The Project Gutenberg eBook of Old comrades

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Title: Old comrades

Author: Agnes Giberne

Release date: October 29, 2023 [eBook #71978]

Language: English

Original publication: United Kingdom: John F. Shaw and Co, 1896


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


Old Comrades


































The voice was deep-toned, verging on gruffness, and it lingered over the name, not affectionately, but as if the speaker's mind were absent.

No answer came in words from the girl seated beyond the round table. She lowered the book in her hands, and waited.


"Yes," she said.

"Fetch me the first volume of the Encyclopædia."

"The Encyclopædia?"

"Britannica, of course."

"Downstairs?" Dorothea asked hesitatingly.

"Of course!"—again. "Lowest shelf of the bookcase."

"That long row of big volumes! I think I saw the first volume upstairs."

"Then, my dear, it ought not to be. Everything should always be in its right place."

Colonel Tracy spoke with the air of one enunciating a profound truth, disembosomed by himself for the first time in the history of the world. He was a grey-haired veteran, with large features, a complexion of deep-red rust, and solid though not tall figure. Fifteen years of "retired" life had not undone his Indian military training. When giving an order to daughter or domestic, he was apt still to give it as to a Sepoy. "Ready! Present! Fire!" was the Colonel's style. Domestics were disposed to rebel, where the daughter had to endure.

Dorothea laid down her book, and stood up slowly. There was a controlled stillness about her movements, unusual in girls of eighteen, and not too common in women of middle age. She did not remind her father that he, not she, had conveyed the volume to its present resting-place. One week at home—if this could fairly be called "home"—had shown Dorothea that whatever went wrong would be the fault of anybody rather than of the Colonel. So she left that question alone, and vanished.

The Colonel lifted his head, and looked after her. "Quiet!" he muttered in a gratified tone. "Good thing, too! I hate your bouncing women, slamming the doors, and shaking the house at every step." He had himself a heavy footfall, and he was given to loud shutting of doors, but these were exclusive privileges, not to be accorded to anybody else.

The room which Dorothea left was not attractive. Carpet and curtains were faded; wall-paper and furniture were ugly; ornaments were cheap and in bad taste. There were no dainty knick-knacks on brackets or side-tables. An old-fashioned round table stood in the centre, and was strewn with books—dull books in dull bindings.

London lodgings are not wont to be attractive, especially the second-rate sort. This was the "upstairs parlour" of a very second-rate sort, situated in a side-street of exceptional dreariness.

All the houses on either side of the street were exactly like all the rest. Each had a porch with steps; each had an area with more steps; each had one window of a small dining-room beside the porch, and two windows of a little drawing-room above; each had two bedroom windows yet higher, and most had two garret holes at the top. Each was discoloured with smoke, dingy and dismal. Each had white blinds to the bedroom windows, which seemed to keep up a futile struggle after cleanliness.

These particulars would have been patent in daylight; but daylight vanishes early on a December afternoon in town. Night had drawn its pall over the big city an hour before. A tall candle burnt upon the table, close to the Colonel. He was so used to read and write alone by the light of a single candle, that the need of a second for his daughter had not occurred to him.

She came in, carrying the big volume, laid it down, and stood for a moment beside him, as if to await further orders.

There was nothing "school-girlish" about Dorothea, in the ordinary sense of the word, though she had left school but one week earlier. Of good height, she had a pretty figure, the effect of which was somewhat spoilt by the forward carriage of her head, almost amounting to a poke, and due to short sight. Her face was rounded and pale, and in repose was serious. The wistful eyes looked through a pair of "pincer" glasses, balanced on a neat little nose.

Colonel Tracy was making voluminous notes from a decrepit brown volume, which had lost half its binding. He wrote an atrocious hand, which fact had mattered little hitherto, since nobody needed to read it except himself. Now that he was beginning to wake up to the possession of a daughter who might be useful, a new element came into the question.

"Is that all?" asked Dorothea.

"Humph!" was doubtless meant for thanks, and the girl went towards her seat. But before she could reach it, a supplementary order was issued: "Ha! No! It's not here! Second volume."

"Shall I get the second volume?"

Colonel Tracy glanced up, and really did say "Thanks!" with even a suspicion of apology in the tone.

Dorothea ran down the narrow staircase this time, instead of up. She had to light a candle, and take it into the dining-room. Having found the required volume, some impulse led her to the window, where she peeped through the lowered venetians.

A hansom was dashing past; and two ladies on the pavement seemed to be carrying home an armful of packages. Dorothea could detect a merry ring in their voices as they went. Then came a boy, bearing a big bunch of holly. For this was Christmas Eve.

The Colonel had bought no holly. "Nonsense," he had said that morning, when Dorothea petitioned for some. "You are not a child now, my dear; and I have no money to throw away on rubbish."

Was it rubbish? Dorothea considered the question, as she leant against the window, forgetting for the moment the volume which had to be taken to her father.

"He does not, seem to care much about Christmas," she thought. "I used to feel it dull to stay at school; but this seems more dull. Did Mrs. Kirkpatrick guess how it would be, when she told me I should have worries? She said I must try to draw out my father's sympathies, because he has been so long alone. But how? What can I do? He does not care to talk. I can see that it only bothers him. And he seems to have no friends. Nobody calls to see him, not even any letters come. Will it always be so?"

As if in response, the postman's rap sounded.

"Mrs. Kirkpatrick, I dare say! She will not forget me," the girl said joyously, hastening out.

But the one letter handed to her was addressed "Colonel Tracy."

"I shall hear to-morrow. I did not really expect it sooner," she thought, and she ran lightly upstairs.

"Something for you, father. A Christmas card!" she suggested.

Colonel Tracy looked up. "Christmas card!" he repeated. "Where is the volume?"

"The Encyclopædia! O how stupid of me! The postman came, and I forgot. I'll get it at once."

"Make haste!" hurried her steps. She would have liked to wait and see the envelope opened. Expeditious as she was, that process was over by the time she returned. The Colonel sat bolt upright, gazing at something in his hand, with a singular expression on his sunburnt face. It was a Christmas card, as Dorothea had guessed, and she came fearlessly near, to gaze also. There was a background of dull pale blue, and across the background flew a white dove, bearing in its beak a bunch of leaves—presumably an olive-branch. "Peace and Good-Will" in golden letters occupied one corner.

"Why, father, it is quite an old card," Dorothea exclaimed merrily, anxious to throw herself into his interests. "Look at the soiled edges; and a crease all down the middle. It might be years old."

The Colonel was not communicative. He glanced at her with the same odd expression, and said, "Yes."

"Who can it be from? Some old friend of yours?"

"We were friends—once!"

"And not now?"

"No!" decisively.

"But you exchange Christmas cards?"

"We send—this," after a pause. Colonel Tracy seemed unwilling to explain.

Dorothea knelt on a stool close to the table, resting her hands upon it, much interested.

"Do tell me more," she said. "It is Christmas Eve, and I have nobody else to talk to."

"There is nothing to tell. We had a—a trifling disagreement," said the Colonel. "What makes you wear spectacles?"

"Short sight. Why, father, you know that!"

"I had forgotten. Well, I shall put this away," said the Colonel.

"And send another to your friend?"

"No. Certainly not. Next Christmas, I shall return this."

A light dawned on Dorothea. "Is that it? I see. How strange!"

"Not strange at all. We have done so for some years—eight or nine, I think—alternately."

"Always the same card?"


"And you have never met! And never written!"

"No. Why should we?"

Dorothea was silent for a moment. Then she said, "If you met, you would be friends again."

The Colonel made a dubious sound.

"Was it you who sent the card first, or was it he?"

"Not I."

"And when you first got it, did you wait a whole year to send it back?"


The wonder in Dorothea's tone was lost upon the gallant Colonel.

"And you will wait a whole year now! Not write a letter, or—"

"I shall wait till next Christmas," said the Colonel.

Thereupon, he pushed the little messenger of peace into a square envelope, wrote upon it, "Christmas Card—Erskine—" and hid it away in his desk.

"Is Erskine his name?"

"Colonel Erskine. We were in the same regiment. He was my senior, slightly; and I believe, he retired first."

"And now he lives at—"

"Craye. My dear, we have talked long enough. I have no more time to spare," said the Colonel, turning with assiduity to vol. ii. of the Encyclopædia.

Dorothea subsided into her chair and into silence. She was not timid, but she did not wish to worry him. Besides, she had something fresh to think about, in the slow progress of reconciliation between the two veterans. "But to have gone on all these years!" she said to herself. "And I wish my father had been the first to send the card."




LONDON is commonly counted a lively place, with plenty to do, and abundance to see; even though it has its little drawbacks in the shape of noise, soot, and fog. But the compensating liveliness seemed unlikely to enter into Dorothea Tracy's town existence.

If a man wishes for freedom from society, he is as likely to get what he wants in London as in the tiniest village—perhaps more so. Colonel Tracy had never been a man of society. He detested the generality of human beings, hated company, abhorred teas, dinners, and conversation.

In earlier life, he had had one friend—the quondam comrade of the olive-leaf card!—and had lost that friend. He had also had a wife, and had lost that wife.

Thenceforward, habits of seclusion had grown upon him apace. As years went on, he troubled himself to see less and less of his child; though always looking forward, curiously, to the time when he would have her to live with him. Now that time was come, and it found him a confirmed hermit. He had no friends. He associated with no one, called upon no one. As a natural corollary, no one called upon, or associated with him. He did not even belong to a club, for a club means acquaintances, and the Colonel wanted no acquaintances. He lived in a huge overgrown parish, the work of which could never be overtaken by the toiling clergy. A call from one of the curates, some months earlier, had met with no gracious reception, and had not yet been repeated.

The manner of life which might suit the tastes of a retired veteran was not precisely fitted for a young girl. This as yet did not cause the Colonel concern; if indeed it occurred to him. He expected to go on as he had done hitherto, with merely the little addition of a silent and useful daughter. He expected Dorothea to conform unquestionably to his will.

She had come "home," as she called it—or rather, as she had called it beforehand—full of young hopes and dreams. At eighteen, one is apt to see future life through rosy spectacles. In one short week, the glasses had gained a leaden hue, borrowed from the leaden atmosphere around. The hopes were dying; the dreams were fading. Dorothea had had, and would have, some rebellious struggles before settling down to the dead level of existence which seemed inevitable. Thus far, the effect of her surroundings was rather to stupefy than to excite. Everything was so different from the previous expectations of the school-girl, that she did not know what to make of her own position.

A girl naturally wishes for companions. Beyond her father, Dorothea had none; and Colonel Tracy was far too self-absorbed a man to render satisfying companionship. Below the rugged surface, he was in the main kind-hearted; but he lacked the mighty gift of sympathy. He neither understood his daughter, nor troubled himself to be understood by her. Each was more or less of an enigma to the other.

He had his own notions of propriety, and after his own fashion, he was careful. "You are too young to walk out alone at present in London," he had said to Dorothea, the day following her arrival. "I always take my constitutional after breakfast, and you may accompany me. I hope you are a good walker. If it should be necessary for you to leave the house at any time when I am otherwise engaged, you must have Mrs. Stirring for a companion. She has promised me to attend to your wants."

Mrs. Stirring was the lodging-house keeper: a highly respectable little woman, "genteel" to a degree in her own estimation, but apt to be plaintive in tone and behindhand in work. So she was not always an available "companion," and when available she was not too cheerful.

The morning "constitutional" became a daily event, regular as breakfast itself when weather permitted. Happily, Dorothea was a very good walker. The Colonel went fast and far; and he never thought of asking whether pace or distance suited his daughter's capabilities. Dorothea enjoyed the rapid motion and the comparative freshness of the morning air. She would have enjoyed some conversation likewise; but the Colonel was seldom in a talkative mood. If she spoke, he grunted; if she asked a question, he answered it, and that was all.

How to fill the remaining hours of the day became, even in one week, something of a problem to Dorothea. She had work in hand, but it is dull, at the age of eighteen, to sit and work with no one to take any interest in the progress of the needle. She dearly loved reading, but the Colonel's books were such as to put that love to a pretty severe test. She could have spent hours happily any day in writing to Mrs. Kirkpatrick and her favourite schoolfellows; but her father's pet economy was in the matter of paper and stamps. So time threatened to hang upon Dorothea's hands.

Nine years had elapsed since the death of Dorothea's mother; and the greater part of those nine years had been spent by her in a small Yorkshire school, kept by Mrs. Kirkpatrick. That had grown to be Dorothea's real "home." She hardly realised the fact while there, loyally reserving the term for future life with her father, and sometimes counting it a little hard to spend so many of her holidays at school. But now that the long-expected life with her father had begun, she knew well enough which was the real home.

Through the nine years Colonel Tracy had lived more or less in London, often going abroad for a while. It had happened curiously often—almost regularly—that he had to go abroad just before Dorothea's holidays, so that he was "quite unable to receive her." Whether the more correct word would not have been "unwilling" may be doubted. He was a man who disliked trouble; and he had no notion of doing on principle that which he disliked, for the sake of others.

About once a year, he had commonly arranged to spend a fortnight at some northern watering-place with Dorothea: this being the least troublesome mode he could devise for amusing a school-girl. From the age of twelve to the age of eighteen, she had never been to London. "Too expensive a journey," the Colonel said, though he made nothing of going himself north or south, travelling first-class. He liked to have Dorothea always within easy reach of Mrs. Kirkpatrick, that he might get her off his hands without difficulty when he found the girlish spirits too much.

Dorothea's recollections of his manner of life in town, seen before her thirteenth birthday, had grown somewhat dim, and perhaps were embellished by distance. Moreover, he had often changed his headquarters since those days, so her recollections were the less important. Certainly she did not expect what she found. The first glimpse of the dingy apartments, which for more than a year, he had made his home, gave a shock. Had the Colonel been aware of her sensations, he would have counted them unreasonable. He had "done his duty by her" in the matter of education. He expected now that she should "do her duty by him" in the matter of submission and usefulness.

Dorothea was a girl of too much character not to be useful, of too much principle to indulge in discontent. Still, this week had been a week of "deadly dulness"; and what there was for her to do, she had, as yet, failed to discover.

The Colonel arranged everything, ordered dinner, interviewed the landlady, and undertook to procure fish and vegetables. He piqued himself upon his intimate acquaintance with household details. He needed neither advice nor help. Dorothea was a mere adjunct in his existence thus far, less important than the said fish, less necessary than the said vegetables. She felt like a stranded boat, cast upon a mudbank, out of reach of the tide of life which surged and roared around. This, in a London street, where cabs and hansoms dashed past, where the sound of the great human Babel never ceased.

* * * * * *

Christmas morning dawned.

"I shall hear from Mrs. Kirkpatrick to-day," thought Dorothea cheerily. "Will my father go to Church with me?"

He had excused himself the Sunday before on the plea of bad weather and "indigestion." "Bad weather" did not keep the Colonel in when he wanted to secure fresh fish for dinner; but Church was another matter. Dorothea had had to content herself with Mrs. Stirring's companionship. The Church was very near, so near that she meant soon to plead for leave to go alone.

"Good morning, father," she said, in her brightest tone, when he came into the dining-room. He was punctual to the moment, yet Dorothea was before him.

An indistinct grunt served for "good morning." The Colonel was exercised in mind, to think that Dorothea should have already made the tea. It was no small trial to give up his tea-making to her, which he had done as in duty bound, he being man and she woman; and he liked to stand close by, watching with critical eyes, as she measured out each spoonful. On the Colonel's plate lay a neat white package, tied round with blue ribbon. He was far too much absorbed in the tea-question to notice it.

"How many spoonfuls did you put in, my dear?"

"Three, father. One for you, one for me, and one for the teapot. Mrs. Kirkpatrick always said—"

"Full spoons, but not piled up?" demanded the Colonel, wrinkling anxiously the skin of his face.

"Yes; just as you showed me."

"And the teapot,—you made the teapot hot first?"

Dorothea nodded. She had to bite her lips to keep from laughing, as the Colonel lifted the lid and peered in.

"Too much water! A great deal too much water!" he said solemnly.

"No, I don't think so indeed. It will all come right," Dorothea assured him with audacious confidence. "O father, never mind the tea. See what Mrs. Kirkpatrick has sent me."

The Colonel did not wish to receive the article in question, but Dorothea put it resolutely in his hands. He found himself dangling helplessly a small blue satin pincushion, with "Happy Christmas" worked in white beads.

"Eh, what? yes. Very pretty," said the Colonel. "Yes, quite smart."

"And three Christmas cards, from my schoolfellows."

"Eh? Yes,—uncommonly pretty. What's the use of them all?" demanded the Colonel, merely because he was at a loss what else to say.

"The use, father! The use of Christmas cards?"

"Well,—yes. What's the use?" persisted the Colonel.

Dorothea stood opposite him, smiling; the light falling full upon her glasses, with the gentle light eyes behind.

"Don't they all do what yours did last night? Don't they all speak of 'peace and good-will'?"

This was a shade too personal, and the Colonel dropped Dorothea's pincushion in a hurry.

"Yes, yes, of course,—all right, no doubt. But such things are not in my line, I'm afraid. Too much trouble for a busy man to bother about a lot of cards."

Did Dorothea hear him? She was looking towards the window wistfully, dreamily; a moist glitter showing through her glasses.

"I'm not sure," she said as if to herself, "but I almost think Christmas cards are a sort of carrying on of the angels' song. A sort of echo of it. Don't you think so, father?"

"My dear, I'll trouble you to ring the bell. Mrs. Stirring will over-do the cutlets, and it's time the tea was poured out. Brewed long enough. You'd better take all that rubbish off the table. What's this?"

Any amount of notes of admiration might have been written after the question. Dorothea watched him, smiling, though she rebelled internally against the word "rubbish."

"Some mistake," said the Colonel gruffly.

"No, father; it is for you. It is from me."

Colonel Tracy looked extremely uncomfortable. He had had presents from Dorothea from time to time; but always as it happened by post; little bits of pretty handiwork, which he could smile over grimly, and consign to a lumber-drawer, only wishing that they would not come because he had to compose a sentence of thanks in his next letter. But for years he had received no present in public, so to speak,—with a witness to his manner of reception. That the giver should be seated opposite was embarrassing, and that he should be expected to show pleasure was more embarrassing still. His red rust complexion grew redder than usual, and an awkward laugh broke from him, as he took refuge in blowing his nose. Still Dorothea looked expectant, and the parcel had to be opened.

"I'm much obliged, I'm sure. But you see this sort of thing isn't in my line," said the Colonel.

"Don't you use shaving-tidies, father? Mrs. Kirkpatrick thought—"

"Well, well, of course I use—something," said the Colonel, shoving his new possession aside, to make room for cutlets and hot plates. "Yes, of course; but you had better not waste pretty things upon me in future, my dear. You see, they're not in my line. Other people appreciate them better."

"But I have nobody else," the girl said.

She was a little hurt and disappointed; no doubt more so than she would admit even to herself. It was evident that her well-meant effort merely bored the Colonel. "I hope you don't expect Christmas presents from me," the Colonel went on, helping himself vigorously. He noted her words, and was alarmed lest something sentimental should follow. "You see, I was not brought up to the sort of thing; and really I could not be troubled to choose. But if you would care to get something for yourself, I have no objection to give you five shillings."

Dorothea did not speak at once.

"That reminds me," pursued the Colonel, anxious to get away from a ticklish subject; "that reminds me! I intend to make you an allowance of twenty pounds for your clothes, beginning with five pounds on the first of January. I hope you will keep strictly to the amount, and on no account allow yourself to run into debt. Nothing worse than debt!"

"Thank you, father," Dorothea said slowly.

"Anything you'd care to do to-day? Take a 'bus and go into the country, if you like?" said the Colonel, meaning that they would do it together.

Dorothea looked surprised. "I am going to Church, of course," she said.

"Oh, ah,—yes, I forgot! No doubt,—quite correct. By-the-bye, I'm not sure about Mrs. Stirring, whether she can escort you, I mean. Turkey and plum-pudding, you know. Couldn't leave them, could she?" The Colonel was old-fashioned, and stuck to early dinner through all vicissitudes of fashion. "So I think you'll have to come out with me this morning, and be content to go to Church in the evening,—eh, my dear?"

"Father, I always go, morning and evening. I could not stay away. Won't you come too?"

"I—really, I should be happy to oblige you, but something at a distance requires my attention. Besides, week-days are not Sundays. Perhaps I'm not quite so much of a Church-goer as you. Now and then we will do it together,—on Sunday,—but I'm not so young as I was, and, in fact,—however, about this morning?"

"If Mrs. Stirring cannot go, I must go alone." She spoke in a resolute low voice. "It is so near; there cannot be any harm. I could not stay away on Christmas Day,—for no real reason."

"H—m!" her father said, in a dubious tone.

"I shall want to go often, when Mrs. Stirring is not free. Please don't make any difficulty. Let me have that one happiness," she pleaded. "Only two streets, and such quiet streets. And I look older than I am."

"Well, well!" the Colonel foresaw agitation, and feminine agitation was his abhorrence. "Well, well,—I suppose I must say yes. But mind, nowhere else, and never after dark. Not after dusk. The distance isn't much, as you say. Take another cutlet?"

The Colonel impaled one on a fork, and held it out.

"No? Why, you don't half eat." He landed the rejected article on his own plate, and disposed of the eatable portions in four mouthfuls. "Coming for a walk this morning?"

"No, I think not. I might be late for Church."

"You're like your mother. She was just such another Church-goer," said the Colonel, as if remarking on an idiosyncrasy of character.

Dorothea could be interested now. She felt relieved and free. "Was my mother like me in other ways?"

"Pretty well. Pretty well," said the Colonel, wiping his moustache.

"Did she know the Erskines?" This question came suddenly, almost surprising Dorothea herself.

"Well—yes. She and Mrs. Erskine were great friends—at one time."

"But not after you and Colonel Erskine quarrelled?"

"Well, not after our—little difference. No, we didn't keep up intercourse. What makes you bother about the Erskines?"

"I don't know. I like to think about them? Do tell me one thing, father,—are there any Erskine girls?"

"I'm sure I don't know. There was one, of course," said Colonel Tracy, getting up. "Done, my dear? For I have to be off. Why, of course! Same name, both of you."


"Yes, Dorothea. Just ring the bell; I want to speak to Mrs. Stirring. She roasted the turkey to a rag last Christmas, and I can't have it happen again. Yes, you were both called Dorothea,—a fancy of the two mothers. Great nonsense, of course; but when women take a notion into their heads, there's an end of it. What a time that girl is! Ring again. The morning will be gone, before I am able to start."

"O! I should like to know if Dorothea Erskine is alive still," cried Dorothea.




"AND you going out alone, Miss Tracy! And the Colonel that particular! As he wouldn't hear of you crossing the road by yourself."

Mrs. Stirring was manifestly uneasy, counting herself in some sort responsible. She looked upon this motherless young lady as a charge upon her conscience,—otherwise, as one of the many burdens in her life. Mrs. Stirring was a person who professed to carry a great many burdens. She always had been, and always would be, laden with cares; not so much because she had really more cares than other people, as because she had less pluck and endurance for the bearing of them. Where Dorothea would have looked up and smiled, Mrs. Stirring looked down and sighed. The difference was in the individuals themselves; not in the weight of the burdens laid upon them.

To be sure, Mrs. Stirring was a widow, which sounds sad. There are women, however, to whom widowhood comes as a merciful release from unhappy wifehood, and Mrs. Stirring was one of these. She had married in haste, and had repented at leisure. When her husband was taken from her, she had been conscious in her heart of relief from a bitter thraldom, though much too correct a little person to let any such feeling appear through her showers of weeping,—for Mrs. Stirring was a person who had always tears at command. Still—there the consciousness was.

Now for years, she had been a successful lodging-house keeper, and was not only paying her way, but was laying by a nice little sum for the future. She had one child, a pretty winning little girl, and one faithful though uncouth domestic. This was not altogether a bad state of things. Nevertheless, Mrs. Stirring talked on plaintively of her trials and burdens, making capital of the widowhood which had been a release.

"And you going out alone, Miss!" she reiterated, coming upon Dorothea dressed for walking. Mrs. Stirring was apt to be untidy at this hour, and her cap had dropped awry; while Dorothea was the very pink of dainty neatness, in a costume of dark brown, with brown hat to match, relieved by a suggestion of red, the glasses over her happy eyes balanced as usual over the little nose.

"To Church," Dorothea said, smiling. "I wish you could go too."

Mrs. Stirring shook her head dolorously.

"There's the turkey and plum-pudden, Miss," she said, in unconscious echo of the Colonel. "Dear me! Why if I was to leave them to Susanna, I don't think your Pa 'd stay a day longer under my roof; I don't, really. He's that particular about the roasting. I'm all of a quake now with the thought of it—if I shouldn't do it right. And there's the stuffing, and the gravy, and the sauce! And the pudden, as I've boiled six hours yesterday, and it's been on again these two hours. Dear me! No; I couldn't go to church! A poor widow like me 's got to stay at home and mind the dinner."

"I wish my father could dine late," said Dorothea.

A scared look came into Mrs. Stirring's face.

"Now don't you put him up to that—don't you, Miss Tracy. Late dinner means a deal of work. If your papa dined late, he'd dine early too—that's what gentlemen come to. No, I wouldn't wish that. But if I was a lady—like yourself, Miss—and hadn't to be at work all the morning, why I'd be glad enough to put on my best, and go off to Church with the rest of the folks. And take Minnie too."

"Minnie! O I never thought of that! Why should not Minnie go with me?"

"It's like you to think of it, Miss." Mrs. Stirring was evidently gratified. "And I'm sure she'd have been glad enough, for she does fret, being kept in. But the bells 'll stop this minute, and she's in her curl-papers."

