Mr. Merton was suffering from acute rheumatism in his right hand, and being disabled from writing, he had, after consultation with his junior, delegated him to make the necessary disclosures to the absent doctor. Seabrooke was observed to be doing a great deal of writing that afternoon, and was supposed to be giving a full account of the affair.
The letters to be taken out were always put into a basket upon the hall table, whence they were taken and carried to the post-office at the proper hour by the chore-boy of the school. Here, Lewis thought, lay his opportunity.
Drawing Percy aside again, he said that Seabrooke's letter to the doctor must be taken from the basket before Tony carried all away, and be kept back for a day or two; then it could be posted and nothing more would be suspected than that it had been belated. Meanwhile his allowance would arrive, and then Dr. Leacraft was welcome to know all the particulars of the escapade.
Percy was startled and shocked, and at first refused to have any part in the matter; but the old threat brought him to terms, and he at last agreed to Lewis' plans that they should contrive to abstract Seabrooke's letter to Dr. Leacraft from among the others laid ready for the post, and keep it back until Lewis' allowance had been received.
But although the two boys made various errands to the hall, they found no opportunity of carrying out their dishonorable purpose before Tony had started on his round of afternoon duties, taking with him the letters for the post.
Scarcely had he disappeared when Mr. Merton said to the six culprits:
"Young gentlemen, you will go for afternoon exercise to walk with Mr. Seabrooke. The cold will prevent me from venturing out," touching the crippled right-arm, which lay in a sling, "or I should not trust you from beneath my own eyes; but if I hear of any farther misconduct, or you give him any trouble, there will be greater restrictions placed upon you, and there will be another chapter to add to the sad account which has already gone to the doctor."
"Dr. Leacraft will be tired before he comes to a second volume of the thing Seabrooke has written to him," Flagg whispered to Percy, as they started together for the walk under Seabrooke's care. "Did you see him writing and writing page after page? He must have given him every detail, and made the most of it. And he fairly gloated over it; looked as pleased as Punch while he was doing it; never saw him look so happy."
"I'm likely to lose my Easter vacation, and dear knows what else for this," said Percy, who was exceedingly low in his mind over the consequences of his lawlessness.
"I'll have worse than that," answered Lewis. "I wouldn't mind that; but if my quarter's allowance is stopped I don't know what I shall do. Oh, if I only could get hold of that letter!"
Percy made no response; for, much as he dreaded to have this affair come to the knowledge of his parents, he shrank from the thought of abstracting and destroying that letter.
Seabrooke had not much reason to enjoy his walk that afternoon if he had depended upon his company; his charge were all sulky and depressed; but, somewhat to their exasperation, their young leader did not pay much heed to their humors; his own thoughts seemed sufficient for him; and, to judge by the light in his eye and his altogether satisfied expression, these were pleasant society.
"Seabrooke's been awfully cock-a-hoop all clay," said Raymond Stewart; "wonder what's up with him."
"He's glad we're in a scrape," said Lewis, bitterly.
"Don't believe it," said Raymond; "that's not like him."
Seabrooke led the way to the village store, a sort of omnium-gatherum place, as village stores are apt to be, and which contained also the post-office.
Entering, the party found Tony there before them, the letters he had carried from the school lying on the counter; for there were several small parcels and newspapers which would not go into the receiving box, and the post-mistress was sorting the afternoon up mail, and the delivery window of the office was closed; so Tony was waiting his chance for attention. He stood with his back to the counter, examining some coal shovels, having received orders to buy one. Seabrooke was at the other side of the store, making some purchases; the rest of the boys scattered here and there.
"He hasn't put the letters in the box yet; now's our chance," whispered Lewis to Percy, and he sauntered up to the counter where the letters lay, drawing the reluctant Percy with him.
With a hasty glance at the letters, he snatched up the bulky one which he believed to be that to Dr. Leacraft, gave another quick look at the address and thrust it within his pocket; then, humming a tune, he walked leisurely away with an air of innocent unconcern, still with his arm through that of Percy.
"That was good luck, wasn't it?" he said. "Now we'll keep it till my allowance comes and then post it."
Seabrooke and the six boys had just reached the door of the school, when Tony rushed up to the young tutor, and said, hurriedly:
"Mr. Seabrooke, sir, did you take that letter you told me to be particular of?"
"No," said Seabrooke, turning hastily. "You haven't lost it?"
"I couldn't find it, sir," faltered the boy; "but I know I had it when I passed the bridge, for I was lookin' at it and rememberin' what you told me about it."
Seabrooke waited for no more, but darted off upon the road back to the village, followed by Tony.
"We're in a fix, now," whispered Lewis to Percy, "if there's going to be a row about that letter. Isn't he the meanest fellow in the world to be so set upon having the doctor knowing about last night? Percy, I'll tell you what! We've got to put the letter out of the way now. And there's old Merton coming, and he's asking for me. Quick, quick; take it!" drawing the stolen letter from his pocket and thrusting it into Percy's unwilling hands. "Put it in the stove, quick, quick! There's no one to see; no one will suspect! Quick now, while I go to Mr. Merton and keep him back. You're not fit to meet him: why, man, you're as pale as a ghost."
And Lewis was gone, meeting Mr. Merton in the hall without.
With not a moment for thought, save one of terror lest he should be found with the missing letter in his hand, Percy opened the door of the stove, thrust the letter within upon the glowing coals, and closed the door again, leaving it to its fate, a speedy and entire destruction, accomplished in an instant.
An hour passed; the supper gong had sounded and the boys had taken their places at the table, when Seabrooke returned, pale as death, and with compressed lips and stern eyes.
Mr. Merton, who was extremely near-sighted, did not observe his appearance as he took his seat, but the boys all noticed it.
"I have not seen it," or, "I have not found it," was all the response he had to make to the inquiries of, "Have you heard anything of your letter?" and so forth.
"Have you lost a letter, Harley?" asked Mr. Merton, at length, his attention being attracted.
"Yes, sir," answered Seabrooke.
"How was that? Was it a letter of importance?" asked the gentleman,
"Yes, sir, a letter of importance, a letter to my father," answered his junior, but in a tone which told the older man that he did not care to be questioned further on that subject.
To his father!
Percy's fork dropped from his hand with a clatter upon his plate, and Lewis' face took an expression of blank dismay which, fortunately for him, no one observed.
His father! Had they then run all this risk, been guilty of this meanness, only to delay, to destroy a letter to Seabrooke's father, while that to the doctor, exposing their delinquencies, had gone on its way unmolested.
ROBBING THE MAIL.
"Neville and Flagg, I want to speak to you. Will you come into the junior recitation-room?" said Seabrooke, as soon after supper as he could find opportunity of speaking apart to the two terrified culprits.
Fain would the guilty boys have refused, but they dared not; and they followed Seabrooke to the place indicated, where he closed the door and, turning, confronted them.
"Lewis Flagg and Percy Neville," he said, sternly, and his voice seemed to carry as much weight and authority as that of Dr. Leacraft himself when he had occasion to administer some severe reproof, "I suppose that you are striving to annoy me in this manner in revenge for my detection of your deliberate infringement of rules last night, but your tricks have recoiled upon your own heads, although even now I will spare you any farther disgrace and punishment if you will make restitution at once, for you do not know the extent of the crime of which you have been guilty. Robbing the mail is an offence which is punished by heavy penalties. You, Lewis, were seen to take a letter from among those which Tony carried to the post-office; you, Percy, standing by and not interfering, even if you were not aiding and abetting. No matter who told me; you were seen; but it is looked upon as a school-boy trick, and, by my request, will not be spoken of if you return the letter without delay. Nor shall I betray you. Lewis, where is that letter? For your own sake, give it to me at once. You do not know what you have done."
Lewis would have braved it out, would perhaps even have denied taking the letter, for he was not at all above telling a lie; but he could not tell how far evidence would be given against him, and, at least, immunity from farther punishment was held forth to him and his fellow-culprit.
But—restitution! Percy, as he knew, had followed out his instructions and put the letter in the fire.
"I'm sorry," he said, with a forced laugh, but with his voice faltering; "but we had no idea the letter was of special importance. We thought it was to the doctor about last night, and we only meant to keep it back for a day or two and—and—well, when you made such a row about it—Percy—Percy burned it up. But to call it 'robbing the mail—'"
He was stopped by the change in Seabrooke's face.
"You burned it!" he almost shouted, forgetting the caution he had hitherto observed in lowering his voice so that it might not be heard by any one who might be outside the door. For one instant he stared at the two startled boys, looking from one to the other as if he could not believe the evidence of his ears. "You burned it!" he repeated, in a lower tone; then, covering his face with his hands, he bent his head upon the table before him with something very like a groan. When he raised his head and uncovered his face again he was deadly pale.
"There were two hundred dollars in that letter," he said; "you have not only stolen and destroyed my letter, but also all that sum of money."
Stolen! All that money!
They were sufficiently appalled now, these two reckless, thoughtless boys; Percy to an even great degree than his more unprincipled comrade.
Lewis was the first to find his voice.
"There was not! You're joking! You're only trying to frighten us," he said, although in his inmost soul he was convinced that this was no joking matter, no mere attempt to punish them by arousing their fears. Seabrooke's agitation was not assumed, that was easy to be seen.
Then followed a long and terrible pause, while the three boys, the injured and the injuring, stood gazing at one another. Then, despite his wrongs, the unutterable terror in the faces of the latter touched Seabrooke, especially in the case of Percy, for whom he had a strong liking; for the boy had many lovable traits, notwithstanding the weakness of his character.
"What can we do?" faltered Percy, at last.
"What will you do?" asked Lewis, almost in the same breath.
