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The Making of Mona
by Mabel Quiller-Couch
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Millie picked up a newspaper, and pretended to read it, but over the top of it she was watching Mona all the time. She loved teasing, and she thought she had power to make younger girls do just as she wished. But Mona stood leaning against the dressers, showing no sign of giving in.

Millie grew impatient. "Wake up, can't you!" she cried, and, picking up a cushion from an armchair beside her, she threw it across the room at Mona. "I want my tea!"

The cushion flew past Mona without touching her, but it fell full crash against the china on the dressers behind her. Mona screamed, and tried to catch what she could of the falling things. Cups, plate, jugs came rolling down on the top of those below. What could one pair of small hands do to save them!

The set, a tea-set, and her grandmother's most treasured possession, had been kept for a hundred years without a chip or a crack. It had been her grandmother's and her great-grandmother's before that.

Mona, white to the lips, and trembling, stood like an image of despair. Her hands were cut, but she did not notice that. Millie was pale, too, and really frightened, though she tried to brazen it out. "Now there'll be a fine old row, and you will be in it, Mona Carne. It was all your fault, you know."

But Mona felt no fear for herself yet. She could think of nothing but her grandmother's grief when she learned of the calamity which had befallen her. Somebody had to break the news to her, too, and that somebody would have to be herself. Mona leaned her elbows on the dressers amongst the broken china and, burying her face in her hands, burst into a torrent of tears.

Millie spoke to her once or twice, but Mona could not reply. "Well, if she won't open her lips, I might as well go," thought Millie, and, creeping out of the front door, she hurried away down the hill, only too delighted to have got away so easily.

Mona heard her go, but made no effort to stop her. She felt too utterly miserable even to reproach her.

Presently other footsteps came to the door, followed by a gentle knocking. Mona, in consternation, straightened herself and wiped her eyes. "Who can it be? I can't go to the door like this!" Her face was crimson, and her eyes were nearly closed, they were so swelled.

The knock was repeated. "Mona, may I come in?" It was Patty Row's voice. Mona was fond of Patty, and she had begun to long for sympathy and advice.

"Cub id," she called out as well as she could. "Cub id, Paddy." Patty opened the door. "What a dreadful cold you've got," she said, sympathetically. "I've just seen your grandmother, and she asked me to tell you she's having tea with Lucy." Mona turned and faced her.

"Why!—Why! Mona! Oh, my! Whatever is the matter?"

Mona's tears began again, nearly preventing her explanation. "Millie Higgins came in, and—and got teasing me, and—and——"

"I've just seen her hurrying home," cried Patty. "I thought she came out from here. What has she done, Mona? She's always bullying somebody."

"She—she threw the cushion at me, 'cause—'cause I didn't get her some tea, and—oh, Patty, what shall I do?—just look at what she has done. That tea-set was more than a hundred years old, and—and granny thinks the world of it—and I've got to tell her." Mona's voice rose to a pitiful wail. "Oh, my. I wish—I wish I was dead. I wish——"

"That'd only be another great trouble for her to bear," said wise little Patty, soberly. "Millie ought to tell her, of course. It's her doing. P'raps that is where she has gone."

Mona shook her head. She had no hope of Millie's doing that.

"Well," said Patty, in her determined little way, "if she doesn't it shan't be for want of being told that she ought to."

"She'll never do it," said Mona, hopelessly. "I'll have to bear the blame. I can't sneak on Millie, and—and so granny'll always think I did it."

Patty pursed up her pretty lips. "Will she?" she thought to herself. "She won't if I can help it," but she did not say so aloud. "Let's sort it out, and see how much really is broken," she said, lifting off the fatal cushion. "P'raps it isn't as bad as it looks."

Mona shook her head despondently. "It sounded as if every bit was smashed. There's one cup in half, and a plate with a piece out—no, those jugs were common ones, they don't matter so much," as Patty picked up a couple, one with its handle off, the other all in pieces. "Here's a cup without any handle—oh, poor granny, it'll break her heart, and—and she'll never forgive me. I don't see how she can. Oh, Patty! Did anybody in all the world ever have such a trouble before?"

"I shouldn't be surprised," said Patty. "There, that's the lot, Mona. It's bad enough, but not so bad as it seemed at first. There's two cups, a plate, and a saucer of the set broken. Two jugs, a basin, and a plate of the common things."

She put the broken bits of the tea-set on the table, and began to arrange what was left on the dressers, so as to conceal the painful gaps. "There, it doesn't look so dreadful now. What had we better do next, Mona?"

Mona turned away and dropped into granny's big chair. "I—I've got to tell her, that's what I'd better do next!" she cried. She flung her arms out on the table, and buried her face in them, sobbing aloud in her misery.

Patty, alarmed at her grief, went over and put her arms around her shaking shoulders. "Mona!—Mona, dear, don't cry so. You'll be ill. I'll go and tell Mrs. Barnes about it, and—and I'll tell her it wasn't your fault."

A slight sound made them both look towards the door—and they saw that there was no longer any need for anyone to break the news. Granny Barnes knew it already.

For what seemed to the two girls minutes and minutes, no one uttered a word. Granny with wide eyes and stricken face, stood staring at her broken treasures, and the two girls stared at granny. All three faces were tragic. At last she came slowly forward, and took up one of the broken pieces. Her poor old hands were shaking uncontrollably.

Mona sprang to her, and flung her arms about her. "Oh, granny, granny, what can I do? It—was an accident—I mean, I couldn't help it. Oh, I'd sooner anything had happened to me than to your tea-set."

Patty Row slipped out of the house, and gently closed the door behind her. She had meant to stay and speak up for Mona, but something told her that there would be no need for that.

Poor Mrs. Barnes dropped heavily into her seat. "I wouldn't then, dear. There's worse disasters than—than broken china."

Mona's sobs ceased abruptly. She was so astonished at her grandmother's manner of taking her trouble, she could scarcely believe her senses. "But I—I thought you prized it so, granny—above everything?"

"So I did," said granny, pathetically. "I think I prized it too much, but when you get old, child, and—and the end of life's journey is in sight, you—you—well, somehow, these things don't seem to matter so much. 'Tis you will be the loser, dearie. When I'm gone the things will be yours. I've had a good many years with my old treasures for company, so I can't complain."

Mona stood looking at her grandmother with a dawning fear on her face. "Granny, you ain't ill, are you? You don't feel bad, do you?"

Mrs. Barnes shook her head. "No, I ain't ill, only a bit tired. It's just that the things that used to matter don't seem to, now, and those that—that, well, those that did seem to me to come second, they matter most—they seem to be the only ones that matter at all."

Patty Row had done well to go away and leave the two alone just then. Granny, with a new sense of peace resting on her, which even the loss of her cherished treasures could not disturb, and Mona, with a strange seriousness, a foreboding of coming trouble on her, which awakened her heart to a new sympathy.

"Why, child, how you must have cried to swell your eyes up like that." Granny, rousing herself at last out of a day-dream, for the first time noticed poor Mona's face. "Isn't your head aching?"

"Oh, dreadfully," sighed Mona, realizing for the first time how acute the pain was.

"Didn't I see Patty here when I came in? Where has she gone?"

"I don't know."

"Patty didn't break the things, did she?"

"Oh, no."

"Did she tell you what she came about?"

"To tell me you were having tea with mother."

"But there was more than that. She came to ask if you'd go to Sunday School with her on Sunday. Her teacher told her to ask you. You used to go, didn't you? Why have you given it up?"

Mona nodded, but she coloured a little. "I thought the girls—all knew about—about my running away."

"I don't think they do—but I don't see that that matters. You'd like to go again, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, I'd like to go with Patty. Miss Lester's her teacher, and they've got a library belonging to their class. You can have a book every week to bring home." Mona's face grew quite bright, but a faint shadow had crept over granny's.

"You read a lot, Mona. So many stories and things ain't good for you. Do you ever read your Bible?"

Mona looked surprised. "N—no. I haven't got it here. It's up at Lucy's."

Mrs. Barnes groaned. "Oh, child, to think of our not having a Bible in the house between us!"

"There's the Fam'ly Bible back there," said Mona, quickly, feeling suddenly that a house without a Bible in it was not safe.

