MR. MITFORD of Melcombe had three sons. His estates lay in one of the richest of the midland counties, and they were not entailed. His house was not very imposing nor beautiful in itself, being of comparatively recent erection, and built at a period when comfort within was more considered than beauty without. It was low, no more than two stories in height, but spreading over a wide area, with a long garden front which permitted a very handsome suite of rooms; delightful to live in, though without architectural pretensions of any kind. Though the house was so recent, the Mitfords had been at Melcombe for as many centuries as were necessary to establish their claims as country gentry of the high rank, and had met with those misfortunes which are almost as indispensable as success and prosperity to the thorough establishment of an old race. They had suffered more or less in the Jacobite rebellion, their house had been burnt down more than once, they had given their family valuables to the king when he was at Oxford. These circumstances made the fact that their house was new and ugly, their plate a little scanty, their jewels defective, rather a point of pride than of humiliation for the family. It was also rather a feather in their cap that the entail embraced only a very small portion of their possessions ; for had it not been broken in haste during the eighteenth century, in order to leave the heir free to follow Prince Charlie without ruining the family in case the Hanoverians should hold, as happened, the winning side ? This step, however, is a very important one, when the family, and not the individual possessor, is taken into view. It is generally supposed that the law of natural justice requires the abrogation of all such restrictions as those involved in laws of primogeniture and entail. But there are, as usual with most human questions, two ways of looking at this matter. If you have made a great deal of money, it is only right that you should have the power of dividing it among your descendants, or (which is still another view) giving it to whom you choose. But when an inheritance has been handed down to you by your fathers and grandfathers in succession, the natural justice runs all the other way. Then it becomes a breach of right to contradict the purpose with which it was constituted, the limitations under which you received it, since it is not your property at all save in trust. But this is neither the moment nor the place for a treatise upon the English laws of succession. Mr. Mitford was a man who had a great idea of his rights as an individual, and he was the third in succession who had held the estates of Melcombe entirely in his own hands.

Copyright, 1886, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.

His three sons were Roger, Edmund, and Stephen. The eldest son, notwithstanding the power of disinheritance which was in his father’s hands, had been brought up as eldest sons usually are, without any alarm as to his future, or idea that under any possibility he could be displaced from his natural position. He had been in the Guards in his youth, and had passed that blossoming portion of his existence without any discredit, if also without any special use. He had withdrawn, however, from a life somewhat too expensive for his allowance and circumstances some years before the beginning of this history, and, with occasional absences for pleasure or adventure, lived at home, managing as much of the business of the estate as his father permitted to pass out of his own hands, looking after the stables, hunting a little, and finding enough to occupy him in that busy idleness of country life which is so seductive and looks so much like important work when the doer of it has nothing else to do. Roger was not, however, ignorant of what men have to do in regions where existence is less easy. He had been, as people say, a great deal about the world. He had taken that round which to young men of the present day stands in the place of that grand tour which their forefathers took with more or less advantage in the way of culture and art. He had been all over America, he was still part owner of a Californian ranche, he had touched at Japan, and he knew familiarly many a place which, a generation ago, only sailors by profession or merchants’ clerks knew anything about. How much good all these varied experiences had done him it would be hard to say, but they had at least contributed with many other influences to form the man.

Edmund, the second son, was of a very different mould. He was one of those who are untraveled, and have not knocked about or roughed it, as it is the fashion to do; that is to say, he knew Europe and the great countries which have marched with his own through the comparatively modern levels of history, and he knew books and rather more art than was good for him. He had a mild little fortune of his own, derived from his mother ; the just enough which is supposed to be very bad for a young man by inducing him to believe that it is unnecessary to do anything for himself, but which the present writer takes the liberty of believing is sometimes very good for a young man, keeping him out of the ranks of the struggling without that sense of guilt and helplessness which must always characterize the ineffectiveness of the poor. Edmund cared little for game, great or small; he was not interested in savage life, whether that of the hunter, or the cattle owner, or the aboriginal, though more in the last than in the first. He was a man somewhat without motive in the world, reading a great deal, wandering more or less, writing a little, musing much. His musings did not come to anything to speak of ; indeed, there was supposed to be little use in him of any kind. He could not even lay claim to that high reputation in the way of bricabrac which, for a dilettante such as he allowed himself to be, is a kind of salvation. Whether it was indolence, or whether it was that he had no conviction of the importance of Japanese fans and china plates in decoration, he had not made much even of the rooms which had been given up to him at home. They were hung only with pictures and water-color sketches, some of which were done by his own hand, without a fan among them, or any other barbaric “ bit of color.” He did not come up to his possibilities even in that respect. His presence or absence did not tell very much upon the house. It is true that most of the inhabitants at Melcombe were glad to have him there ; but those very qualities which made everybody pleased to see him diminished the importance of his going away. He gave so little trouble that no one missed him, though when he was at home the fact that he gave little trouble was his highest praise.

Stephen was the one who turned the house upside down, when he appeared. He was a soldier, with his regiment, spending only his intervals of leave (and not always those) at Melcombe. But no one could be under any doubt on the subject when Stephen was at home. He had everything altered to suit his pleasure ; even Mr. Mitford, who never departed from his rules, was unconsciously thrust out of them on Stephen’s return, and thought nothing of it. This not because he was the favorite. He could not be said to be the favorite. He was too noisy, too imperious, for that part. He had not the sweetness, the persuasiveness, which procures one of a family his own way. He got the upper hand because he insisted upon it. None of the others felt themselves able to oppose Stephen. As for Edmund, he shrunk at once from any controversy, feeling that he must go to the wall; and Roger would give in with a growl, saying in his red mustache that the fellow was not here for long, or else — Mr. Mitford yielded with a still worse grace, but he did yield also, — chiefly because he felt it undignified to engage in any strife unless he was certain to be victorious, and that could never be certain when it was Stephen who was the antagonist. Stephen did not mind in the least what weapons he used. He would speak of his father’s age in a way which made Mr. Mitford furious. “ I don’t want to disturb you, sir, at your age. One knows, of course, that habit is more than second nature with old people.” “ Who the deuce do you mean by your old people ? ” Mr. Mitford would shout in a passion, conscious of being only sixty-seven, and well out of sight yet of the threescore and ten years. The servants invariably flew to execute Mr. Stephen’s orders. Anything for a quiet life, they said. And thus it was that without going out of his course to conciliate anybody, or troubling himself about the least recompense, Stephen got most things his own way. He was, perhaps, the handsomest of his family, as features and merely physical attributes go. He was taller than his brothers, he was better at all out-door pursuits ; or perhaps it was because he always said he was the best that everybody thought so. Then he had the reputation of being open-handed and liberal, because people who are so noisy and impulsive generally are as careless of money as they are of other people’s comfort, or at least it is usual to think so. Stephen is so thoughtless, everybody said ; you don’t expect Stephen to remember little precautions, or to curry favor, but at bottom he’s the most good-natured fellow ! He does n’t pretend to be clever, but he sticks to his friends like a good one, the gentlemen said. He’s a little rough, but then he’s so very good-natured, said the ladies. So Stephen went on steadily thinking of nothing but how to please himself. There is no branch of human industry in which perseverance is more sure of its reward.

