A Sister's Bye-Hours (2)

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LAURA RICHMOND.

I.


"ARE the spoons and forks in the basket?"

    "Yes, Ma'am."

    "And the cold fowls, and the two jellies, and the custard pudding, Elizabeth?"

    "Yes, ma'am; I carried them down, and put them all into the basket myself."

    "That's right, Elizabeth.  There is nothing else to do but to carry down my cloak and Miss Richmond's.  We expect to be back about sunset.  Let the drawing-room shutters be closed before the sun comes round, and remember to water the hydrangeas."

    "May I go out this afternoon, ma'am, for an hour or two?"

    "Yes, certainly."

    This little dialogue took place in a pretty garden, between an elderly lady and her young housemaid.  At its termination the latter went back to the house to fetch the cloak, and the former pursued her way along a gravel path between beds of stocks and carnations, till she reached her orchard, which was divided from the garden by a wicket gate, and bounded by a clear river, small and full of water.

    As the old lady emerged from among the fruit trees, she was greeted by joyful shouts from four boat loads of people, mostly young, and all in high spirits.  They had just reached the little landing place: two more boats presently came up, and there was a cheerful babble of voices.

    "Boys," cried Mrs. Richmond, who was as joyous as the youngest child present, "boys, respect my water lilies; don't knock them about more than can be helped."

   "Oh, they'll all come up again when we are gone by, Mrs. Richmond.  But, grandmamma, which boat are you going in?"

    "What a noise they do make!" exclaimed the gentle old lady, as the boys, backing their oars, brought their boats' sterns into the fringe of yellow flags, and fathers', mothers', friends', and children's voices all assailed her at once.

    "Mrs. Richmond, are you sure we have got salt and mustard on board?" — "Mrs. Richmond, the vicar says he has trusted entirely to you about the ginger beer." — "I say, grandmamma, you said you would go with us this time.  Ours is the best boat."  "Charlie, if you don't sit still, you must be put on shore." — "Where's the bread? — who knows where the bread is?"  "Call over all the things we've got." — "Boys, be quiet." — "Oh, Dick, you splash us."  "Papa, oh, dear papa, will you gather a lily for me?"

    A good deal confused by the noise, Mrs. Richmond wished she had not promised to join the picnic.

    "I never will go again," she thought, as she stepped into her place, for this was an annual picnic, and a very large one; but every year her objections were overruled by her son and daughters, her grandchildren and her friends.

    A young lady now appeared, and was greeted with cries of "The late Miss Richmond!" "Hurrah! here's Aunt Harriet!  Now we're off!" "No, we're not." — "Now, let every one sit down." — "Is Miss Richmond seated?" "Then let the 'Watersprite' take the lead."

    The "Watersprite" was accordingly rowed clear of the white and yellow lilies and the forget-me-nots, which fringed that little river; and, under a blue sky, and between rows of fruit trees, her five companions followed.

    The boats were all large, and not very light; but that did not much matter, as they were going down with the stream.

    In the first four boats there was a great deal of talking and laughing; often, also, there was singing, and sometimes a little scolding.  In the last two boats there was silence, or only whispers; but this quietude by no means showed that the last two boats contained less happy passengers.  On the contrary, every face beamed with joy, every eye shone with expectation; for was not this a holiday?  Was it not a reward for good behaviour?  Yes, indeed!  The last two boats were the most important of all; the picnic was given expressly for them — given by the committee to the scholars of "The New Philanthropic School."

    A little pennon floated from the hindmost boat, and on it was emblazoned the name of the institution.  The mistress, proud but anxious, sat under it, hoping that all would pass off well; the vicar sat in the next boat.  He was also anxious — anxious about his own many boys and girls, hoping to get them and all the other children safely landed and safely home again.  Mrs. Richmond sat in the "Watersprite," and she was anxious, too, for the weighty matter of provision was her care.  Were there fowls enough?  Was there beef enough?  Had the plates been remembered?  She was not certain; but she hoped all was right.

    Nobody else, excepting a mamma or two, — who did not like to see the least movement in the boats, — had the least shadow of care at heart that day.  In a triumphal procession the six boats went down the glassy river, turning and winding, sometimes between level pastures full of cattle, then through a wild heath covered with flowering ling, then through a long wood, where smooth-trunked plane trees leaned overhead, and the water was quite green with the reflection of their leaves.

    "A jolly place for nests, in the season!" said the young rowers; for hawks, and owls, and jays, and stockdoves built there.

    And now at last the boats emerged from the shadow of the trees, and on the left hand, looking white and bare in the sunshine, stood the place they were to dine in — the ruins of a castle and a chapel, roofless and rent.  Trees of ivy pushed themselves over here and there, between the battlements, and ferns feathered and adorned the shattered carved work of the arches.

    "Hurrah!" cried the boys, "how grave and still the old place looks to-day."

    "And oh! look at the foxgloves, and look at the snapdragons!" exclaimed the girls.

    "Now boys, now girls," cried the vicar; "don't be in a hurry.  Steady; hand the little ones first.  You have all the afternoon before you; the castle will not run away."

    In spite of this assurance, the eager crowd sprang out over the bank, as if every moment was of the greatest consequence, and ran up the little hill to the ruins with shouts of exultation, leaving their elder guardians to follow more quietly, while the scholars came up in an orderly body, and two men servants gradually emptied the baskets of their savoury contents.

    It was commonly believed by the principal consumers of that great feast, that its equal never was spread.  It was an annual exhibition of all that was delicate, abundant, and delicious.  Jelly of the most cunning shapes and of the brightest colours; piles of raspberry tarts and cheese cakes, pies, strawberries, a whole ham, cakes of all sorts, and curds and cream, and chickens and pigeons, to say nothing of beef and bread and such common things, and not to mention orange wine and ginger beer in abundance.

    A place was chosen just within the shadow of the castle, and where the old donjon tower had once been raised.  Then the table cloth was spread, and the tempting viands were displayed.  My poor, unfortunate reader, you never went to that picnic; at least, it is not probable that you ever did.  Such raspberry tarts, so crumbling, so flaky, so altogether desirable, never were baked for you; their fame has survived some things better worth remembering, for they are often talked of to this day in every quarter of the world.

    While the cloth was spread, and the provisions were got ready, there was a general retreat for play; the joyous voices of the children were soon heard all over the old ruin, and their active steps in the scramble after nests, and flowers, and ferns.  At length the whistle sounded, the signal that they were all to appear at the board, which they soon did, the guests in groups and the scholars in procession, two and two, with the mistress at their head.

    They sang a grace before they sat down on the short, dry grass, and then, under the direction of the committee (four bustling ladies), the feast began, — the scholars, flushed and happy, taking out their handkerchiefs and spreading them over their knees to protect their new green gowns.

    Gradually but surely the viands disappeared, and when the vicar — having given each scholar a glass of orange wine — told them to drink the health of the committee, not a raspberry tart was left.

    Partly because all the scholars were seated in due form, and partly because he did not wish them and the other children to begin any active sports immediately after their dinner, the vicar then addressed the assembly; and speaking to all, he first reminded them what blessings they derived from education, remarking that he was sure there was not a boy or girl present who was foolish enough to wish for continual holidays.  "Nor, delightful as is a festive occasion such as this," he continued, "would any of you wish it to be frequently repeated at the risk of interfering with those lessons in which you are all able to take an intelligent interest?"

    It is possible that here the vicar did not carry the feelings of the meeting with him; for though he was listened to with due decorum, there was a puzzled and doubtful look upon many young faces, and the mistress coughed faintly, as though she should be sorry to see her scholars put to the proof.

    The vicar did not observe this, and he went on,

    "But especially, my dear children, must those of you who are scholars in this excellent school, rescued from poverty and neglect, you being orphans or friendless, — especially must you feel grateful for the good education which is teaching you those things 'which belong to your peace,' and fitting you to earn a respectable living in this world — grateful to those good ladies who set on foot 'the Philanthropic School,' and to that worthy mistress who labours so conscientiously to carry out their benevolent plans."  Here the meeting was entirely with the speaker.  The boys began to cheer, for this was a proper and even a laudable occasion for making a noise; the scholars joined with right good will, and they all cheered together, till at last, when the heads of the committee ached, the vicar called for order, and the mistress ran behind the ruin to dash away a few happy tears.

    In a few minutes she stole back again.  The vicar had concluded his address, and her scholars were reciting psalms.  After that they sang a ballad and a part song, while the other children listened, and were very glad that they were not called upon to take their turn.

    "Now," said the vicar, "you may all go to play till you hear the whistle again."

    Joyful words!  The ground was cleared almost instantly; the boys ran off to climb and run races, the girls joined the scholars and went off to play at blind man's buff, and all the grown-up guests followed, with the exception of the vicar, Mrs. Richmond, and two members of the committee; these sat together in the shadow congratulating each other that all had hitherto gone off so well, talking of the new subscribers they had got, and lamenting that some of the old ones had withdrawn, till, the vicar strolling away, they came from generals to particulars, went into the prices of the chief articles of food and clothing, and came back at last to their regret that they had lost some of the old subscribers.

    "But I cannot wonder at it," observed Mrs. Randolph, the youngest of the ladies; "for as Mrs. Gresham was remarking to me only yesterday, so far from the subscribers deriving any benefit from the school, servants leave their places oftener now, and ask for higher wages than they did before it was set on foot.  Jane Harris has just left her place."

    "Indeed!" said Mrs. Richmond.  "Jane seemed to suit so well, I am so sorry she did not remain."

    "Yes, she only stayed six months — suited exactly but heard of a place where more was given and there was less to do, so she gave warning.  'Now,' as Mrs. Gresham said, 'we understood that this school was to rear destitute children, fit them for service, and inculcate good principles; but it is evident that your plan does not suit the occasion, for your young servants will not stay with us, or if they do they want high wages, which is not what the committee contemplated when they first supported the charity."'

    "No, certainly not," said Mrs. Chamberlain, the third member of the committee; "and this state of things gets worse and worse."

    "But, my dear, no one complains that the young servants we send out are not good ones," observed Mrs. Richmond.

    "That is true," answered one; and the other proceeded:

    "Now, as Mrs. Gresham said, very justly, there must be something omitted in their education.  Contentment with their own station, and a desire to do their duty by their employers, cannot be properly inculcated; for instead of attaching themselves to the families they go into, they are generally eager to rise, and bent on bettering themselves."

    "And they succeed," said Mrs. Richmond; "that is, because we supply, as it were, a superior article, and the superior article is sure to command the highest price.  We cannot pretend to regulate what wages they shall receive.  I, for one, should not wish it."

    "But I assure you," said Mrs. Randolph, "that the new members of the committee think something really must be done to remedy this state of things, and at the next meeting they mean to bring the subject forward.  Therefore, we had better be prepared; some of them say the girls are taught too much."

    "Yet it is what they are taught which in a great measure makes their value," observed Mrs. Richmond.

    "But if they were taught a little less on some points, if — I hardly know how to express myself — if they were, taught what we want them to know, in order to adorn their station, and, in short, left to find out the rest for themselves ――"

    "Why then they would not be tempted away as they are," said Mrs. Chamberlain, taking up the sentence.

    "Very true," answered Mrs. Richmond; "but neither would they be so well worth keeping."

    "And then," continued the former speaker, "there is another thing that I much regret.  Consider the expense we are at to make servants of them, and how few remain servants long!  Some make good wives, some make good tradeswomen, some good teachers; but hardly any remain permanently servants — they think themselves fit for something better."

    "Deep in conversation, ladies?" said the vicar, joining them.  "Well, this is a happy day for you.  It must be a great comfort to you to see how well your school answers."

    "You think it does answer?" asked Mrs. Richmond.

    "To be sure, to be sure!  No doubt of it!"

    "That is the very point we were discussing."

    "I should not have thought there could be a doubt.  The girls are orderly, healthy, cheerful.  At my weekly examinations I find them intelligent.  They conduct themselves modestly after they leave the school, and they all earn a decent livelihood.  Is that compatible with failure?"

    "Why yes," said Mrs. Randolph, "for we educate them expressly for servants.  Servants are very much wanted, as we all know; and it is vexatious that they will not continue to be servants when we have taken such pains with them."

    "Were they to be servants, then, for our sakes or for their own?"

    "For their own, assuredly.  This is a charity school."

    "Then it answers.  Your charity has done all the good it contemplated; for these girls, though matters have not turned out exactly as you wished, are earning quite as comfortable a living as if they earned it in the way you intended."

    "We wished them to adorn their own station," said Mrs. Randolph, "not to rise out of it."

    "Why, my dear madam, you took them out of it yourselves.  You raised them from a state of rags and dirt, neglect, and ignorance.  As far as in you lies, you give them all the knowledge requisite to make them intelligent Christians and excellent servants.  You accustom them to cleanly habits and civil speech.  What wonder, then, that their next desire is to raise themselves?"

    "We have a right to expect something from their gratitude."

    "But you made no agreement with them that they should serve you after they left school?"

    "No.  And though I feel hurt at their leaving us as they do, I should be the last to wish for such an agreement; nor should I have mentioned the subject if I had not known what some of the subscribers think — which is, that the want of good servants was pleaded to them as a reason why they should support the school, the intention of which was to provide such.  And now the very circumstance of our keeping these girls so long, and teaching them so carefully, makes it more difficult than ever to have and to keep good servants; for they can command such high wages, and are so intelligent, that they know exactly what they are worth; and if we will not or cannot give it, they go elsewhere."

    "Could we have a better proof than this that the charity (to those who support it with a single heart, and all for the glory of God and the good of these girls) is a perfect success?  Your best and most thorough charity is that which tends to make, and ends in making, its object independent of charity; which, in fact, works to its own extinction; which takes from the ranks of those who hang on it for assistance, and adds them to those who can exercise it."

    Now all this time Mrs. Richmond sat silent.  She thought her two friends took rather a low view of the matter, and was vexed that they should bring interested motives to bear on it.  Mixed motives never answer when charity is in question.  If people will not give money for the love of God and their fellow creatures, it is cruel to them to let them think that what they give under a promise that some good to themselves will come of it, is charity at all.  "However," she reflected, "I have not a large young family to bring up, nor have I small means, as these have.  I could afford to raise my housemaid, Elizabeth's, wages to any sum that she is likely to ask without inconvenience; so, perhaps, I ought not to say anything.  But if all the members of the committee take this view, it will be very awkward; and I do not see how the funds of the school can be kept up."

    "It really is most difficult," pursued Mrs. Chamberlain, "to get and to retain tolerable servants."

    "So my wife says," observed the vicar; "but this is not a new complaint.  I can remember hearing my worthy mother make the same when I was in the nursery.  Now, if the complaint is a just one, it must have a cause, and I think that cause is not far to seek.  It is that our interest and that of the servants clash; we want good servants and low wages, they want good mistresses and high wages."

    "But no wages will induce them to attach themselves to families as they used to do in the good old days," said Mrs. Randolph; "I mean, no wages that we should think of giving."

    "Then," observed the vicar, "I suppose we shall have to do more for ourselves.  I have never doubted that, as knowledge was spread, and emigration went on, we should not have so many servants; what we have are superior and are more costly luxuries.  In some things, therefore, we should learn to be independent of them.  Suppose we start a philanthropic school for young gentlewomen, and teach them how to practise various feminine arts neatly and becomingly."

    At this moment, pretty Miss Richmond, drawing a long tendril of woodbine after her, came wandering by, and stopped to listen to the conversation.  An expression of great surprise and a certain disapproval appeared in her face when she heard the vicar's answer; probably she thought it very wide of the mark.

    His eyes fell upon her as he concluded, and she thought he was addressing her in particular.  She did not look as if any kind of domestic art was at all in her line, and she replied, with a quiet smile, "I do not see how what does not become our station could possibly be done becomingly."

    "You play with my words, Miss Richmond, and beg the question too!  But if you went as much as I do into the classes below us — into small tradesmen's families, for instance, and there saw the one little drudge serving the hard-worked master's unpalatable dinner, while his daughters sat with feet on the fender, reading novels, you would wish as I do, that it was still the custom for young women, whose fathers are not rich, to do the more delicate parts of the family cooking and ironing, and so forth.  Now suppose we have a school to teach these things — at least for such folks as I have mentioned it would be useful."

