A Sister's Bye-Hours (1)

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PREJUDICE; OR, THE BLACK
POLYANTHUS.


PART I.


WHEN I was between twelve and thirteen years of age (said my friend Sophia West), I was sent to a school in the country, which was under the care of two ladies, both widows, one the widow of a French Protestant pastor, the other of an English physician.  Of the latter we saw but little: she was at the time of my arrival a great invalid.

    Including two little girls, the children of the French lady, there were twelve pupils, four of whom were nearly grown up, and seldom condescended to play with us, or permitted us to address them by their Christian names.  These young ladies were Miss L'Estrange, Miss Ashley, Miss Morton, and Miss Ward.

    Of the second four I was the youngest.  We slept in four little white beds, in the same large chamber; we learned the same lessons, had the same masters, and were great friends.

    The third four were very much petted and played with by the elder girls; but we who held the middle place did not enter much into their sports, as considering them too childish; therefore, though we patronized them, and worked for their dolls, we frequently reminded them of our superior age and importance, and always spoke of them as "the children."  Our names were Juliet Ashley, Belle L'Estrange, Margaret Smythe, and Sophia West.

    We were very happy at that school, which was a large old brick house, more brown than red: it stood in a valley, and was surrounded by a very large garden, which was bounded on one side by a small shallow river.  The lawn sloped down to the river, and several large weeping willows hung over it, and gave the house their name.  It was called "The Willows."  Beyond the garden was a hop plantation, and again, beyond that, a cherry orchard.  We had free access to both, and were permitted to spend much of our half-holidays out of doors.  There was an empty coach-house in the yard.  It was given up to our use; and there we had a swing, some hutches for our rabbits and guinea-pigs, and there also we kept numbers of little birds, which we used to buy of a man in the neighbourhood, at the rate of 3d. for a redcap, 6d. for a linnet, 9d. for a robin, 1s. for a goldfinch that could sing, and half a crown for a canary.

    If one little girl bought a redcap every one else did the same, and so with the rabbits, the guinea-pigs, the white mice, and the jackdaws.  More than fifty common little cages garnished the whitewashed walls of the coach-house; and the gardener's children drove a flourishing trade, by supplying us with different kinds of berries, buds of trees, cow-parsley, bran, thistle-seed, and other delicacies for our pets.

    Though we had so many birds, Madame had passed a sumptuary law limiting them to the species that I have named, for the sufficient reason that if she should give leave to one little girl to purchase a bird of any other sort, each of the others would wish for one also.

    Belle L'Estrange and I were especial friends.  Our little white beds stood almost close together, and we had our drawers and boxes in common.  Therefore, one day in April, when the weather was more than commonly fine, and it was a half-holiday, we were disagreeably surprised, when we came in from our walk, to find our beds moved and separated, and the elderly woman who attended us, Mrs. Massey by name, busily engaged in putting up a small blue bed, and evidently making preparations for a fresh pupil.  Massey told us that she had known for some days that a new pupil was expected, and that she was to sleep in our room; "And I thought what a pleasant thing it was for you, young ladies," she proceeded—"makes it so cheerful for you."

    "Massey, you didn't think so," said Juliet; "you knew we shouldn't like it."

    Massey smiled, and taking up the hammer, began to use it to so much purpose that for the present our murmurs were drowned.

    "I'm sure, miss, I don't know any reason why you should not like it," she observed, when she laid the hammer down.

    "Why did Madame keep it a secret from us, then?" replied Juliet.  "She did not do so when Sophia was coming.  And besides, Massey, just see what a mess you have made; every one of our boxes moved, and all the beds pushed out of their places."

    "It was Madame's orders, Miss Ashley," said Massey.  And she sat at the foot of the little blue bed, making up rosettes to trim it with, and taking all our grumbling and discontent with the most placid composure.

    We asked an infinity of questions, but could not obtain much information.  "The young lady was in mourning," she said.  "She had already arrived.  She had dark hair, and seemed to have been crying."  She then volunteered the information that a parrot in a cage had been handed through the carriage window, and that it was now standing in the hall.

    A parrot!  We wondered whether Madame would permit her to keep it.  We did not know that we should consider it particularly fair if she did, for we were not allowed to have parrots.

    When Massey was not pleased at our remarks, she shook the curtains or rustled her work.  She now evidently wished us to talk of something else, and asked us whether we bought anything during our walk.

    "Only some rape seed," said Belle, "and a black polyanthus.  O, dear, how disagreeable this is!  Are you sure Madame said my bed was to go into this corner?"

    "Yes, Miss Belle.  Well, to be sure, what a deal of money you young ladies spend on your pets.  Now, if I were you, miss, I should consider what a great room this is — plenty of space for all to be comfortable; and I should make up my mind to be pleased, and make the young lady welcome, instead of looking so melancholy."

    "So Madame fetched the new girl from the station, in the carriage," observed Belle, in a reflective tone.  "I thought I heard a rumbling in the court-yard.  That was the carriage, no doubt."

    The slightest possible smile stole over Massey's features.  "Did you, indeed, miss?" she replied, taking up the valance, and pushing the long lath through the slide.  "Well, do you know, young ladies, last night I heard a queer kind of rumbling myself?"

    "Indeed!" we all exclaimed.

    "Yes, indeed, ladies.  I was in the linen room, under this, you know, and it had struck ten.  First, I heard a pattering exactly like feet running about, and I said to myself, 'That can never be the dear young ladies, for they were snug in bed an hour ago.'  Well, I listened, and presently I heard a rumbling sort of noise, just as if somebody was jumping from one of your beds to the other, Miss West and Miss Belle L'Estrange.  So I said to myself, 'I shall think it my duty, if ever I hear that noise again'—these are the very words I said, I can assure you — 'I shall think it my duty to tell Madame.'"

    A short silence followed this announcement; but we soon began to question Massey again.  She parried most of our questions; and excepting that she said the young lady was brought "by a roughish-spoken gentleman, in a light great-coat," we were not much the wiser for them.  We declared there was something mysterious about the whole affair.  Massey repeated that she was sure we should like the young lady when we knew her; and having now finished and sewed on the last of her blue rosettes, she began to put on our afternoon frocks.

    "A roughish-spoken gentleman, in a light greatcoat," said Juliet.  "I don't believe he was a gentleman, at all; only farmers wear light great-coats."

    "I'll tell you what, Miss Ashley," said Massey, when she untied Juliet's frock, and it fell to the floor with a thump, "this won't do at all; here's your frock pocket as full of canary seed as it can hold.  A pretty thing for a young lady to do, turning her pocket into a seed bin!  Some day you'll get an imposition set you for this."

    "Well," said Juliet, "then the man should not sell it in such thin paper: the bag broke, and if I had not put it in my pocket it would all have been spilt on the road."

    "Ay, here's Miss West's pocket full of cow-parsley," continued Massey, proceeding to examine my frock with a rueful face.  "Deary me, what a life I do lead with you, young ladies!  Last Monday was a week I really thought I must speak to Madame, for when I was turning out Miss Belle's pocket for the wash, up spurted a lot of bran into my face, and all over my cap and the clean carpet."

    "Well, Massey," replied Belle, "if you would be so kind as to hang up a light great-coat for us, on these pegs, we could all keep our seeds in it.  You know there would be six pockets at least; and what a convenience this would be, especially if we could have them without the rough-spoken gentleman."

    "Dear me," exclaimed Massey, in a tone of vexation, "you young ladies are as sharp as needles; to think that I should have said such a thing, when Madame was so particular that you should not know but what Miss Palmer came unexpected like."

    "Oh, her name's Palmer — is it?" said Belle, "and she was expected to come unexpectedly?"

    "Tut, tut.  There it is again.  Such provoking children never did I see.  I never gave it a thought, I am sure; but you are as sharp as needles.  Keep your head still, Miss Belle, or I shall hurt it with the brush.  There's Madame's foot on the stairs, and your bonnets not hung up yet, nor your walking-shoes put away.  Let her see the room neat, if you please, young ladies."

    We had scarcely put these things away when Madame entered, followed by a girl about our own age.  She was dressed in mourning, and had been evidently crying.  She seemed painfully shy and awkward; and when Madame introduced us to her, one by one, she blushed till her neck and arms were tinged with crimson.  Madame was sure we should be delighted to have another companion; thereupon we shook hands with Miss Palmer.  Then Madame was sure Miss Palmer would be very happy, and make herself extremely agreeable; upon which Miss Palmer pinched her fingers, and looked on the floor.  Then Madame said she would retire, and leave us to amuse our new friend, till tea-time.  Our new friend was to sit down and make herself at home.

    Accordingly our new friend sat down at the foot of her blue bed, bent her face, dropped her hand at her side, blushed continuously, and seemed exquisitely uncomfortable.

    The kind-hearted Massey, pitying her shyness, asked if she would like her boxes to be brought up stairs, doubtless thinking they might afford her something to do.

    When she was gone down to fetch them, an awkward silence ensued.  At last Belle L'Estrange said, "We were told that you brought a parrot to school, Miss Palmer."

    "Yes," she replied, without lifting up her eyes.  I inquired what she gave him to eat.

    With the same air of constraint, she murmured, "Sopped bread."

    "Sopped bread," I repeated, glad of something to remark upon.  "I did not know that a parrot could live on that alone."

    As if it cost her a great effort, she then said, "Sometimes he has Indian corn."

    Presently, to our great relief, Massey returned, and helped Miss Palmer to unpack her clothes.  We could scarcely contrive to keep up any sort of conversation with her, and therefore were delighted when the tea bell rang, and we could be released from the constraint which her shyness imposed upon us.

    We had already made up our minds that we did not like her, and told the elder girls that our room was spoiled now, and we should never enjoy ourselves as we had done.

    However, after tea, we were permitted to go into the garden for a few minutes, and Madame gave a little plot of ground to Miss Palmer; then she brightened up a little, and it appeared that she was not only very fond of gardening, but that she knew much more about the cultivation of flowers than we did; she also pleased us by her evident admiration of the black polyanthus, which was brought out in triumph by its happy owner, and planted in the middle of her own peculiar property.

    Belle had bought it of an old woman, in whose garden she saw it flourishing.  The old woman said it had been left there by the man who lived there before her.  He was a gardener, but he had emigrated to America, and she should be happy to dispose of it.  Belle being equally anxious to purchase it, the bargain was soon struck; and certainly it was the most beautiful polyanthus possible, black and velvet like.  Madame had not one in the garden that could compare with it.

