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Aunt Jane's Nieces by Edith Van Dyne

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"How many, Don?"

"Two, lad. A bonny young thing came on the morning train, an' a nice,
wide-awake one by the two o'clock."

"Girls?" with an accent of horror.

"Young females, anyhow," said Donald, polishing a buckle briskly.

The boy glared at him fixedly.

"Will they be running about the place, Don?"

"Most likely, 'Twould be a shame to shut them up with the poor missus
this glad weather. But why not? They'll be company for ye, Kenneth

"How long will they stay?"

"Mabbe for aye. Oscar forbys one or the ither o' 'em will own the
place when Miss Jane gi'es up the ghost."

The boy sat silent a moment, thinking upon this speech. Then, with a
cry that was almost a scream, he dashed the box upon the floor and
flew out the door as if crazed, and Donald paused to listen to his
footsteps clattering down the stairs.

Then the old man groaned dismally, shaking his side-whiskers with a
negative expression that might have conveyed worlds of meaning to one
able to interpret it. But his eye fell upon the pine box, which had
rolled to his feet, and he stooped to pick it up. Upon the smoothly
planed side was his own picture, most deftly drawn, showing him
engaged in polishing the harness. Every strap and buckle was depicted
with rare fidelity; there was no doubt at all of the sponge and bottle
on the stool beside him, or the cloth in his hand. Even his bow
spectacles rested upon the bridge of his nose at exactly the right
angle, and his under lip protruded just as it had done since he was a

Donald was not only deeply impressed by such an exhibition of art; he
was highly gratified at being pictured, and full of wonder that the
boy could do such a thing; "wi' a wee pencil an' a bit o' board!" He
turned the box this way and that to admire the sketch, and finally
arose and brought a hatchet, with which he carefully pried the board
away from the box. Then he carried his treasure to a cupboard, where
he hid it safely behind a row of tall bottles.

Meantime Kenneth had reached the stable, thrown a bridle over the head
of a fine sorrel mare, and scorning to use a saddle leaped upon her
back and dashed down the lane and out at the rear gate upon the old
turnpike road.

His head was whirling with amazement, his heart full of indignation.
Girls! Girls at Elmhurst--nieces and guests of the fierce old woman
he so bitterly hated! Then, indeed, his days of peace and quiet were
ended. These dreadful creatures would prowl around everywhere; they
might even penetrate the shrubbery to the foot of the stairs leading
to his own retired room; they would destroy his happiness and drive
him mad.

For this moody, silent youth had been strangely happy in his life
at Elmhurst, despite the neglect of the grim old woman who was its
mistress and the fact that no one aside from Lawyer Watson seemed to
care whether he lived or died.

Perhaps Donald did. Good old Don was friendly and seldom bothered him
by talking. Perhaps old Misery liked him a bit, also. But these were
only servants, and almost as helpless and dependent as himself.

Still, he had been happy. He began to realize it, now that these awful
girls had come to disturb his peace. The thought filled him with grief
and rebellion and resentment; yet there was nothing he could do to
alter the fact that Donald's "young females" were already here, and
prepared, doubtless, to stay.

The sorrel was dashing down the road at a great pace, but the boy
clung firmly to his seat and gloried in the breeze that fanned his hot
cheeks. Away and away he raced until he reached the crossroads, miles
away, and down this he turned and galloped as recklessly as before.
The sun was hot, today, and the sorrel's flanks begun to steam and
show flecks of white upon their glossy surface. He turned again to the
left, entering upon a broad highway that would lead him straight home
at last; but he had almost reached the little village of Elmwood,
which was the railway station, before he realized his cruelty to the
splendid mare he bestrode. Then indeed, he fell to a walk, patting
Nora's neck affectionately and begging her to forgive him for his
thoughtlessness. The mare tossed her head in derision. However she
might sweat and pant, she liked the glorious pace even better than her

Through the village he paced moodily, the bridle dangling loosely on
the mare's neck. The people paused to look at him curiously, but he
had neither word nor look for any.

He did not know one of them by name, and cared little how much they
might speculate upon his peculiar position at "the big house."

Then, riding slowly up the hedge bordered road, his troubles once more
assailed him, and he wondered if there was not some spot upon the
broad earth to which he could fly for retirement until the girls had
left Elmhurst for good.

Nora shied, and he looked up to discover that he had nearly run down a
pedestrian--a stout little man with a bundle under his arm, who held
up one hand as if to arrest him.

Involuntarily he drew rein, and stopped beside the traveler with a
look of inquiry.

"Sorry to trouble you, sir," remarked the little man, in a cheery
voice, "but I ain't just certain about my way."

"Where do you want to go?" asked the boy.

"To Jane Merrick's place. They call it Elmhurst, I guess."

"It's straight ahead," said Kenneth, as the mare walked on. His
questioner also started and paced beside him.

"Far from here?"

"A mile, perhaps."

"They said it was three from the village, but I guess I've come a
dozen a'ready."

The boy did not reply to this. There was nothing offensive in the
man's manner. He spoke with an easy familiarity that made it difficult
not to respond with equal frank cordiality, and there was a shrewd
expression upon his wrinkled, smooth-shaven face that stamped him a
man who had seen life in many of its phases.