"Yes—but it's never opened, not even to look at the pictures. If you had one in every room in the house you wouldn't be any the better for it if you never read them, and—and acted 'pon what you're taught there."

"But if you can't see to read," said Mona, trying to find excuses, "what's the good of your having a Bible?"

"But you can see, and can read too, and I could till lately, and, anyway, you can read to me, and that's what I ought to have got you to do. I feel I haven't done my duty by you, child."

Mona threw up her head. "I don't s'pose we're any worse than some that read their Bibles every day," she said, complacently. She had often heard others say that, and thought it rather fine.

"That's not for you or me to say," retorted granny sternly. "That's the excuse folks always bring out when they ain't ashamed of themselves, but ought to be. If we ain't any worse, we ain't any better, and until we are we've no right to speak of others; and if we are—why, we shouldn't think of doing so. Most folks, though, who say that, do think themselves a deal better than others, though they don't say so in as many words."

Mona stood staring into the fire, thinking matters over. She was very apt to take things to herself, and she was trying to assure herself that she never did think herself better than others—not better even than Millie Higgins. But she was not very well satisfied with the result.

Granny's voice died away, the sun went down, and the room began to grow dim. Two lumps of coal fell together, and, bursting into a blaze, roused Mona from her reverie. She turned quickly, and found her grandmother gazing at the two halves of the broken tea-cup which she held in her hands. In the light of the fire tears glistened on her cheeks.

Mona felt a sudden great longing to comfort her, to make life happier for her. "Granny, would you have liked me to have read some of my books to you sometimes?"

"Very much, dearie. I always loved a nice story."

"Oh—why ever didn't you say so before." The words broke from Mona like a cry of reproach. "I didn't know, I never thought—I thought you'd think them silly or—or—something."

"I know—it wasn't your fault. Sometimes I think it'd be better if we asked more of each other, and didn't try to be so independent. It's those that you do most for that you care most for—and miss most when they're gone!" added granny, half under her breath.

Once again Mona was struck by the curious change in granny's tone and manner, and felt a depressing sense of foreboding.

"Would you like me to read to you now, granny? Out of—of the Bible?" She hesitated, as though shy of even speaking the name.

"Yes, dearie, I'd dearly love to hear the 86th Psalm."

Mona hurriedly lifted the big book out from under the mats and odds and ends that were arranged on its side. She had never read aloud from the Bible before, and at any other time her shyness would have almost overcome her. To-day, though, she was possessed with a feeling that in the Bible she would perhaps find something that would rouse and cheer granny, and charm her own fears away, and she was in a hurry to get it and begin.



CHAPTER XI.

Patty found Millie Higgins down on the Quay, where she was shouting and laughing with five or six others who were playing 'Last Touch.' No one would have guessed that she had left two sad and aching hearts and a ruined treasure behind her but half an hour ago.

Patty, with a growing scorn in her eyes, stood by talking to Philippa Luxmore until the game had finished. She meant not to lose sight of Millie until she had had her say. Millie caught sight of Patty, though, and dashed into another game without any pause. She did not know that Patty had come especially to speak to her, but she did not want to have anything to say to Patty—not for a while, at any rate. She would rather wait until the events of the afternoon had been forgotten a little.

Patty guessed, though, what her purpose was, and, after she had waited for another game to end, she went boldly up to her.

"Millie," she said, without any beating about the bush, "I've come to ask you to go and tell Mrs. Barnes that it was you that broke her beautiful tea-set."

Millie coloured, but she only laughed contemptuously. The rest of the little crowd looked on and listened, open-mouthed. "Dear me! Have you really, Miss Poll Pry! Well, now you have asked me you can go home again, and attend to your own affairs. We don't want you here."

Patty took no notice of her rudeness. "Millie," she pleaded, "you will tell? You won't let Mona bear the blame."

"I don't know what you're talking about——"

"Oh, yes, you do. I saw you come out. I mean, I thought that was where you came from. I was just going in to speak to Mona myself, and I found her——"

"Mona Carne's a sneak."

"No, she isn't."

"Well, she needn't tell her grandmother that she knows anything about it. It might have been the wind blew the things over, or a cat. If I was Mona I'd go out to play, and let her come in and find the things."

"Mona couldn't be so mean and underhand. Mrs. Barnes knows about it already, too."

"Then there's no need for me to tell her," retorted Millie, dancing away. "Ta-ta, Patty-preacher."

Patty's patience gave out, she could not hide her disgust any longer.

"Millie Higgins, I knew you were a bully and a coward, but I didn't know how mean a coward you were."

Her voice rang out shrill with indignation, attracting the attention of everyone around. The children stopped their play to stare; two or three people stopped their talk to listen. They looked from Patty to Millie, and back again in shocked surprise. Patty's voice was not so much angry as it was contemptuous, disgusted. Millie could have better borne anger. People would then have thought Patty merely a cross child, and have passed on. Instead of that they looked at her sympathetically, and at Millie askance.

Millie walked away with her head in the air, but she was furious. "I'll pay her out!" she thought. "I'll pay her out yet!" She was so angry she could not get out a retort to Patty. Her words seemed to catch in her throat and choke her.

Patty walked away to the end of the Quay, and leaned out over the railings, looking towards the sea. She was disheartened and angry, and ashamed of herself. She was horribly ashamed of having called out like that to Millie. It was a mean, common thing to do. She felt she wanted to get out of sight, to escape the questions and chatter they would pour into her ears. She would wait where she was until everyone else had gone home. If anyone followed her, they would soon go away again when they found she would not talk to them.

She got behind a tall stack of boxes, and turned her back on everyone. Her face was turned to the sea; her eyes gazed at the heaving waters, and the sun setting behind them, but her thoughts were with Mona.

"How she did cry, poor Mona! I didn't know she cared for her granny so much." Then she wondered what they were doing at that moment, and how Mrs. Barnes was taking her loss. By degrees the sun disappeared altogether, and twilight began to creep over her world. Gradually the sounds of play and laughter and gossiping voices ceased. One by one old folks and young went home.

"I'd better go too," thought Patty, "or mother will be wondering where I am. Oh, dear, there's my bootlace untied again!" Still standing close to the edge of the Quay, she had stooped to tie the lace when, suddenly from behind, she received a blow in the back which sent her completely off her balance. Reeling forward, she grabbed wildly at the rail to try and save herself, but missed it, and with a shriek of terror she fell over the edge and into the water below. With another shriek she disappeared, and the water closed over her.

Whence the blow came, or how, she had not time to think. It seemed to her as though the sky had fallen and struck her. She did not hear another cry which broke from someone's throat as her body disappeared, nor hear or see Millie Higgins running as though the police were already after her.

Millie's first instinct was to get as far from the scene as possible. No one must know that she had been anywhere near the fatal spot. Then, fortunately, better and less selfish thoughts came to her. Patty was there alone in the deep cold water, in the dimness, fighting for her life. If help did not come to her quickly she would die—and who was there to help but herself?

"Patty!" she called. "Patty! Where are you?" Her voice rose high and shrill with terror. "Oh, Patty, do speak!"

Then up through the water came a small, dark head and white face, and then, to Millie's intense relief, a pair of waving arms.

She was not dead, and she was conscious. "Oh, thank God!" moaned Millie, and for perhaps the first time in her life she really thanked Him, and sent up a real prayer from the depths of her heart.

"Patty," she called, "swim towards me. I'll help you."

Poor Patty heard her, but as one speaking in a dream, for her senses were fast leaving her. Summoning up all the strength she had, she tried to obey, but she had only made a few strokes when she suddenly dropped her arms and sank again.

With a cry of horror and despair, Millie rushed down and into the water. She could not swim, but she did not think of that now. Nothing else mattered if she could but save Patty. She waded into the water until she could scarcely touch the bottom with her feet. A big wave came rolling in; one so big that it seemed as though it must carry her off her feet, and away to sea.

It came, but it lifted her back quite close to the steps, and it brought poor little unconscious Patty almost close to her feet.

Millie reached out and grabbed her by her hair and her skirt, and gripped her tight, but it was not easy. Patty was a dead weight, and she had to keep her own foothold or both would have been carried away as the wave receded. Millie felt desperate. She could not raise Patty, heavy as she was in her water-soaked clothes, and Patty, still unconscious, could not help herself.