There were daughters in the Mitford family, but they had never been taken much into account. The mother had died young, and no feminine head of the house had ever succeeded her. There was an excellent housekeeper, Mrs. Simmons, who devoted herself to the boys, but thought young ladies were best in the school-room, and kept the governesses at a haughty distance. The young ladies were timid girls, who were frightened of their brothers, and thought Mrs. Simmons quite right. Somehow or other, nobody quite knew how, three of them married out of that school-room, and escaped into what we must hope was a better life. One little girl was still left at home. Her name was Katherine, but she had not the vigor which that name implies. To have called her Kate would have been impossible, or even Katie. The universal sense of those who knew her averted this false nomenclature by calling her Nina, supposed to be a contraction of the last syllable of her name, as it is of so many names. She was nearly eighteen at the period to which I am referring ; a pretty enough little girl, looking much younger than her age, and with a constantly apologetic tone about her, as if she had no business to be in the way, or show herself in superior male society, — which, to tell the truth, she did very little. The last governess had departed some time before : governesses had not been welcome in the Mitford family, nor had they been happy ; and in what way Nina had been educated, or her sisters before her, nobody knew. It was supposed that they could read and write, and it was known (by the nuisance it was) that they could play badly upon a well-thumped school-room piano, out of which more noise than music could be got. Now that the governess was gone, Nina was more often visible than she had been before. The humblest of little apologetic girls cannot live in a school-room all alone. If there had been no other reason against it, there was this reason, that it was now nobody’s business to carry up tea to that secluded place. The school-room maid had departed along with the governess, and when this dilemma was reported to Mrs. Simmons her deliverance was very decisive. “It is high time Miss Nina came down to dinner,” she said, although on a former occasion she had protested that the schoolroom was the proper place for young ladies. This proves that even the housekeeper was not always consistent; but then, in the present case, tea in the school-room instead of dinner down-stairs had the air of being a privilege for Nina, a thing that evidently could not be. When it was thus settled that she should make her appearance at dinner, Nina learned to show herself much more downstairs during the day. She was all alone, poor little thing; there was nobody to talk with up-stairs, or with whom to exchange those innocent little secrets which belong to girlhood. She was very heartsick with longing for her sisters, and for Miss Beaumont, who had been kind, and even for Mattie, the little school-room maid. Had she been left, the deserted girl would in all likelihood have formed a very unsuitable but devoted friendship with Mattie ; or she might have fallen in love with the gardener, or done something of a desperate kind. Mrs. Simmons saved her by issuing that recommendation, which was as good as an order. Nina did not like it at first, but afterwards she got to like it. She was a pretty little creature. She was very anxious to please. And when any one walked into the drawing-room, which had hitherto been empty, save on great occasions, and became aware of a little startled movement, and the raising of a pair of half-frightened eyes, and the flutter of a frock which seemed ready to flutter out of sight on the faintest indication that it was in the way, the spectacle soon came to be quite an agreeable thing.

The sitting-rooms of the house were en suite. There was first a library, with windows all round, in one corner, then a large drawing-room, then a small one, and at the other corner the dining-room. The whole line of rooms was lighted at night. The drawing-rooms served only the purpose of a passage from the library at one end to the banquet at the other. But the flutter of Nina’s frock changed this arrangement, and made the silent passage room into a little centre of domestic life, more pleasant than the heavy library, which was lined with books and hung with heavy curtains, as became the abode of knowledge and masculine mental occupation. It may be doubted, perhaps, whether Mr. Mitford ever discussed a question more profound than how to gain a little upon his new leases, or keep back a little from the new buildings and repairs which his farmers demanded. But these are questions serious enough in their way, and the library was grave enough in appearance to be tenanted by a bishop. The young men and their father, not always on the best of terms with each other, formed a sufficiently gloomy procession when they came from under the shade of the dark velvet portière, marching along to dinner, four tall men, and not a smiling face. When first Nina’s white frock had been seen to rise timidly from one of the sofas it made a sensation in the group. “ What are you doing here at this hour ? ” Mr. Mitford said to his daughter, somewhat gruffly. “ Please, papa, Miss Beaumont has gone,” said Nina, trembling a little. “ To be sure,” he said, mollified by her wistful look, and offered his daughter his arm. How Nina had trembled as she took that formidable arm ! She was ready to sink into the earth one minute, and the next could not help saying to herself, “ Oh, that Mrs. Simmons could see me ! ” For though it was the housekeeper who had been the cause of this bold step, she had not intended it to be to Nina’s advantage ; nor had it ever occurred to her that her master, who was so little careful of the girls, should, on seeing this little one, with her downcast eyes, trembling before him, have remembered that little Nina was a lady, and offered her his majestic arm.

By and by, dating from this time, a change came about in the domestic arrangements at Melcombe. Edmund was the first who forsook the gloomy assembly in the library, and went to Nina in the drawing-room when the gong sounded for dinner; and at last it came to this, that Mr. Mitford issued alone out of the library door, and found his three sons, in their black coats, all gathered round Nina, as if she somehow, who was nobody only the youngest and a girl, had become a sort of head in the house. She did not, however, rise to the occasion. Nor did Roger, to whom his father left it to give the little lady his arm, give over to her the head of the table, which had been his place since she was a baby. She sat at her brother’s right hand, as if she had been a little guest. It would have appeared absurd to all of them to put this little thing, though they all liked her well enough, in the place of the mistress of the house.

Such were the Mitfords and their house and family at the time when this episode of then story begins.



Neighbors, as everybody knows, are vastly more important in the country than they can be in town. The Mitfords were not people who kept much company ; indeed, the female element being so entirely suppressed as it was, they can scarcely be said to have kept any company at all. They had parties of men in the house in September, and sometimes at other periods, when an election or some great public event occurred in the country; or in the race week at Beaulieu, when everybody is expected, more or less, to entertain. It might perhaps have been on these occasions that the elder girls met their respective husbands ; but the matches were all made in neighboring houses, never at home. And speaking of society, there was none at Melcombe, for who would call a shooting party, or a collection of men gathered together for any one distinct male object, society ? But the neighborhood was, as everybody said, distinctly sociable and friendly. The nearest house, of course, was the Rectory, and the nearest neighbors were clerical. How it is that the English gentry should for so many centuries have suffered the existence at their very door of households fraught with peril to their younger members is a question which has not passed without previous discussion, that we should introduce it head and shoulders here without warning. It is one of the highest proofs of the sincerity of religious principle and faith in the national church which a body of excellent but perhaps not remarkably spiritual-minded persons could give. The Rectory is almost always at the Squire’s park gates ; it is nearer than any other house. In, say, six cases out of ten, it is full of sons and daughters about the same ages as the Squire’s sons and daughters; young people evidently quite as good in every way, but probably not at all rich, or likely to increase by connection or otherwise the greatness of his house. The sons, young fellows getting afloat in the professions, or scuffling through the long vacation as best they can between the Hall, which is the chief house in the parish, and the clerical house, which is the second, — what a danger for the Squire’s daughters, probably just at the impressionable age, and not yet competent to judge of the advantages of a good match! And the girls, still more dangerous, innocent man-traps laid in the very sight of an indignant father ! Sometimes the familiarity in which the two sets of young people have grown up, calling each other by their Christian names, and assuming almost brotherly and sisterly relationships, is a safeguard ; but not always, for these sorts of fraternal relations often expand into something nearer and dearer.

The Mitfords were exceptionally fortunate, however, in their clerical family. The Rector of Melcombe had but two children: the daughter (providentially) older than any of the Mitford boys ; the son younger even than Nina, which was more than could have been hoped for. The Rector was of a Jersey family, and his name was spelt Le Mesurier, as no doubt it ought to have been pronounced ; but as a matter of fact he was called Lemeasurer, as if it were one word, and he never objected to the mispronunciation. Miss Lemesurier was the housekeeper, nay, the head of the house, at the Rectory. Her mother was dead long ago. Miss Lemesurier was approaching forty, and she was by far the best curate her father had ever had. Not only did all the external affairs of the parish pass through her hands, but most of the spiritual too. She was a large woman, larger than her father, and overshadowing him both mentally and bodily. She had a great deal of fair hair, somewhat sandy, but which in its day had been celebrated as gold, and this was her chief external distinction. She wore it in an old-fashioned way, in large massive braids, so that it could never be ignored, and was a conspicuous part of her somewhat imposing personality. Her name, it was believed, was Patience, but she had never been known as anything but Pax, though the origin of that cognomen was lost in the minds of antiquity. The Rectory, withdrawn among its trees, had a dignified and impressive appearance, with the spire of Melcombe old church rising beyond it into peaceful blue skies flecked with English cloud, and scarcely stained by the village smoke. But through an opening in these trees, Pax Lemesurier, from where she sat at her favorite window, commanded the gate of the great house, and saw everybody who went and came. Nature had at first afforded this facility, but it was kept up by art. She had the opening carefully preserved and trimmed, so that no intrusive bough should ever shut that prospect out.