    The ladies of the committee were not prepared to entertain this new proposition; so, like the prime minister in the poem, they "smiling put the question by."  The difficulty was not solved, nor likely to be; and, after all, what do men know about housekeeping, and all the trouble it causes, and the thought it demands?  So thought the two younger members of the committee.  The elder, Mrs. Richmond, sat placidly enjoying the scene; but then she was at that time in total ignorance of some little events with which I am about to make you acquainted, and with a scene which had taken place in her own orchard that very day.

    It has before been mentioned that, when Mrs. Richmond stepped into the boat which was to convey her to the picnic, her housemaid Elizabeth was left at the brink of the little river, looking on.

    "Don't forget the hydrangeas," said the mistress, repeating her desire that her flowers might be watered; and the maid answered, "Oh no, ma'am, I shall be sure to remember them."

    But the boats had been slowly rowed away, and the rocking lilies had swung into their places again, and the widening rings on the water had spread out and lost themselves among the flags, and the figure of Elizabeth was distinctly reflected on the water, before she roused herself from her meditations and thought about returning to the house.

    "I will just watch them till they are out of sight," thought Elizabeth; and then she stepped a little nearer, and counted over in her mind how many times she had made one of that happy party, and how long ago it was, — for she had been a scholar in the Philanthropic School, and a very good scholar too.

    "Well, now they are out of sight at last," she said; "but I have nothing to do in doors — cook will answer the door bell if any one rings.  It feels so pleasant and free out here, I think I'll take out my work and sit on the bench a bit."

    So she drew from her pocket a pair of wooden knitting pins and a ball of scarlet wool, which her mistress had just given her, and began the operation that knitters call "casting on."

    "Now the thing is," said Elizabeth, talking aloud to herself, "which gives these little shoes to the charity sale, missis or I?  Missis buys the wool, it costs nine-pence; she says, 'Here, Elizabeth, you can knit this up at leisure times.'  Very good; when they are done, they are worth two shillings, and missis sends them and all the other things I knit to the sale.  Well, I am a charitable person, that's certain!  To be sure missis pays for my time; in fact, one may say she hires all my time of me.  Yes, I see!  Why, it's not my charity then at all!"

    This conclusion did not seem to distress the young woman, for she presently began to sing; and very pretty she looked, and very cheerful and contented, as she sat under the laden apple trees, in her neat print gown.

    After awhile she stopped suddenly, from a fancy she had that somebody was beating time to the song.  She shaded her eyes with her hand, and looked back into the orchard, but she did not see any one, and the sound had ceased.

    So she began again, and the sound began too.  It was not like beating time, she now thought, but like slow, doubtful footsteps, drawing nearer and nearer.

    "Surely I do hear somebody coming," said Elizabeth, turning again.

    "It's only me — I beg pardon, I'm sure," said a voice almost at her elbow.

    "Bless me!  Mr. Tompkins!" exclaimed Elizabeth, jumping up and colouring; "how you did frighten me."

    Mr. Tompkins was a young man who served in a corn chandler's shop.  On being thus accosted, he blushed even redder in the cheeks than Elizabeth had done, and said he hoped he was not in the way; that knowing her mistress was out, he had just called as he went home to his dinner, to ask how she was, and cook had sent him down the garden.

    "I am very well, thank you," said Elizabeth.

    "Which is easy to see, I should say," replied the young corn chandler; "for if ever there was anybody that looked — that always looked " here not perceiving how to finish his sentence, he paused, and Elizabeth sitting down and beginning to knit again, he sat down on the bench beside her, and continued for some moments to gaze on the little river.  Whatever Elizabeth may have expected him to say next, it certainly was not what he did say; his words were,—

    "Was you ever at sea, Elizabeth?"

    "Why, no, William," she replied, "you know I never was."

    "I should say," proceeded Mr. Tompkins, nervously, "that a sea voyage wouldn't hurt you a bit.  In short, I think it would do you good."

    A silence followed.  If Mrs. Richmond had heard this said to her active, good-humoured, and clever little housemaid, she would have known very well what it meant, and would have begun to look out for a successor; but Elizabeth was so taken by surprise that she could only look confused, and answer slowly,

    "I don't want any sea voyage to do me good; I never had a day's illness in my life."

    "Only nobody wants to be a servant that can help it," said the young man; "and I should like to set up shop for myself.  I want to be independent, don't you?"

    "I should like it very well," answered Elizabeth, demurely.

    "Well, there's nothing but a sea voyage between us and independence, as far as I can see," proceeded the young man, gathering courage.

    "I thought you were very comfortable where you are," said Elizabeth.

    "So I am while I stop as I am," was the reply; but my wages would be a poor living for a wife and family.  So, Elizabeth, my dear, if you would but consider that you have lived a good while in service" here again the bashful lover stopped; and though he was in general a straightforward and downright young fellow, he now went a long way round before he came to the point; his grammar got all wrong, his sentences came out head first, and at last he heaved an audible sigh, and heartily wished this terrible business was over.  But he had begun by astonishing his companion so much, that she was not quite certain as to his meaning yet, nor did she thoroughly master it till he gave her a letter to read, which set forth that the writer, who was his brother, was doing uncommonly well in New Zealand; and if he, William, would marry and come out to him, he thought it would be a fine thing for them both.

    "Which," said Mr. Tompkins, "is the very identical thing that I should like to do, provided, Elizabeth, my dear, you would get over the disadvantage of the voyage, and would marry me."

    The end of the conversation which followed proved that Elizabeth could get over this disadvantage, and as the vessel in which young Tompkins proposed to sail was advertised to start in six weeks, and she was to leave her place and be married in a month, it was not very wonderful that she forgot to water the hydrangeas.

    The day which followed the picnic was as fine and clear as possible, and the sun was streaming in at the windows when Mrs. Richmond entered her drawing room, and was struck by the sight of some drooping, flabby leaves, and faded bunches of flowers.

    She rang the bell.

    "There is the bell," thought Elizabeth; "now, if mistress is alone, I'll do it."  She entered, and Mrs. Richmond, all unconscious of what her housemaid had to say, pointed out the flowers; and Elizabeth, with a look of vexation, said, "O, dear me, ma'am, how sorry I am!  I clean forgot them."

    "That was careless, Elizabeth," replied the mistress, "for you had nothing else to think of, nothing whatever."

    What a mistake!

    Elizabeth closed the door and went to fetch the watering-pot; she watered the plants carefully; her mistress was reading, and Elizabeth made her task last as long as she could, hoping she would look up.  She did at last, and thereupon Elizabeth began: "If You please, ma'am—" and stopped.

    "What did you say, Elizabeth?" asked Mrs. Richmond.

    "If you please, ma'am—if it's not inconvenient to you, I should wish to leave this day month."

    To judge by the countenance of the mistress, it was very inconvenient.

    "You quite surprise me!" she said.  "Have you any fault to find with your place or your wages?"

    "No, ma'am, I have been very comfortable with you, and I am very grateful for all your favours."

    "Then why do you wish to leave?"

    The blushing housemaid looked first one way, then the other; at last she answered, "I promised I would give warning."

    "You promised! — whom did you promise?"

    "William Tompkins, ma'am."

    "Why could you not say so at first," said the mistress, unable to repress a smile; "you mean that you are going to marry Tompkins."

    "Yes, ma'am; this day month."

    "Well, he bears the best of characters, Elizabeth, and I wish you joy, though I shall be sorry to lose you; you have been with me for years, you have got accustomed to all my ways."

    "Yes, ma'am, I have been with you ever since I was sixteen, the same age that my sister is now."

    It was not very easy to misunderstand this little hint, and Mrs. Richmond answered, "It has not generally been my plan to take a very young girl, Elizabeth."

    "No, ma'am," pleaded Elizabeth, coming nearer to her point; "but Sarah is taller than I was at her age, and I thought, as the ladies have been so well pleased with her, that perhaps you might consent to try her; the place is very light, and she could easily do the work, if I was here just at first to put her in the way of it."

    "Why, you seem to have arranged the whole affair for me," said Mrs. Richmond, unable to repress a smile.

    The housemaid blushed yet more deeply, and answered, "Sarah is the only relation I have in the world, ma'am.  And William said yesterday that if we got on tolerably well, he would have her out as soon as he could afford to pay her passage."

    "You are not very worldly-wise to tell me that," said Mrs. Richmond.  "I am afraid that in this little plan you have been considering your own benefit solely, and not mine."

    "Ma'am?" said Elizabeth, not understanding her.

    "You wish me to take your young sister, that you may know she is safe and well cared for.  Of course you are aware that it will give me some trouble to teach her my ways, and to look after her; but it appears that I am not to have the advantage of her services when I have taught her, for you mean to send for her."

    "Ma'am, I beg your pardon, I am sure," said Elizabeth.  "It seems as if William and I had planned to make a convenience of you but I am sure I never gave it a thought that such was the case.  I only thought that Sarah's time at the school was up in ten days, and that when I left you you would want a housemaid.  Of course I knew you could do better for yourself than to take her, but somehow—"

    Elizabeth stopped here, and occupied herself in picking up such leaves as had fallen under the flower-stand.

    "But what, Elizabeth," asked her mistress.

    "Why, ma'am," replied the housemaid, speaking more freely than she could have done but for this sudden prospect of marrying, and never after that seeing her mistress and benefactress, "I have been so used to hear you talk of the girls as if it were an advantage to you to do them a charity, that I made up my mind you would try Sarah, just because it was plainly the best thing possible for her."

    The housemaid looked as if she could hardly help crying, for she felt that her conduct must appear selfish and neglectful of the interests of one who had always been the best of friends to her.  The mistress, on the other hand, felt that a compliment had been paid, which was sweet because it was so unconscious.

    "Well, Elizabeth," she answered gently, "I will try Sarah."



II.


TEN minutes after, Elizabeth was on her way to the Philanthropic School to fetch her sister, that Mrs. Richmond might speak to her; and the astonished Sarah, a tall, awkward girl, was informed almost in a breath that her sister was going to be married to William Tompkins, and sail with him to New Zealand, and that she herself was sent for to become Mrs. Richmond's housemaid.  The consequence was, that when she was brought into the presence of her new mistress, she was so bewildered that she scarcely gave an intelligent answer to any question but this:

    "If I take you, will you do your best?"

    "Oh yes, ma'am; please, ma'am, I will indeed."

    But doing one's best at sixteen is not always doing well.  Elizabeth declared that Sarah's heart was in the right place; but, if so, it was united to a very giddy head; and if Sarah wept in the morning, when reproved for forgetting her work, she not the less yielded to the fascination of the kitchen window in the afternoon.  She liked to see what joints the butcher boy was leaving at the opposite houses; she liked to gossip with the laundress when she appeared, and to answer the door to the baker, and hear the news.

    "Elizabeth," said Mrs. Richmond one day, "does Sarah improve?"

    "I hope so, ma'am," answered Elizabeth, anxiously; "she does not want for sense."

    "No," replied the mistress, "but she is sadly thoughtless; you must talk to her, Elizabeth; she should be more of a woman at her age."

    "Ah," thought Elizabeth, "I wonder what will be thought of Sarah when I am gone, if this is said now that I am here to look after her.  I hope, I do hope, she will not be so silly as to lose the place before we can afford to send for her."

    "However," continued Mrs. Richmond, "I will give her a fair trial; indeed, I have a motive for wishing to keep her besides kindness to you both.  The funds of the school are very much fallen off, and as I shall save four pounds a year in wages by taking so young a girl, I shall let that go towards making up the deficiency."

    "Indeed, ma'am!" said Elizabeth, "the funds fallen off!  I am sorry; for if ever there was a real good school and splendid charity, it's that one.  In short, ma'am, I owe everything to it; William never would have thought of me if I hadn't had a good education."

    Mrs. Richmond smiled.  "Yes, Elizabeth, I think after the girls leave us they are aware of the benefit they have received."

    "And might I ask," inquired Elizabeth, demurely, "what the ladies decided to do about that legacy from poor Mrs. Kilmer?"

    Elizabeth knew pretty well what had been done, but she wished to hear it from one of the ladies for herself.  This legacy had been left by an old scholar, of whose rise in life the others were immensely proud, and it had occasioned a great deal of gossip in the town.

    "At the last committee meeting we decided to accept it," was the reply; "her husband could perfectly well afford to give it.  And the school was much in want of the twenty pounds, which he very handsomely paid free of duty."

    "They say, ma'am, that he is very rich," continued the housemaid, just for the pleasure of talking about her old school-fellow.

    "He has a good deal of land out in New Zealand, and I believe he came over to get his children educated.  Poor Susan left him with a large family, but he seems inclined to do his very best for them."

    "Ma'am," said Elizabeth, earnestly, "you've been very good to me, and to more than me, but there's nothing you ever did that I feel such a kindness as your taking Sarah; and, ma'am, if ever I can assist the school, as poor Mrs. Kilmer did, I certainly will, for it's an excellent charity — the best in the town."

    So Sarah was duly installed in her sister's place.  Mrs. Richmond went into the church to see Elizabeth married, and from thence she drove in her pony phaeton to the railway station to meet her two younger daughters, who had been paying a visit to some friends.  "I shall be more comfortable now," she thought; "their being at home makes the house so much more cheerful for Harriet.  She will be in better spirits, and I shall have Moxon to see that all goes on smoothly, and to keep that troublesome girl, Sarah, in order."

    Moxon was one of those useful, accommodating, and intelligent people who are a treasure in any household, small or large.  Partly ladies' maid, partly parlour maid, a good nurse, a fair dressmaker, she had attached herself to the family, especially to Mrs. Richmond; and her only fault was that one which besets some of the best of her class — jealousy.

    She had been very jealous of Elizabeth, because she also was useful and intelligent, and it gave her sincere pleasure to find that this young woman was not "to stand in her light" any more.

    In her own opinion there was almost always somebody standing in her light, and she gave herself infinite pains, and did more than was required of her, lest any fellow-servant should have the least chance of becoming a serious rival.

    Her employers, however, reaped the fruit of this peculiarity without discerning the root from which it sprang, and they prized her accordingly.

    "And how is Harriet?" asked Josephine, the elder of the two girls.  Josephine was tall, very proud, and rather pretty.

    "She is lounging on the sofa in her own room.  You must do something, my dears, to amuse her.  The dear child has felt your absence a good deal when — when there was no amusement of any sort going on."

    This dear child was twenty-seven years of age.  She was rather delicate, entirely selfish, and perfectly idle.

    "It certainly is a little hard," continued the indulgent mother, "that you and Laura should so frequently be invited out, and she so seldom."

    "Dear mamma," said Laura, "I am certain that if you were poor, and it was an object to have us away, or if we were sick and wanted change, the Gregsons, and the Barons, and Aunt Mills, would invite us all impartially to do us good; but at present, how natural it is that they should ask those who, as it were, do them good, who amuse them, and make themselves useful."

    "Yes," said Josephine, "no doubt it is a great pleasure to go to Aunt Mills, there is so much society there.  But then we help her to make her parties go off well, and we play at chess with Uncle Mills, and now the governess is away we walk out with the little girls, and hear them practise, and play the seraphim in the church; in short, we find out what wants doing, and do it."

    "I know you do," said the mother, "and that is one reason why I miss you so much when you are away."

    "But Harriet is a charge," said Josephine; "she has an incurable habit of looking at things from the passive point of view."

    "I don't know what you mean, my dear."

    "Why, mamma, she never says I have not understood such and such people, but always they do not understand me; she never considers when things occur what share she may have had in causing them to occur.  She, as it were, sits still in her chair, and considers whether other people are waiting on her properly; and if they have not come to her, or, coming, have not sympathised, then she writes down in her journal a long tirade about its being the lot of some people not to be appreciated, not to be loved, and all that kind of thing."

    "Well, dear," said the mother, "I rather hoped that now you had been away for some weeks, and were fresh to the home duties, you would find this one of attending to her less irksome than before."

    "I shall," said Josephine; and to do her justice, she had spent many an hour that she would rather have employed otherwise in practising duets with Harriet, rowing with her, shooting with her, and otherwise satisfying her exacting nature.

    Laura went up stairs, and opened Harriet's door.  She expected to find her sister languishing and a little pettish, waiting to be entertained with accounts of parties and picnics, but also finding food, in the recital, for wondering complaints that she had not been pressed to join her sisters.