"Curl-papers. Can't you pull them out, and smooth her hair, and put on her hat and jacket?"

Mrs. Stirring was injured.

"Dear me! No! My Minnie don't go to Church without she's dressed suitable. I couldn't get her ready under twenty minutes. She's in her oldest frock, and not a tucker to it; and I wouldn't have her go without—not for nothing. And them curls do take a lot of time. Not as I grudge it, if it's a duty."

"A duty! But what do curls and tuckers matter?" cried Dorothea. "What does it matter how she is dressed, if only she is there? We don't go to Church to show off our best dresses. At least, I hope not. Let me have Minnie as she is, only with her hair smooth. If I don't care, who else will mind? Curls don't signify. Do let her come! It seems so sad to stay away for nothing on Christmas Day."

No; Mrs. Stirring scouted the proposal. Minnie to go to Church in an old frock and uncurled hair! She was scandalised. What would the neighbours think? Dorothea had to give in, and turn away.

"As if it mattered how one is dressed—there!" she thought.

Shutting the hall door, she went briskly down the street, with a delicious feeling of freedom. She would not have felt so free, perhaps, if even Minnie had been her companion.

It was a sharp day, and for London tolerably clear. Something of wintry haze hung overhead, of course; but a red sun made efforts to pierce it. Puddles in the road were frozen, and here and there a slippery slide might be seen upon the pavement, perilous for elderly people.

The parting interview with Mrs. Stirring had almost made Dorothea late. As she drew near the bells stopped, and her pace became something like a run. She gained the nearest side-door and went softly in.

The Church, a large red brick building, was already crowded, and Dorothea, glancing round, saw no vacant seat; but somebody beckoned to her, and room was made. Almost immediately the choir burst into the old Christmas hymn, "Hark! the herald angels sing," and the congregation joined with heartiness.

Among all that mass of people, Dorothea knew not a single person, and not a single person knew her. She was a stray unit from a distance dropped into their midst.

Yet the lonely and forlorn sensations which had so often assailed her during the past week did not assail her here. Strangers though these people were to her, and she to them, they were one in a Divine fellowship, they served the same Master, they prayed the same prayers, they sang the same hymns; nay, with many of the throng, she would soon be united yet more closely, for they would "partake" of the same "holy food."

How could she be lonely? A realisation of this union, and a glow of happy love, crept into Dorothea's heart, as she lifted her eyes from the hymn-book and looked around. The angelic message of "Peace and good-will" had been to all of them alike.

"If only I could do something for somebody—not live for myself alone," was the next thought.

Then just across the aisle she saw a little old lady in mourning, distressfully fumbling for something which she could not find. Dorothea's quick glance detected a pair of glasses lying on the floor. In a moment she had stepped out of her place, picked up the glasses, and given them to their owner.

"Thanks," came in a whisper of relief, with a very sweet smile. Dorothea stepped back, blushing slightly to feel that she had done a rather prominent thing; yet she would have done it over again, if required.

The sermon was short, earnest, spirited, mainly about the duty of rejoicing. Not rejoicing only on Christmas Day, only when things seem cheery and to one's mind, but always,—on dark days as well as bright ones, amid anxieties as well as pleasures.

"That is for me, I am sure," Dorothea told herself, looking back to some troubled hours in the past week.




COMING out of Church, Dorothea found the hour later than she had expected. A very large number had stayed, and it was already past the Colonel's dinner-hour.

"I must make haste," Dorothea thought. As she said the words to herself, she dreamily noted the little old lady in mourning a few yards distant, in the act of crossing the road. "I wonder what her name is? Oh!"

Dorothea's "Oh!" was hardly audible; indeed she felt rather than said it. The old lady had stepped on a slippery spot, or slide, and went down in a helpless heap, just at the instant that a hansom dashed round the nearest corner.

Whether instinct or thought guided Dorothea, she could not afterwards have told. Before she knew what she meant to do, the deed was done.

Two or three ladies near shrieked; and two or three men not so near rushed towards the scene of action. But shrieks were useless, and the men could not be in time.

To everybody's amazement, a young placid-looking girl in spectacles, just leaving the gates, flung herself forward, and by an extraordinary exertion of strength dragged the helpless lady aside from almost under the horse's hoofs. There was not a half-second to spare.

"Did I hurt you? I hope not," said Dorothea, at the sound of a moan. She knelt in the road still, rather paler than usual, but not excited, trying to hold the other up.

"Oh, my dear!" and the old lady burst into tears.

"Hurt! You've saved her life, anyways!" a gruff voice said. "A pluckier thing I never seed!"

Dorothea glanced round, and became aware that her glasses were gone. She had a dim consciousness of a gathering crowd, but to her unaided eyes all beyond a distance of two or three inches was enveloped in mist.

"My spectacles!" she said.

There was a slight laugh, checked instantly, and a gentleman stood by her side, close enough for Dorothea to make out the clerical dress, and a grave rather colourless face.

"I am afraid they have been broken," he said. "Are you sure you are not, hurt yourself?"


"Did it hurt you? Oh, I hope not," said Dorothea.

"Hurt! Oh no!" Dorothea looked up, smiling. "Only I'm so dreadfully blind without glasses. I shouldn't know my own father."

Then a recollection flashed across her of the "turkey and plum-pudden," and of the Colonel's agony of mind if he had to wait.

"But I am afraid I must make haste home," she added. "Could somebody get a cab for—"

"For Mrs. Effingham," as she hesitated. "The hansom will take her home. And you?"

"I live close by—only two streets off. I do hope Mrs. Effingham isn't much hurt," Dorothea went on anxiously.

"My dear, I should have been but for you," said Mrs. Effingham.

The young clergyman had not been idle while speaking to Dorothea, but had gently lifted the little old lady to her feet. Though disorganised as to dress, and agitated still in manner, she was able to stand, with his help.

"No; not much hurt, I think," he said kindly.

"Things might have been very different but for your courage. Now, Mrs. Effingham, I think we had better help you into the hansom. What do you say to dropping this young lady at her door on your way?"

"O no, indeed; it is only three minutes' walk," protested Dorothea. "I wish I had time to see Mrs. Effingham home, but—my father—"

"My dear, I must know where you live. I must come to thank you again," said Mrs. Effingham, her face breaking into its sweet smile, tremulous still.

"I don't want thanks; but I should like to know that you are not the worse for this," said Dorothea. "My father and I live at 77 Willingdon Street."

"And your name, my dear? Miss—"


"Miss Tracy, 77 Willingdon Street. Will you remember?" Mrs. Effingham asked, looking at the young clergyman, as he led her towards the hansom.

"Certainly," he answered. "I am going to see you home now, if Miss Tracy really prefers to walk."

"Oh, much!" Dorothea answered. She gave her hand girlishly to both of them, then set off at full speed homeward, not in the least upset by her adventure, only smiling to herself.

"Wasn't it curious—happening just after I had so wished to be of use to somebody? Such a dear old lady! I do hope I shall know her. There's an interest in life already. What will my father say? I'm afraid it's awfully late."

The Colonel stood at the dining-room window, looking out, and he reached the front door before Dorothea.

"Twelve minutes past our dinner-hour! Everything will be in rags," he said sepulchrally.

"Father, I couldn't help—"

"Hush: not a word—get ready at, once. Don't lose a moment," entreated the agonised Colonel.

Dorothea fled upstairs, two stops at a time, tore off jacket, hat, and gloves, brushed her hair, washed her hands, and was downstairs with amazing promptitude. But the Colonel's gloom did not lessen.

"Fifteen minutes late! Everything will be spoilt," was his greeting.

"Father, I'm so sorry; but, indeed I couldn't help it," cried Dorothea. She took her seat, for the turkey had appeared, and smiled across the table at him. "I should have been quite in time, but an old lady fell down in the road, and was nearly run over. I just pulled her on one side, and then I couldn't get away till she was safely off."

"Rags! Rags! Rags!" sighed the Colonel dolorously, shaking his head. "Have a slice of breast?"—in a mournful tone, as much as to say, "Nothing worth eating now!"

"Please, father. I'm ravenously hungry. It cuts as if it were tender, doesn't it?" hazarded Dorothea. "Your knife seems to go so easily."

"Tender! It's cooked to rags. All the goodness gone out of it," groaned the unhappy Colonel.

Dorothea judiciously kept silence for a minute or two. The Colonel passed her some delicate slices, helped himself abundantly, and began to eat.

"Father, do you know a Mrs. Effingham?"

"No—" in a preoccupied tone.

"She says she is coming to see me."

At any other time the Colonel would have taken fright. He really was too much absorbed just now with his dinner miseries to understand aught else.

"She is the dearest little old lady, with such a kind smile." A pause. "Father, this is a delicious turkey; and such nice stuffing."

"The turkey would be well enough—properly cooked. No goodness left in it now," said the Colonel. "What made you so late? The service ought to have been over an hour before."

"I stayed to Holy Communion," said Dorothea gently.

The Colonel grunted.

"If it had not been for the accident, I should have been back almost in time."

"Well, another day, pray remember," said the Colonel shortly. "I expect punctuality at meals, whatever else you choose to do. Have some more turkey?"

"No, thank you."

The Colonel gave himself a second bountiful supply, not without sundry muttered strictures, of which "rags" was the only word which reached Dorothea.

Even the "plum-pudden" failed to console him. It had fallen into three parts—the result, he contended, of the fifteen minutes' delay. Everything was spoilt, as he had predicted! The worst Christmas dinner he had had for years!

Dorothea could only listen patiently till dinner was over, and the Colonel took himself off.




"I'M awfully excited to-day, because—NO, that is not the way to begin a journal. Margot advises me to start one, now I am eighteen. She has been advising it ever since my birthday, and this morning she gave me a charming little red book, with lock and key. So I suppose I really must do as she wishes."

"She says it will be a make-weight to my spirits when I am disposed to bubble over. Is there any harm in bubbling over? The world would be very dull if everybody's feelings were always to be kept hermetically sealed."

"No fear of mine being so, at all events. I'm not reserved, and I hate reserve, and I can't get on with reserved people. I like to say out just what I think. Of course there must always be some little inner reserves in everybody; at least I suppose so; but that is different from taking a pride in hiding what one feels, and in trying to seem unlike what one is."

"There's one good thing about a private journal! One can say exactly what one likes, and nobody's feelings are hurt. That is the only difficulty about always saying out what one thinks. Some people are so awfully thin-skinned, always taking offence. Of course the polite way of describing them is to say that they are 'sensitive'; but when I speak out what I think, I call them ill-tempered."

"I suppose the correct opening for a journal is a general statement about everything and everybody; a description of one's home and people and ways of life. But that would take a lot of time and patience. If I have the time, I haven't the patience."

"Still, something has to be written by way of introduction, though really I don't know why. If anybody ever reads what I write, it can only be one who knows all about everything already. And most likely my first entry will be my last."

"However—we live at Woodlands; not a big grand place, but the quaintest of old-fashioned houses in the quaintest of old-fashioned gardens. The house has wings and high gables and queer little windows. And the garden in summer has no horrid carpet-patterns or red triangles and blue squares, but is just one mass of trained sweetness—just Nature under restraint. That was what Edred said one day last spring."

"Craye is ten minutes off, down the hill, a funny old town in a hollow. Craye went to sleep a few hundred years ago, like the Kaiser Barbarossa; and unlike the Kaiser, it has never woke up since, not even once in a century. Yet Craye has a railway station, and actually it is not more by rail than an hour and a half from London. Only, as one always has to wait at least an hour at the Junction, the journey can't be done under two hours and a half."

"Now for the preliminary statement about our important selves."

"There is my father first; the dearest and kindest and best old father that ever lived. Not really old either, and so handsome and soldierly still. He can be sharp sometimes, but not to me. He spends lots of time in the clouds, and when he comes out of them, he does dearly love to spoil his Dolly. I am sure she loves to be spoilt."

"Then there is my mother. She is two years older than my father, which didn't perhaps show when they were young, but it does now. A woman of sixty-three is so much more elderly than a man of sixty-one. At least it is so in this house. Mother has silver-white hair, and she stoops, and is getting infirm—more than many of her age; while my father is still slim and upright and active. He has iron-grey hair and never an ache or a pain, and he makes nothing of a fifteen-miles' walk."

"I sometimes think my mother is almost more like a grandmother in the house; so gentle and invalidish, and able to do so little. Yet nothing would go straight without her; and she and he are like lovers still; except that he has a sort of reverent way of looking up to her. He always calls her 'Mother,' and she calls him 'My dear!' Never anything else."

"Next comes Isabel, our eldest. She is thirty, and looks like forty. She has managed everything for the last ten years, and she is a dear good creature,—only rather fussy about little things. She counts herself tremendously severe with me, though she never can say 'No' when I coax; but then she always gives in 'only this once.' She is full of sense, and can't understand a joke by any possibility.

"Then follows Margot, poor dear! Four years younger than Isabel, and eight years older than me. Margot has a weak spine, and lies down a good deal; still she hates to be called an invalid, and never will talk about herself and her symptoms. So people don't get tired of Margot's invalidism. I don't think I should describe her as the model invalid of story books; and yet she is not what Miss Baynes calls 'the fractious sufferer of real life.' Sometimes she has depressed moods, but when she is happy, she has the sweetest face in the world. And even when she is depressed, she never gets into a temper."

"Last of all there is me—Dolly—the household pet and plague. I am not like Issy or Margot. Issy is substantial and slow; and Margot is tall and slim; while I am small and bony, but not a scrap delicate, and everything that I do is always done in a hurry. I have a great lot of fair hair—golden hair some call it—but the trouble of my life is a snub nose,—a real undeniable little snub. Nothing can hide or cure that. Issy's is too long, with a droop at the end, worse even than mine; but Margot has the sweetest little love of a straight nose, neither long nor short. If only I had a nose like hers, I should be perfectly happy."

"Well, no—not perfectly, perhaps; because I should want to be tall and graceful also. It would be so nice to carry one's head higher than other people, and always to be gentle, and calm, and dignified. I should wish to be like Lady Geraldine—"

"'While as one who quells the lions, with a steady eye serenely
  She, with level fronting eyelids, passed out stately from the room.'"

"That would be delicious! I suppose most people's eyelids are level, and face the front; but it sounds distinguished. Mine, of course, are level, only they are always on the move, and I am afraid I haven't 'steady eyes serenely' quelling other people."

"O me, what nonsense I am writing! Is that the good of a journal—to show one more of one's real self?"

"I have done at last with regular lessons, and a daily governess. After the holidays, I shall be supposed to read history and French, and to practise regularly. But my plans always come to grief."

"They say I ought to take Emmeline for my model—good dear Emmeline Claughton, who gets up at six and lives by clockwork, and does everything, and has time for everybody. Whereas I lie in bed till nearly eight, and have to scramble to be in time, and spend every day unlike the rest, and hate rules, and never have time for anything except fun and story books, skating in winter, and tennis in summer. So I don't seem likely to grow into a second Emmeline."

"Would Edred be pleased, if I did?"

"How stupid of me to write that! What did make me? I have a great mind to scratch out the sentence. Now I can never show my journal to anybody."

"After all, why should I show it? And what is the harm of speaking about Edred?"

"Perhaps the proper thing here is to make a statement about the Claughtons. They live at the Park and are very rich. There is only one daughter, Emmeline, and Emmeline has two brothers, Mervyn and Edred. Mervyn is the heir, and he does nothing particular, but comes and goes, and bothers people. Edred is a curate in London. I like him—oh, much the best of the two, and so I know does Emmie."

"Mr. Claughton is kind, only too pompous, and I am not very fond of Mrs. Claughton. She has such a way of setting everybody to rights. But very likely, she doesn't mean to be disagreeable."

"I'm most awfully excited about—"

* * * * * *

"I had to leave off in a hurry, because the lunch-bell rang. And now it doesn't seem worth while to go back to that half-written sentence, about being awfully excited! For it is all over, and I am so dreadfully disappointed."

"Edred was expected down yesterday for just two nights—all the time he could spare from his work this Christmas. And Emmeline had asked me to go to the skating on their pond this afternoon. I think it was to pass the time before three o'clock that I took to my journal."

"But at lunch my father said a change had come, and a thaw was setting in. And before we had done, a note arrived from Emmie, telling me that the ice was unsafe, and that Edred had to hurry back to town to-day. So this time I shall not even see him."

"It does seem sometimes as if life were all made up of disappointments."




DOROTHEA built a good deal upon the promised call from Mrs. Effingham. As one day after another passed, and nobody came, she began to feel flat. Not knowing the old lady's address, she could not ask after her, so nothing remained but to wait.

Three days after Christmas, the frost broke up and a spell of mild weather set in. Dorothea had her morning rambles pretty regularly, but she found the long afternoons and evenings hard to get through, whether alone, or in wordless attendance on her occupied father. What he was always so busy about, Dorothea could not make out. He sent her upstairs or downstairs for books, and sometimes he set her to work copying dry extracts, but he gave no reasons or explanations.

She could not flatter herself that he grew less silent. All her efforts to call out his interest and sympathy were at present a failure.

The oppression of this continual silence was creeping over Dorothea herself. She could not persist in talk which had no response. Silent walks, silent meals, silent tête-à-têtes with the Colonel,—these were steadily subduing her young spirits. At thirty or forty, she could have struck out her own way of life, could have made her own work and interests. At eighteen, she was not free.

A Christmas card had come from Mrs. Kirkpatrick, but no letter. Dorothea, had begun to long with actual heart-sick craving for a letter, a word, a smile, from somebody. Anything to break the dead monotony of her present existence. Yet when New Year's Day brought from happy schoolfellows eager scrawls about their home delights, she had a little shower of tears over them. Her own lot was so different.

"Have you seen St. Paul's?" demanded Colonel Tracy next day at lunch.

"Seen St. Paul!" The girl had not fallen yet into London colloquialisms, and a sudden question from her father always had a bewildering effect.


"No, never."

"I'll take you this afternoon—by omnibus. Get ready sharp, you know."

"O father, can we stay to the Service?"

"What for?"

"I should so like it."

"Don't know. I must be back by half-past four."

No hope then. But any innovation in the daily round was delightful, and Dorothea had never been satiated with sight-seeing. She made short work of her dressing, and Colonel Tracy looked in surprise at her bright face.

"You like going about!" he said.

"O yes, indeed."

"Well—we'll do Westminster Abbey some day. Monuments worth looking at there."

Dorothea thought they were worth looking at in St. Paul's. She would have liked to dream over each in succession, and to spend a quiet hour studying the outlines of the great expanse:—not a solitary hour, for she had too much of solitude, but a quiet reverent hour, with her father by her side, feeling—if that had been possible—that he felt with her.

Colonel Tracy's notions of "doing a cathedral" admitted of no dreams. He whisked his daughter through the aisles and past the monuments in the most approved British style. "That's so-and-so, my dear; and that's so-and-so," came in quick succession. The whispering gallery was remarkable in his estimation—"best thing in the Cathedral," he asserted.

Reaching home before five o'clock, they were met in the hall by Mrs. Stirring. "There's been callers, Miss," the little woman said, swelling with gratification. "Callers, Miss—a lady and a gentleman. And they come together, and the lady she was that disappointed to find you out. I did say it was a thousand pities, for you wasn't scarcely never out, and such a dull life too! And she hopes you'll be sure and go to see her, Miss Tracy."

Dorothea took up the cards from the hall slab, following her father into the dining-room. "Mrs. Effingham," she said. "I wish I had been at home. To think that she should have come this day of all days! Father, Mrs. Effingham has called—the lady who slipped down on Christmas Day. Don't you remember—I told you?"

The Colonel's recollections of his over-boiled turkey were vivid: not so his recollections of the cause.

"Eh, what? Somebody slipped down?"

"On Christmas Day, just before dinner; don't you remember?"

"My dear I know you were late, and everything was spoilt," said Colonel Tracy, waking up into a lively air of attention. "Turkey a mere rag—pudding broken to pieces! Never dined worse on Christmas Day. Next year, I'm sure I hope—"

Then he stopped, reading discomfort in his daughter's face, and asked, "Who did you say had slipped down?"

"It was on Christmas Day—a dear old lady, coming out of church. I helped her and that hindered me. I am afraid she would have been run over, if I had not been so near," added Dorothea, feeling it needful to explain.

"A policeman ought to have been at hand. Great shame!" said the Colonel, who, like most people, expected each policeman to parade ubiquitously the whole of his beat. "But it's done—can't be helped now. Old ladies have no business to cross streets alone. Where's the book I left here—what's its name?"

"Father, Mrs. Effingham has been to call on us."

"Eh! Then she wasn't seriously injured! Where is that book?" soliloquised the Colonel, peering about.

"No, and she said she would call. I should so like to know her. Somebody else has been too—'The Rev. E. Claughton!' See, father—he has left two cards. I don't know who Mr. Claughton is, but—"

"One o' the Curates, Miss," came in subdued tones from Mrs. Stirring in the doorway.

"What's the woman dawdling there for?" muttered Colonel Tracy, and at the sound of his growl Mrs. Stirring vanished. Colonel Tracy received the cards from Dorothea, and frowned over them.

"Claughton! Claughton! I don't know anybody of the name of Claughton. Must be a mistake, my dear. Just chuck it into the waste-paper basket."

"O no; I am sure it is meant kindly. Father, he is one of the Curates of our Church. Don't the Clergy always call?" asked Dorothea. "And I think it must be the same who helped to lift up Mrs. Effingham. I should not know his face again, because I am so blind without my glasses; but he had a nice voice, and I really think you would like him."

The Colonel grunted. He had a particular aversion to Curates.

"Mrs. Effingham lives in Willingdon Square, I see. Then, she can't be very far off, can she? Father, shall I call on Mrs. Effingham alone, or will you come with me?"

"I!" uttered the Colonel, as if she had suggested a leap from the iron gallery of St. Paul's.

"Don't you ever pay calls? I thought gentlemen did sometimes. Then may I go alone? It can't be far off."

"Alone! No, certainly not!" Colonel Tracy spoke with sharpness. "Church was to be the outside limit, remember! I can't have you wandering about London."

"Only if it is near—"

"My dear, I won't have it," declared the Colonel irately.

"I ought to return her call."

"There is no 'ought' in the matter. No necessity whatever. You did her a service, and she has called to express her gratitude. That is all. The matter need go no farther. I shall leave my card—perhaps—some day at Mr. Claughton's; not at present. His coming at all was unnecessary."

The Colonel's decision meant no small disappointment to Dorothea, and it took her by surprise. She had kept up so bravely hitherto, that the Colonel had no idea what this new life really was to her. But the fresh blow, however small, proved to be the final straw; and before Dorothea knew what to expect, three or four bright drops fell quickly from behind her glasses.

"Eh hallo! What! Crying!"

Dorothea said, "O no!" involuntarily, and looked up with a resolute smile; yet the wet glimmer was unmistakable.

Colonel Tracy's astonishment was unbounded. He had counted Dorothea a girl of sense, quite superior to feminine weaknesses, and the very model of an obedient cheerful daughter.

"What's the matter?" he asked curtly. "You don't know Mrs. What's-her-name! Why on earth should you care to see her?"

"I don't know—anybody. I have no friends."

"Humph!" growled the Colonel.

"I don't want to grumble indeed," Dorothea went on eagerly. "Only, if I could just have somebody—somebody I could go and talk to."

"Talk!" Colonel Tracy uttered the word with disdain. It sounded so feminine. Gentlemen never "talk," they always "converse." If Dorothea had expressed a wish to "hold conversations" with Mrs. Effingham, he would have had more respect for her requirements. But to care for mere "talk!" He shrugged his shoulders, and was mute.

"Of course I must do as you wish," she added sorrowfully.

"What on earth should you want to talk about?"

Dorothea laughed. She could not help it. "Why, father,—everything," she said. "The books I read, and the work I do, and the people I see. Is there any harm in talking?"

"Waste of time, my dear."

"But kind and pleasant words are not waste of time, are they? Words that make other people happy."

The Colonel had a marked objection to any remark which savoured ever so slightly of moralising. It was almost as bad as a Curate, in his estimation.

"Where can that book be?" he muttered.

Dorothea could only look upon the matter as settled. She gave one sigh, wondered what Mrs. Effingham would think, hoped they might some day meet again coming out of church, so that she could explain, and then cheerily set herself to find the missing volume.

"What is the name, father? Who is it by?" she asked, smiling.

The Colonel gave her a look. He had not expected this.

"Can't remember the name," he said. "It is by—by—bother my memory! Half-bound, with red edges."

A long search ended in success; and Dorothea then set herself to the copying out of a dry statement about tropical climates, which had seemingly engaged her father's affection. What could be the use of the extract she was unable to imagine. That fact did not lessen her diligence in making a fair copy.

"Thanks," the Colonel said, when she handed it to him. Not a little to her surprise, the monosyllable was followed by a remark "You write a good sensible hand. Like your mother's."

"I am glad. Then handwriting may be inherited," said Dorothea.

The Colonel scratched away with his squeaking quill for another ten minutes, after which he came to a pause, laid down the quill, gazed hard at Dorothea, and said, "I suppose it will have to be."

"It?" repeated Dorothea.

"Your call on Mrs. What's-her-name. I'll leave you at the door some day or other, when I happen to be going in that direction—and come for you later."

"O thank you!" Dorothea was not demonstrative commonly; but she started up in her sudden pleasure, and gave him a kiss. "Thank you very much. How kind you are!"