    I think that first evening we did try to overcome Miss Palmer's shyness; but the next day, when morning school was over, and we went into the garden for our short play, we found her such a restraint, that we begged Miss L'Estrange, Belle's elder sister, to walk about with her, while we ran away to feed our birds.  Miss L'Estrange did as she was asked, but very injudiciously broached the subject of the shyness; told her how very uncomfortable she made us by it, and how much we lamented it.  She begged her to try and feel at home, and talk and play with her schoolfellows.  But it was not at all surprising that her well-meant harangue should have increased the evil; the idea that it made other people uncomfortable could scarcely fail to augment her awkwardness.

    She, however, asked Miss L'Estrange to take her to the coach-house; and I well remember her appearance as she entered with her, and stood within the door.  She had a sort of resolute air, as if determined to perform some very hard duty.  At first Miss L'Estrange did not seem to know what to say; but when we all turned from our birds, and looked for an explanation, she exclaimed — "Oh; I've brought Miss Palmer — she — I suppose she wishes to play with you."

    Miss Palmer, on this, looked, and said, hurriedly, "No; I didn't mean — at least, I mean that I don't wish to intrude; I only meant—"

    "Oh, this is not intruding," said Miss L'Estrange; "the coach-house is given to the second class."

    Miss Palmer coloured with confusion.  She was not pretty; her black hair was stiff and intractable, her shoulders were high, and she stooped very awkwardly; but she had exceedingly large, dark-gray eyes, and when she raised them, they had a peculiarly searching, but, at the same time, somewhat of a beseeching, expression.

    "I don't want to stay," she continued, drawing back towards the door; "but I meant to tell you, that — I'm sorry I made you so uncomfortable."

    We all looked at Miss L'Estrange; but before anything explanatory could be said, Miss Palmer murmured that she did not know her afternoon lesson, and made her escape.

    "Well," said Juliet, "so we are to be tormented with apologies and misunderstandings, as well as shyness!  She will be sensitive, I suppose — I cannot bear touchy, sensitive people."

    "No," said Belle; "don't you remember how tiresome Fanny Moore used to be? writing notes of apology for things she had done days before, and which no one had noticed; and asking us what we had meant by things we had said a long while ago; and quarrelling, and then crying and making it up, and expecting us to cry, too.  I've no patience with that kind of thing.  Miss Palmer will be just like Fanny."

    "Tiresome girl," said Miss L'Estrange; "and when I had been particularly begging her not to be so shy, and saying what a disadvantage it was to her!"

    I do not remember that anything particular happened during the rest of that day; but the next being fine, we were sent out for a long walk, Madame giving leave to Miss Palmer to stay in the garden, and work at her own little plot, which was, no doubt, kindly intended as an indulgence both to us and to her.

    Miss L'Estrange was also detained to finish a drawing.  Our new friend, however, had not long been out when she appeared at the window, saying that there was a man in the yard with a basket of flowers, and might she buy some?  Madame gave her leave.  "And I supposed that they were nosegays of cut flowers," said Miss L'Estrange, from whom we had this account, "or I should have asked leave to go also, particularly as I had heard you all say that a man had been ordered to come 'for once,' by Madame's consent."

    "Yes, to be sure," we all exclaimed, when Miss L'Estrange met us at the gate of the hop plantation, and gave us this description of what had occurred.  "Surely the man is not gone?"

    "You shall hear," she replied.  "In half an hour my drawing was finished, and Madame dismissed me; so I went into the garden, and there I found that sly little thing, sitting on a garden bench, with six plants in pots standing before her.  There were two polyanthus plants, with flowers nearly as black as Belle's; and two lovely purple auricular; and two other plants, that I did not much notice because they were not in flower.  'Oh,' I exclaimed, 'so these were the plants that the man brought!  Why did you not say so to Madame?'  She looked confused, but only said, 'I did not know that I ought.'  I said, I knew that the man had been ordered to call, and that you would all be dreadfully disappointed to find him gone.  So she looked up, and said, 'He told me he could not wait; but that does not much signify, for he had only these polyanthus plants, and I have bought them; besides them and the auricular, and these cyclamen flowers, there was nothing in his basket that was worth having.  I gave four shillings and sixpence for these, and he took away nothing but some fading hyacinths, and some common plants, such as they have got.  It would have done no good to detain him; and, besides, he said he could not wait.'  'Oh, of course,' I said, 'if you had chosen all that was worth having yourself, it was no use detaining the man.'  'Indeed, I did not send him away,' she replied; 'he said he could not wait.'  'But,' I continued, 'I am afraid they will be very much disappointed, for they have been expecting this man for weeks; and I know they particularly wanted some of those shuttlecock-flowers, and some auricular.'  'The man said he expected to sell them to the young ladies,' she answered; 'but as they were out, and he would not wait, I thought—'  'Oh, yes,' I interrupted, for I was disgusted at her selfishness, 'I understand perfectly — as they were out, you thought you might as well have them yourself.'"

    All this Miss L'Estrange told us as we advanced towards the house; and we were in the full eloquence of regret and indignation, when, at a turn in the walk, we saw Miss Palmer on a garden-seat, with all her purchases before her.

    She started up when we appeared, and advanced hastily to meet us, but the moment she observed Miss L'Estrange with us, shrunk back again, and, lifting up her garden-apron, began to knot the corners, and twist them with an agitated face.

    That our man should have been suffered to depart before we had seen him, and that all his best plants should have been picked out by a stranger for herself, was such a decided grievance, that offended dignity would scarcely permit us to pause before the flowerpots; and I believe we should have passed on, lovely and tempting as they looked, if Miss Palmer had not risen again, and, colouring up to the eyes, begun some stammered excuse about the man's departure.

    "It was of no consequence," we answered, rather coldly.

    She seemed to be attempting some explanation, but stood as if shame and shyness overcame her; when we effectually stopped her by saying that Miss L'Estrange had explained to us that the man had nothing left for us — that we were sorry, but hoped we should be more fortunate another time.

    Then we swept on towards the house, and she, to our extreme surprise, burst into a passion of tears, which arrested us, for we felt that, being such a new comer, we ought not to have annoyed her so much.

    An awkward pause ensued, during which she cried most bitterly, and we stood looking on, till, happily, the first school-bell rang, and with a sudden effort, she controlled her tears, and rushed on into the house to bathe her face and recover herself.

    "How odd that any one with such a keen sense of shame should have done so mean an action!" observed Miss Ward.

    "I was always sure that I should never like her," said Margaret.  "I felt it the moment I saw her."

    "As for me," Juliet added, "I knew it before I saw her."

    "Oh, come," said the elder Miss Ashley, "that really is prejudice, Juliet."

    "Prejudice," I replied, taking up Juliet's cause; not at all; our room was pulled to pieces for her before she had even entered the house; and besides, we knew by the way Madame brought her up stairs herself, showing her so much more attention than she did to us when we arrived, and saying so many times that she knew we should be such good friends, we were sure by all this that she expected we should not."

    The elder girls laughed heartily at this.

    "There certainly was nothing of the kind done when I arrived," said Miss Ward to Miss Ashley; "on the contrary, just as grandpa put me down out of the carriage, I saw Madame standing on the steps with you in her hand; and while she talked to grandpa, you walked up to me and said, 'How do you do? do you like lemon drops?' and immediately put one into my mouth.  We were about six years old then, Fanny, and from that moment to this we have been on strictly confidential terms."

    "Now then, young ladies," said the English teacher, "go up stairs; the second bell rings."

    Accordingly, we all hastened to take off our bonnets, and proceeded to the school-room, where we found Miss Palmer already in her place.

    The afternoon, for the time of year, was unusually warm, and the sun being full upon the school-room windows, the blinds were all let down, excepting one, which was on the side that looked into the garden.  Our class was reading, and the children were writing copies; we got on very well to a certain point, and then became very inattentive, lost our places, and miscalled the words; the fact was, that our eyes were so irresistibly drawn to the window, that it was quite impossible to keep them on the book.  Something white had been seen gliding in and out among the flowers; it was very distant at first, and so silent and light in its movements that it might have been taken for the ghost of a last winter's snow-wreath; but it shortly drew nearer, and had the audacity to lie down among Madame's best anemone plants.  We knew very well what it was, namely, a rabbit, Speck by name, the favourite pet of little Nannette, Madame's youngest child.  The whole school, by means of glances and signs, soon became aware of his escape; but we were in such perfect discipline during school-hours, and the rules enjoining silence were so strictly enforced, that not a word was said; even the little owner of the rabbit, though tears ran down her cheeks, blotted her copy and wetted her chubby little hands, continued to work away at her pothooks, only venturing now and then to cast a glance at the lawn with a distressed and crimsoned countenance.

    At length, as I with earnest diligence was trying to ring my r's and run my words sufficiently into another, while I read a speech from Racine, after Madame, a loud and sudden sob sounded through the school-room, and little Nannette burst into a storm of tears, which was all the more vehement for her long restraint.  Nannette was such a good, sensible child, and such a scene was so uncommon in the school-room, that the teacher and Madame rose instantly, anxious to ascertain what was the matter.  "The walk was too much for her," exclaimed the English teacher.

    "Something has hurt her," cried Madame.

    "The ink," said the other teacher, "may have spurted up into her eye."

    The little girl struggled to speak, and at length contrived to sob out, in her native language, "O mon lapin, mon cher Speck! O mon lapin!"

    The mystery was now solved; Madame hesitated; we all looked eagerly at her, but no one stirred.  It wanted a quarter of an hour to the time of dismissal.  "We could catch him, Madame," said Miss Ward, "if we all went at once."

    A murmur of assent ran through the classes.  The rabbit had now got a long way off; Nannette's sobs burst forth afresh.  "Well, young ladies," said Madame, "for once you may."

    We did not need a second bidding, but down went papers, pencils, books, and work, and out we rushed into the sunshine, teachers and scholars.

    What a joyous chase it was!  We had lost sight of the rabbit, and had rushed almost to the very end of the lawn after him, when turning, we beheld him near the house.  Back we ran; off he went into the shrubbery; many times one and another seemed to be just upon him.  We cleared the little flower-beds; he turned, we doubled, whooping and crying to one another.  No one ran like Belle.  We thought she was sure to catch the rabbit; she dashed through a clump of laurustinus shrubs; but just as we were sure she must be upon him, down she came with a loud crash and such a scream that we all rushed to the spot with beating hearts.