Fortunately, at that moment, Peter Carne came rowing leisurely homewards, and in his boat with him was Patty Row's father.

Millie caught sight of them, and a great sob of relief broke from her. She shouted and shouted at the top of her voice, and, clinging to Patty with one hand, she waved the other frantically. "Would they see? Would they see?" She screamed until she felt she had cracked her throat. "Oh, what a noise the sea made!" she thought frantically, "how could anyone's voice get above it."

They heard or caught sight of her at last. Her straining eyes saw the boat heading for them. She saw Patty's father spring up and wave to them, then seize another pair of oars, and pull till the lumbering great boat seemed to skim the waves. Then strong arms gripped them and lifted them into safety, and a moment or two later they were on the Quay once more, and hurrying homewards.

Before she had been in her father's arms for many minutes Patty opened her big blue eyes, and looked about her wonderingly.

"Where—am—I?" she asked, through her chattering teeth.

"You're in your old dad's arms now," said her father, brokenly, but with an attempt at a smile, "but you'll be rolled up in blankets in a few minutes, and popped into bed. It's where you have been that matters most. How did you come to be taking a dip at this time, little maid, and with your boots on too?"

"I fell in," whispered Patty, and closed her eyes again as the tiresome faintness crept over her.

"It was my fault," sobbed Millie, thoroughly subdued and softened, and slightly hysterical too. "I—I didn't mean to push her into the water——"

"It was an accident," said Patty, coming back out of her dreaminess. "I was stooping down—and overbalanced—that was all. I was tying up my boot-lace." And as she insisted on this, and would say nothing more, everyone decided that there was nothing more to say; and, as she had received no real injury, and was soon out and about again, the matter was gradually forgotten—by all, at least, but the two actors in what might have been an awful tragedy.

Patty received no real injury, but it was a very white and tired little Patty who called on Mona on the following Sunday to go with her to Sunday School.

Mona, having a shrewd suspicion that Patty could have told much more if she had chosen, was longing to ask questions, but Patty was not encouraging.

"Did you think you were really going to die?" she asked.

"Yes," said Patty, simply.

"What did it feel like? Were you——"

"I can't tell you." Patty's voice was very grave. "Don't ask me, Mona. It's—it's too solemn to talk about."

When they reached the school-yard gate, Millie Higgins came towards them. "Then you're able to come, Patty! I'm so glad." There was real feeling in Millie's words. Her voice was full of an enormous relief. Mona was astonished. She herself did not look at Millie or speak to her. She had not forgiven her for that afternoon's work, and she more than suspected her of being the cause of Patty's accident.

As Millie did not move away, Mona strolled across with Patty still clinging to her arm, to where a group of girls stood talking together. Millie Higgins, with a rush of colour to her face, turned away and joined another group, but the group apparently did not see her, for none of them spoke to her, and Millie very soon moved away again to where two girls stood together, but as she approached the two they hastily linked arms and, turning their back on her, walked into the schoolroom. Mona noticed both incidents, and, beginning to suspect something, kept both eyes and ears open. Her suspicions were soon confirmed.

"I believe that all the girls are giving Millie the cold shoulder," she whispered at last in Patty's ear. "They must have planned it all before. You just watch for a few minutes. She has been up to ever so many, and then, as soon as they notice her, they move away. I wonder what's the meaning of it? Millie notices it herself. You just look at her. She's as uncomfortable as she can be."

Patty raised her head sharply, and followed the direction of Mona's eyes. Millie was just joining on to a group of four or five. Patty saw a glance exchanged, and two girls turned on their heels at once; then another, and another, until Millie, with scared face and eyes full of shame and pain, stood alone once more. She looked ready to cry with mortification.

Patty, her face rosy with indignation, called across the yard to her; her clear voice raised so that all should hear. "Millie, will you come for a walk when we come out of school this afternoon?" Then going over and thrusting her arm through Millie's, she led her back to where Mona was still standing.

"Mona is going, too, ain't you, Mona? I don't know, though, if we shall have much time for a walk; we're going to the Library to choose a book each. Which do you think Mona would like?"

But Millie could not answer. The unkindness she had met with that morning and the kindness had stabbed deep; so deep that her eyes were full of tears, and her throat choked with sobs. Mona, looking up, saw it, and all her resentment against her faded.

"I wish you'd come, too, Millie, and help us choose," she said. "You read so much, you know which are the nicest."

"All right," said Millie, in a choked kind of voice. "I'd love to." And then the doors opened, and they all trooped into their places.

When they came out from the morning service each went home with her own people. Patty, looking fragile and pale, was helped along by her father. Mona joined her father and grandmother. She was quiet, and had very little to say.

"Did you like your class?" asked granny. She was a little puzzled by Mona's manner. She had expected her to be full of excitement.

"Yes, I liked it very much," but she did not add anything more then. It was not until evening, when they were sitting together in the firelight, that she opened her heart on the subject. "I wish I'd known our teacher all my life," she said, with a sigh.

"Why, dearie?"

"Oh—I don't know—gran—but she makes you see things, and she makes you feel so—so—well as if you do want to be good, and yet you feel you want to cry."

"Try and tell me what she said," said granny. "Perhaps 'twould help an old body, too."

But Mona could not do that, nor could she put her feelings into words very well. "I'll read to you instead, if you'd like me to, granny."

When Millie Higgins had come out of church she had walked rapidly homewards by herself. Patty and her father had gone on. Mona was with her father and grandmother, and Millie felt that she could not face Mrs. Barnes just then. She was fighting a big fight with herself, and she had not won yet. But in the afternoon, when they came out of the school library, the two walked together. They took Patty home, because she was too tired to do any more that day. Then Mona and Millie hesitated, looking at each other. "I must go home, too," said Mona. "I thought I'd have been able to go for a walk, but it's too late. Granny'll be expecting me."

Millie looked at her without speaking, half turned to leave her, hesitated, and finally walked on at Mona's side. She seemed nervous and embarrassed, but Mona did not notice it. She did not realize anything of the struggle going on in Millie's mind. She was too much occupied in glancing at the pictures in her book, and reading a sentence here and there.

"I'm longing to begin it. I think granny'll like it too."

Millie did not answer, and they walked the rest of the way in silence. When they reached the house Mona stood for a moment without opening the door. She was somewhat troubled in her mind as to what to do. She did not want to ask Millie in, yet she was afraid of hurting her feelings by not doing so. Millie stood, and did not say good-bye. Her cheeks were flushed, and she was evidently very nervous.

"May I come in?" she asked at last. "Yes, do come inside." Mona was a little surprised at Millie's daring, and not too well pleased, but she tried to speak cordially. Opening the door, she went in first. "Granny, here's Millie Higgins come to see you. She's been to school with Patty and me, and we've walked back together!"

Mrs. Barnes was sitting in her chair by the fire. "Well, Millie," she said kindly. "It's a long time since I've seen you. Sit down." Whether she suspected the truth neither of the girls could make out. Millie grew even redder in the cheeks, and looked profoundly uncomfortable.

"I—I've come to say—" she burst out in a jerky, nervous fashion, "I—I came here on Wednesday—when you were out, and I—behaved badly—" She hesitated, broke down, looked at the door as though she would have dashed out through it, had it only been open, then in one rush poured out the words that had been repeating and repeating themselves in her brain all that day.

"I'm very sorry I broke your beautiful set, Mrs. Barnes. I'm—ever so sorry, I—don't know what to do about it——"

Mona, guided by some sense of how she would have felt under the circumstances, had disappeared on the pretence of filling a kettle. She knew how much harder it is to make a confession if others are looking on and listening.

"Oh!" said Mrs. Barnes, gravely, "was it you that broke my china? I didn't know."

Millie stared with astonishment. "Didn't—Mona tell you?" she gasped, quite taken aback. She could scarcely believe her own ears. Granny Barnes shook her head. "No, I didn't know but what she did it herself. I believe little Patty did say that she didn't, but I was too upset to take in what was said. My precious tea-set was broken, and it didn't seem to me to matter who did it."

