, we live unto the Lord.’ Would you live only to Maimie, Jack? 'Whether we die, we die unto the Lord,’—if we live unto Him. Will you live and die only with a poor earthly love as your highest good?”

Then another pause.

“Mother, I can’t feel with those who count an earthly love folly and sin,” Jack said vehemently.

“No need,” I said. “The power to love is given us by God. There is no sin in using that power to any extent, if only the heavenly love has its right place. But if Maimie is to be your idol—”

Jack rose, and paced about the room for two minutes. Then he stopped, facing me. “Yes. If Maimie is my idol—”

“Then, Jack, either your idol will separate you from your God, or God will mercifully separate you from your idol.”

“Mercifully, mother!”

“Yes, mercifully,” I answered, “if it is a question of life and death for ever. I pray that it may not be so.”

I said no more for awhile, nor did Jack, But presently he came back to my side, after gazing out of the window into the dusty street.

“Thank you, mother,” he said huskily. “I think I wanted a few plain words. I’ll look into that matter. I’m afraid—afraid Maimie is my idol.”

“Don’t look into it without prayer,” I said softly.

He shook his head. “But still—still, mother, I must try to win her.”

“Try your best,” I answered. “Only remember that for the present Maimie is far too young for anything of the kind. You must work for the future.”

“If I knew how,” he said despondingly.

“Don’t sink into a useless disappointed creature, without aim in life or spirit to work—a thing not fit to be called a man. Work doubly hard, Jack—for duty, if pleasure is impossible. Make the most of your time, the most of your bodily strength, and the most of whatever brain powers you may have. Let Maimie know you as a man with some stuff in you. She will never love a mere bending reed, you may be sure.”

“I’ll not be that, any way,” Jack said with energy. “Mother, you’ll see! I shall begin reading again to-morrow, just as usual, and I’ll work hard.”

He kept his word. I saw Maimie looking at him, with a touch of surprise. She took no further notice for three days.

But on the fourth evening, when he was diligently occupied, with a puzzled look, I saw her go quietly up and say, “What is it, Jack? Can I help you?”

Thereafter, though she did not always sit by his side, Jack found his studies by no means dull. He knew at least that she was still interested in his advance.







THINGS went on quietly for some weeks; Maimie still one of us; Churton sleeping near at hand, in and out often, but apparently in no hurry to come to any sort of decision. Weeks passed thus, and I began to think the winter would see no change. Churton showed some signs of softening, and fitting in rather better with our ways. He was proud of Maimie. I do not know whether he was what I should call fond of her. It often seemed to me as if he were capable of real fondness for nobody except himself.

Sometimes I thought it a little strange how Maimie’s old feelings towards him had changed. Kind as he might be,—and he really did show marked kindness to her,—she clung to us, and distrusted Churton. I suppose the childish dependence on him had been once so thorough, and had received so complete a shake by his long neglect, that there was no bringing it back. “He doesn’t really care for me,” she said frequently to Cherry. “But I’m afraid he does mean to take me away from Aunt Marion.”

In the midst of all this, Ted suddenly sickened with the measles.

I did not think much of it at first, little dreaming what a long winter of nursing lay before me.

Churton at once stopped coming. He said he had never had measles, and measles at his age might be serious; also Aunt Briscoe dreaded infection, and if he came in and out of our house he might not go to hers. This was the first inkling we had of how he frequented “The Gables.” Aunt Briscoe had grown reserved in her letters of late, and rarely mentioned his name.

My husband asked Churton whether he would not think it best to take Maimie at once for a few weeks away from the infection, since she had never had the complaint. But he said, “No; it was too late. Maimie might have caught the illness already—as likely as not—and she had better stay and be nursed by us.”

It was only for Maimie’s sake that the suggestion had been made. We were glad enough to keep her.

I was quite determined, however, that she should not run needlessly into the way of infection. Measles generally is a slight enough complaint; but Maimie was delicate, and I wanted to keep her well. Maimie resisted, yet for a time she gave way, and was in quarantine.

When Ted was getting well, Bob sickened. I counted my three elder ones safe, for they had all had measles in childhood. But strange to say, Cherry took it again. She would not believe herself to be sickening for measles, and went about as usual, and had a chill, which checked the rash. For some days she was really ill.

By that time my hands were more than full, and I was getting knocked up. I still forbad Maimie to go near the invalids, though she begged and entreated, even with tears, to be allowed; and my husband thought I might yield. If she were disposed to take the infection, he believed she would take it in spite of precautions.

I held to my own plan for a day or two longer. Then one evening I was very poorly. Maimie did all she could for me, and presently, with a resolute face, she walked out of the room. When she came back, it was to say, “Aunt Marion, I have seen them.”

“Seen who?” I asked.

“Cherry and the boys. I’ve been to them. I must help you, and I don’t believe I shall catch the measles. It isn’t my way to take infection easily. And I thought I would settle the matter by going in without your leave. So now it is no use keeping me away from them any longer; and if I were to be ill, you wouldn’t blame yourself.” Then with wistful looks she added, “Say you forgive me.”

Sorry as I was, I did not know how to be angry. The girl’s eagerness to help sprang so entirely from loving and unselfish motives. Better that a hundred times, I thought, than to have her like Churton, bent only on taking care of herself. Yet when, an hour or two later, she said anxiously, “Do you really think I was wrong?” I answered, “Not right, Maimie.”

“But I can’t be sorry,” she said. “It does make me so happy to help you.”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “It is all your love for me; and the wish to help is all right. But obedience would have been more right.”

She gave me a kiss and turned away, half smiling, half sighing.

It really did seem for a while as if Maimie would escape. The two little boys were well again, and Cherry was out of her room, only rather pulled down still. We were beginning to talk about soon being safe people for friends to visit.

And then Maimie seemed unwell; and she had a heavy cold; and suspicious signs appeared. The doctor one day looked doubtful; and next day he came again and ordered her to bed; and the third day we knew that measles once more was in full swing.

“O dear, I am sorry,” Maimie said in distress. “It will just give trouble to everybody. But please don’t stay in my room, Aunt Marion. I’ll just do as I’m bid, and keep quiet and warm for three or four days; and I dare say it will soon go off.”

Privately I feared she might be in for a worse attack than she expected. Maimie was a feverish subject. And my fear proved only too well grounded.

Not one of the others—not even Cherry—had suffered as she did; and certainly none had been more patient. Somehow, though we had been careful of her from the first, and though we knew of no direct chill, the rash would not come out properly, and fever ran high. We could not leave her alone at night, for she was often wandering.

Churton came to the front door now and then to ask questions; but he would not step inside. He said it was “unnecessary” and “best not.”

I told him one day that Maimie was very very ill; and the doctor thought she might not get over it. He said, “Poor little woman! I can’t think how in the world you managed to get measles into your house!”—as if that were our fault.

I said, “Will you not wish to see her, Churton, if she is taken worse?”

He was standing three or four yards off from me, and looked by no means inclined to fall in with my suggestion.

“Well—no—I don’t see any use.” he said. “I couldn’t do her any good by coming. And the old lady would not like it.”

“You need not call at 'The Gables’ the same day, after seeing Maimie,” I said.

“Well—no,” Churton answered again. “But it isn’t exactly a matter of calling. I’m staying there just now. It seems a comfort to Aunt Briscoe. And of course I feel bound to consult her feelings.”

“You have not told us that before,” I said.

“Didn’t I? How stupid of me! I’ve only been there a—well, a few days. Last week, wasn’t it? I suppose I forgot. You and I don’t see much of one another just now—that’s the fact.”

“Then if Maimie were worse—if she were even dying,” I said, “you would not come to her?”

“Well, I don’t really see much good,” he said hesitatingly. “I’m not a hand at sick people, and I don’t like scenes. And, after all, it’s adding to risks of infection; and one has no business to spread things.”

“And if she should ask for you, Churton?”

“Oh, she won’t; there’s no fear. The girl’s changed, and doesn’t care for me. Not that I mean to give her up—if—but still—”

And Churton went off, while I returned to Maimie’s side, musing on the selfishness of the man.

One day, when very ill, Maimie said sadly, “I am so sorry.”

“Sorry for what, darling?” I asked.

“My wilfulness. It was wrong,” she said. “I see that now. I was right to want to help you; but I ought not to have taken my own way.”

“It was lovingly meant, Maimie.”

“Yes; but it was choosing my own way. You had forbidden me, and disobedience couldn’t be right. I have brought all this on myself.”

“You might have caught the measles anyhow.”

“O yes, I might; I know that. And then I should have known it was God’s sending; but now I know I brought it on myself. So good of you all not to reproach me.”

“Maimie, you must not let the thought be a trouble to you,” I said.

“No,” she answered at once, with a smile. “O no; because I think I did mean rightly at the moment. And I have prayed; and the Lord Jesus will forgive, won’t He? Because He is faithful and just to forgive us’—you know.”

“Faithful according to His promises,” I said softly.

“Yes—promises. He has promised all who come to Him, I needn’t be afraid. Aunt Marion, if I shouldn’t get better, you will know that,—you will know that He is my Saviour—my own Saviour.”

“It is such a happy thing to be able to say so,” I whispered.

“Yes; oh, He is; I know He is. But I don’t feel impatient now, as I once did. I have such a dear home. Only if I must leave my home, I would rather not leave it to live with father.”

“We mustn’t be bent upon choosing for ourselves,” I said.

“No; to be willing, whatever God sends,” she said earnestly, and she clasped her hands. “Well, I think I am willing. I do want not to be wilful. That has always been my fault; and it brings punishment sometimes.”

Then she was tired, and said no more. We had such little talks now and then; she seemed not to mind what she said to me.