Trembling and anxious, the two culprits stood before the young man, scarcely older than themselves, who had become their victim and was now their accuser and their judge, in whose hands lay their sentence.
"Wait, I must think a minute," he said, willing, out of the kindness of his noble heart, to spare them ruin and disgrace, and yet scarcely seeing his way clear to it.
"Listen," he said, after some moments' pondering. "You thought that letter was to Dr. Leacraft, you say, giving an account of last night. Mr. Merton, who is disabled, as you know, asked me to write to the doctor; but I begged him to let me off and to ask one of the professors to do it. That letter you destroyed was to my father, and, as I told you, contained two hundred dollars in money—money earned by myself—money which I must have and which you must restore. Give it back to me—I will wait till after the Easter holidays for it—and this matter shall go no farther. No one but myself knows that the letter contained money; only one saw you take it out, and that one will be silent if I ask it. I will write out a confession and acknowledgment for you both to sign. Bring me, after the holidays or before, each your own share of the money and I will destroy that paper; but if you fail, I will carry it to the doctor and he must require it of your friends. I will not—I cannot be the loser through your wickedness and dishonesty. If you refuse to sign I shall go to Mr. Merton now and to the doctor as soon as he returns. I do not know if I am quite right in offering to let you off, even upon such conditions; but if I can help it I will not ruin you and cause your expulsion from the school, which, I know, would follow the discovery of your guilt."
Percy, overwhelmed, was speechless; but Lewis answered after a moment's pause, during which Seabrooke waited for his answer:
"How are we to raise the money?"
"I do not know," answered Seabrooke, "that is your affair. I worked hard for mine and earned it; you have taken it from me and must restore it—how, is for you to determine. If your friends must know of this, and I suppose that it is only through them that you can repay me, it seems to me that it would be better for you to make a private confession to them than to risk that which will probably follow if Dr. Leacraft knows of it. Are you ready to abide by my terms?"
"You will give us till—" stammered Lewis, seeing no loophole of escape, but, as he afterwards told Percy, hoping that something "would turn up" if they could gain time.
"Till Easter—after the holidays—no longer," answered Seabrooke. "I know very well that you could hardly raise so much at a moment's notice; so, although it is a bitter disappointment not to have it now, I will wait till then if you agree to sign the paper which I will have ready this evening after study hour. Quick now; the bell will ring in two minutes."
What could they do? Seabrooke was evidently inexorable, and they knew well that he could not be expected to bear this loss.
"Yes, I will sign it," said the thoroughly cowed Percy. But Lewis suddenly flashed up and answered impudently:
"How are we to know that the money was in that letter?"
"I can prove it," answered Seabrooke, quietly; "and, Lewis Flagg, I can prove something more. I tested the water that was in my carafe last night, and found that it had been tampered with. I know the object now, and have discovered who bought the drug at the apothecary's. Do you comprehend me? If the doctor hears of one thing he will hear of all."
Utterly subdued now, Lewis stammered his promise to comply with the young tutor's request.
"One question," said Seabrooke, as the two younger boys turned to leave the room. "How did you come to take a letter directed to my father for one addressed to Dr. Leacraft?"
"I don't know," replied Percy, at whom he was looking. "I didn't look at it particularly, but just put it in the stove when Lewis handed it to me and told me to do it. We saw you writing for ever so long, and thought that thick letter was to the doctor. We are—were in such a hurry, you see."
"And I am sure Leacraft and Seabrooke are not so very different when one is in a hurry," said Lewis.
"I see," said Seabrooke; "you made up your minds that the letter was to the doctor, and were so afraid of being caught at your mean trick that you did not take time to make sure. There's the study bell."
The confession and acknowledgment of their indebtedness was signed that night by both of the guilty boys.
And this was the story which the sensitive, honorable Lena, the faithful old Hannah had read—Percy's letter, which had commenced:
"I am in the most awful scrape any boy ever was in, and you are the only one who can help me out of it. If you can't there is nothing for me but to be expelled from the school and arrested and awfully disgraced, with all the rest of the family; and the worst is that Russell will be so cut up about it—you know his Royal Highness always holds his head so high, especially about anything he thinks is shabby—and I am afraid it will make him worse again. As for the mother! words could not paint her if she hears about it. And if the doctor gets hold of it!! I've told you how strict he is and what the rules are. If it hadn't been an iron-clad place, I shouldn't have been sent here. I hate these private schools where one can't do a thing without being found out. Well, here goes; you must hear about it, and it is a bad business."
Then followed, in school-boy language, an account of the whole disgraceful transaction. A "bad business," indeed; even worse it appeared to the young sister and the old nurse than it did apparently to Percy.
"And now, dear Lena," he continued, "there's no one but you who can help me. Lewis Flagg is going to have his share. He has a watch that was his father's, a very valuable one, and his older brother wants it awfully, and told him long ago he would give him a hundred dollars for it; he has money of his own, the brother has, and Lewis says it isn't half what the watch is worth; but he'll have to let it go. So he's all right.
"But what am I to do? I have no such watch. I have nothing I could sell without mamma and papa finding it out, and think of the row there would be if they did. You are my only hope, Lena, and you might do something for me. At any rate, think of Russell. Havn't you something you could sell? Or—I do not like very much to ask you, but what can a fellow in such a scrape do?—couldn't you ask Uncle Horace to let you have it? I am sure he owes you something for saving his house from being burnt up, and things would have been a great deal worse if you hadn't found it out and been so brave; and besides, he thinks so much of you since he will do anything for you, and you can just tell him you want it for a private purpose. He'll give it to you; it's only twenty pounds, Lena, and what is twenty pounds to him? what is it to any of our people, only one wouldn't dare to ask papa or mamma for it. We wouldn't get it if we did, and everything would have to come out then; they never trust any one and would know. Only get it for me, dear Lena, and save me and save Russell, too. You have from now till after the Easter holidays; and think what you'll save me from! Oh, dear! I wish I'd never seen Lewis Flagg. He don't care a bit, so that he sees the way out of his own scrape. As for that solemn prig, Seabrooke, who you'd think was one of the grown masters with his uppish airs, well, never mind, I suppose he has let us off easy on the whole, if I only raise my share of the money; and he is honor bright about it and don't even act as if we two had done anything worse than the others. Oh! do think of some way, and try Uncle Horace. I know he'll prove all right, and you see we never meant to do this.
"Your affectionate brother,
"PERCY H. NEVILLE.
"Oh, I forgot, how are the feet?
The shock of the whole thing; the disobedience and rebellion against rules; the disgraceful theft of the letter; its destruction; the peril in which Percy himself stood—all faded into comparative insignificance with the risk for her adored elder brother. Absolute quiet, freedom from all worry and anxiety during his protracted convalescence had been peremptorily insisted upon by his physicians, and it had proved before this that any excitement not only retarded his recovery, but threw him back. That the knowledge of Percy's guilt could be kept from Russell if it came to the ears of her father and mother never occurred to her, and beyond words did she dread its effect upon him. She knew that the news of her own serious injuries a few weeks since had been very hurtful to him, and now her chief thought was for him.
She lost sight altogether of the contemptible meanness of Percy's appeal to her—a helpless girl—to rescue him from the consequences of his own worse than folly, but she was bitterly stung by his suggestion—nay, almost demand—that she should ask from their kind and indulgent uncle the means of satisfying the justly outraged Seabrooke; the uncle who had opened his heart and home to them, whom she credited with every known virtue, and for whose good opinion and approbation she looked more eagerly than she did for those of any other human being, even the beloved brother Russell. No, no; she would never ask him for such a thing, that honorable, high-minded, hero-uncle, with his scorn for everything that was contemptible or mean; "fussy," Percy had called him, about such matters.
Nor did it occur to her that in his selfish desire to secure her aid, Percy had perhaps exaggerated the risk to himself—the risk of his arrest and public disgrace, which would reflect upon the family.
Poor little girl! In her inexperience and alarm she did not reflect that it was not at all probable that Percy would be arrested, even though he should not be able to comply with Seabrooke's just demands; and all manner of direful possibilities presented themselves to her mind. Little wonder was it that she was perfectly overwhelmed, or that mental excitement had prostrated her again and brought on a return of her fever.
Nor was Hannah less credulous. She magnified the danger for Percy as much as the young sister did, although her fears were chiefly for the culprit himself. She had the means of relieving the boy's embarrassment if they were but in her own hands, but she had put the greater part of these in her master's care for investment, and she could not obtain any large sum of money without application to him. And, like Lena, she was afraid of exciting some inquiry or suspicion if she did so. The poor old soul stood almost alone in the world, having neither chick nor child, kith nor kin left to her, save one bad and dissipated nephew whom she had long since, by the advice of her master, cast off. If she asked Mr. Neville for the sum necessary to help Percy out of his difficulty, he would, she felt confident, suspect that she was about to give it to this reprobate nephew, and would remonstrate.
Besides the accumulated wages in her master's hands she had one other resource, quite a sum, which she carried about with her; a number of bright, golden guineas tied in a small bag which she wore fastened about her waist, and which was really a burden to her, since she lived in constant fear of losing it. But this was for a purpose dear to old Hannah's heart, namely, her own funeral expenses and the erection of what she considered a suitable head-stone for herself after she should have done with life. She would not trust this precious gold to any bank or company, lest it should fail and leave her without the means for what she considered a fitting monument for herself. Within the bag was also an epitaph, composed by herself, which was to be put upon the proposed gravestone. For Hannah had no mean opinion of her own merits, and this set her forth as an epitome of many Christian graces, reading thus:
"Here lies the mortal body of Hannah Achsah Stillwell which she was hed nurse in the family of Howard Neville eskire for years and brung up mostly by hand his children and never felt she done enuf for them not sparin herself with infantile elements walkin nites and the like, pashunt and gentle not cross-grained like some which the poor little things they can't help theirselves teethin and the like, respeckful to her betters knoin her place, kind to them beneth her—which she was much thort of by all above and below her—and respected by her ekals. Which to her Gabriel shall say in fittin time:
"Well done good and faithful servant Come to the skys Stranger read this pious lesson Go and do likewise."