    She found nothing of the kind.  Harriet, in high spirits, was standing at one end of the sofa, and Moxon at the other; they were measuring a transparent muslin of a lovely blue colour.

    "Isn't it charming?" said Harriet, when the sisters had kissed each other; "and so cheap!"

    "Yes, ma'am," observed Moxon.  "I knew you'd want a muslin for this archery party that Miss Laura talked of.  As I went through Birmingham, keeping my eyes open, as I always do, I saw this, and thought it would just suit you.  So I took the liberty to buy it, and I got the money from Miss Josephine."

    "Yes, Moxon," said Harriet, "you do understand me.  Of course you know that my last silk dress would be spoiled at such a party.  You do think of me when you are away."

    "I thought," said Moxon, continuing to measure it with her finger, "that even if it would not wash, you could wear it occasionally during the whole summer; and having so much blue ribbon by you, and my making it up, ma'am, would ensure its being a cheap dress, and so sweetly becoming!"

    "Yes; it just suits her complexion," said Laura.

    "And Mrs. Mills' maid gave me a pattern of a pretty sleeve," said Moxon, "a new one of the dress that Mrs. Mills had for a wedding.  She had it from Paris."

    Laura went away; for Harriet was joyous, blooming, and satisfied, — Moxon was all in all.  Circumstances just then were doing their duty by Harriet.  A party was coming on, and here was a new gown wherein to appear at it.

    As she moved to the door, Harriet exclaimed, "Oh, but, Moxon! my hat has a mauve feather in it."

    "Very true, ma'am; but Miss Laura has a white feather lying by, and I thought — "

    "Oh, yes, Moxon, I will lend it for the occasion," said Laura; and she closed the door and thought: "Dear me! when I am seven-and-twenty, shall I have nothing better to excite and interest me than these stupid parties, and feathers, and blue muslin gowns? Oh, how small is one's importance in the world!  Mamma evidently forgets that it is my birthday — twenty-three!  Only think of being twenty-three, and having done nothing worth mentioning — nothing at all, in fact, since I came from school, except waiting on Goody Fairdew!  What shall I do?  What can I do?  I hate cant; but if I didn't know that not only in Josephine's case, but among several of my school friends who wanted a mission, they were no sooner engaged to be married than they forgot all about it, I think I would cry out for a mission too."

    The words, "For no man among you liveth to himself," came into her mind; and the reflection that they were not written as if Paul were inculcating a duty, but simply as if he referred to a fact; not "No man should," but "No man doth, no man among you Christians does so live."

    "Then what right have I so to live?  Certainly it makes the matter no better, that Josephine, who used to think so much more strongly than I did on this very point, has now lost sight of it.  And yet, even she does not exactly live to herself, nor will she.  George is everything to her; and to please him and his family, is all she thinks about.  And as for me, I have nothing to do but to please myself, now that Goody Fairdew is dead."

    Goody Fairdew was a very old woman when first Laura came from school.  She had been bedridden for many years.  She had one daughter who lived with her, and they were extremely poor — partly because this daughter could not go out cooking, as had been her former occupation.  She was a very good cook, and had been accustomed to go round to the houses in the neighbourhood, and help the servants on occasions of dinner parties, or of company in the house.

    "But I cannot do that now," she once said to Laura; "not even in the summer, for I dare not leave mother for a whole day.  It is a great loss, for I used to sleep at home, and I was often out four or five days running, for weeks.  But now my nearest neighbour is dead.  You know she lived at the cottage just a quarter of a mile off.  Now she is dead, at home I must stay, for there is nobody that can come in and look after mother as she did.  No, not for love or yet for money."

    "How often should some one look in upon your mother in the course of the day?" asked Laura.

    "Why, miss, early in the morning I used to give her a good breakfast, and start off by six to my place, leaving a good lump of coal on the fire.  We're so near the pit, that, thank God, we don't want for cheap fuel, and that's a great thing; for where I then came from, coal was dear and small.  Well, miss, about eleven, you know, — dinner time, — my neighbour came in, broke up the coal, and maybe fried a bit of bacon or broke two or three eggs, for I could afford a good dinner for mother when I was in work; perhaps she boiled her some potatoes, too, or a cabbage, if mother had a mind to it, and then, miss, what with propping her up and feeding her, and making up the fire again, very near an hour was gone; for mother has no notion of being hurried over her meals when she likes them.  Well, then she went away, and came again about four, and boiled the kettle for her tea, and made her toast and dripping, and then got her into her chair to have it, and made her bed for her, and settled her comfortably; that was not done, either, much under an hour.  After that she did very well till I came home.  My poor neighbour's death is a great loss to me, sure-ly."

    "I will be the old woman's neighbour," thought Laura; but she said nothing till she got home, and then she unfolded her plan to her mother, in the presence of her sisters.  The mother was silent; Josephine was much vexed, but Harriet was enthusiastic.  "Dear Laura," she exclaimed, "what a delightful idea; it is just the sort of thing that I should like to help you in!  I like nice clean poor people, and these Fairdews are always so delightfully clean, their little windows so bright, and besides, the mother is such a picturesque-looking old creature."

    "These would be rather menial occupations for Laura," said Josephine; for she never counted for a moment on any real help from Harriet.

    "Oh, but she would not be obliged to do them," said Harriet; "of course it would be very disagreeable to have to make one's own bed; but this sort of thing—Oh, I declare it is quite romantic."

    "I should have some occupation," said Laura to Josephine, "and this is the only one that I can think of."

    "Why should you?" asked Josephine.

    "Why?  You know very well that we all think we ought not to live entirely for ourselves.  We all say that we wish to look up to our Redeemer as an example."

    "I think you are rushing into this without much thought," answered Josephine.

    "My dear," said her mother, "you must consider what a tie such an occupation would be to you.  Goody Fairdew may live for years."

    "Yes, mother; but the hours would not interfere with yours.  She scarcely lives a quarter of a mile from us.  I could walk back after her dinner, and be in more than time for our luncheon.  It would be just the same in the afternoon.  I should be home before the time to dress for dinner."

    "It would interfere with all the picnics and archery parties," said Louisa.

    "You must remember that these only come in the summer," answered Laura, "and then the daughter is seldom out more than three days in the week."

    "And the other three?" asked Harriet, apprehensively. "I don't think I should consider it right, Laura, to give up society, happy as I should be to help at other times."

    "The other three," said Laura, "often go by without any engagement of that sort.  If one did come in the way, of course I should give it up.  Mamma, I wish you would speak."

    "My dear," answered the mother, "I only hesitate on account of weather; for you might be obliged to go out every day."

    "As a governess does," observed Laura.  "Very good for me, I should think."

    "And it is rather a lonely place," continued her mother.

    "When I had no other companion, I could always take Grip with me, and he can scare the sturdiest beggar away."

    "Very well," said the mother, with a sigh, — for people are much more willing to trust God for themselves than for their children, — "I consent;" and she decided in her own mind that, when the day was rainy, or her daughter had a cold, she would send her housemaid.

    "Why do you dislike this plan?" said Laura to her sister Josephine, when they were alone in their room.

    "I said very little," answered Josephine.

    "But I know you dislike it."

    "Yes, it will make you seem different to other people.  It will make you conspicuous."

    "Conspicuous!" exclaimed Laura; "conspicuous — in what way?"

    "Oh," said Josephine, forgetting herself, "I only meant that everybody would know then that you think a great deal about these things, if you will even give up society for the sake of them."

    "These things" really meant personal religion and religious duties, quite as much as works of charity and benevolence; and Josephine was vexed with herself when she heard the answer.

    "I do think of these things a little, but I want to think of them a great deal more; and I want, as much as I can, to put myself in the way of thinking about them more."

    "So do I," said Josephine, "but this is going out of your way for them.  It's — in short, it's putting your hand to the plough."'

    "Was the man to blame," said Laura, "for putting his hand to the plough, or for taking it back again when the furrow was only half finished?"

    "For taking it back," answered Josephine, who observed at once the drift of her sister's question.

    "Then why do you dissuade me from setting my hand to this?  Surely it is better to begin, and go on if I can, than to refrain from beginning at all; besides, if I begin I may expect help, and go on with that help."

    "But if you do not go on every one will say you are inconsistent.  You will have given a kind of pledge which you may find burdensome.  This is not one hard thing to be done and over, but a series of tiresome little things that will seem as if they would never be over."

    "You mean," said Laura, "that it is safer to put one's standard as low as possible."

    "I rather meant safer not to put it too high."

    "Josey, that does not answer; put the standard low, and you will go lower.  I am sure of it.  Put the standard high, and you will strive to reach it."

    "And fail, perhaps."

    "Very likely; but how much you think about consistency.  Had not I better be doing rightly sometimes, than never?  Your plan would be consistently to refrain from doing good at any time."

    "You have such an odd way of putting things," was the answer.  "I do not want to discourage you from visiting the poor; you might take a district instead of inventing this plan."

    "You know very well that, in this small place, the districts are sought after —  actually sought after."

    "Only since we had such a paragon of a curate, and he always in and out of the houses.  Well, if a district is not to be had, there is the school."

    "Do they want another visitor there?"

    "No."

    "But Goody Fairdew does want her dinner, and she does want her bed made.  Let me do that till I find something better to do."

    Nothing better was found.  The old woman's need seldom interfered with Laura's amusements; when it did, she generally made amusements give way, unless her mother wished to send the housemaid to the cottage.  This went on at intervals for two years.  Laura fed the old woman, tended her, and read to her.  The daughter could not read well, and it used to give Laura great pleasure to hear the old creature say, "Read me my prayers, miss, and read me my chapter.  I looks for 'em now, and seems to want 'em."  So Laura would kneel by the bed, and read to her simple prayers, and collects, and psalms, and then a chapter out of the Bible; she also taught her a few hymns, and often felt very happy when her poor old patient would say, gravely, "Them are very fine words; they seems to do me good."

    "I think about those prayers and those texts ever so much, when you're gone," she once observed.

    "Do you?" said Laura.

    "Ay, dear; and when we both get to heaven, I'll tell you what I think, but I can't now, for you see I've no learning.  I think a vast deal, but I can't give it words; but you'll wait, dear, won't you?"

    "Wait?" said Laura, not quite sure of her meaning.

    "Ay, wait, dear; I shall get in, — never fear.  Christ will open the door.  I trust in him; and, dear, I should like you to know what I think about it all, and how I thank you.  So, when you come, I'll tell it you."

    When people put themselves in the way of things, they often meet with them; and so Laura found.  Some things that it was well she should do, became easy to her; some things that it was well she should think of, were constantly brought before her, while she tried to render them plain to the blunt understanding of the old woman.  She could now think with more seriousness of life and death, and the hereafter, because she was so often with one whose life was fast waning away.  She could even attend to a dull sermon with interest, because there was always something that she could glean from it to be detailed to her old woman.



III.


AT the end of two years Goody Fairdew died.  Laura then paid several visits among her friends, and felt like a person released from servitude, or rather like a governess during her well-earned holiday.  It was a comfort to have been useful, and Laura had not less prized the prayers that she knew Goody Fairdew besieged heaven with on her behalf, because they were offered by one who knew of none but the most universal needs of our nature — because they implored in all simplicity for "this pretty child," that she might never want for the best of good living, and a warm bed at night, and be washed clean from her sins, and have a happy entrance to the better place.  But she did not know for some time what a loss the old woman would be to her; for Laura, like most other people, was in the habit of thinking that charity was all giving and no receiving; instead of which, real and pure charity is always both.  It is only the false charity that gets no return; to the true that promise yet holds good — "He that watereth shall be watered also himself."  Happily, however, some blessings overtake us when we are not looking out for them.

    Goody Fairdew was very fond of the parables, and there was one in particular that she often made Laura read: this was the parable containing our Saviour's speech — "Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these, my brethren, ye did it unto me."  The old woman, though not childish, was becoming very childlike; her humour changed frequently, — a trifle would make her cry, and when she was pleased she would laugh and exult.

    "And that's what He'll say to you, love," she once exclaimed, joyfully, when Laura had finished the sacred speech.  "Lord bless you, I hope I shall be standing high enough to hear Him say it."

    Laura, on hearing this, trembled all over; the strange remark gave a sense of reality to the thing which she had not attained to before.

    "He'll never say so to me," continued the poor old creature.  "For you see, love, I knew nought about it all till you came and laid it out as plain as print to me.  You'll shine, love, up there, like the stars, you know, for ever and ever."

"Oh Goody, dear, don't talk in that way," said Laura. "I know you mean it for kindness and love, but it frightens me."

    The old woman laughed strangely.  "You gentlefolks are never for hearing us speak our minds," she observed.  "It must be allers, 'Ay, ma'am,' and 'As ye please, ma'am,' whatsoever we think in our own minds; and that's how 'tis that you never know nought about us — nought to speak of."

    "Don't we?" said Laura, with a smile.  She thought she knew a good deal.

    "No, love, that ye don't.  There's many a word as we use every day that you never hear slip over our tongues.  You're a dear innocent, and you've no notion of many a thing both consarning us and consarning the wickedness o' the world, as every child knows that first drawed breath among us.  There's no call you should know it.  But don't you conceit when you talk to poor folks that you know 'em."

    "Don't I know you, Goody dear?" said Laura.

    "Well," said the old woman, "I'll go as far as to say that you know so much of me as, by the blessing of God, you've put into me yourself."

    But Goody Fairdew was dead now, with all her speeches and quaint piety, and the old, blind longing for something more to be and to do assailed Laura again.  This feeling rose strongly in her mind when, having shut her sister's door, she made her little speech about cant; but Laura was not engaged to be married, nor likely to be.  She thought as little about that as she could; but she often thought that she should not like to lead an idle, selfish life,—that such a life would not only be damaging to her, but would also make her miserable.

    Laura lived on the outskirts of a pretty little place, something like a small town, — more like an overgrown village.  There was a neighbourhood to visit, but there were few bachelors; and of these some were curates, and could not afford to marry; others appeared indifferent to the many pretty girls about them.  How, then, could Laura expect to attract attention, for she was not pretty.

    "And unless I wait till I am forty," thought Laura, "my fortune will not attract either."  For it so chanced that the late Mr. Richmond, independently of the comfortable income he had left to his widow, had left a small fortune for each of his daughters, which was to accumulate, and which she was to receive on her marriage, whenever that took place but, if one of his daughters died unmarried, then her portion was to go to his only son.

    For some time after Laura came home, she endured a certain weariness.  Nothing wanted doing, and she began to find the day, and more especially the evening, very dull.

    "I wish you would not sigh, Laura," said Harriet, one night.  "You do nothing but sigh this evening."

    "Perhaps she is bilious," observed her mother.  "It is often said that, if people are bilious, they sigh involuntarily."

    "Dear mamma," exclaimed Laura, "I am not bilious; I am only idle."

    "Well, my dear, get something to do."

    "I wish I could," said Laura.

    Mrs. Richmond understood then that what her daughter wanted was not only something to do at that moment, — it was permanent occupation that she had been sighing for.

    "I did speak to Mr. Andrews about a district for you, love," she said, "but at present all the districts have visitors."

    "And I don't like district visiting."

    "You don't!" exclaimed Mrs. Richmond, surprised, and with some reproof in her tone.

    "It may be very well for the districts," said Laura, "very well indeed, if the thing is properly done; but it is not good for the visitors.  Well, mamma," she continued, remarking her mother's air of disapproval, "it certainly would not be good for me.  I don't wish to make a kind of occupation of the poor, and go to see them for my own benefit, because I have nothing else to do.  I call that playing at charity.  It's a kind of farming.  Idle men take a little land, you know, and farm it, avowedly for their own amusement.  Idle women take a little land (the difference is, that on their land are houses instead of weeds), and they farm it, — only, in place of mangel-wurzel and clover, they sow succession crops of tracts and grocery tickets."

    "I am surprised to hear you talk in this way," said Mrs. Richmond, interrupting her.

    "I know it is very right, and we should not deserve the name of Christians if we did not visit the poor and relieve their necessity.  All I say is, mamma, that it ought to be done for their sakes, and not because we are so tired of having nothing to do that we deliberately undertake to interfere and advise them in their own affairs, without troubling ourselves to find out whether or not we are competent to do so."

    "I always did say," observed Harriet, "and I always shall say, Laura, that you are the oddest girl I ever met with."