    Alas! poor Belle had forgotten Miss Palmer's flower-pots, had caught her foot against one, broken another, and scratched her arms and face all over with the gravel.

    The English teacher picked her up; at first she cried, more through fright than pain, and while the elder girls condoled with her, rubbed her bruises, and put her torn dress a little to rights, the children continued the chase after their rabbit.  Belle soon left off sobbing, shook back her curly hair, and declared she was not much hurt; but, though she tried to laugh at her scratches, they were evidently painful, and she was obliged to sit down on the grass before she could limp homewards.

    "Such a violent fall!" said Miss Quain, the English teacher; "it was a mercy Miss Belle did not break any bones.  How came they here, these pots, just in the middle of the walk?"

    Every eye looked towards Miss Palmer.

    "Are these your flower-pots?" asked Miss Quain.  "Yes, ma'am," replied the new pupil; "at least—" and then she hesitated.

    "At least what? " asked Miss Quain.

    "At least —I paid for them."

    "If you paid for them, of course they are yours why could you not have said so without this prevarication?"

    Miss Palmer looked extremely uncomfortable, and began to pick up her pots; two of them were broken, and the purple auricular that they contained were all torn from the stems, crushed, and completely ruined.

    "I am sorry to have spoiled your auricular, Miss Palmer," said poor Belle.

    "There is no need to apologize," replied Miss Quain, rather sharply; "they ought not to have been left there; a most dangerous thing to do when so children are playing about here.  Whereabouts is your garden, Miss Palmer?"

    "Behind these shrubs, ma'am," said the culprit.

    "Then carry them there directly; let the flowers be planted at once, and then take the pots to the coach-house."

    Still Miss Palmer hesitated.  "If my orders are not obeyed at once, I shall forfeit the plants," said Miss Quain.

    Thereupon the broken auricular and the other plants were slowly lifted up by their owner, and carried away, as well as the pieces of pots and the scattered leaves.  This little episode had almost made us forget the white rabbit, till we saw the hunting party returning slowly towards us, with failure plainly written in their faces.

    They had chased the rabbit as far as the hedge which divided the garden from the hop plantation, and the cunning little animal had crept into the very middle of it; so that, as it had not been trimmed that spring, they could not reach him, though they watched him, and surrounded him on both sides.  After nibbling some of the green hawthorn twigs, he sat up and began to rub his face in the most placid style, till at last, when their patience was nearly tired out, he deliberately ran through the midst of them, and bounded away among the hop poles, till they lost sight of him.

    We could distinctly hear the sound of Miss Palmer's spade behind the trees.  Belle presently rose from the grass; perhaps, as she had unintentionally spoiled the auricular, and as she knew that the possession of them had already been somewhat embittered to their owner by the remarks we had made, she wished to show some interest in the operation of planting them, or to see how far they were injured.

    However this may be, she asked Juliet and me to give her each an arm, and we all proceeded behind the laurustinus shrubs to Miss Palmer's garden.  Belle was vexed at the mischief she had caused; but in our inmost hearts I believe we were both secretly pleased at it, as an instance of what seemed such strict poetical justice.  Miss Palmer had taken advantage of our absence to purchase plants which had been brought for us, and now these very plants were broken and spoiled by one of us; and she herself was scolded, instead of being compassionated on the occasion.

    Belle, limping slightly, advanced between us; but Miss Palmer continued to dig, and did not look at us.

    The afternoon sun, already getting low, was shining full on her flushed face, and it seemed to me that she held it inconveniently high, because her eyes were full of tears, and she wished to prevent them from falling.

    Her spade went in several times, while she continued to look steadily before her; at last she set it in so close to a pretty little plant that I thought she would dig it up, and exclaimed, "O Miss Palmer, do you see your little heartsease?"

    On this she looked down, and the tears dropped on her cheeks.  She hastily dashed them away, and then stooping, moved the earth from her heartsease, and takings up the flower-pots, began to turn out the plants and set them in the space she had dug over.

    "I am afraid the auricular are spoiled for this spring," said Belle.

    "Yes," replied Miss Palmer, without looking either at us or at them; and there certainly could not be any doubt about the matter, for every stalk was snapped and every leaf was broken.

    "Well, certainly," said Juliet rather sharply, "Belle has been severely punished for tumbling over them; she has hurt her foot very much."

    "I am very sorry, and I said so at first," said Miss Palmer, still without looking at us.

    "Oh, I beg your pardon," answered Juliet; "I did not hear you, and I thought, as Belle had said several times that she was sorry about the plants, it seemed odd that you did not say ――"

    "Juliet, I wish you wouldn't," interrupted Belle.  "I did not come here to make her say anything.  I am sorry, and I did not remember that the pots stood there."

    "Very well," said Juliet, "then that is all, it seems your foot will soon be well, and if it was worse, perhaps Miss Palmer would think it served you quite right."

    There is no saying what passionate rejoinder might have been made to this, nor how far we might have forgotten all kindness and propriety, if the children, backed by Miss Ashley and Miss L'Estrange, had not dashed in upon our counsels, declaring that the rabbit had reappeared, that he was behind the yard palings, and that if we would come and help, they were sure that he could be surrounded and caught.  Accordingly, Juliet and I ran away with them, Belle limped home to the house, and Miss Palmer was left behind to reflect on what had passed, and plant her broken flowers.

    Of course we did not catch the rabbit; but our zeal satisfied little Nannette that we were sorry for her loss, and anxious to repair it.

    Many tears were shed that night by Speck's little mistress on his account; but the next day Miss Ward gave her another rabbit, quite as white and much less wild than Speck; so she was completely consoled, and he was forgotten.

    That fine day was succeeded by a very rainy night, and it rained all the next day, so that little Nannette's rabbit had been bought through the gardener, whose apprentice had one for sale, and who was allowed to bring it into the hall, and exhibit it to us there, as Madame said, "for once;" a phrase by which she prefaced nearly every indulgence of the many she gave us.

    The next day was also wet, and it was not till the following morning that we could go out.  The leaves had expanded so much during the soft rain, and everything looked so fresh, that while we were dressing we speculated as to whether we might venture to plant out our young geraniums that Madame was taking care of in the frames, and were full of hope for our different plants and seeds.  What, then, was our consternation, on reaching our little gardens, to find Belle's beautiful polyanthus, her black polyanthus, which was the pride of her heart, and of which even Madame had condescended to ask for an offset — that very black polyanthus which we had left so blooming, with every leaf, stock, and flower cut clean off level with the ground, just as if a knife had been passed over them by some person, who, contented with despoiling the plant, had left its ruins lying just where they fell!  The whole school stood round lamenting, with the exception of Belle and Miss Palmer; for the former, though her foot was nearly well, could not run yet; and the latter had exhibited no wish to come into the garden.  On the contrary, she had expressed her disappointment that we were not going to take a walk instead, and, as we well remembered afterwards, had said, "She was sure she should never take any pleasure in her garden again."

    Everybody's exclamation was, "Who can have done this?" and poor Belle, when she arrived at the spot, stood silent for a while with vexation; and then could not help remarking how curious it was that her plant, should have died so soon after she had destroyed the lovely auricular.  However, she took her misfortune very well, and began to pick up and examine the flowers.

    "This has evidently been done with a knife," said Juliet.

    Just at that moment we observed that Miss Palmer was standing among us; we had been too much absorbed to notice her approach.

    "A knife, and nothing but a knife, has done it," exclaimed Miss L'Estrange, stooping down more closely over the plant; "and here, Belle, is a footmark close to the root — not a new foot-mark."

    "Oh," said Miss Palmer, "that might have been made in the chase after the rabbit."

    "We never came this way," said one and another; "no one came near these gardens but Belle herself, just before she fell."

    "Then she made the foot-mark herself, perhaps," remarked Miss Palmer.

    "How could she?" replied Miss Ashley, steadily; "don't you see that it points the other way?"

    "I was only trying to account for it," said Miss Palmer, reddening under Miss Ashley's eye.

    "Well, I see no use in accounting for it," said Belle, mournfully; "no accounting will make it grow again."

    "I do see the use," replied her sister, "for it could not possibly have been cut without hands."

    Upon this, Miss Palmer fixed her large eyes for a moment on Miss L'Estrange with a peculiar expression, and a thought flashed into my mind which I would not for the world have expressed, but which I saw plainly written on the faces of all my companions, and was conscious that Miss Palmer saw it too; but she did not continue to meet our gaze; she turned hastily round, and, snatching up her rake, began diligently to work in her garden; but so timing the strokes of her tools, that she could hear every sentence we uttered, and sometimes turning half round, the rake suspended in her hand, she appeared intently to weigh our words.

    "Well, this is a very mysterious thing," said Miss Ashley at last, "and I wish we could account for it."  We all mentally assented to this, but no one said anything, till one of the youngest children exclaimed, afters whispering to the others, "I have no knife; I hope Belle does not think I did it."

    "Of course not, child," said Belle; here the raked was worked very diligently.

    "I did not do it," said another little girl; "and besides, Belle has always been so very kind to me."

    "There is no one that Belle ever is unkind to," said Miss Ward, who was always the first to say a generous thing.

    "No," said little Nannette, "not on purpose; she did not spoil Miss Palmer's auriculars on purpose."

    What an unlucky thing it was that Nannette's conscientious qualification should have been made just at that moment!  There stood the little gardens opposite to one another, the mould artificially heaped up towards the centre of each; one was crowned by the broken auricular, the other by the cut polyanthus.  "I can only say," said Miss Ward, breaking the awkward silence, — "I can only say, that I wish I had never seen this footmark; I don't think that all the years I have been at school anything has happened that has made me feel so uncomfortable; for you see that this is not the foot-mark of a grown-up person: it is not Belle's foot-mark either, it is shorter and wider; there are no hobnails in it, therefore it could not have been done by the gardener's boy; the polyanthus stands so far from the edge, that it could not have been reached but for the footmark.  And that the plant was spoiled for mere malice and mischief, and not for the sake of getting the flowers, is evident; for they were all left just where they fell."

    All this was perfectly true, and Miss Ward did not say it unkindly; but we were no nearer to the unknown culprit, and there was another pause, during which Miss Palmer continued her operations with her back turned towards us, till some one said, "Who was the last of us at these gardens?"