This was the nearest female neighbor our Squire’s family had. Naturally, as she was several years older than the Mitfords, two of them in succession had fallen in love with Pax. It had been a short affair with Roger, who had learned better after his first period of service with his regiment. But Edmund had held by it a long time, and would have brought it to the crisis of marriage if Pax would have listened to him; but she was not that kind of woman. Marrying, she declared at once, was not in her way. She had a house of her own, as much as any married woman had, and a great deal more independence, and to change this free and full life for that of a younger son’s wife, watching her husband’s countenance to keep him in good humor, and conciliating his father that he might increase their allowance, was a sort of thing to which nothing would make her submit, — “ nothing, at least, with which I am at present acquainted,” Pax said. “ Of course such a thing might happen as that I should fall in love.” She said this with such gravity that everybody laughed, putting aside, as it were, a margin for future possibilities. At the moment, Edmund was very angry and offended by this speech, which showed how entirely that specific was out of the question in his own case : but in the end he learned to laugh, too.

Another notable member of the neighboring society may best be introduced to the reader as she appeared in Pax’s drawing-room, one spring morning, having ridden over to see her friend from her own house, which was quite near as country calculations go, being about live miles off. This young lady was a person of great importance in the circle round Melcombe. She was an heiress, not only of money, but of a delightful and highly prosperous estate ; and though her name was not of much account, and her connection with the district recent, no one could have a finer position than Elizabeth Travers, to whom all the greatest families in the neighborhood, possessing sons, showed the utmost attention. She was not in her teens, like the usual heroines of romance, but in her twenties, which is very different, and had seen a good deal of the world. It would be impossible to pretend that she was unaware of the position she held, and the great advantages, as people say, which she possessed. As these advantages were evidently not hers, but those of her wealth, she was not proud of them, but occasionally, indeed, a little bitter, like a woman who felt herself wrong, although she got nothing hut compliments and worship. Her position was so far peculiar that she had inherited all this from an uncle, recently dead, who out of some abstract impression of justice, believing that Elizabeth’s father had laid the foundations of the fortune which he did not live to enjoy, had left everything to his niece, with but a slender provision for the insipid, delicate invalid wife whom he left behind. Mrs. Travers had been kept in ignorance of this arrangement, which had taken even her own house from her. It was the one thing upon which Elizabeth insisted. The poor lady was told that Elizabeth was the final heir, and that it was not in her power to leave anything away from her husband’s niece, who had always lived with her, and of whom in reality she was both fond and proud. Mrs. Travers, all unsuspicious of the truth, had shed a few tears over even this disability. " If there had been only ten thousand, my dear,” she said, “ which I could have called my own ! Of course I should have left the most of it to you. He need not, I’m sure, have ever supposed that I would leave it away from you ; but to think I could do what I liked with it, and leave a few legacies when I passed away, would have been a pleasure. I don’t know why your uncle should have had so little faith in me, my dear.”

“ It was not that he had little faith in you, dear auntie. Besides, you have more than ten thousand pounds, I am sure. And whatever legacies you wish to leave, you may be certain that they will be paid,” said Elizabeth.

But Mrs. Travers shook her head, declaring that what she wished was not any such assurance, but only that, to show his trust in her, he had left her something which she could have considered as her very own. This was quite as great a grievance to the poor lady as if she had known the real state of the case, which Elizabeth, with so much trouble, and even at the cost of a fib or two (but it was the lawyers who told them, and that did not matter), so carefully concealed from her. Thus they lived together; Mrs. Travers ordering everything as if it were her own, and believing it so to be, with Elizabeth, her dependent, in the house. She treated her niece as if she had been her daughter, it must be allowed, but now and then would exhibit little caprices of proprietorship, and debar her from the use of a horse or a carriage. “ It may be yours to do what you like with after I die, but it’s mine as long as I live,” she would say pettishly, notwithstanding that the house and everything in it, the carriages and horses, were Elizabeth’s, and not hers at all. This assertion of rights had been of little importance while the two ladies led a secluded life of mourning, after the death of the head of the house; but that period was about ending, and Elizabeth’s embarrassments and difficulties were likely to increase. It was upon this subject, with perhaps some others underneath, that she had now come to unburden her heart.

Miss Lemesurier sat in her usual chair near the window, which commanded the Melcombe park gates. She was in a light gown, as was also her wont, though it was not becoming. Her flood of light hair, in two great heavy braids, framed her face, and was twisted in a great knot behind. Her complexion, which had grown a little dull, was not capable of overcoming the mingled effects of the light hair and dress, and her eyes, though they were large and animated, were gray, too, of a yellowish tone, concentrating rather than giving forth light. She lent her full attention to Elizabeth, and yet she kept her eyes on the park gates of Melcombe, and not a beggar or tramp could pass out or in without being seen by Pax.

“ It is vexing, that’s all,” said Elizabeth, drying her brown eyes, which in their wet condition sent sparks of light all round her, and illuminated the scene. “ It is n’t as if I wished poor auntie to lose the least of the pleasure she takes in her things.”

“ Only they are not her things; they ’re your things.”

“ Oh, what does that matter ? What do I care whose things they are ? But she cares, poor dear ! ”

“ I’m not fond of self-deception,” said Pax, folding her large hands in her lap. “ If you did n’t care, my dear, you would never come and tell me.”

“ Oh, Pax ! ”

“ I’m not fond of deception of any kind,” continued Miss Lemesurier. “The subject of it is always angry when it is found out, and has a right to be angry. You know I was always for letting Mrs. Travers, poor thing, know ; there would have been a few more tears, and then all would have been right.”

“ I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, my uncle’s will was very unjust. Fancy his wife, who had been his faithful companion all these years! Everything had been hers, just as much hers as his, and in a moment they all pass away from her without any reason, and come to me. Nothing could be more unjust.”

“ That’s a large statement,” said Pax. “ I don’t know if it’s unjust or not, but there can’t be a doubt that it’s hard. Widows have almost always to bear it. Perhaps they don’t mind. When it’s their own son who turns them out of house and home everybody seems to think it’s all right. But of course you would never have turned her out. You would have made yourself her slave, — as, indeed, you are doing now.”

“Not a slave at all. It’s all quite right,” said Elizabeth. “ Sometimes she is a little aggravating, and then I come and grumble to you, — but only to you, Pax, and then it all comes right again.”

“ What’s wrong can never be right,” said Pax, with a certain placid dogmatism. She paused a little, and then she said, “ There is a wonderful sight! — the three Mitford boys all walking together out of the gates.”

Elizabeth got up quickly to peep over her friend’s shoulder. A little additional color had come to her face. “ The three Mitford boys ! ” she said, with a little strained laugh. “ One would think you were talking of three curled darlings in velvet frocks, or knickerbockers at the most.”

“ I ’ve seen them in both,” said Pax, calmly. “ But it’s very seldom of late that I’ve seen them together. Lizzy, when you make up your mind, and poor Mrs. Travers is no longer in the way ” —

“ How could she ever be in the way ? ”

“ Oh, my dear ! How much simpler this world would be,” said Pax, “ if people would be sincere and speak the truth! I think the whole business wrong, you know. Still, having done it, you may at least be frank about the consequences, and not pretend to me that it makes no difference. Of course she is in the way. You know very well you can never marry while she is there, thinking herself the mistress of all. I should not wonder if you were to keep it up to the end, and humbly accept an allowance from her out of your own money.”