Poor Jack! I hardly know how he got through those long days of anxiety. It was bad enough for Cherry and me, though we could at least be with Maimie, and could feel that we were doing something for her. But Jack, outside the room, and obliged to be for hours away in the city, giving his mind to work,—poor Jack was sorely tried.

There came days soon when talking on Maimie’s part was impossible, and anxiety was at its height. Inflammation of the lungs set in, and Maimie was so ill that we almost despaired of her recovery. Measles had now passed into another kind of illness; and it did seem to me as if there could be very little risk of infection for a man of Churton’s age. But Churton did not see it so at all. He said she was in the same room still, and he saw no use in running a venture; and he came less and less often to the house to make inquiries.

At last the worst was over, and Maimie began to improve, slowly, and not steadily. Days grew into weeks, and better times were followed by relapses. From the time when Maimie first sickened, it was ten weeks before she could leave her room; and then Jack carried her downstairs as if she had been a baby, she had grown so wasted and light.







CHURTON had not been near us for three weeks, when Maimie left her room. He had written once, just a line, to say he was glad to hear she was better, and to enclose a cheque for £20. This had been a great help; indeed, I hardly know how we could have got on without it. But after that we heard no more; and for two weeks Aunt Briscoe had not written either. I could not understand this, unless she were ill; she had always been so very regular.

“Father doesn’t seem to trouble himself much about me,” Maimie said softly, as she lay on the sofa, looking so pale and thin, poor child, with her flaxen hair short and curly, and her black eyes seeming to have grown to twice their usual size.

“So much the better,” Jack said, bending over her with a manly protecting air, which it did me good to see. Jack had grown far more manly of late. Time enough that he should too! “So much the better! Uncle isn’t worth your troubling yourself about; and the less he concerns himself with you, the thoroughly you are ours—ours, Maimie.”

“I am not sure, Jack,” she said, looking up in his face. “One never can tell what my father means to do next.”

“He has given up his right over you,” Jack said stoutly.

“He was glad to get somebody else to nurse me, and save him the trouble. But when he wants me, he won’t count that anything.”

“What should he want you for?” asked Cress. “I don’t see!” And we all laughed, for certainly Cress was paying Maimie a poor compliment.

“I don’t know why anybody should want me,” Maimie said merrily. “But sometimes I think he will soon.”

“You know why some do,” Jack said softly. “You know why we all do, Maimie,—because we love you.”

“And perhaps father loves me too,” she answered lightly. “I used to think he did.”

“Queer sort of love,—to care so much about himself as never to wish to come near you all the time you were ill!”

“Some people’s love is very poor and selfish,” I said; “yet I suppose it is love—of a kind.”

“Feeble kind,” remarked Jack.

“Only 'some’ will 'dare to die’—even 'for a good man,’” I said, thinking of the Bible words. And I thought, too, silently of that other yet more wonderful love—the great love of the Son of God, which could make Him “dare to die,” not for good but for evil men, that they might be saved. Glancing at Maimie, I wondered if the same recollection had come to here—such a sweet look passed over her face.

“People are rather fond of talking about dying for one another,” Cress observed carelessly. “It isn’t so many that will really do it.”

“No,—only 'some,’” I said.

And I heard Jack whisper, leaning over Maimie’s couch—

“Maimie, when you were so ill, I think I could have died to make you well.”

“Yes,” she answered quite simply; “I think you would, Jack.” And a great tremor of joy crept over Jack’s frame.

I could not help noticing how Maimie seemed to depend on Jack, and to turn to him in her weakness. He was so strong, she said, and so gentle too. He could carry her up and downstairs without any seeming effort. And Maimie needed carrying for many days. She regained strength so very slowly. I wondered often whether she ever would get back her usual powers.

“Aunt Marion, Jack seems much older than he used to be,” she said one day. “I wonder why?”

“Trouble ages people,” I replied.

“Trouble?” she repeated inquiringly.

“Our Maimie being ill.”

“Oh—” and she smiled, then grew thoughtful. “I didn’t understand. Yes—I suppose Jack did care. He is very good to me.” And I could not refrain from repeating her words to Jack.

The little rivalry between Jack and Cress seemed lately to have died down. Jack’s superior bodily strength gave him a sort of right to do things for Maimie; and Cress was placed at a disadvantage. Also he had lately taken up a new pursuit—chemistry, I think it was, just then,—and he had no attention to give to anything else.

That was always Cress’ way. He had one matter in hand, and all else gave way to it, whether it were study, or amusement, or love-making. This is not, perhaps, a bad characteristic in moderation, if perseverance goes with it. But in Cress’ case, unfortunately, there was no moderation, and there was little perseverance. Cress rarely or never went on long enough with any one pursuit to excel in it. He only did enough to amuse himself, to bore everybody about him, and to gain a certain amount of general information beyond that of most young men.

But by the time Maimie was able to sit up in an easy chair, and to walk on her own feet from room to room, chemistry went down, and love-making came up again.

Maimie was one of those people who make attractive invalids. Though not so strictly pretty as in health, she never complained or looked peevish, and her smile seemed to gain double sweetness, while her very want of power made her cling to us all in a gentle childlike way, which was particularly winning.

Cress seemed all at once to wake up to the fact that Jack was in a different position from himself with respect to Maimie, and he grew furiously jealous. Not a cup of tea could Jack attempt to carry to Maimie without Cress rushing in between. Not a question could Maimie put to Jack without Cress snatching the answer from his lips.

For a few days there was no real collision. Jack flushed up often, and evidently had difficulty in controlling himself; yet he did control himself. Once I heard, “Really, Cress—” but Jack caught himself up, and yielded. I knew my boy to be fighting a hard battle; and Maimie must have known it too, for I saw her soon after give him her sweetest smile. I think Jack was fully repaid.

A day or two later Maimie was not so well; and after a fit of faintness, she was going to be helped upstairs by Jack. Cress pushed in between, to take his place. Jack flushed up again, and said, “No, Cress, I must do this.”

“You’ve had your turn often enough; it’s mine now,” Cress said.

I was not on the spot, having been called away two seconds before. Cherry meditated calling me, but before she could move Maimie was saying quietly, “Jack will help me, if you please, Cress.”

“No, he won’t. I’m going to do it, Maimie.”

She drew back a step, very pale,—so Cherry told me after,—and with her eyes wide open. “No,” she said, “I would rather have Jack’s arm.”

Cress turned white too, as he often did with passion. “I say, Maimie,” he said, “if you pretend to like that fellow better than me—”

I don’t know what made Maimie act as she did next, except that she was excited and faint, and a little off her balance. She turned round, and laid her hand on Jack’s arm, and said, “Yes, I do like Jack much the best.”

“Then take that,” Cress said furiously, turning upon Jack; and without a moment’s warning he struck his brother a violent blow in the face.

Such a thing had never happened in our house before, and Cherry stood utterly aghast.

Jack’s blood was easily roused; and though he had learned much self-control of late years, I think this sudden attack was too much for him. He flushed a burning crimson, and made one step towards Cress, with his fist up; but in that moment Maimie flung herself on him, clinging to both his arms with all her little strength.

“Don’t! don’t! O don’t, Jack!” she cried wildly. “It is all my fault. O don’t,—dear Jack, don’t be angry,—don’t mind. It will grieve Aunt Marion so; and it isn’t right—it isn’t right. You mustn’t quarrel because of me. O Jack, don’t!—dear Jack, do be patient! O Cherry, help me.”

“No, Maimie, I won’t,” Jack said gravely.

Cherry told me that it was wonderful to see how the flush and anger died out of his face at the touch of Maimie’s fingers. She held him tightly still; and he submitted to be held, though he could have shaken her off like a fly.

Cress for one moment had a look of shame, and then his wrath seemed to flame up afresh, and he said contemptuously, “Well, I didn’t think you were such a chicken-heart!”

“Do you really think I am, Cress?” asked Jack calmly.

“Cress, it is you who are the coward!” cried Maimie, looking up at him with tearful eyes, and shrinking closer to Jack, as if for protection, though she continued to hold his hands.

Either the words or the gesture excited Cress anew beyond control. He made a step forward and struck at Jack again. Jack made no effort at all to release his hands or to defend himself; but Maimie threw up her own arm between, and received the blow,—no light one.

Just at that moment I came in. Cherry had called for me at the door, and then rushed forward to pull Cress back. As I entered, I heard the sound of his fist striking our darling’s poor thin arm.

Cress’ passion seemed suddenly at an end. He stepped back, and fell into sudden silence.

Cherry said only, “Cress! for shame!” and Jack uttered one groan of distress. Maimie gave a little half-sob, and then looked up at Jack with a smile. But the next instant her head drooped with a return of faintness. Jack caught her up like an infant, and carried her to the sofa. She lay there, white and still, while Cherry and I sought remedies, and Jack knelt by her side, kissing passionately the reddened arm.

“Mother, look!” he said. “Look,—the poor darling! Mother!—Cress deserves—he deserves—”

Maimie opened her eyes. “No, don’t, Jack,” she whispered. “Don’t talk of Cress yet.”

“I could bear anything else,—anything but his laying a finger on you,” Jack said in a choked voice.

“He did not mean to touch me. Cress has punished himself—quite enough,” she murmured. “Jack—look happy again,—don’t look like that.”

He did his best to obey; not very successfully.

The faintness soon passed off, but Maimie seemed so shaken and unnerved that Jack had presently to carry her upstairs.

“I am very sorry,” she said gently, as he laid her on the bed.

“I think I am the one to be most sorry,” Jack answered. “To think of your dear little arm being hurt for me! Maimie, you must never do such a thing again.”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t then, if I had had time to think,” she said. “But what I am sorry for, is that I should have said anything to make Cress angry with you. Only I really cannot like him as much as—as everybody else in this house.”