Kenneth, who resented the companionship of most people, seemed
attracted by the man, and hesitated to gallop on and leave him.

"Know Jane Merrick?" asked the stranger.

The boy nodded.

"Like her?"

"I hate her," he said, savagely.

The man laughed, a bit uneasily.

"Then it's the same Jane as ever," he responded, with a shake of his
grizzled head. "Do you know, I sort o' hoped she'd reformed, and I'd
be glad to see her again. They tell me she's got money."

The boy looked at him in surprise.

"She owns Elmhurst, and has mortgages on a dozen farms around here,
and property in New York, and thousands of dollars in the bank," he
said. "Aunt Jane's rich."

"Aunt Jane?" echoed the man, quickly. "What's your name, lad?"

"Kenneth Forbes."

A shake of the head.

"Don't recollect any Forbeses in the family."

"She isn't really my aunt," said the boy, "and she doesn't treat me
as an aunt, either; but she's my guardian, and I've always called her
Aunt, rather than say Miss Merrick."

"She's never married, has she?"

"No. She was engaged to my Uncle Tom, who owned Elmhurst. He was
killed in a railway accident, and then it was found he'd left her all
he had."

"I see."

"So, when my parents died, Aunt Jane took me for Uncle Tom's sake, and
keeps me out of charity."

"I see." Quite soberly, this time.

The boy slid off the mare and walked beside the little man, holding
the bridle over his arm. They did not speak again for some moments.

Finally the stranger asked:

"Are Jane's sisters living--Julia and Violet?"

"I don't know. But there are two of her nieces at Elmhurst."

"Ha! Who are they?"

"Girls," with bitterness. "I haven't seen them."

The stranger whistled.

"Don't like girls, I take it?"

"No; I hate them."

Another long pause. Then the boy suddenly turned questioner.

"You know Aunt--Miss Merrick, sir?"

"I used to, when we were both younger."

"Any relation, sir?"

"Just a brother, that's all."

Kenneth stopped short, and the mare stopped, and the little man, with
a whimsical smile at the boy's astonishment, also stopped.

"I didn't know she had a brother, sir--that is, living."

"She had two; but Will's dead, years ago, I'm told. I'm the other."

"John Merrick?"

"That's me. I went west a long time ago; before you were born, I
guess. We don't get much news on the coast, so I sort of lost track of
the folks back east, and I reckon they lost track of me, for the same

"You were the tinsmith?"

"The same. Bad pennies always return, they say. I've come back to look
up the family and find how many are left. Curious sort of a job, isn't

"I don't know. Perhaps it's natural," replied the boy, reflectively.
"But I'm sorry you came to Aunt Jane first."


"She's in bad health--quite ill, you know--and her temper's dreadful.
Perhaps she--she--"

"I know. But I haven't seen her in years; and, after all, she's my
sister. And back at the old home, where I went first, no one knew
anything about what had become of the family except Jane. They kept
track of her because she suddenly became rich, and a great lady, and
that was a surprising thing to happen to a Merrick. We've always been
a poor lot, you know."

The boy glanced at the bundle, pityingly, and the little man caught
the look and smiled his sweet, cheery smile.

"My valise was too heavy to carry," he said; "so I wrapped up a few
things in case Jane wanted me to stay over night. And that's why I
didn't get a horse at the livery, you know. Somebody'd have to take it
back again."

"I'm sure she'll ask you to stay, sir. And if she doesn't, you come
out to the stable and let me know, and I'll drive you to town again.
Donald--that's the coachman--is my friend, and he'll let me have the
horse if I ask him."

"Thank you, lad," returned the man, gratefully. "I thought a little
exercise would do me good, but this three miles has seemed like thirty
to me!"

"We're here at last," said the boy, turning: into the drive-way.
"Seeing that you're her brother, sir, I advise you to go right up to
the front door and ring the bell."

"I will," said the man.

"I always go around the back way, myself."

"I see."

The boy turned away, but in a moment halted again. His interest in
Miss Jane's brother John was extraordinary.

"Another thing," he said, hesitating.


"You'd better not say you met me, you know. It wouldn't be a good
introduction. She hates me as much as I hate her."

"Very good, my lad. I'll keep mum."

The boy nodded, and turned away to lead Nora to the stable. The man
looked after him a moment, and shook his head, sadly.

"Poor boy!" he whispered.

Then he walked up to the front door and rang the bell.



"This seems to be a lazy place," said Louise, as she stood in the
doorway of Beth's room to bid her good night. "I shall sleep until
late in the morning, for I don't believe Aunt Jane will be on
exhibition before noon."

"At home I always get up at six o'clock," answered Beth.

"Six o'clock! Good gracious! What for?"

"To study my lessons and help get the breakfast."

"Don't you keep a maid?"

"No," said Beth, rather surlily; "we have hard work to keep

"But you must be nearly through with school by this time. I finished
my education ages ago."

"Did you graduate?" asked Beth.