“ It would do — us no harm if I did,” said Elizabeth, coloring high, and speaking in a very low voice.

“ Very likely it would do you no harm. To be poor in reality would not do you much harm. You ’re a good, honest, healthy young woman, and quite capable of looking after your family, and bringing up your children ” —

“ Pax! ” Elizabeth stopped her, laughing and blushing. “ You go a great deal too fast! ” she cried.

“ That’s true. Of course it would take a few years. But that’s not the question, my dear. You couldn’t be married like an ordinary girl. There would be all the fuss in the world about settlements, and everything must be turned over among the lawyers and talked about, and your position made known. You could n’t deceive her any longer ; it would n’t be possible. Everybody would know.”

“ Everybody knows now, except my poor auntie. I don’t see what difference it need make.”

“ And you think you could get a man to aid and abet you in all that! You think your husband would carry on the farce, and make believe to be Mrs. Travers’s pensioner, and have your money doled out through her hands ! ”

“ Pax,” cried Miss Travers, “ I tell you, you go a great deal too fast. There ’s no such person ; time enough to consider what he would do, when he exists.”

“ My poor child,” said Pax, with a mixture of pity and contempt, “ he exists ; or at least I hope so, for your sake. I hope you are not going to marry thirty years hence some boy who is not born yet, — that would be a dismal look-out indeed. He exists, and not far off, or I’m mistaken. Indeed, I should not wonder if he were to pass at any moment under those trees.”

“ All this is quite beyond the question,” said Elizabeth, with a look of pain. It was not the fluttering, pretty blush of happy anticipation, but a hot color of embarrassment, of perplexity, almost of irritation, that made a line under her eyes. Something like a flame of trouble not unmixed with shame passed over her face. “We have talked of this a great deal too much,” she said. “ or at least I have let you talk. To speculate may be no harm. I suppose I thought it amusing at one time, but it is not amusing now. Pax, please, if you care for me at all, don’t say any more.”

“ I care for you a great deal, my dear, and for him also, — I have a right to,” Pax said. Then there was silence between them. For as a matter of fact the three young men were passing under the trees ; and it remained uncertain whether they were coming to the Rectory, or whether any one of them was coming to the Rectory, or where this unlikely group were bound. To see them all three together was so unusual that the women who took so great an interest in them watched and waited for the two or three decisive minutes, almost holding their breath. The footsteps became audible after a minute, and even a distant sound of voices ; and then these indications became distant, and it was evident that the Rectory was not the end to which either all or any were bound. Both the ladies drew a long breath when this was ascertained beyond doubt, but it is uncertain whether it was in relief or disappointment. The color still flamed, red and hot, under Elizabeth’s eyes. The passing sounds seemed to have disturbed and excited her. She had forgotten the original subject of her complaints and trouble, and her mind went far away out of the Rectory drawing-room to other speculations of her own.

Meanwhile, the three Mitfords passed the Rectory gate, and recognized Elizabeth’s horse which the groom was walking up and down outside the gate. “ Oh ho ! ” cried Stephen. “ There’s Lizzy Travers’s man. She’s having a consultation with old Pax, Roger, about the best, way of hooking you.”

“ I wish you’d try to be less vulgar, Steve.”

“ Oh, vulgar ! As soon as a fellow speaks the truth about a woman, you call him vulgar. Old Pax ought to know how to set about it, if all tales are true.”

“ There are some things which are worse than vulgar,” said Edmund, “ and that is one of them. Keep your messroom talk for that fine locality. You will soon be there.”

“I hope so,” cried Stephen, — “free from the lackadaisical, which is worse than vulgar any day. Look here, you fellows, I wish you would make up your minds who is going in for Liz, — a fine girl and a fine fortune, and capital preserves, though they ’re overstocked. If it’s not good enough for you, it’s quite good enough for me, and I should n’t mind settling down. Not at home, though. The Governor is too much for any fellow. I can’t think how you stand it, you two.”

To this speech there was no reply, and presently all three paused to greet a couple of men, quite unlike themselves, who were crossing the common, coming from the little railway station to which the Mitfords were bound. One of these was a very trim and fresh country gentleman of fifty or so, with a gray mustache and that indescribably clean, wellbrushed air, the perfection of physical purity and soundness which we in England are apt to consider characteristic of an Englishman, — a man who was not above a cigar, but never smelt of smoke; who was no ascetic, yet showed no symptom of any indulgence ; who looked his years, yet bore them like a flower, and was as active as any of the younger men beside him. There was no mistaking the handsome, slim young fellow by his side for anything but his son. But though he was tall and straight and delightful in the first bloom of his youth, Raymond Tudgold was not such a perfect type as his father. The man was as self-possessed and easy in speech and mind as in appearance; the youth was a little shy, a little eager, half a step in advance, but not half so sure where he was going or what he meant to do.

“ Hallo, what’s up ? ” Raymond cried, which indeed was but a version less refined of the sentiments of the ladies at the Rectory window as to the errand of the brothers, all walking together, as if they had something (for once) in common to do.

“ You ’re going to see Stephen off? ” said Mr. Tudgold, solving this problem summarily. “ I’m sorry you are going, Steve. My girls think it will soon be weather for tennis, and I don’t know what else, and every man that goes is a loss, they say.”

“ If it’s only in the light of any man that goes — I hope Amy and Nancy think more of me than that. Tell them I ’ll see them in town, where perhaps they won’t take any notice of me.”

“ Or you of them. We know what you think of country folks in town,” said Mr. Tudgold, with a laugh that was not without meaning. Then he added, “ We are going to see if the Rector can do anything for Ray in the matter of this exam.”

Ray gave a little shrug to his shoulders when he thus became the subject of the conversation. He was two and twenty, and it was recognized as fully necessary that he should lose no time.

“ I am afraid the Rector has rather forgotten his classics,” said Edmund.

“ What can I do ? To send him to a crammer is too expensive; besides, I don’t approve of the system. I wish I knew of any one else. But the Rector, even if he has forgotten something, must still know a great deal more than Ray.”

“ In an old-fashioned way.”

“ Goodness, what can that matter ? Is n’t it all old-fashioned ? ” cried Mr. Tudgold, who had been in the army in his youth, and had not had the advantage of a classical education, “ I always was told the classics themselves were the oldest things in creation. It stands to reason they can’t he treated in any of your new-fangled ways.”

“ Ray,” said Stephen, “ I ’ll tell you what to do, a deal better than going in for exams. A hundred yards off, round the corner, you ’ll see a certain mare walked about, waiting for her mistress, and the mistress is in the Rectory drawing-room with old Pax. Go in strong for that, and you never need trouble your head any more about exams.”

He laughed an insolent laugh, sweeping over his brothers, both of whom were very grave, a malicious glance of defiance. Young Raymond flashed an angry look at his adviser; but the color rose in his young cheek, and he made a half step forward, like a dog pulling at the leash in spite of himself.



“ I wonder,” said Edmund, as they returned towards the house, “ whether I may speak to you quite frankly, Roger ? ”

“ That means make yourself disagreeable about something. Well, fire away. I don’t mind anything, now that fellow’s gone.”

“ I wish you would n’t speak of him so.”

“ Come, that’s a little too much, Ned. I mean Steve no harm, but you don’t think it adds to the comfort of the household, do you, when he ’s here ? ”

To this the younger brother made no reply, especially as at the moment he had obeyed involuntarily an impulse given by Roger, in which more was meant than met the eye. They had been walking along the road which, with a sweep round the village common, led to Melcombe from the railway. Roger had not said that he intended to take a less direct way, but he silently turned along a crossroad traversing the common in the opposite direction, and his brother had followed without a word. Indeed, there could not be said to be either leading or following in the matter, for they moved as by one impulse, keeping side by side. Imperceptible as the influence was, however, it was so marked that when the turn was taken Edmund looked up quickly with a questioning glance. After a moment he spoke : —

“Need we enter into that? I have wanted for some time to speak to you, Roger. Don’t you think you should come to some decision now, and think of doing what my father wishes so much, what all your friends desire ? ”

“ Speak plainly. I am bad at riddles.”