“Not quite so much as you do me,” Jack said in a humble voice. “Maimie dear, you said that,—please don’t explain it away.”

“Well, it is true,” she said, smiling. “I do like you the best of the two, certainly. Thank you, Jack. Good-night.”

“And your arm doesn’t hurt very much?” he asked anxiously.

“Oh, nothing to speak of,” she said cheerfully. But Cherry and I knew by the great bruise on it next day that she must have had a good deal of pain.

I dreaded much the moment of my boys’ meeting again. Jack, however, was on his guard, and showed no irritation of manner; nothing beyond an unwonted gravity. Cress looked morose and gloomy, and would speak pleasantly to no one. I hardly knew how to deal with him, and asked Robert to take the matter up. My husband was not one of those men whose wives are afraid to ask them to find fault, lest they should say too much, and “provoke their wrath,” instead of arousing them to sorrow. So I put the difficulty into his hands.







MY husband had a serious talk with Cress that same evening, and warned him that nothing of the kind must ever happen again. He spoke gently but very firmly about the evil of giving way to such anger, and of the terrible results which might some day follow. I do not think he said more than a few strong words, enough to impress without irritating. It is common to crowd on far too many words in fault-finding. But Robert happily never had that way with our boys. Just enough and no more seemed to be his rule.

Cress listened at first sullenly, making no answer. But when Robert said, “I think you have punished yourself with a worse punishment than anybody else could have given you—” Cress burst out, “I don’t see that!”

“In having hurt Maimie, I mean,” Robert explained.

“It was Maimie’s own fault. What business had she to come between?” demanded Cress.

And from that hour neither Robert nor I put any faith in the reality of Cress’ love to Maimie.

But for the time he counted it genuine himself, and acted accordingly. Some boys in his position might have been laughed out of a shallow fancy such as this. Cress, however, was not one to stand being laughed at, even if any of us had been in the mood for joking.

He did not come to me for comfort in his trouble, as Jack sooner or later always did. Once or twice I tried to reach Cress’ feelings, and failed. He sheered off from me at once.

During the next few days, things were, to say the least, uncomfortable. Jack really did behave beautifully, keeping down his temper in manly style, or rather, I should say, in Christian style. But the one word fits in well with the other.

Jack was manly by nature; and his religion had a thoroughly manly cast about it. Real humility and real meekness in a man are always manly. There never was any man more nobly and fully a Man, more full of manly dignity and courage and self-control, in all His meekness, than our Master Himself. If only His followers took after Him more! I get out of patience sometimes with weak complaining creatures, who seem to think their feebleness and want of spirit means meekness. And I get just as much out of patience with the rough coarse rudeness and brag which tramples on everything weak, and pretends to be manliness.

Those ways are not really meek or manly. But I do think it was genuine meekness and manliness together when my Jack stood still, in his strength, held by Maimie’s slight hands, while Cress struck at him, and he made no effort to defend himself,—Cress, whom he could have mastered in an instant. And I do think it was true manly and Christian meekness again, when Jack went in and out without a sign of anger or disdain towards Cress—though he had cause enough for anger, not so much in the treatment of himself as in the treatment of Maimie, whom he so passionately loved.

Did Maimie begin to value more what he felt towards her? I asked myself this question often, and could not be sure as to the answer; only her manner towards him was certainly different after the day of Cress’ outbreak. It became more shy, yet more confiding. She seemed to turn to Jack constantly for help or advice, without knowing that she did so.

Towards Cress she showed no annoyance, any more than Jack did; but she treated him with a quiet distant politeness, and allowed him to do nothing for her. Cress chafed under this. I was afraid one day that a struggle would begin again between the brothers. Maimie had asked Jack to mend a little box for her, and he gladly undertook it. Cress pushed forward in his old style, and said, “Let me, Maimie.”

“I have asked Jack,” she said.

“That doesn’t matter, I’ll do it better than Jack can.”

“I don’t want it better. Jack’s workmanship is good enough for me.”

“Thank you, Maimie,” Jack said.

“Jack is not going to do this,” Cress said wrathfully.

And I was going to interfere; but I saw that there was no need. Maimie gave one look at Jack, and then turned her eyes full upon Cress, with a kind of dignified reproach. As she did so, she drew up the sleeve of her right arm, and showed the large bruise there, becoming now a cloud of purple and yellow.

“You don’t mean to say you haven’t forgiven me that yet,” Cress said testily.

“You have never asked me to forgive you.”

“It was a mere accident. If you had not come between—”

“Yes. But a gentleman always begs pardon for even the merest accident, which this was not,” she said, in a marked manner.

“It was an accident, Maimie.”

“It was temper, Cress.”

Cress flung himself out of the room in a pet, and did not appear again for a good while. Maimie looked thoughtful after his departure. “Cress is very rude and disagreeable,” she said at length. “He wants setting to rights. But perhaps I am not the best person to do it.”

“He will stand more from you than from anybody,” Cherry remarked.

“No, I think not. I think that the less I have to do with Cress the better, just now.”

That same evening, when I was alone in my room, Cress tapped and entered. He had on his gloomy look—a look which far too often spoilt his otherwise handsome face. I was mending a shirt of my husband’s, and I stood beside the dressing-table, needle in hand. Cress flung himself into a chair, and said—

“Mother, I want to go away.”

My heart sank low; for Cress, with all his faults, was very dear to me; and I had counted on keeping him at home for many years. I do not think mothers love their children less on account of their faults; and perhaps it is only mothers of whom this can be said. Unrestrained tempers, selfish and unpleasant ways, do chill the love of husbands and wives, of sisters, brothers, and friends; but, as a rule, not the love of mothers.

“Go where, Cress?” I asked, though in a moment I seemed to understand what he had in his mind.

“I don’t care. Anywhere, so long as it is away from here. I’m sick of home. I can’t stay any longer, and see Jack go on as he does with Maimie.”

“I do not really think you have any just cause of complaint with Jack.”

“Oh, Jack is perfect, of course,—never does wrong, and never did! That does not touch the question. Maimie likes him best.”

I made no answer. Cress turned more fully towards me, repeating in a fierce tone, “Maimie likes him best.”

“Yes, I think she does,” I said. “And I do not wonder. It is partly your own fault. Why do you not behave differently?”

“Behave differently! I behave as I choose,” Cress answered; and the tone was the rudest he had ever addressed to his mother.

“If that is the way you are going to speak to me, we had better not discuss the subject any longer,” I said coldly.

I think there was a moment’s struggle, and then he said, with a manner of half apology, “I didn’t mean to vex you, mother. But, you see, I’m not Jack; and I never shall be. If I could, I wouldn’t.”

“There are great differences between you and Jack,” I said. “One great difference is that Jack’s first wish is to serve God; and your first wish is—I am afraid—only to gratify yourself.”

Was it wise to speak so plainly? I hardly know. The words came out under a sudden impulse.

“Oh, of course, he is all good, and I’m all bad. But anyway, things can’t go on like this. I mean to go away.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’ve told you. I can’t keep smooth with that fellow, if Maimie really likes him best. And I suppose she does. She said so, and she shows it in her manner, plain enough.”

“'That fellow!’ Your own brother, Cress!”

“It doesn’t matter what he is called. Mother, if I stay here, I can’t keep straight with him. You and father had better let me go.”

“For how long?” I asked in distress.

“Any time. It doesn’t signify to me. The longer the better.”

I would not take up the idea seriously then, and tried to put it aside. But Cress brought it forward again and again, persistently, day after day. He said he was sick of London, and sick of home; and he wanted to see the world. After a while Robert and I began to feel that it might really be best. The constant strain between the two brothers was unsafe. Anything seemed better than to risk an open and permanent breach.

So Robert consulted with his and Cresswell’s employers, explaining how things stood, and asking their advice. He was most kindly met. They were just wanting to send out a young man to India on business, and they thought Cress might do. He was young, and a little disposed to laziness, they said, but hitherto he had on the whole proved capable and trustworthy. So they were willing to make trial of him in this new capacity.

The matter was quickly settled. Cress seemed delighted with the proposal; and very soon his mind was so full of coming travels, that he seemed quite to lose sight of his trouble about Maimie and his anger with Jack. Nothing was to be heard from him but talk about his outfit, his ship, his future tiger-hunts, and so on. Very short time was allowed for preparation, and perhaps this was so much the better.

Had my husband deferred speaking one day longer to his employers, it would have been too late; for the vacant post would have been filled up. As time went on, I felt thankful that the “one day longer” had not been allowed to pass. Much as I felt parting with Cress, I could not but see the plan to be a wise one.

All this while we heard no news of Aunt Briscoe. It seemed very extraordinary, and puzzled us much. I wrote again and again, but no answer came. Churton too seemed to have disappeared out of our life, neither calling nor sending a word by post. Without leave we dared not go to “The Gables.” Aunt Briscoe might not yet consider us safe.

“The truth is, Robert, mischief is going on there,” I said one day, breaking out with a thought which had long been in my mind.

“What sort of mischief?” Robert asked.

“Churton is gaining an influence over Aunt Briscoe’s mind, for his own ends. Perhaps he is setting her against us.”

“My dear, that is rather a wild supposition.”

“I don’t see it. A quarrel between her and us would be to his advantage.”

“There can’t well be a quarrel all on one side.”

“No. But he might turn her against us.”

“Why should he?”

“For selfish ends,” I said, after a moment’s hesitation.

Robert did not seem to understand, and I grew impatient.

“Can’t you see, Robert? She has property, and Churton would not mind a little more money than he has.”

“Perhaps nobody would. But I wouldn’t be suspicious,” Robert said gravely. Yet it seemed to me from his manner that the same idea had occurred to him before.