    Several remembered who had been left behind while we ran after the rabbit, and Belle went into the house, and there was a general though silent nod towards Miss Palmer; who, however, did not turn round till little Nannette, with her brown eyes wide open, exclaimed bluntly, "But Miss Palmer — did Miss Palmer do it?"

    "No one said she did, child," exclaimed Miss L'Estrange, checking her instantly and angrily.

    Miss Palmer had dropped her rake on hearing Nannette's speech; she now picked it up, and gathering her other tools together, turned and faced us; she was deeply flushed, and as she passed us, she said in a low voice, but distinct enough to be heard by us all "But no one said she did not."



PART II.


I DO not remember that anything particular happened during the remainder of the day; we were called into school almost immediately after our conversation in the garden, and, when it was over, Miss Palmer being present, the subject of the black polyanthus could not be alluded to.

    It was not till the next afternoon, when Juliet, Margaret, and I were in the coach-house, feeding our birds, that Miss L'Estrange came in, and inquired what we meant to do about Belle's polyanthus.

    "Do, Miss L'Estrange," I answered; "what is there to do?  If you can gum on every one of the leaves, and all the flowers, so that they can grow again, Belle will be very much obliged to you; but if you cannot, there is nothing to be done, that I can see."

    "What a baby you are, little Sophia," said Miss L'Estrange, laughing; "you know as well as I do that you are talking nonsense.  I think I shall make Belle quarrel with you!  Don't nod your head at me, as much as to say, 'Do if you can;' I shall certainly set my wits against yours, if you dare to make game of me, you morsel of a child.  Gum them on indeed!  Come and sit on my knee."

    Miss L'Estrange was sitting on a box, and as I came dancing towards her, she snatched me up, and I felt like a shuttlecock in her hands; she was extremely tall, finely but largely proportioned, and the great fairness of her hair and complexion increased her apparent size.  She set me on her knee, and folding one of my feet in her large white fingers, she said,

    "Who suspected you of making that foot-mark, you tiny thing? it would take three feet such as yours to fill it!  Come now, tell me why you are so much afraid of an investigation; I saw what a fright you were in yesterday; what was the reason?"

    Finding that I made no answer, she said,

    "Juliet and Margaret, just go, my dears, and find Belle and Miss Ashley, and tell them I wish they would come here."  The two little girls ran away on their errand, and Miss L'Estrange continued: "Now, Fairy, if you know anything more than we know, of course you ought to tell it."

    I assured her that I did not know anything.

    "Then," she said, "why are you so anxious that no questions should be asked: don't you think it must be very disagreeable to be suspected?"

    "Yes."

    "Well, some one is suspected."

    "I know."

    "We want to decide whether she is suspected wrongfully."

    "But perhaps asking questions will make you suspect still more."

    "Not if she is innocent; let my curls alone, Fairy, and attend to what I am saying.  If she is innocent, she ought to be much obliged to us for our investigations."

    "But you know, Miss L'Estrange," said I, trying to convey my confused impressions to her, "you know that none of us like her, and it seems to me that but for that we never should have suspected her."

    "You uncharitable little thing! you say we dislike her!  Well, that is quite true; but we have reasons for disliking her; have we not?"

    "Oh, yes, we have; I quite forgot that," said I, not at all aware that we were arguing in a circle, and asserting the reasonableness of our prejudice against her from our belief in things which might themselves be unfounded prejudices.

    "You seem to me," observed Miss L'Estrange, "to have a sort of notion that the person in question is innocent."

    "No, I haven't exactly," I replied; "I don't think she is a nice girl, and perhaps she has done wrong, but I think we must be doing wrong too."

    "Then it is for our sakes, not hers, that you wish us all to be cowards?" she asked.

    I considered for a while, and then replied to the effect that if the investigation came to any decided result, Madame must be told — the suspected person would tell her if she really was innocent; someone of us would tell if she was guilty; and it would be sure to make a great deal of unhappiness and quarrelling; but that if it turned out that the suspected person had been wrongfully accused and suspected Madame would be much more seriously angry with Belle and with us for having made up such a disgraceful charge against her, than she would be with her if she had really spoiled the primrose; and, either way, Belle was still no better off, since her plant was spoiled for the season, and could not be replaced.

    "What a cautious little thing you are!" said Miss L'Estrange, when with much circumlocution I had contrived to convey my meaning to her.

    "Belle doesn't care very much about her polyanthus," I observed, not wishing to appear lukewarm in my friend's cause.

    "Care," repeated Miss L'Estrange; "I should like to know what Belle does care about for five minutes together; no, no, it is not through any fear that she should pine for her lost treasure that I want to have this question settled."

    It was always considered a dangerous thing in the school to meddle or interfere with Belle, for though Miss L'Estrange always declared that she should never think of taking her part merely because she was her sister, and though she said she should never take Belle's part unless she was right, we did not reap much benefit from this decision, though it sounded fair, because she never thought her wrong.  Notwithstanding this vehement partisanship, she always spoke of Belle with a kind of careless, slighting manner, and therefore I was not at all surprised on this occasion to hear her assert that it was not for Belle's sake that she wished to have the matter settled.

    "And why do you turn round so anxiously, you little thing?" she continued; "are you afraid that Miss Palmer's grey parrot should be listening, and should repeat our conversation to his mistress?"

    As if the mention of his name had roused this respectable bird from a sage reverie, he immediately drew back the film from his eyes, and screamed out, "Paul," a word constantly in his mouth (or rather his beak), and which he meant for Poll; "Paul, Paul," said the parrot, "here's a state of things; ha, ha, ha!"

    The parrot could only say two sentences, but one of them ended with this laugh, which was quite contagious; it was exactly like that of an old gentleman laughing through his nose.  Our laughter, on hearing it, made all the canaries begin to sing, and they roused the linnets and the robins, so that by the time Juliet and Margaret returned with all our schoolfellows, excepting the four little ones and Miss Palmer, there was such a din that we could not hear ourselves speak, the parrot's shrill voice screaming above it all, "Here's a state of things; ha, ha, ha!" and then, "Hester, Hester, Paul wants his sop: Hes—ter!"

    "Tiresome thing!" cried Miss Ward, stopping her ears; "somebody put an apron over his cage; he calls so loudly that his mistress will be coming to him, and that will never do."

    The girls made haste to stop the noise by excluding as much light as they could from the various cages; and presently there was something like quiet, excepting that every now and then the parrot repeated, "Hester, Hes—ter!" with startling distinctness, or burst out laughing in the gravest part of our discourse.

    Miss L'Estrange, with me on her lap, was seated on a pile of several boxes, with her back to the wall; the other girls grouped themselves in a semicircle before her, sitting on the floor; and a long discussion began, all about the black polyanthus — who could have done the deed, and why it was likely that Miss Palmer was the doer.

    "I often feel afraid of those close, silent people," said Miss Ward; "depend upon it, that girl has a great deal more in her than we think, Fanny; when she flashes those deep gray eyes of hers upon me, I never feel as if I could meet them and look at her steadily."

    "That is exactly my feeling," answered Miss Ashley.

    "I am sure she must be very artful," said Belle.

    "If she is, Belle," I ventured to remark, "she did not cut your primrose."

    "Indeed!" said Miss Ward; "what do you mean, you oracular little creature?"

    "I did not say she was artful," I replied; "I don't know whether she is or not; I only say that if she is artful, she is more than a match for us, and therefore she has not chosen to revenge herself in a way that we should all discover at once."

    The elder girls all laughed heartily at this, as they generally did when I ventured to give my opinion.

    "If she did not do it," said Margaret, "we wish to know who did."

    "I think nothing of the foot-mark," observed Miss Ward, "for you know the younger ones are constantly jumping over each other's gardens, and we cannot be sure how many days it is since that foot-mark was made; but the polyanthus is cut and left on the mould — is it not natural to think she did it, when there was an obvious motive in her case, and none that we know of in the case of any one else?"

    "Of course the motive you allude to is revenge," said Miss L'Estrange.

    "To be sure.  If she did it —which is still a question — but if she did, then nothing can be more easy than to see why.  The second class had that morning shown her how mean they thought her behaviour in appropriating their plants; she had been excessively hurt and ashamed at it; it was a sore subject; and when Belle fell over those very plants, she might have thought she did not do it altogether by accident."

    "Certainly," said Juliet, half sarcastically, "she might have thought that the second class had arranged that some one should demolish her plants, and had chosen Belle to do it; nothing so natural than that we should choose Belle, for she is twice the weight of any of us."

    "Pooh!" said Miss Ward; "we are not joking now, Juliet.  Well, she is scolded for leaving her plants on the walk, and then left alone to brood over her misfortune; opposite to her flourishes the favourite plant of the very girl who had tumbled over hers, and who has shown her plainly that she never ought to have possessed them; what more natural than that, in a moment of irritation, she should cut off its head?  And if she did, then what more natural than all her subsequent conduct — her low spirits during the rainy weather, her disinclination to go into the garden, her lingering behind, that we might discover what had been done before she came up, her trying to account for the mischief and for the foot-mark, her confusion when she was shown that it fronted the wrong way —"

    "Well, but go on to the end," said Miss L'Estrange.  "I think her turning upon us with her 'No one said she did not,' was unnatural; I declare those words haunt me even now."

    "Yes, that was unnatural," said Miss Ward frankly, "unless she is a very artful girl indeed; but I am inclined to agree with this little creature, that if she did it she is not artful; it was such a clumsy contrivance — it was striking such an open blow."

    "No matter with whom you agree," said Miss Ashley; "we all know what you think, and what we all think.  I never liked that girl, and I have reason to like her less and less every day."

    "She did it," said Miss Morton; and she was generally so silent and cautious, that her words had twice the effect of other people's; and they all nodded assent.

    "What does Sophia think?" said Miss L'Estrange, raising my head from her shoulder, and looking into my face.

    "Oh," I replied, "I am sure now that it must be as you all say; I did not know before that it was so certain, but now I am quite convinced."

    "Well, then, the thing is, what shall we do?" asked Belle.

    There was a pause, which the parrot filled with bursts of asthmatic laughter, and calls for Hester.

    "Shall we tell Madame?" asked Juliet.

    "No," said Belle stoutly; "it was my polyanthus, and it ought not to be told unless I choose."

    "Very well," said her sister, "but something should be done."

    "Yes, we can be cold to her, and never address her by her Christian name."