This gem she had read in turn to each of her nurslings as they came to what she considered a fitting age to appreciate it; and they had regarded it with great awe and admiration, till they outgrew it and began to consider it as a joke. Not to Hannah, however, did any one of them confide the change in his or her views, although they made merry over it among themselves; and Harold and Elsie still looked upon it as a most touching and fitting tribute to the merits of their faithful old nurse, albeit it had been composed and arranged by herself.
Hannah had also frequently found the bag and its contents an incentive to well-doing, or an effective and gentle means of coercion, as upon any rare symptoms of rebellion or mischief which would occasionally arise within the nursery precincts, in spite of iron rules and severe penalties, she was wont to detach the bag from its hiding-place and, retiring to a corner, would count the gold and read over the future epitaph, murmuring in sepulchral tones, befitting such a lugubrious subject, that she should soon have need of both.
This course had generally sufficed to bring the small rebel to terms at once, and it would promise to be good if she would only consent to live and continue her care of the nursery. And now, how could she make up her mind to sacrifice this cherished sum even for the reckless, selfish boy whom she loved? It had been dedicated to that one purpose, and it had never before entered her thoughts to divert it to any other. She was devoted to each one and all of her charges, past and present; but for no other one than Percy would she ever have thought of resigning this gold. Not to relieve the sickening terror and anxiety of the poor little invalid; not to save the whole family from the disgrace which she apprehended, would she have entertained the slightest thought of doing so; but for the sake of her beloved scrapegrace! Could she resolve to do it, was the question which was now agitating her mind. If Hannah was worried she was apt to be cross, and for the next day or two she was captious and exacting beyond anything within the past experience of the nursery, driving Letitia to the verge of rebellion, and exciting the open-eyed wonder of the pattern Elsie. Over Lena she crooned and hovered, petting and coddling her, and longing to speak some words of hope and comfort, but not daring to do so lest she should betray herself and the dishonorable way in which she had become possessed of the child's secret.
Colonel Rush was seated in his library one afternoon when there came a knock at the door; and being bidden to enter, the portiere was drawn aside and old Hannah appeared, her face wearing an unusually solemn and portentous expression.
"Beggin' your pardon, Colonel," she said, dropping her curtsey, "but I'm not much hacquainted with these Hamerican monies, and would you be so good as to tell me the worth of twenty-one gold guineas in the dollars they uses in this country. More shame to 'em, say I, that they didn't 'old by what was their hown when they was hunder the rule of hour gracious lady, Queen Victoria, but 'ad to go changin' an' pesterin' them what 'asn't no partickler hacquaintance with harithmetic."
Hannah was a privileged character, and sometimes expressed her opinions with some freedom in the presence of her superiors.
The colonel did not think it worth while to enlighten her on the subject of American history, or to explain that the United States, and even the early colonies, had never been beneath the rule of Queen Victoria; but he gave her the information she desired.
"Twenty-one golden guineas would be somewhere from a hundred and five to a hundred and ten or fifteen dollars, Hannah," he said; "it might be even a little more; that would depend upon what is called the price of gold. A guinea would be worth something over five dollars in American money at any time, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always beyond the five. Why?"—knowing of the secret fund for future expenses, the story having been told to him by his nephews,—"have you gold of which you wish to dispose? If so, I will do my best to sell it for you at advantage."
"No, thank'ee, sir," she answered. "I'm only fain to know what it would fetch," and with another curtsey she was gone, not daring either to wait for farther questioning or to ask the gentleman to exchange her gold for her. Indeed, upon the latter point she had not, hitherto, at all made up her mind. But now it seemed to her that it was clearly intended that she should make the sacrifice.
"Seems as if it was a callin' of Providence," she murmured to herself, as she slowly and thoughtfully mounted the stairs and returned to the nursery; and had any one known the circumstances he might have seen that the old nurse's resolution respecting that gold was wavering; "seems as if it was a callin' of Providence. 'Twould just be a little more than the poor boy needs—oh, will he never learn to say no when it's befittin 'he should!—just a little more, and it do seem as if it were put hinto my 'ands to do it. An' I s'pose I might believe the Lord will take care of them banks and railroads an' things where the master 'as put what he's hinvested for me. I don't know as I put so much faith in this hinvestin', you never know what'll come of it with the ups and downs of them things. Dear, dear! if I 'ad it now there needn't be no trouble about Master Percy. But"—feeling for the precious bag—"I think I couldn't rest heasy in my grave if I 'ad the statoo of the queen 'erself hover me if I'd let the child I brought up come to this disgrace an' 'im the puny, weakly baby he was, too, when I took 'im, the fine, sturdy lad he is now if he is maybe a bit too soon led hastray. But what can you hexpect of a lad when he's kept hunder the way hour boys is. An' he's not a bad 'eart, 'asn't Master Percy, an' maybe he might put up a monyment and a hepithet 'imself for me if he did but know I'd done that for 'im. It's a risk, too; Percy's no 'ead on his shoulders, an' I might be left with no tombstone an' no hepithet."
To one who knew Hannah it might have been easy to see which way the balance was likely to turn; that cherished gold was sure to be taken for Percy's rescue from the difficulty he was in; but she persuaded herself that she had not yet made up her mind about the matter.
Meanwhile Lena was fretting herself ill over the terrible secret which she imagined she shared with no one in the house; turning over and over in her mind all manner of impossible devices for the relief of her scapegrace brother. Not for one instant would she entertain the thought of applying to her uncle in accordance with his indelicate suggestion; and her father and mother were, to her mind, as well as to Percy's, utterly out of the question. No idea of applying to them entered her head. The change in her, her troubled, worried expression, the almost hunted look in her beautiful eyes made her uncle and aunt extremely anxious, especially as they could find no clew to the cause, for they knew nothing of the letter from Percy.
The child wrote to her brother and told him that she could see no way of procuring the money for him, for she would not apply to their uncle; but she would try and contrive some means of helping him.
With the heedless insouciance which distinguished him, or rather with the selfish facility with which he threw a share, and a large share, of his burdens upon others, he had comforted himself with the thought that Lena would surely contrive some way of helping him; would, in spite of her declarations to the contrary, apply to Colonel Rush, guarding his secret, and taking upon herself all the weight and embarrassment of asking such an unheard of favor. But although he did strive to be hopeful, he had times of the deepest despondency and dread, when he looked his predicament fully in the face; and he felt it hard that Lewis, who, after all, had been the chief offender, should be, as he in his careless way phrased it, "all right" at what seemed to be so little cost to him, while he, Percy, was under this cloud of apprehension and uncertainty.
Harley Seabrooke was not hard-hearted, although he was determined that the two boys should make full restitution, and justly so, and he could not but feel sorry for Percy when these fits of despair overtook him.
"Neville," he said to him one day, "have you written to your parents about this matter?"
"To my father and mother! oh, no!" answered Percy, looking dismayed at the bare idea of such a thing; "Oh, no, of course not. How could I?"
"It seems to me," said Harley, eying the boy curiously, "that such a thing is the most natural course when one is in such a difficulty. Certainly it must involve confession, but they would be the most lenient and tender judges one could have. Why not make a clean breast of it, Percy, and have it over? You hardly, I suppose, can obtain such a sum of money except by application to them; or have you some other friend who will help you?"
"I have—I did—I mean I will," stammered Percy. "I have asked and—and—I know I must have it somehow."
He looked so utterly depressed and forlorn that Harley's heart was moved for him.
"If I were rich, Percy," he said, "if I could in any way afford it, I would not insist upon such early payment of my loss; but it is only just that you should make it good. You did not know what you were doing, it is true, the extent of the injury to me; but you had suffered yourself to be tempted into wrong by a boy much worse than yourself, and you meant to play me a sorry trick, which has recoiled upon yourself. That money, the check you destroyed, I had received from a publisher for a piece of work over which I had spent much time and which I had devoted to a special purpose. I have a young sister who has a wonderful talent for drawing and painting, is, in fact, a genius; and her gift ought to be cultivated, for we hope it will, in time, be a source of profit to herself and others; but my father is a poor clergyman, and all of us try to do what we can to help ourselves and one another. You know on what terms I am here; and it is only through the kindness of Dr. Leacraft that I enjoy the advantages I do; and of late I have been able to earn a little by articles I have written for papers and magazines. This two hundred dollars I had received for a little book, and I intended it should be the means of giving my little sister at least a beginning of the drawing lessons which would be of so much use to her. You may judge then if I do not feel that I must have it back, and that without farther delay. I am sorry for you, but I cannot sacrifice my sister."
Seabrooke was regarded by the boys as unsympathetic, cold, and stiff in his manner—perhaps he was somewhat so—and as he seldom spoke of himself they knew little of his affairs or of his family relations; and he was also considered to have a rather elderly style of talking, unbefitting his comparatively few years.
Percy's manner, which had been rather sullen and listless when the other began to speak, had brightened as Seabrooke went on; and when he mentioned his sister, his face lighted with a look of interest which somewhat surprised his senior.
"What is your sister's name? Gladys?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Harley, surprised at the question. "Do you know her?"
"Yes—no—my sister and some other girls I know, know her," said Percy; and then followed the story of the meeting in the church and of the interest taken in the young artist by Lena, Maggie and Bessie.
"So it was your friends and relatives, then, who sent the check for the church to my father, and the Christmas box to my sister?" said Seabrooke, feeling much more inclined to forgive Percy than he had felt since the destruction of his letter.