    When Harriet was roused to interest, she was apt to be sententious; but her mother and sisters listened to her with pleasure when this was the case, because it did her good to talk, and her opinion was not of consequence enough to hurt their feelings.

    Accordingly, Laura replied in a style which induced her to enlarge on these supposed oddities; and so the evening passed; but Laura did not sigh for work again for a very long time.

    Two reasons sprung up to prevent it.  One was a small, the other was a great one.  The small one came first; indeed, it came the very next morning, in the shape of a letter to Moxon, to inform her of the death of her stepmother (a personage with whom she had never been on good terms), and to desire that she would come home immediately, to mind the shop and keep house for her father.

    "And my blue muslin gown not finished!" exclaimed Harriet.  "Dear me, what an unfortunate time for this to happen!"

    "Harriet," said Josephine, a little shocked, "how can you talk of a gown and a death at the same time!"

    "Moxon knows what I mean," said Harriet.  "She is well aware that whatever takes her away is a misfortune to me — a real one."

    Moxon smiled.  She had felt by no means hurt at Harriet's way of putting things.  Her desire was more to be important in the family than to be loved.  She hoped shortly to come back.  So she did her best to comfort Miss Harriet, and would not depart till the blue muslin gown was entirely cut out, and prepared in such a manner that the young ladies could finish it themselves.  It was, however, very elaborately made.  Small flounces were all the fashion, and the three sisters did not entirely finish their task till the morning of the picnic, when Harriet was arrayed in it, and looked the youngest, and by far the prettiest, of the three.

    Harriet was one of those sweet-looking girls whom every one admires at first sight; but she was so selfish and so vapid that she lost her admirers when she was better known.  When she went into society with her two younger sisters, who were taller, but far less graceful than herself, she threw them completely into the shade.  She had that air of fresh and tender youth which some fair-haired women preserve till youth is really passed, and her sisters appeared like two somewhat common-place young women who were with her, in order to attend to her and take care of her.

    Josephine and Laura were quite conscious of this fact; but then it was not unpleasant to go out with Harriet, because she was always pleased and happy at a party, and they received attention for her sake; moreover, she was never at other times so kind and sisterly in her behaviour to them.

    Harriet had had three avowed admirers.  The first, in the fervour of his delight, made an offer at the end of four days.  Harriet thought his raptures delightful, and accepted him; but her attachment to him was only a reflected feeling; consequently, when these raptures subsided, which they did rather suddenly, she began to wonder why she had liked him so much; and some time after, when the engagement was formally broken off, Harriet felt very much relieved.  She said he had been too exacting.

    The second admirer, also, came forward very hastily but he was stupid enough to assure her that it was her sweet temper and her many merits which had attracted him, — not her beauty; and Harriet had sense enough to know that she had beauty, but not much merit, and certainly not a sweet temper.  She also valued herself very much concerning this same beauty.  It was the gift of God, she felt, and she did not want to bestow it on any one who would not care for it.  So the second lover was dismissed, and nobody pitied him.

    As for the third lover, he saw the pretty creature, drew near to look, paid more attention than he ought to have done, passed through a period of doubt, then of dismay, then subsided into a friend of the whole family, and, finally, when it had become evident that Harriet did not in the least care about him, he was allowed to engage himself to Josephine.

    So much for the small reason which kept Laura from ennui; now for the great one.  Alas! that was not so easily set to rights as the trimming of a blue muslin gown.

    Laura came down rather early one morning, about a fortnight after Moxon had left them.  This obliging woman had led them to suppose that, soon after her step-mother's funeral, she would return, and certainly stay with them till a successor was found, even if she could not, as she wished to do, arrange to come back for good.

    Laura was anxious that all should go on comfortably during Moxon's absence.  So, as Harriet could not dress her own hair, Laura went to her, morning by morning, and performed this office very deftly; then she watered the plants in the drawing-room, dusted her mother's favourite china with a feather brush, put the scattered music to rights, and arranged the room as usual, setting a glass of fresh flowers on her mother's work-table.  On that morning, she went next into the dining-room with some fresh fruit that she had set out herself, and saw that Sarah had put the breakfast ready on the table, and forgotten nothing.

    Just as all was finished, the postman knocked.  Laura went to the box.

    "One letter for you, mamma," she said, meeting her mother at the foot of the stairs; and they went back into the dining-room together — Mrs. Richmond sitting down to read.

    "Do look at this, Laura!" she presently said; "I can't exactly see what it means."

    Laura saw that her mother was startled, and took the sheet of paper.

    "Only a business letter," she began; but a moment after: "Why, mamma!" she exclaimed, "haven't you got a good many shares in this mine?"

    "To be sure," said the mother; "they bring me in two hundred a year."

    "Two hundred a year!" repeated Laura, aghast.

    "It seems that the water has broken in!" said Mrs. Richmond.

    "But what do they mean by there being no dividend?  Surely, not that you are to lose the whole of that money.  I had better fetch Gilbert.  But don't be uneasy, mother; it cannot mean that, can it?"

    "I don't know," answered the mother, tamely.

    Gilbert was Laura's only brother.  She ran up stairs before eating any breakfast, put on her hat, and went to fetch him from his house at the other end of the little town.

    Gilbert coloured when he read the letter, and looked deeply dismayed; and though he was entreated to explain matters in a favourable manner, he could not do so; but he presently went up to London, and from thence he wrote some highly unsatisfactory letters.  Finally he came home, and told his mother that even if these mines could ever be got into working order again, it would certainly be some years before she could derive any income from them at all.

    "That two hundred a year," he observed, sitting gloomily with his mother in the garden, after his return, — "that two hundred a year, mother, will make all the difference between an easy competence, with some luxuries, and absolutely straitened circumstances."

    Gilbert had brought his wife with him that evening.  She was a clever, economical woman, and she took an anxious interest in this matter.

    "I should think," she observed to her mother-in-law, "that you can still live easily on your income, without sending away any of the girls as governesses?"

    "Certainly," Harriet broke in; "that would be quite out of the question."

    "I hope it is," answered her mother; "but then comes the real question; how can we save this sum of money?"

    "Ah!" thought the daughter-in-law, "then it is evident that she has hitherto spent all her income."

    "The girls have five-and-thirty pounds a year each for their dress and little expenses, have they not?" she answered; "perhaps five-and-twenty would do; it is as much as I spend."

    "No doubt it will do," said Josephine, rather sharply; "only, Grace, we might have been allowed to suggest that ourselves.  Yes, there is thirty pounds saved."

    But the unsparing sister-in-law had a large young family, and was very desirous that her dear Gilbert should not take upon himself any responsibility as regarded his mother's loss.

    "The visit to the sea-side generally costs a good deal, does it not?" she next inquired; "for you go to expensive and fashionable places, and you make rather a long stay."

    "Oh yes," said Harriet, of course we do.  Surely, mamma, you would not give that up?"

    "My dear, we must give up something, and there is no harm in considering the cost of this visit."

    So, after some discussion and comparison of one year with another, it was found that this visit cost altogether about fifty pounds annually.

    "And," said Harriet, "it is certainly our greatest pleasure."

    "Then there is Moxon," thought Laura, but she said nothing.  And, in due time, the son and his wife took their leave, after a good many unwelcome remarks from the latter to the girls, touching general economy, the absurdity of giving dinner parties, the needlessness of wine for young people in good health, and the propriety of looking after servants oneself.

    "Grace has a right to speak," said Mrs. Richmond, though she had felt annoyed by the remarks of her daughter-in-law; "Grace has every right to speak, for she manages Gilbert's house, with their eight children, a governess, and four servants, for less money, my dear, than we spend."

    "But they would not have a smaller income than yours, mamma, if she did not make Gilbert insure his life so heavily?"

    "Make him!  Do not use such an expression, my dear.  If he were taken from his family young, what would his property be when divided between eight sons and daughters?  Grace is truly wise; and it is not long since she told me that Gilbert was generally in far better spirits and more light hearted since she had persuaded him to give up the phaeton, and add to his policy."

    "You always take her part, mother."

    "I ought to do!  What an excellent marriage it was thought for her, — a poor vicar's daughter.  Yet, when he chose to give up his profession, and settle down here to devote himself to literature, how well she bore it.  She knew what straitened circumstances were by experience, yet she set herself bravely to meet them; and though I do not believe he makes twenty pounds a year yet by his writings, she always flatters him that he will do in time.  Indeed, I often feel that she is a far more prudent housewife than I am, and she has all that is really needful, though she spends less money."

    "Dear mamma," said Josephine, "you had a full right to spend it while you had it.  I wish I knew what I could do to economise."

    Harriet said nothing; she was awed into something like thoughtfulness by the vague impression that pecuniary straits were at hand.

    "There's nothing I hate," said Laura, with energy, "so much as that word 'struggling.'  I cannot bear to hear people talk of struggling.  Why should any one struggle

    "Why, my dear," said her mother, again displeased by the tone of her remarks, "surely it is better to struggle than to succumb; you would not have us despair, or run into debt, or let things take their course?"

    "No, mamma," answered Laura; and added, "I had a letter to-day from Moxon.  She proposes to come back as she promised, for a fortnight, but says that after that time her father must have her to mind the shop."

    "Ah!" said Harriet, "I knew how it would be; misfortunes never come single.  And what a comfort she would have been to us now."

    "Yes," said Laura, "but I know of such a capital, capable, and thoroughly desirable person to take her place."

    "What do you mean?" exclaimed Josephine.  "You know perfectly what a very expensive servant Moxon is; you are quite provoking to-night, Laura, I declare."  But, in reality, it was a secret sense of what Laura did mean that made her sister so uncomfortable.

    "Only," proceeded Laura, "she is, I should say, a superior person to Moxon; and, if she is engaged, the household work will have to be arranged rather differently.  Mother!"

    The mother turned on hearing herself appealed to, and looked Laura full in the face; she saw a cheerful, pleasant face enough.

    "Mother," repeated Laura, "you paid Moxon twenty-two pounds a year, and I have heard you say that the extra things servants have, such as tea and sugar, etc., cost about seven pounds a year."

    "Yes," said the mother."

    "And what is a servant's board considered to cost?"

    "From thirty to thirty-five pounds."

    "Then Moxon cost you certainly sixty pounds a year."

    "More than that, my dear, for there were her travelling expenses when she went about with us."

    "Those, perhaps, were ten pounds a year?"

    "They may have been, one year with another"

    "What a treasure she was; always clean, you know.  I often remarked as I walked in the garden past her pantry window — nice, snug little room that it is, — I often remarked how pleasant her work was when I saw her sitting at her clean table, rubbing the silver with a wash-leather, or working with her basket before her.  I wrote to her and told her to send me a list of all the things she used to do for us, and here it is.  She cleaned the silver, washed the glass and china, did the needlework, dressed us — "

    "Laura!" exclaimed her mother, interrupting her.  "Yes, mamma."

    "I could not possibly allow you, my dear child, to turn yourself into a servant.  Rather than that I would give up the pony carriage, and do with two maid-servants.  I think we could easily manage with Sarah, — at least, we could manage in a fashion."

    "Oh, yes," exclaimed both Josephine and Harriet; "I am sure we could."

    "No doubt we could," said Laura; "but then that would be struggling."

    "It would be much better than your turning yourself into a household drudge," cried Josephine.

    "A household drudge!" repeated Laura, with some scorn.  "Is Moxon a household drudge?  Do you ever see her with blackened hands or fluff hair?  Do you think that, because I wish to sit in a snug little room, and clean a teapot with a pair of gloves on, I shall afterwards appear before our friends with a nose all covered with soot, like Mrs. Lirriper's 'willing Soppy?'  I should not like the house to get into confusion, — nothing to be straight, and clean, and bright, and nothing to be ready; and, as it is the will of Providence that mamma should lose this money— "

    "You think," interrupted Josephine, "that it is also the will of Providence that you should degrade yourself and step down from your own station?"

    These sisters, though fond of one another, could talk with unsparing sharpness when occasion served.

    "Is it the will of Providence?" repeated the young lady.

    "I don't know," said Laura.

    "Don't know!" exclaimed her sister, with as much scorn as if the words should have been followed by "You ought to be ashamed to say so."  "Don't know!"

    "Why, Josey," said Laura, good-humouredly, "you often seem to me to confound our interest with our duty.  No doubt it is our interest; but, surely it cannot be a sacred duty to keep precisely in the station we were born in.  Do you think now — do you think that, if a duke came to our village, and wished to marry me, and if I declined his handsome proposition, I should say it was because it was not the will of Providence that I should step out of my own station?"

    Not having a direct answer ready, Josephine shirked the question by replying that a duke was not likely to come.

    "Nor any other gentleman," was the quiet answer.  "Is it likely, when there are two unexceptionable noses in the family, delicately shaped, and of the neatest Roman pattern, that any man in his senses would deliberately turn from these to choose a pug?"  "Mamma," continued Laura, finding that her sisters were silenced by this remark, "all I ask is, that Moxon shall teach me, while she is here, all the cleanest and most delicate parts of her work, such as ironing our lace, as well as the other things I have mentioned; then, that Sarah and cook should do such parts of it as are not fit for my occupation; and that, before you decide on any other plan, I should have a month's fair trial, and prove whether I cannot do it well and advantageously."

    "It would be a great disadvantage to us," said Harriet.  "I should not like my sister to work like a servant."

    "I never should work like a servant; I should do everything, you would see, in a neater, cleaner, and more intelligent way than ever Moxon does."

    "Everybody would find it out."

    "That I should not mind," observed the mother, "if it was our duty to agree to the plan.  I really do not see why Laura should not try it for a month."

    "It is quite a new invention, you know," said Laura, "to let gentlewomen have nothing to do in the house; great-grandmothers had no notion of such idleness.  How often did our Great-Aunt Clare amuse us with descriptions of how the colonel used to come and pay his duty to her elder sister, and she as a child used to look on and admire his uniform and his wig?  She and her friends, the Member's daughters, used to iron their laces and great great-grandpapa's ruffs, out of doors in the hot weather, under the great walnut trees, and the young officers used to go in and out of the house to fetch and carry the irons for them, and lounge about her ironing board.  What a beauty she must have been, if she was like her portrait.  And what a pretty scene it must have been — old Great-Aunt Delia in her quilted petticoat, and the little hat stuck on the top of her powdered curls, lifting up the delicate laces and frills with her dainty hands, and their ancient mother keeping a sharp look-out from the casement, and calling the colonel to order if she thought his compliments caused any pause in the business of the afternoon.  Then they used to spin.  What a graceful occupation that must have been."

    "There," said Josephine, impatiently and almost bitterly, "it is of no use talking of Aunt Delia's ironing, and your doing it, as if it was equally natural.  You know very well that in those days they all did it.  The girls met together, followed by their maids carrying the things that were to be ironed; they had regular ironing parties, and used to gossip over the affairs of the neighbourhood, just as we do now at the afternoon tea.  The ironing board was a favourite resort of the beaux a hundred years ago; but, if you take to ironing the lace, Laura, every man we know will stare, but nobody will admire."

    "I dare say not," answered Laura, good humouredly, for she sincerely desired to carry her point; "and I do not mind confiding to you, Josey, that if there was any innocent occupation in the world so becoming that it would make me admired, I should certainly take to it.  Of course, I have wished I was one of those people who give pleasure to others merely by letting themselves be looked at; but it's of no use wishing, so I think of writing an essay 'On the Regrets of a Plain Young Lady.'  If any one will give a hundred pounds for it, we can have a new maid; if not, I hope to be allowed to play the part myself."

    "It is a pity that you will make yourself out to be plain," said Harriet; "your taking it for granted, as you always do, is enough to make people agree that it is so."

    "No," said Laura; "if you said the same thing, people would not agree to it.  They would only say what an affected girl you were."

    Josephine was silent; she gave her sister credit for much higher principle than any which governed herself or Harriet.  Moreover, she was very willing that their house should still be comfortable, and that all those little matters should be attended to which take time and nicety, but which are by no means laborious, and which, in fact, make the differences between a well-regulated house and one which is disorderly and discreditable.

    "Only," thought Josephine, "I could not bear to have it said that Laura did these things.  I should even be happy to help, if the thing was kept quiet; but I do not like to have it supposed that we have come down in the world.  George's family, as it is, hold themselves a little above us; and I think his sisters would feel it, if we demeaned ourselves to menial occupation.  They would make me feel it, too."