“It is no riddle; you know what I mean,” said Edmund, with a faint rising color. “You should marry; you know that’s the question.”

Roger was silent for a moment, and they went on quickly, their footsteps ringing clear upon the road, as if that had been the prevailing sound to which speech was but a broken accompaniment. He said at last, “ It’s a question for myself, surely, rather than any one else. Marry — whom, I wonder ? If I ’m directed in such a matter, the direction should be complete.”

Edmund half paused, and threw out his arm with a quick gesture towards the point which they were leaving behind. “ To speak of direction is folly, Roger. But don’t you know ? If you don’t, you are the only ignorant person.”

Again the steps went on and the voices stayed, — on, quickly, in measured cadence, sure and steady towards an aim, whatever that aim might be. It was very different, at least, from the object of the other interrupted strain, — the conversation which was begun and broken off so often, and by which only a portion of the intended meaning could be conveyed.

When Roger broke silence again, it was in the veiled voice with which a man speaks who turns his head away, not to encounter the scrutiny of his companion’s eye. “ I thought it was the first tenet of the romantic school,” he said, “ that marriage cannot be without love. Should I marry one woman while — should I insult one woman by asking her while — that’s out of the question, at least.” With angry force he kicked away a stone which was in his path as if that had been the thing which was out of the question, and, hurting his foot upon it, gave vent to a short, sharp exclamation of pain, all of which seemed to come into the discussion and form part of it, as they went on.

“ Marriage is a very complex matter,” said the younger brother; “ it’s not so simple as one thought. Love is not the only necessity, as one used to suppose.”

“You speak like an oracle, Ned,” said Roger, seizing’the opportunity to laugh off an argument which was becoming serious. “ And that’s much from you, the faithful Edmund. No, I’m not going to laugh about Pax, dear old Pax,— there never was a better or a dearer, — but you see the justice of it now.”

“ I see,” said Edmund, adopting his brother’s plan, that natural expedient of embarrassed feeling, and turning his head aside, “ that there are many things which make it impossible, and best that it is impossible. She saw that well enough from the first, and always told me so. It’s rather a dreary thing to be convinced, but I am convinced, if that will do you any good.”

“ How should it do me any good ? ” said Roger, in a quick, startled tone.

“ Only because you know how much in earnest I was, and yet I see it all well enough. There are other things wanted. There ’s suitability, — that commonplace qualification ; there ’s all one’s life to be taken into account.”

“ You speak like Pax herself, Ned.”

“ I dare say, — it’s all her at second hand; but the thing is, I now see it myself, which I did n’t and would n’t in the old days. I don’t undervalue love. God forbid. It’s the foundation of all things — but ” —

“ It must consider suitability first of all,” said Roger, with a forced laugh, “ and reckon up all the qualifications, so much money, so much family, so much beauty even, — oh, I know that comes in ; and then, everything fully considered, it may let itself go ! Yes, I understand all that. But,” the young man continued, drawing a long breath, “that’s not how it sets to work, alas. There’s no consideration at all to begin with, — no dwelling on this, or dwelling on that, none of your reasons for doing a thing. Love,” he went on, warming to his subject, “ is not doing anything. It rises in you when you are thinking nothing of it; it catches you unawares; all at once there comes into you something that was not there a moment before. It’s not your doing, nor her doing. It is not because she ’s lovely, even ; it’s because of — nothing that I know. It comes, and there it is, and the question is — the question is, what are you to do with it, what is to follow it, how is it to end? ” He clenched the hand that hung by his side and dashed it into the vacant air with a kind of fury. “ Talk about questions ! ” he cried, with a strange laugh. “ There’s a question which I don’t know how to solve, for one.”

“ Is it as bad as that ? ” asked his brother in a subdued and troubled tone.

“ As bad as — what ? ” cried Roger, turning upon him. “ There is no bad in it. I don’t believe you know what I am talking about. I am talking of love, love in the abstract, love with a capital letter, — what you despise, and think should give place to suitability, Ned. Suitability! I think I see myself poking about looking for what is suitable ! Yes, when I want a pair of shoes — No, when what I want is ” —

“ The companion of your life, Roger, the mistress of the house, the lady of Melcombe, the representative of the family in our generation, besides other things more important still.”

“ I ’m glad you spare me the children ! ” observed Roger, with a hard laugh.

Then the conversation stopped, and the quick, steady strain of the footsteps, hurrying in their excitement like a march in music, resumed ; always going on, — going on like the composed strain of life through all that can happen, quickened now and then by the hurry or commotion of some event, but never brought to a stand-still. The young men’s minds were not open to such a comparison, nor, indeed, to any comparison at all. For a long time they moved on in silence, keeping step, with complete harmony in their movement, but in their thoughts they were an immeasurable distance apart. The month was March ; the roads were dry and dusty, the woods all covered with an indescribable softened tint, and here and there shrubs with a high tone of budding green, which denotes the new life swelling to the tip of every bough, half bursting in the brown buds. The footsteps of the brothers rang upon the road in perfect measure, and for several minutes neither spoke. At length, as the road rounded off towards the west, Roger turned suddenly upon his companion.

“ Are you going anywhere in particular,” he said, “ that you come this long round ? I thought you had something to do at home.”

“ Only to keep you company,” said Edmund. “ I had not thought of any other motive.”

“ Are you sure it was merely for company ? It is your turn to be questioned now. Didn’t you think that perhaps, if you stuck to my side, you might — influence me, for my good, as you fellows are always bent on doing; keep me from going where I have a mind to go; make me ashamed possibly of where I was going?” Roger spoke hastily and angrily, but at the same tune with embarrassment and a hot flush upon his face. And now for the first time the rhythm of their footsteps ceased, and they stood and looked at each other with much meaning between them, more than was put into words.

Edmund replied in a somewhat startled tone : “ No, I don’t think I intended all that. I came with you without any particular intention, out of mere habit, idleness. If you think I meant to spy upon you ” —

“No, no,” cried the other, “nothing of the sort. If you meant anything, Ned, I know it was for my good ; but don’t you know, you fellows who are so fond of influence, that the man who is to be influenced never likes it when he finds it out ? ”

“ I had no such thought,” said Edmund, seriously. “ I did n’t even know — but since you think so, Roger — It’s true I have no particular object in coming this way ; on the contrary, the opposite direction — might suit me best.”

“ I think so, Ned, if you will not be offended.”

“Why should I be offended?” said Edmund, but he had the dubious, startled look of a man suddenly pulled up and arrested in his course, whatever that might be. “ It is true I have something to do,” he said, waving his hand to his brother as he abruptly turned back. He was not offended, but he was abashed and startled by this sudden dismissal. No, there was no cause of offense. A brother may say to a brother what it would not be civil to say to a stranger; he may give that natural ally to understand that he wants to be alone, that he has things to occupy which do not brook companionship. The frankness of the nursery may still linger about their intercourse and no harm done. But Edmund felt, as was equally natural, as if he had been meddling and his efforts rejected as intrusive, and yet he was not offended. He walked very quicldy in the opposite direction, very quickly indeed, driven by annoyance and something like shame, while Roger went on with equal speed upon his way, a little disturbed and uneasy, but full of a fervor of feeling which drove all those lesser sentiments before it like a strong wind. It hurt him to hurt Ned, and at the same time the heat of his momentary anger against Ned, and feeling that his presence was extremely uncalled for, impelled him to do so ; but in a few minutes he had forgotten all about his brother and everything else save the errand upon which he was bound.