The rust-red of Colonel Tracy's complexion deepened into a tint not far removed from mahogany. He had not had such a sudden promiscuous kiss in the course of the day for years past; not even from Dorothea. She was rather surprised at her own unwonted impulse, and the Colonel was very much surprised indeed. At the first moment, his impulse was to mutter "Pshaw!" and to turn brusquely away, yet the next instant he would not have been without the kiss. It had an odd softening effect on his feelings. He felt the better for it, and he liked Dorothea the better. But Dorothea only heard that impatient "Pshaw!" and saw his movement of seeming disgust.

"I forgot,—you don't like being kissed," she said apologetically. "I won't do it again."

The Colonel hoped she would, but he made no sign.

"Only I am so grateful!"

"What makes you want to know people?" demanded Colonel Tracy, all the more gruffly because of the softening within.

"Why, father,—it is so sad to have no friends. So dismal and lonely. And how can one do kindnesses to others if one knows nobody?"

The Colonel scented a moral, and shrank into himself forthwith.

"Some afternoon" proved hard to find for the promised pleasure. One day, the Colonel would not go out. Another day, he had an engagement another direction. Another day it rained. So more than a week passed, and then a note came from Mrs. Effingham.

   "DEAR MISS TRACY,—Will you not take tea with me this afternoon?
I want to make better acquaintance with my preserver; and I am
leaving town directly. Forgive informality.—Yours truly,"

   "P.S. No reply will mean that I may expect you at about four."

"May I go?" asked Dorothea, showing the note to her father.

Colonel Tracy noted with satisfaction that Mrs. Effingham would be going away.

"Well, if it has to be," he said. "But Mrs. Stirring must fetch you back. I don't mind if I drop you there."




MRS. EFFINGHAM had set her heart on a comfortable tête-à-tête with her "young preserver," as she called Dorothea. But things do not always turn out according to our previous planning; and a little before four o'clock, the front door bell sounded vigorously.

"Dear me! How tiresome! Now I know who that is," murmured the old lady,—not so very old either, for she was only sixty-five; and as everybody knows, sixty-five in the present age of hygiene is not at all advanced. She was very well kept too; little and slender, with a soft pale skin which had not forgotten how to blush, and brown hair only streaked with silver, and brown eyes capable of sparkling still, though not so large as they once had been. She wore a dainty cap of real lace, and a black lace shawl over a dress of black satin. The elderly style of attire gave her a look of greater youth.

"I know who that is," repeated Mrs. Effingham, sighing. Like many people who live alone, she had a habit of talking to herself half-aloud. "Nobody rings like Miss Henniker, and she said she would come before I left. But I wish she had waited till to-morrow."

"Miss Henniker," announced the trim parlour-maid. Mrs. Effingham kept no men-servants, though well able to do so in point of worldly goods. She did not like the responsibility, she said, and "men wanted men to manage them."

Despite her little soliloquy, Mrs. Effingham came forward in a cordial manner to welcome the caller,—a spare middle-aged single lady, of the "usual age," sharp-featured, and conspicuously fashionable in dress.

"My dear Miss Henniker! How do you do? How good of you to come! So busy as you always are," the elder lady's soft voice said, not untruthfully, for she really did count it "good"; only she suppressed the fact that some other afternoon would have been preferable. If Miss Henniker's visits were, like those of angels, few and far between, they were unlike angels' visits in duration. Miss Henniker was a careful economiser of time; and when she did get to a friend's house, she commonly paid six calls in one, thereby saving herself ten walks to and from that house. The reasoning will be found, on examination, unimpeachable.

"How do you do? Quite well, thanks. I have been planning for weeks to see you, but—thanks, this will do nicely," said Miss Henniker, planting herself in the chair which Mrs. Effingham had destined for Dorothea. She did it with the air of one not lightly to be dislodged. "Extremely busy lately, but I have contrived for once an hour's leisure. Really, it is quite dreadful, the way one's time gets filled up. I am told that you are leaving town directly. And you have had an accident! Nothing serious, I hope."

"O no; but it might have been," said Mrs. Effingham. She was aware that, if she did not wish to lengthen Miss Henniker's visit, it would be wiser not to speak of Dorothea; only the temptation was irresistible. "I slipped down coming out of Church on Christmas Day. Oh, I really was not hurt—" in answer to a commiserating sound,—"but I might have been. A hansom drove round the corner, and was almost upon me. I could not possibly move in time, and I must have been run over—killed, most likely—if a young lady had not darted forward and pulled me out of the way. Yes, quite a stranger, and such a nice-looking lady-like girl. I have not seen her since, but she is coming to tea this afternoon,—at least, I hope so. You will stay and see her too, of course," pursued the gentle old lady, vanquished by Miss Henniker's energetic signs of sympathy. "My young preserver, I call her: and really, you know, it was a most courageous thing to do. She might have been killed in saving me. We might both have been killed."

"It was most frightful," said Miss Henniker earnestly, while her busy eyes could not resist a little voyage of discovery round the room. Mrs. Effingham was always buying new pictures, new ornaments, new antimacassars and vases, for her pretty drawing-room; and Miss Henniker was always on the lookout for new ideas. "Yes, really quite terrible," she repeated, after noting with interest a dainty arrangement of grasses and scarves upon a side-table, Mrs. Effingham being addicted to combinations of Liberty's silks with Nature. "You might, as you say, so easily have been killed. It was most distressing. Christmas Day, too."

"Yes, indeed. I felt that I could not be sufficiently thankful. I meant to see Miss Tracy and to tell her how grateful I was, long before this; but I had a cold and could not go out. And she has been long returning my call. However, I hope we shall have her here presently."

"Miss Tracy! Is that her name? Where does she live?"

"O only in Willingdon Street,—in lodgings. It is not a very delightful part," Mrs. Effingham said apologetically for her heroine, as Miss Henniker's look of interest faded. "But that will not affect Miss Tracy herself—and, after all, there is nothing in the street—it is respectable enough, only, of course—well, I fancied that the family might be in town only for a short time; but when I went to call, I found that they actually lived there,—in lodgings. Just Colonel Tracy and his daughter; nobody else. It must be very dull for the poor girl."

"But you know nothing about them. I would not be drawn into an intimacy," said Miss Henniker.

"I assure you, they do not show any inclination to push; the difficulty is to get hold of Miss Tracy. Ah, here I hope she—no,—it is not."

"Mr. and Miss Claughton," announced the maid.

"Emmeline Claughton!" exclaimed Mrs. Effingham. "The sweetest girl!" she paused to whisper hurriedly to Miss Henniker. "Sister to the curate, you know. She stayed with him nearly a month last year, and I quite fell in love with her."

"Ah!" Miss Henniker murmured, privately thinking that Mrs. Effingham was apt to fall in love rather easily.

A tall, pale, dark-haired young lady entered, followed by a tall, pale, fair-haired young man. Neither could be called exactly handsome, but both were more than good-looking, and both had a certain distinguished air. Mrs. Effingham hurried forward with genuine delight, unalloyed this time. She threw her arms affectionately round the girl, holding out both hands the next moment to the brother, and then recoiling with a little start of surprise.

"Why it is not—" she exclaimed.

"Not Edred, but Mervyn. My eldest brother," explained Emmeline, and the delicate elderly hand went out again, though less enthusiastically. "We are spending two nights in town, and I promised Edred to see you."

"My dear, I am so glad. Pray sit down," said Mrs. Effingham. "Yes, indeed—delighted to make your brother's acquaintance. Of course, I was quite well aware that you had another brother. But I must introduce you both to my friend,—Miss Henniker, Mr. and Miss Claughton. Miss Henniker knows your other brother well, my dear."

Emmeline's bow was rather distant.

"You will have a cup of tea with me, of course," Mrs. Effingham said, as the tray appeared. Emmeline looked dubiously at her brother, but Mervyn offered no objection. "Somebody else will come directly, I hope," pursued the hostess, turning from one to another, in the anxious endeavour to blend her little circle into one harmonious whole. "Such a very charming girl—a Miss Tracy. She saved me from being run over on Christmas Day. I dare say your brother told you. He was on the spot and saw it all, only not near enough to be in time himself. Did he really not mention it?"

Mrs. Effingham looked disappointed.

"I should have thought,—he seemed so surprised at her action—her promptitude, you know. And I assure you, it was dangerous for herself. She might have been killed. Your brother seemed so much impressed at the moment, that I should have expected—"

"He has been extremely busy," said Emmeline, aware that silence on Edred's part might mean more than speech. "There is always so much going on at Christmas in a London Parish. And one of the curates has fallen ill, so they are short of hands."

"Ah, that explains," Mrs. Effingham said, her glances fluttering round to the silent brother and the attentive Miss Henniker; "that explains why he has not been to see me. He promised to call on Miss Tracy's father—an old Colonel, I believe, living in lodgings. Odd that he should not make a nice home somewhere for his daughter. However, we shall know more about them soon. I am so glad you have both come, my dear Emmeline. So glad you should be here to make acquaintance with—"

"Miss Tracy!" was announced.

The Colonel had brought his daughter to the front door, and there had left her. She was feeling a little shy by this time; but shyness did not mean awkwardness in her case. Dorothea's entrance was all that it should have been; quiet, unobtrusive and self-possessed—not self-conscious. Even when wearing her glasses, she could not see far across the large drawing-room; and her first impression was of an indefinite crowd of people. For a moment she hesitated, not knowing whom to accost; and impulsive Mrs. Effingham hurried towards her.

"My dear, you have come at last. My dear, how do you do? I am so glad. I have been longing to meet you,—to thank you. Yes, indeed, you know well that you saved my life that day at the risk of your own. It was a perfect marvel that we were not both killed," Mrs. Effingham went on, with eager gratification in the idea. To have passed through a peril and come out unhurt is particularly gratifying to some minds, and the greater the peril, the more eminent becomes the position of the individual who has escaped.

"It was very kind of you to call. I would have come sooner if I had been able," Dorothea said in her soft, quiet voice.

"The kindness was all the other way, my dear Miss Tracy. I assure you, I have been telling my friends about it,—telling them they must welcome you as a heroine. I can never thank you enough, but I shall never forget! We must always be friends. Now you will let me introduce you. Of course introductions are not the fashion; but sometimes, you know—" apologised Mrs. Effingham, who never could resist naming everybody to everybody. "And we are all friends here, or, at least, I am sure we shall be. This is Miss Henniker, a very old friend of mine. Miss Claughton and Mr. Claughton You saw the other Mr. Claughton on Christmas Day,—the clergyman who helped me up, after you had rescued me so bravely, my dear. This is his brother—and sister. I think you and Emmeline Claughton will exactly suit one another. I should like you to be friends."

Dorothea found all this rather embarrassing, while Emmeline looked unapproachably calm and dignified. Mr. Claughton, under his polite demeanour, highly enjoyed the scene. Mrs. Effingham's beaming face clouded over faintly, as she glanced from one to another.




"NOW you will sit down, and have some tea," Mrs. Effingham said to Dorothea. "Yes, here—by Emmeline—Miss Claughton, I mean. My dear, pray be kind," she whispered distressfully to the latter, bending close to pick up a fallen antimacassar. Mervyn, starting forward to forestall her, heard the small petition, and noted Emmeline's irresponsive gravity. "Too bad of Em!" he told himself, with a little twirl of his fair moustache, to hide the smile behind it.

Dorothea took the seat indicated, and Emmeline, turning towards her, made a distantly courteous remark upon the weather.

"Yes, very fine," Dorothea answered. She wore her neat dark brown costume, the brown hat, with its suggestion of red, suiting well her rather short and rounded face, and delicate features. The wistful eyes shone as usual through glasses, the set of which on her little nose, combined with the forward carriage of her head, gave a peculiar air of keen attention. There was something about Dorothea altogether out of the common—singularly free from self-consciousness, markedly quiet, the gloved hands lying still, with a lady-like absence of fidgets. She seemed to be neither anxious to push her way, nor susceptible to Emmeline's chilling manner.

Mervyn found her interesting; partly perhaps out of compassion for the charming old lady, Mrs. Effingham; partly perhaps from a perverse love of opposition, inclining him to go the contrary way to his sister; but partly also from a certain quickness of appreciation. He stood up politely to hand cake and tea, and when everybody's wants were supplied, he carelessly took possession of a chair on the other side of Dorothea.

"I suppose you are an experienced Londoner," came in subdued tones.

"I! O no," Dorothea answered. "I came home a week before Christmas."

"From—?" questioningly.


"Ah!" He had wondered what her age might be. "Not in town?"

"In Scotland. I have not been in London for years."

"And you like it?"

"I like St. Paul's—if one need not go through it merely as a sight."

Mrs. Effingham, listening to Miss Henniker, cast a grateful glance at Mervyn; and Emmeline, hearing the murmur of voices, cast a glance also, not grateful in kind.

The conversation was not at present brilliant.

"Scotland?" Mervyn said musingly. "Edinburgh, perhaps."

"Yes; the outskirts. There is nothing in London like Arthur's Seat."

"Not even the top gallery of St. Paul's?"

"Oh!" Dorothea uttered an indignant monosyllable, then paused.

"Well?" he said, smiling.

"One can't compare the two. And everything is so shut in here. There is no getting away from the people. Yet—" as if to herself, "I wanted to come!"

"I suppose the acmé of a school-girl's desires is to have done with school."

The wistful eyes went straight to his face, dubiously—not occupied with him, but with her own thoughts. They were pretty eyes, he could see.

"I wonder if one goes through life like that,—always wishing for something different?"

Mervyn laughed slightly. "Is that your present state of mind?"

"I don't care for London. And I should like—very much—"

A pause.

"You would like—?" he said.

"One or two friends."

"A modest wish, at all events. Most people 'would like' one or two hundred."

"Would they?"

"Certainly. You are not in the swing of London society yet."

"My father does not care for society. But—one or two hundred friends!" incredulously.

"A lady commonly values herself by the length of her visiting-list. One or two hundred are respectable. Four or five hundred are desirable. Seven or eight hundred are honourable. Don't you see?"

"But how could one ever have time for so many?"

"One has not time. That's the charm of it,—always to be too busy to do anything or see anybody."

As if in echo, Miss Henniker's tones came across the tea-table,—"I assure you, if it had been possible—but I have been so desperately busy,—not a single moment disengaged. Absolutely not one free moment."

Dorothea broke into a soft laugh. She was beginning to feel quite at ease with this pleasant-mannered Mr. Claughton. Dorothea's laughter was always low, and the accompanying smile lighted up her whole face into positive prettiness. Mervyn received another grateful glance from Mrs. Effingham, while Emmeline sat in absolute silence.

"Don't you see?" he murmured.

"I don't see the charm of such a state of things."

"No? You haven't caught the infection yet. It's a race for life,—everybody trying to get first. Anything to be popular and successful. More friends—otherwise, a longer visiting-list—means popularity, which means success."

"I should like a different aim in life. Would not you?"

There was a movement of indifference. "I! O I do in town as town does—comment on the follies of my neighbours and run in the same groove. In London, I pride myself on the number of my acquaintances. At Craye, I pique myself upon their quality."

"You are trying to make yourself out different from what you really are, I am sure," Dorothea said, scanning him in her slight, yet earnest fashion. "People so often do that. I never can understand why."

"So often do what?"

"Try to seem worse than they are. Why should they?"

"It's a weakness of human nature. Yes, I am subject to it, I believe. Edred is not. If you want to find a thoroughly consistent being, you must make my brother's acquaintance."

Dorothea did not think she would prefer the other brother to this one; and she kept silence. The handsome blue eyes, watching, read her thought, and the fair moustache curled mischievously.

"And if you want an inconsistent moraliser, you must turn to me."

Dorothea could have protested; but Emmeline succeeded at last in catching Mervyn's eye, and the two arose.

"I shall see you both again some day. Be sure you come to see me when you are in town," Mrs. Effingham said cordially, when good-byes were said.

Emmeline bowed slightly to Dorothea as she turned away. Mervyn shook hands, smiling, as with an old friend.

"That is really a most delightful young man," exclaimed Mrs. Effingham, when the door was closed. "Did not you think so?"—appealing to both her companions. "Almost as nice as his brother. And Emmeline Claughton is a charming girl, really charming,—only not quite in her best mood to-day, perhaps. Just a little stiff, you know. The way to enjoy Emmeline, is to have her to oneself. She is a good girl,—really good,—but sometimes perhaps a trifle too reserved."

"A trifle too proud, I should say," observed Miss Henniker.

"O it is not pride. I assure you it is not pride. Nobody could call Emmeline Claughton proud. I believe it is a form of shyness. She does not open out easily, and she wants a great deal of thawing. Her brothers are much more attractive,—though the one I know best is rather like her. But not altogether. No, certainly not altogether the same."




WITHIN ten minutes of the time fixed, Mrs. Stirring called at the door for "Miss Tracy," and Dorothea rose to go.

Miss Henniker still sat on perseveringly, doing her six calls in one, and the tête-à-tête on which Mrs. Effingham had set her heart never took place. Little conversation had passed between the elderly lady and the young girl; and each was conscious of disappointment.

"But we will meet again, my dear," Mrs. Effingham murmured, answering Dorothea's unspoken thought as they shook hands. "I don't quite know how long I may be absent, or whether I shall run up to town for a month in the spring. London never suits me for any length of time. But when I do return, I shall send for you. We will not forget one another meantime!"

So the longed-for call was over, and nothing had come of it: nothing was likely to come of it for the present. Dorothea, walking home in the dark beside the little lodging-house keeper, was conscious of feeling flat. She had had an amusing peep into a life which would have been very pleasant,—just enough of a peep to be tantalising and no more. It was all over now, at least for a good while to come. She would have to go back to her solitude and friendlessness. She could almost have echoed the words of Dolly Erskine, written not long before: "It does seem sometimes as if life were made up of disappointments."

Almost—not quite. Dorothea Tracy, with far less of outward brightness in her life than Dorothea Erskine, was far more disposed to look upon what brightness she had, and to turn her back upon the shadows. Also she had a more real and vivid belief in the Overshadowing Love which arranged every step of the path she had to tread,—even the disappointing steps.

"One thing is certain,—I have no business to grumble," she told herself cheerily. "It is all right, or it would be different; and if I am meant to be dull for a while, why, I just have to be dull, and to keep cheerful through it." Then she smiled at the opposition of ideas. "Mrs. Kirkpatrick would call that an Irishism. After all, it isn't outside things that make dulness. It just depends on what one is in oneself. I shall find interests—somehow. Perhaps by-and-by I shall even find that I can be of use to my father."

"And you had a nice party, I hope, Miss Tracy?" said Mrs. Stirring, curiosity getting the upper hand.

"Yes, very nice,—only it was not a party," Dorothea answered.

"There was folks to talk to, though, wasn't there? That's what you'd ought to have,—a young lady like you! Never going nowhere, nor seeing nobody,—it ain't natural. You do take it patient, and no mistake; but it ain't right, and if I was you, I'd tell your Pa, that I would!"

This little outburst, the culmination of much smothered pity, took Dorothea by surprise. She did not speak, and Mrs. Stirring went on—

"Gentlemen don't know what's fit for a young lady. If you had a Ma alive, it 'ud be a different life for you, Miss,—and I wish it was different, too."

"My father must decide for himself. That is only his business—and mine," Dorothea said with gentle decision.

Mrs. Stirring was silenced. She murmured something unintelligible, and no further words passed between them till the house was reached.

"I didn't mean to vex you, Miss," Mrs. Stirring said then, as she fumbled with her latch-key.

"I am not vexed. I quite understand. It is all right," Dorothea replied, with a smile.

"She is the nicest young lady," muttered Mrs. Stirring to herself, remaining behind in the hall. "I never saw a nicer. Always civil to everybody, and got a smile whenever she speaks. But if I was the Colonel, I'd be ashamed to keep her shut-up like he does. It's too bad, and I don't care who hears!" Nevertheless, Mrs. Stirring was careful to utter her protest in a tone which should not be overheard. She had no wish to lose a good lodger.

The drawing-room stood open when Dorothea reached it. She did not need to turn the handle, and her soft movements made no noise. One lighted candle stood as usual on the table. Dorothea had half crossed the room before she knew that it was not empty, and that her own entrance was unobserved.

Colonel Tracy sat in an easy-chair near the fireplace, not in his ordinary place beside the table. There was a look of trouble in the drooped head, and in the attitude of the broad hand covering his eyes. Colonel Tracy was not as a rule given to limp attitudes. Plainly, he counted himself alone still, and Dorothea stopped short, hesitating. Should she slip out and leave him, or—? A deep pulling sigh, almost a groan, broke from him; and with the instinct of sympathy, Dorothea moved forward.

"Father, is anything wrong?" she asked.

"Dorothea!" The Colonel's exclamation was almost a shout. He started up with an air of profound disgust and annoyance. "Why—why—what—how—you don't mean to say it's nearly half-past five! I didn't expect you for—for—another half-hour."

"I have just come home."

"Didn't hear you. Door not shut, of course. That wretched girl never will shut doors, and if I've told her once, I've told her five hundred times," declared the Colonel, looking askance, like a detected school-boy, his complexion the colour of a turkey-cock's comb. "She gets past bearing. I'll give it her by-and-by, and no mistake. Well,—seen your friends?"

"I have seen Mrs. Effingham. She is very kind and nice," said Dorothea. "Only it is such a pity,—she may be away for months."

The Colonel tried unsuccessfully to hide his gratification.

"No other old ladies, eh?"

"There was a caller—Miss Henniker; but I should not speak of her as old—only as very middle-aged," said Dorothea, and the Colonel gave vent to an awkward "Ha, ha!"

"Nobody else?" He was holding at bay the pending question, which he saw in his daughter's face.

"Yes, two others, but they were young: a Mr. and Miss Claughton,—Emmeline Claughton and her brother. You know the Curate, Mr. Claughton, who called the other day. Don't you remember? They are his brother and sister."

"Left my card on him to-day. Didn't think it needful to go in," said the Colonel.

"Was he at home?"

"Didn't ask, my dear. Blissful ignorance best in some cases, you know," said the Colonel, rather sheepishly still.

"What a pity! I should have liked to know the Claughtons."

Then Dorothea was silent, looking earnestly at her father, and the Colonel grew redder still.

"Well, well; now you've had your little jaunt, so perhaps you'll settle down for a while,—keep quiet, and try to be contented."

"Have I been discontented?" asked Dorothea. She came closer, and slipped a hand into her father's arm. "I should not like to be that. Discontent is so horrid. Father, if you and I could be more of friends, I shouldn't care so much about having outside friends. I don't think I should care at all," she said wistfully.

"Eh, my dear? Eh?"

"Couldn't we be friends? Won't you tell me when you are in trouble? I might not be able to do anything, but still—Something is worrying you now, isn't it? Do you mind my asking?"

The Colonel jerked his arm away from hers, not unkindly, but as if from an irresistible impulse. "Nonsense! Rubbish, my dear!" he said loudly. "Pray don't talk such nonsense."

"Is it nonsense?" Dorothea showed no sign of affront. It was not her way to be easily affronted. Standing so near to the Colonel, she was in a favourable position to examine him well with her shortsighted eyes, which were keen enough within a limited range; and she used the opportunity. "But something has happened,—I am sure of it," she said, recalling the distress of that big noisy sigh. "Are you—is it that you are not well?"

Colonel Tracy snatched at the suggestion with relief.

"Indigestion, my dear; indigestion the whole afternoon. Miserably cooked dinner to-day. You must have seen,—but women have no sense of taste—no sense of taste whatever. That creature knows no more how to make a sauce than—Why, it wasn't sauce!" pursued the Colonel, with lively disgust. "Sauce! It was liquid paste,—flour and water,—anything you like, except what it was called! And the beef—all the goodness drained out of it. Nothing left but rags. Pastry, enough to make anybody ill,—mere dough, nothing but dough. Can't think what Mrs. Stirring is about. If she doesn't look sharp, I'll move elsewhere. Arrant carelessness!"

This was hard, and Dorothea knew it. Mrs. Stirring might be slow, and not very brilliant, but her mistakes did not arise from carelessness. She was always painstaking, only sometimes rather dull. Remonstrance would have been useless, however.

"And nothing else is wrong except dinner?" said Dorothea. "Nothing of importance?"

"My dear, I hope that is of importance," said the Colonel grimly.

Dorothea was not satisfied. That an ill-cooked dinner—even if it had been ill-cooked, which was not strictly the case—could cause such a sigh as she had overheard, seemed to her young mind an impossibility. Questioning was not at an end yet, the Colonel knew. Perhaps he had never in his life before been glad of a caller.

"Mr. Claughton, sir, please," said Mrs. Stirring, putting her head round the door.

"Bring him in," the Colonel answered with alacrity. Anything—even a Curate—to check his daughter's too affectionate solicitude!

Not the Mr. Claughton whom Dorothea had seen that afternoon, but another, entered,—Edred Claughton, of course. Dorothea would have preferred perhaps to see Mervyn. The two were very much alike in outer seeming; only here were a clerical coat, some additional gravity, and a hard-worked air. Nobody could have accused Mervyn of appearing overworked.

"I am returning your call very quickly," Mr. Claughton said, as he bowed and shook hands. "You were so good as to come this afternoon, when I was out."

"Yes—er—I—I'm very glad to see you," the Colonel said, speaking truthfully. "Pray sit down."

"We have been unfortunate hitherto, always missing one another. I thought I would come late, in the hope of finding you. The fact is, I am anxious to enlist Miss Tracy's services in the Parish."

"That's not at all in my daughter's line," declared the Colonel promptly.

"O father, I should like nothing better!"

Dorothea's eager tones were unmistakable.

"My dear, I couldn't possibly allow it," the Colonel said, with a disgust equally unmistakable. "I couldn't possibly consent! Girls of your age have no business in back slums."

"Certainly not," assented Mr. Claughton. "But how about a class in the Sunday-school?"