    "Can you think of anything better to be done?" said their mother, with a sigh.  "You know that even if I let Laura do this, thirty pounds, at least, would have to be saved, besides.  The remaining twenty need not be thought of, for they would have been spent in charity, if we had had them."

    A tedious discussion then followed, and it was agreed that the greenhouse was a luxury, and could be dispensed with; and that the three or four dinner-parties, which they were in the habit of giving annually, could also be given up; for no one liked to propose the laying down of the little carriage, because Mrs. Richmond depended on it for her recreation and exercise.

    "If these matters are so arranged," said Laura, we can save this money without any struggling."

    "Why do you harp so on that word?" said Harriet.

    "Because I dislike the thing.  Consider what misery people put themselves to, in order to keep up appearances before their neighbours, — the meanness, the privations they submit to.  And what does keeping up appearances mean?  Why, going without realities."

    "And, pray, don't you consider cleaning the plate, and washing the china, and ironing lace, and dressing hair, going without realities?" said Josephine, warmly.

    "I'll answer you this day month," said Laura.  In the meantime, I declare to you that I enjoy my prospects!  How often have we laughed when Mrs. Andrews has said, 'My dears, I am so constituted, that I enjoy the east wind.'  Well, I am so constituted, that I enjoy the notion of being obliged to make myself so useful; and, Josephine and Harriet, I hereby promise to make a great concession to your prejudices.  I promise you that nobody shall know!"

    Laura laughed when she said this.  Josephine blushed deeply.  She felt that her sister knew her real and great objection to the plan would melt away before this promise, — that she would be truly glad things should be done, and would be thankful to her for doing them, if only she would keep her kindness to herself.

    As for Harriet, she answered openly, "Thank you, dear; that will make all the difference.  You have such curious views about duty, that I thought you might feel it right to tell everybody; but, as that is not to be the case, I really do not see why you should not indulge your fancy."  She then added, "I shall always make a point of putting my music away myself now, and I shall mend my, own gloves."



IV.


"AFTER all," thought Josephine, two hundred pounds is a large sum of money.  Is it possible that we are going to save it by such easy means as these?  I really was afraid I should have to accept Grace's proposition, and teach the children."

    Grace's proposition — which had been made privately—was, that Josephine should become daily governess to her brother's children, and dine early with them every day.

    "I give Miss Wilson twenty-eight pounds a year," Grace had said; "and I think her dinner costs me about twelve pounds a year.  Now, if you were to take her place, there would be a considerable sum earned and saved; and, though I must have regularity with the children, I would always let one of the others come to them when you individually had an invitation that would interfere with their lessons."

    Josephine shrunk exceedingly from this undertaking, and entreated Grace not to mention it, unless nothing better could be thought of.

    "I will not," said Grace.  "But nothing better will be thought of; and then I am certain the Andrews would be delighted to have Laura, — they think so much of Laura, and they are not satisfied with their present governess."

    "We had much better move into a smaller house," said Josephine.

    "No, Josey; you forget that your mother's house is her own.  If she left it, it would want doing up for a new tenant, which now she could not afford.  Then there is the expense of moving, besides the probability that the house would stand empty before a tenant was found."

    "Oh Grace! you think of everything," said poor Josephine, almost in despair.

    Josephine thought of this the next morning, when she woke, and she admitted to herself that the burden was lifted from her shoulders.  No sacrifice now was demanded of her, and Laura was always craving for something to do.

    "If she is so very certain that this is her mission," continued Josephine, "I really do think we ought not to thwart her."

    Whether she would have thought so, if Laura had not said, "Nobody shall know," she did not stop to consider.

    "Grandmamma," said one of the small Richmonds, putting in his head, the next day, at breakfast time, "mamma's love, and — Oh, don't, Milly; don't!"

    "Come in, both of you," said the grandmother.  "Milly, I know you are there.  Don't pull your brother back.  Now, then, darlings, what is it?"

    "Mamma's love," repeated the boy.  "No, Aunt Josey; not marmalade.  We like the buttered toast much better.  Mamma's love, and Uncle Dick's coming home."

    "What, Uncle Dick!  How glad mamma must be!"

    "She said she was glad," lisped the little girl; "but she cried; mamma cried."

    "Is Uncle Dick well?"

    "Yes, and he'll be here to-morrow; and mamma's going to have the box room cleared out and done up for him; and here's his letter which you're to read; and, grandmamma, mamma's love, and will you have us to-day, because she's so busy?"

    "Of course she is; and her governess gone out, too.  Yes, dears, you can stay.  You've had your breakfast?"

    The children admitted that they had, but they were evidently ready for a second edition of this meal.  The girl sat on Harriet's knees, sipped her coffee, and remarked with satisfaction how sweet it was, and how strong.  The boy, after a series of chuckles, brought a very tame young thrush out of his pocket — a creature by far too precious to be left behind — and setting it on the table-cloth, let it share in all that his aunts would give him.

    "Oh! he's so tame," quoth the little urchin.

    "What, Uncle Dick?" said Laura, mischievously.  "Is Uncle Dick so tame?"  Uncle Dick had not exactly that reputation.

    "No; my thrush.  He's coming home (Uncle Dick is) — at least pa said he thought he was — to get married."

    The girls looked at one another.  "Just like Gilbert," said Josephine, aside to Laura; "fancy his talking in that way before the children."

    "Mamma said, 'Oh, don't, Gilbert,' to papa," observed the little fellow, for he had caught some of their words.

    "Do people choose wives for theirselves?" inquired Miss Milly Richmond.

    "Yes, of course."

    "Oh!" answered the small lady, and seemed to ponder.

    The aunts were rather uncomfortable, and changed the subject of discourse, till the children had finished eating, and had demanded leave to go into the garden and dig in a small plot which they considered their own.

    "You may depend on it that Grace will strain every nerve to keep Dick with her," said Josephine; "for, of course, if he will marry, she would like to have some influence over his choice.  No doubt there has been some sort of joke between her and Gilbert already as to her choosing a wife for him."

    "Well, my dears," said the politic mother, "Dick is an excellent young man, and would be a very good match for almost any girl."

    "We know that, mother," said Laura, unable to forbear laughing; "but Grace does not intend to bestow him on one of your daughters."

    "Perhaps not," said Mrs. Richmond; "but, girls, you are far too fond of laughing at young men.  No one comes near us whom some one of you has not set before the others in a ridiculous light."

    "Whatever I may have said, mother," observed Laura, "I shall infallibly forget, if any excellent and delightful young man should have the good taste to make me an offer.  Nobody ever will, of course; but, in such a case, I promise you beforehand to accept him, if――"

    "If what, Laura?"

    "If his sister will let me."

    "Nonsense!" said the mother.  "And, pray, why do you think nobody ever will make you a suitable offer?

    "It's a sort of presentiment that I have," answered Laura.  "I think things go on as they begin.  Nobody ever pays me a compliment.  People talk to me and to you, mamma, just in the same tone; but to Josephine and Harriet they say all sorts of foolish things!  However, I must go.  Moxon will be here directly, and I shall have a great deal to do."

    Dick, otherwise Richard Vernon, Esq., was Grace's only brother.  He was several years younger than herself, and soon after her marriage he had come into possession, most unexpectedly, of a moderate estate, which was left to him by a distant cousin, together with several thousand pounds.  Dick, who was then in a Government office, immediately gave out to his sister that he meant to marry.  She actually believed him; though, when a very young man does marry, it is seldom from any deliberate intention beforehand.

    Dick was at that time just of age.  Grace accordingly made her preparations.  She invited three of the most desirable girls in the neighbourhood to come and pay her a visit, and got him to come also.

    But Dick, instead of being delighted, first with all of them, and then with one in particular, took the contrary course.  First he inclined to the fair one, because she was so grave and still; then he admired the witty one, because she was so independent (this young lady was rather older than himself, and was fully aware of the transparent device that was being played out); finally, he was captivated, also, with the clever one.  In fact, he had not been in the house a fortnight before he was on what might have almost been called affectionate terms with all three.  He was a charming fellow, very young for his age, and very sociable.  The clever girl regarded him as a handsome and interesting boy; the witty one laughed at him openly when he tried to be sentimental; and he found out that the fair one liked somebody else.

    Dick then thought he was rather too young to marry; told his sister he should wait till he was twenty-three, and set forth on his travels, determined to look well about him, leaving the clever girl and the witty one secretly very wroth with Grace, because each thought she could have made an impression if she might have had him to herself; but what could either do in the presence of two spectators and a rival?

    These travels, once begun, were protracted through eight years, and took Dick into all quarters of the globe.  His sister now thought he never would settle down at all.  Great, therefore, was her delight when at last a letter came, which set forth that he was tired of having no settled home, and that he was on his way to England, and meant to stay three months with his sister before he decided where to live.

    His land had no house upon it.  If there had been one, and he had lived in it, some good mother would long ere that have married him to her daughter.

    Dick in due course arrived.  Some people do not tell much about themselves in their letters; therefore, Grace was a little surprised to find that this young brother of hers had not developed into the sort of man she expected to find him.

    "What do you think of him?" she said to her husband, when they were alone.  "He was always a dear fellow."

    "Think of him," answered Gilbert.  "Well, he looks like a young naval officer, and he talks like a parson.  He seemed quite surprised to find that we had no family prayers."

    "Because we used to have them when he went away, and so we ought to have now, only that it is such a trouble to get the boys off to school; and if we have them after they are gone, the tradespeople begin to call for orders, and interrupt us.  Then, at night you would not like to be fetched out of your study at any particular time."

    "Of course not," was the prompt reply.

    "And I cannot let the servants sit up an indefinite time to wait for your coming.  They must go to bed early; they have so much to do in the day."

    "My mother manages to have prayers," said Gilbert.

    "Ah! that is a different thing."

    "I always liked Dick," said Gilbert, composedly.  "I wish good health was as catching as a fever, and I could catch it of him.  He's such a joyous sort of fellow, too; and I must say his religion sits very naturally on him."

    "Oh! we were brought up religiously," said Grace.

    "We!" repeated Gilbert, with idle good humour.  "Then I suppose you mean to say that it is I who made you the worldly woman that you are?"

    "Gilbert, you're not in earnest?" said Grace, colouring.

    "It's a very odd thing," said Gilbert, considering her quietly, as she turned to look at him, "a very odd thing, that you should get handsomer as you grow older.  I was thinking only the other day that you were not nearly so good-looking when I married you."

    "But, Gilbert," said Grace, persuasively, "you don't really consider me worldly?"

    "Don't I?" inquired the compliant husband.

    "No, certainly not," said Grace, in a tone of sincere conviction.

    "All right," replied Gilbert; and after a pause he added, "Dick seems as fond of the children as ever."

    It was lucky for Mr. Richard Vernon that he was fond of children, for he found the house full of them, and they were children of the most demonstrative and affectionate sort.

    It was a usual thing with him, shortly, to be woke in the morning by very small children, who, having escaped from the nursery, stood on tiptoe, holding by his counterpane, stared at him with great eyes, and departed, after ascertaining that he had not got away in the night.

    Boys not quite so small came to see him shave, and poked their fingers into his pomatum.  Small girls waylaid him on the stairs, and made him carry them down.  When he was seated, the family clustered about him, and caused him to go through all his accomplishments — to whistle, to sing, and imitate the cries of animals; after this, when he went to the stables, the boys went too.

    "It's a pity mistress allows it," observed the nurse to her subordinate.  "Master would be driven wild if they did it to him."

    Dick was by no means driven wild.  He seemed a good deal bored by certain efforts that were made in the neighbourhood for his amusement; but he liked the company of children; and the first time he called on Mrs. Richmond, he brought the five youngest with him carrying the baby — who was rather an old baby — on his shoulder.

    "Harriet is as pretty as ever," he observed, when he came home.

    "Do you think so?" said Grace, a little coldly.

    "Yes; and she chattered on in the old way.  Josephine is improved."

    As Josephine was engaged, Grace did not care what he thought of her, and his last remark about Harriet reassured her.  "Did you see Laura?" she inquired.

    "No; they said she was busy.  Gilbert says she is the best of them.  I've almost forgotten her.  Isn't she rather plain?"

    "No; I should hardly call her plain," answered Grace, determined to be dispassionate.  "She has a sweet expression; but she is very like both the others, and yet not equal to them.  That is what makes her appear plain when they are by."  Then, suddenly changing the subject, "Dick," she said, "I am afraid you think we have brought up our children like little heathens."

    "Why, what makes you think so?"

    "Oh, your having taught them hymns, and given them those Bible-picture books.  Besides, I know you talk to them about religion."

    "Of course," said Dick.

    "I have had so much to do," observed Grace, in an apologetic tone.  "I strained every nerve, for a long time, to prevent dear Gilbert from giving up his profession; and then, when I found that was inevitable, I had still to keep up his spirits in doing it, though I knew it was a mistake, and though, of course, I deeply disapproved."

    "Yes, it is a deplorable mistake," said Dick; "but he seems perfectly contented now, and certain that he shall make himself a name."

    "Oh, yes; but that hope, too, it is now my part to encourage.  He could not write if he did not expect to succeed in the end; and so, what with my anxieties, and Gilbert taking up so much of my time, and other circumstances, I have, I don't know how it is, almost lost sight of――"

    Here Grace came to a stop.  A brother not unfrequently excuses himself to his sister, and admits to her that he has lost sight of the principles in which they were both educated.  Perhaps he confides to her a certain regret that the cares and the ways of this world should so much have driven out the faith and the customs of his father's house; but it is not often that a sister so talks to a brother.  A clergyman's children, in their father's parsonage, do certain things as a matter of course.  They go to church, they attend family prayers, they help with the schools, and interest themselves about the parish charities.  It is only when they have long left it and him, that it becomes evident what sort of people they truly are.  Then they do and attend to such things as they really consider important, and, if they are very busy, they naturally lay aside the rest.

    "I have had so many duties and cares, that I have had no time to attend to religion," really means, "I have not been sensible of its paramount importance, and of its supreme consolations."

    Dick had hardly been aware of any difference between himself and his sister when they parted, but in him the principle of life had grown, as all things will grow that live: on the other hand, Grace had only put away a dead thing, because it was a trouble to carry it about with her.  A tear twinkled on her eyelashes as she stooped over her work, and she did not try to finish her speech.  Dick felt a sensation of surprise, which was as much owing to her manner as to anything she had said.

    She was five years his senior, and he had always looked up to her; but now, he was stronger, wiser, and richer than she was; he was free, and she had bound herself with many ties.  Moreover, a certain force of character which had once obtained dominion over him was softened by a long course of attention to a singular man, who required a great deal of managing, — by her love to and self-denial for the sake of her many children, and by the tender trust that both husband and children reposed in her.

    He presently answered, without the least shadow of blame in his manner; but she was painfully aware how much he pitied her, as if she had missed the very best blessing out of her life; he "wondered how she could have got on without it."

    Grace hardly knew; she had always loved this brother exceedingly, and the discovery of such a difference between them gave her keen pain — more pain at first than it did, to be sure, that she had left no place for God in her world.  She had hoped that Dick would help her to manage her great boys.  They were twins, and were thirteen years old; she wanted him to persuade Gilbert to put them to a better school, and to advise her what to do about money affairs.  She had no notion of getting help or strength from the Unseen; and this brother of hers, now that he was come and would help her, had matters in his thoughts that she could not share.  In talking with him, she must have reservations, just as she had with her husband.  She had love from her husband, but not real companionship; and now she felt that she could not have it from Dick either.

    Her schemes, also, were out of place for him.  She had taken pains to make his coming known, and the whole neighbourhood had called, which Dick found rather a bore; then she had arranged a picnic, an archery party, a dinner.  Other people had done the like, and now she felt sure that some of the families with whom she should most have liked to be allied were not at all to his taste.  Moreover, she could now do nothing with him; her little manoeuvres would be evident to his experienced eyes; and whereas she wanted him to improve his position or his fortune by marriage, his head was full of schemes for improving the position of the crowds below him; as for any notion of rising higher, he thought himself already at the top.  He had read what was best worth reading, he had seen what was most worth seeing, and he was an Englishman of good estate, — what could he want more!  Why, he wanted a wife, and he meant to choose himself one; and he wanted a house, he was going to build himself one, and in that house he meant to rule.