Millie was silent for a moment or so. "Well, I did it," she said at last. "I threw a cushion at Mona, and it hit the china behind her! I've felt dreadful about it ever since, and I—I didn't dare to come near you. I don't know what to do about it, Mrs. Barnes. Can it be mended?" she added, colouring hotly again. "I—I mean I've got some money in the bank. I'll gladly pay for it to be mended, if it can be."

"I don't know, Millie. Perhaps one or two bits can—but nothing can ever make the set perfect again." Mrs. Barnes' voice quavered, and tears came into her eyes. "But I wouldn't let you pay for it. We won't talk any more about it—I can't. P'raps I set too much store by the things." She got up from her seat, and stood, leaning heavily on the table. "It's all right, Millie. I'm very glad you came and told me you did it. Yes, I'm very glad of that. Now we'll try and forget all about it."

Millie burst into tears, and moved away towards the door.

"Stay and have some tea with Mona and me," Granny urged, hospitably. "Don't run away, Millie."

But Millie felt that she must go. She wanted to be alone. "I—I think I'd rather not—not now, thank you. I'll come—another day, if you will ask me." Then she hurried out, and up the hill, thankful that it was tea-time, and that nearly everyone was indoors. She quickly turned off the main road into a little frequented narrow lane, and by way of that to the wide stretch of wild land which crowned the top of the hill. She wanted to be alone, and free, to fight out her battle alone.

"If I'd known Mona hadn't told—" The mean thought would try to take root in her mind, but she weeded it out and trampled on it. In her heart she was profoundly impressed by Mona's conduct, and she was glad, devoutly glad, that she had not been less honourable and courageous. She could face people now, and not feel a sneak or a coward.

In all her life after Millie never forgot her walk on that sunny summer evening. The charm and beauty, the singing of the birds, the scent of the furze and the heather, the peace of it, after the storms she had lived through lately, sank deep into her soul.

Her wickedness of the past week had frightened her. "I felt I didn't care what I did, I was so wild with Mona. I wonder I didn't do more harm than I did. And then Patty, poor little Patty. I nearly drowned her! Oh-h-h!" She buried her face and shuddered at the remembrance. "I knew she'd fall into the water if I pushed her, so it was as bad as being a murderer. If she had died—and she nearly did—I should have been one, and I should have been in jail now, and—oh, I will try to be good, I will try to be better!"

Long shadows were falling across the road as she went down the hill, on her homeward way. The flowers in Lucy Carne's garden were giving out their evening scent. Lucy, standing enjoying them, looked up as Millie came along, and nodded.

"Wouldn't you like a flower to wear?" she asked.

Millie paused. "I'd love one," she said, looking in over the low stone wall. "I never smell any so sweet as yours, Mrs. Carne."

Lucy gathered her a spray of pink roses, and some white jessamine. "There," she said, "fasten those in your blouse. Isn't the scent beautiful? I don't think one could do anything bad, or think anything bad, with flowers like those under one's eyes and nose, do you?"

"Don't you?" questioned Millie, doubtfully. "I don't believe anything would keep me good."

Lucy looked at her in faint surprise. It was not like Millie to speak with so much feeling. "You don't expect me to believe that," she began, half laughing; then stopped, for there were still traces of tears about Millie's eyes, and a tremulousness about her lips, and Lucy knew that she was really in need of help.

"I know that you've got more courage than most of us, Millie," she added gently. "If you would only use it in the right way. Perhaps my little flowers will remind you to."

"I hope they will. I wish they would," said Millie, fastening them in her coat. "Goodbye."

Before she reached her own home Millie saw her father out at the door looking for her. As a rule, it made her angry to be watched for in this way, "Setting all the neighbours talking," as she put it. But to-day her conscience really pricked her, and she was prepared to be amiable. Her father, though, was not prepared to be amiable. He had got a headache, and he wanted his tea. He had been wanting it for an hour and more.

"Where have you been gallivanting all this time, I'd like to know. I'll be bound you've been a may-gaming somewhere as you didn't ought to on a Sunday, your dooty to me forgotten."

To Millie this sounded unjust and cruel. She had let her duties slip from her for a while, but she had been neither may-gaming nor wasting her time. Indeed, she had been in closer touch with better things and nobler aims than ever in her life before, and in her new mood her father's words jarred and hurt her. An angry retort rose to her lips.

"I haven't been with anybody," she replied sharply. "I've been for a walk by myself, that's all. It's hard if I can't have a few minutes for myself sometimes." But, in putting up her hand to remove her hat, she brushed her flowers roughly, and her angry words died away. In return for a blow they gave out a breath of such sweetness that Millie could not but heed it. "I—I was thinking, and I forgot about tea-time," she added in a gentler voice. "But I won't be long getting it now, father."

While the kettle was coming to the boil she laid the cloth and cut some bread and butter; then she went to the larder and brought out an apple pie. With all her faults, Millie was a good cook, and looked after her father well.

He looked at her preparations approvingly, and his brow cleared. "You're a good maid, Millie," he said, as he helped the pie, while Millie poured out the tea. "I'm sorry I spoke a bit rough just now. I didn't really mean anything. I was only a bit put out."

Millie's heart glowed with pride and pleasure. "That's all right, father," and then she added, almost shyly, "I—I'd no business to—to forget the time, and stay out so long." It was the first time in her life she had admitted she was wrong when her father had been vexed with her and given her a scolding.



CHAPTER XII.

Lucy Carne knocked at Granny Barnes' door, and waited. She had a little nosegay of flowers in her hand and a plate of fresh fish. Almost every day she brought granny something, even if it was only a simple flower, and granny loved her little 'surprises.'

Lucy waited a moment, hearing a voice inside, then she knocked again, and louder.

"I do believe Mona's reading to her again, and they've forgotten their tea!"

Getting no answer even now, Lucy opened the door a little way and popped her head in. "May I come in? I don't know what world you two are living in to-day, but I knocked twice and I couldn't reach you."

Mona carefully placed the marker in her book and closed it, but reluctantly. Miss Lester, her Sunday School teacher, had given her the marker. It was a strip of ribbon with fringed ends, and with her name painted on it, and a spray of white jessamine. Every girl who had joined the library had had one. Some were blue, some red, some white, and the rest orange colour. Mona's was red. She was glad, for she liked red, and the delicate white flower looked lovely on it, she thought. Miss Lester had painted them herself, and the girls prized them beyond anything.

Mona's eyes lingered on hers as she closed the book. It was rather hard to have to leave her heroine just at that point, and set about getting tea. She did wish Lucy had not come for another ten minutes.

Granny looked up with a little rueful smile. "I felt it was tea-time," she said, "but I thought Mona would like to finish out the chapter, and then before we knew what we were doing we had begun another. It's a pretty tale. I wish you had been hearing it too, Lucy. It's called 'Queechy.' A funny sort of a name, to my mind."

"'Queechy'!—why, I read that years ago, and I've read it again since I've been married. I borrowed it from mother when I was so ill that time. Mother had it given to her as a prize by her Bible-class teacher. She thinks the world of it. So do I. I love it."

"I'm longing to get to the end," said Mona, turning over the pages lingeringly. "There's only three chapters more."

"Oh, well, that's enough for another reading or two," said Granny. "They are long chapters. It would be a pity to hurry over them just for the sake of reaching the end. We'll have a nice time to-morrow, dearie. I shall be sorry when it's all done."

But Mona was impatient. "To-morrow! Nobody knows what may happen before to-morrow. Something is sure to come along and prevent anybody's doing what they want to do," she said crossly.

Granny looked at her with grieved eyes. "I think you generally manage to do what you want to, Mona," she said, gravely. "I don't think you can have profited much by what you've read," she added, and turned to Lucy.

Mona laid down her book with a sigh. "It's much easier to read about being good than to be good oneself," she thought.

Lucy came in from the scullery with a vase full of water. "I'll have a few nice flowers for you to take to Miss Lester on Sunday, Mona, if you'll come and fetch them."

"Thank you," said Mona, but she looked and spoke glumly. She was still vexed with Lucy for coming in and interrupting them. She did not know that Lucy came in at meal-times just to make sure that granny had her meals, for Mona thought nothing of being an hour late with them if she was occupied in some other way.

"Don't trouble about it, if you don't care to have them," Lucy added quietly. And Mona felt reproved.

"I'd like to," she said, looking ashamed of herself. "Miss Lester loves having flowers. I'll run up on Saturday evening for them, mother. They'll be better for being in water all night."