"That would be delightful! Father, do say that I may."

Colonel Tracy was dubious. He asked a good many questions as to hours, modes, ways of management, and supposed perils. "I can't and I won't have Dorothea running in the way of infectious diseases," he said.

Dorothea, seated near the young clergyman, noted a movement at the sound of her name,—a sudden widening of the eyes, and an odd flash which might, perhaps, have done duty for a smile. Edred seemed less given to smiling than Mervyn.

"I can't and I won't have it!" repeated the Colonel irascibly. "Girls of eighteen are ripe to catch anything. I won't have her running after the school-children into filthy alleys, whenever they don't turn up. She's too young, and she's not used to London."

"But if I promise always to take Mrs. Stirring with me?" pleaded Dorothea. "I do so want some little work. I have nothing to do now, for anybody."

"One would wish, of course, that a Sunday-school teacher should sometimes see the children in their homes," said Mr. Claughton calmly, with a manner which recalled to Dorothea the stately Emmeline. "But I think I can arrange to give a class to Miss Tracy, consisting of children with respectable homes. If there are any exceptions, I undertake to warn her not to go. Will that do?"

"Well, well—I suppose I shall have to let her try," the Colonel said reluctantly. "School's close to the Church, you say? Well, I suppose she must try. She'll be tired of it in a month."

Dorothea smiled, and there was a decisive little shake of her head.

A faint answering smile hovered round the lips of the grave young clergyman.




IF Mrs. Effingham came to town in the spring, she omitted to let Dorothea know; so probably she did not come. Dorothea felt sure she had not.

Life no longer seemed purposeless and friendless to the young girl in her dull home. She had her Sunday class twice every Sunday, and her teachers' meeting in the week. Sometimes she could persuade Mrs. Stirring to pay a round of calls with her on the children's parents, which always meant a fresh supply of interests, in little attempts to help those who were needy. She had formed a speaking acquaintance with certain other teachers in the school, and one or two had even been to see her. The Rector and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Mordan, had called more than once, and were especially kind to Dorothea.

It was not an overpoweringly full and busy life, according to modern notions; but Dorothea could be easily cheered and contented. She no longer felt herself useless or solitary.

Now and then, Edred Claughton looked in on the two, for a call half pastoral, half friendly—always ostensibly with a particular reason. Dorothea hardly, perhaps, acknowledged to herself that she would have preferred to see Mervyn appear. Edred was so earnest and good and indefatigable in work, that no one could fail to esteem him highly: but he was very slow to relax. There was habitually a grave distance of demeanour, oddly like that of Emmeline, oddly unlike the lighter and more sparkling manner of Mervyn. Conversation ran almost entirely in Parish grooves. Edred never spoke of his home or his relatives; and Dorothea, from a something which might have been shyness, did not introduce more personal subjects. The only departure from Parish interests was in the direction of literature.

Edred Claughton was one of those very reserved people, whom Dolly Erskine counted herself unable to get on with. Only, as she could get on with him, she probably did not count him reserved.

All these months the Colonel had never avowed to Dorothea the existence of any particular cares. Yet Dorothea felt certain that some kind of heavy anxiety was weighing on him. She did not again find him lounging deplorably in his chair, or hear any more profound sighs; nevertheless she had not the slightest doubt that something was wrong. The more he grumbled over his dinner, the more he talked of after-indigestion, the more convinced she was of the truth of her surmise. There was often a worried expression in his face; and sometimes, he would sink into a troubled dream, forgetting to read or write. Yet what the "something wrong" might be, she could not even guess.

Plainly, he did not like being questioned, and Dorothea forbore to tease him. She only waited with patience, watching for every possible opportunity to make herself useful and pleasant to him. As time went by, she had some little measure of reward. The Colonel opened out gradually; he began to show gratification in her presence, and to dislike her too frequent absence; he talked more, and appealed to her occasionally for an opinion; he even displayed some manner of interest in her pursuits. Only, if he had troubles, he still did not mention them.

The first of August came, and London was emptying fast. It did not look empty to unaccustomed eyes, but no doubt there was a difference. Certain crossings were more easily passed than in the full height of the season; and Dorothea was conscious of this weighty fact.

She had persuaded Colonel Tracy to take her into the Park one sunny afternoon, and when there, she smiled at the idea of "emptiness."

"Comparative, my dear—all comparative. Everything is comparative in this life," declared the Colonel sententiously. "Besides, Parliament is sitting late. Members can't get away till next week."

"Poor things! I wish we could get away," said Dorothea. "Can't we, father?"

"Eh?—what, my dear?"

"Don't you mean to take me to the seaside or somewhere, as you used to do when I was at school?"

The Colonel was silent for a minute.

"Really, I don't know. Don't see the necessity."

"London is getting so hot and dusty. I should like a glimpse of the waves."

"Not Brighton!"

"O no; somewhere country-like. Some place where I could wander about, without the need of anybody to take care of me. Won't you?" begged Dorothea.

"Cost a lot!" growled the Colonel.

"Would it? Couldn't we do things very cheaply? Why, father—" in sudden surprise, "you never used to mind about spending money."

The look of care which Dorothea had often noted of late sat upon his forehead.

"Well, well, I'll think—I'll see about it. By-and-by, perhaps," he said moodily.

"That is the trouble," Dorothea murmured to herself, moving her lips, but uttering no sound. "Something to do with money! Why didn't I think of it before?"

Both were silent for some seconds.

"It doesn't matter," she said then. "I shouldn't like you to go to any expense that isn't right. And I am quite well; I don't need change. It is only a fancy. Father, we'll stay where we are all the summer, and economise—shall we?"

She was at very close quarters with the Colonel, and she watched him earnestly with her light eyes. Colonel Tracy reddened and fidgeted.

"We'll see, my dear, we'll see."

"But I shouldn't like you even to think of such a thing, for my sake, if you haven't plenty of money—if you can't perfectly well afford it. I never thought about that."

"Well, well, my dear, we'll see," reiterated the Colonel.

"Wouldn't you like to rest a little?" asked Dorothea, as they came upon an unoccupied seat.

Colonel Tracy agreed, but with an evident determination not to be catechised. One minute had not elapsed before he was nodding sleepily over his stick. Dorothea smiled, and turned her attention to other people.

This being a quiet side-path, there were no crowds, though a good many pedestrians came and went. The feigned sleep presently became genuine. Perhaps the Colonel really was tired; at all events, he showed no signs of an early awakening. Slight snores sounded, winning amused looks from those who were near. Dorothea did not think it mattered, or count herself obliged to rouse him.

Another snore: and a gentleman turned to glance in their direction. Immediately his hat came off, and Dorothea, having already noted a familiar outline, bowed. She took him for Edred Claughton, and was surprised at that busy young man having any leisure for the frivolities of the Park; but as he came across the path, she recognised the older brother.

"How do you do? So you are getting into swing," Mervyn said, as they shook hands; and the gleam of fun came which Dorothea always missed in Edred. "Have you found out yet what it is to have no time for anything or anybody? You see, I have not forgotten our last talk."

"Or Miss Henniker," added Dorothea. "My father," she said, indicating the sleeper. "He seems tired."

"Hot day," Mervyn answered, taking the empty seat on her other side. "So you don't find yourself in a whirlpool of engagements?"

"No, indeed. My only engagements are Church and Sunday-school, and teachers' meeting."

"Not even afternoon teas?"

Dorothea shook her head smilingly.

"But that must be awfully dull," the young man said, with a face of concern.

"I suppose it is,—rather. I should not mind going somewhere to afternoon tea now and then. I really did go once to Mrs. Mordan in the spring."

"Once in the spring!"

"Yes. That isn't getting into the whirlpool, is it?"

"Sounds more like Craye than London."

"Craye!" Dorothea repeated the word in a puzzled tone, wondering what connection she had with the word. "Is your home at Craye?"

"Hasn't Edred acquainted you with that fact?"

"I don't know. He has not said much about his home. And I have only seen your sister once,—that pretty sister of yours."

"Is Emmeline pretty?"

"I thought so,—if she had not been quite so grave."

"Ah, that you have to expect. Em and Edred are solemn individuals—far too busy doing good to everybody, to have time for laughing."

"It must be very delightful to be always doing good to people."

"Well, yes,—if it were not for the bother."

Dorothea glanced at him questioningly.

"But that is not your real self speaking," she said.

An odd expression came over Mervyn's face, half comical, half assenting.

"What makes you suppose so?"

"I am sure it is not. You are trying to seem different from what you are."

"I assure you, I don't always know which is my true self, and which is my false."

"Don't you—really?"

Mervyn laughed.

"If you put the question in that style—but after all, you are the first to suggest the idea."

"It is so easy to see. Your sister would say the same."

"Emmeline! She looks upon me as the most hopelessly frivolous of mortals."


"I assure you she does. And as for Edred—"

"He is a Clergyman. He has to live a life apart."

"He is the best fellow I know," said Mervyn, with unexpected warmth, instantly relapsing into a tone of indifference. "Ready to sacrifice his life any day for the veriest riff-raff of the streets. He and Em can take nothing lightly. It's partly constitution,—not all principle. I am of different make, and I simply can't go through existence as they do. I should expire of dulness in a fortnight. If ever I do sacrifice myself for anybody, I shall do it with a joke—not at all with the correct air of dignity and martyrdom. It's a thousand pities Em can't be tied to a stake. She would do it so awfully well, and enjoy it any amount."

"O but—" protested Dorothea.

"Don't be horrified. You know, of course, exactly how much I mean and don't mean. But, seriously, if one could inoculate those two with a touch of fun from somebody else, it would do no harm."

"They would not need to be less in earnest."

"Only to have a little froth overlying the solid element."

"I am afraid I should laugh too often to suit your sister. One can't help sometimes seeing the droll side of things. But I was going to ask you to tell me about your home—Craye. Where have I heard that name?"

"Craye is a mere village. Nothing happens there."

"And you live in the village?"

"Outside it. Ancestral house and grounds, etcetera, only unfortunately the ancestors were none of my own. My grandfather made a lot of money, and bought the place."

"And is it—pretty?"

"Exquisite!"—in her own tone.

"I wonder whether you mean what you say, now."

"Of course I don't. Emmeline would tell you that I never mean anything I say."

Dorothea made a little movement of dissent.

"I don't believe that," she said.

"It really is a pretty place,—but ineffably slumberous. I'm there occasionally,—oftener than I wish, and not so often as others will."

"But of course you have a great many friends in the neighbourhood?"


"Not more?"

"Well,—we know the Erskines pretty intimately."

"The Erskines!" A recollection of her father's Christmas card sprang up. "The Erskines—and Craye! Oh, I know now,—it was at Craye, he said they lived."

"You know them?"

"No; I have only heard—" Dorothea hesitated. She did not feel herself at liberty to tell the little story of the rift between the old comrades. "I have heard of a family of that name," she said. "There is a Colonel Erskine,—he used to be a friend of my father's. They have not met for years. I think my father said he lived at a place called Craye."

"The same, of course. Our friend is Colonel Erskine."

"Do tell me about him. What is he like?"

"Quite the old soldier,—straight as a dart. A great favourite with everybody."

"And he has a family? I want to know all about them."

"All,—in a dozen words! Yes, he has a family. Wife, elderly. Daughters, three. Sons, none. House, no particular architecture. Kitchen-garden, well stocked. Would you like an inventory of the drawing-room furniture?"

"I'm more interested in the daughters. What are their names?"



"Everybody calls her so. I believe 'Dorothea' is more strictly correct; but she is every inch 'Dolly!'"

"My name is Dorothea too."

"Curious coincidence," said Mervyn, looking down on Dorothea with his odd smile.

"What are the Miss Erskines like?"

"Exactly like other people. A perfect reproduction of all the Browns, Joneses, and Robinsons."

"No, but really—"

"Isabel is plain, if one may venture to say that of any lady. Margot is good-looking—would be beautiful, if she were not an invalid. The Colonel and she are particular friends of mine."

"And Dolly?"

"Dolly is a mere kitten, just out of the school-room,—a little creature always on the go. Not exactly pretty, but she has lovely hair, and there is any amount of fun and sparkle. Sure to be admired."

"And you like her—as much as Margot?"

"I!" expressively. "You had better go to Edred for information about Dolly. Ask him some day what he thinks of her. But of course, he won't betray himself."

"Do you mean that you think—"

"I don't profess to know. Wiser folks than I foretell something in that quarter."

"But if she is so full of fun—would she suit him?"

"Convex and concave!" Mervyn could say no more, for Colonel Tracy woke up.

"Hey! Hallo!—Why—Why—What's this? Hallo,—Dorothea!"

"Father, you have been sound asleep."

"Rubbish, my dear! Stuff and nonsense! Asleep, indeed! Just shut my eyes for half-a-minute on account of the glare."

Dorothea's face rippled with suppressed laughter, but she did not contest the point.

"Father, Mr. Claughton is here," she said.

"Hey,—what? Mr. Claughton! How do?" Colonel Tracy put out his hand, and, like Mrs. Effingham on a similar occasion, half drew it back. "Why—"

"Our Mr. Claughton's brother," explained Dorothea, and the two gentlemen bowed, Mervyn cordially, the Colonel stiffly.

"Hot day," the Colonel remarked. "Time we should get home."

"Perhaps you will allow me to call upon you some day, when I happen to be in town?" Mervyn said as the Colonel stood up resolutely.

The question was addressed to them both.

"O do!" Dorothea replied frankly, without a blush. She was longing to hear more about "Dolly."

Colonel Tracy growled out some sort of consent, and hurried his daughter away. Mervyn made no attempt to accompany them.

"My dear, you must be careful. Who is that young fellow?" demanded Colonel Tracy, when they were at a safe distance.

"Mervyn Claughton, father,—the brother of our Curate."

"Hum!—Ha!—Well, mind you're careful, my dear."

"I met him and his sister at Mrs. Effingham's. Don't you remember?"


"They seem such a nice family. I should like to know more of them. Their home is at a place called Craye. And isn't it curious,—a family named Erskine lives near them? The father is a Colonel, and one of the daughters is named Dorothea. I wonder if they are your Erskines?"

The Colonel made absolutely no answer to this. He hurried on at such a pace as to render conversation impossible, and the subject was not alluded to again.

Perhaps his very reluctant consent to a call from Mervyn had had the force of a rebuff: for time passed, and Mervyn did not appear. Dorothea ceased at length to expect him. Also, for a long while, Edred did not come near them. He was very much occupied while the Rector went away for a summer holiday; and when the Rector returned, Edred had his turn of absence.

Colonel Tracy and Dorothea remained through the summer in their lodgings. Nothing further was said about a change to the seaside.




"DOLLY, you have not practised once for a whole week."

"O, no more I have!"

"And there are four pairs of your stockings that want darning."

"Now, Issy,—you dear creature—"

"Yes, you can always coax when you want something done. But mother particularly wishes you to get into the way of mending your own clothes."

"I don't mind patches. It's that horrible darning that I hate."

"Only, if mother wishes—"

"Yes, of course—" rather fretfully. "But I've got such a lot to do this week. Won't you, won't you,—just for once, Issy?"

Isabel stood looking down with puzzled eyes on the small "kitten-like" creature, lounging in the bow-window. As Mervyn had told Dorothea Tracy, Dolly Erskine was "sure to be admired." She was so slight, and her skin was so fair, her big eyes were so blue and her little hands were so graceful, while the masses of golden hair which fell down her back and over her shoulders were so abundant, that despite the possession of a "real undeniable snub nose," Dolly could not but be counted "pretty." At this moment, however, the fair brow was puckered, and the rosy lips had a distinct pout.

"So much to do! Dolly!"

"Well, I have. Tennis every single afternoon this week; and—"

"But tennis is only an amusement."

"It takes a lot of time. Dear me, I can't live by rote and rule, Issy. I can't do it. I'm not you or Emmeline,—don't want to be either," Dolly added voicelessly. "And we're almost in October now, and this is our very last spell of anything like summer weather. Most likely I shan't get any tennis after this week."

"Where do you play to-day? I forget."

"At the Park." A quick blush dyed Dolly's cheek, and she turned her head away, playing with the window-curtain. "I've promised to be there at half-past three, and it's past two now."

"Time enough for a little darning first. You are not going to waste a whole hour in doing nothing?"

"Reading isn't doing nothing. Not that I was reading really," added Dolly, who was truthful, at all events. "Issy, how you do plague!" Then she jumped up, and flung her arms round the elder sister. "Dear good Issy, do be kind this once. I can't darn just now,—I really really can't. I'm too excited. Please do be kind."

"What are you so excited about?" asked Isabel, smoothing down a stray wisp of the fair hair.

"O,—why,—going to the Park—" And again there was a tell-tale blush.

"I didn't know you were so devoted to Emmeline."

"Dear old Em! Of course I like her—immensely. She's a personification of all the virtues."

"And Mervyn and Edred are both there to-day, are they not? That makes it more exciting."

"Of course it does!" Dolly gave her head a little toss. "Tennis always wants a man or two, and we don't abound in men down here."

"But Edred doesn't play tennis."

"O yes, he does,—when he's out on a holiday. He never has time in London, so of course it's awfully bad play. Mervyn's is first-rate."

"But you don't care for Mervyn more than Edred?" said Isabel, deluding herself with the belief that she was putting these questions to "the child" in so careless a manner as to make no impression.

"Care for Mervyn more than Edred!" repeated "the child," with wide-open blue eyes. "Why, of course I like them both,—immensely. They are Emmeline's brothers."

"And you only like them—just for her sake?" inquired innocent Isabel.

Dolly shook her head. "Well, no,—I like Mervyn for the way he serves at tennis. It is so deliciously baffling. But the best fun of all is to see Edred's face when he misses a ball,—and he always does miss, nine times in ten. He can't laugh, you know, and he always takes everything solemnly. You'd think from the corners of his mouth that the Westminster Tower had tumbled down."

"Ah, it is all right," thought Isabel. "She could not laugh at them if she really cared for either. That is a relief, for certainly they mean nothing." Dolly's blue eyes, watching, read Isabel's conclusion, at least in part; and the rosy lips twitched mischievously.

"Well, just to-day,—just this once," Isabel said aloud, "I'll see to your mending. But not next week."

"No, not next week. Thank you awfully, you dear old thing!"

"It is no kindness to spoil you, Dolly."

"O no,—but I don't mean to be spoilt. Isn't Margot going out to-day?"

"I don't think she can. Her back is bad. That is why I don't like to go with you to the Park."

"There's no need. I don't want any chaperon there, happily."

Dolly danced away, and Isabel went slowly to the breakfast-room, where Margot was lying on the couch.

"I have just been having a little talk with Dolly," she said.

"Yes?" Margot's peculiar whiteness of complexion and hands gave her a very delicate look; but the features were small and regular, and the expression was so sweet, that many counted her beautiful.

"She was in such a state of excitement about going to the Park. Of course,—Mervyn and Edred being there—"


"I am always so afraid of any one-sided attachment. Poor little Dolly, it would be dreadfully sad. I am afraid she is susceptible. But I had an opportunity to put a question or two—quite simply—and I assure you, she declared she did not know which she liked best."

"Ah!" Margot said.

"Indeed, she laughed at them both in the most amusing way. On the whole, she seemed to think she preferred Mervyn, because of his good playing. But that means nothing."

"No,—of course. Issy, I would not ask Dolly any more questions."

"I don't think I need. My mind is at rest now."

"Anyhow, it will be wiser not. You see, you might make a slip, and suggest to Dolly just what you don't want her to think about."

"Yes; but I have not done so this time. I was most careful. It all came most naturally and easily," said Isabel, her narrow forehead puckering a little. "I assure you it is all right."

"Only as you have found out what you wanted, I would let things alone now."

"Yes,—to be sure. There is no need to say any more. Are you quite comfortable, Margot? I ought to go to mother."

"And you don't mean to be at the Park?"

"I don't care to go, and really I am too busy. As Dolly says, she needs no chaperon there."

"Not generally, of course. I should have thought—just to-day—"

But Isabel was gone. Margot lay considering the matter, and the result of her cogitations was, that she presently rose, and went upstairs. Soon after three o'clock, a little white figure, with golden hair and bright cheeks, came into the breakfast-room, to find Margot no longer on the sofa, but dressed in pale grey silk, with hat to match.

"Margot!—you don't mean to say you are going too! Margot, you do look lovely! But I thought—your back—"

"Yes, it is aching rather; still, I think I can manage this. Don't protest before mother. The pony-carriage will take us there, and if I like to leave before you, I can. I don't want you to go alone."

The tone was not particularly expressive, but Dolly's cheeks made a quick response.

"It's much nicer having you too," the younger girl said demurely.

"Yes,—I thought silver-grey would be suitable for your chaperon."

"Chaperon! Nonsense! A girl of twenty-seven!"

"Ten years out,—and you barely 'out' yet. I'm very nearly on the shelf, Dolly."

"Nonsense!" cried Dolly. "There isn't a girl for twenty miles round half as pretty as you."

"Of course you expect me to return the compliment," laughed Margot.

"Now, Margot!"

"But it wouldn't be good for you, even if I could. People's heads are easily turned at your age. Isn't that the chaise?"

"Well I shan't look to you for compliments," retorted Dolly, "or to Mrs. Claughton. She is perfectly sure to give me another lecture on having my hair put up. I hope I shall not be cross. It isn't really her business. My father likes this way best,—and—" after a pause, "other people too."

"What other people?" Margot asked the question involuntarily.

"Mervyn and Edred." Dolly's colour went up, and her lips parted into a smile. "Good old Issy has just been trying to find out which of them I like best."

"Yes?" Margot said calmly.

"As if one couldn't like them both in different ways! Come along, Margot."




UNDER the "ancestral trees" of the Park a good many ladies were assembled, a few black coats and lighter masculine costumes being sprinkled among them. The feminine element commonly predominates in a country spot, such as Craye.

They were better off than usual at the Park, since both the sons of the house were present—Mervyn, handsome, and full of talk; Edred, not less handsome, perhaps, but grave and silent.

Two sets of tennis-players were already in full swing when Margot and Dolly arrived. Mrs. Claughton swept forward to meet them, her large frame imposing in puce satin and black lace. Mr. Claughton was not so tall as his wife, but he equalled her in breadth; and by a certain patronising assurance of manner, he more than made up for lack of height.

"Fine afternoon! Seasonable weather, very!" he declared, casting looks of admiration upon Margot's graceful figure and Dolly's "golden locks." "Most glad to see you both. Quite a gratification."

"But imprudent of Margot," chimed in Mrs. Claughton. "I heard this morning how unwell you were. How do you do, Dolly. Margot is looking very pale. I wonder Isabel allowed her to venture."

"Isabel isn't a household tyrant," said Dolly.

"Margot ought to be old enough to judge for herself, you mean. But some people never are old enough. Some people never learn prudence. I am afraid Margot is one of them. Emmeline—imagine Margot coming to-day."

The grave-mannered Emmeline had appeared behind her mother. Emmeline always did her duty loyally on these occasions; but she did it as a duty, with no sign of enjoyment. Nothing was neglected, nobody was forgotten, yet all were conscious that Emmeline Claughton would have preferred their absence to their presence. She could not relax, could not open out, could not be simple and bright and conversational.

"I will find an easy-chair for Margot somewhere," she said, in the constrained manner which seemed natural to her.

"Don't mind about me. I am all right," Margot said, smiling.

"And pray what is to be done with our golden-haired maiden?" demanded Mr. Claughton, in his most patronising tone.

Mrs. Claughton's eyes ran over Dolly, not for the first time. "Still down!" she murmured.

"My father likes her best so for the present," observed Margot.

"But, my dear Margot,—now Dolly has come out—it is so unlike other girls, you know! Of course, your father's wishes—ahem—but he is only a man—he knows nothing about the correct things for young girls. I really think, in such a case as this—if Dolly is not to become a marked person in the neighbourhood—"

Dolly was desperately angry with herself for being unable to restrain a brilliant blush as the two young men drew near. Poor Isabel's well-meant but clumsy questioning had broken down a barrier which hitherto had fenced round Dolly's allowed consciousness of the state of things. Dolly's eyes were suddenly opened wide. If Issy—dear dull Issy!—had begun to notice, surely other people must have begun too; and if that were so, she must have shown too plainly something of what she felt. So it was quite time to put people off the scent. That anybody should think she cared particularly for Edred, when Edred had shown no signs of caring particularly for her, was too dreadful! Dolly had come to the Park this afternoon, with a resolute determination to meet Edred and behave towards him exactly as she would meet and behave towards the merest acquaintance. Everybody, seeing her manner, should be convinced of her indifference.

And here was she, after all these brave resolutions, crimsoning and trembling the moment he approached.

It would not do! It should not be! Dolly told herself so, fiercely, in her heart. The blush must somehow be covered.

"I don't care whether I am marked or not!" she declared, with a toss of her dainty head, and a well-acted show of vexation, quite enough to account for rising colour. "So much the better if I am, unlike other girls! I shall wear my hair down so long as my father wishes it."

"Dolly!" murmured Margot, rather startled by this new development of the home-pet.

"My dear Dolly!" said Mrs. Claughton reprovingly.

Nearer came the young men, and Dolly's heart beat almost to suffocation.

"Of course I shall," she added, shaking the golden mass, and looking brilliantly pretty, with her rosy cheeks and shining eyes. Mervyn had never been so struck with the attractiveness of "the little Dolly."

"I declare—she's coming out!" he said to his brother in an undertone. Edred made no answer: and the next moment, Mervyn was saying lightly, "How do you do, Dolly?"


"My dear Dolly!" said Mrs. Haughton reprovingly.

"How do you do?" she answered, smiling up in his face, then turning away in apparent oblivion of Edred's presence.