"I don't know anything about a check," answered Percy, for Colonel Rush had not mentioned that little circumstance to the junior portion of his family, "but I do know that the girls sent your sister a Christmas box, for I helped to pack it myself, and they are all agog about some prize they hope to win among them, a prize which will give them somehow, an artist education, which they can give to some girl who needs it. I don't know exactly how it is, only I do know they are all just agog about it, and they want it for your sister Gladys, at least for a girl of that name. But I believe I ought not to have spoken of that; it is only a chance, you know; there are ever so many girls to try for the prize, and our girls may not gain it."
"And my sister don't want the chance," said Harley, the stubborn pride which was one of his characteristics, up in arms at once. "We may be and are poor, but we will not ask for charity."
"Well, you needn't be so highty-tighty about it," said Percy, taking a more sensible view of the matter than his older companion did. "I don't call it charity, and if it is, it comes from somebody who is dead, so one needn't feel any special obligation to the girls. It is only that they earn the right to say to whom the gift shall go; they don't give it. And," he added, with his usual happy faculty for saying the wrong thing, "I don't see why you should be so stiff about it when you yourself"—he paused, seeing by the dark look which came over Seabrooke's face that he had touched upon a sore point.
"You would say," said Harley, stiffly, "when I accept favors from Dr. Leacraft for myself; but you will please remember that I, at least, give some equivalent for my tuition, so I am not altogether a charity scholar. And it is my object to provide for my sister myself, and I still insist that you shall pay me what you owe me, Neville. If your friends earned forty scholarships for Gladys, that would make no difference in my just demands."
"Nobody asked that it should!" exclaimed Percy, flying into one of the rare passions to which his amiable, easy-going nature would occasionally lapse under great provocation, "nobody asked that it should; and you are"—and here he launched into some most uncomplimentary remarks, and then dashed from the room, leaving Harley to feel that he had made a great mistake, and missed, by the insinuation that Percy fancied he would abate his demands for restitution, an opportunity of influencing the boy, who was easily led for either good or evil.
The result of this was, on Percy's part, another frantic appeal to Lena to find some means of helping him before Easter, that Seabrooke was very hard on him and determined not to spare him.
This letter would never have reached Lena had it not been delivered into the hands of Colonel Rush, who met the postman at the foot of his own steps, and took this with others from him. For Hannah, following out her policy that the end justified the means, and undeterred by the scrape into which Percy had brought himself by means somewhat similar, kept on the watch for letters for Lena, determined to hide and destroy any which should come from Percy.
She fancied that she had not yet made up her mind to the course she would pursue; but she really had done so, though the faithful old nurse clung till the last moment to the cherished gold, with a faint hope that something might yet chance to save it.
The colonel went up to pay a little visit to Lena, and came down looking rather perturbed and anxious.
"That child continues to look badly," he said to Mrs. Rush, "and she appears to me to have something on her mind. Do you think it is possible, now that Russell is better?"
"I am sure of it," answered his wife, "sure that something is troubling her very much, and I was about to speak of it to you. She is such a reticent, reserved child, that I did not like to try and force her confidence, although I have opened the way for her to give it to me if she chose to do so."
"I brought her a letter from Percy yesterday," said the colonel, "and when I handed it to her, she flushed painfully and seemed very nervous, and I noticed that she did not open it while I was in the room. I wonder if he is in any trouble."
Mrs. Rush shook her head. She had not even noticed this, and had no clew whereby she might guess at the cause of Lena's depression; but she said:
"I am going to send for Maggie and Bessie to come and spend the day with her. She is able, I think, to have them with her, and they may brighten her a little."
No sooner said than done; the colonel, always glad of any excuse for bringing these prime favorites of his to his own house, went for them himself, and finding them disengaged, this being Saturday and a holiday, brought them back with him.
He had the pleasure of seeing Lena's pale face light up when she saw them, and soon left the young patient with her two little friends to work what healing influences they might.
Now, although Lena was very fond of both these girls, Bessie was her special favorite, perhaps because she, being less shy than Maggie, had been the first to offer her sympathy and comfort at the time when Lena had been left at her uncle's with her heart wrung with anxiety and distress for her brother Russell who was then very dangerously ill.
And Bessie was now quick to see that something was wrong with Lena. Maggie saw it too, but shy Maggie, unless it was with some one as frank as herself, could not seek to draw forth confidences. But, with her usual considerate thoughtfulness, she did that which was perhaps better; she presently withdrew herself to the next room with Elsie and little May and amused them there, so that Lena might have the opportunity of speaking to Bessie if she so chose.
But not even to Bessie would or could Lena confide the story of Percy's misdoing and its direful results, longing though she might be for her sympathy and advice. Lena knew Bessie's strict conscientiousness, which was almost equalled by her own, and she knew also Bessie's complete trust in her parents, and how in any trouble her first thought would be to confide in them in full faith that they would be only too ready to lift the burden from her shoulders.
No, Bessie was not like herself; she had no dread of her father and mother, nor had any of the children in that large and happy family; and it would have seemed unnatural to them to have any such fears.
But there was a question which had been agitating her own mind which she meant to ask Bessie and hear her clear, straightforward views on the matter; for Lena feared, and justly, that her own wishes might have too much weight with her own opinion, and she dared not yield to these for fear of doing wrong.
"Lena, dear," said Bessie, "is your brother Russell worse?"
"No," answered Lena, "he is improving every day now, mamma says."
"You seem rather troubled and as if something were the matter," said Bessie, simply, but in half-questioning tones, thus opening the door for confidence if Lena wished to give it.
"I would like to ask you something," said Lena, wistfully. "You remember the checks papa and Russell sent me?"
"Oh, yes, of course," answered Bessie. "How could I forget them?"
"Do you think," said Lena, slowly and doubtfully, "that if a person who was not a poor person was in great trouble, it would be quite right to use some of that money to help them out of their trouble? You know papa and Russell say I may use it for any charity I choose. Do you think it would be called charity to do that when the person was in trouble only because he had been—had done very wrong?"
"I don't know. I don't quite understand," said Bessie, quite at sea, as she might well be, at such a vague representation of the case. "I suppose," thoughtfully, "that it might be right if you felt quite sure that your father or brother would be willing."
"But they would not be—at least—oh, I do not know what to think or what to do," exclaimed poor Lena, breaking down under the weight of all her troubles and perplexities.
"I can't tell what to say unless I know more about it," said Bessie, taking Lena's hand; "but, Lena dear,"—approaching the subject of Lena's relations with her own family with some reluctance, "but, Lena dear, if you do not want to ask your father and mother, why do you not ask Uncle Horace? He is so very nice and good, and he knows about almost everything."
But before she had finished speaking she saw that the suggestion did not meet the case at all.
"Uncle Horace! Oh, no!" ejaculated Lena, "that would be worse than all! Oh, if I could only tell Russell!"
"Why do you not?" asked Bessie.
"It would make him ill again; it might kill him," answered Lena, more excitedly than ever. "Tell me what it is right to do by myself, Bessie."
"How can I, dear, when I do not know what it is?" said the troubled and sympathizing Bessie.
Lena looked into the clear, tender eyes before her own, and her resolution was taken; although, knowing, as she did, Bessie's almost morbid conscientiousness and her horror of anything small, mean or tricky, she knew that she would be terribly shocked when she heard the source of the trouble; but she must tell some one, must have a little advice.
"I want to tell you, Bessie," she said, falteringly, "but you will not tell any one, will you? Not even Maggie?"
"No. Maggie is very good about that, and not at all curious," said Bessie. "I couldn't keep a secret of my own from her; but some one else's she would not mind. But mamma—could I not tell mamma?"
"Oh, no," said Lena, "no! Must you tell your mother everything—things that are not secrets of your own?"
Bessie stood thoughtful for a moment.
"No," she at last answered, a little reluctantly. "If mamma knew it would be a help to some one to have me keep a secret, I do not think she would mind; for mamma has a good deal"—of confidence in her children, she would have added, but checked herself with the thought that Lena enjoyed no such blessing, and that she was presenting too forcible a contrast between her own lot and that of her little friend, and she hastily substituted, "a great deal of good sense for her children. But, Lena dear, you do not know how well my mamma keeps a secret, and how she can help people out of trouble."
"No, no!" said Lena again, "I couldn't let her know. He wouldn't like it; he would never forgive me," she added, forgetting herself.
Light flashed upon Bessie.
"Lena, is it Percy?" she asked.
"Yes," faltered Lena; and then followed the whole story; at least, the whole as she knew it, so much as Percy had revealed to her.
Bessie was indeed shocked, perhaps even more at the contemptible selfishness and weakness which had led Percy to throw the burden of this secret upon his young sister, and to appeal to her for help, than she was by his original fault. Her own brother Harry was noted for his chivalrous gallantry to girls; so much so, that it was a subject of joke among his schoolmates and companions; and Fred, although known as a tease, was quite above anything small or petty, and would have scorned to ask such a thing as this from any girl, especially from one who was weak and ill, and but just coming back from the borders of the grave. Bessie felt no sympathy whatever for Percy, but more than she could express for the innocent Lena; and her indignation at the reckless brother found vent in terms unusually emphatic for her.
But, alas for Lena! Bessie could see no way out of the difficulty more than Lena could herself. In spite of her ardent wish to do this, her upright little soul could by no means advise or justify for this purpose the use of any part of the sums put by Mr. Neville and Russell into Lena's hands.
"For you know, dear Lena," she said, "your father and brother said for charity, didn't they? And Percy is not a 'charity.'"
"No," answered Lena, with a pitiful, pleading tremor in her voice, "but papa said I could use it for any good object I chose. See, Bessie, here is his letter, and that is just what he says."