    "Marry!" exclaimed Gilbert, when talking the matter over with his wife; "not he; he expects too much.  In the first place he wants a religious wife."

    "Of course," said Grace; "and a cultivated woman."

    "And one of a sweet and compliant temper," continued Gilbert; "for Master Dick has old-fashioned notions.  He made me blush yesterday, I declare, for he asked some questions, and when I referred him to you — 'What,' he answered, 'do you allow your wife to arrange these affairs?'  I replied as became me, that I hoped I knew my place."

    "No, you don't," said Grace; "Dick is quite right.  I wish you did know your place and would take it."

    "I can't, my dear; you wouldn't let me."

    "Try me," said Grace.  "Give orders yourself, and see them carried out."

    "It's all very well to talk," answered he, carelessly; then suddenly checking himself, he added, with mock gravity, "and now I think of it, I always do."

    "Really, Gilbert!" exclaimed his wife.

    "Why, I thought that was what you wanted me to say.  You should have heard Denver's panegyric on his wife this morning; it made every one laugh, it was so unexpected."

    Gilbert had been a guest that morning at a wedding breakfast.  The host was not the bride's father, and when the health of his wife was drunk he arose and returned thanks for her.

    "It was a very neat speech," Gilbert said; "he attributed to her every virtue under the sun, and concluded thus: — 'She has shared my sorrows, doubled my comforts, and — and,' looking round on his children, 'and trebled my expenses.'"



V.


A MONTH passed over the heads of the Richmond family; it was the month of August, and everything seemed to go so well with them, that they almost forgot the diminution of income — no real comfort had been taken away.  Laura was very happy in learning and practising her new duties; in fact, there is a natural pleasure in the exercise of everything which can be called handicraft.  All children know this, and many grown-up people.  The possession of hammer and nails is delightful, as every one knows who has ever gone so far in the use of them as to cover a box with chintz, or plan an ornamental curtain for a looking-glass.  Laura fitted up her little room with all sorts of hooks and nails and brackets; and there she sat enjoying herself over her polishing operations, the arrangement of her china, and the getting up of frills and lace.  She had expected that at first many remarks would have been made about her proceedings.  She had also thought it likely that when they found how easy and pleasant the said occupations were, her sisters would, from time to time, have come in to help her with them.  Nothing of the kind occurred.  It is astonishing how soon people reconcile themselves to a convenient change, when once it comes into operation.  The mother was reconciled at once; she respected and delighted in the feeling which had prompted Laura to move into the gap, and fill it up so pleasantly; she would not discourage her, nor rob her of the great good she believed her to be deriving from her conscientious labour.  She saw her looking well and happy; she knew Laura was not fond of society, and had often, even before there was any need for it, contrived excuses for keeping out of it.  She therefore used no more pressure to make her go out than she had been accustomed to do.  "I am not amused at parties," Laura would sometimes say; "I feel shy, and I am sure I am often in the way."  "You will not cure shyness by keeping out of society altogether," the mother would answer, "and I think it is but right that you should accept one invitation in three."

    One invitation in three or four Laura accepted still but instead of looking her best in society, talking her best, singing her best, as was the case with her sisters, the exact contrary came to pass.  She was much the most important of the sisters when at home, in her brother's house, or among intimate friends; but in society she was of no importance at all.  As for Josephine, she had intended to help Laura when first she entered on her new duties, but a change in the prospects of George Philpott enabled him to marry sooner than had been expected, and Josephine was looking forward to be a wife in three months.  She had, therefore, more than usual to do; and not only that, she now wished to think of Laura's conduct as little better than a freak — the indulgence of a peculiar fancy.  "When I am gone," she argued, "mamma will be better off by all I cost her; she can then afford to have another servant, no doubt, and though my trousseau has to be provided at a particularly inconvenient time it would be just as easy to borrow money to have a servant during these three months, as for it; and but for Laura herself, and her queer determination, it must have been done, and then I should never have had the annoyance of thinking that perhaps George's sisters would find her out, and express their surprise and vexation.

    Harriet, of course, could do nothing to help Laura; there were twice as many parties as usual, and she went to them all; she was an ornament wherever she appeared.  Harriet accordingly found at first nothing to say; Laura dressed her hair for her, and did it most becomingly; it would never do to set her against so convenient an accomplishment, nor to let her think she ought not to stay at home and do what had to be done, for in that case some one else must undertake to do it.  That was how Harriet argued just at first, and then she forgot all about it; took the whole matter for granted, and rang her bell for Laura to come to her and fasten up her hair just as she had formerly rung for Moxon.  Laura, on the other hand, was extremely anxious that her sisters should not perceive in her any repentance or regret.  She knew, from various hints let fall by Grace, that Gilbert by no means thought well of his mother's affairs, and only hoped that she might have no further diminution of income before Josephine's marriage.

    "After that," thought Laura, "mamma might again lose fifty or sixty pounds a year, and we could go on exactly the same and without any struggling, because that is just what Josephine costs her."

    Several parties were now given by Mrs. Gilbert Richmond and other ladies.  Laura seldom appeared at them, and Richard Vernon, though he took not the least interest in her, noticed the circumstance.

    "Why does Laura go out so seldom, Miss Richmond?" he inquired.

    "Oh," said Harriet, with a foolish little feeling of shame, "I don't think Laura cares particularly about society."

    "I wonder whether they push that girl into the background," thought Dick, "or make a household drudge of her?"

    Now Dick liked to be with the Misses Richmond rather than with other girls in the neighbourhood.  Josephine was going to be married; Harriet, to do her justice, had plenty of self-respect, and did not want to flirt with him; and Laura, a shy, soft-voiced, silent girl, would sit quietly looking on, not expecting, and evidently not desiring, to be taken any notice of.  Her shyness did not extend to him — that he observed at once; moreover, she did not want for penetration; he knew, for he had seen it in her face, that she was much amused at the little attempts sometimes made to gain his attentions, and at his little attempts to get away from such girls as might happen to bore him.  And she no more expected to engage his attention herself, than to find herself adored by the Great Mogul.

    Dick had bought his sister a new boat; and when it arrived, he proposed to take her clown the river in it.  They were to drive home in his drag.  She assented gladly, and added,

    "I told the Misses Grattan that we were going down, some day this week, and they said they should be delighted to join us."

    "Oh," said Dick, — who had foreseen this, and who disliked these two young ladies, chiefly because his sister was always thrusting them in his way, — "I asked your sisters-in-law to go.  The boat lies at their landing, at the bottom of their orchard.  I shall put them in, and drop down for you."

    "Very well," said Mrs. Gilbert Richmond.

    "I told them that, if you decided to go to-day, I would let them know," he continued; and off he presently set, taking three of the children with him.

    These three consisted of Milly, who was about six years old; Reginald, a little boy, who talked as if his mouth was full of plums; and the baby, who was nearly two years old, — a young lady, who made about ten words do the work of hundreds, and yet was applauded whenever she spoke, and very seldom misunderstood.

    "Lolly," said the baby, as her uncle carried her.  "She means that we're going to see Aunt Laura," observed the little girl.

    "Lolly," repeated the baby, with a satisfied air.

    The baby was devoted to Laura.  A practical mind will probably see reason enough for this in the fact that Laura now habitually spent her mornings in the little room which had been Moxon's.  Cakes, figs, biscuits, and other delicacies, were kept in it; and when the baby, having trotted out of the drawing-room window to Laura's window, had been lifted in, and kissed, and praised, and when she had been set down again, and had proceeded, with great sagacity, to a drawer containing good things, and had slapped it with the palms of her fat hands, and said, "Lolly, open," Laura always did open it, exclaiming, "clever little thing," and gave her something nice out of it to eat.

    Laura held a sιance in this room rather often — that is to say, as often as the little Richmonds came to see their grandmother, in the morning.

    Of course, it is not to be supposed that, when Laura said, "nobody shall know," she meant to include her nephews and nieces; for these little people were always cognizant of everything that went on in their grandmother's house.  And even the baby, if she missed one of her aunts from the circle, would insist upon making a progress through the house in search of her, unless her absence had been accounted for in terms that the little creature could understand.

    It is very certain, however, that many children have quite discretion enough not to talk of things which they have been told to keep to themselves, — always supposing that the reasons for this reticence have been duly explained to them.

    The elder children knew — because the matter had been explained to them — that their grandmother had not near so much money as formerly; that, consequently, she had one less servant, — Aunt Laura washing the tea things, etc.; but that they were not to talk about this, because their aunts did not wish it to be known.  Accordingly, they never did talk about it out of the family; but then they regarded "Uncle Dick" as one of the family, and once or twice had said things which rather surprised him.

    That morning, when they entered the drawing room from the garden, and had been informed by the house-maid that Mrs. Richmond and the young ladies were out, Dick was about to return; but the baby pulled him vehemently to the door; and when he took her up to carry her off, she began to cry.

    "She wants to find Aunt Lolly," said the boy.

    "Baby must see her aunts some other day," said Dick; "they are out."

    "Aunt Lolly isn't out," said the boy, with scorn.  "Of course, she never goes out in the morning, when she's got all that to do."

    "Yes, Miss Laura is at home," said Sarah, the house-maid; "but she's busy."

    The baby by this time had struggled down, and got into the garden, and she was running away as fast as her little fat legs could carry her.

    Dick only stayed to leave a message with the maid, and then he followed, — passed the kitchen window, passed the window of the late Mr. Richmond's study, and came to another window, following the children.  It was about two feet from the ground; and as he came up, the legs of the two elder ones were disappearing inside, and the baby was clamouring to be taken in also.

    "Now, children," he heard Laura say, "how often have I told you not to come in by the window?  Look at baby — she is stamping upon the carnations."

    Dick then appeared.  Laura was standing in the middle of the room, with a deal table before her.  A small tub of hot water stood upon it, and she had just lifted a china cup from it, and was drying it with an affair which maids call a glass-cloth.  Dick, seeing that she was not in a condition to shake hands with him, lifted his hat.  Laura was adorned with a large white linen apron; and when she saw him, she looked a little dismayed.

    He, on the contrary, found nothing in her occupation to excite his attention.  He had travelled long enough to have seen men and women do all sorts of things in all sorts of ways; so he lifted in the baby, and sitting down on the window-sill, with his legs among the carnations, began to talk about his proposed row down the river; and Laura, after a moment of hesitation, went on washing the breakfast service, and hanging the cups upon a row of little hooks.

    The baby was soon seated quietly on the floor, biting minute bits out of an apple with the whitest little teeth in the world, and the two other children began to do the honours of the place.

    "This is where grandmamma keeps all her best things, Uncle Dick.  Oh, grandma's got such beautiful plates, with birds on them."

    "And grandmamma's got a silver stag."

    "Indeed."

    "Aunt Lolly, do show him the silver stag."

    "Presently," said Laura, smiling.

    "You shall see it presently, Uncle Dick.  Oh, and grandmamma got some silver tankards, too.  We know when they're going to be used, don't we, Lolly?  Uncle Dick, have you heard that we're going to be at the wedding breakfast?  Grandmamma says we shall, — all but baby; and it only wants nine weeks and a half to the wedding.  Oh, I wish it would come to-morrow!"

    "You shall come too, Uncle Dick," said the liberal-minded little boy, inviting him on the spot.  "Oh, what fun it will be for Aunt Josey — and we shall go and stay in Aunt Jose's house.  Lolly, when will it be your turn to be married?"

    "I don't know," said Laura, demurely, and not more put out of countenance than might have been expected.

    "She can't be married," said Miss Milly, "till somebody comes to marry her, — can you, Lolly?"

    Laura had been startled into her first answer, but now she said nothing; and Dick made some slight observation, which was intended in her interest to divert the children's attention to something else.  But when they had answered it, and a further question that he put, they returned to the attack.

    "It won't be at all fair, then, if somebody doesn't come," said the boy, tumbling himself head over heels out of the window; then, as if the suitability of the thing had suddenly struck him, he secured Dick by the legs, and exclaimed, "Why can't Uncle Dick marry her?  Perhaps he came on purpose."

    "No, he didn't," said Milly; "he came to see mamma.  And perhaps Lolly doesn't wish ――"

    Dick, with a countenance of the utmost possible redness, and literally held by the legs, did not know what to do or where to look.

    "Oh, yes; she does.  I know she does.  Uncle Dick, dear, do marry Lolly, — do.  She wants you to marry her so much; don't you, Lolly?  And we want to go to the wedding."

    Dick's self-possession so utterly failed him, that he sat stock still; and the ridiculous reason which came out as sufficient to bring him to this family arrangement struck him so forcibly, that, in spite of himself, he burst into an irresistible fit of laughing.

    "Come along," he exclaimed, as soon as he could recover; "it's time we were off;" and he shook himself free of the boy's detaining arms, and was wondering how he could turn round and look at Laura, when, to his relief, he heard the door open and shut again.  She was gone; and he wished, and so did she, that she had had the sense and foresight to retire before.

    "Well, I never did feel so utterly put out of countenance!" said Dick, marching across the garden, with his face still all aglow.  "The only drawback to being with children is, that they now and then say such disastrous things.  'Wants to marry you so much!'  Well, if it had been said of any of the other girls in the neighbourhood!  But this particular one, if she has such a wish, has certainly the grace to keep it to herself.  I know nothing of her; and, upon my word, it was too bad.  I must be particularly civil to her this afternoon."

    Here the children overtook him; and he told them a story all the way home, by way of making them forget this matrimonial conversation.

    In the afternoon Laura did not appear.

    "I wonder," thought Dick, "whether she minds it much, and whether she was much put out of countenance."

    Probably she was; for the next day he met her suddenly in the road, and she was so painfully embarrassed that, though he greeted her with the most successful air of unconsciousness, she stammered, blushed, and could not look at him.  So in pity to her he was obliged to take his leave, instead of turning and walking a little way with her as he had intended.

    She was very successful after that in keeping out of his way; did not enter her brother's house, nor sit in the drawing-room at home, lest he should come in.  Yet at the end of a week, when he did encounter her, she was still shy, still abashed.

    "Poor little girls!" he thought (Laura was as tall as most other women).  "What is to be done?  I must manage to restore her self-respect if I can."

    But for several days after this he did not see her, and then she dined at her brother's house, and avoided him with such bashful persistency, that he was afraid every one would notice.  It was a very real feeling, that was evident, and it seemed to grow upon her.  So Dick revolved the matter in his mind, and decided that he would speak to her about it in a plain, simple manner, just as if he was a relative and much older than herself — would assure her that he knew the children had quite misinterpreted her sentiments — and talk afterwards about other things till she was again at her ease.

    This conversation was to begin somewhat in this way; he was to remark that children often make ridiculous speeches, and she, knowing what was coming, was to turn her young face away and blush.  He knew exactly how she would look when she blushed; but he did not care for anything but to set matters right; he felt no other interest in the conversation that he thus rehearsed beforehand.

    "As our tittle niece and nephew did the other day," he meant to add, and then he was to tell her how absurd they had both been to be so sensitive about it; "for his part it was only for the moment, but as she felt the matter still," etc., etc.

    And then he meant to say things which would show her that he was a man of somewhat mature age who had seen a good deal of life, and she was a young, inexperienced creature, and he could assure her that she ought never to bestow another thought upon this nonsense, and she was to say she would not, and they were to part friends.

    "Only," thought Mr. Richard Vernon, "it behooves me to be careful not to produce a second misunderstanding while I am correcting the first."  If he was making a mistake himself in so thinking, he should not be severely blamed, for several women as young and fairer than Laura had helped him in the making of it, and were helping him still.

    So he watched his opportunity; and one morning, when Laura's mother and her sisters were out, he again approached her window from the garden, taking care to sing an air as he came along which should prevent his taking her at unawares.

    "Oh, Laura," he said, when he reached the open window, "I am so glad to find you here; I wanted to have a little friendly talk with you."  Laura seemed overcome with bashfulness, and a delicate bloom over-spread her cheeks and forehead, which very much improved her face.  She had a number of spoons and forks, and some old-fashioned silver utensils spread before her, and seemed to be brushing one, and another, with some crimson powder spread upon a thing like a highly-magnified tooth brush.

    She looked up when Dick appeared, but she made him no answer whatever; and he sat down on the window-sill, as before, with his feet among the flowers, and began to talk first on indifferent subjects with the most frank, friendly, and unembarrassed manner possible.