Edmund had no such burning motive in his heart. When the little flash of irritation was over, evaporating in the speed of movement and the prick of the fresh breeze which blew in his face, — which, indeed, was an east wind, and nothing less, though, far inland as Melcombe was and sheltered by many woods, it was robbed of much of its severity, — his hasty steps gradually modified into that slower and reflective pace which comes natural to a thoughtful person in the depths of the country, where no pressure or hurry is. He went along quietly thinking of many things. There had been little activity in Edmund’s life; he had been somewhat apt to follow the impulse given him, as he had done in the present case, accompanying Roger, with no intention of interfering with Roger, but instinctively because the turn had been taken which led that way. But it was upon this peculiarity of his own that he reflected, as he turned away. He thought of his brother, for whom he not only felt much tenderness, but in whom he took a pride which was not, perhaps, justified by any superiority in Roger, but was the younger boy’s traditional admiration for his elder brother, a sentiment which often lingers after the elder brother has been far surpassed by the younger one and left behind. In some respects this had been done in Edmund’s case. He had a better head than Roger, and of this he could not but be aware. He had done better in education than Roger ; indeed, he had accomplished much which Roger had not even tried to do. He was in reality more independent, more individual, than his brother, who was of the order of the country squire, without any higher aspirations. But yet Edmund had always been proud of him, and so continued. He had been proud, at Oxford, of the gay young guardsman who brought a whiff of London (not always too wholesome) among the “ men,” and dispersed the mist of thin talk about schools and novels. He was proud of him now in his robustness, his knowledge of several things, his profound learning in horses, his great rides and feats of all kinds. Roger could far out-ride him, out-walk him, even out-talk him in his own way. Edmund admired his energy, his quick impulses, his certainty of being right, whether about the course taken by the fox or the course taken by the government. As a true man of his time, knowing how very much is to be said on both sides, Edmund secretly laughed at this certainty, but he admired it, all the same.

Something, however, had come over Roger, in these late days, which had a strange effect upon this open-air and robust young man, — something which had cast him down from the supreme height of those certainties, and at the same time opened out new possibilities in him. To think of Roger, of all people in the world, discussing love, — love, as he said, with a capital letter, giving a nervous laugh; a thing surrounded by all the tremors and hesitations and uncertainties of feeling, complicated by horrible doubts as to what must be done about the issue which he could not control; a power sweet but terrible, which had carried him out of himself, as he described it, and out of all his habitual ways. This new phase of Roger made him more and more interesting to his brother, justified the instinctive pride in him which Edmund had always felt, and awoke a hundred questions in the quiescent breast of the young man, who, his own romance having died out to the very ashes, felt himself put aside from life, and for the moment in the position of a spectator. Where was a greater instance of the perversity of circumstances, or, rather, of human hearts and wishes ? It had seemed to many people, not only to the family most concerned, that Roger Mitford and Elizabeth Travers were specially indicated by Providence as a pair “ fitly formed to meet by nature.” Their estates lay side by side ; their characters were similar, or so the country thought. What Elizabeth wanted in point of family was fully made up by Roger; and though there was no want at Melcombe of a wife’s money, still it is well known that more money never comes amiss even to the wealthiest. Thus everything indicated a match, which had the " suitability ” which Edmund had appealed to in its favor in an overwhelming way.

Alas, suitability is a delusion and snare. It severs more heaven-destined partners than it unites ; it lights fires of resistance in the youthful soul. Roger had never been supposed to be romantic, but even upon his seemingly unfantastic mind this rebellion against the suitable had told. At least, so he asserted now with vehement emphasis, as has been seen. There had, however, been a moment when it was not supposed that he had felt this any drawback ; when he and the heiress had ridden together, danced together, walked and talked together, and all had been supposed to be in good train. Edmund’s mind went back to this period as he walked along. From Roger’s it had disappeared altogether; had it also disappeared from that of Elizabeth ? The neighborhood had unhesitatingly concluded that she had not been slow to make up her mind, and that when Roger’s proposal was made it would be accepted without delay or doubt. Edmund had himself been of that opinion. When he had seen her horse and groom outside the Rectory gates, a keen sympathetic pang had gone through his mind. He was fond of entering into other people’s feelings, and he had thought instinctively of the proud, yet tender, woman watching from the window the man whom she perhaps loved, whom, at least, she had begun to think of as a man who meant to seek her love,—watching him pass by on the other side, without a look or thought. The woman could make no sign; the woman was bound to stand like an Indian at the stake, whatever happened, and never show what she felt. Edmund’s mind hung between these two with a poignant sense of pain, of which, possibly, he did not render a full and frank account to himself. Was it for Roger gone astray, or for Elizabeth slighted and disappointed, or was there still some subtler sentiment underneath ?



Roger Mitforcl quickened his steps as his brother left him. He had been like a dog in a leash, compelled to curb his impatient impulse ; now he darted forward, the fervor in his heart carrying all before it. It was no walk upon which he was bound. There is no mistaking the expression on the face of a man who is going somewhere, who knows exactly where he is going and is eager to get there. He walked on as if for a wager along the winding country road.

Presently this impulse came to an end, or at all events he paused, relapsed into a saunter, but a saunter in which the same nervous impatience was disguised. In many things, but most especially in that kind of pursuit which absorbed Roger, the hurry of the eager pursuer fails as he reaches the point at which he has aimed. As he draws near he grows cautious, he grows timid. A terror of what he may find when he gets to the end seizes him. “ If Lucy should be dead! ” cries the poet. But that is an extreme case. It may be that Lucy will be cruel, that she will be indifferent ; it may be — oh misery worse than either alternative — that she is not there. Finally Roger swung open the gate known as the west gate of Melcombe, and stole in with almost noiseless steps, holding his breath. No sign of hurry then in his mild aspect. He had only come round to ask Ford the keeper something about the dogs, — a most innocent question which was really of no consequence. “ I ’ll wait a bit, and perhaps he ’ll turn up,” Roger said, slightly breathless. “ If he does n’t, it ’s really of no consequence — only something about the puppies. I ’ll wait a bit, and see if he comes in. How is your garden looking this fine day ? ”

“ Oh, sir,” returned Mrs. Ford, “ when the sun come out this morning it was just a-blaze. All the crocuses a-shining like gold. Them crocuses is the nicest things as ever was. You could n’t have done a kinder action to Lily and me.”

“I ’m very glad you like them. They ’re simple things enough, — the very simplest you could get anywhere ; why, gardeners, you know, make no account at all of them.”

“ Gardeners is very queer,” said Mrs. Ford. “ I don’t think they care for nothing as has n’t a name that’s three miles long, as Lily says. She does take her fun out of the Scotch gardener about that, Mr. Roger. You should just hear her at him. My Lily has a deal of fun in her, when she don’t stand in awe of a person.”

“ Of whom does she stand in awe ? ” asked Roger, with a smile which lit up his face into tenderness ; then it suddenly clouded over. “The Scotch gardener is not society for your daughter, Mrs. Ford.”

“ Oh, Mr. Roger! bless you, he thinks himself much too grand for the like of us.”

“ Then he’s a puppy and a fool, and does n’t know what he’s talking of! ” cried Roger hotly. He paused, and, restraining himself, continued with a smile, “ I hope I’m not the person of whom Lily stands in awe.”

“ Oh, sir! you ’re a deal too good and kind,” cried the keeper’s wife, taking up her apron to remove an invisible particle of dust, and avoiding the young master’s eye. Then there was a momentary pause.

“ Ford does n’t seem to be coming,” remarked Roger at last.

“No, sir, I don’t expect him till teatime at soonest. He said as he was going to make a long round out by Bilbury Hollow, and then down by ” —

“Well,” said Roger cheerfully, interrupting her, “ I ’ll take a look at the puppies before I go, and I should like to see your crocuses, Mrs. Ford, now I’m here.”