"Yes," said Bessie, glancing at the lines in Mr. Neville's letter to which Lena pointed, "yes; but Percy is not an 'object.' At least not what your father means by 'any object.'"
"And he certainly is not good" she added to herself; then said slowly again: "But, Lena, why don't you tell your brother Russell, when you say he is so good and nice?"
But to this also Lena returned the most decided negative. No, Russell must not be worried or made anxious and unhappy, no matter what might happen to Percy or to the rest of the family. Russell must be spared, at all hazards, and it was plainly to be seen that, distressed as she was for Percy, his welfare was by no means to be weighed in the balance against that of his elder brother.
Bessie, helpless as Lena herself, had no farther suggestion to offer, and save that she now shared the burden of her secret with some one who could sympathize, Lena had gained nothing by imparting it to her little friend; and when Maggie returned, she found her looking as depressed and anxious as before, while Bessie's sweet face also now wore a troubled expression.
Maggie asked no questions; but when they were at home that evening, Bessie said to her:
"Maggie, dear, I have to have a secret from you. It is not mine, but Lena's, and she will not let me tell even you; and she will not tell Uncle Horace or Aunt Marion or any of her people. And then again it is not her very own secret, but some one else's, and it is a great weight on her mind because she does not know what to do about it. And so it is on mine," she added, with a deep sigh.
"I wish you could tell me," said Maggie; "not that I am so very curious about it, although, of course, I should like very much to know; but cannot you tell mamma, Bessie?"
"No," answered Bessie; "it seemed to me mamma would not mind if I promised I would not tell even her, when Lena seemed to have such a trouble and wanted to tell me. I can't bear not to tell her or not to tell you; but I thought I would promise, because Lena is such a very good girl and so very true, and she has such a perfectly horrible mother. Maggie, every night when you say your prayers, do you thank God that Mrs. Neville is not your mother? I do."
"Yes, and about a thousand times a day besides," answered Maggie. "But, Bessie, could you help Lena in her trouble?"
"No," said Bessie, her face shadowed again, "and I do not see how any one can help her, so long as she will not tell any grown-up person. Not one of us children could help her."
Bessie was depressed and very thoughtful that evening, and so silent as to attract the attention of her family; but to all inquiries she returned only a faint smile without words, while to her mother she confessed that she had "a weight on her mind," but that this was caused by another person's secret which she could not tell.
Accustomed to invite and receive the unlimited confidence of her children, Mrs. Bradford still treated them as if they were reasonable beings, and on the rare occasions, such as the present, when they withheld it, she was satisfied to believe that they had good and sufficient reasons for so doing.
A BOX OF BONBONS.
If there was one of the two sisters who lay awake after the proper time in the pretty room which Maggie and Bessie Bradford called their own—a thing not of frequent occurrence, it was usually Maggie, when she was revolving in her mind some grand idea, either as the subject of a composition, or some of the schemes for business or pleasure which her fertile brain was always devising. But on this night it was Bessie who could not sleep for worry and anxiety over Lena's perplexities. As a usual thing she was off to the land of Nod the moment her head was on the pillow; but to-night she lay tossing and uneasy until she thought the night must be almost gone. Then suddenly, as a bright thought came to her—an idea which she thought almost worthy of Maggie herself—she heard her mother in her own room.
"Mamma," she called, "is it almost time to rise?"
"Why, no, my darling," said Mrs. Bradford, coming in, "it is only half-past ten o'clock. What woke you?"
"Oh, I have not been asleep at all, mamma," answered her little daughter. "I thought I had been awake all the night."
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Bradford; "but it is certainly time that you were asleep. Have you been troubling yourself, dear, over that secret?"
"I suppose that I have, mamma," answered Bessie; "but I have had a very nice thought which I believe will help that secret, and I will try not to be troubled about it any more."
And five minutes later, when her mother looked in again to see if she were quiet, she found her sleeping.
"Papa," said Bessie, walking into the library the next morning, all ready for school, and not seeing for the moment that any one was with her father, "papa, are you going early to your office?"
Mr. Bradford was fond of a long walk on a pleasant morning, and would occasionally start from home with his little girls on their way to school, leave them at Miss Ashton's, and then proceed on his way down town. They always considered this a treat, and he knew now that Bessie hoped for his company in lieu of that of Jane, the nursery-maid.
"I think that I shall do so that I may have the pleasure of escorting two little damsels to school," he answered.
"Then perhaps I shall be fifth wheel to a coach that only needs three," said a deep, jolly voice from the other side of the room; and Bessie, turning, saw the tall form of her Uncle Ruthven standing before one of the book-cases, in which he was searching for a book he had come to borrow.
Her face brightened with a look which told that this "fifth wheel" could never be de trop; and she sprung toward him with a welcoming kiss and good morning.
Uncle Ruthven was mamma's dear and only brother, and a great favorite with his young nieces and nephews, who thought this much travelled, "much adventured uncle," as Bessie had once called him, a wonderful hero, and the most entertaining of mortals. So Maggie was as well pleased as Bessie when she heard by whom they were to be escorted to school, papa and Uncle Ruthven forming as desirable a pair of cavaliers as could well be imagined by any two little maidens.
But Uncle Ruthven was somewhat amused to see how Bessie contrived that he should walk with Maggie, while she took Mr. Bradford's hand and tried to keep him a little behind. Observing this, and rightly conjecturing that she had something to say to her father, Mr. Stanton obligingly drew Maggie on a little faster till they were sufficiently in advance of the others to permit Bessie to make her confidences.
"Papa," said the little girl, as soon as she thought that her sister and uncle were out of hearing, "papa, you know that you told me I might begin to take music lessons after Easter?"
"I remember my promise quite well, dear, and you shall certainly do so," answered her father. "You have been a dear, patient child about those lessons, and you may depend now upon your reward."
Bessie had for a long time been anxious to take lessons upon the piano; but her father and mother had thought it best to defer it, as she was not very strong, and they had considered that her daily lessons at school were sufficient for her without the extra labor which music lessons and practising would involve. This decision had been a disappointment to her, but she had borne it well, never fretting and teasing about it, only looking forward eagerly to the time when she might begin; and her parents now thought her old enough for this.
"Well, I want to ask you something, papa," she said, coloring a little, but throwing back her head to look up into his face with her clear, fearless eyes. "How much would it cost for me to take music lessons?"
"Forty dollars a quarter is Miss Ashton's price, I think," answered Mr. Bradford, wondering what this earnest little woman was thinking of now.
"And two quarters would be eighty dollars—and twenty more would be a hundred," slowly and thoughtfully said Bessie, who was not remarkably quick at figures. "That would take two quarters and a half a quarter to make up a hundred dollars, would it not, papa?"
"Yes," answered her father.
"Then," said Bessie, eagerly, "if I wait for my music lessons for two quarters and a half longer, will you let me have the hundred dollars they would cost, papa? I would rather have it; oh, much rather, papa."
"My child," said her father, "what can you possibly want of a hundred dollars? Have you some new charity at heart?"
"No, papa," answered the child with growing earnestness; "it is not a charity, but it is for a secret—not my secret, papa,—you know I would tell you if it was—but another person's secret. And that person is so very deserving, anybody ought to be very glad to do a kindness for that person, and she cannot tell anybody about it—only she told me, and mamma knows I have a secret—and I do want so very much to help her, and I think I would say I would never take music lessons all my life to do it."
And more she poured forth in like incoherent style, pleading too, with eyes and voice and close pressure of her father's hand.
Mr. Bradford was a lawyer of large practice and not a little note, accustomed to deal with knotty problems, and to solve without difficulty much more intricate sums than the putting of this two and two together, and he could guess pretty well in whose behalf Bessie was pleading now. He had heard during the past week of Lena Neville's unaccountable depression and nervousness, and of her refusal to disclose its cause; knew that his little daughters had spent the previous afternoon with her, and that Bessie had returned from Colonel Rush's house with "a weight on her mind," as she always phrased it when she was troubled or anxious, and that even to her mother and Maggie she had not confided the source of that "weight."
To Mr. Bradford, accustomed to the open natures and sweet, affectionate ways of his own daughters, Lena Neville was by no means an attractive child; but so far as he could judge, she was upright and perfectly straightforward, and with no little strength of will and purpose; and petted as she was by her indulgent aunt and uncle, he could not believe that she had brought herself into any difficulty which she could not confess, on her own account.
No; there must be something behind this; there must be some other person whom she was shielding, and whom she and Bessie were striving to rescue from the consequences of his or her own folly and wrong-doing, and Mr. Bradford believed that he had not far to look for this person. He had, even in the short period of the Christmas holidays, when Percy had been much with his own boys, marked the weakness of his character and the ease with which he was swayed for either good or evil, according to the temptations or influences presented to him; and he now felt assured that he had fallen into some trouble and had appealed to his sister for pecuniary aid; and that this must be very serious, Mr. Bradford rightly judged, since Lena dared not apply to the uncle who was so ready to do everything to make her happy and contented in his house.
And what to do now, Mr. Bradford did not know. It might not be best that Percy—if it were indeed he for whom these two little girls were acting—should be shielded from the consequences of his wrong-doing; and in his own want of knowledge of the circumstances he could not, of course, judge how this might be; but his pity and sympathy were strongly moved for Lena; and she was, indeed, unselfish, little heroine that she was, deserving of any kindness or relief that could be extended to her. But to act thus in the dark was repugnant to him; and his judgment and his feelings were strongly at variance as he listened to Bessie's pleadings that she might be allowed to make this sacrifice.
"I must think this over for a little, my darling," he said; but when he saw the disappointment in her face and the gathering tears in her eyes, he felt that he could not altogether resist her, and he added, "I think we shall find some way out of this difficulty; but are you sure that this person has no grown friend to whom she could apply?"