“What if it is more than a mere suspicion?” I asked.

“We have no real grounds for supposing anything of the kind. Churton is always indolent about writing; and Aunt Briscoe is always nervous about infection. This illness has unfortunately kept us all apart for a long while; but quarantine cannot be kept up much longer. It has reached already to an absurd extent. When we are in and out again at 'The Gables,’ all will come right.”

“I am not so sure,” I said.







EARLY in February Cress left us; and I had more comfort in my boy before he sailed than in all his previous life. He seemed softened, and less full of self; and he let me speak to him loving words of advice and warning, such as generally he would not hear at all. He took away my Bible with him—the one I had used for years—and he promised faithfully to read it every day, which was a real joy to me.

Jack knew of this gift of mine to Cress. The very evening after Cress was gone, he brought to me a beautiful new Bible, bound in dark morocco, with gilt edges,—far handsomer outside than my dear old Bible, which it cost me a wrench to part with.

At first I hardly seemed to know my way about in this new Bible. Every page of the old one had its own memories, sweet or bitter, and hardly a page was without at least one chosen text, lightly marked. Here all the pages were fresh and new and unfamiliar. And yet they were familiar, for they spoke the same words. It was the same Book, the same wonderful Bible, the same message of my loving God to me. And the gift had come as a fresh token of my eldest boy’s thoughtful care for his mother.

It really did seem to Robert and myself absurd to suppose ourselves any longer in quarantine. So one day he went by train to “The Gables,” not giving any warning.

But he was not admitted. The servant—a new one—looked doubtfully at him, and said that Mr. Hazel was out, and her mistress was busy. Robert pressed her to take in his name, saying he was sure Mrs. Briscoe would see him if she knew him to be there. The girl replied rather pertly that she was sure Mrs. Briscoe would not.

Robert felt convinced from her manner that his approach to the house had been seen, and that the girl had been instructed what to say. Still, he insisted on sending a message. The girl went away, and presently returned to say that Mrs. Briscoe was sorry not to see him. She was unwell, and afraid of measles.

“Rubbish!” Jack said, when Robert told us this.

“What did you do then, father?” asked Cherry.

“The only thing I could do, my dear; I came away.” Maimie’s eyes roved from one to another, and I saw that she was deep in thought.

We wrote letters again, both to Aunt Briscoe and to Churton; but no answers came.

Jack made the next attempt. He went to “The Gables” without telling any one beforehand, and presented a sturdy front. First, he insisted on seeing Churton,—“his uncle, Mr. Hazel,” and he was informed that “Mr. Hazel was out.”

Jack did not believe the assertion, but he could not disprove it. Next, he tried hard to see Aunt Briscoe. She sent word to him that she was afraid of measles. Jack sent word to her that we had been free from measles in our house “for months.” Aunt Briscoe returned answer that she was poorly. Jack answered, through the girl, that he was very sorry, but he would not tire her or keep her long. Aunt Briscoe replied by a message that she was “engaged.” Jack sent her word that it didn’t matter; he would wait any time; might he go to the study? So at last there came a very plain message that Mrs. Briscoe refused to see her nephew, and he might go. Whereupon Jack said “Good-morning” to the servant, and walked away.

“No use staying any longer, you see,” he said, when relating to us his adventures. “One can’t exactly force one’s way in. But it is very unfortunate. The old lady has evidently taken offence at something or other.”

I looked up and saw again that thoughtful expression in Maimie’s face. She seemed lost in serious consideration.

Later in the day, when I was alone, she came to me, and said—

“Aunt Marion, what does it mean?”

“What, Maimie?” I asked; for at the moment I was thinking about Cress, not about Aunt Briscoe.

“My father staying away, and Aunt Briscoe seeing nobody,” she said.

“I don’t know. I wish I did,” was my answer.

“Is she inclined to take offence?”

“I believe so; but we have never offended her before. Nor have we done so now—knowingly.”

“You have done nothing that could rightly give offence. It is Aunt Briscoe and my father who have kept aloof from you, not you who have kept aloof from them.”

“Yes; but she is growing old, and old people often have fancies.”

“Would it matter to you if Aunt Briscoe really were seriously offended,—or if she changed? Are you so very fond of her?”

“I believe my husband loves her for the sake of old days, and for the sake of her dear old husband,” I said. “No; I am not so fond of her as I ought to be, Maimie.”

“Then it would not really matter much?”

“Not in that way.”

“But in some other way?” Maimie asked with quickness.

“It is not a thing we talk about much,” I said, after a pause. “But there is no harm in your knowing the fact. Mrs. Briscoe is very comfortably off, and my husband has always been looked upon as her probable heir.”

“I see,” Maimie said, a change passing over her face,—a look coming of sudden comprehension and fear.

“Mr. Briscoe used to speak openly of his intention to leave everything to your uncle. It would be only just. There is no nearer relative, and my husband is older than your stepfather, so he has the first right. It used to be an understood thing. But Mr. Briscoe died very suddenly, leaving everything in his wife’s hands. If he had had longer warning, I feel sure he would have arranged somehow so as to secure the money to Robert! Since his death, Aunt Briscoe has taken care to make us feel that she is at liberty to dispose of her property as she likes. And, of course, she really is free,—except that she would naturally be bound by her husband’s wishes. I have always felt that she would in the end do the right and just thing, unless we should be so unfortunate as to offend her. She has not a very happy temper.”

It seemed a relief to me to say all this, with Maimie’s earnest eyes looking into mine.

“And now you think she is offended?”

“I don’t know how else to explain the way in which she is holding off from us. But it is mysterious, for certainly there is no real cause.”

A flush rose in Maimie’s face, crimsoning the fair skin up to the roots of her hair.

“It is not mysterious,” she said in a low voice. “Father is there.”

We were both silent for a minute. Maimie turned her face away, but I could see how the flush died away, and returned with double force.

“Maimie dear, you must not trouble yourself about what can’t be helped,” I said.

She came towards me then, and flung herself down with her face on my knees.

“Oh, it seems as if I brought you nothing but harm, nothing but harm!” she cried. “And it is all my own wilfulness. If I had not been ill you would not have been away so long from 'The Gables!’ And now I don’t know what to do.”

“Only don’t grieve, Maimie,” I whispered. Somehow none of us could ever bear to see Maimie unhappy.

“I have brought you nothing but trouble,” she moaned. “All the expense and worry; and no return. And Cress having to go away because of me. O yes, I know it has been that, though nobody says so. Cress would not have gone, if I had not been here. I didn’t see it in time, or I would have gone away myself. And Jack is unhappy too. And now there is this about Aunt Briscoe. Nothing but trouble and loss,—all through me. I don’t know how to bear it.”

I did not know how to comfort her at first. There was just so much truth in the words as to make denial of them impossible. And yet we all loved her far too well to wish that Churton had never sent her to our house.

“Maimie, hush,—you must hush,” I said at length. “You make me feel that I was wrong to speak freely to you as I did just now. These things are not in our hands; and we must not wish to choose for ourselves. It was God who gave you to us, and I always look upon you as one of His dearest gifts to me in life,—only next to my own children. You are ours, and you will be ours still, even if your father takes you away for a time.”

“But Cress!”

“Cress had to go—because of his want of self-government. That was the real reason, not his love to you. It does not seem to me that his love for you is worth much. Just a passing fancy.”

“O I am so glad you think so,” she said, with a deep sigh.

“I know my boys’ weaknesses, and I don’t underrate their faults. Cress has great faults,—still I am hopeful for his future. I do not believe he will be any the worse for two years’ absence just now.”

“I am glad you think so,” she repeated. “But now—this about father.”

“You cannot do anything there. You have not the mastery of your father’s conscience.”

“No. But you think there is something—he is making mischief, perhaps?”

“I know Churton,” I said gravely, “perhaps more truly than my husband does. I have suspected for a long while that things were going wrong.”

She pressed her hands together, and murmured, “What can I do?”

“Nothing. The whole affair is in higher Hands, Maimie; and there we must leave it.”

“But one may act—one may do,” she said eagerly. “We must pray first, of course. But if one could do anything too, it would not be wrong. If we can’t, we must only wait.”

And then she sprang to her feet with sparkling eyes.

“I know! I know! I shall write to father.”

“My dear, we have written again and again.”

“Yes; but this time I shall write. You will see!”

“What are you going to say, my dear?”

“That I must see him; and if he doesn’t come to me, I shall go to him.”

“And if he does not come—”

“I am going to write so that he will come. I shall tell him I have something to say, and must see him.”

“But, Maimie, you cannot breathe a word to him of this fancy of ours—this suspicion. I am not sure that we are right to speak of it, even to one another.”

“I shall not say the very least word of that to him. How could I? I should not dare! O no,—not to him, or to anybody. But I have something that I must say. Yes, I know now what to do.” Then she paused, with a saddened look and a sigh. “Yes, I must,” she repeated. “It is only right. If I can stop this wrong, I will. But please don’t ask me any more questions just now.”

And I did not.







MAIMIE wrote and posted her letter within half-an-hour. Then she came to me, carrying a scrawled pencil-copy, which she placed in my hand.

“I thought it best not to show you the real letter before I sent it off,” she said. “Please read this, Aunt Marion.”

And I read, not without surprise:—

“DEAR FATHER,—I begin to think you have forgotten me.
It is so very long since you have been to the house.”
“I want very much to see you now—very much indeed—to
ask you a question. Please come and see me. If you
cannot come here, then I will come to you. Aunt Briscoe
cannot really be afraid of infection now. It must be
either a mistake, or a silly fancy of the servant.
If I have to come to 'The Gables,’ I shall not let her
send me away, as she sent Jack away. Measles was really
at an end months ago.”
“The question I want to ask is about myself. Nobody
knows anything of it except myself; and nobody in the
house will read this letter before it goes off. But,
father, I must see you, please. One way or another,
“I am, your affectionate daughter,”

“Do you think your father will like that?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said; “but it is true. I must see him. Things can’t go on like this. And the only way to bring him was to write strongly.”