“ They ’re not half as fine as in the morning, sir,” said the keeper’s wife. “ The sun ’s gone in, and they ’re just like children at school; they’ve gone in, too. If you were a-passing this way, sir, some time in the morning ” —

“ There’s no time like the present,” answered Roger ; “ but you need n’t disturb yourself, if you ’re busy. I think I ought to know the way.”

“ Oh yes, sir, no doubt you knows it,” said the woman, hesitating. But whatever her feelings might be on the subject, it was clear that she could not oppose the entrance of the master’s son, the young Squire, through whose favor her husband had got the place, and on whose favor they all depended. But the keeper’s wife, with an uneasy soul, saw him pass through her house to the greenness of the garden which was visible behind. No one knew or shared her anxieties. She stood looking after him helplessly for a moment, and then, shaking her head, returned to her work, with the sort of unsatisfactory consolation there is in utter helplessness, for what could she do ?

Roger stepped along through the passage which traversed the little house with a step which in itself was full of revelations. It rung upon the floor with a sort of triumph, yet timidity. He was on the eve of attaining a pleasure which had still more or less to be schemed for, which he could not seek openly. He had before him the prospect of such an occupation for the afternoon’s idleness as it made his heart beat to think of; and yet whether he should have this pleasure at all, whether these hours should be enchantment or a blank of disillusion and misery, was not in his own power, but in that of another, — of one whose very charm was the caprice which wounded yet delighted, which sometimes made him miserable and sometimes intoxicated him with pleasure. It is not all men who are liable to this kind of subjugation, but Roger had all the qualities which give it supreme power. He was little used to women, still less to the kind of woman to whom the pursuit and subjugation of man are natural, and who puts a master’s passion, his wiles and cunning, his patience and his vehemence alike, and disregard of all other things, into her sport. He was simple-minded, seeking no recondite motives, believing in what appeared before his eyes. And he was in need of an object, his mind vacant and unoccupied except by those matters of physical activity which cannot be always pursued, and which leave a perilous blank when they are withdrawn. Perhaps if he could have hunted all the year through, if the shooting could have lasted, if the village football and cricket had been continuous and exciting enough, he might never have thought of the more seductive play which occupies the imagination and the heart. But there are perforce periods in country life in which there is, as ces messieurs lament, nothing to do. M. Ohnet’s latest hero, at such a pause in existence, elegantly devotes himself to the seduction of the nearest lady as the right and natural alternative. A vicious young Englishman, in such circumstances, might perhaps have found in the keeper’s pretty daughter a natural victim. But Roger was neither a beau garçon of the French type, nor a Squire Thornhill of the last century. And when he fell under this unaccustomed spell, it was himself who became, or was likely to become, the victim. There was no idea, however, of any victim in the sensations with which he went through the keeper’s cottage into the garden behind. It was Armida’s garden, the Bower of Bliss, the fool’s paradise, to Roger. Away from it he was not without serious thought of what it might come to, and a just perception of all the difficulties and impossibilities in his way. But at this moment he thought of nothing of the kind. All the restraints of judgment, of good sense and practical possibility, were withdrawn. He was hurrying to an intoxication more delightful than any which vulgarer methods could afford. The delicate fumes had mounted to his head already, though he had not yet tasted the dangerous draught.

The keeper’s cottage, known as the West Lodge, was very much like many other lodges at the park gates of country houses. It was built of red brick, with gables intended to be picturesque, but without any pretense at antiquity, being indeed a quite recent erection and in conformity with the taste of the moment. It was, however, already half covered with creepers, and on the warm south wall the roses and honeysuckles which made it sweet in summer were bursting into full leaf. The garden behind was separated from the park only by a railing, and in the season of flowers it was a sight to see. The keeper’s wife was one of those women with an instinct for flowers, under whose hand everything thrives, and her simple gardening by the light of nature and homely experience succeeded better than art. Mrs. Ford had married somewhat late in life, and had been a florist in her untutored way before she was a mother. She took her baby, when it came, unexpectedly past the time for such vanities, very much as she would have taken some new and rare plant. It was no rough boy, to fall into the father’s way, and grow up in velveteens, a miniature keeper, but a girl, a delicate little creature, a sort of animated flower, transporting the elderly mother into a heaven of tender worship such as she had never dreamed of. The great white lilies were standing in angelic groups about the garden, with their stately heads bent in the reverence of that Ave which the flower of the Annunciation has brought out of the old pictures, out of tender tradition, to make it doubly sweet. The keeper’s wife could see them from where she lay, with the little woman-child who was her flower and late blossom in her arms ; and what could she name it but Lily, in the still transport of her soul ? The flowers and the child were as one in her eyes, the most exquisite things in the earth, good enough for a queen, yet hers, which was a wonder she never could get over. Lily the child grew up in such delicacy and daintiness as the endless care and worship of a mother often brings. Mrs. Ford’s own perceptions grew finer through the medium of the child. Perhaps her flowers, too, gave her a delicacy not to be expected among her kind. Lily had been dressed like a little lady when she caught Mrs. Milford’s eye, and was carried to the Hall to be admired and caressed and to amuse the invalid lady on her death-bed. The Squire’s wife was not a judicious adviser for a woman lost in such an adoration. She took a violent fancy to the child, and left her a little legacy to be spent in her education. “ She must not grow up to be a mere house-maid. She must have a good education; and then who knows what may happen ? ” Mrs. Mitford said, with a smile that made Lily’s mother dissolve in weeping. Lily was far more pretty, far more dainty, at that period than poor little Nina, who was in the nursery, a weakly baby, left to the nurse’s care. From that moment the girl’s fate was settled. Mrs. Ford had a battle to fight with her husband, who comprehended none of these delicacies, and did not understand why his little girl should not stir about the house, and open the lodge gates, and help her mother. But even Ford was penetrated by and by with the pride of having a child who was like nobody else’s, and whom strangers took for a little lady from the Hall. He was mollified by the fact that the radiant little creature was very fond of him, and would sit in his lap, and coax him to tell her stories, and applaud her daddy’s crooning of rustic songs, notwithstanding her white frocks and her lessons from the Melcombe governess. There is nothing more contagious than child worship in any circumstances ; and Lily was, to belong to a keeper and his homely wife, a miraculous child. Her beauty was not of the dairy-maid kind. She was even a little deficient in color, pale as suited her name. And as she grew older, the father came to look upon her with a little awe. “ Are you sure as she was n’t changed at nurse ? ” he would say as the dainty creature stood between them, he in his gaiters at one side of the hearth, and his elderly wife in her black cap on the other, with her hard hands all rough with work, and wrinkles abounding in the homely face which bore the brunt of all weather.

“ I know as she’s never left my lap till she could run by herself,” said the mother, well pleased. But she might have been a little princess, — they were both agreed on that.

Naturally, the bringing up of Lily was a point upon which the whole neighborhood had its opinion, which did not agree with that of Mrs. Ford. “What is to come of it ? ” the village people said ; and indeed the West Lodge could give no answer to that question. “ Is she going for a governess, or do they mean her for the new girls’ school ? ” her more favorable critics asked, when Lily came home with her education completed. Miss Lemesurier even sent for the mother, to ask this question. “ I don’t approve of that style of education even for such a purpose,” said Pax, “ but I will speak to my father, Mrs. Ford, if you want her to try for the girls’ school.”

“ No, thank you kindly, miss. Her father and me, we don’t want nothing of that sort,” Mrs. Ford replied.

“ What do you want, then ? You have n’t given your girl an expensive education, and brought her up so different from her class, without some meaning, I suppose ? ”

“ Well, miss,” said the keeper’s wife, drawing patterns on the carpet with the point of her umbrella, ‘' we ’ve brought up Lily as we thought was best for her. She’s different in her nature, without any doing of ours.”