"She thinks not, papa," answered Bessie,"I think she could and ought to, but she thinks not; and I feel quite sure you would let me do this if you knew all the reasons."
"Mamma and I will talk the matter over, dear," said Mr. Bradford; "and you are a dear, generous little girl, to be willing to do this; for I know how much your heart has been set upon your music lessons."
"But my heart is more set upon this, papa; oh, quite, quite more set," said Bessie, quaintly.
"We must hurry on now a little," said Mr. Bradford, giving an encouraging pressure to the small hand within his own, "and you must try not to worry yourself over this matter."
"What is in that little woman's mind? May I know?" asked Mr. Stanton, when he and his brother-in-law had left their two young charges at Miss Ashton's door and had turned their faces business-ward. "Or is it of a private nature?" he added.
"Well, I suppose I may tell you what she asked; for if I yield every one will know it, as she has talked so much of her music lessons," said Mr. Bradford; "and I will tell you my suspicions. I fear that I am perhaps too much inclined to yield to her plea, while I am not satisfied that it is wise to do so. But I am not sure that you will be a very unprejudiced adviser," he added, knowing well that Uncle Ruthven was generally of the opinion that it was well to yield to the wishes of his favorite nieces, Maggie and Bessie.
Then he told of Bessie's proposal, and of whither his own suspicions tended.
"The dear little soul!" said Mr. Stanton, "and these music lessons have been the desire of her heart for the last two years."
"Yes for a longer time than that," said Mr. Bradford; "she is making a real sacrifice in offering to give them up. Of course, there is no necessity for her to do that; she shall have her music lessons. But the question with me is whether it is well to work blindly in this way, even for the purpose of relieving these two innocent children."
"I ask nothing better for my girls than that they may grow up like yours," said Mr. Stanton, extending his hand to his brother-in-law. But he offered no advice, expressed no opinion.
Many a time during his busy day did his little daughter's pleading face rise before Mr. Bradford, and he found himself unable to resist it, and resolved that he would cast scruples to the winds and tell Bessie she should have the sum she had asked for. But although he would not tell her this yet, she should not lose her much desired lessons; she should begin them at the promised time, and they should be his Easter gift to her.
Mr. Stanton found a little private business of his own—quite unexpected when he left home—to attend to after he parted from his brother-in-law at the door of his office, a little business which was attended with the following results.
Mr. Bradford reached home that afternoon, and entering the door with his latch-key was just closing it behind him when Bessie came flying down the stairs and precipitated herself upon him like a small whirlwind, followed by Maggie in a state of equal excitement and making like demonstrations.
"Spare me, ladies," he said, when he could speak; "with your kind permission I should wish to take farewell of the remainder of my family before I am altogether suffocated. Might I ask the cause of this more than usually effusive greeting?"
The answer to this was continued embraces and caresses from both his captors, a series of the little ecstatic squeals Maggie was wont to give when she was especially delighted with anything, and from Bessie the exclamation of:
"Oh, you dear, darling papa! You needn't try to be anonymous, for we know you did it! There was nobody else, for nobody else knew. We know it was you; we know it!"
"If I might be allowed to take off my overcoat and to sit down," gasped Mr. Bradford.
Then he was released, and proceeded to take off his overcoat, while the two little girls seized upon one another and went dancing about the hall to the music of Maggie's continued squeals.
"Have I made a mistake as to my own house and found my way into a private insane asylum?" said Mr. Bradford, pretending to soliloquize. "It must be so, else why this wild excitement? These must be two of the wildest and most excitable of the inmates. I must escape."
And he made a feint of trying to do so, running into his library and sinking into an easy chair where he was speedily held captive again by two pair of arms piled one above the other about his neck, while all manner of endearing epithets were lavished upon him.
"Thank you very much," he said at last, "for all these compliments, but really I am ignorant why I am particularly deserving of them at the present moment."
"Oh, you needn't pretend you don't know now, you sweet, lovely darling," said Maggie, with a fresh squeeze and a kiss, planted directly upon his right eye. "You have lifted the most dreadful weight off of Bessie's mind. I don't know what it was, but I know that she had one, and now it is all gone."
"And you did it in such a delightful way, too, papa," said Bessie; "sending it in that lovely box of bonbons."
"Sending what—the weight?" said Mr. Bradford.
"Now, papa!" expostulated both at once. "You know what we mean, and you needn't pretend that you don't," said Bessie. "No, you took away the weight, and you're just too good for anything."
"If you would throw a little light, perhaps I could understand," answered her father; "but really, as it is, I cannot take credit to myself for having lifted any one's burdens to-day, at least, not knowingly."
"Oh, papa," said Bessie again, "you know you sent me what I asked you for this morning in a box of Huyler's, all beautifully done up, and—oh! I know you, papa—my name written on the parcel by some one else, so I wouldn't know. But just as if I wouldn't know; it could not be any one but you, because no one else knew that I wanted it."
"Upon my word, this is very embarrassing," said Mr. Bradford. "I should be very glad to be able to say that I had been so generous and given so much pleasure; but I must disclaim the deed. Upon my honor, as a gentleman, I know nothing of your box of bonbons or its contents."
To tell the truth, he was really somewhat embarrassed, for he could give a very good guess as to the donor of the gift, who, since he had chosen to be "anonymous," must not be betrayed, and these very interested inquirers were likely to put some searching questions which it might be difficult to evade. To avoid these—truth compels me to state—Mr. Bradford took an ignominious flight, for, saying that he must hasten upstairs to dress for dinner, he put aside the detaining arms which would have kept him till conjecture was satisfied, and once more assuring his little girls that he had absolutely nothing to do with the box of bonbons and its valuable contents, and congratulating Bessie that her heart's desire was attained, he hurried away to his own room. Here he found Mrs. Bradford, who had thought, as did the little girls, that he had been the one to relieve Bessie's mind by this means.
Discreet Bessie, and equally discreet Maggie, had neither one betrayed the little circumstance of the gift to the former to the general household, mamma alone sharing the secret, and even she did not know for what purpose it was destined.
The two girls had been with their mother in Mrs. Bradford's morning-room after they returned from school, when Patrick came to the door and delivered "a parcel for Miss Bessie."
The nature of this parcel disclosed itself even before it was opened. There is a peculiar distinctive air about such parcels which stamps them at once as mines of delight, and Maggie had little hesitation in pronouncing it to be "a monstrous box of Huyler's! Must be three pounds at least!"
Uncle Ruthven—that which proved a mystery to Maggie and Bessie need prove no mystery to us—was a generous giver, and when he did a kind action it was carried out munificently; and the wrappings being taken off and the cover of the box removed, a most tempting sight was disclosed.
"There is a note to tell you who it is from," said Maggie, seeing an envelope lying on the top of the bonbons.
But Maggie was mistaken, for the envelope contained no writing, nothing to give, by words, a clue to the giver; but the candies were forgotten when Bessie drew therefrom a new crisp one hundred dollar bill. For a moment both she and Maggie stood speechless with surprise; then the color surged all over Bessie's face, and clasping her hands together she said, softly, but not so softly but that mamma and Maggie did not catch the words:
"Papa, oh, papa! I know what that is for." Then turning to her mother, she said: "It is my secret, mamma; that is, that other person's secret."
But mamma and Maggie, although in the dark and much puzzled about all this mystery, rejoiced with her in the relief which was evidently afforded by this gift, the removal of the "weight;" and Maggie was quite as ecstatic over papa's goodness as was Bessie herself.
And nowhere was papa disclaiming all knowledge of the gift, at least disclaiming all responsibility therefor. The mystery thickened for all concerned. Who could have known, thought Bessie, how very much she wished for this sum of money?
But how to convey this money to Lena was now the question with Bessie.
In her innocent simplicity she believed that she had not disclosed the identity of the person whose secret she was bearing, that this was still unsuspected by her parents and Maggie, to whom she had confided that the secret existed. Mystery and management and all concealment were hateful to her; and as has been seen, she was no adept at them, and she now felt herself much nonplussed. If she asked to go to Lena, or to send the money to her, suspicion would be at once aroused, and loyalty to Lena forbade this.
Moreover, judging not only by herself, but also by what she knew of Lena, she feared that the pride and independence of the latter would rebel, even in such a strait, against receiving pecuniary aid from one who, until a few short months ago, had been a stranger to her, and she would spare her if possible.
Then suddenly an idea occurred to her which removed, at least, the latter difficulty. Why not make use of the very way in which this well timed gift had come to her and send it to Lena anonymously? No thought of keeping it or converting it to her own use had for one instant entered Bessie's mind; to her it seemed Heaven-sent, and as if destined for the very purpose for which she had been longing for it. To the bonbons she felt that she could lay claim for herself and her brothers and sisters, but for her own part she could not really enjoy them until the more valuable portion of the contents of the box was on its way to its destination.
After some thought and planning about the method of accomplishing this, she carried an envelope to Jane, the nursery maid, believing rightly that Lena would not recognize her handwriting, made her put Lena's address upon it, and then privately enclosed therein the precious hundred dollar note; and the next morning on the way to school with her own hand she posted it in the letter-box on the nearest corner. Lena was not to know whence or from whom it came. She never thought of any risk in sending it in this unprotected manner; but happily it fell into honest hands throughout the course of its journeyings and safely reached those for which it was intended.
The relief that it was to Bessie to have this accomplished can scarcely be told.
"Oh!" she said to herself, "I'll never, never, never again let any one tell me a secret which I may not tell to mamma and Maggie, especially mamma."
The concealment and the management to obtain her object without revealing it had been more of a cross to her than can well be imagined, unaccustomed as she was to anything of the kind.