“What is the question you have to ask, my dear?”

She looked at me, half sadly. “Can you wait till he comes? I’ll ask it before you, if you like. But I would rather not tell you now.”

Maimie had her own way as usual, and kept her little secret. I could have wished that the letter had been rather differently worded. However, it was gone and might not be recalled; and I would not worry Maimie by expressing my doubts more plainly, Later in the day I told my husband something of what had passed; and he and I waited curiously to see results.

Maimie was on the look-out next day. It reminded me of the time when she first came to us, and when she so eagerly watched for tidings of her stepfather. Every ring and every knock brought a flush into her face.

The morning passed thus, fruitlessly; and Maimie was growing pale with anxiety. A good part of the afternoon went in like manner. Maimie would not leave the house for a moment. Cherry had gone out to do some distant shopping. Robert and Jack were absent as usual at their work; and the younger boys were at school. Maimie and I sat alone together.

Suddenly there came a sharp knock, and again Maimie flushed and paled.

This time disappointment was not in store. The front door was opened, and immediately afterward Churton himself walked into the room.

He looked a little askance at me, I thought, and seemed relieved to find Robert absent. I noted an attempt at ease in his loud voice and would-be hearty manner.

“Well, Maimie,” he said, kissing her, “how do you do? Quite well, eh? That was a pretty imperious sort of letter you sent me yesterday, I must say! But you see I have come! What has gone wrong with you?”

“I did not say anything had gone wrong, father.”

“Something, I supposed. Or there’s something you want done. Anyway, I have come. So now you had better ask your question,—the quicker the better.”

“Presently,” Maimie said. “You will sit down and have a cup of tea first, father.”

“I don’t want tea, child. I’m dreadfully hurried,—haven’t a moment to spare.”

“You have not been to see us for a long while,” I remarked to him.

“Couldn’t possibly,—I have had too much on my hands. And I knew Maimie was all right again. Not but what she looks thin yet—thinner than she ought to be. But I’ve been busy. And the old lady has been ill; and she expects any amount of attention.”

“That is why she has not written then,” I said, and I looked at him.

“That’s why,” he answered; and his eyes roved about anywhere rather than meet mine, or so I thought.

“Is she ill now?”

“Well, she isn’t right yet,” said Churton. “Not up to visitors or letter-writing.”

“She has always wished to see us before, when she wasn’t well.”

“People change as they get older,” said Churton. “Anyhow, she seems to want to be quiet. Maimie, if you have anything to say, you had better say it quickly, for I must be off.”

“There’s plenty of time,” Maimie said quietly. I noticed with surprise that her lips were trembling.

“And I want very much to know more about Aunt Briscoe’s illness,” I added.

“It was a touch of bronchitis first, and she doesn’t get up strength after it,” replied Churton. “Plenty of time for you, perhaps, Maimie, but not for me. So if you don’t speak, I’m off. If you want to see me alone, I’ve no doubt your Aunt will excuse us;” and he made a movement as if to get up.

“No, thank you, father. I would rather a great deal that Aunt Marion should hear, only she must promise not to interrupt.”

“What! Am I to be tongue-tied, Maimie?”

“Just for a little while,” she said coaxingly. “I want to put my question in my own way, and to let father answer as he chooses.”

“That’s only fair,” Churton said; and I laughed, and promised to wait till I was appealed to. But I felt rather uneasy. Churton looked from one to the other of us, in a suspicious sort of way.

“It’s no use to look at me, Churton,” I said. “I have not the least idea what it is that Maimie means to say.”

Maimie sat facing Churton. The two were such a curious contrast. He had grown into a burly sort of man, too red in the face, and restless in manner. And Maimie was so fair and gentle, with her pale skin, and short flaxen hair, and dark eyes. She sat very still, with folded hands, while he kept up a continual fidget.

“Father, do I belong to you, or do I belong to Uncle Robert?”

The question took me by surprise, at least as much as it took Churton by surprise. I believe we both stared at her.

“What on earth is the girl driving at?” demanded Churton at length.

“It is a simple question,” Maimie said, speaking steadily, though her lips were pale. “Am I your child, or am I Uncle Robert’s child? Of course I am neither really,—but which am I to count myself?”

“I’ve not given you up, my girl,” said Churton.

“You mean that I am yours?”

“To be sure,—yes,—why not?” he asked.

“And you expect me to do as you wish about things, father,—and some day to live with you again?”

“To be sure,” he repeated.

“And meantime—all this while that I have been away from you—only you, and not Uncle Robert, have been responsible for my keep, and my education, and everything to do with me?”

Churton shuffled on his chair at this, as if he began to see whither Maimie’s “question” was tending. I sat in silent astonishment.

“I don’t suppose your uncle grudged you a shelter while I had no home to offer,” he said.

“I daresay not, father, but that has nothing to do with the question. You have never even given him the choice, whether to say 'yes’ or 'no.’ And it comes to this: if I am really your child, not his, then you and I have been robbing him for three years past.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” he said shortly. “Girls know nothing about such matters.”

“I know that you promised to pay my expenses when I left you to come to Uncle Robert.”

“Well, and haven’t I sent money?”

“Forty or fifty pounds,—for three years’ board and lodging, and nursing through two long illnesses! That—payment!” and her eyes flashed such scorn at the notion that he visibly recoiled.

“I daresay I shall be in a position some day to pay up all square,” he said.

“And until you can, I do not stay here, father.”

I had great difficulty in keeping my promise of silence. Churton shrugged his shoulders, and asked, “Where are you going?”

“To live with you,” she said.

He looked angry. “This is all nonsense, Maimie.”

“It is not nonsense,” she said calmly. “Father, you must listen to me, if you please. What I want to say is this,—that things cannot go on any longer as they have done. Uncle Robert and Aunt Marion may be willing, but I am not. I can’t go on living in a false position. It must be one thing or the other. Aunt Marion, please hush—just a little longer. I know I am right about this. Father, I mean what I say. If I am Uncle Robert’s child, then I have no more to do with you, any more than with any other mere acquaintance; and the arrangement of the last three years has been fair and right. But if I am your child, I will not live upon anybody else, and I must either live with you, or Uncle Robert must be paid for all my expenses.”

One thing was plain to me, in Churton’s face. He did not wish to give Maimie up. Whether he was jealous of her love for us,—whether he really did feel affection for her,—or whether he had schemes for the future in which he meant her to take a part,—I could not then decide. I have since been convinced that the last was the leading motive. But he did not mean to give her up.

“And suppose I say 'No’ to both?”

“You can’t,” she answered. “I don’t want to speak as I should not; but you are not my real father, and you have not acted a father’s part; and Uncle Robert has rights as well as you. He has been a father to me. I am not going on like this any longer. I will be either his or yours. If I am Uncle’s, I am his altogether, and I stay here. If I am yours, I come to you.”

“To 'The Gables!’ Nonsense!”

“It is not nonsense,” she said very quietly. “Aunt Briscoe once wished me to live there, and I would not. But I am willing to go now. Father, you may take me, or you may give me up. If you give me up, I know that Uncle Robert will adopt me.”

I began to understand what Maimie was aiming at. She meant to go to “The Gables,” to set things right, if possible, between Aunt Briscoe and my husband. The thought flashed upon me as I listened, and how I loved the child for her self-devotion! But could we let her go? What would Robert say? What would Jack think? Yet, if she and Churton settled it thus, had I any power to refuse my consent?

“And suppose I simply leave you alone for the present, and by-and-by claim you?” he asked roughly, as if to frighten her. “Who is to say me nay then?”

She drew up her fair head, and looked at him with a mantling blush. “I can be out of your reach then,” she said. “There is more than one who wishes to marry me.”

This shot struck. Maimie told me afterwards that she had kept it in reserve, only to be used in case of emergency.

Churton was visibly disconcerted.

“Absurd!—a chit of your age!” he said.

But from that moment Maimie had the game in her own hands.

“Well, well; we will think about it,” he said. “Perhaps the best plan would be to board you here for the present,—pay Robert so much.”

“O yes,” passed my lips.

“No,” said Maimie resolutely. “You have to pay him, father, but every pound you can spare must go to settling your debt for the past. If you gave him a cheque for one hundred pounds this minute, it would not cover all. No, father. If I am your child, I come to you for at least a visit, that we may decide together how much is already due to Uncle Robert. When that is settled, then I shall be glad enough to come back, paying my board, and making a fresh start.”

Churton sat in gloomy silence.

“But it must be decided soon one way or another,” pursued Maimie, in her soft resolute tones. “If I come to you, I come within a week from to-day; if not, then I shall feel free to decide on my own course independently.”

“You mean that you intend to marry. Who is the fellow?”

She turned scarlet, keeping her eyes on the ground.

“Well, it does not matter,” said Churton shortly. “I should not give my consent. Look here, Maimie,—as you are so bent on a point-blank decision, you shall have it. I’ll take you back with me this evening.”

She started as if with pain, and I exclaimed in distress.

“That’s enough about it,” said Churton roughly. “You’ve brought it on yourself, girl. Now you may take your choice. If you come to 'The Gables’ at all, you come in half-an-hour.”

“'This evening,’ you said, father?”

“This afternoon, I meant. I am going out to see somebody near, and I shall be back with a cab in half-an-hour. If you are not ready to start then, you may give up the idea of 'The Gables.’”

“I will be ready,” she said firmly.