    "And leave her to associate with the little ones, as we are doing now," said Miss Ashley; "why, she must be perfectly aware now that we are all in conclave together somewhere, and I dare say she suspects what we are talking about."

    "I am very sorry for her," said Belle; "but she certainly ought to suffer for her behaviour.  And yet only suppose, Mary, if she never did it after all!"

    "If the sky were to fall," Miss L'Estrange replied, "then we should catch larks."

    "Come now, Belle," said Juliet, "could it have been done without hands?"

    "No, of course not."

    "Did you do it yourself then? answer me that."

    "No, of course not, you absurd creature."

    "Did you, Sophia?"

    "No."

    And so she went all round.

    "Did Nannette?"

    "No, a thousand times no; nor Pauline, and the other two little ones were in before us."

    "Did Madame do it then?"

    "Nonsense, Juliet."

    "Well, then, Massey might have got up in the night, for we should have seen her if she had done it in the daytime; she might have come to Madame in the night, and asked for the key of the house door, saying that she felt it a duty to go and cut Belle's polyanthus."

    "There, now, you have named everybody," said Miss Ward; "so be quiet, you ridiculous child."

    "Every one but the gardener," said Margaret, "and he never comes on wet days."

    "And yet somebody did it," said Juliet; "so, as we are all tired of the subject, let us drop it; only, by way of reflection, I must say, that this is a wicked world."

    "So it is," said Belle.

    "And if that canary of yours goes on much longer with his piercing, distracting shrill notes, he must be made an example of, for he is not fit to associate with reasonable creatures."

    "Hush!" said Belle; "there is some one at the door."

    Miss L'Estrange, as I have said before, was seated against the wall on a pile of empty boxes, having one for a footstool, and me one her lap; she had opened a blue parasol to shade us both from the sun, for just under the roof over her head was a wide low casement window, very dim through dust, and having on its ledge some empty blacking bottles, some dry bulbs, a red saucer full of nails, some bundles of list for the trees, the gardener's ink, a few stumpy pens, and a little cracked slate, with his accounts upon it.

    On the floor, in a semicircle, sat our schoolfellows in various attitudes, the sunbeams passing over their heads, or just edging their bright hair with a golden border.

    When Belle said, "Hush!" I lifted my head from Miss L'Estrange's shoulder; the girls turned on their elbows to see who might be coming; the latch was lifted, and in walked Miss Palmer.

    A bag of Indian corn under her arm, and a little pan of sopped bread in her hand, she advanced a step or two before she saw us, and when she did, it was with such a start that it shook some of the bread on to the floor.

    She stood still, and those flashing gray eyes swept over us, and seemed to take back to her the inmost thoughts of our hearts; they noted everything in an instant, from the sunbeam on the floor which lay across her knees, to the rows of dried herbs hanging in bundles from the rafters, the green, and yellow, and wickerwork cages, the chalk pictures of little girls that we had drawn in profile on the whitewashed walls, the piles of empty flower-pots in the corners, the sudden silence that had fallen upon us, that it was on account of her entrance, and that the words which preceded it had concerned her.

    As has before been said, she was exceedingly shy and reserved; but by her behaviour then I learned, as if by instinct (for I was by no means capable of explaining what I saw, or of setting it in language till long after), that her shyness and reserve had arisen from a desire to please, from over-estimation of those about her, and an extreme wish that we might love her; she did not at all fear when there was no hope that she might be loved, and when now, alas! she could neither admire nor esteem.

    When the dark gray eyes had passed over the place, they again returned to us: no one had stirred, nor spoken; still as a picture we sat before her, and some of us were conscious of a great change in her demeanour since the previous day.  She turned without speaking, and advancing to her parrot's cage, took off the apron with which we had covered it, folded it up, fed her bird, and talked to him, as if she was truly unconscious of our presence.  Then she quietly came up nearly close to where we were sitting, hung her seed-bag upon a nail, and without looking at us again, walked to the door, and shutting it behind her, left us to our meditations.

    "Well," exclaimed Miss Morton, when, as if released from a spell, we all changed our position, "is that hardihood, or is it injured innocence?"

    Miss L'Estrange made no answer; but as I reclined against her, I perceived that she was agitated.

    "I should be extremely sorry to do anything unjust," said Miss Ashley, in an uneasy tone.

    Miss L'Estrange was playing with my coral necklace when her schoolfellow spoke; and giving it a nervous twitch, the string gave way, and instantly she, and I, and the girls below were pelted with a shower like little red hailstones; they shook them out of their laps, out of their hair; they chased them along the floor; and picked them out of seed-bags and out of flower-pots, but the half were not found; and in an animated search for the remainder, the play-hour slipped away, and Miss Palmer and the polyanthus were forgotten.

    And now followed two, or perhaps three weeks, which have left no vivid pictures of themselves on my memory; but such as they are I always look back on them with regret.

    Children, though they may make rules and resolutions for themselves, do not often keep them consistently; and I believe that our determination to show Miss Palmer how much we were displeased with her would constantly have been forgotten, if she herself had not helped to keep it in our remembrance: when she forget, and talked in a friendly way unawares, some one of us, perhaps, remembered it, and answered with chilling coldness; and then, if we shortly forgot it, any unwonted familiarity seemed to bring it to her mind, and make her instantly shrink back.

    Day by day the space between us widened; she would walk for hours together by herself in the shrubbery; and in our own room, while we talked, she would take a book: we were always affectionate and friendly to each other, she was always shut out; we played together, she amused herself; we had always done very well without her, now she was trying hard to do without us.

    Madame, besides her little girls, had two sons, Prosper and Emile by name, two troublesome little monkeys, of the respective ages of ten and twelve.  It should have been mentioned before, that though she had long kept this school, she had not long been a widow.  Her husband, during his lifetime, had superintended the religious training of the pupils; but now this care devolved on the minister of the parish, who once a week had us, class by class, in the vestry, and instructed us, together with two or three farmers' daughters, of about our own ages.

    For some reason that I now forget, Prosper and Emile, about this time, came home from school for a few days, and gave considerably more trouble in the house than all the pupils put together.  They dug a hole fifteen feet deep in which to bury a dead guinea-pig; they made a dam across the little river, and it overflowed and washed away some newly planted cabbages; they peeped in at the school-room windows, and made us laugh and lose our good marks; they teased our birds, they broke our battledores, they ran over our gardens; they conducted themselves, in short, according to their nature, which they could not help; so let us say no more about it.

    In the interval between two sorts of mischief, as Prosper one sunny afternoon lay on his back upon the grass, singing and tossing up his cap, he bethought himself of Nannette's rabbit, and inquired why he had not seen it among the other pets: Speck's mournful history was soon told; and the young Frenchman, sitting up, shrugged his shoulders and elevated his eyebrows, remarking that if Speck had been lost on those premises, on those premises he must be still.

    "Why so?" asked Miss Ashley.

    "Isn't there a wall along the side of the yard," said Prosper, "and doesn't a fence join it, and doesn't the water run all along this side of the garden, and the cherry orchard, and the hop plantation?"

    "Well?" said Miss Ashley.

    "Well; I should hope I know where the fence ends, — it ends against the back of the boat-house, which is half out of the water and half in; so Speck must be somewhere in the garden or the plantation, for he cannot swim."

    "But he can burrow," said Juliet; "and if not, the hops are growing so tall that you will never find him."

    "We shall see," said Prosper; and calling his brother with a loud whoop, they both ran off to the hop-garden together.

    "Excellent creatures, both of them," said Miss L'Estrange, "but some people are decidedly most agreeable at a distance."

    As she said this, her eyes rested on Miss Palmer, who was standing near; not, I am sure, intentionally, for a gradual sadness and quietness had crept over this poor girl lately, which we all pitied; she, however, on meeting the glance of Miss L'Estrange, coloured, and drew back, evidently taking the remark to herself, for she turned away, and bent her steps to the solitary walk in the shrubbery.

    She had just reached it, when, obeying a happy impulse, I ran after her, and catching her just as the shadow of the first laurel was cast upon her, "Miss Palmer," I exclaimed, "what are you going away for?"

    She neither stopped nor turned, but walked resolutely into the very thickest of the shadow, till at length I ran before her, stood in the grass-path, and faced her.

    She was pale, and perhaps the gloom cast upon her from the trees overhead helped to overcloud her face; but there was an energy in its expression that I did not understand.  I saw she had been struggling with herself, for those wonderful eyes of hers flashed and changed their expression every instant; and though I had so bravely intruded upon her solitude, I now felt half afraid of her; she appeared all at once, and by reason of some peculiar insight that I had acquired into her character, to have become much older, far wiser, and incomparably superior to myself.

    I thought so at the time, but since then I have thought that the change must rather have been in herself; either the absence of her usual colour, or something which she had just read in the little New Testament that she held tightly in both hands, had given to her features a strange look of awe, which increased as her excitement subsided, and which I cannot describe, though I have seen it characterized as


                                                                "that look
Which some have on their faces, who die young."


    Though I had abruptly stopped her, she was too preoccupied to speak at first, till, being determined she should not think that my friend and champion had intentionally distressed her, I laid both my hands on hers, which were clasped over the little book, and made an attempt to push her gently backwards towards the entrance of the shrubbery.  I attempted, but did not succeed, and she looked down gravely into my face, and said, "What do you wish, Miss West?  What do you mean?"

    "Oh, Miss Palmer," I exclaimed, "you know, — you know as well as I do, that Miss L'Estrange did not say that about people who are most agreeable at a distance, meaning or thinking anything about you."

    "It does not signify what she meant," she replied, after a pause, "so much as what you mean."

    As I continued to lean against her, holding her hands tightly (for I wished to elicit from her some admission that she felt I was right before I let her go), she looked into my eyes, and seemed to be quietly considering my features, and reading all my thoughts, as if learning me by heart.  I did not shrink from her scrutiny, and we continued to look at each other till the expression of her eyes softened, and she smiled with that peculiar sweetness seldom seen but in those whose cast of countenance is grave and cold.

    "I should be sorry if you thought we wished you to go away," I said, answering her last remark.

    "Oh, then, you do care about me?" she answered, quickly.

    "Care about you," I repeated; "oh, yes, of course."

    I had forgotten at the moment that it was on my champion's account that I had followed her, and that only during the past few minutes I had cared about her for herself.