"That's right. Now, I'll cook the fish while you lay the cloth. Granny'll be fainting if we don't give her something to eat and drink soon. I should have been down before, but I had to see father off."

"Will he be out all night?" Granny asked, anxiously. She never got over her dread of the sea at night.

"Yes. If they get much of a catch they'll take it in to Baymouth to land. The 'buyers' will be there to-morrow. I'm hoping Peter'll be back in the afternoon. These are fine whiting. You like whiting, don't you, mother?"

"Yes, very much. It's kind of you to bring them. I feel now how badly I was wanting my tea. You'll have some with us?"

"I think I will. I was so busy getting Peter off that I didn't have anything myself."

Mona laid the cloth with extra care. Lucy's vase of stocks stood at one corner. Though it was August, the wind was cold, and the little bit of fire in the grate made the kitchen very pleasant and cosy.

"I've got a bit of news for you, Mona," said Lucy, coming back from putting away the frying-pan. "Mrs. Luxmore told me that Miss Lester is engaged. Had you heard it?"

"Oh, no! What, my Miss Lester? Miss Grace?" Mona was intensely interested. "Oh, I am so glad. Who is she engaged to, mother?"

"Why, Dr. Edwards! Isn't it nice! Doesn't it seem just right?" Lucy was almost as excited as Mona. "I am so glad she isn't going to marry a stranger, and leave Seacombe."

"Can it be true! really true?"

"It's true enough. Mrs. Luxmore told me. Her husband works two days a week at Mrs. Lester's, and Mrs. Lester told him her very own self. So it must be true, mustn't it?"

Mona's thoughts had already flown to the wedding. "We girls in Miss Grace's class ought to give her a wedding present. What would be a nice thing to give her? And, oh, mother!" Mona clapped her hands in a fresh burst of excitement. "I wonder if she will let us all go to the wedding and strew roses in her path as she comes out of the church—"

"It'll depend a good deal on what time of the year the wedding is to be," remarked granny, drily. But Mona's mind was already picturing the scene.

"We ought all to be dressed in white, with white shoes and stockings, and gloves, and some should wear pink round their waists and in their hats, and the rest should have blue, and those that wear pink should throw white roses, and those that wear blue should throw pink roses. Wouldn't it look sweet? I'd rather wear blue, because I've got a blue sash."

A door banged upstairs, and made them all jump. "Why, how the wind is rising!" said Lucy, in a frightened voice. She hurried to the window and looked out anxiously. "Oh, dear! and I was hoping it was going to be pretty still to-night."

"What I'd give if Peter was a ploughman, or a carpenter!" cried granny, almost irritably. "I don't know how you can bear it, Lucy, always to have the fear of the sea dogging you day and night!" Her own face had grown quite white.

"I couldn't bear it," said Lucy quietly, "if I didn't feel that wherever he is God's hand is over him just the same." She came back and stood by the fire, gazing with wistful eyes into its glowing heart.

"But sailors and fishermen do get drowned," urged Mona, putting her fears into words in the hope of getting comfort.

"And ploughmen and carpenters meet with their deaths, too. We've got our work to do, and we can't all choose the safest jobs. Some must take the risks. And no matter what our work is, death'll come to us all one day. Some of us who sit at home, die a hundred deaths thinking of those belonging to us and the risks they are facing."

Then, seeing that granny was really nervous, Lucy led the talk to other things, though, in that little place, with nothing to break the force of the wind, or deaden the noise of the waves, it was not easy to get one's mind away from either. "I don't suppose it is very bad, really," said Lucy, comfortingly. "It always sounds a lot here, but the men laugh at me when I talk of 'the gale' blowing. 'You must wait till you hear the real thing,' they say. But I tell them I have heard the real thing, and it began quietly enough. Now, Mona, you and I will put away the tea things, shall we?"

"You won't go home before you really need to, will you?" asked granny. "It'll be a long and wearying time you'll have alone there, waiting for morning. Oh, I wish it was morning now," she added, almost passionately, "and the night over, and the storm. I do long for rest."

Lucy looked at her anxiously, surprised by the feeling in her voice. "Why, mother! you mustn't worry yourself like that. It's nothing of a wind yet, and it may die down again quite soon. I think it was a mistake letting you come to live on this side of the road, where you feel the wind so much more. If I were you I'd move up nearer to us the first time there's a place to let. You feel just as I do about the storms, and it's only those that do who understand how hard it is to bear."

Granny nodded, but she did not answer. She turned to Mona. "Wouldn't you like to go for a run before bedtime?" she asked. "The air'll do you good, and help you to sleep."

"I didn't want her to get nervous just before bedtime," she confided to Lucy when Mona had gone. "I try not to let her see how nervous I get—but sometimes one can't help but show it."

Mona did not need any urging. Her thoughts were full of Miss Lester's coming marriage and her own plans for it, and ever since she had heard the news she had been longing to go out and spread it and talk it over.

"Patty ought to wear blue, to match her eyes; Millie will be sure to choose pink, she has had such a fancy for pink ever since she had that print frock."

But when she reached the Quay she met with disappointment. There was hardly anyone there but some boys playing 'Prisoners.' Certainly it was not very tempting there that evening, the wind was cold and blustery, and both sea and sky were grey and depressing. Mona was glad to come away into the shelter of the street.

She looked about her for someone to talk to, but, seeing no one, she made her way home again. It was very aggravating having to keep her great ideas bottled up till morning, but it could not be helped. When she reached home again, Lucy was still there, but she had her hat on ready to start.

"I wish you hadn't to go," said Granny Barnes, wistfully. "I wish you could stay here the night."

Lucy looked at her anxiously. "Are you feeling very nervous, mother? Would you rather I stayed? I will if you wish."

"No,—oh, no," granny protested, though she would have liked it above all things. "I wasn't thinking about myself; I was thinking about you, up there all alone."

"Oh, I shall be all right. I am getting used to it. Now you go to bed early, and try to go to sleep, then you won't notice the weather. You are looking dreadfully tired. Good night—good night, Mona."

"I think I'll do as Lucy said," said granny a little while later. "I'm feeling tireder than ever in my life before. If I was in bed now this minute, I believe I could sleep. If I once got off I feel as if I could sleep for ever." And by half-past eight the house was shut up, and they had gone to bed.

Granny, at least, had gone to bed, and had fallen almost at once into a heavy slumber. Mona was more wakeful. The news of her teacher's engagement had excited her, and not having been able to talk it out, her brain was seething with ideas.

She put out her candle, drew back her curtains, and looked out into the gathering darkness. An air of gloom and loneliness reigned over everything. Far out she could see white caps on the waves, but not a boat, or vessel of any kind. The sky looked full and lowering.

With a little shiver Mona drew her curtains again and relighted her candle. As it flickered and burnt up, her eyes fell on the book so reluctantly put aside until to-morrow.

"Oh, I wish I could have just a little read," she thought, longingly. "Just a look to see what happens next."

She took up the book and opened it, glancing over the chapters she had read—then she turned to the one she and granny were going to read to-morrow. Her eyes travelled greedily over a few paragraphs, then she turned the page. Presently she grew tired of standing, and sat on the side of the bed, lost to everything but the pages she was devouring hungrily. The wind blew her curtains about, the rain drove against the panes, but Mona did not heed either. She had drawn herself up on the bed by that time and, leaning up against her pillows, was reading comfortably by the light of the candle close beside her. She was miles away from her real surroundings, and driving with Fleda in England, and no other world existed for her.

Her eyelids growing heavy, she closed them for a moment. She didn't know that she had closed them, and imagined she was still reading. She was very surprised, though, presently, to find that what she thought she had been reading was not on the open pages before her. She rubbed her tiresomely heavy lids and looked again; then she raised herself on her elbow and began again at the top of the mysterious page, and all went well for a paragraph or two. Fleda was walking now alone, through a grassy glade. Oh, how lovely it was—but what a long walk to be taking in such a high wind. Mona forced open one eye, and let the other rest a moment. "The trees sometimes swept back, leaving an opening, and at other places," stretched—stretched, yes it was, "stretched their branches over,"—over —but how the wind roared in the trees, and what a pity that someone should have had a bonfire just there, the smell was suffocating—and the heat! How could she bear it! And, oh, dear! How dazzling the sun was— or the bonfire; the whole wood would be on fire if they did not take care! Oh, the suffocating smoke!