“Maimie, Maimie, not without your Uncle’s consent,” I entreated.

“Then, or not at all,” said Churton.

“Then,” Maimie answered in the same tone.

“I cannot give my consent,” I said.

“Nobody asked it,” said Churton. “Don’t dawdle with your packing, child. I shall be back in half-an-hour, mind.”

And he strode out of the room, fuming.







AS Churton left the room, Maimie sprang across, and threw herself into my arms.

“O Aunt Marion!” and she gasped for breath.

“Maimie, how could you? We cannot part with you, darling.”

“Oh, it must be. It would have come to this sooner or later. Father will not give me up, you see. And I ought to be there,—I ought to be there.”

“But so short a notice,” I said sorrowfully.

“That is his way of punishing me. Was I wrong to speak to him as I did? I wish I could love him more. But don’t make me cry—don’t. I must go. O Aunt Marion!”

“What will your Uncle say?” I asked, with a kind of stunned feeling.

“I don’t know. You will tell him all. He will understand. And perhaps I shall only be a few days away. Father may get tired of me. I shall be on the spot, and perhaps I can do something—perhaps. But I must not waste time.”

She hurried upstairs, and threw her clothes into it trunk with feverish haste.

“I shall not take much,—only enough for a visit. Things can easily be sent or fetched. And this will always be home to me still—always. I shall try to come very soon and see you all. But if I don’t, you will understand. Perhaps at first he may not let me.”

I was weeping by this time, while Maimie seemed to have no tears to shed. She only looked flushed and burdened.

“Don’t cry,” she said once or twice, coming to cling to me. “O don’t! It has to be.”

“Maimie, I don’t think I can let you go like this.”

“But you must,” she said. “It is for Uncle’s sake, you know. I must see if things are going wrong, and if they can be put right. And by-and-by,—oh, it doesn’t do to look forward. We must trust for by-and-by.”

Not too much time was allowed. Half-an-hour had scarcely passed, when Churton’s steps sounded in the hall. Once more Maimie threw herself upon me, clinging passionately.

“Aunt Marion, it is hard to go; but I must; it does seem right. If I could but have seen dear, dear Uncle Robert again! And poor Jack,—you must give my love to him. Don’t tell him a word of that—you know—what I said to father about—about marrying.”

“No, darling,” I said; “I will not.”

“It was the only thing that really brought him to what I wanted. And it was true, wasn’t it?”

“True that you could—perhaps—make poor Jack happy?”

“Oh, I didn’t mean that. It was true that more than one wants to marry me.”

“And the other—is it not true, Maimie?”

She flushed brightly. “I don’t know,—I only said I could—I didn’t say I would. Perhaps,—but I must not think of that now. I have to do what father tells me. But tell Jack how sorry I am to say good-bye to him—to you all—for a few days. Perhaps it won’t be longer. Oh, I do wish I could thank you rightly for all your love and kindness to me.”

“Come, Maimie,” shouted Churton.

I ran downstairs first, and protested earnestly against this hurried departure, but in vain. “The girl had taken her choice, and she should abide by it,” Churton replied shortly. “He had no doubt she had been put up to all this by others.” Then Maimie followed me into the hall, and there was another good-bye, and she was gone.

And I sat alone in the parlour, desolate at heart, till Cherry came home, and heard all. We shed many tears together.

It was harder work to tell my husband, and hardest of all to tell Jack. I think they marvelled at me for letting Maimie go, and I marvelled at myself,—yet what could I have done? The whole thing seemed to come like a flash of lightning, all power being taken out of my hands.

“She is sacrificing herself for us, dear child,” Robert said, when he and I talked the matter over. “I do not know whether we ought to allow it—if we have power to refuse. But Churton has a certain authority over her.”

Jack vanished for a long while that evening, and when present with the rest of us, he scarcely spoke a word.







A WEEK passed, and not a word came from Maimie. It was strange how the days seemed to drag with us, and how we watched the posts, and how we all talked of Maimie, wondering each hour of the day what she might be doing.

A week gone by, patience failed, and a discussion took place as to whether my husband or Jack should go to “The Gables” and ask after Maimie. Jack then confessed rather penitently that he had already been, four days earlier, without asking our advice, and had been stiffly refused admission.

“Not wise, Jack,” my husband said; though of course Jack did not know, as we did, a certain little passage between Maimie and her stepfather, which made it advisable that Jack should not seem to be running after Maimie too solicitously. We did not suppose Churton would approve of Jack for her future husband. Probably he expected Maimie to marry what is called “well,” and to be in some way a means of gain to himself. Not that fathers—especially stepfathers—do generally gain much personally from a daughter’s wealthy marriage. But Churton was capable of such an expectation.

“No, I’m afraid it wasn’t wise,” Jack admitted regretfully. “Somehow, I have felt ashamed to speak of it.”

“They didn’t use the measles excuse again, I suppose?” said Cherry.

“No; the girl said Maimie and Uncle were both out, and would not be back till late, and her mistress wasn’t well enough for visitors. She had evidently been primed. I could do nothing with her.”

“One thing is certain,—Jack must not be the one to go again so soon,” I said. “Robert, I think it should be you this time.”

And so the matter was settled. My husband went next day, and we all awaited his return in a fever of anxiety, trying to laugh at one another for the same, yet feeling it none the less.

And at last my husband came back.

“Well,” he said, with a curious smile, “I have seen Maimie.”

“You have! I am glad,” I said; and a weight seemed to roll from my heart.

“Yes, I have seen her. But Churton was there all the time, so not much could be said.”

“How did she look?” asked Jack.

“Rather paler than usual, but otherwise well. She held me very tightly for a moment, poor child, and then tried to put a restraint on herself.”

“Afraid Uncle Churton would be jealous,” suggested Cherry.

“Do tell us everything, father,” Jack said in a gruff voice, supporting his chin on his hands.

“There is not very much to tell. When I reached the door, the girl meant to send me away as usual. I could see it in her face. So I said, 'I wish to see Miss Browne, if you please. She is at home.’ This was rather a haphazard shot, but my guess proved correct. The girl seemed disconcerted, stared, and said nothing. I repeated, 'Miss Browne is at home, and I wish to see her. If she is engaged, I will wait till she is free.’”

“Splendid!” exclaimed Jack. “Why, father, I didn’t know you were so cute.”

“The girl hesitated, and then went off, leaving me in the doorway. Coming back, she showed me into the drawing-room, and left me there alone. Churton presently appeared, and I can’t say he gave me a warm welcome. He said Aunt Briscoe was very poorly, too poorly to see any one; and she seemed growing so fond of Maimie as hardly to bear her out of her sight; but he dared say Maimie could be spared for five minutes. I said I would stay until she could be spared. Churton said a few words, and then walked away, and by-and-by he and Maimie came in together.”

“And she looked—” Jack asked again.

“Not so bright as usual, but otherwise like herself. She kissed me very affectionately, and seemed delighted to see me, asking after you all, and sending messages of love. We could not of course talk freely, with Churton sitting by all the time. I asked about poor Aunt Briscoe, and Maimie says she finds a great change in her,—great weakness, and no appetite. So that excuse has not been all a pretence.”

“But she would not have refused to see us a year ago when she was ill,” I said.

“No, that is different now. Churton remarked again how fond Aunt Briscoe is of Maimie; and Maimie said, 'Yes, she has given me a welcome.’”

“Go on, please,” Jack said breathlessly.

“I am afraid there is not much more to tell,” my husband said. “We were under a good deal of constraint. Churton presently told Maimie she had better go back to Aunt Briscoe, and Maimie stood up at once. She seems curiously submissive to him.”

“Did she mind going?” I asked.

She clung to me again, and shed a few tears. I went with her to the door, and there she threw herself into my arms, and whispered a good-bye. I had a little chat with Churton after she was gone, and said I hoped she would come and see us soon. He said he could not promise it yet,—he did not like incessant running backwards and forwards between two families. I reminded him that Maimie was like one of ourselves by this time. He frowned, and said she was not that, and added that he hoped by-and-by to be able to repay me for all her expenses while with us.

“Nonsense!” muttered Jack.

“Then we spoke of Maimie herself, and of her prettiness and taking ways. Churton was fluent enough there—only he talked too much as one might talk of the good points of a horse, counting on its marketable value.”

Jack groaned.

“Maimie will not be easily swayed to do what she does not think right,” I said, responding to what I felt was in Jack’s mind.

My husband soon after left the room, and I saw him glance back, as if he had something more that he wished to say to me. I followed in a few seconds, and when we were alone he said—

“Maimie gave me this.”

“What, Robert?”

“A note for you. She slipped it into my pocket, when she was saying good-bye, and whispered, 'Not a word to anybody else.’ So here it is.”







A SMALL three-cornered note lay on my hand, and outside it was written—

“For Aunt Marion. PRIVATE.”

My husband sat down, and I read it, first a few words to myself, then aloud all through to Robert.

“DEAR Aunt MARION,—I am so sure somebody
will come soon from home to see me, that I
shall have a letter ready to send, on the
first opportunity.”
“This is to be a private letter, only for
yourself and Uncle Robert; so now I can write
“My father does not seem to wish that I
should write by post. I have no stamps or
money, and he will not give me any. When I
asked him he said it was nonsense, and he
did not want a constant gossip kept up
between the two houses. But I do not think
I shall be wrong to send this. I want you
so much to know why I do not write
regularly, and then you will not be pained.”
“My father is not unkind, only he is sharp,
and makes me do exactly what he wishes. He is
so unlike what I remember him in America.”
“Aunt Briscoe seems fond of him, and yet
half-afraid. But she talks as if Uncle Robert
had offended her dreadfully. I tried
yesterday to find out what he had done, and she
became confused, and said she couldn’t recall
particulars, her memory was so weak.”
“I am sure my right place is here just now.
She is very good to me, and I may be able
by-and-by to put things more right, only I
have to set to work very carefully.”
“I miss you all so terribly. It can never
be home, away from you. I long to be back.
But you must not be anxious, for I am well
cared for.”
“I am writing very small, to get in as
much as possible. And now I do not know how
to stop. I do wonder what Uncle Robert and
Jack thought of my sudden flight. I don’t
send a message to Jack and Cherry, because
I don’t think you will show them this.
It might be best not to speak of it even.
I am so afraid of my father hearing that I
have written. And yet—I cannot think I am
wrong to write.”
“Ever your loving child,”      “MAIMIE.”