    "I believe, since you assure me of it, that Miss L'Estrange did not allude to me," she then said (I thought her language had also grown older); and as I released her hands, she put them about my waist, and drew me nearer.  I saw she wished me to kiss her, and I obeyed the wish, with a sort of consciousness that this was an important kiss to her, but no consciousness at all that during all my future life it was to be of importance to my peace that I should have given it.



PART III.


MISS PALMER and I turned again and walked towards the entrance of the shrubbery; and it was not till she said, "You have never taken any part against me, Miss West; you have never looked unkindly at me," that I became aware how completely she had known the nature of our feelings towards her: it also flashed into my mind, what a strange thing it was that my own should so entirely have changed towards her without any particular cause; and I hung my head, and could not make any answer.  I now thought her innocent; but I did not know bow to tell her that hitherto I had thought as badly of her as any of my companions.

    While I hesitated, the school-room maid came up and told Miss Palmer that Madame would take her out for a drive.  She had complained of headache; and Madame, always considerate, thought the air would relieve it.

    Nannette had been unwell during the last two days and had been excused from the school-room: as Miss Palmer and I hastened towards the house we saw Massey carrying her down stairs well wrapped up, and I was surprised to see how ill she appeared.

    "Poor lamb," said Massey when I spoke to my little schoolfellow, and she peevishly turned away her face; "don't take any notice of her, Miss West; its only teases her."

    The little girl was carefully placed in the pony carriage, and Madame and Miss Palmer presently appeared.  I thought Madame seemed depressed; and Massey, as she looked after them when they drove away, observed, that she was sure her mistress thought the child very unwell, though she would not allow that there was much the matter.

    "Why does she not send, then, for Dr. G――?" I inquired.

    "He is sent for, miss," said Massey, "but he cannot come till this evening."

    The drive was not a long one; and when Nannette was lifted out of the carriage and carried up stairs again, she was so much worse that Madame did not leave her all the evening; and after the physician's visit significant looks passed between the teachers, which made us all feel extremely grave, for we perceived that the poor child was seriously unwell.

    Madame did not come down the next morning, but sent a message to us, expressive of her hope that we would go on with our studies precisely as usual, and be very quiet in the house.  We all tried to do our best, but not very successfully.  Miss Palmer had a headache, and the teachers were scarcely equal to their duties, for both had been up nearly all night.  Nannette had been attacked with croup, and for some hours had been in great danger.

    After dinner it was a half holiday, and as it rained we were sitting drearily in the school-room, working and reading, when Miss Massey came in and said that a gentleman had called to see Miss Palmer.

    Madame was in the drawing-room talking to Dr. G――; the two teachers were asleep on the dining-room sofas.  "There is no place but the school-room for him to be shown into," said Miss L'Estrange; "we can go into our own rooms."

    "No, ma'am," said Massey, addressing Miss L'Estrange as our head and leader, "the dear child has just dropped asleep, and Madame has given orders that no one is to come up stairs."

    "Then show the gentleman in," said Miss L'Estrange, "and we must stay."

    Accordingly he was shown in, and we rose for the moment, and then returned to our occupations, endeavouring to abstract our attention from him, that Miss Palmer might talk to him more at her ease.

    He was exactly what Massey had said — a roughish-spoken gentleman in a light gray coat, stout, hearty, and farmer-like; he walked into the room, and after giving his niece two, or three kisses, which resounded through the room, he exclaimed, "Well, Hester, how are you, child?  What! pale?  I never saw you pale before."

    "I've got a bad headache, uncle."

    "Bad headache," he repeated, as he walked up the room with her; "what business have girls like you with headaches?  I say, young ladies, what business have girls like Hester with headaches?"

    We looked up and smiled; some of us said we hoped it would shortly be better; and he walked up cheerfully to our table, laid his whip upon it, and sat down.

    "Well, Hessie, I'm glad to see that you can hold yourself more upright now," he observed; and he looked at her with evident satisfaction, and then turned to us, and presently a broad smile came over his frank features, and rubbing his bands upon his knees he exclaimed, "Well, now, this is what I call a pretty sight; I'm glad my Hester's here; I knew she would be happy; such a number of young ladies, how pretty it is to see them! amusing themselves so sociably, and looking so good humoured."

    He continued to look at us with that kind of admiring satisfaction which elderly people often feel for youth; his last words had called up a blush into the cheeks of several.

    "Well, Hessie, child," he next said, still looking at us, "didn't I always say you would be happy here?  Eh?  Didn't I?"

    "Yes, uncle," she replied.

    On hearing the tone in which she said this, he glanced at us with surprise, as if inquiring what it might mean; then, perhaps, observing some confusion in our faces, a sudden thought seemed to strike him, and he turned sharply round to his niece, and perceived at once that something was wrong.  She was standing behind him, no longer pale, but agitated, and pressing her hands together as she often did when ill at ease.

    "Where were you sitting, Hester," he said, "when I came in?"

    "In a window-seat, uncle."

    "Which?"

    She indicated the one which was farthest from us; and again he looked round at us, but with a very different expression; he had turned upon his chair, and was holding it by the back; she still stood, and looked as if she longed to speak, but did not dare.

    "Well, Hessie," he presently said, in a tone as anxious as his first had been cheerful, — "well, I hope you are happy."

    She made no answer, and the gloom deepened on his brow; he repeated his question, but she held down her head and said nothing, till in the most compassionate manner he said, "I hope you have considered, my dear child, what a chance this is for you?"  Then she murmured, "Yes, uncle."  The uncle heaved a deep, irrepressible sigh; his bitter disappointment was most evident; but he said, firmly, "I say, child, look up; look up at me."  Miss Palmer obeyed him, and he again repeated, "Are you happy here?"

    Most of us, I believe, would have given anything to have left the room then, but we could not do it; we were compelled to hear her answer, given in a gentle voice, but as firmly as the question had been asked her, "No."  It would have been utterly impossible to mistake the meaning of her face, even if she had not answered at all.

    "My dear child," he presently said very kindly, "if you cannot stay here, what can I do with you but send you out to your grandmother; and what do you expect to be then better than a servant, and a very hard-worked servant, too?  There will be few comforts, no books — think of that."

    "I do think," answered Miss Palmer."

    "And," he continued, "I could not have afforded, my dear, as you know, to place you here but for the kindness of Madame, who receives you much under her usual charge for old acquaintance sake."

    She interrupted him hastily, "But I was promised――"

    "Yes, you were promised; but, my dear, I thought, so kind as it was of Madame, that if I could get a good education for you――"

    "Oh, but I was promised――"

    "Yes, your grandmother promised that you should have your choice, and I never doubted that you would stay; what can I do better for you, my dear, always travelling about as I am?  If you go to your grandmother, you need not expect that it will be like living at a farm-house here; it would be rough work and rough fare; and your grandmother told me herself that she could not afford to keep a servant, and thought it hard that I should wish to keep and educate you when she might have the benefit of your work."  He said this with great earnestness, and as if he had entirely forgotten our presence.  I cannot describe the pain it gave us to hear it, and to feel that her extreme desire to leave the school was in consequence of our unfriendly behaviour.  I call it simply unfriendly, because at that time we were far from feeling it to be unjust.

    "I was to stay here till you came back," said Miss Palmer, in a faint voice; "and I have kept hoping and hoping that you would soon come, uncle.  Madame is very kind, but I am miserable.  How can I stay here four years longer?  Oh, pray take me away with you, as you promised."

    "What ! and send you to your grandmother Wilson?"

    "Send me anywhere," she replied, with a sigh.

    We were all distressed and surprised at the hopeless tone in which she spoke, still more at the energy with which her uncle instantly replied, "I'll take you back with me this very day, Hester, if you can give me a good reason for your being miserable."

    "Now, uncle!" she exclaimed, as if aghast.

    "Come," cried Miss L'Estrange, starting up with glowing cheeks, "suppose we all go and stand in the hall for a few minutes."

    We were all eager to follow her lead; but before we could move a step from our places, the rough-spoken gentleman exclaimed, in such very resolute manner, that he could not possibly think of our turning out of our room on his account, that after a little faint resistance we were reluctantly compelled to remain and listen with shame and contrition to what followed.

    "Come with me, Hester," said her uncle, "to your own place, where you were sitting before I came in."

    She followed him to the remote window-seat, and they talked in lower tones than before; but, excited as our nerves were, it was impossible not to hear every word, and we were far too ill at ease to be able to keep up any conversation among ourselves.

    First came various questions about Madame; and to these she answered that Madame was always kind.

    He next inquired about her lessons; and she admitted that they were neither too long nor too difficult; that she liked the teachers, and she thought they liked her.

    Her uncle appeared to be in such a restless state that he could not remain still for an instant.  He pulled the working materials out of Hester's little basket, which stood on the table beside him.  He changed his attitude.  He got up and sat down again, scarcely taking his anxious eye off his niece, while all the time she stood before him, her head drooping, her eyes fixed on the ground, quite patient and quiet.

    "All hitherto sounds as if you should be happy," said her uncle in a lower tone, though one which was still audible to us;  "but if it is not so, Hester, tell me the reason."

    She still said nothing.  "Unless I have the reason, and the true one," he repeated firmly, "you must stay.  Give it me at once.  Have you felt ill since you have been here?"

    "No, uncle; only the last two days."

    "Then, once for all," — and then he paused, and again lowered his voice, yet it reached our silent party, and we all heard,—"tell me, are the young ladies kind to you?"

    He paused for an answer, and no one breathed till it came.  It was given as if reluctantly, and in a very low and gentle tone, scarcely above a whisper, and we all felt, rather than heard, that it was "No."

    Our suspense was breathless.  As for me, confusion took away my powers of observation.  What, I thought, should we do?  Should we call Madame; — should we promise to be more kind in future; —and what would this uncle do?  Would he take her away directly, or accuse us to Madame?  I was one of the little girls; it did not devolve on me to act, but I wished some one would do or say something.  I wished, however, in vain, for before any of the elder girls could recover from their consternation to speak or stir, the door was opened by Massey, who said to Miss Palmer's uncle that Madame was now disengaged, and wished to see him; and he got up instantly and followed her, leading his niece by the hand.

    Then followed a scene that I shall not easily forget.  The dignified Miss Ward shed tears; Miss L'Estrange and Belle cried and sobbed with that heartiness which characterized all their actions; Miss Ashley blamed herself; Miss Morton blamed Madame for not having told us these circumstances beforehand; Juliet declared she had always expected some unpleasant end to Miss Palmer's affair; and Miss L'Estrange sobbed out that she would rather have borne twice as much that was disagreeable than have said a word, if she had known how much depended on Miss Palmer's staying; "and now," she continued, "to think of our knowing that we are making her to be a servant."