Hannah had asked for "a morning out;" a request which greatly amazed her temporary mistress, Mrs. Rush, inasmuch as the old woman had no friends or acquaintances in the city, and was possessed of a wholesome dread of the snares and pitfalls with which she believed it abounded, and even when out with her charge would never go without an escort beyond the park on which Colonel Rush's house fronted and whence she could keep it in view.
But permission, of course, was granted, and Hannah, after ascertaining that a banker's office was the proper place to exchange her precious gold, sallied forth with it, having finally resolved to sacrifice it for Percy's relief without further delay, as Easter was drawing near and the time of reprieve was coming to a close.
It would take too long to tell of the trials and tribulations she encountered on her way to her destination. She consulted every single policeman she met, and then had so little confidence in their directions and advice that she still felt herself hopelessly bewildered and at sea in the business streets of the great city; while whenever she was obliged to cross among the trucks, express-wagons and other vehicles, she felt as if there would be an immediate necessity for the epitaph. As may be supposed, she afforded no little sport to the guardians of the peace, but they were, on the whole, kind and considerate to her and often passed her on from one to another.
But at length, unshielded for the time by any such friendly protection, she stood at the corner of the greatest and most thronged thoroughfare and one almost equally crowded which intersected it, and vainly strove to cross. The policeman on duty there was for the moment engaged with a lost child and had no eyes for her.
She made several frantic dives forward; but the confusion of wheels, horses' heads and shouting drivers speedily drove her back to the sidewalk after each fresh essay; and she was beginning to be in despair when she felt herself spasmodically seized by the arm, and a terrified voice said in her ear—no, not in her ear, for Hannah's ear was far above the diminutive person who had clutched her, and whom she turned to face,—
"Don't! don't! You'll be run over—yes, over—over indeed! Wait for the policeman—yes, policeman—'liceman, indeed!"
Hannah's eyes fell upon a very small old lady, attired in a quaint, old-fashioned costume, with little corkscrew curls surrounding her face, and carrying a good-sized leather satchel, while her every movement and word betrayed a timid, nervous, excitable temperament.
"Don't, don't!" she reiterated, "you'll be crushed—yes, crushed, indeed, crushed; that horse's head touched you, head—indeed—yes, head. What a place this city is—city, indeed, yes, city. Why did I come back to it, back, yes, back?"
There are some who may recognize this old lady, but to Hannah she was an utter stranger, and she gazed upon her in surprise. She was generally very offish and reserved with strangers, but now a common misery made her have a fellow-feeling for the little oddity, and she responded graciously.
Seizing the hand of the woman, whom she could almost have put into her pocket, she drew it through her arm, and said:
"Ye may well say it; what a place hindeed! But hover I must go some ow, so come on, ma'am. If so be we're sent to heternity, we'll go together, an' I'll see you safe through it."
But, apparently, the prospect of going to eternity at such short notice and under such doubtful protection was not pleasing to Miss Trevor, and she shrank back from the thronging dangers before her.
But now came the policeman and escorted the two women, both large and small, through the terrors which had beset them, landing them safely on the other side of the street.
Hannah's eye had recognized the lady even beneath Miss Trevor's shabby black dress and strange manner, and she now turned to her with a respectful:
"Which way are you bound, ma'am? If so be your way's mine, we might 'old on together. There seems to be pretty much men around 'ere, an' I never did take much stock in men. Leastway honly in one or two," with an appreciative remembrance of Colonel Rush and her young master, Russell Neville.
"I'm going to the banker's—yes—banker's—banker's—yes, going," answered Miss Trevor, still flustered and nervous, and forgetting, in the distractions of the crowd, her usually besetting terror that every one who addressed her or looked at her in the street was actuated by purposes of robbery, and speaking as if there were but one banker in the great city.
But Hannah was wiser.
"There be a lot of 'em I 'ear," she said, "an' I don't know which is the best of 'em. What do you say, ma'am? Who be you goin' to, by your leave?"
"To Mr. Powers," answered Miss Trevor. "Powers, yes, Powers. A good man and a kind—yes, man, indeed, man."
"Is he the kind of a one—a banker, I mean," said Hannah, "that would give you a note for gold—golden guineas?"
Miss Trevor looked at her suspiciously for one moment. Was this a trap? Was this friendly person, who was seemingly as much at sea as she was herself in this wilderness of business streets and crowd of business men, some swindler in petticoats, some decoy who would lead her where she might be robbed of all she had about her that was valuable, of the really precious contents of that shabby, worn satchel? The bare idea of such a thing was enough to lend wings of terror to Miss Trevor's feet; and she was about to dart away from Hannah's side when the hand of the latter in its turn arrested her, giving, if possible, new force to the fears of the old lady.
"What did I come for?" she ejaculated, "yes, come. I wish I was back in Sylvandale—yes, Sylvandale, indeed, 'dale."
The name had a familiar—since the events of the last few days, an unpleasantly familiar sound to Hannah, and she gave a little start.
"Sylvandale," she repeated; "do you know Sylvandale?"
But again her inquiry only provoked increased alarm in the breast of Miss Trevor. She had heard of swindlers pretending to know of places and people belonging to those whom they would victimize; and had not Hannah's hold upon her been firm she would have wrenched herself free and fled.
Hannah repeated her question in a rather different form and with an addition.
"Do you come from Sylvandale? And you maybe know Dr. Leacraft's school? An' you maybe 'ave seen my boy, Master Percy Neville, my boy that I nursed?"
Now it so happened that Miss Trevor had seen and marked Percy Neville, and moreover that she had a very exalted opinion of the young scapegrace. For she did live in Sylvandale, with a nephew who had some years since persuaded her to give up teaching in the city in Miss Ashton's and other schools, and to come to him and let him care for her in her old age. The home she had gladly accepted; but she possessed a spirit of independence, and insisted on giving such lessons as she could procure. She had been fairly successful in this, and had laid by quite a little sum, which she intended to leave to this kind nephew. But while this money was in her own keeping, it was a burden and a care to her, for she lived in constant dread of robbers and of losing her little savings; therefore she had come to the city to place it in safe keeping. Belle Powers had been her favorite pupil while she taught at Miss Ashton's, the child having a remarkable talent for drawing and making the most of the instruction she received. Belle thought so much of her queer little teacher that she had interested her doting father in the old lady, and he had performed two or three small acts of kindness for her which her grateful heart had never forgotten. Consequently she credited Mr. Powers and Belle with every known virtue, and believed that she could not possibly place her savings in any safer place than the hands of that gentleman; and perhaps she was not far wrong.
But on her way to the city and to Mr. Powers' office she had been warily on her guard for snares and pitfalls tending swindlerwise, until she had fallen into the hands of Hannah. But her unworthy suspicions of that good person were speedily put to flight by the mention of Percy Neville's name.
Coming up the village street of Sylvandale one day, she had been chased by a flock of geese, and as she was hurrying along as fast as her age and infirmities permitted—anything in the shape of dignity she had cast to the winds before such foes—she encountered some of Dr. Leacraft's scholars returning from an afternoon ramble. Most of them had laughed at the predicament of the terrified old lady, who certainly presented a ridiculous sight; but Percy, pitying her plight, and with a strongly chivalrous streak in his nature, had made a furious onslaught on the geese, and presently turned the pursuers into the pursued. Then he had picked up the ubiquitous satchel which Miss Trevor had dropped in her flight, attempted to straighten her bonnet which was all awry—she thought none the less of him because his awkward efforts left it rather worse than before—and escorted her quite beyond the reach of the hissing, long-necked enemy, who seemed inclined to renew the attack were his protection removed and the coast clear.
From this time Percy Neville was a hero and a young knight sans peur et sans reproche with Miss Trevor. She had inquired his name, and maintained that it just suited him, and her wits had been constantly at work all winter to devise such small gifts and treats for him as she was able to procure. Many a basket of nuts and apples, many a loaf of gingerbread, or other nice home-made dainty, had found its way into Percy's hands, and had met with ready acceptance and been heartily enjoyed by the schoolboy appetites of himself and his companions. Percy always exchanged a cheery nod and smile with her when he met her, or a pleasant word or two if he encountered her in the village store or elsewhere.
And now she heard his name in terms of proprietorship and tenderness from this woman who claimed to be his nurse; and she was at once arrested in her attempt to shake her off.
"Master Percy Neville—Neville, indeed, Percy!" she exclaimed; "yes, yes—oh, yes—the dear boy! Those other geese were after me—yes, geese, indeed, chasing me down the sidewalk—yes, sidewalk, geese they were—geese—and he came, the dear boy—came and shoo-ed them away—shoo-ed them, yes, shoo-ed, indeed, shoo-ed."
And now she was quite ready to answer any and every question which Hannah might put to her, and, so far as she was able, to put her in the way of that which she was seeking. She confided her own purpose to the old nurse, and Hannah was fain to tell her hers, at least so much as that she was anxious to convert her gold into a bank-note which she might send to Percy without exciting his suspicions as to whence it came. Of course she gave no hint of his wrong-doing, saying only that she wished him to have the money and that he should not know the donor.
But, jostled and pushed about by the passers-by hurrying on during the most busy time of the day, they could not talk at their ease there on the sidewalk; and presently Hannah proposed retiring within the shelter of the broad hallway of an imposing building, where the two old innocents sat themselves down on a flight of stone stairs and exchanged confidences. They exchanged more; for before the close of the conference Hannah's gold, or the greater part of it, was in Miss Trevor's satchel and a hundred-dollar note in Hannah's hands.
Hannah's arithmetic was much at fault, notwithstanding the information she had gained from Colonel Rush on the subject of her finances; and her unheard-of confidence in this utter stranger of an hour since was further strengthened when Miss Trevor, with her superior knowledge, made it clear to her that she was about to give her too much gold in exchange for the bank-note.