Mona—or was she Fleda?—gasped and panted. If relief did—not—come soon—she could not draw—another breath. She felt she was paralysed— helpless—dying—and the wind—so much—air—somewhere—she was trying to say, when suddenly, from very, very far away she heard her own name being called. It sounded like 'Mona'—not Fleda—and—yet, somehow she knew that it was she who was meant.

"Oh—what—do they—want!" she thought wearily. "I can't go. I'm——"

"Mona! Mona!" She heard it again; her own name, and called frantically, and someone was shaking her, and saying something about a fire, and then she seemed to be dragged up bodily and carried away. "Oh, what rest! and how nice to be out of that awful heat—she would have—died—if—if—" Then she felt the cold air blowing on her face, the dreadful dragging pain in her chest was gone, she could breathe! She opened her eyes and looked about her—and for the first time was sure that she was dreaming.

The other was real enough, but this could only be a dream, for she was lying on the pavement in the street, in the middle of the night, with people standing all about staring down at her. They were people she knew, she thought, yet they all looked so funny. Someone was kneeling beside her, but in a strange red glow which seemed to light up the darkness, she could not recognise the face. Her eyelids fell, in spite of herself, but she managed to open them again very soon, and this time she saw the black sky high above her; rain fell on her face. The red glow went up and down; sometimes it was brilliant, sometimes it almost disappeared, and all the time there was a strange crackling, hissing noise going on, and a horrible smell.

By degrees she felt a little less dazed and helpless. She tried to put out her hands to raise herself, but she could not move them. They were fastened to her sides. She saw then that she was wrapped in a blanket.

"What—ever—has happened!" she asked sharply.

"There has been an accident—a fire. Your house is on fire—didn't you know?"

"Fire!—our house—on fire!" Mona sat upright, and looked about her in a bewildered way. Could it be that she was having those dreadful things said to her. She had often wondered how people felt, what they thought— what they did, when they had suddenly to face so dreadful a thing.

"Where's granny?" she asked abruptly—almost violently.

There was a moment's silence. Then Patty Row's mother said in a breathless, hesitating way, "Nobody—no one knows yet, Mona. Nor how the house was set on fire," she added, hastily, as though anxious to give Mona something else to think of. "Some say the wind must have blown down the kitchen chimney and scattered some red-hot coals about the floor."

"But 'twas the top part of the house that was burning first along," broke in old Tom Harris. "Mrs. Carne saw smoke and fire coming through the bedroom windows and the roof."

"The top part!—where granny was sleeping!" Mona threw open the blanket and struggled to her feet. "Oh, do stop talking, and tell me—hasn't anyone found granny?" Her question ended almost in a scream.

"They—they're getting her——" said somebody. The rest preserved an ominous silence.

"There's a chain of men handing up buckets of water through the back garden," said someone else, as though trying to distract her thoughts. "They'll soon get the fiercest of the fire down."

"But—but think of granny. We can't wait for that. She's in the fire all this time. She was in bed. Hasn't anyone been to her? Oh, they must have. They can't have left her—an old woman—to save herself!"

Mona was beside herself with the horror of the thing.

"They tried," said Mrs. Row, gently, "but they were beaten back. Mrs. Carne tried until she was—There! She's gone—Mona's gone!" Her explanation ended in a scream. "Oh, stop her—somebody, do, she'll be killed."

"It'd have been sensibler to have told her the truth at once," said Tom Harris, impatiently. "She's got to know, poor maid. Now we shall have another life thrown away, more than likely, and Mrs. Carne with a broken leg, and nobody knows what other damage."

Slipping through the crowd in the darkness, Mona, in a perfect frenzy of fear, dashed into the house. All she was conscious of was hot anger against all those who stood about talking and looking on and doing nothing, while granny lay helpless in her bed suffocating, perhaps burning; were they mad!—did they want granny to die?—didn't they care, that no one made any attempt to save her. Through the semi-darkness, the haze of smoke and steam, she heard people, and voices, but she could not see anyone. The heat was fearful, and the smell of burning made her feel sick.

She groped her way stumblingly through the kitchen. The furniture seemed to her to be scattered about as though on purpose to hinder her, but she kept along by the dressers as well as she could. They would be a guide, she thought. "Poor tea-set! There will be little of it left now." Her fingers touched something soft. Lucy's stocks, still in the vase. At last she found herself at the foot of the staircase. The door was closed. Someone had wisely shut it to check the rush of air up it. After a struggle, Mona managed to open it again, and fell back before the overpowering heat and the smoke which choked and blinded her. She clapped her hand over her nose and mouth, and crouching down, dragged herself a little way up, lying almost flat on her face, she was so desperate now with the horror of it all, beside herself. Ahead of her was what looked like a blazing furnace. All around her was an awful roaring, the noise of burning, broken into every now and again by a crash, after which the red light blazed out brighter, and the roaring redoubled.

How could anyone live in such a furnace. An awful cry of despair broke from her parched throat. "Granny!" she screamed. "Oh, granny! Where are you? I can't reach—" Another crash, and a blazing beam fell across the head of the burning staircase.

"Granny! Oh, God save my——" But before she could finish she was seized by strong arms and lifted up, and then darkness fell on her brain, and she knew no more.



CHAPTER XIII.

When poor Lucy Carne next opened her eyes and came back with a sigh to the horrors and suffering of which she had for a time been mercifully unconscious, her first thought was for her husband.

"Has the boat come in? Did the storm die down?—or did it get worse? Has anyone heard or seen anything of my husband?" She panted feebly. But before they could answer her, she had floated off again into a troubled delirium.

"Oh, the wind! Oh, the awful wind!" she kept on repeating. "Oh, can't anything stop it! It's fanning the flames to fury; it's blowing them towards granny's room. Oh, the noise—I must find her—I must save her— she's so feeble. Oh, granny! Granny!" Her voice would end in a scream, followed by a burst of tears; then she would begin again.

Once or twice she had recovered consciousness, and then had asked for her husband or Mona. "Is she badly hurt?—will she get over it?"

The nurse soothed and comforted her, and did all she could. "She isn't conscious yet, but they think she will be soon. She's got slight concussion, and she has cut herself a bit—but she will do all right if she gets over the shock. They are keeping her very quiet; it is the only way. You must try not to scream and call out, dear. For if she began to come round and heard you, it might be very, very serious for her."

After that Lucy lay trying hard to keep fast hold of her senses. "Don't let me scream!" she pleaded. "Put something over my head if I begin. I can keep myself quiet as long as I have my senses—but when they drift away—I—don't know what I do. I didn't know I made a noise. Oh—h—h!" as some slight movement racked her with pain.

"Poor dear," said Nurse. "I expect you're feeling your bruises now, and your leg."

"I seem to be one big lump of pain," sighed poor Lucy. "But I don't mind if only Mona pulls through, and Peter is safe. Oh, my poor husband—what a home-coming!"

"Now try not to dwell on it. You'll only get yourself worse, and for his sake, poor man, you ought to try and get well as fast as you can. There, look at those flowers Patty Row has brought you. Aren't they sweet!"

"Oh, my!" Lucy drew in deep breaths of their fragrance. "Stocks, and sweet-brier—oh, how lovely! They'll help to take away the—smell of the burning." Then her mind seemed to float away again, but not this time through a raging furnace, but through sweet-scented gardens, and sunlight, and soft pure air.

When she came back to the hospital ward again, Nurse smiled at her with eyes full of pleasure. "I've good news for you," she said, bending low, so that her words might quite reach the poor dazed brain. "Your husband is safe!"

"Oh, thank God! Thank God!" Her eyes swam in tears of joy. "Does—he know?" she asked a moment later, her face full of anxiety. The thought of his sad home-coming was anguish to her.

Nurse nodded. "Yes, dear, he knows. The Vicar went to Baymouth by the first train and brought him back. He did not want him to have the news blurted out to him without any preparation."

"How very kind! How is he? Peter, I mean. Is he feeling it very badly? Oh, I wish I could be there to help him, to comfort him. He'll be so lonely—and there will be so much to do."