"Dolly, you don't see Edred."

Dolly had no idea who said the words. She only felt sure it was accompanied by a smile, and she scorned herself afresh for the renewed rush of colour.

"O, how do you do?" she said carelessly, holding out her hand, and turning again to Mervyn. "It's too bad that a girl can't be left in peace to wear her hair anyhow!" she muttered, with well-assumed pettishness, Mrs. Claughton having passed on to welcome other arrivals, while Emmeline was leading Margot to a shady seat.

Mervyn was quite taken in. "Come!—never mind," he said, astonished at the unwonted signs of temper. "People will make remarks, but what does it matter?"

"I don't see why one is to be interfered with," pouted Dolly.

She had not seen the momentary brightness and the succeeding gravity of Edred's face, for she had not dared to look at him. She only knew that he made no further effort to gain her attention, but fell back at once, leaving Mervyn to escort her towards the tennis-lawn. Dolly became suddenly conscious of fierce disappointment, and of a desperate inclination to shed tears; but she kept her eyes bent smilingly upwards, having dropped the look of annoyance the moment the need for it was over.

"You'll like to be in the next set, I dare say," said Mervyn.

"I don't mind. Any time."

"But I know you are a devotee of tennis. Perhaps Edred will join too. Good for him, you know. He has worked too hard lately—doesn't look well."

"Doesn't he?" carelessly.

"No. Don't you think him rather pale,—'interestingly pale,' as somebody says?"

"I didn't notice."

"Too much taken up with the hair question. Why, Dolly, I didn't know you could be so easily upset."

Mervyn spoke in an elder-brotherly style of assumed reproof, and to his utter amazement Dolly's blue eyes were straightway full to overflowing.

"Why—Dolly!" he uttered.

"Some people are enough to make anybody cross," faltered Dolly, in choked accents.

"Well, but if I were you—Bravo! That's well hit. Game," exclaimed Mervyn, echoing the word which reached them. "Now we shall have to form a new set. I'll ask Edred to join,—shall I? Wait here a moment."

"Why can't you join?" asked Dolly, in her usual tone.

Mervyn paid no attention to the request, but he speedily came back alone. "Lazy fellow,—I can't persuade him," he said lightly.

Dolly made no sign, but her interest in tennis was gone. She played languidly, absently, missing every ball, till her partner, Mervyn, asked, "Why, Dolly, what is the matter?" Then she coloured furiously, and roused herself to do her best, winning acclamations more than once from lookers-on. If only Edred had been among those lookers-on!—but she knew he was not.

"Better ending than beginning," Mervyn remarked, when he and Dolly came out victorious.

"Yes. I suppose I wasn't trying."

"You'll join the next set."

"O no. It is too hot," said Dolly, in a listless tone. "I'm going among the trees."

She strolled away; and two minutes later she would have given anything not to have refused, for Edred was among the players. If only she had seen him coming in time! Too late now! Mervyn strode after her, to say, with a smile, "Think better of it, Dolly!" But how could she retract, just because Edred was there? What would everybody say?

"I can't. It is too hot!" she repeated.

Then she found a cane chair under a may-tree, from which she could watch the game at a distance. Edred certainly did not play well. He was not in practice, and he missed often the easiest balls. But Dolly cared nothing about his bad play, as compared with Mervyn's good play; or for his unrelaxed gravity, as compared with Mervyn's pleasant ease. The one thing she did care for was that Edred never once looked towards the may-tree, under which a little figure in white sat forlornly alone,—never once! Dolly was sure of that; and yet how could she really know?

This set did not last very long; and Edred was standing not far off, talking to somebody. Would he come to Dolly, or would he not? She was longing for a reassuring word or glance from him, with a craving which for the time almost smothered her dread of what people might say. Now he had drawn nearer still, and Dolly knew he saw her. If he had not seen her before, he saw her now. The uncertainty set her heart beating again, faster than before. Would he—oh, would he—?

Emmeline walked up, and said something to Edred. Then she went away, and he seemed to hesitate. He looked towards Dolly—yes, straight towards her. The next moment, he turned and walked in the opposite direction, out of sight.

Dolly felt stupefied. She grew cold, and shivered all over.

"What! Here still?" exclaimed Mervyn, coming under the shady tree. "Hidden from view!"

"Yes, I—It's a nice corner."

"Not bad for solitary meditation; but I didn't know that was in your line. Have you been hidden away long enough? Will you have some tea,—or an ice?"

Dolly laughed vaguely, and stood up. "I should like some tea," she said. The colour had all faded out of her cheeks, leaving her white and limp.

"Dolly, you are half-frozen. The wind is a little chilly, perhaps, but I shouldn't have thought—"

"Yes, it's dreadfully chilly. I'm just like an icicle."

"A cup of tea will put you right. Come along."

A decorated table under some elm-trees had attracted most of the company—tea, cakes, and ices being in full swing. Mervyn found a chair for Dolly close to Margot. "She's chilly, and wants a cup of tea," he said.

"Dolly, you are the colour of the table-cloth," said Margot.

"I had a game, and got too hot; and then I suppose I sat still too long."

"Where have you been? I could not get a glimpse of you anywhere."

"Only under a tree. It was a cosy spot, and I could watch the tennis."

Dolly saw Edred's head, far away in the throng, moving to and fro. He seemed to be attending to people's wants busily. She had no inclination now to blush, feeling too cold and miserable; besides, he showed no disposition to come near. Mervyn, not Edred, brought tea and cake.

"That will do you good," he said, pulling a chair up for himself. "Everybody seems supplied, so I don't see why I shouldn't indulge in a moment's repose. Feeding the British public is hard work!" This in a confidential undertone.

"Edred is making himself desperately useful," remarked Margot.

"Edred never does anything less than desperately. Can't be moderate if he tries."




"BY-THE-BYE—" exclaimed Mervyn.

"Something very important?" asked Margot, as he stopped.

"Well, no! A sudden idea. I came across a young lady in town, not long ago, who seemed immensely interested in all of you—in Dolly especially."

Dolly's head came round with an air of languid attention.

"A Miss Tracy," said Mervyn.

Margot's eyes wore the look which means recognition of something or somebody, though she only said, "Yes."

"You know the name?"

"There was a brother-officer of my father's, years ago, named Tracy."

"And Miss Tracy said something about a former friend of her father's, named Erskine."

"What is Miss Tracy like?"

"About Dolly's age, I imagine, but she looks older. May be the effect of wearing glasses; and nobody would take Dolly for more than fifteen,—I beg your pardon, Dolly! Miss Tracy's name is Dorothea."

The look of recognition came again to Margot's eyes.

"Ah!" said Mervyn.

"Is she one of a family,—or an only daughter?"

"She has a father,—that is all. No brothers or sisters. He seems to be a cantankerous old fellow. I stumbled upon them in the Park—the Colonel snoring, and his daughter keeping guard over him. We had a little private confab, not a word of which he heard, after which he solemnly avowed that he hadn't been to sleep. Miss Tracy's manner of taking the fiction was perfect. He knows nobody and goes nowhere; so the young lady's round of spring gaieties consisted of one afternoon tea."

"What is she like? Pretty?"

"Rather hard to say. She is pretty and not pretty. Sometimes the one and sometimes the other. Curiously self-possessed, for a girl who has never been into society; and simplicity itself. With a spice of keenness and oddity. Oh, she is uncommon, and decidedly taking. Improves on acquaintance. You must have heard of her, by-the-bye! She is the heroine who saved old Mrs. Effingham last Christmas from being run over. Edred was on the spot."

Dolly's interest, languid hitherto, was wide awake now.

"We never heard," she said. "Mrs. Effingham?"

"A friend of Edred's. I know her name," observed Margot.

"Edred had better give you the facts himself. There he is!"

Mervyn stood up, and after some vigorous signals from him, Edred approached,—not too willingly, it would seem from his manner.

"I say, I want you to describe that little scene last Christmas, when Miss Tracy saved Mrs. Effingham from being run over. Margot and Dolly have never heard of it."

Edred looked reluctant.

"Yes, I remember," he said.

"How did it happen?" inquired Margot, while Dolly sat motionless, rigid with the effort not to tremble.

"Mrs. Effingham slipped down on a slide, after leaving the church. A hansom cab would have been upon her, but Miss Tracy pulled her away in time. No one else was within reach."

A drier statement could hardly have been made, but all who knew Edred knew that any amount of unexpressed admiration might lie below.

"How plucky of her!" exclaimed Margot.

Edred merely said, "Yes."

"And you were there?"

"I was there—not near enough to act, unhappily."

"Ah, that is why nobody has heard the story. Men don't like to be outdone by a girl. But it was not your fault."


"And the old lady was not hurt?"


"She was infinitely grateful," said Mervyn. "Em and I called upon her one day, and found her in a state of gush. Miss Tracy was there also; so we had an opportunity to inspect the heroine."

"Did she bear her honours meekly?" asked Dolly, in an odd constrained voice.

"She didn't seem aware of their existence. Em acted the icicle as usual, and Miss Tracy studied her—rather amused, I thought. She has a piquant way of looking at one through her glasses; unlike the rest of the world. Mrs. Effingham was unutterably grateful to me for doing the polite."

"And you saw her in the Park—afterwards, I suppose?" Margot asked.

"Months after. August."

Mervyn made a movement, as if to go.

"What is she like?" inquired Dolly, in the same stiff voice, as if she had not heard all that passed before.

"I've given my view of the matter. Ask Edred! He's quite intimate in the house; and I haven't so much as ventured to call. I did propose it, and had a snubbing from the gallant Colonel. But black cloth may go anywhere."

Mervyn was gone, and Edred lingered in an uncertain manner, showing an evident inclination to decamp also.

"So you see a good deal of Miss Tracy?" said Margot.

"She teaches in our Sunday-school."

"Ali, that would bring you together, of course."

Margot paused, with a sudden thought of Dolly; but she would not even look in her sister's direction, for fear the glance should be noticed. She knew, without looking, that the usually restless Dolly was seated like a small statue, white and motionless.

"Yes, sometimes."

"Does she teach well?"

"Very well."

"The fact is, I am interested about her. My father, once upon a time, knew some Tracys very well. But that was years ago—a good many years."

"I could find out—anything you wish. I shall be seeing Miss Tracy."

"I don't think it matters. All intercourse has been dropped for so long; and after all—" Margot hesitated. "Dolly, I am thinking of going home. Will you come with me, or shall I leave you behind?"

"I'll go home."

"Would you not like another game of tennis?" asked Edred.

The tone was unmistakably cold, and he hardly looked at Dolly; or if he looked, his eyes did not meet hers.

"No; I'd rather not," she answered, as coldly.

"I fancy the pony-carriage is here by this time," Margot observed.

She rose, and found her way to Mrs. Claughton, Dolly following, like one in a dream.

"I must say good-bye early to-day," she said to the stout lady.

"Yes, quite right. You had no business to come at all, Margot,—with your spine," said Mrs. Claughton, careless of the fact that Margot hated remarks in public upon her health.

"I couldn't well come with somebody else's spine," murmured Margot, finding relief in the small witticism, which she took care that Mrs. Claughton should not hear.

"However, Dolly of course will stay another hour or two. Dolly need not go yet."

"Dolly seems tired to-day."

"Dolly tired! She wants another game of tennis; that is all," said Mrs. Claughton energetically. "Nonsense, Dolly!" as a little hand came out. "My dear, I am not going to say good-bye to you yet. Where is Edred?"

Dolly dropped her hand, and turned away, keeping close to Margot. Outside the group, she said pitifully, in an undertone, "I must go! I can't stay!"

"Yes, dear,—if you are quite sure."

"Please take me home. And don't tell Issy."

Margot made no answer beyond an indefinite sound of assent. She knew that Dolly had reached her utmost extent of endurance. A word more might prove too much.

The pony-chaise waited at the front door, so there was no delay in getting off. Neither spoke on the way home—a short distance, though often too much for Margot to walk. Near Woodlands, Margot leant forward, and said to the boy—

"You need not go up to the door. Stop at the little side-gate."

The boy obeyed, and Margot stepped out.

"Take the chaise round to the yard," she said. "Now, Dolly."

Dolly too obeyed, wordlessly. Margot led her to the back garden-door of the house, which they entered unobserved. Dolly's room was at the top of the house, a story higher than Margot's, and Margot toiled up the stairs, regardless of her aching back, till the sunny little room was reached. Then she shut the door, sat down, and held out her arms. Still without a word, Dolly subsided into them.

Two or three minutes passed, and then—

"Poor little Dolly!" Margot said tenderly.

"Margot, did I show—"

"Show what, dear?"

"That I—I—that I—minded?"

"You didn't manage to look quite like yourself. What was it that you minded so much?"

"Didn't you see?"

"I thought you gave Edred an unnecessarily cold shoulder; and he seemed rather vexed. I'm not sure that he had not reason."

"O no; it wasn't that. He didn't care. And I mustn't care," said Dolly, lifting her face, which had one white and one red cheek. "I don't mean anybody to see. Only I felt so—so stupid—I was so afraid I should do or say something wrong."

"Then perhaps it was best for you to come away."

Dolly hid her face again.

"Margot, didn't you see—about Miss Tracy?"


"He—likes her."

Margot was silent, passing her hand over the soft hair.

Dolly's self-command broke down, though she struggled hard to hold the sobs in check.

"Good Dolly! Wise child!" Margot whispered. "You'll be brave, won't you?"

"I'm not good—I'm not wise or brave," Dolly broke out. "It is so hard to bear. I never thought—never knew before. Margot, hold me tight. Margot, I'm not brave," she sobbed. "It's only pride. I couldn't—couldn't—let anybody know—but oh, I do feel as if I could hate that girl."

"You must not."

"No, no, I know; but how am I to help it?"

"There's only the one way. Nothing is ever too hard to be overcome. And after all we don't know—we don't know anything really. It may be all a mistake. I mean, as to his caring in the least for her."

"But you thought—"

"I fancied his look a little suspicious,—that shut-up manner that he puts on, when he minds particularly about anything. And Mervyn's way of speaking too. Still, it may be all a mistake, all nonsense."


"Only it may not be. And meantime you are right to be careful. Don't be hard and cold to Edred, Dolly; no need for that. Only be simple and dignified."

"I can't be dignified. It isn't in me. I'm all one way or all the other."

"Then you have to learn. If you are too cold, you will drive him away; and if you are too warm—" Dolly shuddered. "Yes, you see. Just be natural."

Dolly drew a long breath. "O if only Issy hadn't said anything!"

Margot could not truthfully say, "Issy meant nothing."

"I think I must lie down now," she remarked presently.

Dolly started up from her clinging posture. "Margot, is your back bad?"

"It has been bad all day." Margot seldom admitted so much, but she was anxious to lead Dolly's mind on a fresh tack. "Suppose you come and settle me on the couch in my room. And then—I wonder if you could read me a story, and help me to forget the aching."

"I'll do anything. I'm so sorry. It is all my fault."

An hour passed in attending to Margot did Dolly more good than any amount of brooding over her own woes. Margot really was in very bad pain—so severe, that when she had reached her room, she turned faint with it. She would not have Isabel called, however, but insisted that Dolly should do all that was requisite.

"Now I hear Issy coming, so you can go," Margot said at length. "Kiss me, Dolly, and take a run in the garden. Don't let yourself sit and think."

Dolly promised, then fled, and Isabel entered, remarking, "We did not know till just now that you had both come in. Margot, what made you go this afternoon?"

"I thought I ought."

"Mother is quite worried. You will just make yourself ill." Isabel was settling the pillows which Dolly had not placed rightly.

"Then I must bear it. Issy!"


"Don't say one word more, please, about Edred to Dolly, or before her!"

"Why? She didn't surely suspect—?"

"I'm afraid she saw through your questions. She was as stiff as a poker to him."

"Dolly always goes to such ridiculous extremes. All one wishes is that she should not look too gushingly delighted whenever he turns up."

"She didn't look gushingly delighted to-day by any means."

"Did Edred seem to notice?"

"He was equally stiff to her."

"Well—perhaps—after all, that is safer than—"

"Not safer to have him driven off, if they care for one another."

"Dolly may care for him."

"I have an idea that he cares for Dolly; only his is such a curious temperament."

"Proud as a pikestaff."

"No, no, not proud. At least, if he is, it is the sort of pride which always looks to its owner like humility. He would never give in knowingly to pride. There's any amount of shyness, and if once he has a serious check—"

"Oh, well, I shall have to explain to Emmeline that Dolly's manner is all my fault."

"Issy, don't! No, on no account! What are you thinking of?" exclaimed the dismayed Margot. "Fancy Dolly's position, if it came to Edred's ears. Dear old Issy, don't you see—you only have to let things alone? If ever you had had a love affair yourself—"

"Which happily I never had!" asserted Isabel, as if congratulating herself on escape from an epidemic.

"No, I know; but if you had, you would understand. Issy dear, do pray make up your mind not to breathe a word to anybody. Things will settle themselves one way or another. All we have to do is not to interfere. If Dolly went to you for advice, then of course—"

"She won't. That isn't Dolly's style."

"I would wait till she does."

Isabel looked rather doleful. "You mean that I have been stupid and done harm," she said. "I am stupid, I know, but really I didn't intend—I never thought—Yes, I'll be good, I promise you. I'll never mention Edred's name again in Dolly's hearing."

"My dear Issy! As if that would be possible!"

"Well, I mean—unnecessarily."

Then Margot, secure of having made a sufficient impression, told about the Tracys, omitting only the possibility which had occurred to Dolly and herself, that Edred might be peculiarly taken by the other Dorothea.

"Very curious! How odd! Really!" interjected Isabel at intervals. "A Colonel and a Dorothea! It sounds like the same people. I don't know why they shouldn't be. My father's Colonel Tracy lives in London, I believe."

"So I fancied. I know he used; but my father so seldom mentions his name."

"Except at Christmas. I wonder what sort of daughter he has?"

"Nice, I fancy. But, Issy, don't say anything to mother. She is always so grieved about that unfortunate quarrel. Some day perhaps I may tell my father."

"I wouldn't rake things up. It would only bother him," said Isabel, acting counsellor in her turn.

"Well, you have taken my advice, so it is only fair that I should take yours," laughed Margot.

"I wouldn't," repeated Isabel. "Father took the first stop towards a reconciliation—sending that card, I mean,—and it is Colonel Tracy's turn next. He ought to do something more than just to send back the card after waiting a whole year. He was the one in the wrong,—most in the wrong, at all events. If Mrs. Tracy were alive—but she isn't, and we don't know anything about that Dorothea girl."




"I HAVE been very nearly a year at home now," wrote Dorothea Tracy to her friend, Mrs. Kirkpatrick, one dull December afternoon.

"Nearly a whole year! What a long time a year is! I feel ages older than when I saw you last. Quite middle-aged and experienced."

"It has not been an unhappy year. Need one ever be unhappy, I wonder, merely because things are not exactly as one would choose? Or rather,—no, I don't wonder, because I am perfectly sure one need not."

"I want to tell you that I really have tried hard to follow the advice you gave me that last evening,—you will remember it, though perhaps not as clearly as I do. Trying to do doesn't always mean doing; but indeed I have tried."

"You said that I must always live steadily by rule, not let myself be a victim to impulses; and above all, that I was not to be indulgent to self in little matters, because that always means self-indulgence in greater matters too. And I was always to hold myself ready to do whatever might come to hand, and yet not to be discontented if very little came to hand. So you see I have not forgotten."

"It was a hard battle at first not to be discontented. Everything was so different from what I had fancied beforehand. And for a time there seemed really nothing to do, except to run up or down stairs for my father, and to be kind to little Minnie. But one thing after another turned up; and I have found, as you said I should, that one always may be busy and useful, if only one will."

"As for self-discipline, I shouldn't think one ever need be in any difficulty."

"At first, of course, I was in the swing of school habits; and I kept on doing as you had taught me, half in a mechanical way. But there came a time when I began to realise that I was free to please myself in little things, and that there was nobody to control me, and somehow I began to give in."

"I wonder whether you ever did that, and found out how dreadfully self-indulgent one can grow in a very little while."

"I didn't see it at all at first. The change wasn't slow, but it was so gliding. I never had an idea before how easily one can slip and slide into a sort of small slavery to one's body, if once one relaxes guard! You won't believe it, perhaps, but I was getting quite lazy—always lounging about in easy-chairs, and lying in bed too late in the morning, and indulging myself in story reading when I ought to have been doing some other thing, and fancying myself tired when I only wanted rousing, and even getting fanciful and fussy about food—which you know was an old trouble, but I really did think I had quite got over it."

"My father got vexed one morning, when I was down rather late for breakfast, and he told me I was indolent. That helped me to see, first. And then Lent came; and on the first Sunday evening we had a sermon from Mr. Mordan, on 'bringing the body into subjection,' and 'using such abstinence,'—in the Collect, you know."

"He did speak plainly! He warned us to take care of just those very things that I had been growing careless about. He mentioned a good many ways in which one might fail; and amongst them were too much lying in bed, and daintiness in eating, and self-indulgence in reading. And he advised us to make particular use of Lent by going right in the face of any habits that were getting a mastery over us—for yielding in one thing would be yielding in all, and every time one is beaten, one gets weaker. 'But mind,' he said, 'you must not think that when Lent is over, you are free to revert to your bad habits.' That did so remind me of you, and how you used to say, 'Don't slacken because Lent is ended.'"

"It was a hard fight after that, but I did begin to get up earlier, and not to let myself lounge about or read stories in the morning, and to make myself sometimes eat things I didn't like. After a while it grew easier; and then I felt how much I had owed to you. But somehow I never felt inclined to write this all until now."

"Soon after I came home, my father subscribed to a library near for me, and that has been a great delight. Mr. and Mrs. Mordan lend me books too, now and then. I make it a rule to have some volume of solid reading always in hand, and a good sensible story besides for the evening—not a trashy sort."

"And only think! My father goes to Church with me now, at least once every Sunday. Isn't that a change? I could so seldom persuade him at first."

"One thing has disappointed me. For a time he was so much brighter and more chatty. He used to tell stories of his Army life, and he really seemed to like me to chat to him. But that is over now. He has been getting more and more silent through the autumn—even gloomy. Some days, he hardly speaks at all, and when he does, he speaks sharply. I feel almost sure that some trouble or worry is weighing on his mind; and I have an idea that it has to do with money."

"I don't think it can be wrong of me to say all this to you, because you have always been—"

Dorothea came to a pause, and sat, pen in hand, considering.

"Am I wrong?" she murmured. "Ought I to say so much? Mrs. Kirkpatrick is my oldest and dearest friend—but she is not my father's friend. He calls her 'an estimable old lady'—and that is all. Is it quite honourable of me to tell her about his affairs? He would not tell her himself. Have I the right, without his leave?"

She sat thoughtfully, gazing towards the lighted candle.

"Perhaps he is waiting till he is sure that I am trustworthy, and not a gossip, before he speaks out. After all, his affairs are not the concern of other people—not even of my dear Mrs. Kirkpatrick. If I were at a loss to know what to do, perhaps my right plan would be to go to Mr. Mordan for advice, but I don't see that advice would help me just now. I have no right to press for my father's secrets; and unless he speaks to me himself, I cannot do anything."

Another break. Dorothea ran her eyes through the letter.

"What a lot I have written about myself. It is I—I—I all through! How horrid! I don't think I will send it off to-day. Perhaps I will re-write part to-morrow. That is the worst of living so much alone. One gets into such a narrow circle of ideas, and self grows so important. To be sure Mrs. Kirkpatrick begs to be told everything, but still—No, I'll wait."

Dorothea put pen and paper away, and peeped through the venetian into the lamp-lit street.

"Why doesn't my father come in? He is not often so late. However, there is not enough fog to hinder anybody; so I dare say he has some good reason."

She had hardly settled down to her book before the door was whisked open.

"Beg pardon, Miss; I thought your Pa was at home," Mrs. Stirring exclaimed. "Mr. Claughton wants to see the Colonel."

"My father will be in directly," said Dorothea; while, "Which Mr. Claughton?" flashed through her mind.

One candle does not make a room light, and for a moment she was in uncertainty; but before the newcomer's features were discernible, she knew his walk. "How do you do? I am expecting my father every moment," she said. "Will you sit down? He cannot be long now."

"Thanks." And Edred took a seat.

He looked pale, Dorothea thought, and his air was alike preoccupied and depressed.

"We have not seen you for a long while. Hardly since the summer."

"No; I have been remiss, I know. There has been so much to do, especially since my holiday."

"You were away all October, were you not? But you don't seem much the better for your month's rest," said Dorothea, suddenly conscious that her old shyness of Edred existed no longer. She could hardly have told why. He had perhaps never been less cordial in manner; yet she had never felt less afraid of him. It occurred to her mind that here was an opportunity to find out more about the Erskines of Craye—about Dolly, in particular. Why not? If she could ask questions of Mervyn, what should keep her from putting queries to Edred?

"And I will," she told herself smilingly, "if my father leaves me time."

"There is nothing wrong with me," came stiffly in answer; and then, as if the word were extorted by conscience,—"Except—"

"Except that you have rather too much to do, I suppose."

"Thanks, no; not in the least."

"Did you spend your month at home?"

"Three days of it. The rest in Scotland. No, I have not been home since."

"That was a very scanty allowance for your sister."

"My sister went to Scotland with me."

"Ah, Scotland is delightful. But I know Scotland, and I don't know Craye. I am more interested in Craye," said Dorothea. "You know I have seen your sister once, and your brother more than once. He is so like you."

"Mervyn! We are opposites."

"In character, are you? But not in face."