Moreover, the odd little drawing-teacher, whom Hannah afterwards, when some qualms as to her own prudence assailed her, characterized as "hevery hinch a lady if she was that queer you'd think she'd just hescaped the lunatic hasylum," removed another stumbling-block from the path of the latter. She offered, if Hannah desired it, to carry the money for Percy back to Sylvandale, and to see that it was safely given into his hands; thus delivering the faithful old nurse from her dilemma as to the means of conveying it to him. Having once lost some money through the mail, she had also lost all faith in that, and knowing nothing of the ways now afforded for sending it in safety, she had been in some perplexity over this. And, will it be believed? she committed it to Miss Trevor's keeping without other guarantee than her word that Percy should receive it without knowing whence it came. Hannah would readily have let the boy know that she had sent it, for she was not disposed to hide her light under a bushel; but she dared not, lest she should betray the dishonorable part she had played in reading his letter to Lena and so discovering the disgraceful secret. She was further satisfied, however, as to Miss Trevor's good faith, after she had, at her request, accompanied her to Mr. Powers' office. The name of Powers had not conveyed any especial meaning to Hannah, although she did know that one of Lena's classmates was named Belle Powers, and she had seen the little girl once or twice; but when she entered the gentleman's office and remembered that she had seen him at the Christmas party at Mr. Bradford's and afterwards at Colonel Rush's, she at once set the seal of her approval upon him as being "the friend of such gentry;" and when Mr. Powers received Miss Trevor with great respect and attention, and promised with many expressions of good will to carry out her wishes, she plumed herself upon her sagacity in so intuitively discovering the quality of the little old lady's "hinches." It is true that these were few in quantity, but Hannah believed that they were of the right material; nor was she far wrong.
But to make assurance doubly sure she stepped up to Mr. Powers at a moment when Miss Trevor, intent upon securing the lock of her satchel, had turned her back, and whispered to him:
"She's all right, isn't she, sir?"
"Oh, yes, yes; only a little odd, but quite herself; as sane as you are," answered the gentleman, supposing that Miss Trevor's manner had led Hannah to infer that she was insane.
"If she wasn't hall right I'd lose my buryin' and my moniment for nothing," said Hannah, almost in the same breath; and Mr. Powers stared at her, believing that she herself must be a candidate for the lunatic asylum. Hitherto he had not paid much attention to her, merely glancing at her as she came in, and supposing her to be Miss Trevor's attendant; but at this extraordinary speech he scrutinized her narrowly, wondering if she were quite in her right mind and if it were safe to let Miss Trevor go about under her guidance.
Having transacted her business, Miss Trevor asked Mr. Powers concerning Belle and some of her young friends whom she also taught. And then, to Hannah's dismay, she asked him if he could tell her anything of Mrs. Rush and her sister, Mrs. Stanton, names very familiar to Hannah, and which she was not pleased to hear at the present juncture. She would never have taken Miss Trevor into partial confidence, would never have entrusted her with the mission to Percy, had she known that the old lady was acquainted with members of the very family in whose service she was, with the uncle and aunt of the boy whom she was secretly striving to save from disgrace.
What should she do now? And here was Mr. Powers actually advising the old lady to go up and see Mrs. Rush and her late pupils if she had time to do so. Poor Hannah! she may almost be forgiven for the dishonorable way in which she had contrived to possess herself of Lena's letter, for the sake of her loyalty to and self-sacrifice for her nurslings. Her chief thought now was less for her money than for the risk of the discovery of Percy's secret by his relatives. She must be very careful to keep out of the way of any one coming to Colonel Rush's house, at least, for a day or two. She was in a very bad humor now, this old Hannah, and as dissatisfied with the turn matters had taken as but a short time since she had been well pleased. She quite resented Miss Trevor's acquaintance with Mrs. Rush and other friends of the Neville family, and her looks toward that lady were now so glum and ill-natured that Mr. Powers could not fail to notice them, and was more than ever beset by doubts as to her perfect sanity. They were a queer couple, he thought, to go wandering together through the distracting business streets.
When Hannah was worried she was cross, as has been seen; and now, being thus assailed with doubts as to the wisdom of the course she had pursued, she proved herself no agreeable companion, and laid aside the respectful tone and manner with which she had hitherto treated Miss Trevor, till the old lady began to feel uneasy in her turn, and her manner and speech became more queer, jerky, and confused than ever.
At last, when they reached the corner of the street, she grabbed the arm of a policeman and in her broken, incoherent way, begged to be put into a street car; and as one happened to be passing at the moment, the request was complied with and Miss Trevor borne away before Hannah had fairly realized that she had left her.
Poor Hannah! If she had been uneasy before, it may be imagined what a state of mind she was in now. She stood watching the retreating conveyance in a bewildered sort of way till it was almost lost to sight among the crowd of vehicles; and then, with some vague notion of pursuing Miss Trevor and demanding back her money, hailed another car and entered it.
But after she was seated, sober second thought came to her aid, and all the reasons she had before formed for trusting Miss Trevor, returned to her, till she once more rested satisfied that the means for Percy's rescue from the toils he had woven for himself were in safe hands.
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.
"Who do you think is going to win that prize of Mr. Ashton's?" asked Fred Bradford of his sisters that day at the dinner table. "It is coming near Easter, you know, and you must have some idea by this time."
"Why, Maggie, of course," answered Bessie, positively, for the question was not one which admitted of dispute to Bessie's mind. She gave no time for her sister to answer, and Maggie did not reply.
"You seem to be very sure of your position, little woman," said her father.
"Well, papa," said Bessie, still confidently, "Lena has not been able to try for it, you know, since she was burned; and Gracie will not try. She says she don't want it, and she acts very queerly and seems to have no interest about it at all."
"Perhaps she's ashamed of the way she behaved that day she had the row with Lena," said Fred, who had heard the account of Gracie's ill-behavior, not from Maggie and Bessie, but from some of "the other fellows" whose sisters were members of the "Cheeryble Sisters."
Bessie shook her sunny head.
"No, I don't think so," she answered. "At least she has never said so, and if she felt sorry enough to keep her from trying for the prize, I should think she would tell Lena so."
"You would, but not she," said Fred. "Catch Gracie Howard eating humble pie. But you don't seem to have much idea of gaining it yourself."
"I!" said Bessie, opening wide her eyes in undisguised astonishment, "why, no; I am not even trying for it."
"Well, it is too late now, as it is so near Easter," said Harry; "but since the prize is for general improvement and not for any one particular composition, I do not see why you should not have tried and generally improved as well as the others."
"Well, I did try to do the best I could and to improve myself," answered Bessie; "but I did not think about gaining the prize. I know I couldn't."
"Catch Bess not doing her level best for conscience' sake, prizes, or no prizes," said Fred. "Oh, I say, Bess, you are going to begin your music lessons at Easter, are you not?"
The color flushed all over Bessie's face and neck as she answered, after a moment's hesitation, "No, I am not, Fred; and no questions asked."
"'No questions asked,'" repeated Fred, laughing, "but that is rather hard on our curiosity, when you have been so wild for music lessons for the last year or more. What have you been doing that they are forfeited, for I know papa promised them to you after Easter?"
"I told you no questions asked," repeated Bessie, in a slightly irritated tone, and looking very much disturbed.
"Hallo!" said the astonished Fred, taking these for the signs of guilt. "Hallo! our pattern Bess has never been doing anything wrong, has she? And so very wrong that—ouch! Hal, what was that for? I'll thank you not to be kicking me that way under the table!"
For Harry had given him a by no means gentle reminder of that nature; and now his father, too, came to the rescue.
"Let your sister alone, Fred," he said. "I can tell you that she has done nothing wrong. She and I have a little understanding on this matter; but she has forgotten that there is no necessity for doing without the music lessons, and she is, I assure you, to have them. But, as Bessie says, 'no questions asked.' We will drop the subject."
Bessie's soft eyes opened wide, as she gazed at her father in pleased surprise. Although the money which had been devoted by her to Lena's relief had not come through him, it actually had not occurred to her until this moment that she would not be called upon to give up the music lessons. She had made the sacrifice freely for Lena's sake, and had had no thought of evading its fulfilment, even after circumstances had turned out so differently from anything that she had expected.
She flashed a grateful, appreciative glance at her father from out of the depths of those loving eyes, but said nothing; and, as Mr. Bradford had decreed, the subject was changed. The father and his little daughter understood one another.
Mr. Bradford did not, however, tell Bessie that he had never intended that she should be obliged to carry out her sacrifice; she had offered it unselfishly, and in good faith, and he would let her have the satisfaction of feeling that she had been willing to do this for her little friend.
Bessie was not sure whether or no she was in haste to see Lena and hear from her of the providential gift she had received. She was so little accustomed to conceal her feelings, to evasion, or to affectation of an ignorance which did not exist, that she did not know how she was to maintain an appearance of innocence when Lena should tell her that which she would doubtless believe to be surprising news; and more and more confirmed became her resolution "never, never, never to have another secret" which she could not share with her mother and Maggie.
But when she did see Lena—which was not until the latter had sent for her to come to her—all difficulty on that score was removed, for the news which her friend had to communicate to her was really so extraordinary and unlocked for that she did not need to affect surprise, or to feel embarrassed over her own share in the events Lena had to relate. And the possibility of Bessie being the donor of that sum of money never occurred to Lena. Perhaps she would have been glad to know it, for Lena was a proud child, with a very independent spirit, and in spite of the immense relief it was to her to be able to free Percy from the difficulties in which he had involved himself, there had been an uncomfortable feeling back of that from the sense of obligation to some unknown person. Who could have sent her that money? Who could have been aware of her extreme need of it?