“ I wonder how you can talk such nonsense,” cried Pax, — “a sensible woman like you ! ”

“ If it ’s nonsense, the dear lady at the Hall, she spoke the same. She saw as the child was n’t like one in a hundred. Give her a good eddication, she said, and then ” —

“ Yes, and then — what then ? That’s just the question.”

“ Well, miss, then there’s no telling what may happen,” Mrs. Ford said.

“ Oh, you foolish woman ! ” cried Pax, holding up her hands; “ oh, you ” — But words failed to express the force of her feelings. “ Mrs. Mitford, poor thing, is dead, and we ’ll say no harm of her,” she went on, “ but don’t you see what that means ? There is only one thing it can mean. It was like her sentimental, silly ways to put it in your head. It means that you expect some fine gentleman to come and fall in love with her and carry the girl away.”

“ I’m not thinking anything of the sort,” cried the mother, springing up and growing red; for English mothers, both high and low, whatever may be their prudential outlook, unlike all parents of other races, vehemently deny that such a thing as marrying a daughter ever enters into their heads, But Mrs. Ford was too simple and too self-conscious to add anything to this first denial. Aware of the guilty hopes in her heart, she broke forth with, “ Oh, Miss Pax, I never thought as you’d say such things to me! ” and burst into a flood of tears.

“ I don’t know that there would be anything wrong in it,” said Pax impatiently. “If I saw any way to a good marriage for Lily or any one, I ’d certainly help it on. But suppose she caught some one far above her, which is what you ’re thinking of, you know, — what would happen ? If the very best came that you could hope for, which is very, very unlikely, he’d take her away from you, and separate her from you, and perhaps never let her come near you more.”

The mother dried her eyes indignantly. “ It’s clear to me you don’t know my Lily, and how should you ? ” Mrs. Ford cried, with mingled resentment and pity. “ They might tear her with wild horses, but they would never get her to consent to that.”

“ Perhaps so ; but you would n’t like her to be torn with wild horses, would you ? ” Pax said.

These words gave Mrs. Ford a tremor for the moment; they gave her “ a turn,” she said to herself. But as there was no immediate possibility of verifying them, and it is much pleasanter to think of events taking a favorable course than a bad one, she was able to dismiss them out of her mind for the time. Still it was not a pleasant thing to have said. Lily would never abandon her mother, never turn her back upon her, not if she were drawn with wild horses. But how about the wild horses ? The mother’s heart stood still for a moment. Better she should be abandoned, cast off, dropped forever, than that Lily should be exposed to that rending. It gave Mrs. Ford a “ dreadful turn.” But then she hastily thrust it out of her mind.

It was enough to make any mother’s heart dance to see the radiant creature Lily came home. Her hair was light brown and silky, and shone in the sun like gold. Her mother thought she had seen nothing like it save the knot of spun glass which she had brought home from the exhibition once held at Beaulieu, and kept under a little glass shade on the mantelpiece. Her face was like a flower, though more like a rose now than a lily ; her complexion more tender, delicate, and perfect in its first bloom than anything but a girl’s complexion can be. Her eyes were as blue as the sky. To be sure, the features were not perfect, if Mrs. Ford had been disposed to take them to pieces. The girl’s slim figure was also like a flower, tall and light, and swaying a little, as a lily does with its graceful, drooping head. To think of such a creature doing housework, or looking after the dog’s meat, was a thing that made the parents shiver: whatever happened to them, that was impossible ; they had not brought her home from the genteel seminary and all her nice companions for that. It was, indeed, after the first rapture of her return, an embarrassing question what Lily was to do. The parents did not know what to make of it; they did not know what to say to her on the subject, or whether to suggest that it was necessary to do something. Lily did not at first appear to see any necessity. She went out with her paints and colors and made little sketches, and she played “pieces” upon the jingling piano, which had come out of the schoolroom at Melcombe, and sounded like an old tin kettle, and for some time seemed to suppose that this was all that was required of her ; but this blissful state of ignorance was dispelled by communications made to the girl in the village at a little tea party, where she was eagerly questioned as to whether she were going into service, or what she was going to do. Lily awakened rudely under the fire of these demands, but she was not without spirit, and she had accepted the position. The housekeeper at Melcombe had some sewing to be done which was finer than the village was equal to ; and Lily installed herself in the vacant little room that was called the parlor, which had never been used till her return. And here the parents, growing less and less wise as they came more and more under the influence of this dazzling child of theirs, made Lily a bower. It looked into the garden, and Ford, with the aid of some of the workmen on the estate, made the window into a glass door opening into that flowery inclosure. There Lily took up her abode, with her pretty accomplishments and her pretty dresses, to see what would happen. Those words which her early patroness had said had not indeed been reported to her. But she felt as Mrs, Mitford had done, as her mother did, as Pax had instantly divined, that there was no telling what might come. The preparation was over ; the results might be anticipated any day.

What was it the girl expected when she sat down to her little pretense of work in her little room, all fenced and guarded from intrusion, looking out upon her flowers ? She did not know ; neither did the mother know who had prepared it all for her, as if with a settled plan and purpose. There was no telling what might happen ; there was no telling what fine fortune or beautiful hero might suddenly come out of the unknown. Lily sat down in her bower all hidden among the leaves, and put out her webs unconsciously, as perhaps the spiders do when they begin. It is not a lovely comparison, and she meant to devour no one ; but the girl, in all her prettiness, was like nothing in the realms of nature so much as the swift and skillful creature which spreads out those fairy webs, the toile à la bonne vierge, to shiver upon every bush in the autumn sun.

It was not long before an event occurred which made the heart of this little enchantress leap into her mouth in fright and triumph. One can imagine that to a little spider, new to her work, the sudden bounce of a great fat fly into those gossamers which she has extended by instinct in the sun, without any clear idea what is to come of them, must be an alarming as well as an exciting sight. Will those airy meshes be strong enough to bear that weight ? Will they tear asunder under it ? And what is to be done with this altogether unlooked-for victim, so much bigger than his captor ? Something like this thrill of strange sensation darted through Lily Ford, when all at once it became apparent to her that the vague event which there was no divining, the wonder for which she had been looking, had come. She had not selected that particular prey any more than the spider does. And it would be impossible to imagine anything further from the thoughts of Roger Mitford, when he strolled into Ford’s cottage as he passed, with some question about the young birds and the prospects of the shooting, than that he should then and there be brought face to face with his fate. It was with no purpose, even, that he was led into Lily’s parlor for greater honor, the fire in the kitchen being overpowering on the hot August evening. He went in unsuspecting, and asked his questions all unaware of Armida in her corner, who, for her part, intended the young Squire no harm. But when he made some remark which Ford did not understand at once, and the girl’s quick, clear voice rose in the dusk, explaining it, and Roger, amused and interested, stepped to the open window opening into the garden, and in the mystic twilight, just touched by the glimmer of the small new moon, saw the unthought - of, unlooked-for apparition, and asked, surprised, if this were Lily, the deed was done. He was not himself aware of it, but she was aware of it, feeling the tug, let us suppose, in all the delicate, invisible threads of her nets, as this big captive caught in them. Roger lingered talking to her for ten minutes, pleased to find his mother’s baby favorite developed into so charming a creature, and went away thinking no more of it. But after that he returned again and again. And this was why he had discoursed to his brother, he a man who knew nothing about poetry or the fictions of the romancers, upon the mystery of love : and why the keeper’s wife endeavored with affright to keep him out of the garden, where the cobwebs entangled everything, though it was now no longer autumn, but spring. But Lily sat within and peeped out, hearing his voice, and expected him, drawing the young man with her mysterious thread. For the enchantress had forgotten her alarm in the pleasure of conquest, and for her victim she was without ruth or pity.

M. O. W. Oliphant.

T. B. Aldrich.