    As for me, I had felt since the morning a curious sensation, which, I believe, is sometimes the precursor of illness.  I was very cold, and kept from time to time entertaining doubts as to the reality of what was going on around me.  Every fresh thing that happened, I said to myself, "I wonder whether this is real; and if it is, I wonder why I care so little about it.  I wonder whether I should care if a very long lesson was set me, or be very much pleased even if I saw mamma walking in at the door.  I don't think I care about anything."

    Miss Morton was the first to recall the girls to themselves by reminding them that it was most absurd to be so sorry at Miss Palmer's departure, when we had found her presence so unwelcome, and when she had done so much to make herself disagreeable; besides, she said, "You know we did not adopt that cold manner which she had called unkind, till we felt quite sure that she more than deserved it."

    "That does not signify at all," said Miss L'Estrange, sobbing; "it has ruined her prospects for life.  Oh, I am so sorry!  Oh, poor thing—poor thing!"

    "Mary," said Miss Morton, giving her a slight push, "how can you give way so before these children!  Pray be reasonable."

    "And all about my rubbishing polyanthus," sobbed Belle, half resentfully; "I'll never be unkind to any one again, however much she deserves it!"

    "I am sure she deserves it, and a great deal more," said Miss Morton, quite calmly; "her suffering for this fault does not make her innocent of it."

    I believe this kind of conversation went on for more than an hour; and we had begun to wonder whether Miss Palmer's uncle might not be relating what had passed to Madame, and considering what we should say in our own defence, when Massey came in again, and said to me, "Miss West, you are wanted, if you please."

    I went into the hall with the same dreary sense of unreality upon me, and there I saw Miss Palmer, her boxes, her music-books, her parrot in his cage, and all her possessions, standing at the street door.  There was a chaise outside, and her uncle stood by it, giving some directions.

    "Going!  Miss Palmer?" I exclaimed, in consternation.

    "I have taken leave of Madame," she answered; and pale as she still was, there was a peaceful kind of happiness in her face which went to my heart, for I felt how more than glad, how thankful, she was to be away from us.  The parrot, as usual, was making a great noise — screaming, fluttering, and climbing about with his beak and claws.  "Here's a state of things," he screamed out, as I went up to its mistress, "ha, ha, ha!"  It was astonishing how often this sentence of his seemed appropriate to the matter in hand.

    "Dear," said Miss Palmer, "I thought I should like to kiss you and wish you good bye."

    "Are you really going, then?" I inquired.  "Oh, then, let me tell the girls; they are some of them very sorry, particularly Miss L'Estrange."

    She hesitated, and then answered with that same look of serenity, "I could not expect that they should like to see me after I have said that about them to my uncle; but I will send a message.  I am going with my dear uncle, and I believe I shall be very happy.  I shall never think that they meant me to know that they disliked me.  They were not aware, I believe, how much they showed it.  I was not brought up to be such a lady as they are, and they must see the difference, I know.  I am so grieved that I spoke unkindly of them, now that I am going such a long, long journey.  It seems as if what I said could not be true.  When they know that I am never coming back any more, I am sure they will excuse whatever it was that they disliked.

    She paused so long, that I said to her, "Is that the message, Miss Palmer?"

    "Oh, no," she replied; "I wish I could make a good message."

    "It would be much better just to come and take leave of them," I pleaded; "and I will tell them about the message too."

    She still hesitated; but as I took her hand, and drew her towards the school-room door, she gave way, and suffered me to usher her in and explain her errand.

    As she advanced into the room all her composure left her, and she burst into tears; the girls crowded about her, and all kissed her —some, perhaps, because they felt compunction, some because they wished to be magnanimous at the last, and some because the others did.

    She seemed struggling to speak, and said, in broken sentences, that she should always think affectionately of them, and that she hoped they would forgive her for going in this way; but the old shyness so much overcame her that she could scarcely make herself intelligible; and her uncle calling her from without, she drew down her veil, and after kissing me, hastily withdrew.

    We followed her into the hall; her baggage was put into the chaise; and Madame took leave of her; Miss Palmer was lifted in, and the little chaise drove off.

    Madame seemed depressed, and remarked that Miss Palmer's uncle had appeared rather in a hurry to take his niece away, and had said that as he should not be passing that way again for a long time, he hoped she would excuse it.

    It was evident from her manner to us, which was not at all different from usual, that no other reason had been given.

    The rain was over, and the wet flowers were bright in the sunshine; it was very warm, and I remember that there was so little wind that the fallen petals of the peonies lay in heaps under them, and were not blown away, and on the grass beneath the two hawthorn trees there were patches as white as snow.

    Madame soon withdrew to her sick child, who was now awake; therefore we four of the second class went up to our own room.

    I remember seeing Massey there, already beginning to take down the little blue bed that had been Miss Palmer's: my schoolfellows began to question her; but the curious sensation had so much increased in my head that I only wished she would make haste and finish her operations, that I might lie down on my own bed and rest.

    I was soon able to do this, and Massey, looking very much surprised, inquired if I felt unwell.

    "Oh, no," I replied; but I was very tired, and I had a curious feeling in my head.  Massey observed that it was a strange thing, and she thought we were all going to be ill together; for when Miss Palmer came up stairs she was so giddy that she was obliged to take sal volatile, and thought she should have fainted.

    Never had a bed been such a luxury before.  I drew the quilt over my shoulders, and lay quietly listening to the conversation going on around me, till Massey recurred to the subject of Miss Palmer's departure.  "She seemed very much pleased to be going away, poor dear," said Massey, sagely shaking her head; "not that she said a word to me like that, but I know, I know."

    "What do you know, Massey?" asked Belle.

    Massey was counting the curtain rings, and did not answer till she had run them all on to a tape, and tied them up; then, with that unexcited quietude of manner which sometimes gained unusual attention for what she said, she observed, —

    "If anybody had told me beforehand that you young ladies were so proud I wouldn't have believed it."

    "Proud!" repeated Belle, with genuine surprise.

    "I am sure I've been very sorry ever since," continued Massey, "that I told you about her uncle not being such a gentleman as your papas.  That was just what Madame wished you not to know."

    "What has that to do with our being proud?" asked Juliet.

    "Well, miss," replied Massey, "if you are not proud, why did you always make Miss Palmer keep her distance, and always speak so coldly to her?"

    "Massey, you are quite wrong—quite mistaken," cried Belle, whose blood boiled at the hint that we had ill-used Miss Palmer because she was in an inferior position.

    Massey smiled with a tranquillity much more aggravating than direct denial would have been, and continued, "But I will say for Miss Palmer, that never was a young lady that gave me so little trouble, and always kept her drawers so neat."

    "I say you are quite mistaken," repeated Belle.

    "In thinking you and Miss Palmer were not comfortable together, did you mean, miss?" asked Massey, as quietly as before, and without looking off her work.

    "Massey, you don't understand," said Juliet; "it was not because we are proud that we were unfriendly with Miss Palmer."

    "Miss Palmer was never obliging to us," added Margaret.

    "We were always uncomfortable from the very day she came," continued Belle.

    "Indeed, miss," replied Massey, with respectful attention, but not as if she took any particular interest in the matter; "well, it's no business of mine, but I thought she seemed very obliging at first, young ladies."

    "She never was," said Juliet, "never."

    "Well, miss," said Massey, "excuse me, but I think you forget about those flowers that she bought for you; that was obliging, I think, for you never could have had them if it hadn't been for her."

    "Bought them for us," cried Margaret, laughing scornfully, "for us, indeed!  Why, Massey, she bought them for herself, and planted them in her own garden."

    "I mean," said Massey, "those flowers that she bought of that man — you know, young ladies — the man that was going away before you came in from your walk."

    "Well," said Belle, "so do we mean those flowers."

    "But she didn't buy those for herself," said Massey, because I helped her to choose them, and she asked me how much I thought you would like to give for them."  Then looking up and observing our breathless attention, she continue, "Miss Palmer came to me as I was ironing in the laundry, and told me that the man she had heard talked of was come, and that you would be so disappointed, and hadn't she better venture to choose out the best for you.  So I said, 'Yes, to be sure, miss' and she asked me to come and help her to make a bargain, and she gave four shillings and sixpence for them; and after that I helped her to carry them to the gravel walk against you came home."

    Belle drew a long breath, and stood gazing at Massey mute and motionless, while Juliet and Margaret began to cross-question Massey, which only made her more positive in her narrative.  Miss Palmer had never hinted at meaning to keep the flowers herself, she said; and if she had not given them to us, it must have been because she was too shy.

    Thus the ground on which we had founded all our prejudice against Miss Palmer was pushed from under our feet, and all her subsequent conduct seemed to change.  We acknowledged that it was kind of her to have purchased the plants for us; but when Massey remarked that she wondered why she had not given them to us, we could not reply, for we felt that our behaviour and our offended pride had so checked and embarrassed her, that she could not do it at the time; and, afterwards, they were so much broken and spoiled, that they were not worth giving.

    My schoolfellows sat a while deep in thought; then they said they should go and tell all this to Miss L'Estrange, and I was left on my bed, where I presently fell into a sound sleep, and did not awake till the tea-bell rang.

    That evening we were not left without the presence of the teachers; little, therefore, could be said about Miss Palmer; but it was evident that Massey's story had made a deep impression in the school, and Miss L'Estrange particularly declared that she would never rest till she had made some reparation.

    The next morning Nannette was extremely ill, and Madame sent down to request that the lessons might go on as usual; but I felt scarcely able to do mine, and longed to lie down on my bed and rest.

    I did not know that I was ill, but thought it strange that I should shiver when the sun was shining so brightly; afterwards I thought it equally strange that I should be so hot, and feel so cross and irritable with everything and everybody.

    The lessons appeared to go on in a dream that had many changes, and yet, when at length Dr. G―― came in, and after speaking to the teachers, said cheerfully, "Are there any young ladies here that have never had the measles?" and I answered, "Yes, I have not," I had no intention of deceiving him when I replied to his further questions that I felt quite well.

    He informed us that Nannette had got the measles.  Juliet and I were the only pupils that had not had this complaint.  Juliet's parents were in India, but Miss Quaint said she supposed that I should immediately be sent home.