The frank simplicity of Dorothea's manner was taking effect. Mr. Claughton glanced up with more of attention than he had vouchsafed hitherto.

"Likeness is surely a matter of expression, at least, as much as of feature. However, one cannot be a judge of oneself."

"I don't think you are alike in expression; but nobody could help seeing that you are brothers."

"And yet," Dorothea was astonished to hear him say after a break, "we have scarcely one interest or subject in common."

"Is that a necessary state of things?" Dorothea did not question his assertion, as he perhaps expected.

"Perhaps not, if either could enter into the other's feelings." Dorothea thought of Mervyn's words in the Park. "Don't misunderstand me," he added, "I am not complaining of Mervyn. It is of myself that I complain."

"Isn't that the first step towards a change?"

"No. The difficulty is in our temperaments. He is all sunshine and merriment, hardly able to look at anything seriously for five minutes together. I am—" and a pause. "Hardly necessary to tell you. I have no sparkle or lightness in my composition. Sometimes I wish I had. Not to the extent that—" and another pause.

"But he is not all merriment. He does take things seriously—below. The froth is only on the surface, you know."

"I don't know. I should be glad to believe it."

"And—I think—" hesitatingly—"I am quite sure there must be some sparkle and lightness in everybody. Only it wants cultivating, doesn't it?"

"That may be a suggestion worth attending to," Edred said, with a rather melancholy smile. "We have got into an odd personal talk, Miss Tracy. I don't often indulge in remarks about myself; but since we are on the subject, I do not mind saying that I am conscious of a certain want. Too grave a manner is taken for moodiness by some people, and perhaps it repels them, when a little more of sunshine—a manner mere like Mervyn's—would attract."

Dorothea had never liked Edred so well, even while she began to fear that she had spoken too freely. It certainly was not her business to tell him of his failures, whether in manner or aught else; and the instinctive wish to defend Mervyn, which had lain below her utterances, was not even acknowledged to herself, much less could it be allowed to appear to Edred.

"It always seems to me that manner is the hardest thing in the world to manage," she said. "One is told to be perfectly natural, and then one finds that what is natural is wrong; and if one tries to change, one is called affected. At least, that is a girl's difficulty sometimes—at school. But you were going to tell me about Craye. There is a Colonel Erskine living near your home?"

"Yes—" Edred shrank suddenly into his shell.

Dorothea saw the change, thought of Mervyn's remarks about "Dolly," and mischievously resolved to persevere.

"And he has a wife and three daughters?"


"Named Miss Erskine, Miss Margot Erskine, and Miss Dolly Erskine?"

"Yes," for the third time.

"I want very much to know more about them. I can't tell you altogether why; only it is partly that I think my father and he must once have known one another. I believe they were in the same regiment; but they have not met now for years. There was a disagreement of some kind." Dorothea hesitated, for this was rather at variance with her resolution not to divulge her father's secret. She had spoken impulsively. "Perhaps my father might not like me to say so much."

"It would be a good thing that they should come together again."

"I wish they could; but I am not sure that my father would be willing. He hardly over speaks about Colonel Erskine." She was greatly tempted to mention the Christmas card, but refrained. "Some day, perhaps, it will come about. I am not even perfectly sure that they are the same Erskines; but there isn't much doubt. My father's friend had a little girl about my age, named Dorothea. And there is a Dorothea Erskine at Craye, is there not? The one called 'Dolly.'"


"Do tell me what she is like. It seems as if we ought to know something about each other."

Edred was silent.

"Is she in the least like me?"


"Please describe her. I want to be able to picture her face."

Thus driven, Edred had no choice. There was no getting out of it. Dorothea waited expectantly. The information was slow in coming, but patience was at length rewarded.

"She is—she is—little," Edred said desperately. "And fair."

"Blue eyes and golden hair?"


"Oh, go on. I don't see her yet. Is she very pretty?"

Edred's "Yes" was gruff; and a certain couplet darted through Dorothea's mind—

"If she be not fair for me,
 What care I how fair she be?"

Was that the state of affairs between the two? "No, no!" cried Dorothea to herself; "I hope not! I do hope not! If he is in love with her, can't she care for him? But perhaps this is all put on."

"People's opinions differ about a pretty face," said Edred curtly.

"Yes, of course. Does your brother admire Dolly very much?"

The question was unpremeditated; it flashed up, and was spoken out. But Dorothea had hit the mark now. Not only so, for the weapon which she flung bounded back and inflicted at least a scratch upon herself. She was startled first to see Edred's usually impassive face flush and grow pale; then she was still more startled to feel herself becoming just a degree more colourless than usual. It was not enough to strike a careless observer—only enough to rouse her own anger. What utter nonsense!

"Ah! I see!" she said.

Edred made no response whatever, and before Dorothea could decide what she would say next, the door was thrown open.

"Father, Mr. Claughton is waiting to speak to you."

The Colonel, entering roughly, stopped short and bowed. He looked very much out of temper, Edred Claughton thought; while Dorothea, bettor used to the Colonel's varieties of expression, read more truly the signs of trouble.

Edred had risen, and the Colonel did not sit down; so the two remained upright, each facing the other.

"I shall not take up many minutes of your time," said Edred apologetically, putting away as it were all remnants of his talk with Dorothea, and becoming instantly the polite Curate, intent on business. "You are probably busy."

"I am—very busy indeed," said Colonel Tracy, with sharpness.

"I have merely called to inquire—"

"Well?" thrust in the impatient Colonel.

"We are badly off just now for teachers in the night-school. Mr. Mordan thought it just possible, that you might be kindly willing now and then to take a class."

"No, sir! I am not kindly willing," shouted the Colonel, like a man goaded into sudden fury.

Edred stood, silent and gentlemanly. This did not cause a change of colour, like Dorothea's words.

"I've borne enough of this sort of thing! Interference and meddling! I'll not take a class in the night-school, or any other school!" declared the angry Colonel, in a voice which might be heard across the street.

Dorothea grow white again; but she came forward, close to her father, as if to restrain him.

"And if there's any more of it, I'll—I'll—I'll keep Dorothea at home too," spluttered the Colonel.

"Father, there is no harm in being asked. It is so easy to say No," observed Dorothea gently.

"I have said No! I'll say it again if needful."

"Hardly necessary. I am sorry to have even made the suggestion, since it is so unpleasant to you," said Edred, with cold courtesy. "Pray excuse me. Some day when you are not so busy—"

The Colonel began to splutter anew.

"No, do not misunderstand me. I was merely going to say that I would call again—not about the night-school."

The Colonel was silent, with a manifest effort. Edred bowed to him, and shook hands with Dorothea.

"Please come again. He will not mind—another time. Something must have happened," she murmured, almost inaudibly. If the Colonel heard, he made no sign. Edred's face broke into a slight smile.

"Pray don't think about it again," he said.

The door was hold open for him in grim style by the Colonel, and in his rear it was shut with a bang.

"Thank goodness that's over! Night-school, indeed! I wonder what next! The conceit of these young fellows!"

"Was there any need to be so vexed?" asked Dorothea sorrowfully.

No answer came at first. Colonel Tracy was tossing over some books with unsteady hands. Dorothea watched him in growing fear. She had never seen him so flushed and excited, so entirely off his balance. Though a fussy man about his food, he was abstemious in taking wine; yet a dread darted through her mind. Could he for once have taken too much? She had heard and read of such things.

Suddenly he dropped the books, let himself heavily into the arm-chair, and covered his heated face with two broad hands. Groan after groan burst from him.

"Father!" said Dorothea. She stood by his side, anxious yet quiet. "Tell me what is the matter."

"Nothing. Everything, I mean," groaned the Colonel. "No use. It's all up with us."

"It! What?"

No answer.

"I had better know. What is the use of hiding things from me?" asked Dorothea's gentle voice. "Perhaps I could help—somehow. Won't you tell me?"

"Nobody can do anything. My dear—I'm ruined. That's all. If I can't get nine hundred and eighty pounds by this day month,—I'm—I'm bankrupt!"




"NINE hundred and eighty pounds! That is a great deal," said Dorothea slowly. "Nearly one thousand pounds."

Then she drew a chair to his side, sat down, and laid one hand lightly on his knee. If he had been a more affectionate parent, she would have laid her head on his shoulder, partly to give and partly to receive comfort. For the threatening blow would fall upon her no less than upon him; though this was not Dorothea's first thought. But any manner of caress was rare between the two. She only ventured on a touch.

"Father, don't be unhappy. We shall manage—somehow. Things will not be so bad as you expect—perhaps."

"Things could not be worse! It means—ruin," groaned the Colonel. "I—I shall never hold up my head again."

She stole a little closer to him.

"It isn't quite a new trouble, is it? All the autumn, haven't you been expecting—something of the kind?"

An inarticulate sound came in answer.

"Looking forward to a trouble is sometimes worse than bearing it when it really comes. Don't you think so?"

Another indefinite sound, more like a groan than anything else.

"Won't you tell me how it has happened?"

The Colonel shook himself roughly, and stood up.

"My dear, I can't be bothered. Only let me alone."

"And I can do nothing? I can't help you in any way?"

"No, no—nothing. Only don't plague. Leave me in peace."

Dorothea was hurt—naturally—though she would not show it. Her one desire was to comfort him, and he repelled her with coldness. But she remembered how unhappy, he was, and she would not let her face cloud over.

"We shall have tea soon, That will do you good," she said cheerfully.

"Tea" meant a somewhat heavy meal at seven o'clock. Till then the Colonel occupied himself with mysterious blue papers; reading and re-reading them, and sighing repeatedly. Now and again, in restless style, he got up to walk about the room. During one such peregrination, he remarked brusquely—

"We shall have to leave this."

"Leave this house?"

"Of course."

"Where shall we go?"

"I don't know."

A pause.

"Do you mind telling me—will you have anything at all left?"

"You'll know soon enough," said the Colonel sharply. He sat down, rested his face on his two hands, and remained thus until tea was ready.

"The fish will get cold," Dorothea said, as he showed no signs of moving.

Colonel Tracy drew a heavy sigh, came to the table, mumbled the three syllables which were his usual apology for a grace, and sat down with a groan. Then he turned over the fried sole, and inspected it disgustedly.

"Not fresh," he growled.

"You couldn't go yourself to-day,—but Mrs. Stirring seemed quite sure."

"My dear, Mrs. Stirring knows nothing about the matter. She takes whatever is given her. It's uneatable."

Nevertheless, he gave some to Dorothea and helped himself, not without a scowl or two.

"Bread isn't properly baked. Been getting worse and worse the last month," said the Colonel.

"O do you think so? It seems to me such nice light bread."

"Women never know good food from bad, my dear."

Dorothea thought silently of Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and of her own struggles against daintiness.

"I declare they've not sent fresh butter. It's absolutely—impregnated with salt."

Dorothea could have laughed, if she had been less oppressed with the recent news. For some time past housekeeping arrangements had been slipping gradually out of the Colonel's hands into hers; and though every item had to be referred to the Colonel, Mrs. Stirring usually came to Dorothea, thankful to have her for a "go-between." So she was able to answer decisively—

"It is the very best fresh butter that can be got, father. Two shillings a pound! I suppose we shall not be able to afford that any longer. Ought we not to begin to make a difference at once?"

"I can't eat salt butter, my dear! Never could."

But if he could not afford fresh? That question presented itself strongly before Dorothea's mind.

Tea over, the Colonel collapsed into his arm-chair once more. Collapsed attitudes are commonly ungraceful fur anybody; and especially they are not graceful where the individual is rather stout and not tall. Despite his rust-red complexion, the Colonel was not a bad-looking man when he held himself upright, and walked energetically, but his outlines at this moment were not attractive.

Dorothea wondered whether she might venture to say anything more on the subject of his losses, and decided that she had better wait. If he were not disposed to talk, further pressure would only excite him.

"It's rather hard, and I should like to know all about it," she told herself. "But perhaps that is just why I can't yet,—because I'm so inclined to be impatient."

Then she brought out her work, and sat stitching away quietly, near the one candle; her head a little bent, and the light falling on her pale face, with its neat glasses. Nobody, looking at her, would have counted Dorothea an impatient person; but doubtless she knew herself best. We do not often accuse ourselves of faults which are not ours, however apt to be blind to faults which are ours.

Not another word was uttered that evening on the subject of the Colonel's impending bankruptcy. He sat moodily and gloomily apart, nursing his woes. Dorothea worked and thought. She made up her mind on one point,—that economy should begin immediately.

Next morning, the Colonel disappeared after breakfast, telling Dorothea that for once she could not have her walk. Business required him in the City, he said. Dorothea acquiesced; and finding dinner left entirely in her hands, she made a very simple affair of it. Mrs. Stirring stared and protested, but Dorothea was firm.

"Not no fish nor soup neither?"

"No, not to-day."

"And only cold mutton, Miss?" Mrs. Stirring gasped.

"I think there is plenty of mutton over,—and it goes farther cold than minced. Yes, that will do perfectly well. You can make us a small bread-and-butter pudding."

"And a tart. Just, an apple-tart, Miss,—and some boiled custard."

"No, not a tart. Nothing except the bread-and-butter pudding."

Mrs. Stirring looked dismay unutterable, but Dorothea's quiet manner allowed no opposition. She retreated to the kitchen, murmuring to herself.

At dinner-time, punctual to the moment, Colonel Tracy returned. While no less gloomy than the evening before, he was evidently in a state of hunger. That became apparent at once, by the manner in which he took a seat at the table, and looked round.

No soup! No fish! No hot joint! Only cold mutton, potatoes, and pickle. Dorothea would have counted pickle an extravagance, had they not had it in the house.

"Hallo!" uttered the Colonel, and his jaw fell. The girl, putting a plate on the sideboard, fled, rather to Dorothea's relief.

"I thought we ought to begin to economise at once, father, after what you told me yesterday evening," said Dorothea in her gentlest manner.

"My dear, you don't suppose I can live on cold mutton!"

"But if you are bankrupt—"

"My dear, you talk rubbish! It's all very well for—you!" said the Colonel, not exactly knowing what he said, perhaps. "I couldn't do it! Impossible! Pray, have you nothing else in the house than—this!" in a tone of intense disdain.

"I didn't think it would be right to get anything more, as we had enough. You were out, so I could not ask you."

The Colonel sliced away in solemn silence, helped Dorothea, helped himself, and ate without a word. If Dorothea spoke, he made no answer. When the meat was taken away, he looked out eagerly and his jaw dropped anew at the sight of one small pudding.

"I can't stand this sort of thing," he said, when the girl was gone again.

"But if we can't afford more," pleaded Dorothea. "Is it right to spend more money than we can reckon on?"

Growing silence again. The Colonel ate his portion, then left the table abruptly, and flung himself into the arm-chair, with a disappointed and martyred air. Dorothea had taken the most effective means in her power to do away with some of his reserve, and to make him speak out; but she did not know it. She had not acted with that intention.

"The fact is—" he said.

Dorothea looked up earnestly.

"The fact is, my dear—"

"Yes, father."

"You had better ask me—another time—before you make any changes. You understand?"

"I thought, if your money affairs were in such a bad state—"

"I have had losses, and I am in difficulties. That need not mean absolute starvation."

Dorothea could not help smiling. She bit her lip, and endeavoured to be grave. After all, it was no laughing matter. If the Colonel could have looked into some of the rooms where certain of her Sunday-scholars lived, and could have seen their scanty meals, even his fastidious palate would hardly have counted this day's meal "starvation." But she might not say so to him.

"I will do whatever you tell me—whatever is right—of course. But, father, don't you think that if I knew just a little more, it would save me from making mistakes. I don't want to bother you; but I am not a child now, and perhaps—Will you be very poor indeed? Must you leave London?"

The Colonel's "Yes" probably referred to the last question. Dorothea accepted it thus.

"And where shall we go?"

"I haven't an idea."

"Then things really are bad. It is not merely a little passing loss."

"If I can't get close upon a thousand pounds early in January, my dear—"

"Yes," she said.

The Colonel made a despairing movement with both hands. "Everything will go," he said.

"But I don't quite understand. I thought a Colonel's pension was so good. Mrs. Kirkpatrick once said—"

"Mrs. Kirkpatrick knows nothing about it. I've only brevet rank as Colonel."

"Then you were not 'Colonel' when you retired?"


"But still—" and a pause. "There are only us two. And you always have your pension to count on."

An impatient jerk came in answer. "My dear, you don't know or understand anything about the matter. What is the use of talk?" demanded the Colonel. "If I had the command of my whole pension—but the fact is, I was in difficulties many years ago—had to borrow heavy sums at a heavy rate of interest. It doesn't matter how or why. You don't understand, of course. I have been closely run for years. And now this thousand pounds has to be paid—or—of course, I've known it would have to be paid, but one doesn't realise long before. I always hoped to lay by, and somehow—it hasn't been possible."

"I wish I had known. I would have helped. We might have spent less in so many ways."

"Well, well—it can't be helped now. But mind you take warning. Don't you ever run into debt, or—or put your name to bills."

"Won't the people that you owe the money to wait a little longer?"

The Colonel shook his head.

"Or—couldn't you—" Dorothea hesitated.

"I shall either have to borrow again, at a rate of interest that will pretty well deprive me of the yearly pittance I have now,—or else let things go, and become bankrupt," he said gloomily.

Dorothea did not feel herself competent to give advice on either of those dire alternatives. She only said gently, after a pause—"But at least, ought we not to economise?"

Another jerk came. "Economise as much as you like, my dear," he said, "only pray don't expect me to live on cold mutton; for I can't do it."

"But—" Dorothea felt hopeless. How was she to know what was right?

"I can't and won't! That's flat," said the Colonel. Then, with a forlorn attempt to pull himself together, "But there's a month yet! Something may happen. One never knows what will turn up."

If the Colonel found comfort in such a vague calculation on chances, Dorothea did not. She had better comfort; nevertheless, it was hard, as the days went by, not to feel anxious. She had no one to confide in, and the future wore a burdened look.

Nothing would induce the Colonel to submit to simpler and less expensive meals. Yet Dorothea could see in him a growing pain and oppression. Week by week the threatened trouble weighed more heavily. Till within a few days of Christmas, he bore up, walking, sleeping, eating, as usual; but then there was a change, sudden enough to be marked, though Dorothea hardly knew how it began. The red of his complexion was changing into a sickly grey; strength failed, when he would have gone fast and far; he had no appetite, and complained bitterly of everything on table.

Did this mean coming illness? Dorothea watched with a sinking heart, unable to decide. She had very little experience. All recollection of the Erskines was driven from her mind for the time by these pressing troubles.





"AS I expected! Not one word more in my journal since that long prelim-statement! I don't know what in the world I have taken it out for now—only one must do something, and I have nothing to do. And I feel so restless and stupid."

"What a state of spirits I was in when I wrote last in this book!—all except the last few words. I'm not at all in spirits now. Everything seems dull, and I am prosy and tame."

"Life does seem awfully made up of disappointments, sometimes. I wasn't wrong there, at all events."

"For instance,—that afternoon at the Park, weeks and weeks ago,—how I had been looking forward, and counting the hours! Yet, when the time came, there was nothing but disappointment all through. Nothing happened as I had expected, though I suppose nobody was to blame. I've gone over, scores of times since, all that I said and did, and all that he said and did; and I never can make up my mind what was really wrong, or how things happened as they did, or whether I might have done differently."

"Only I wish—I wish—nobody would meddle and ask questions, and put ideas into one's head. Poor old Issy! She didn't mean any harm, of course; people never do! But if only she had just not interfered!"

"Well, it can't be helped now. It couldn't be helped then. Dear good stupid people, like Issy, do such a lot of harm, meddling and trying to give advice; and all the time it is meant so kindly, that I suppose one ought to be grateful. Only—"

"Anyhow, nobody was likely that day to accuse me of—of thinking too much about anybody in particular. I had plenty of Mervyn, and I don't care for him one atom; and Edred kept out of my way, and I only saw him once again for five minutes, before he went to Scotland, and then we were like two icicles."

"If only I didn't mind! If I could make myself not care! If I could be as cool and indifferent as he is! But it is hard sometimes, oh, so hard not to show! All the life seems to have gone out of everything. Tennis had grown so dull—I was glad when cold weather put a stop to it; and now, skating is a trouble. The only thing I really feel inclined to do is to curl myself up in the corner of the sofa, and—no, not think! That's the worst of giving in. It means more time for thinking."

"I suppose one gets used in time to anything, even to—But I wish the days wouldn't drag and seem so awfully long. And I wish Margot's eyes wouldn't look at me as they do. And I wish I didn't always feel tired. And I wish I could stop thinking, and go to sleep for a whole year. How silly it is to have such a lot of impossible wishes!"

"Edred has not been to Craye once since October; and they say he can't get away till after Christmas. If he could, what difference would it make to me? He has that other girl in London—Dorothea Tracy. Mervyn seems to think her nice,—not very pretty, but rather uncommon. And I'm such a commonplace little thing—not clever at all. So, no wonder Edred likes her best. But—"

"I wonder if it is really the same Dorothea who was Christened with me. The same time, the same font, the same name, the same age!—and our two fathers such friends,—and the two mothers wanting their two babies to grow up friends! So Margot says. She only told me the story lately. I did not know it before,—all about the friendship, and the quarrel, and the Christmas card going to and fro."

"But, instead of being friends, Dorothea Tracy and I are strangers. Perhaps something else, too. Perhaps—rivals!"

"She does not know that; and it is not her fault. I must not let myself feel wrongly. Dorothea Tracy is not to blame. I have to tell myself that very often, to keep down something almost like anger. It is no fault of hers, if she is nicer than me,—if Edred cares for her most."

"To-morrow is Christmas Day; so the card will come back from her father—if her father really is my father's old friend. There doesn't seem to be much doubt about that. Margot says he always sends it punctually, so that it arrives on Christmas morning; but I have always been a child till lately, so I was not told about it."

"What an odd man the Colonel must be! Why doesn't he write? Margot says he ought. She says Colonel Tracy was really the one to blame; and as my father took the first step, Colonel Tracy ought to take the second. If I were Dorothea Tracy, I would try to make him. Perhaps she has tried and has failed. After all, she is only my age, though Mervyn says she looks older."

        "Dec. 27th."

"Christmas Day is over, and the card which we all expected has not come from Colonel Tracy. There were heaps of cards, of course, for everybody, but that was not among them."

"Father looks quite sad and worried. He must have been very fond of this friend in old days. Margot says she can't think why, because she knows the Colonel was not a favourite with most people. He was counted overbearing and ill-tempered, and fussy. But, somehow, my father and he suited one another. The friendship began when they were boys at school, and it went on when they were subalterns in the same regiment. I think they were both Captains when the quarrel came and divided them, but I am not sure. I know my father was senior."

"Two such old friends, and comrades, and brothers-at-arms! It does seem melancholy that they should have been separated. Margot says the two wives—our mother and Mrs. Tracy—did all they could to smooth matters. But it was no use. Colonel Tracy had behaved so very badly to father, and he never would say one word of apology."

"So for years and years they kept apart. Colonel Tracy exchanged into another regiment, and my father quite lost sight of him. It wasn't till after we came to live here that he saw the death of Mrs. Tracy in the paper, and so learnt Colonel Tracy's London address. That was close upon Christmas; and he sent the card as a peace-offering. He could not tell if the Colonel was willing to be friendly again; and of course the first move ought really to have been Colonel Tracy's; but still, he put that aside, and did what he could. So like the dear father, I think he wrote just a word inside the envelope about 'remembrance' and 'sympathy.'

"No answer came at all; and Margot says he was very much hurt and disappointed. But when a whole year had gone by, and Christmas Day came round again, the very same card arrived by the morning post, addressed to father in Colonel Tracy's handwriting."

"It was an odd way of meeting his kindness, I think; but Margot says my father took it kindly. He wasn't offended, but said he would keep the card, and send it again next year. So he did; and the next year after it was returned."

"That has gone on ever since, year after year. Colonel Tracy sent some address once which would always find him—his banker, Margot believes—and there hasn't been a word said besides. Only the card coming and going."

"This year it has failed for the first time, and father looks so mournful. Margot is sure he feels very much disappointed. She says he has always hoped that in the end the quarrel would somehow be made up; and now things look as if Colonel Tracy didn't care for the old friendship."

        "Dec. 31st."

"It is all explained. Colonel Tracy is in trouble, and he has been ill for some days; so the card was forgotten. I do think dear father is the very best of men!"

"We were in the morning-room before lunch, when father came hurrying through the glass door, in a great state of excitement. I don't know when I have seen him so excited. He was holding up a card in one hand and a letter in the other; and he talked so fast, that none of us could make out at first what it was all about."

"Mother said in her gentle way, 'My dear, sit down and tell us quietly;' and my father sat down as she told him. Then he laughed, and very nearly cried too. Mother patted his hand, and I crept on his knee. I haven't quite left that off yet."

"'Well, Dolly! Well, Dolly!' he said in a husky voice, 'What do you think? I've got the card. Yes, the old card, mother,—the old card, girls! But something else besides. I've got a letter; guess who from?' But he was too impatient to wait. 'From this child's namesake,' he said before anybody could make a guess."

"'Dorothea Tracy!' exclaimed Issy."

"'Dorothea Tracy, herself. As nice a letter as ever you read. Poor Tracy is ill,—knocked down by money troubles. And that child all alone with him,—not a soul to help! Think, mother, if it were our Dolly!'"

"He showed me the card,—a queer old-fashioned blue thing, with a hideous bird sprawling across it. But if it had been the most perfect specimen of high art ever seen, my father couldn't have been more delighted. He tried to read Dorothea's letter aloud, and broke down over the first six lines; so then he gave it over to mother to read, and took to hugging me instead. And we all listened."