    Laura had the usual white apron, with its large bib pinned before her.  It made her slender figure look even more girlish than usual, and her shyness added to the effect.  She could not dispense with her occupation; but while she answered Dick in monosyllables, she went on with her polishing operations, her hands being covered with a pair of loose wash-leather gloves.  "A droll occupation," thought Dick, but very becoming to her; I never saw her look half so well before."

    At last he began to approach the subject which had brought him there.

    "I wanted particularly to ask you to go to the Grattans' picnic to-morrow; I hope you will."

    "I think I shall have an engagement at home," said Laura.

    "It makes me so uncomfortable to see you hold aloof from all the little parties and amusements that — that girls like," said Dick; "and to think that it is probably my fault, and that you continue to feel nervous because I was such a stupid fellow the other day, that I am come to apologize, and to say that I hope you will go as a particular favour to myself, and to say what — in fact, what I should have said then."  But he did not say it, or say anything; for, to do him justice, he was beginning to wish himself somewhere else, and was conscious that he was not holding the part in the conversation that he had intended.

    "Perhaps you mean," said Laura, taking him up softly, to his great surprise, "that when the children talked nonsense, you should have said, 'Your Aunt Laura no more wishes such a thing than I do.'"  She paused.  Dick stammered out a sort of assent, which would have been unmeaning if it had been audible; but it was not; and then she added, still in the soft, sweet tone, "Yes, I think you should, or you might, have said something of that kind.  But I do not want you to make any mistake.  I cannot help being bashful; but I have long got over the original cause, and have assured myself that the shortness and slightness of our acquaintance must have made you certain that I was clear of any such wish as they imputed to me."

    "Shortness and slightness!" repeated Dick, rallying, and very glad to find something to say; "I should have said that I was on friendly terms with you and Your whole family, and on such terms I hope to continue. Surely you consider me as a friend?"

    "I feel quite friendly towards you," said Laura, now rather composedly; for the dreaded subject had been approached and probed, and it was not nearly so formidable now.  Dick had meant to say much more but did not see his way clear to it; at last he observed ――

    "Then all this being understood ――"

    "All what?" said Laura.

    "She means," thought Dick, "that I have come here professedly to explain and to apologize, and have left the thing to be done by her."  "It being understood, I mean," he began, "that we are well aware of each other's indifference.  I know very well that you are utterly indifferent to me, and have not condescended to have any designs on me or my property."

    Laura on this looked up quite surprised; the speech had been made with sudden heat, and almost with bitterness; it was so bluntly expressed as to be anything but civil, and it was most evident, even to her inexperienced eyes, that Dick was vexed with himself, and mortified.

    "No," she said, in the same tone of subdued sweetness, "I am not utterly indifferent to you — I rather like you — as an acquaintance," she added, "or, since you prefer the word, as a friend.  And I am sorry that you should have annoyed yourself with the notion that I stayed away from the parties only because I was afraid to meet you.  I should have done just the same if you had not been here.  I had another reason."

    "Another reason!" said Dick, recovering his temper as suddenly as he had lost it; "and may I ask then what the reason could be?"

    "Oh, that," said Laura, "I am not at liberty to tell you."

    "What! a mystery!" he exclaimed, "I thought there were no mysteries excepting in novels."

    "This is a very homely one, and quite simple."

    "You will clear it up for me some day, will you not?" said Dick, wondering at himself for having been put out of temper, and feeling that he must not go now till he had made her forget that blunt speech.

    "I do not think I shall," said Laura.

    "In that case I shall set myself to find it out."

    "I do not think you will.  I suppose you will on reflection think as I do, that you have no right whatever to search into my affairs."

    "Well, I do on reflection think so; but, Laura ――"

    "But what, Mr. Vernon?"

    "I have always been accustomed to address you by your name," said Dick, now suddenly thrown back again.

    "Of course," said Laura; "I was a mere child when we were last together."

    Dick looked at her, and was surprised how from moment to moment she recovered her self-possession; indeed, they were not now on equal grounds.  In letting him know that she had not given away her heart unasked, she was only keeping up her feminine dignity; but he was giving her a piece of gratuitous information in saying that their indifference was reciprocal.

    "But," he thought, "she has come out of this scrape very well, and that ought to satisfy me.  So she did not stay away on my account after all."

    "But Laura is an exceedingly pretty name," he began; "I like the sound of it.  Why do you smile, Miss Richmond?  Do I really see in your face that you cannot return the compliment?"

    "I was not thinking of that," said Laura; "but the beauty or ugliness of a mere sound can be but matter of opinion."

    "Dick is an ugly name evidently in your opinion."

    "It is not so very ――; I like it rather better than Richard."

    "Like it rather better than Richard," repeated Dick, laughing.  "Well, when a naturally bashful and modest man goes out of his way to say a civil thing, I think, I do think, he ought to be met in a spirit of ――"

    "Reciprocity?" suggested Laura.

    "Yes.  Rather an ugly name, is it?  Perhaps you think me rather an ugly fellow?"

    "No," said Laura, looking at him as if to consider the subject for the first time, "I think you are rather handsome."  And a smile of amusement lighted up her whole face.

    Dick having made a blunder, had no answer ready; but when he saw that Laura was actually laughing, he burst into a laugh also, and said, "Laura, you're laughing at ME."

    "Of course I was," said Laura.  "I was wondering what you were to do about the 'reciprocity.'"

    "If you made your last speech with malice aforethought, and merely to get me into a scrape――"

    "Nothing of the sort.  I made it in the interests of truth and sincerity."

    "And pray," said Dick, still not master of the situation, "do you think there is anything in your face or figure to prevent a man from thinking you handsome if he chooses?"

    "Yes, I think there is want of beauty to prevent it."

    "Well," said Dick, rallying, after a short pause, "I shall not feel in this case that any reciprocity would become me, because the look you gave me when you made that civil speech took away all its value.  It was, indeed, with a most matter-of-fact, confessed carelessness that you gave your verdict."

    "Why should I have affected to care," said Laura, "about a matter that is of no consequence at all?  Beauty signifies nothing to a man; he can get on just as well without it — in fact, I think better."

    "How so?"

    "A plain man takes more pains to make himself agreeable."

    "More pains than I do?"

    "I never saw you take pains to be agreeable, and pleasing, and attentive, but to one lady."

    Dick was rather alarmed.  He counted over all the young ladies in his mind, Laura included.

    "Indeed!" he exclaimed; "and that was ――"

    "My mother," said Laura.

    "Well," answered Dick, as if in apology for himself; "she is the most charming old lady possible."

    "And there, again, is reciprocity.  I have heard her make very flattering remarks about you, and say that you were charming."

    "That must have been in answer to something disparaging that you had said."

    "No," said Laura, laughing; "I had not so much as mentioned you."

    "But when she made that sensible remark, you agreed with her.  You said, 'Yes, mamma; so he is."'

    "Why, no," said Laura, "I didn't."

    "Why not?" asked Dick, audaciously.

    "Some people are acute," replied Laura; "they observe the motives of those about them; — not," she added, "that any special acuteness was needed in such a case as this."

    Dick looked at her with great amusement.  "It appears to me," he said, "that, through a mistaken and damaging frankness, I have thrown away the advantage that a man usually has in talking to an unmarried lady, and you are revenging yourself on me."

    "You mean, perhaps, that I am using the privilege of a friend, and hinting at something in you that may not be quite perfect.  I think it was a friend that you wished to be considered, wasn't it?"

    "I mean nothing of the kind, my fair enemy.  I mean that girls in general have a fancy — a sort of way of regarding all bachelors as possible suitors."

    "Have they?" said Laura, demurely.

    "They have."

    "And that is an advantage to the bachelor?"

    "Yes."

    "Unless, with the best and kindest of motives, and with a certain manly pity in his mind for any particular young lady, he comes and sets matters in a different light.  In such a case, you think he makes over the advantage to her.  Yes; I agree with you: I think he does.  In fact, I now feel that I can talk to you as freely as if I were your grandmother."

    "Freely!" repeated Dick.  "I hope you consider that you have done that already.  I never felt so helplessly under the lash of the feminine tongue before."

    "I have heard of a prize-fighter," observed Laura, "who, when he was asked why he allowed his little daughter to beat him, replied, 'It pleases her, and it doesn't hurt me."'

    "It does hurt me," said Dick, laughing; "it hurts very much.  I feel quite sore.  When I heard the story, though, it was his wife who beat him.  You know best, being my grandmother, why you altered it.  And why do you assume that you know my motives, and insinuate that I pay attention to the old ladies, in order to escape ――"

    "What?" asked Laura.

    "Oh!" said Dick, "now I think of it, I am privileged to be as frank as you are.  I acknowledge, therefore, that I did it in order to escape from the attentions of the young ones."

    This was a stroke of frankness that Laura was not prepared for, and she blushed in spite of herself.

    "My sisters are exceptions, of course?" she presently said.

    "Decidedly! and yourself!  How pleasant it is to speak freely!  Yes; there are, at least, three exceptions.  One exception is going to marry young Philpott; another exception is afraid of Grace, and can't bear me either; the third exception is my excellent grandmother!  Laura, do you know that you have a most sweet and musical little laugh?"

    Laura looked up.

    "I meant that for reciprocity," continued Dick.  "I have been thinking I could return your one compliment — your compliment that you afterwards completely explained away.  Now we are quits.  And I wish to know what you mean by telling me so many unpleasant truths, and making me sit on this window-sill to be lectured?"

    Laura had finished cleaning her silver, and had put it in a basket, and risen.

    "Perhaps I meant it for your good," she said; "but, now I think of it, that is rather an uncomfortable seat.  So, I will let you go now.  Good bye."

    She came towards him, and held out her hand.

    "But suppose I don't wish to go just yet?" said the inconsistent visitor.

    "In that case, of course, you can stay; only, as I am going, if I leave you here, you must promise to shut down the window when you do go."

    "You are going?"

    "Yes."

    He took her hand for an instant; then she turned and left the room.  He was surprised, and sat cogitating for full five minutes; then he rose and pulled down the window, going down the garden to the river, not half pleased with himself, and not sure whether, on the whole, he was pleased with her.

    "Why did I let her go?" he thought.  "I never met with that kind of girl before.  How vivid her sensations are!  How shamefaced she was at first, and how completely my little mistake gave her courage!  She enjoyed making game of me.  I rather admire that pretty little saucy smile.  Another motive had she for staying away from those stupid parties?  I wonder what that motive is."

    Pecuniary losses press far less heavily on some people than on others.  Some people say, "How much better, not to have possessed riches, or even an easy competence, than to have had such blessings and then lost them!"  This is one of the common mistakes of an unobservant or distrustful mind.  It is best, surely, to have every blessing that this world can afford, to enjoy it while it is bestowed, and submit when it is withdrawn.  Still, as said before, pecuniary loss falls less heavily on some people than on others.  Those on whom it falls least heavily are those who have scattered the blessing while they possessed it, — who have looked on money more as a loan than as a gift.  If they have been able to say, while they had it, "These riches will, perhaps, make themselves wings, — they shall therefore fly in the direction that I please while I have power over them," they are likely not to feel it much; though, after all that they have nobly spent or kindly given, their time for spending and giving comes to an end.

    Now it so chanced that Laura's mother had been one of those women who do not think much about money.  She had been willing to go without luxuries that she could have afforded, in order that her poor neighbours might have food and raiment.  The habit of self-denial was therefore already formed; and it did not shock her to find that now there were more things to go without, and more care to be exercised in spending what money was left.

    Things went on much as usual for another month, and then what Grace feared and Laura had surmised came to pass.  Another letter was received, and Mrs. Richmond lost another two hundred a year.  Josephine was aghast at the news, and even Harriet was alarmed into common sense by it; but the mother took it quietly, only saying, "Let me get Josephine married, and then it will be time enough to consider what we can do."

    Grace herself considered the matter long and painfully.  A wedding is a great expense to a family, but is the last that ought to be grudged.  Josephine received from her mother all the comforts and conveniences usually bestowed upon a bride; the expenditure required for them trenched largely on what was left of the income for the coming year, and Grace perceived plainly still further loss and further responsibility.

    What was to be done?

    "The two girls," said Gilbert, "must go out as governesses.  I see nothing else for it."

    "Oh, they are of no consequence," answered the somewhat uncommon daughter-in-law; "it is your mother that I think of."

    "Of course I can have her here?" said Gilbert.  "She would be a comfort to you, and I always like to be with her."

    "Of course you do; but, love, we could not make her comfortable in this crowded house, with no sitting room for retirement, and no garden.  Besides, she has lived so many years in that house, she would not like to leave it."

    "You would not, surely, propose our leaving this house just now?" observed Gilbert.  "This is not the time for increasing our expenses."

    "What would you like to do, then?" asked Grace.

    "My dear, what is the good of saying that?  What do you want to do? is the question; for you evidently have some scheme in your head."

    "If your mother's house were not her own, I should have nothing to propose; but it is.  She cannot afford to go on living in it.  She might not be able to let it.  Why should we not all move into it?  It would accommodate us well, leaving her her present chamber and her present little quiet sitting-room.  That is, it would do if Josephine and Laura were gone."

    "Poor little Laura!" observed Gilbert.

    "Yes, poor little dear!" said Grace.  "But, Gilbert, what else can be done?  You do not suppose for a moment, knowing Laura as you do, that she would remain at home to be a burden to any one?"

    "Couldn't she teach the children?"

    "No, love, I think not.  I haven't asked any questions yet, but I think your mother would be miserable if Harriet were sent away instead of Laura.  Harriet is delicate, and troublesome too.  No, Laura must go out.  And, dear Gilbert, it will be a trouble to me, but I think Harriet must teach our children."

    "Will she?" asked Gilbert.

    "She must either do that or leave us.  It will be, of course, to her interest to please me, Gilbert.  I know she can teach music extremely well; because two or three times last summer she gave our little Harriet a lesson for her own amusement.  What she wants is sense, not knowledge; she has plenty of that; and I must look after her, and see that she is obeyed."

    Mr. Gilbert Richmond fell into his wife's scheme without any hesitation or any discussion.  So did his mother when it was proposed to her; so did Harriet; so did Laura — it was all so complete, so natural, so easy — easy, indeed, for every one but Laura, who not only felt hurt that Grace should have the entire management of her husband and his whole family, but that she herself should not be able to propose anything half so good, though to her was assigned the only part that was painful or unpleasant.  For Laura knew that she loved her mother more than did her two sisters put together, and she did not like to leave her for an indefinite period.  Grace would be good to her; Grace would see that she did not suffer from Harriet's little selfish ways; the mother and daughter-in-law would have endless discussions and little domestic plans together; these would always be harmonious and generally loving.  When Laura thought about this, she permitted herself to be a little jealous.  "I should not care so much," she considered, "if mamma were not already nearly as fond of Grace as she is of us.  They will manage Gilbert, and make him do just as they like, and I shall be shut up in some school-room, and know nothing of what goes on, excepting what Grace chooses to tell me; for mamma's letters are only little bits of motherly sermons, and Gilbert never writes at all."  Laura was soon very angry with herself on account of this jealousy.  "Would I really prefer that my absence should entail personal discomfort on my mother?" she thought; "am I not sure that Grace will look after her as well as I possibly could do myself?  Surely I am not wishing it were otherwise?"

    So Laura tried to be more contented; and now that she and Dick Vernon were better friends, she came frequently to her brother's house, and was present at all the discussions.  The wedding was near at hand, and that seemed to overpower all else.  Nobody had time to see her low spirits, there was so much to do; and Grace was already beginning to get things in trim for the move into the other house, as it was desirable that they should leave it before quarter-day.  Dick now made himself useful.  Family pictures were moved from the son's house to the mother's.  He was consulted about them, and helped to hang them himself.  On these occasions he generally had a chat with Laura; indeed, he was now much more intimately acquainted with her than with either of her sisters.  But his company gave her little pleasure.  She was to go away from home so soon, and more than one lady was already in correspondence with her concerning the teaching of her children.  Moreover, Laura, shortly before the last loss of income on the part of her mother, had undertaken to teach the elder girls in the Philanthropic School how to clean silver, and also how to use a sewing-machine.  She had, therefore, little time on her hands, and she wished to have less.  "I will do what has to be done first," thought Laura, "and think about it afterwards; there will be plenty of time when I am in a situation, as governesses call it.  I wonder who there is in this world that is not in a situation of some sort or other?"