    "I must not have her sent home," said Dr. G――.  "She is not in a fit state for it.  Would you like to go and lie on the drawing-room sofa, my dear?"

    "Oh, yes, very much," I replied; and Missy Quaint made no objection so he led me to the sofa in the drawing-room, where there was a delightful scent of geraniums, and where, the green blinds being let down, there was a soft, cool shade.

    I laid my head on the pillow; all those miserable feelings vanished, and I fell fast asleep.

    When at length I awoke, Miss strange was standing by me, and I saw Massey coming into the room with a tray and some plates upon it.

    "How are you now, my pet?" said Miss L'Estrange, kneeling down by me, and kissing me.

    I answered, as before, that I was very well, and was very glad to find that now I was neither hot nor cross.

    "Dr. G―― says you may have your dinner if you like," she then said; "and after that you may go for half an hour into the sunshine."

    I opened my eyes, and repeated, "If I like, I may have my dinner? — oh yes, I like, of course."

    Massey accordingly put the tray before me, and I sat up and enjoyed my dinner; but after this I was by no means able to go out, and was very glad to let Massey carry me up stairs, and put me to bed.

    There I lay very quietly watching Miss L'Estrange, whom Madame, at her own request, had constituted my nurse.  She sat at work, and now and then spoke to me very affectionately and properly, telling me that I was going to be ill; that I must try to be patient, and pray that if it was the will of God I might shortly get well again.

    I assented, and liked to hear her talk; but, in my childish heart, I felt all the importance of being ill, and having other people anxious about me, especially when the girls came in one by one on tiptoe to ask how I was, and to condole with me.  At five o'clock the second class came up stairs, and having dressed themselves, very quietly went into the garden.  Between sleeping, and talking, and watching my kind nurse, a long time seemed to pass, till suddenly some very quick, and not at all cautious, footsteps came rushing up the stairs, and, to my very great terror, Belle darted into the room, crying and sobbing as if her heart would break.

    It was in vain that her sister alternately questioned and soothed her; she could neither speak nor control herself, and the room was half full of girls, some amazed, some crying, some arguing, before a single coherent sentence was uttered that could throw any light on this strange proceeding.

    Miss L'Estrange looked from one to the other, quite bewildered.  At length I distinguished Margaret's voice — "It was the rabbit," she exclaimed; "it was Speck."

    "Well, what of the rabbit?"

    Several voices answered, some lamenting, some contradicting; till suddenly remembering me, and that she should have kept me quiet, Miss L'Estrange sent them all away excepting Belle, and used what means she could to calm and pacify her.  Belle, however, could not attend to her entreaties; but throwing herself on her knees before her sister, she hid her face in her lap, and declared that she should never be happy again, and that the rabbit had done it all.

    "What can this mean?" said Miss L'Estrange.

    "Prosper," sobbed Belle, "Prosper said last night that he'd seen him."

    "Well, my dear," asked her sister, "what then?"

    "We went, — we went between the rows of hops to look for him."

    "And you found him, I suppose," suggested her sister, looking more and more surprised.

    "And we peeped between," proceeded Belle, "and he was sitting — sitting up and eating; and Prosper said" here a fresh burst of tears, and it was some moments before she went on.  "But we startled him away, and he left his leaves and things lying on the ground; and Prosper said ――"

    "Well, what did Prosper say?" exclaimed her sister, getting out of patience.

    There were more sobs, then Belle went on — "And Prosper said he had cut off the parsley stalks as clean as if he had done it with a knife; and so — and so he had."

    I shall never forget the sudden change of countenance with which Miss L'Estrange heard these words.  "As clean as a knife," she murmured to herself, with a sort of consternation; and then I remembered when and where I had heard this said before.

    "Could a rabbit have done that?" said Miss L'Estrange, apparently quite shocked.

    "He did those in the hop ground," said Belle, crying piteously; "and when he saw us, he left theme lying round just like the leaves of my black polyanthus.  Oh, Mary, what are we to do to make amends to Miss Palmer?"

    Before her sister could answer, Miss Ashley came in, and quietly shutting the door, sat down on my bed, and said, "Is not this a terrible business, Mary?—what is to be done?"

    "I suppose there can be no mistake?" said her friend.

    "Impossible," was the reply.  "If you had seen the leaves and stalks, you would have known at once that that was how the polyanthus was cut; and here have we absolutely hunted an innocent girl out of the school for want of knowing this before.  Mary, why don't you speak? — what shall we do?"

    "I'm sure I don't know," said Miss L'Estrange, in a desponding tone of voice.

    "It was a most cruel, unwarrantable prejudice from beginning to end; and oh, how I wish she was in the house to hear me say so!  Oh, Mary, how could we give in to it?"

    "I'm sure I don't know," repeated Miss L'Estrange, more sadly still.

    I listened with great interest; but the feeling of unreality was stronger than ever, and as my head ached, I was not very sorry when Madame, reappearing with Dr. G――, sent them all out of the room, and set Massey in their place; and now followed such confusion as I remember to this day.  There was nothing but seemed to change as I looked at it: white rabbits were running over the coverlet, but I could not reach to stroke them; amber necklaces were under the pillows, but I vainly tried to find them; curious plants were growing all over the floor, and curious birds were walking about among them; papa and mamma were looking at me through the window, but they never came in, nor spoke to me; and I was always doing multiplication sums, that got longer and longer, and never came right.

    The time did not appear to be long.  Sometimes I saw a lamp in the room; then again the sun would be shining in; after that I saw three stars glittering in the cool summer sky, and watched them as they seemed to get entangled among the walnut boughs before they set.

    At last I woke, and found that I could not lift up my head.  It was morning; I thought what a long dream I had had, and felt very weak; but Massey was sitting by me; so I asked her why she had not put out my clean frock, as it was Wednesday.

    "Wednesday," said Massey, very gently; "no, miss, this is Thursday."

    I was very much surprised, but thought I knew better than she did; and when I had drank some tea, I remarked, that if this was next Thursday, I wondered where Wednesday was gone to.

    "This is not next Thursday," said Massey; "this is the Thursday after."  So I thought it was of no use arguing with such a person, and asked her how far Miss Palmer had got by this time.

    "What made you think of her, miss?" said Massey.  "Well, be she far, or be she near, I'll answer for it she has had the measles, for she was taken before she left just as you were."

    Just then I heard footsteps in the passage, for my door was ajar; I thought to myself, "That is exactly how papa walks."  The footsteps came on nearer, some one entered, I opened my eyes, and saw that it was my papa, and that he was standing looking at me; I could not speak for joy, but Massey said, "Miss West is wonderfully better this morning, sir."

    Presently, the rustle of a silk dress swept softly across the floor, and my contentment was complete.  I was sure it was my mother's dress, and so it proved to be.

    In the afternoon of that quiet day, I was so much better that I could talk to my parents; I asked after Nannette, and was told that she had been very dangerously ill, and was recovering, but slowly; I then inquired about Miss Palmer, but my mother had never heard her name; so I was obliged to be contented for the present with my ignorance

    Very quietly, and, as it seemed, quickly, the time passed; and some time during the afternoon of the next day I awoke, and found Miss L'Estrange sitting by me; I heard mamma tell her that I was not to be fatigued, but that if she could say what she wished me to hear in few words, I might listen to it.

    Almost as shortly, therefore, as I now relate the circumstance, Miss L'Estrange told me how anxious they had all been to write to Miss Palmer, and acknowledge their error; to tell her what they had discovered about the black polyanthus, and what Massey had told us of her buying the flowers for us.  "But we did not know her uncle's address," she continued; "and it was only two days ago that we happened to hear it, through a farmer, who knows him.  So we have written a long letter to her," she said, "asking her forgiveness, and begging her to persuade her uncle, that we shall be extremely friendly and affectionate to her if she may come back again, and that we shall try to make up to her for our past unkindness; we have made up a little parcel, in which we have each sent her something to keep for our sakes, and we thought you would like also to send her something."

    I said I should, and chose a little locket out of my stores to be sent.  The letter was then read, and all the pretty little presents were shown to me.

    The parcel, she told me, was to go by railway; and then she left me to enjoy all the peace and rest of convalescence, doubly pleasant to me, because my parents were so constantly with me.

    The next day I was so much better that I was allowed to enjoy the little consequence of seeing all the girls, as they came in, with my mother's consent, to speak to me.

    I shall not soon forget that morning; I was beginning to understand that I had been extremely ill, and I saw in the faces of my father and mother something of that rest and peace seldom felt but after anxiety.  My mother was reclining on a couch where I could see her, my father sitting by me; he had been reading, and an open Bible was still in his hand.  I reflected on what he had said, and was grateful for them, that God had spared their only child; and for myself that I might yet live to be useful and thankful.

    Miss L'Estrange was sitting at the foot of my little bed.  I had nothing to do but to lie still and rest; the flies were humming in the sunny windows, the birds were singing outside, the shadows of the trees were rocking across the white blinds; everything about me was orderly, cheerful, and quiet.

    My thoughts naturally recurred to Miss Palmer; I wondered whether she would return to school, and began to consider what I could do to show my sorrow for the past.

    Just then, Massey came in, and said to Miss L'Estrange, "There is a parcel for you, miss, from the railway."

    My father, thinking perhaps that she would like to open it in my room, left us to ourselves and went out.

    I could not help noticing that this was precisely like what we had sent to Miss Palmer.  Miss L'Estrange hastily untied the string, and out came our own packet, precisely as we had sent it, excepting that the seals were broken.

    She looked at first astonished, and then inexpressibly hurt.  "Is it possible," she said, quite pale with the pain this prompt return of her own presents had given her, "is it possible that she refuses to be reconciled, and declines to accept our keepsakes, or even to read our letter?"

    My story is nearly concluded: I will not detail how we turned over the contents of the parcel; how we examined the seals of our letter, and saw that she had opened them; how we questioned with one another as to why she had returned them so quickly.

    We were not to be allowed to make any reparation.  I looked up during the examination, and saw my mother's eyes fixed on a little note which had dropped from the parcel upon the bed.

    At the same instant, Miss L'Estrange snatched it up, shivered as she opened it, and closed her eyes as if she did not dare to read it.  I took it from her, for a terrible dread of what might be its contents struck through my heart.  Our apologies and reparation had come too late.  The writer said, she had been requested to return this parcel and its contents to the young ladies, for that Miss Palmer had died that morning at seven o'clock!


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