"It is a very simple and girlish sort of letter,—touching, my father said, but perhaps I am hard, for it didn't touch me. I kept thinking—But never mind about my thoughts."

"The letter began by saying that Colonel Tracy had been ill all the week; so ill that the Christmas card was forgotten. Dorothea had to go to his desk for something, and she came across an envelope with my father's name outside. So then, she says, she 'remembered'; and she thought she had better send it straight off, without asking her father, as the doctor wished him not to be excited."

"Next came a few words about having heard of the old friendship; and the sentence after I think I can write down from memory: 'Perhaps I shall not be wrong to tell you that the cause of my father's illness is money anxiety. I do not understand all about it; but I know that he is in debt for over nine hundred pounds, and he does not know how to meet it. I would not say this if you were not such a very old friend of his. I think he could not mind. We shall have to leave London soon; and I do not know yet where we shall go.' Then there was something more about how sorry she was that the card had not been sent earlier, and then,—'I have heard something about you all, not only from my father, but from Mr. Claughton and his brother.'"

"'There!' father said, while I was wondering whether she meant Mervyn or Edred by Mr. Claughton,' for she has seen them both. 'There! What do you all think of that?'"

"'Poor things! What is to be done?' mother asked."

"'I'll tell you what I should like to do,' my father said slowly,—not in a hurry now. He sat bolt upright, and looked round at each of us. 'I'll tell you what I have it in my mind to do. I should like to send Tracy a cheque for one thousand pounds, to put him straight.'"

"Mother didn't speak at once. She seemed to be thinking in her quiet way. Isabel opened her eyes very wide, with a sort of astonished look, and Margot smiled. I don't know how I felt. I tried to keep from thinking anything—except how dear and beautiful it was of my father!"

"'Well?' he said."

"'Can you afford it, my dear?' asked mother."

"'Yes—I can afford it. I can do it. But it's a big sum, and I don't say it will be no loss. It won't mean a serious diminution of income, but it will mean somewhere about forty pounds a year less for all of us now, and for the girls by-and-by. I haven't a thousand pounds of loose money lying at my banker's. If I do this—for the sake of old days—it must be with your consent, mother, and the girls' too.'"

"'I am willing,' Margot said."

"'Father gave her such a look. I shouldn't think she would ever forget it. I wished I had been the first to speak.'"

"'And so am I,' Issy added."

"'My dear, you are much the best judge,' mother said. 'I always leave money affairs in your hands. Colonel Tracy does not deserve it, but if you are inclined—'"

"'And Dolly?'"

"I won't say it was not a struggle. It ought not to have been, of course. I ought to have been glad for Dorothea Tracy, and not to have thought about myself. Only it seemed as if she were to have so much. I didn't grudge her the money for a moment, but I did feel as if I could not be interested or glad."

"Then my father turned to me with those two words—'And Dolly?' And they were all waiting for my answer. And it came over me, in a moment, how ready father was to make the peace, even if it cost him something, and how one word from me might hinder the peace-making."

"'I think it would be worth more than a thousand pounds to end a quarrel between such old old friends,' I found myself saying."

"Father put his arm round me, and gave me a kiss."

"'Thanks, Dolly, and thanks to you all,' he said. 'I'll see about it at once. If my letter is met as I hope it will be, we'll see about getting Tracy and his daughter down here for a change.'"

"Should I like that?"

"I have written all this down, while it is fresh in my mind, because I want to remember how it came about, and how nobly my father has acted. But—to have Colonel and Miss Tracy down at Woodlands—"

"What does it matter about my liking? There's no surer sign of a spoilt child than always thinking whether one 'likes' or 'dislikes' what is going to happen. I have only woke up to that fact lately. And I do think it is time I should buckle to, and try to be different,—try to think more of other people's likings, and less of my own. It's plain enough, one can't always have one's own way in life."




COLONEL TRACY ill was altogether another man from Colonel Tracy well. His brusquerie and independence were nowhere. His military carriage vanished with the rust-red of his complexion. He had grown pale and yellowish, limp and languid. He could not bear to be left alone, depended meekly on Dorothea's judgment, and went in with praiseworthy submission for any amount of semi-liquid invalid messes.

Nobody would have expected so vigorous a man to be so soon pulled down; but people are always doing what would not be expected of them. When, on the third day of the new year, Colonel Tracy tottered across from his bedroom to the drawing-room, and dropped feebly into an arm-chair, he might have been ill for months.

"Nervous, partly—of course," the doctor had remarked that morning to Dorothea. "Don't encourage him to think too much about himself."

But that was the difficulty. Colonel Tracy wanted to talk about himself and his symptoms all day long. He expected an inordinate amount of sympathy. If Dorothea gave the sympathy, he talked about himself continuously. If she did not, he waxed cross.

There was no mention of money affairs between them. Dorothea knew well that such mention could not be long delayed; but for the moment delay was necessary. The Colonel, if not so ill as he counted himself, was too ill to be worried. Dorothea had to bide her time.

She was a little disappointed that no quick answer had come from Colonel Erskine. The mention of her father's trouble and consequent break-down would surely, she had thought, bring a few words of sympathy. Dorothea had built upon this expectation, hoping thus to bring together again the old long-parted comrades. But apparently Colonel Erskine meant to wait a year, as usual, before sending back the card. Dorothea felt that she would not have done so in his place, and she allowed herself to judge him somewhat hardly for the same, thereby laying up a little store of fuel for future remorse.

"What o'clock is it, my dear?" Colonel Tracy asked in a sunk piping voice, not absolutely needful under the circumstances.

"Nearly time for lights," Dorothea answered cheerfully. "I can't see my watch, I am afraid. What a dull afternoon! I shall be glad when the curtains are drawn."

Colonel Tracy sighed lugubriously.

"Isn't it nice that you are able to come in here again? I hope you will soon be able to have a short walk."

"My dear, I have no strength,—none whatever."

"Living on beef-tea and gruel makes anybody feel rather weak, I suppose. Mrs. Stirring says so. You will be able to try a little piece of chicken to-morrow."

"Mrs. Stirring's bread sauce!" The Colonel shuddered.

"Oh, she will do her best now you are not well. And when you are able to get out of doors, you will be quite hungry again."

"I have no appetite. None whatever," groaned the Colonel.

"Perhaps a little starving does no harm," hazarded Dorothea. "If it does not go on too long."

"My dear, you don't know what you are talking about. You don't understand in the least. If Mrs. Stirring knew how to cook—but I have such a sense of emptiness. I feel quite ill for want of food. It is a most distressing sensation."

"He means that he is getting hungry again," thought Dorothea. "That is a good thing."

But she knew that she must not venture to congratulate him.

"I dare say it will go off in a day or two, father," she suggested. "The doctor says you are really pulled down."

"Really pulled down!" The Colonel quite forgot to speak in a piping voice. "That man is a perfect ignoramus. He knows no more than an old woman. I have about as much strength as an infant."

A pause. Dorothea could not assent, and would not contradict.

"And what we are to do next I cannot imagine. My head will not stand money affairs. Everything will have to go."

If the Colonel had been a woman, Dorothea would have suspected sobs as near at hand. Still, she was glad to hear an allusion to the money difficulty. Anything rather than persistent silence.

"Father, don't you think it would be a help if you would tell me all about it?"

"You, my dear! You! Women know nothing about business."

"Perhaps not very much; but I would try to understand. I would consult somebody, Mr. Mordan, or—"

"No, no! Rubbish and nonsense," said the Colonel, speaking energetically. "Nothing can be done. I shall be bankrupt. There's no help for it. I'm done for."

This was not very cheerful, or very good for an invalid. Dorothea wondered whether she had better turn to some other subject. Then she heard the postman's rap, and stood up.

"Where are you going?"

"I'll be back directly, father."

"Mind you are not long," ordered the Colonel.

Dorothea smiled, and stepped away. She had not quite given up hope of a line from Craye, though expectation was growing dim; but when the post came she was still on the alert.

This afternoon, her hopes and expectations were rewarded. A registered letter was handed in, addressed to herself. Dorothea signed the receipt, and after a moment's hesitation went into the dining-room, where she lit a candle.

Yes, there was the Craye postmark! Dorothea's first impulse was to rush upstairs; but she resisted that impulse, and opened the envelope.

Within she found another envelope, addressed to her father, and also a half-sheet of paper written across.

   "MY DEAR MISS TRACY,—If you think your father well enough,
pray give him the enclosed. It may do him good by enabling him
to meet the difficulties you mention."

   "I am very glad you wrote. Will not you and your father come
to see us here?—Yours sincerely,"

Enable Colonel Tracy to meet his difficulties? What could it mean?

Dorothea flew upstairs, for once forgetting to move softly. She threw open the drawing-room door, with glowing cheeks.

"O father—"

"My dear, I thought you were never coming," said the Colonel fretfully. "Pray don't fluster me. I really am not equal—Do shut the door, there is such a draught from downstairs. I am quite chilly, and—what? Who is this from?"

"Your old friend, Colonel Erskine."

Dorothea clasped her hands with eager excitement and self-restraint. She longed to tear the envelope open; but Colonel Tracy turned it round dubiously.

"I suppose he thinks the Christmas card ought to have gone; I forgot it, of course. A man cannot remember things when he is ill."

"I sent it—a few days ago."

"You did!"

"Yes,—I found it by accident. Was I wrong? I had to go to your desk one day,—don't you remember?—and the card was there. I didn't like to bother you with questions, and Colonel Erskine's address I happened to know already, so I just sent it off, with a note explaining why it had not gone sooner."

"How did this come? It has no stamp."

"Enclosed in an envelope to me, to be given to you, if you should be well enough."

Colonel Tracy made way slowly into the envelope, pulled out what was within, and jumped as if he had received an electric shock.

"What!" he shouted, in a voice which penetrated to kitchen regions, and made Mrs. Stirring palpitate.

Dorothea was rather alarmed. "Yes, father?" she said inquiringly.

"What!" repeated the Colonel as loudly as before; and he held up before his daughter's astonished eyes a cheque for one thousand pounds.

"Oh!" she exclaimed.

The Colonel sat and stared—first at the cheque, then at the overjoyed Dorothea.

"Erskine!" he uttered at length.

"There is a letter! Won't you read it?" begged Dorothea. "Do see what he says."

Colonel Tracy obeyed the suggestion. His face had regained its usual colouring, and his eyes stared still in blank bewilderment. He read the letter solemnly through, once, twice, thrice, without a word, though not without some suspicious twitches about his nose and mouth.

Did he mean to read it a fourth time? Dorothea could not stand that.

"Do tell me! What does it mean? What does Colonel Erskine say?"

Colonel Tracy hesitated an instant, gazing at Dorothea over the top of the sheet. Then he put it into her hand. It ran as follows:

   "DEAR TRACY,—Your daughter tells me that you are ill, and speaks
of difficulties. Will you pardon me for venturing to send the
enclosed, and accept it for old friendship's sake? It may help
to put things straight; and I have enough and to spare besides.
I know—I feel sure—you will not distress me by a refusal."

   "The card has reached me late this year, and I shall not send
it to you again. From this time, I shall keep it as one of my
greatest treasures.—Believe me, always and ever, your old friend
and comrade,"

Dorothea's eyeglasses were wet before she reached the end. "O, what a man he must be!" she said.

"Well, yes, he always was a fine fellow. But I say—I don't like to be under this sort of obligation," said the Colonel, fingering the thousand pound note, frowning, and sitting bolt upright, quite forgetful of his extreme weakness.

"What do obligations matter? It only means that we shall love him, and be grateful. Father, you can't really hesitate. You couldn't, couldn't refuse! It would grieve him so terribly. And now you will be friends again, just as you were years and years ago. Think how delightful that will be! I do think it is quite lovely of Colonel Erskine!"

Dorothea dropped her face on her father's knee, and about equally surprised herself and him by an uncontrollable sob.


"I didn't mean—I'm not going to be stupid," said Dorothea, starting up, and trying to smile through her tears. "Only it is such a comfort to feel that you can pay that nine hundred pounds; and I can't tell you how I do admire dear old Colonel Erskine."

"Old! He's not old. Not two years my senior."

"Well, then,—that dear middle-aged Colonel Erskine," responded Dorothea, with a joyous but rather choky laugh. "Father, you'll write to him now—directly—won't you? And tell him how very very grateful you are."

"I—really, my dear,—I don't quite know that I am equal to the exertion," said the Colonel, suddenly recalling his invalid condition. He leant back, and laid a hand across his forehead in the most approved style of requesting sympathy. "I really think I must depute you—"

"O no, that would not do at all. I'll write, too, but you must send a line," urged Dorothea gently, but with decision. "It would never do. And, father, you will write warmly, won't you? I'm sure he deserves it. See, I'm going to get your writing-case, and bring the little table to your side. And I'll write my letter at the same time."

The Colonel gave in, though not without a protesting groan. Dorothea accomplished her share of the thanks eagerly and fast, scarcely hesitating a moment for a word; and when she had finished, she was surprised to see Colonel Tracey still nibbling his pen-holder, while a clean sheet lay before him.

"Why, father, not begun yet!"

"My dear, I really think—"

"It won't take you a minute when once you are started. When you have done you shall see what I have said," Dorothea added, as if offering a reward.

Thus pressed, the Colonel did at length put pen to paper, and actually achieved a very tolerable composition, not gushingly grateful, but on the whole responsive. A few doleful remarks about his own bodily condition wound up the effort neatly, and served as an excuse for shortness.

"Have you done? Now read mine, father."

Colonel Tracy obeyed, and towards the close, he exclaimed, "Hallo! What's this? Going to Craye!"

"I forgot to show you Colonel Erskine's note to me. Won't it be lovely? I shall like to see Craye."

"My dear, I couldn't possibly think of such a thing."

"But this doesn't bind you to anything. I only say what I think,—how very very delightful it will be. And after such a present from him—don't you think we shall feel inclined to do whatever he wants? Now, if you will give me your note, I'll have them both posted directly."

"Well," the Colonel said in resigned accents; and he resisted no more.

"Things certainly are better than they were a year ago," Dorothea thought; but she did not think how much her own patience and unselfishness had had to do with the change.




"THE twelfth of February," said Emmeline Claughton. She spoke in a slow considering tone, gazing at the Woodlands' drawing-room fireplace, and surrounded by the Woodlands quartette of ladies.

"Nearly a fortnight off," remarked Margot.


"My father was bent upon getting the Tracys down here on the earliest possible day; but nothing will induce Colonel Tracy to stir sooner."


"So February the twelfth has been definitely settled?"


"Have you anything against it?" asked Isabel abruptly, speaking out what the others only thought.

"Why should I?"

"Well—you looked—"

"Colonel Erskine is naturally anxious to see his old friend. I would not have a hand in putting off such a meeting for a single hour. If it had happened to be a week later—"

"But why? What difference could that make?"

"Oh, none really. Only Mervyn is coming home on the seventh for two or three weeks; and we have just heard that Edred means to run down on the twelfth for a couple of nights or so. Mother thought some of you would come to dinner on the thirteenth,—Colonel Erskine, and perhaps Margot and Dolly. You don't care for dinner parties, I know."

"I detest them. But why shouldn't they all go still, and the Tracys too?" asked blundering Isabel.

Emmeline met the suggestion by silence.

"My dear, that would not do," said Mrs. Erskine. "We can't inflict utter strangers upon Mrs. Claughton."

"But couldn't—" Isabel hesitated, and looked at Dolly with a meaning glance, which Dolly did not see, but felt. A swift flush rose to the girl's pale cheeks.

"My father would not think of leaving Colonel Tracy," said Margot, purposely misunderstanding the question. "It is unfortunate, but I am afraid the thing can't be."

"If the Tracys could be put off for two days," said Isabel.

Dolly spoke up suddenly. "O no; my father would be so disappointed. Very likely, that would mean they're not coming at all. It can't be helped."

"It is very unfortunate," said Emmeline.

"Things won't always fit in just as one wishes," said Dolly. Then she left her seat and went towards the door. "Margot, I quite forgot to see to those Christmas roses in your room. I'll do it now."

Margot simply said, "Thank you."

Isabel exclaimed, "Why, Dolly, there is no hurry. You needn't run away while Emmeline is here."

"I may not have time by-and-by," said Dolly, and she escaped without saying good-bye.

Twenty minutes later Margot went upstairs, and found Dolly, as she expected, in her bedroom. The supply of Christmas roses had been turned out upon a small table, and the vase had been filled with fresh water. Dolly stood with her back to the door, snipping at the ends of the stalks in most businesslike style; but the next moment Margot saw tears running fast down her cheeks.

"My dear Dolly!" she said gently.

"I haven't—quite done," Dolly murmured.

Margot stood for a few seconds watching; but the tears streamed on. Dolly's lips quivered unmanageably, and it was evident that she could not see what she was doing. Margot drew the scissors out of her hand, sat down, and took Dolly into her arms. There was a momentary of effort at resistance; and then Dolly gave in, hid her face, and broke into bitter sobbing.

"Poor little Dolly! Dear little Dolly! Never mind! A good cry will make you feel better."

"O Margot! It is so hard. I don't know how to bear it!"

So much and no more reached Margot's ears. She attempted no answer at first, but stroked the fair hair and kissed the hot brow over and over again, with comforting whispers. Presently, when the sobs lessened, she asked—

"What is it that seems so hard?"

"I don't know. Everything."

"Not only this disappointment about the evening at the Park?"

"Oh,—that and—everything."

"I'm so sorry. It is very unfortunate, as Emmeline says. After you were gone, I tried to feel my way to some other arrangement; but Emmeline did not help me. If Mrs. Claughton has set her mind on having my father, she would not care to have you and me without him,—two ladies at a dinner are not very welcome, you know. And I don't quite think we both ought to leave Miss Tracy under the circumstances. Colonel Tracy must be a touchy man, and he might take offence. And, Dolly, I don't think it would do for you to go alone, well as we know the Claughtons. Even if Emmeline had proposed it, and she didn't—"

"No," whispered Dolly.

"But we are sure to see Mervyn and Edred somehow."

Dolly sighed heavily.

"Perhaps Edred may stay longer than he intends."

"Yes," murmured Dolly; "when he knows that—that—she will be here."

"Dorothea Tracy? It may be only our fancy about him and her. Still—"

"Margot, I feel so wicked about her sometimes."

"Or rather, you are tempted to feel wickedly."

"Is that all? I think I do feel it—now and then. I'm trying not to give in. But when she comes—if I should hate her—if I should see that she—"

Margot was silent, considering what to say. Then she spoke out gently.

"If you should see Edred loving and seeking Dorothea Tracy, you know that one happiness which you wish for is not to be yours. You would know that the life you could choose is not to be your life. Dolly, some of us have to go through that pain, and, hard as it may seem, I think we are not the worse for it in the end; at least, we need not be. One has to learn, somehow, to fight and endure: and that may be as good a way as any other. I can't tell yet if that is to be your discipline; but if it is, you will not hate Dorothea Tracy. She has a right to be loved: and she would not be to blame. Whether he would be to blame is another question. I do not know if he has ever given any reason—"

Margot hesitated, but she had no answer to the half-spoken question.

"One thing I do know," she said; "whatever may be the ending of all this, the last few months have done our Dolly no harm."

"O Margot!"

"I don't think you can judge. Perhaps an outsider can tell better. I had a fear at one time that yours was to be only a kitten life, Dolly—nothing in it but amusement and self-pleasing. Lately, I do see a difference."

"I am afraid it is only, partly, because I haven't cared; because everything has seemed not worth doing."

"And that has made you give more time to things that are worth doing—partly because you haven't cared. But, dear, you have cared, and you do care. Do you think I have not seen the fight going on?"

"Margot, you are such a comfort!" said Dolly, sighing.

If Dolly Erskine looked forward to the twelfth of February with doubtful sensations, Dorothea Tracy's expectations were of unmixed delight.

For a while it had seemed very uncertain whether the visit to Craye was a thing to be or not to be. Colonel Erskine's invitation was pressed cordially, but Colonel Tracy held back. A trickling correspondence went on for three weeks, before the one veteran gave in to the other. Colonel Tracy at length yielded, partly to his old friend's desire, partly to his daughter's insistence, and consented to name the twelfth of February. Thereafter he was hold to his word.

The twelfth of February came—a mild grey day, more like autumn than winter. Dolly had hoped and longed-for a frost which might mean skating at the Park, but no frost rewarded her expectations. The roads were muddy; the air was saturated with moisture.

At four o'clock the train, fifteen minutes overdue, drew up at the small platform, where two elderly porters loitered about. Colonel Erskine stood talking to the station-master, with Dolly by his side. He would have no one but his Dolly to welcome the other Dorothea.

A red face came out of one carriage window, and a voice called—

"Hi! Is this Craye?"

"Yes, yes. All right!" Colonel Erskine moved swiftly forward, beckoning to a porter. "See to this gentleman's luggage," he said.

Colonel Tracy jumped out, and the hands of the long-separated comrades met in a hasty clasp—stirred and warm on the one side, shy and uncomfortable on the other. "Welcome—" Colonel Erskine tried to say, and it was as much as he could do to bring the word out. His voice was husky, and something like a tear shone in each eye, while Colonel Tracy's face was at its reddest, and he had not an idea at command.

Then Dolly followed suit, shaking hands with the Colonel, and privately thinking what an ugly man he was. Colonel Erskine helped Dorothea to descend, and as she sprang on the platform, she squeezed his hand, saying eagerly, "How good you are to us!"

"No, no—it is you who are good to come," Colonel Erskine answered, returning the warm pressure. "Here is my Dolly—your namesake. You have met before;" and he tried to laugh, though there was still a wet glitter in his eyes, as he brought the girls together, with a hand on the arm of each.

"At our Christening," Dorothea said at once. Dolly was very quiet, putting out her gloved hand with one shy glance; and a curious tenderness crept into Dorothea's eyes. "What a little darling! How I shall love her!" she was saying to herself; but Dolly could not guess the thought.

Colonel Tracy muttered something about "luggage," and careered away down the platform, only to find his trunks already landed. The other three followed, Colonel Erskine saying—"So your father is quite well again?"

"Oh, quite!" Dorothea's bright glance said plainly. "Thanks to you!"

"You are very like your mother," said Colonel Erskine, a touch of sadness in the tone.

"Am I? It is nice to be told that."

"Doesn't your father say the same?"

"I don't know. Yes—perhaps—something of the kind."

Colonel Tracy awaited their arrival, not yet at his ease. "What's to be done with these?" he asked gruffly as they approached.

"Do you object to a short walk? It is not far," said Colonel Erskine. "That's right. Then Miss Tracy and Dolly will go in the pony-carriage. The trunks are all right. A porter will bring them presently. This way."

Dolly did not approve of the arrangement. She shrank from being alone with Dorothea; yet it was manifestly a good plan. The two old friends might well wish for a few minutes together, after their long estrangement. Whether Colonel Tracy desired it, might indeed be a matter for doubt, though he offered no protest; but Colonel Erskine's face showed unmitigated pleasure, and Dolly submitted.

"Take the lower road, Fred," were her father's parting words to the boy. Dolly had meant to give a contrary order. The "lower road" was less steep, but much longer than the more direct route, and she did not care for a lengthened tête-à-tête. However, it had to be. Jack, the plump pony, trotted leisurely off along the village street, and the two Colonels turned up a side lane.

"Craye seems a very pretty place," said Dorothea.

"Yes—I suppose it is."

"And you have lived here a long while?"

"Yes; ever since I was quite little."

"It must be nice to have a settled home."

"Yes," Dolly answered dreamily.

"I wonder," Dorothea said, after a break, "I wonder whether you care half as much about seeing me as I do about seeing you."

Dolly made a quick movement. "O yes," she began, "I am very glad."

"But of course, it can't be the same. You have so many belonging to you,—so many friends; and I have nobody except my father."

Had she not Edred too? That thought darted through Dolly's mind with the force and pain of an actual stab. It seemed to take away her breath, and to turn her pale.

"People in London generally have more friends than people in the country," she said.

"Do they? Ah—so Mr. Claughton says—Mr. Mervyn Claughton, I mean," with a half smile. Dorothea hesitated for a second, noting Dolly's faint blush. Then was it Mervyn, not Edred, who might hope to win Dolly? "Poor man!" Dorothea said to herself, thinking of Edred, and there was a little sigh, not wholly on his account. She went on talking quietly, while so thinking: "But I am not in the swing of London society, for my father goes nowhere."

"Doesn't he?"

The indifferent tone hardly called for a response; and a pause followed.

"I wonder whether I may say one thing about—" began Dorothea, and again there came to Dolly the question, which was like a stab—was it something about Edred? But—"about your father," were the next words, and Dolly's strained attention lessened. "We owe him so much. You know, of course, how good he has been—how kind and noble. One can't explain feeling," Dorothea added with a little laugh; "but if I could—Do you know, I almost think there can't be another man like him in the world."

"I am sure he is very glad," said Dolly, feeling her own words and manner to be horribly cold. "And it is nice for them to be together again."

"Yes," Dorothea murmured. "It must be more to me than to you, of course." Then she abruptly changed the subject by asking, "Is the Park far from your house?"

Dolly grow rigid. "No," she said.

"You know, I have seen something of your friends, the Claughtons." Dorothea coloured faintly, and Dolly saw it; but she did not see how much of the blush was on her own account, in sympathy with her supposed feelings. "I was surprised to hear that Mr. Claughton—our curate—would be down here just now."

"Only for two nights."

"I believe he hopes to stay for a week. He called on us the day before yesterday, and said so."