    Even Mr. Gilbert Richmond was observed by the ladies of his family to be desirous of getting the move over as soon as possible; and he evinced a great desire that his house should let quickly.  The reason of this came out during the course of a particular evening when his mother and sisters were dining with him.  It would add one to the list of voters; and he rather hoped that a friend of his own way of thinking was going to take it.  It was a nice, quiet place for a literary man, and an election was likely to come on.

    "The idea!" said Harriet; "I wonder how you men can interest yourselves so much in politics; and you, too, Mr. Vernon — that is why you are anxious about it, I suppose?"

    "I suppose it is," said Dick; "and you do not interest yourself in politics, it seems.  It would amuse you, if you were in America, to hear the women talk politics."

    "And talk about their rights," said Laura.  "Well, I am happy to say that I have got all my rights, and, I think, all my privileges.  Do you think it will end in our being made to have votes, Gilbert?"

    "I am not sure, my dear; these are strange times."

    "Should you like us to have them?"

    "That might depend partly on which side you meant to use them."

    "Ah," said Laura, as if considering that matter, and then added, reflectively, "I always used to think I was a Whig."  Her air seemed to imply some doubt as to whether her valuable opinion of herself had changed or not.

    Dick looked at her with some amusement, and was about to speak, when Harriet exclaimed, "Sir Harry Welsh told me that he believed all women were born Conservatives; but, seriously, Gilbert, a woman's parliament would be a very amusing thing, wouldn't it?  I think I should like it.  Grace would stand for this borough, of course.  We shall read in the Times: Grace Richmond, Esq., M.P., was called to order by Mrs. Speaker for not exercising enough female influence—'"

    "That reminds me, Grace," said Laura, "that if I vote for you, I shall expect you to bring a bill in against a grievance that I've just thought of.  We will not be called females any longer.  Such expressions as one reads now in the newspapers — 'This elegant female,' for instance, or 'the other female,' shall be done away with, and men shall be called males.  We shall read in the police reports such things as this: 'Two males were brought up before the sitting magistrate, Miss Harriet Richmond, charged with being drunk and disorderly.  A woman, accompanied by a male, came up to give evidence, etc., etc.  On being removed to prison, one of the males used opprobrious language.'  I wonder how you will like to hear yourselves called such names; but if you have oppressed us, you know, Gilbert, it is only just that you should suffer."

    "Now isn't it enough to make one despair of their sex to hear these girls talk," said Gilbert, laughing.  "My dear, there has been no talk at present of giving votes to any but women of property — householders."

    "Oh, but it will end in that, of course," said the sanguine Harriet.

    "You think it not likely," observed Dick, "that we shall refuse votes to the prettiest part of creation, when we have accorded them to the dowagers?"

    "Do you think we shall not have them, then, at all?"

    "I entertain a sincere and humble hope that you will not; and I do not think you should be angry.  Your sister says that she possesses all her rights, and I heard something about privileges also; I should like to know what she thinks a woman's privileges are."

    "I consider one of them to be the privilege of tyrannizing over you men — over the best of you, at least."

    "Indeed."

    "Yes; the better and stronger you are, the more we do it.  Consider our vicar.  Isn't he a good man? isn't he a strong man?  And is there an old woman in the parish that cannot tyrannize over him?  The older and uglier she is, the more she can do it.  That is partly because he feels acutely the difference between his own strength, uprightness, and well-being, and their wretched weakness, meanness, and poverty, — poor, despised old paupers that they are."

    "Yes," said Dick; "but that is not all.  The feeling you speak of arises also from a man's having formed deep attachments.  He loves his wife, perhaps, and dirt, degradation, and profanity are terrible to him in a woman, for her sake; or he has a mother with him — a sweet, saintly old woman — and it causes him a pang, which is partly of her giving him, to see a miserable and neglected old age.  Now, the first of these two states of feeling would no doubt be disturbed in the mind of a man by the possession of any mere power in the woman but not the second — even if we should, as you say, 'make you have votes,' and put you out of your right place in creation. Men would love their wives, their children, and their mothers still."

    Here Mrs. Richmond broke in with, "My dear, I am often sorry to hear you say things that I am sure you cannot mean.  Tyrannize indeed!  When did you ever do that, or wish to do it to any one?"

    "I never did, mamma," answered Laura, who, like her mother, was quite unable to argue a point.

    "Then why did you say so, love?"

    "I don't know.  Did I say so?  But, mother, I do not want to be considered a sort of bad imitation of a man.  Besides, it would be very disheartening to be put into daily competition with creatures who, we know beforehand, would always win."

    "What are you going to do?" said Gilbert, seeing that she rose.

    "I told Sarah to come for me early, because cook wants some of the things out of the grocery parcel which is to come to-night."

    "What! beginning the wedding preparations already!"

    "Already! when this is Monday, and Josey is to be married on Thursday!  Keep to your politics.  The lords of the creation have nothing to do with cooking, excepting to eat what is set before them."

    "Lords of the creation, indeed!" said Gilbert, looking at his wife, and shrugging his shoulder.  Then, what are you, pray?"

    "The ladies of creation, of course," said Dick.  Laura, you will let me walk home with you; it is nearly dark."

    There was little enough in this speech, certainly but there had been something in Dick's manner that night, which had struck Grace forcibly.  It was nothing more than common civility that he should escort her home; but he had actually asked to do so as if he was doubtful as to the result.  "What could it mean?" she wondered; and, as the evening wore on, and he did not return, she became more and more silent.  Strange if all her schemes should end in this, after all!  There would be nothing unsuitable in it.  Laura was his equal, but she had wished for something so different for him.  To be sure, Laura would be saved, if he married her, from becoming a governess; that was something.  It is such a confession of poverty (as society is now constituted), when a family lets one of its female members go away to earn her bread.  But Grace felt that this new idea was most unpalatable — most unsatisfying to her ambition.  "To be sure, they are both very religious," she thought; and that is a great thing to draw them together.  But I hope there is nothing in it.  Only think of having all the world to choose from, and marrying close at home a moderately good-looking girl, with a moderate fortune, from a family with small means, and likely to find them still smaller!"

    At last Mrs. Richmond and her other daughters went away also.  Gilbert called home with them; and Grace, as she sat in the dark, in the open window, discerned the figure of Dick.  He was pacing the garden rather rapidly, — rather impatiently, she thought; not slowly, like a man revolving in his mind some pleasant scenes that he has just pleasantly come out of.  There was a certain air of deliberately taking exercise — a sort of urgency with which he walked, that worried Grace; and when he did come in at last, she did not at all like the look of his face: it was very grave, and had, she thought, rather a startled look upon it.  "Her refusing him," she considered, "would be out of the question.  It cannot be that; it must be my fancy; and yet I am not often wrong."

    Grace was not quite wrong, but very nearly.  Dick had not made Laura an offer, but he had left the house fully intending to do so, when she had said something, unconscious of the effect it would have, which had let him see that his plans, and intentions, and love, were utterly unknown to her.  He had unintentionally, and because he could not help it, taken great pains to keep them secret; but, as is often the case, he had, notwithstanding, supposed them to be perfectly well known — at least to her.

    So he walked beside her, and said nothing; and so things went on till the wedding day, and till the bride was gone.  Then Laura began truly to feel her situation.  Like a young bird just about to be turned out of the nest, she wandered about the house in her bridesmaid's attire; and then she wandered about the garden.  Finally, she sat down on the wooden bench where last the housemaid Elizabeth had sat; but, instead of beginning to sing, as that young person had done, Laura began to cry.  She was young for her years; she had been born in this house; this garden had been her playground.  But she presently thought, "That is nothing; it is only sentiment, at least, for this is equally true of Josephine; but she does not much care about going away.  But, then, there's my mother — how am I to go away from her?  And, oh! how am I to go among these strangers — I, who am so shy?  Oh! if I might but stay!"

    She kept repeating to herself as she looked about her, and still wept, "Oh, if I might but stay!"  But old trains of thought are apt to recur, and we may be thankful for it if they are good ones.  An old train of thought rose up in Laura's mind just then, and a text out of the Bible, which she had repeated many hundreds of times: "For none of you liveth to himself."

    It was a lovely day, early in October.  The ground was thickly spread with yellow leaves; they kept falling from the poplars and abeles upon Laura's white gown, and the air was so still.

    Now, this was true of her at last: she perceived that now she did not live to herself; that for some time she had not lived to herself; and that her new way of life, which was by no means one she should have chosen, was certainly one which was likely to make her more useful and less selfish.  It was painful; but she supposed it was all right, and ordained for her in love.  And then she cried a little more, but stopped, just as Elizabeth had done, because she heard some one coming."

    "What! is it you, Dick?" she said, wiping her eyes and trying to recover herself.  "It's a lovely afternoon, isn't it?"

    Mr. Tompkins, when he sat on that bench, had made a great many blunders; but he did not manage to make so many as Dick did, or, at any rate, he came out of his ordeal better, for when Dick had opened, as he thought, the case, — had astonished Laura into attention, and gone blundering on for at least three minutes, he came to a pause, and Laura said, looking at him rather earnestly

    "Dick, I don't know what you mean!"

    Dick, upon this, being forced to straightforwardness, replied that he supposed she knew he loved her.

    "Love me!" repeated Laura; "love ME!" and she actually laughed.  It was the softest little laugh in the world, but Dick would rather not have heard it just then.  After that came a sob or two, and then more tears; and then she said, "How can you be so ridiculous?"

    It was rather difficult to go on; but he did, and certainly did not end till he had made her fully believe that he loved her with all his heart.

    But when he had done, she only answered — after a pause of wonder, and the kind of interest that a woman must feel under such circumstances ――

    "I am so sorry, dear Dick."

    Dick, upon hearing this, got up and walked about, with the same sort of urgency which he had used that night in the garden.  His countenance showed his feeling so plainly, that Laura was a little awed — this sort of thing was so perfectly new to her; but, after all, she thought, "Why didn't he let me see that he liked me?  Why, in fact, does he like me at all, when he took the trouble, only a few weeks ago, to assure me of his complete indifferences?"

    "Laura," said Dick, at last, "you will give me time, will you not?  You are not going to dismiss me at once?"

    "Time," repeated Laura, a little dismayed; "I am going to my situation this day week, and I have all my friends to take leave of, and my mother, and my home; and after I am gone, of course, I shall never see you."

    "You mean that during this eventful week you cannot think much of me."

    "I don't exactly know what I mean," said Laura, now goaded into a little impatience; "you surprise me so much."

    "Laura," he asked after a long pause, "will you tell me when you expect to be here again?"

    "Next midsummer," answered Laura, with a sigh.  It is a long journey, and Christmas is so near at hand, that Mrs. G. rather urged me not to come away then.  Besides, all her boys are at home for the holidays at Christmas, and she can less spare the governess when that is the case."

    Laura began to give this account, only thinking of herself, and what a long time it would be before she should see her mother and her relatives — not to mention that sweet garden and the lovely river that was slipping on so softly before her eyes; but, as she spoke, she became fully aware how much more deeply Dick felt the matter than she did — how bitterly disappointed he was, and how powerless he felt himself.

    She rose as she finished speaking, and repeated that she was sorry, holding out her hand to him; and then she presently got it from him again, and went slowly back into the house, leaving him seated on the bench, staring at the little river.  Midsummer was a long way off; but he supposed he must wait till it came, and then come to this place, and take his chance again.

    "Laura," said Mrs. Richmond, coming into the little store room two days after this, just as Laura had dismissed her sewing class, and was putting away the work. "Laura, is this true that I hear?"

    "About Dick?" said Laura, not pretending to misunderstand her.

    "It is true, then!  What could you mean by it, my dear child?" continued the mother, in a tone of the deepest regret.

    "What! did he tell you, mamma?"

    "No; but Gilbert did.  Grace seems to have found it out; and, when she asked him, he did not deny it, and he wished me to know, he said, because he thought I should use my influence to help his cause.  Do you really mean to tell me that you don't care for him?"

    "I thought I would rather be a governess than marry him," said Laura, demurely.

    "My dear, it is only three months since you expressed a conviction that nobody ever would make you a suitable offer; and I was a little vexed, I confess, because it is so much better that girls should not think much on those matters till occasion arises; but I certainly did not expect that you would shortly have an excellent offer from a thoroughly superior man, and would refuse him point blank."

    "He took me by surprise," said Laura; "and, besides, I always had a theory that I should not have offers.  I was certain that I should not, or else I should not have talked as I did that day."

    "A theory!" repeated the mother with a comical little noise that was not exactly a groan, but something very like one.

    "It is very inconvenient, mamma," replied Laura, apologizing; "but, really, I would rather go and be governess to those children."

    So Laura went away, and she was a governess, and she did not particularly like it.  Her employers were exacting; they were rather cold; and Laura, being very shy, suffered many little annoyances and much inconvenience without the courage to speak.  The wear and tear of life having now truly come upon her, she began to feel the great differences between duties done of one's own accord, and sought out for one's self, and the sterner kinds of duty that had come upon her.  She sometimes felt as if her taskmasters now were men and women who were never satisfied, never thought she had done enough; but the former Master for whom she had tried to work was a loving Father, who had rewarded her with his own peace in her heart.  By degrees, however, as the long winter passed away, she began to perceive that she was still serving the loving Father, and that made all things easier.  As for Dick, she had not much time to think of him; and if a circumstance anything but pleasant had not aroused her to think of him, he would almost have passed out of her mind.

    She read one day in the newspaper a singular account of the burning of a workhouse.  The fire had broken out just at sunset, when a party of young men who were coming home from a boat-race, and going to dine at a large country house, which was mentioned, came running up to help the men who were bringing the fire engine.  "One of them," it went on to say, who was carrying an oar over his shoulder, made use of it to vault into a window some height from the ground.  He was a Mr. Vernon.  The oar cracked with his weight; but he was flung on to the windowsill, and, directed by the people without, made his way to a ward, where there was said to be a woman lying with her infant of a few hours old.  Others of these young men got in also, and their pluck seemed to increase the daring of the other men.  They rescued two or three bedridden people, and exposed themselves rashly.  They also saved a good deal of clothing and some stores, and they all got out without a scratch, excepting this Mr. Vernon, who had his left hand badly torn by the fall of a rafter with some jagged nails in it, which caught his fingers, while the infant on his arm and the woman were unhurt."

    "It could not be Dick," thought Laura; "or, of course, I should have heard of it from home."  It proved, however, that it was Dick, and Grace had to leave her young family, and go to nurse him.  Very few particulars were told to Laura  but she did not much care for that, as she had read them in the newspaper.  "Dick was better," this was sometimes said; and of other times, "Dick has certainly less pain now than at first;" finally, they said, "that cut on his forehead is healed now, and he looks more like himself again."  "Oh," thought Laura, "his face is disfigured then, is it?"  But when she got home, and to her surprise, found him sitting in the drawing-room with her mother and his sister, she saw that he was still an invalid wearing his arm in a sling.  He had a glove on his left hand, and at first Laura did not dare to look at it; but her eyes, in spite of herself, were drawn to it at last, and she saw that two or three of its fingers were empty.  How much more beautiful the somewhat handsome face appeared now that it was adorned with that slight scar, and how much more interesting the whole man appeared with that becoming sling and the somewhat steady set of the mouth, which looked as if he had summoned up all his strength to do battle with pain, and keep its presence to himself, and keep all expression of it down, there is no use in trying to describe.  But Laura felt it, and what she did when her mother and Grace left her alone with him, nobody would have told, if she had not told it herself afterwards, and seemed to think it the most natural thing in the world.

    He lifted up his somewhat hollow eyes and looked at her: it cannot be said that he felt any conscious regret for what he had done; but he did think because he did not know better — that it had lessened his chance with the woman whom he loved; and while she imagined that he had become beautiful, he remembered that he was maimed.

    She rose, when he looked at her, and moved towards him; and when, as she came up to him, he also rose, she said, with a kind of sweet entreating in her soft voice, "Dick, will you kiss me?"

    She had always been thought an odd girl.  Everybody said she was; but she was my friend, and perhaps that was the reason why I never could see it.


――――♦――――


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