"My dear, he won't want for help. Everyone is ready and anxious to do what they can. Of course, he is upset. He wouldn't be the man he is if he wasn't. It is all a terrible shock to him! But it might have been so much worse. He is so thankful that you and Mona are safe. He doesn't give a single thought to himself."

"He never does," said Lucy, half-smiling, half-weeping. "That's why he needs me to take thought of him. When may I see him, Nurse?"

"That's what he is asking. If you keep very quiet now, and have a nice sleep, perhaps you'll be strong enough for just a peep at him when you wake up."

"I'll lie still, and be very quiet, but I can't promise to sleep." She did sleep, though, in spite of herself, for when next she turned her head to see if the hands of the clock had moved at all, she found her husband sitting beside her, smiling at her.

"Why, however did you get here, dear? I never saw you come—nor heard a sound."

"I reckon I must have growed up out of the floor," said Peter, bending to kiss her. "Well, my girl, this isn't where I expected to see 'ee when I came back—but I'm so thankful to find you at all, I can't think of anything else."

"Oh, my dear, I'm so glad you've come," she cried, clinging to him passionately. "I never thought we should meet again in this world. Oh! Peter—what we've been through! Oh! That night! That awful night!"

He patted her soothingly, holding her hand in his. "I know, I know—but you must try not to dwell on it. If you throw yourself back, I shan't be allowed to come again."

Lucy put a great restraint upon herself. "They've told you:—poor granny is dead?" she whispered, but more calmly.

"Yes—they've told me. I believe I know the worst now. I've one bit of comfort, though, for all of us. I've just seen the doctor, and he says she was dead before the fire reached her. She must have died almost as soon as she lay down."

Then Lucy broke down and wept from sheer relief. "Oh, thank God," she said, fervently, "for taking her to Himself, and sparing her the horrors of that awful night. Thank Him, too, for Mona's sake. The thought that granny perished in the fire because no one reached her in time would have been the worst of all the thoughts weighing on her mind. She will be spared that now."

At that moment, though, Mona was troubled by no thoughts at all. She lay in her bed in the ward just as they had placed her there hours before, absolutely unconscious. If it had not been for the faint beating of her heart she might have been taken for dead. Doctors came and looked at her and went away again, the day nurses went off duty, and the night nurses came on and went off again, but still she showed no sign of life. With her head and her arms swathed in bandages, she lay with her eyes closed, her lips slightly parted. It was not until the following day, the day Granny Barnes was laid to rest in the little churchyard on the hill, that she opened her eyes on this world once more, and glanced about her, dazed and bewildered.

"Where?" she began. But before she had finished her sentence, her eyes closed.

This time, though, it was not unconsciousness, but sleep that she drifted off into, and it was not until afternoon that she opened her eyes once more.

"Where am I?" She completed her question this time. Then, at the sight of a nurse in uniform, a look of alarm crept into her eyes.

"Where are you, dear? Why, here in hospital, being taken care of, and your mother is here, too."

"Mother."

"Yes, and we are looking after you so well! You are both better already."

The cheerful voice and smile, the kindly face, drove all Mona's fears away at once, and for ever. But, as memory returned, other fears took their place.

"Is—mother—hurt?"

"Yes—but, oh, not nearly as badly as she might have been. She will be well again soon. You shall go into the ward with her when you are a little better. You must keep very quiet now, and not talk."

"But—granny—and father?" faltered Mona. "I must know—I can't rest— till—I do."

For a moment the Nurse hesitated. It was very difficult to know what to do for the best. "She will only fret and worry if I don't tell her, and imagine things worse than they are," she thought to herself.

"Your father is home, and safe and well. You shall see him soon. Your poor granny is safe, too, dear, and well. So well, she will never suffer any more."

"They—let her—die——"

"No one let her die, dear. She had died in her sleep before the fire broke out. She was mercifully spared that—and isn't that something to be thankful for, Mona? There, there, don't cry, dear. You mustn't cry, or you will be ill again, and, for your father's and mother's sake, you must try and get well. Your father wants you home to take care of him until your mother can come. Think of him, dear, and how badly he needs you, and try your best to get better. He is longing to come to see you."

Mercifully for Mona, she was too weak to weep much, or even to think, and before very long she had sunk into an exhausted sleep. Mercifully, too, perhaps, in the horror of her awakening, that terrible night, and the distracting hours that followed, it never entered her head that it was she who had brought about the disaster. It was not till later that that dreadful truth came home to her, to be repented of through years of bitter regret.

The next day her father came to see her, and a few days after that she was carried into the adjoining ward and put into the bed next to her mother.

That was a great step forward. For the first time a ray of sunshine penetrated the heavy cloud of sorrow which had overshadowed them all.

"Keep them both as cheerful as possible," the doctor had said, "and don't let them dwell on the tragedy if you can help it." So every day a visitor came to see them—Miss Grace Lester, Mrs. Row, and Patty, Millie Higgins, and Philippa—and as they all brought flowers and fruit, the little ward became a perfect garden, gay with bright colours and sweet scents.

Miss Grace brought a book for Mona, and a soft, warm shawl for Lucy. They were delighted. "And please, Miss," said Lucy, "may I give you my best wishes for your happiness? We heard you were going to be married before so very long."

Grace Lester blushed prettily. "Yes, but not till next spring," she said. "Thank you for your good wishes, Mrs. Carne. It was very sweet of you to remember me through all the troubles you have been through lately. I am so glad my new home will be in Seacombe, where I know and love everyone. I should have been very grieved if I had had to leave it. Mona, what are you thinking about, to make you look so excited? You know the doctor ordered you to keep calm! I don't know what he would say if he saw you now. He would blame me for exciting you, and I should never be allowed to come again."

"Oh, Miss Grace, I am calm—I really am. I won't be excited, I won't be ill, but, oh, I must tell you—I thought of something as soon as ever I heard there was to be a wedding—and oh, I wish you would—I am sure it would be lovely. We want—all your Sunday School girls, I mean, Miss Grace—to be allowed to come and strew flowers in your path as you come out of church, and we'd all be dressed in white, and—and some would have pink, and some blue in their hats, and—Oh, Miss Grace, do please think about it and try and say 'Yes!'"

Grace Lester's eyes were misty with happy tears by the time Mona had done. "Why, you nice, kind children," she cried, "to have such plans for making my wedding day beautiful and happy! I had not thought of anything so charming."

For a few moments she sat silent, thinking deeply, and Mona lay back on her pillow watching her face. "Would she consent—Oh, would she? It would almost be too lovely, though," she concluded. "It could not really come true."

"Mona," said Miss Grace at last. "Do you know what I thought you might be going to ask?"

Mona shook her head, her eyes were full of questioning.

"I thought, perhaps, you were going to ask if you might come and be my little housemaid in my new home!"

"Oh—h—h!" Mona and her mother both exclaimed aloud and in the same tone of delight. "Oh, Miss Grace!" Mona sprang up in her bed and clapped her hands, bandages and all. "Oh, Miss Grace! do you really mean it? That would be better than anything, because that would be for always. Oh, mother," turning to Lucy, her face radiant, "wouldn't that be lovely!"

"Lovely," said Lucy, her eyes full of deep pleasure. "I wouldn't ask for anything better for you, Mona. I think—I know, it'll be the best that can possibly happen."

"How very nice of you, Mrs. Carne." Grace Lester pressed Lucy's hand. "You make me feel—very, very proud—but—well, I will try to do my best for her. Good-bye. I must not stay any longer now, or Nurse will be coming to scold me, but," with a smile, "I must just stay long enough to say I engage Mona now to come to me in April. We will talk about wages and uniform, and all those things later on, when you are both stronger, and I have had time to think. Now, good-bye—and Mona, don't keep your mother awake, or I shall be in everyone's bad books."

"Oh, I'm as excited as she is, I think," said Lucy, smiling up at Mona's future mistress, "and it will be a real pleasure to me to teach her and get her as ready as I can—and I can't tell you, Miss, how pleased her father'll be that she is going where she will be so happy and well looked after."

Grace Lester clasped Lucy's hand again. "It will be a great pleasure to me to have her," she said warmly, "and, trained by you, I know she will be a comfort to any mistress."