Dolly twisted herself round to lean over the back, her face turned away. "That shawl—it seems to be slipping," came in rather smothered accents. "O never mind—all right. Yes, and the eldest brother is here too—Mervyn, I mean." Dolly straightened herself, and Dorothea could not but notice her brilliant blush, could not but connect it with the last uttered name.

"Then it is Mr. Mervyn Claughton— not the other," she said to herself decisively. "Well, I have not come here to step in the way of Dolly's happiness, even supposing I had the power. If any choice is left to me, I must keep clear of Mr. Mervyn Claughton."

"You know him too, don't you?" said Dolly, looking ahead, with burning cheeks.

"The eldest Mr. Claughton. Yes; and he seems very pleasant," said Dorothea. "I know them both—a little."

"He has a great deal the most fun in him of the two."

Dorothea smiled. "Yes: a great deal." She could hardly think of the word "fun" in connection with Edred Claughton.

"And he skates beautifully. I only wish we had a frost while he is here."

"Does Mr. Edred Claughton skate too?"

"Not much. He is clumsy compared with his brother."

Dorothea made no immediate answer. The pony was walking slowly uphill, and Dolly seemed to sink into a dream. She woke from it after a while, to find Dorothea attentively studying her.

"I forgot! How stupid of me not to talk!"


"Why, you have only just come."

"But I have not come to be a trouble. I should not like you to feel any 'ought' about talking to me."

"I didn't mean it exactly in that way."

Dolly pulled herself upright, and endeavoured to put on an air of polite interest. "It is such a dull day," she said. "You should see Craye in sunshine."

Dorothea was still studying Dolly: and her next words were unexpected—

"I don't think you ought to have come to the station to meet me. You are tired—or something—are you not?"

"Tiredness doesn't matter," said Dolly, with a short laugh.

"What makes you so?"

"Nothing particular,—at least, nothing that can be helped. Please don't say a word about it at home."

Dolly glanced up as she spoke, and the pitying tenderness of Dorothea's look almost upset her self-command. Dorothea could see the muscles in her throat working painfully.

"No, of course I will not. But I know so well that feeling of wanting to cry about nothing when one is overdone."

"Thank you," murmured Dolly, glad of any respectable excuse to let two or three tears drop. "Only, it is awfully stupid," she added, trying to smile. "One has no business to be so ridiculous. You will be sure not to tell."

The short and steep cut from Craye to Woodlands was supposed to take not more than fifteen minutes up, and ten minutes down of quick walking. The two Colonels, however, managed to spend an hour on the road. Tea was cold before they appeared. Colonel Tracy had by that time parted with the last remnants of embarrassment. Dorothea had never in her life seen him so much at his ease, or so full of talk.

The old comrades were inseparable all that evening. They fought old battles over again, lived old days over again, told old regimental stories over again, discussed the histories of brother veterans over again,—only about the long quarrel, now happily ended, a discreet silence was kept. If anything had had to be said on that subject, it was doubtless said in the tête-à-tête walk.

Dorothea was greatly taken with Mrs. Erskine; also she liked Isabel, and found Margot charming. But her chief admiration was for Colonel Erskine, and her chief interest centred itself in Dolly.

Without seeming to do so, she watched Dolly closely, noted every change of colour, observed every sign of depression. A quick instinct had told her at once that some kind of trouble lay below Dolly's physical listlessness; but, from lack of experience, she was too easily taken in as to Dolly's feelings. That Edred loved Dolly, and that Dolly cared for Mervyn, she felt now little doubt. But—did Mervyn care for Dolly? Did the clue to Dolly's trouble lie in that direction?

Dolly had her wish, after all. The world awoke next morning to a frost-decked landscape.

She did not skip with delight, as she would have done a year earlier, but only stood soberly looking out.

"Will it be hard enough for skating? And will the Claughtons ask us?" she murmured.

"Splendid frost, Dolly," greeted her downstairs.

"Just the weather for you."

"For skating, father?"

"Ah, ha,—that's what she always thinks of," laughed Colonel Erskine, who was in high spirits. "Dolly is a first-rate skater. But you don't look quite the thing this morning, child. What is wrong?"—as he kissed her.

"Oh, nothing. I'm only cold," said Dolly, trying to believe what she said. It would never do to give in and be lazy,—if an invitation should come from the Claughtons.

A good part of the morning passed without any sign, and Dolly's languor could not but be noticed. Nothing would induce her to leave the house, and she seemed unable to settle to any occupation.

"I don't suppose the pond is safe yet," Isabel said repeatedly. "Emmeline would be sure to send us word. She always does."

Dorothea had already been for a brisk turn with her father and Colonel Erskine. She now sat contentedly near a window, work in hand, ready for talk or silence as others might wish. There were no signs about Dorothea of a mind ill at ease: yet she had fought a fight in the past night, and had come off conqueror. Whatever pain might be involved to herself in the resolution, she was utterly determined not to stand in the way of Dolly's happiness. If Dolly cared for Mervyn Claughton, the less Dorothea had to do with him, the better. She was not without a certain consciousness of power over him; and a young man hovering between two girls is often easily swayed by a touch either way. Dorothea would not, if she might, give that touch.

The resolution was not taken without a sigh, perhaps not without a tear; for Dorothea liked Mervyn. She was conscious that she could have liked him very much indeed. But if Dolly's happiness were at stake,—"No, no, no!" Dorothea cried in her heart twenty times that morning. "After what we owe to Dolly's father—oh, no, never! I will never be the one to come between."

Nobody looking at Dorothea's placid face would have dreamt of any such thoughts below. She did not hang about listlessly, like Dolly, or change colour at the sound of every bell.

Suddenly a boy passed the window, and the hitherto inert Dolly darted from the room. She came back brilliant.

"It's all right,—all right, Issy! Ice as hard as possible. We are to go directly after lunch, as many as like. Emmeline particularly asks Colonel Tracy and Dorothea. Do you skate?"—to Dorothea.

"Yes; only I have no skates here."

"Oh, that doesn't matter. We'll fit you with a pair. Past twelve,—nearly an hour to lunch. Where is father? I must tell him."

Dolly flitted off, and Isabel stood gazing after her.

"What a child it is still. Who would guess her to be not far from twenty?"

"She doesn't seem so old as I am," said Dorothea.

"No, indeed. I am afraid Margot and I can't go," continued Isabel. "Margot can't stand about, and I have so many things to see to. Will you think it very neglectful if we don't? My father and Dolly will be there."

Dorothea managed to set Isabel's mind at rest. She was a little excited herself at the prospect of the Park gathering, and wondered silently, would the elder Mr. Claughton be as pleasant to her as when they had last met? Would both the brothers pursue Dolly with anxious attentions? Would Dolly smile upon Mervyn, and turn a cold shoulder to Edred?




LUNCH over, the two Dorotheas hastened away to dress. Dolly would not permit the loss of a moment. Expeditious as Dorothea always was, she found Dolly in the hall, ready dressed, charming in her dark furs and golden hair. Both pallor and limpness were gone, but Dorothea did not quite like the sharp contrasts of pink and white in the small face.

"Are you sure you ought to go to-day?" she asked in a low tone, when they were off, the two Colonels bringing up the rear, arm-in-arm.

"Ought to go. Oh, why?" and the pink became crimson.

"I don't fancy you are quite well."

"Is that all? I fancied you meant—at least, I didn't know what you meant. I'm only awfully tired," said Dolly, with a forced laugh. "If it wasn't for the skating, I should like to lie on the sofa and cry. But that would be so stupid."

"Only, if you are not fit to go—"

"I am fit, and I mean to go." Dolly spoke with a touch of pettishness. "It would be absurd to give in. Just laziness."

The frozen pond lay near the centre of a large meadow, behind the Park garden. A good many people were already assembled there when the Woodlands party arrived. Dolly passed among them, nodding, smiling, shaking hands, but scarcely pausing for an instant until the edge of the pond was reached.

"How do you do, Dolly?" Mervyn said, coming up. "Why!"—and his tone showed great surprise—"Miss Tracy!"

"Didn't you know Miss Tracy was with us?" asked Dolly.

"I really did not. Nobody has had the grace to tell me."

Dorothea could not but be aware of the pleasure in Mervyn's face, and the warmth of his hand-clasp. Her heart beat rather fast: yet the next moment, he was looking with evident admiration at Dolly.

"And I must not hinder that! I must do nothing to hinder that!" she told herself.

"So you are actually staying at Woodlands?" said Mervyn.

"Yes; we came yesterday. Colonel Erskine proved to be my father's old friend."

"Ah, I remember,—you were questioning me in the Park. I must renew acquaintance with Colonel Tracy presently. There's Emmeline calling me to a sense of my duties. I hope yonder portly dame doesn't mean to adventure herself on the ice. She'll drown the whole bevy of us. Arctic frost wouldn't sustain her weight. Have you skates, Miss Tracy? I'll be back in a minute. Here, Edred, can you see to these ladies?"

Edred's response to the appeal was not too cordial. He shook hands with Dolly, but hardly met her eyes; and then he bent his attention to the fastening of Dorothea's skates. When they both looked up, Dolly was gone.

"Where can she be?" Dorothea asked. "Yes, I see! Your brother has her on the ice."

A shadow crossed Edred's face, marked enough to be unmistakable. "Yes," he said briefly. "Now, will you let me help you?"

Dorothea was not a very experienced skater, and some little assistance was welcome. Edred attached himself to her side for a considerable time.

"Poor man! it is hard upon him!" thought Dorothea, "when he is longing to be with Dolly. But—if she has what she wants, I must not interfere."

Neither Dorothea, nor Edred wore capable of difficult evolutions. They went solemnly round and round the pond, doing their best to avoid collisions. Dorothea tried in vain to get up any manner of conversation on everyday topics. She took refuge at last in Edred's London work, mentioned the Parish, and started him in a lengthy dissertation upon the duties of churchwardens. Whether she or he thought much about what he said may be doubted; but the gravity of the two faces gave them every appearance of intent interest.

Dolly flashed past now and then, holding Mervyn's hand. The two were executing intricate curves, with equal ease and grace. Dorothea felt certain that at all events Dolly was enjoying herself.

"Pretty creature!" she murmured, half-aloud.

"I beg your pardon?" said Edred, interrupted in his disquisition.

"I was only thinking how sweet Dolly looks to-day."

"She is—" and a cold pause. "She can be—attractive."

"I should think she could! Attractive! I call her lovely!"

Thou Dorothea remembered that perhaps Dolly did not render herself attractive to Edred.

"I have seen her look lovely—as you say."

Dorothea gave him an eager glance, trying to read further. Did he really feel no more than he showed? At the same moment Mervyn and Dolly swept past again, nearer and more slowly than before. Dolly lifted her blue eyes, and gazed full at Dorothea, with a heart-sick reproachful gaze. Dorothea was startled, even confounded, by it. The look was such as she might have received from one whom she had deeply injured. But how could she have injured Dolly? Was she not studiously keeping aloof from Mervyn, for Dolly's sake, forbearing to give him a needless smile?

Edred seemed not to have noticed the little interlude. He went on without a break: "If one wanted mere prettiness, and nothing more—"

"Oh!" cried Dorothea indignantly. "You don't mean Dolly! You are not speaking of Dolly!"

Edred made no answer. Dorothea was hurrying forward, under the strength of her own feelings.

"You have known her so many years, and I only two days,—but to think of accusing Dolly of mere prettiness! You can't know Dolly really. You can't have seen her in her home, with her father and mother and her sisters. And I fancied that you—"

Dorothea paused, and Edred's usually impassive face was aglow. "Thanks," he said abruptly. "Yes, I—I think I do know her. Forget what I said just now," and his voice showed agitation. "Forget everything, except that she—that no one in the world can ever be to me what Dolly is."

"I thought so," murmured Dorothea. "But why—?"

"Why do I not seek her? What is the use? Cannot you see for yourself. Have I a grain of hope to work upon?"

Dorothea could not say that he had. She could only say,—"If I were a man, I would not give in so easily."

"If you were a man, I suppose you would do as a man does," he observed drily. "I don't know what has made me say so much to you, Miss Tracy. Pray consider it to be strictly in confidence—and pray forget the whole."

"I shall not forget; and I shall not repeat it," said Dorothea. "But I still think that if I were you, I would try to win her."

Both Dorothea and Edred were too deeply interested in their subject to pay much attention to what went on around. Edred's eyes were bent downward, and Dorothea's were occupied in studying him. They were skating round a tiny islet which lay at one end of the pond, carelessly keeping to the left of the narrow ice-belt, and calmly oblivious of the fact that other people might choose to round the islet from the opposite direction.

"Hallo!" A warning shout from Mervyn recalled their wandering minds to the present. But the shout came too late. Mervyn and Dolly, skimming lightly one way, met Edred and Dorothea in full career. The four went down together, and Dolly was underneath.

The two young men were up instantly; and almost before Dorothea knew what had happened, she found herself again on her feet, helped up by Mervyn's strong hands. Dolly alone lay white and still on the hard ice.

"You are not hurt? You are sure you are not hurt?" Mervyn was saying anxiously to Dorothea, while Edred was endeavouring to lift Dolly. "You are quite sure?"

A keen throb of joy passed through Dorothea. She could not but see that Mervyn's first thought was of her; his chief solicitude was for her. Then she thrust the joy fiercely aside.

"O no, no; not in the least. But Dolly,—poor Dolly! Don't think of me! Only think of Dolly," she implored.




NEARLY ten days had gone by, and nothing would induce Colonel Tracy to prolong his stay at the Woodlands. He enjoyed being there immensely, he avowed; and the old reconciled comrades were well-nigh inseparable. Nevertheless, the Colonel confessed to Dorothea a private craving for his town-life, his quiet room, his solitary candle and musty books. He "wasn't made to live in a crowd," he said. Dorothea could not echo his sentiments, but she acquiesced.

Edred had prolonged his stay at the Park, and Mervyn was there still, instead of taking flight with his usual speed. Both brothers now, however, talked of leaving: Edred at the same time as the Tracys—Mervyn a day or two later.

For more than a week, ever since the skating, Dolly had been upstairs, invisible. Her poor little bruised face was at first in no state to be seen: and also, she had been too unwell to leave her room. The shock of her fall had perhaps only given a finishing stroke to long previous strain. From one cause or another, she was thoroughly weak and low, disposed to tears on the slightest pretext, and unable to rally.

Dorothea had had no easy part to play. She found herself very much in request with both brothers: with Mervyn plainly for her own sake; with Edred as plainly for Dolly's sake. Edred liked to get Dorothea alone, and to hear her talk about Dolly; only nobody except Dorothea was aware of this explanation. She was very willing to talk to him of Dolly, and she was very anxious to do her duty to Dolly in keeping Mervyn at arm's length. But the latter task was by no means easy; partly because she was doing violence to her own inclinations—partly because Mervyn was of a nature not to be easily checked.

Matters had developed fast in these few days. When Dorothea first came to Craye, she liked Mervyn, and she knew that she could like him very much more. The potential had now become the positive. Dorothea not only liked him very much more, but she felt that for her, he stood alone as the man who was unlike all other men. This means something far beyond mere liking; yet for Dolly's sake Dorothea strove hard to hide what she felt, to treat him as a mere acquaintance.

Perhaps she was less successful in veiling her true feelings than she imagined. Perhaps Mervyn had a keener insight into woman's nature than Edred. The more Dorothea endeavoured to hold aloof, the more persistently he came after her. Both young men were constantly in and out of the house all through that week, and both appeared to come mainly for the purpose of talking to Dorothea. There was no appearance of jealousy between them; perhaps because the sunny-tempered Mervyn was not given to jealousy, perhaps because Edred felt too secure. So, at least, people conjectured. It might easily be thought by a looker-on that she gave encouragement to Edred. She was more at her ease with him than with Mervyn.

And poor little Dolly all this while was hors de combat, unable to fight her own battle. It did seem hard to the elder sisters; both of whom had now a pretty clear understanding of the state of Dolly's mind, and neither of whom supposed Dorothea to be fighting Dolly's battle for her—only through ignorance fighting it wrongly. Isabel and Margot had seen with pleasure Mervyn's evident fancy for Dorothea; and they would have been equally pleased to see the "fancy" returned. Attentions from Edred were another matter, and that his attentions should be apparently well received, while those of Mervyn were more or less rebuffed, exercised the sisters greatly.

"I think it is too bad—quite too bad!—and I wish they had never come to Woodlands at all," Isabel declared hotly.

Margot could have echoed the wish. "But that is hardly fair," she said. "Edred might never have cared for Dolly in any case,—and I am sure Dorothea does not know how things are."

"Then she ought to know! People ought to use their eyes," said unreasonable Isabel.

"Some people haven't the gift," remarked Margot, thinking how slow Isabel herself had been.

"Why shouldn't one give her a hint, Margot? I'll do it."

Margot shook her head. She had a great dread of interfering in such matters. Simple blundering Isabel, who had done damage before by her outspokenness, pondered the matter for a whole half-hour, and came to the conclusion that this was a case for open speech. People like Isabel who meddle in everything, do harm nine times out of ten; but the tenth time they occasionally manage to set wrong right, thereby gaining encouragement to proceed in the same course. The nine times are forgotten—the one is remembered.

Twice a day Dorothea was allowed to see Dolly for a chat. She would gladly have stayed longer than the stipulated fifteen or twenty minutes; but no encouragement to do so was given. Dorothea was keenly aware that, Dolly did not care to have her. A barrier seemed to divide them; and not all Dorothea's efforts could do away with it. "And yet we ought to be friends," she said often to herself.

Mervyn and Edred had each promised separately to look in late that last afternoon—Mervyn to say good-bye to the Tracys, Edred to say good-bye to the Erskines. "About tea-time," both had said; and there was some idea of Dolly coming down for the first time; but though perhaps well enough, she seemed to shrink from the exertion.

The matter was still undecided at four o'clock. "Will she come!" Dorothea asked eagerly, meeting Isabel on the stairs. Isabel gazed absently, with wrinkled brow, and asked "Who?"

"I mean Dolly. Margot said she might be able. Wouldn't it do her good?—to be downstairs, I mean."

Isabel was too much absorbed with one idea to have room in her mind for any other train of thought. "Yes,—no,—I am not sure. Dolly isn't sure yet, I believe," she said vaguely, moving towards the nearest open door on the next landing, with the air of one expecting to be followed. "I have been thinking that I—I—there is something I should rather like to ask you."

Dorothea walked after her into the bedroom, and waited.

Isabel carefully closed the door, and then fidgeted to the fireplace.

"Dolly seems so depressed just now, doesn't she! Has she not seemed so to you?"

"Yes; I wish she did not. But perhaps in a few days she will be better."

"She is getting over the fall. It is not only that now: at least, I believe not. I am speaking privately—I mean I shouldn't like what I say repeated to anybody—but—but—" blundered Isabel, "you see, we seem to know you pretty well now. And you have seen a great deal of the Claughtons."

"Yes, a good deal." Dorothea could not restrain a slight blush.

"And I thought I would just ask—I thought I could just put a little question. I should like so much to know whether it has struck you—whether you have an impression that either of them cares at all for Dolly,—cares very particularly, I mean."

Dorothea was silent. If she had had merely an "impression," she could have told it at once; but how could she betray Edred's confidence to Isabel?

"You see I am asking for Dolly's sake. One can't help noticing,—and I dare say you have noticed that she does seem to—well, to have a particular liking for one of them—more than just friendship."

Dorothea said "Yes" again.

"I was sure you couldn't help seeing. At one time we really thought something was coming of it,—but lately I have felt doubtful. He doesn't seem to take the same pains,—and I do believe that is why poor little Dolly is so down-hearted. Of course, one can't do anything: and, as Margot says, things must be left to take their own course. Still, I thought I might just ask you, as a friend, whether you have noticed—"

Dorothea liked to be treated as a friend, and she had noticed a great deal; but she was puzzled what response to make.

"I can't imagine for my part what has made him so stiff and cold," said Isabel, knitting her brows. "Of course, he never is very lively—still, he used not to be like this. Margot says—but I don't believe—"

Dorothea broke into the confused sentences.

"Mr. Mervyn Claughton stiff and cold!"

"Mervyn! I'm speaking of Edred, of course. You haven't supposed that I meant Mervyn all the while!"

Dorothea stood mute; her eyes unwontedly bright.

"You didn't think Dolly cared for Mervyn!" exclaimed Isabel. "You couldn't—possibly!"

"I suppose it was stupid of me, but I really did!"

Isabel stood looking with puzzled eyes. "I don't know what I have said to make you so happy," she said.

"Don't ask me anything, please," begged Dorothea in answer. "Don't say any more. Only let me see Dolly for a few minutes,—and if I can persuade her to go into the study for an hour, don't put any difficulties in the way. I have my reasons: and I must not explain."

"Dolly to go into the study!"

"Yes. It will be all right, only please just let it be so. I want to see Dolly alone. I will not repeat a word that you have said."

Two minutes later, Dorothea, vividly conscious that Isabel had cut a Gordian knot, was kneeling beside Dolly's couch.

"Dolly, I have something to propose," she said softly. "Dolly, listen to me. Margot thought you were too tired to come down among us all to-day. But I want you not to mind being tired. I want you to manage just to get to the study sofa for an hour."

"What for?" asked Dolly languidly.

"Because—" and she lowered her voice,—"Mr. Edred Claughton will be so disappointed if he cannot see you once more before he goes."

If Dorothea had any doubts remaining, the glow which leapt to Dolly's white face was enough to do away with them.

"He and I feel so guilty about this week," Dorothea went on. "It was all our fault,—your being laid up, I mean. If we had not both been so stupidly full of what we were talking about, we should have had our wits about us, and there need have been no collision."

"It can't be helped."

"I almost think you would forgive us both, if you knew what it was that interested us so much. Guess! What do you think it could be?"

"I don't know."

"It was—Dolly, of course. What else could be so engrossing?"

Dolly's cheeks became brighter still.

"I don't think I ought to say much more. I would not say so much to any one except you. But—I do know that he is longing to see you before he goes; and I thought—if you could get down to the study, that might be the best way. And, Dolly—" very softly—"darling, don't be too cold. He has been so hopeless,—and I don't think he has much pluck."

Dolly said not a word in answer. She only put both arms round Dorothea, and held her fast, as if thus cementing the friendship which was to have been, but which hardly yet had begun to be between them.

Five o'clock drew near, and Dolly was in the study. Dorothea wondered how affairs would fit in. Would Edred be too shy to use his opportunity? And would Mervyn appear at all? Her thoughts were in a whirl, but by no means on her own account only. The last few days had been an education in unselfishness.

Both Colonels were absent on a long ramble, and Mrs. Erskine had not appeared from her afternoon repose, when the two Claughtons marched in together. Isabel fled at the sound of the front door opening; Margot alone remaining with Dorothea. The latter could not guess whether this were a condition of things purposely arranged. She only knew that it was unusual. Her own face, commonly pale, had perhaps never been brighter or prettier than now when for the first time she could venture to meet Mervyn with an unchecked smile of welcome. She did not seem excited, but there was a glow in her cheeks, and the placid eyes shone softly through their glasses.

"Dolly is in the study," Margot remarked, as Edred glanced round.

Margot had evidently no intention of saying more. She seated herself, and began to talk to Mervyn, while Edred showed not the least disposition to act on his own behalf. In another moment, he too would have subsided into a chair, but Dorothea stood up, and came close to him.

"Dolly is in the study," she repeated in an undertone, not meant for the other two. "You told me yesterday that you wanted to see her."

"Well, yes," assented Edred.

"She is there on the sofa; why not go to her—now?"

"At once!" Edred seemed reluctant. "What is the use?" he asked despondingly.

"The use! Make it of use. O go, do go!"

The voice, though low, was energetic enough to reach Margot and Mervyn. Edred actually obeyed without another word; and as the door closed behind him, Dorothea turned to meet two smiling faces.

"Never was better advice given," uttered Mervyn. "I have a mind to follow it myself. Margot—be kind! All the world will buzz about our ears directly. Don't you think you ought, as a duty, to keep watch outside the study-door? Just for five minutes!"

"That would be a double kindness, I suppose! Well—just for five minutes!" and Margot too left the room.

Dorothea, occupied still with Dolly, did not see through this move, till she found herself alone with Mervyn, felt her hands imprisoned in his, and heard him say—

"We have only five minutes! Not a moment to lose! Dorothea—if anybody in the world understands me, it is yourself. Do you know me well enough—to—"

Then she knew what was coming, and she did not shrink from it. Thanks to Isabel's cutting of the tangled knot, she had no hesitation as to what answer she might or would give.

Within the specified five minutes, Dorothea had become the affianced wife of Mervyn; and within half-an-hour, Dolly was the affianced wife of the less expeditious Edred.

"Nothing could have been better managed. It really is delightful all round," declared Isabel to Margot, dallying in her room late that night. "I always knew the Claughtons would be charmed. Emmeline is hard to please, but she really does take to Dorothea. And as for Colonel Tracy, I believe he wants nothing more than to get her off his hands."

"Now, Issy!"

"You know what I mean. He is an odd man, and he can't help it, I suppose. But I am sure Dolly and Dorothea look the picture of happiness. I believe Dorothea will be the making of Mervyn. He is a nice fellow, though Emmeline underrates him to such an extent. I wonder what Edred's friend Mrs. Effingham will say?"

"She has not much to do with the matter. I often wonder she has not taken more trouble about Dorothea."

"Oh, well—people in London have no time, and she is always in a bustle. But isn't this a curious finale to the long quarrel,—that the two babies, Christened together, and then never meeting till they are nearly twenty, should marry brothers, and become almost sisters! Now, Margot, I know I often seem to you a great deal too outspoken, and perhaps I am. But just this once, don't you think I was right?"

"Just this once, Issy, I haven't a word to say," Margot answered.