And that was all. A tear seemed to have fallen and blotted the name. We did as Maimie wished, and said nothing about my letter.

A month passed from that day, and Maimie had not once been to see us, had not once written by post. Robert and I understood; and Cherry’s confidence in Maimie was never shaken. But Jack looked often very unhappy. I began to think at last that I would tell him of the letter I had had.

Then suddenly, one day, when we were all sitting at early dinner on Saturday, my husband and Jack being at home, there came a telegram.

Robert opened it with nervous fingers, and I saw Jack’s ruddy face turn pale. I think we all fancied at the moment that it meant ill news of our Maimie.

“From Churton,” Robert said; and he read aloud: “'Aunt B. died this morning; paralytic stroke last night; unconscious to the last.’”

A silence fell upon us. No one seemed to know exactly what to say. My husband looked really grieved; but it was impossible that much of real affection should be felt by most of us for the poor old lady; and Jack’s face told of relief. It had been a very different matter when her dear tender-hearted old husband had died. That was a loss to us indeed.

“I must go this afternoon,” Robert said presently.

“Shall I come with you, Robert?” I asked. The question came from a sudden impulse, arising, I am afraid, more out of a wish to see Maimie than aught else.

“I don’t know why you should not.”

He went out of the room troubled and sad. Jack said, “I am only astonished that Uncle Churton took the trouble to send a telegram at all.”

“Perhaps Maimie made him,” said Cherry.

“I doubt if Maimie has much power to make him do anything. More likely he has a motive of his own.” Then turning to me, Jack asked very softly, “Mother, who will have it all?”

“No one knows,” I said.

“Not Uncle Churton, I hope.”

“I hope not. But we cannot tell yet.”

A little later Robert and I started together. I do not think we two had ever been to “The Gables” in company, since that time when we went to consult Aunt Briscoe about Maimie’s sudden arrival from America. And now Maimie and her stepfather were both at “The Gables;” and poor Aunt Briscoe—was not there.

I fancied Churton would be amazed to see us come in; but he was not. He seemed cordial and cheerful. “He feels sure of his ground, and thinks all is settled now,” flashed across my mind. I do not know whether Robert had the same thought. But it did seem strange to see Churton so cheerful, in that house of death, with its closed blinds. Robert looked depressed; and I felt sad and subdued; while Churton spoke in his loud voice, never attempting to lower it, and invited us into the drawing-room, and gave himself the airs of hospitable owner of the house.

“Churton expects to have all this,” I said in a low voice to my husband, when he went away to call Maimie.

“Evidently,” Robert answered. “He probably has good grounds for his expectation.”

Then Maimie entered quietly, followed by her stepfather. She looked very pale, and her eyes were red with tear-shedding. “Aunt Briscoe was so good to me,” she said softly, as if in excuse for herself; and she sat holding my hand, with her fair head down on my shoulder. “Just like mother and daughter!” Churton said, in a sneering manner.

However, he sent for tea, and talked persistently, allowing us no chance of quiet conversation with Maimie. Aunt Briscoe had long been poorly and broken, he said; but the final stroke of paralysis had come suddenly,—unexpectedly, in fact. The doctor had been summoned, but nothing could be done. She had never been conscious again, and had sunk in the early morning. He would have telegraphed the night before, had it not been so late, knowing the interest we all felt in the old lady.

Then he went on to name the day of the funeral. He asked Robert and Jack to be present, and me too, if I liked. “Not that it matters much,” he said. “But no doubt there will be small remembrances to some of us, whatever she may have done with the bulk of her possessions. She was quite free, as we all know. The poor old body wasn’t over-liberal with her gifts while she was alive; but most people are willing to be generous in their wills. Well, we shall see, after the funeral. No use to go into the question.”

I disliked extremely the manner in which he spoke; and I saw Maimie’s eyes fixed on him gravely.

Churton evidently did not intend that we should see Maimie alone that afternoon. I longed for at least five minutes’ chat in private; but I could not see how to bring it about, and Maimie made no effort. She was only sad and submissive. Yet now and then I noticed a satisfied expression in her face—an expression as of one who had set herself to do something, and had done it.

Robert asked Churton as to his future plans; and Churton said carelessly—

“Really, I don’t know yet. Either settle down in England, or go back to America. It isn’t easy to come to a decision; but I shall have to decide soon. Maimie doesn’t seem to care for the thought of America. I believe there’s some young fellow in England she has a hankering after. But I tell her it’s no earthly use, unless he has money. She ought to do well for herself, with that face and air. I’m not going to have her throw herself away on some penniless city clerk.”

A hit at my husband this, and I knew it. But Robert heard quietly; and Maimie’s downcast face did not even blush.

The interview over, Robert and I went home, and had much to tell Cherry and Jack.

“Mother,” Jack said wistfully that evening, “do you think there is any more hope for me now—with Maimie?”

I had never told him anything which I knew Maimie herself would not wish to have repeated. But after some thought, I said, “I think there may be a little more hope for you, Jack, perhaps, so far as Maimie herself is concerned—”

“O mother!” he said, in rapture.

“But other difficulties are increased,” I said.

“What difficulties?”

“Uncle Churton—”

“Oh, that is nothing. That doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, if only Maimie herself could be willing—”

“We must have patience,” I said. But I too felt hopeful, even while seeing difficulties ahead more clearly than Jack did.



On the day appointed for the funeral; Robert and I went—not Jack. He could not well get leave of absence that day from his work; and on the whole we were not sorry. It was better that Churton should not yet know his desires with regard to Maimie; and Jack would hardly have failed to betray himself.

The funeral took place in strict accordance with directions in the old lady’s will, at a distant cemetery. I had hoped to be able to keep Maimie from attending it, and to remain behind with her for a private interview. But Churton was bent upon Maimie’s presence in the cemetery, and she made no effort to resist his wish, or to farther mine. Did she really not care for being with me, much as I was longing to have her for awhile to myself? I grew perplexed, and even a little jealous. However, as Maimie went, I went also. And the quiet solemn service seemed to help and calm me,—only Churton’s loud voice grated on my ears.

On our return we expected the reading of the will to take place immediately. But Churton insisted on luncheon first. He overruled everybody’s wishes, and had things his own way.

The lawyer was an old friend of Mrs. Briscoe, and we had known him many years—a silent grey-haired man. When at length luncheon was over, and we were all gathered together in the drawing-room, he put on his spectacles, made one or two introductory remarks, and then slowly read the will aloud.







THE first part of the will was dated a few years back,—within a year of Uncle Briscoe’s death. “The Gables,” and all furniture in the house, and all money in the funds, bringing in nearly seven hundred pounds yearly, were left to my husband, with only a few small legacies to friends taken out.

Then came a codicil, dated just three months before Mrs. Briscoe’s death, undoing the whole of this, and leaving to Churton house, furniture, money,—all, with the exception of the few legacies I have mentioned, and five hundred pounds to Robert.

Churton showed extreme satisfaction. He tried hard to seem astonished, and to accept his good fortune as if it were unexpected, but without much success. My husband sat with bent head, making no remark. I do not doubt that it was to him, as to me, a moment of bitter disappointment.

Maimie raised her eyes, and looked earnestly at us all round, not seemingly either grieved or gratified, but with a certain calm content. I wondered at her, and my heart beat with something like anger. Was she glad to step in and rob us of our inheritance? For unless Churton should marry again, Maimie might reasonably expect that one day all this would pass to her.

It is strange how quickly thoughts can flash through the mind. I suppose I felt all that I have just written, and more besides, in the space of two or three seconds. The lawyer’s pause could hardly have lasted longer.

“Stay,” he said, lifting one hand, as Churton seemed about to rise. “I have not done.”

He read aloud yet another codicil, dated less than three weeks back. This codicil entirely reversed all that was in the other codicil, and reverted to the first arrangement, everything being again left to my husband, with the exception of a few small legacies, and also with the exception of one thousand pounds to Jack.

I heard Maimie utter a little “Oh!” of pleasure at that. Evidently she had not known it beforehand.

Robert’s drooped head was lifted, while Churton sprang to his feet. I never saw a face so changed in a few seconds. He seemed in a fury.

“What! what! what!” he shouted. “What’s that? It’s a trick,—a shame. I don’t believe it.”

“Look for yourself, Mr. Hazel,” the lawyer said composedly, keeping the will in his own hand, but pointing to the last paragraph.



“This is your doing?” he shouted. “You hear?”


“I don’t believe it,” repeated Churton, pacing to and fro. “Why, the old lady herself told me—” There he broke off, as if he had not meant to say so much, and condescended to examine the codicil. “What does it mean? Three weeks ago! And I to be told nothing!”

“That was hardly necessary,” the lawyer said, with considerable dryness. “Legatees are not always informed as to the exact amount which they may expect to receive at a testator’s death.”

“It’s a rascally shame,” cried Churton, almost beside himself. Then he turned sharply upon Maimie. “Three weeks ago! Since you came? Girl, this is your doing?”

She stood up and faced him, pale, but otherwise unmoved.