With this new interest to lift her thoughts from her troubles, Mona regained health so rapidly that she was able to leave the hospital sooner than anyone had dared to hope. Poor Lucy, who had to stay there some weeks longer, watched her departure with tearful eyes. "I shall feel lonely without you, dear," she said, "but for your own sake, and father's, I am glad you are going home. You will look after him, won't you, and see to his comforts—and I'll be back in about three weeks, they say, though I'll have to go about on crutches for a bit."

"Oh, yes, I'll look after father. Don't you worry, mother, I'll see to things," Mona reassured her.

"I expect you will find the house in a pretty mess, and the garden too. When I ran out that night, I little thought I wouldn't be back for nigh on two months. It's a lesson to one to be always prepared."

"Don't you worry, mother, we'll soon get it all straight again. I am sure your place was tidier than any other in Seacombe would be, left in a hurry like that, and in the middle of the night."

"But, Mona, you mustn't do too much." Lucy's anxieties took a new direction. She knew how Mona could, and would work, when she was in the mood to. "Don't be doing too much and making yourself ill. That would trouble me ever so much more than having the house untidy. You leave it all till I come home. When I am able to move about again I'll soon get things nice."

Mona nodded, with a laugh in her eyes. "Why, of course, everything will be scrubbed inside and out, top and bottom, when you get home to do it, mother." But in her mind she added, "if you can find anything needing it."

Then she kissed her 'good-bye,' promising to come again soon. "And I'll take her a few flowers out of her own garden," she thought. "She will love that better than anything. But I expect the garden has run wild by this time."

She did not say as much to her mother, for she had learnt how much such thoughts worried her; but she did to her father when he came to fetch her. He only smiled though. "You wait till you see it, my girl," he said mysteriously, "then you'll know how things have gone since you have been away."

"There!" triumphantly, when they presently drew up at the gate. "Do you say now that a poor lone man can't keep his place tidy while his women-folk are away!" and Mona stared, wide-eyed with surprise, for, instead of bushes all beaten down and tangled, weedy paths, and stripped flower beds, as she had pictured, the whole garden seemed full. Geraniums, phlox, mignonette, roses, snapdragons, and pansies made the beds gay, while at the back of them great bushes of Michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemums stood erect, neatly tied up to stakes.

"But how?—who—whenever did you find time, father?"

"I've never put a hand to it."

"Then it must have been the fairies," she laughed. "Flowers may grow by themselves, but paths can't pull up their own weeds—I wish they could— nor bushes tie themselves up to stakes."

Her father laughed too. "Well, never having seen a fairy, I can't contradict. But I'm bound to say that Matthew Luxmore was never my idea of one."

"Mr. Luxmore?"

"Yes, he's come two and three times a week, all the time your mother's been in hospital, and tended the garden the same as if it had been his own. Don't you call that acting the real Christian?"

"I do. Oh, father, I wish mother could see it. Wouldn't it make her happy." Mona was touched almost to tears. "And doesn't it make you want to do something nice for people in return! But everybody has been so kind I don't know where to begin."

"The only way to begin," said Peter Carne, as he led Mona slowly up the path, "is to take the first oppertoonity that comes along of doing a kindness to one of them, and to keep on taking all the oppertoonities you can. I know that the folks that have been good to us would be cut to the heart if we were to talk about returns. You can't return such things as they've done for us. You can only let them know how grateful you are. And if a chance comes of doing anything for them—why, do it. Now, you come along in, my girl, and sit down. You've done enough for one while. You've got to sit there and rest while I make you a cup of tea. That's right, the fire's just proper for making a nice bit of toast."

Mona sank down in the arm-chair, and stared about her in speechless surprise. "Why, it's like a palace! I came home meaning to clean it from top to bottom, and there's nothing for me to do. Has Mr. Luxmore been acting the fairy here too, father!"

"No, the fairies in this department were a smaller sort, and more like my idea of fairies. It's Millie Higgins and Patty that have set this all to rights for you. They came and begged of me to let them, till I couldn't refuse any longer. Patty's mother has cooked for me and looked after me all the time. There never was such folk as Seacombe folk I'm certain sure. There, there's a nice bit of toast for you, child, and the kettle just going to boil right out over our shining fender. We'll have a cup of tea in a brace of shakes now. Then you will feel like a new woman."

"I do that already," said Mona. "I mean," she added softly, "I am going to try to be, father."



CHAPTER XIV.

More than six months have passed away, and spring has come. Lucy Carne, strong and well again, is able to walk without even a trace of a limp. Mona has grown an inch or two, has put up her hair, and lengthened her skirts.

"You see I must learn to do it nicely by the time Miss Grace wants me," she explained, when, on Christmas day, she appeared for the first time with it coiled about her head. And, for a few weeks after, knew no peace of mind. "I shall never keep it up," she sighed, "unless I take a hammer and nails and fix it to my head that way."

Lucy complained that she spent a fortune in hairpins, and her father said he could always trace where Mona had been by the hairpins strewing the place.

Lucy and she had been busy since the New Year came in making her uniform, blue print frocks, and large white linen aprons for the mornings, and a brown cloth dress and muslin aprons for the afternoons. She was to have muslin caps too, and white collars and cuffs.

"I don't think black is really more serviceable than any other colour," Miss Lester had said when she came to talk to Lucy about Mona, "and I think I would like to have something new. So I want my servants to wear a pretty warm brown."

Mona was enraptured. The idea of wearing a uniform was delightful enough, but to have one unlike what other servants wore was doubly attractive. And when, on top of that, Miss Grace had said she had been thinking a great deal about Mona's pretty suggestion for her wedding day, and would be very happy indeed if her Bible-class girls would carry it out, Mona thought that life was almost too full of happiness. "I'm afraid I shall wake up and find it's all a dream," she said pathetically. "Mother, I'm not dreaming, am I?"

"And I would like to give you all the muslin to make your dresses of," added Miss Grace.

Lucy looked at her gratefully. "It's too good of you, Miss, and you with so much else to think about, and such a lot to get. I don't know how to thank you."

"Then don't try," said Miss Grace. "I understand. I shall leave it to you," turning smilingly to Mona, "to provide the flowers you are going to throw."

"Oh, we are all doing our best to get plenty of those," said Lucy. "There's a proper rivalry all through Seacombe, trying which of us can get the best. There won't be any out-door roses, but we've all got bushes in our windows."

Seacombe folk that spring tried to outdo each other in their cleaning, too. As soon as the March winds died down, and the days grew light and fine such a fury of whitewashing and painting, scrubbing and polishing set in, as had never been known in Seacombe before. By the middle of April there was not a whitewashing brush left, nor a yard of net for curtains.

"It dazzles one to walk up the street when the sun shines," Dr. Edwards complained. "What's the meaning of it all. Is it any special year——"

"It's your year, sir," laughed Lucy. "That's the meaning of it! It's all for your wedding day. You see, sir, you have been so good to us all, we want to do what we can to show you and Miss Grace what we feel towards you both."

Dr. Edwards was touched. Seacombe folk did not talk much of their feelings, and he had never dreamed how much they felt. "It is very, very kind of you all," he said, "and the knowledge will make us more happy than all our wedding presents put together."

"And we are all praying, sir, that the day may be as perfect a one as ever anybody knew," chimed in Mrs. Row, who was standing close by.

And surely no people ever had their prayers more graciously granted. The sun shone in a cloudless sky from morning till night. A soft little breeze from the sea tempered the warmth, and set all the flags and streamers waving. And as the bride walked down the churchyard path on her husband's arm, it blew the rose petals over her, pink, and crimson, and white.

Mona, her wishes realised, wore a blue sash and forget-me-nots in her hat; Millie stood next her with pink roses in hers, and a pink sash. Patty was a blue girl, and Philippa a pink one. And though the baskets they carried held not so very many roses, they were flowing over with other flowers, for the girls had walked miles to gather bluebells and primroses, violets and delicate anemones, the air smelt sweetly of spring, and the joy of spring was in their faces, and in their hearts as well.

And as the bride walked away down the path, Mona looked after her with tender, wistful eyes, and an unspoken prayer in her heart, that she might be given the grace, and the power to serve her new mistress well and loyally, and to do her share towards making her new life in her new home as happy as life could be.



THE END.

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