“This is your doing!” he shouted. “You hear?”

“I hear you, father,” she replied.

“And you allow that it is true? If you did, I’ll—”

Robert stepped forward, and took his stand by Maimie’s side.

“Yes, I don’t doubt,—done by you two! I was a fool ever to trust the girl, I might have guessed—”

“Father, you might have guessed that you could not trust me to help forward a wrong.”

“No violence here, Churton,” my husband said, for his gestures spoke of uncontrollable wrath.

“I’ll do as I like with my own girl,” he said roughly.

Maimie looked fearlessly at him. “Not your own,” she said.

“I’ve done as much for you as if you were! But I’m not going to bandy words with you, girl. The old lady was free to will her property as she chose; and if she chose to will it to me, nobody had a right to meddle. Is this your doing?”

“Miss Browne, you are not bound to answer questions put in such a manner as this,” the lawyer said.

“She’s bound to answer me, if I choose to insist,” Churton said, in his harshest manner. “Speak, girl! is this your doing?”

The lawyer spoke again. “Mrs. Briscoe was, as you have just stated, free to leave her property where she pleased. Some cause induced a passing change of plan: but about a month ago she reverted to her former intentions, and wrote to tell me so. It was not her wish that you should be made acquainted with the change.”

“When did she sign the codicil?” demanded Churton.

“Nearly three weeks ago,—as you may see by the date. I came here, but did not see you or Miss Browne.”

“My father and I were out for the day,” observed Maimie.

“Yes, no doubt; you took care of that,” said Churton.

“Aunt Briscoe settled it herself. I did not know it was to be on that day until we came back.”

“You have not answered my question yet. Is this, or is it not, your doing?”

She hesitated a moment, and then spoke out distinctly. “I found Aunt Briscoe offended with Uncle Robert for no reason. She seemed to think he had treated her wrongly; and he had not. I was able to set that right. How could I do less?”

A strong expression broke from Churton’s lips. “You did enough, any way,” he said fiercely. “Enough for yourself and for me too! I’ll have nothing more to do with you! Do you hear? You may find a home where you will. I’ll have no more to say to you. And if ever you’re in trouble, you needn’t come to me! I don’t want to see your face again. Do you hear?”

He pushed her roughly from him, and strode out of the room. But for Robert’s quick support she would have lost her balance, and fallen backwards. He threw an arm round her protectingly, and she burst into tears.

“Poor child!” the old lawyer said kindly. “She is well out of his hands.”

“Maimie, dear child, never mind; you are ours now,” Robert whispered. “He gives you up to us.”

But I think the strain of the last few weeks must have been severe. Maimie seemed so shaken and hysterical, that I made her go upstairs and lie down on her bed. She held my hand tightly, whispering,—“Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”







I SAT down beside the bed, and drew Maimie within my arms, letting her soft cheek rest against mine.

“Oh, that is nice,” she murmured.

“Maimie, we owe a great deal to you,” I said.

“Don’t say so, please. I could not let the wrong go on. But poor father—it does seem sad.”

“To any one that loves him.”

“I’m afraid I don’t—much,—not real love, I mean. Only for his own sake I am sorry. But I don’t think he will want me again.”

“He has given you up,” I said.

“Yes, I hope so. And, after all, I could do nothing for him, even if we were together. He will not hear a word of what is right,—and I think he would soon try to make me do wrong. He frightens me sometimes, with things he says. Oh, he has gone downhill terribly since mother’s death. It would be dreadful to live with him always. But I am glad I came here.”

“It has been a happy thing for us.”

“Yes, I wanted that. I soon found out what poor father was after! How he could!”

“Did he tell you, Maimie?”

“Father tell me! O no. Aunt Briscoe took a fancy to me the first day, and she very soon began letting out things when we were alone. She said my father would be angry if he knew, and I must not repeat a word. I found she had a fancy that Uncle Robert had been rude and neglectful to her; so the first thing I had to do was to explain that away. And then she told me she had altered her will,—by my father’s advice. I had to be careful in what I said, but it very soon seemed to dawn upon her that she had been deceived, and that she was wronging Uncle Robert. She wrote herself to Mr. Wilson about the change in the will, and he was so quick,—much quicker than lawyers are generally. I do think he was very glad for Uncle Robert.”

“Did it never occur to you,” I asked, “that if all had gone to your stepfather, it might have been yours some day?”

“Aunt Marion!—what sort of a creature do you think me?” she cried.

“At all events, it will be Jack’s,” I said.

She blushed vividly, but said, “I am glad of the legacy to Jack. Aunt Briscoe did not tell me of that. When will Jack come here?”

“I think you will come back to us first,” I said, “until we can all be here together. I suppose it will be some little time before we can enter into possession.”

Then Maimie told me more about Aunt Briscoe; how, under failing strength, she had seemed to dread the future, and had craved comfort, not knowing where to turn.

“She spoke of her husband as such a good man, Aunt Marion, and said she was afraid she had never cared much for the things he loved best. And I do think I was a little help to her. At first she was shy of seeing a clergyman. I could not get her to do it, till a few days before her death. But she let me read and talk and sing hymns to her. 'Just as I am,’ was her great favourite; and at last she almost knew it by heart. I do think there was a real change in her. And she seemed so anxious to do rightly about her money.”

“I wonder she never sent for my husband.”

“She did not dare, Aunt Marion. I think she was too weak and ill to face my father’s anger. She told me again and again to give you her love 'by-and-by.’ And I think she had a feeling that it would not be long.”

“I wonder your father never happened to hear about the lawyer’s visit.”

“There was no one to tell him. He and I were out for the day, and Aunt Briscoe sent Maria into the city, on an errand. I suppose Maria might have told,—father seems to have some sort of hold on her. You know he made Aunt Briscoe send away her good old housemaid, and get this new one instead. But she would not part with cook, even to please him,—and cook does not like father at all. She would be sure to tell him nothing.”

We did not talk much more of Churton, for the subject seemed to sadden Maimie. Nor did we see him again. Later on we all had tea together; but Churton was absent. Inquiries being made, we found that he had gone away an hour earlier, taking two large boxes with him. No one knew where he was gone; and he had left no message to anybody.

“So he gives you quite over to us, Maimie,” Robert said. “You are our child now.”



It was a good while before we actually went to live at “The Gables.” Law-business had to be settled before we might take formal possession. Also many repairs were needed in our new home. Moreover, our old home was on our hands for another two years; and a tenant had to be found for it.

But by the time summer was in full swing, we made the move.

I found then that the old home was dear to my heart; but the new promised soon to be yet dearer. Robert loved “every stick and stone” about the place, as the saying is. The garden and the little conservatory were a great delight to Maimie and me; but the change in my husband’s look was a greater delight still. He seemed already ten years younger, and was losing his burdened air.

One day, soon after we were beginning to feel really settled, Maimie came softly into the drawing-room, carrying a rosebud in her hand, and blushing herself like a rose. She had on her garden-hat, and I thought how wonderfully pretty she was growing, with her black soft eyes and her wavy flaxen hair, and the bright bloom in her cheeks.

“Aunt Marion, I’ve been gardening,” she said.

“Yes, dear,” I answered; and I knew directly that something was coming.

“Jack is there,” she said. “He has come home earlier.”

“Isn’t he well?”

“O yes; quite. It isn’t that. But he says he could not wait any longer. It came over him all at once that he must speak. And he asked leave to come away early for once—on business. Fancy calling that business!”

“What was the business?” I asked, smiling.

“As if you didn’t know!” she whispered, stooping to kiss me.

“He knew Cherry was away this afternoon, and he felt sure he would find me alone in the garden.”

“Which he did. Well, Maimie, what is your answer?”

“I haven’t given him any. I told him he might ask you.”

She was starting upright, to run away, but I caught her fast.

“You must tell me what to say.”

“Anything you like.”

“I should like you to belong to my Jack.”

“Then I will,” she said.

“Only because I wish it, Maimie?”

She shook her head, smiled, and stooped for another kiss.

“If I don’t marry Jack I shall never marry anybody,” she said. “Please tell him what you like, mother!”

And she ran away out of one door, as Jack came in at another. He looked very hopeful, yet half puzzled. I had the joy of laying his doubts to rest, and of telling him that at last Maimie was his own.



“If I don’t marry Jack I shall never marry anybody,” she said.

“Please tell him what you like, mother!”


“My own! my very own!” he said once or twice to himself, with such a look of happiness in his manly face. Then he stooped to kiss me, as Maimie had done. “Mother, pray that she may never be my idol, and yet that I may love her better every day,” he said softly.

And I think that prayer has been answered.



Three years passed before Maimie became Jack’s wife. By that time he was getting on well enough to render the step prudent. A little house was taken near us, and furnished chiefly with the contents of our old home. Neither Jack nor Maimie would consent to spend any of the thousand pounds,—Aunt Briscoe’s legacy.

By that time Cress had been home again for several months. He had grown brown and healthy, and had shaken off his fancy for Maimie; so much so that he made no objection whatever to being Jack’s “best man.”

Seeing a little more of the world had done Cress good in many ways. Cherry and I found him now a pleasant companion in the house, instead of a trouble. He was far less “self-absorbed” than of old.

On the very eve of Maimie’s wedding, she had a letter from her stepfather. He had taken up farming in South Africa, and professed to be doing well. He wrote in his old affectionate style, and enclosed a present of five pounds, saying he hoped some day to come home and see her again.

Did he think he would get Maimie once more into his power? The thought occurred to my mind, but I put it from me. There was no need to trouble ourselves. Maimie, as Mrs. Jack Hazel, was safe from her stepfather. She wrote soon to thank him for his “wedding-gift,” and to tell him of her marriage. Since then we have heard no more of Churton.