"No; it wasn't worth while," declared Louise, complacently. "I'm sure
I know as much as most girls do, and there are more useful lessons to
be learned from real life than from books."

"Good night," said Beth.

"Good night," answered the older girl, and shut the door behind her.

Beth sat for a time moodily thinking. She did not like the way in
which her cousin assumed superiority over her. The difference in
their ages did not account for the greater worldly wisdom Louise
had acquired, and in much that she said and did Beth recognized a
shrewdness and experience that made her feel humbled and, in a way,
inferior to her cousin. Nor did she trust the friendship Louise
expressed for her.

Somehow, nothing that the girl said seemed to ring true, and Beth
already, in her mind, accused her of treachery and insincerity.

As a matter of fact, however, she failed to understand her cousin.
Louise really loved to be nice to people, and to say nice thing's. It
is true she schemed and intrigued to advance her personal welfare and
position in life; but even her schemes were undertaken lightly and
carelessly, and if they failed the girl would be the first to laugh at
her disappointment and try to mend her fortunes. If others stood in
her way she might not consider them at all; if she pledged her word,
it might not always be profitable to keep it; but she liked to be on
pleasant terms with everyone, and would be amiable to the last, no
matter what happened. Comedy was her forte, rather than tragedy. If
tragedy entered her life she would probably turn it into ridicule.
Wholly without care, whimsical and generous to a degree, if it suited
her mood, Louise Merrick possessed a nature capable of great things,
either for good or ill.

It was no wonder her unsophisticated country cousin failed to
comprehend her, although Beth's intuition was not greatly at fault.

Six o'clock found Beth wide awake, as usual; so she quietly dressed
and, taking her book under her arm, started to make her way into the
gardens. Despite Louise's cynicism she had no intention of abandoning
her studies. She had decided to fit herself for a teacher before Aunt
Jane's invitation had come to her, and this ambition would render it
necessary for her to study hard during vacations.

If she became an heiress she would not need to teach, but she was not
at all confident of her prospects, and the girl's practical nature
prompted her to carry out her plans until she was sure of the future.

In the hall she met Phibbs, shuffling along as if in pain.

"Good morning, miss," said the old servant.

Beth looked at her thoughtfully. This was Aunt Jane's special and
confidential attendant.

"Do your feet hurt you?" she asked.

"Yes, miss; in the mornin' they's awful bad. It's being on 'em all the
day, 'tendin' to Miss Jane, you know. But after a time I gets more
used to the pain, and don't feel it. The mornin's always the worst."

She was passing on, but Beth stopped her.

"Come into my room," she said, and led the way.

Martha Phibbs followed reluctantly. Miss Jane might already be awake
and demanding her services, and she could not imagine what the young
lady wanted her for.

But she entered the room, and Beth went to a box and brought out a
bottle of lotion.

"Mother has the same trouble that you complain of," she said,
practically, "and here is a remedy that always gives her relief. I
brought it with me in case I should take long tramps, and get sore

She gently pushed the old woman into a chair, and then, to Phibbs'
utter amazement, knelt down and unfastened her shoes and drew off her
stockings. A moment later she was rubbing the lotion upon the poor
creature's swollen feet, paying no attention to Martha's horrified

"There. Now they're sure to feel better," said Beth, pulling the worn
and darned stockings upon the woman's feet again. "And you must take
this bottle to your room, and use it every night and morning."

"Bless your dear heart!" cried Phibbs, while tears of gratitude stood
in her faded eyes. "I'm sure I feel twenty years younger, a'ready. But
you shouldn't 'a' done it, miss; indeed you shouldn't."

"I'm glad to help you," said Beth, rinsing her hands at the wash stand
and drying them upon a towel. "It would be cruel to let you suffer
when I can ease your pain."

"But what would Miss Jane say?" wailed old Martha, throwing up her
hands in dismay.

"She'll never know a thing about it. It's our secret, Martha, and I'm
sure if I ever need a friend you'll do as much for me."

"I'll do anything for you, Miss Elizabeth," was the reply, as the
woman took the bottle of lotion and departed.

Beth smiled.

"That was not a bad thought," she said to herself, again starting for
the gardens. "I have made a firm friend and done a kindly action at
the same time--and all while Cousin Louise is fast asleep."

The housekeeper let her out at the side door, after Beth had pressed
her hand and kissed her good morning.

"You're looking quite bonny, my dear," said the old woman. "Do you
feel at home, at all, in this strange place?"

"Not quite, as yet," answered Beth. "But I know I have one good friend
here, and that comforts me."

She found a path between high hedges, that wandered away through the
grounds, and along this she strolled until she reached a rose arbor
with a comfortable bench.

Here she seated herself, looking around her curiously. The place
seemed little frequented, but was kept with scrupulous care. Even
at this hour, a little way off could be heard the "click-click!" of
hedge-shears, and Beth noted how neatly the paths were swept, and how
carefully every rose on the arbor was protected.

Elmhurst was a beautiful place. Beth sighed as she wondered if it
would ever be hers. Then she opened her book and began to work.

During the next hour the click of the hedge-shears drew nearer, but
the girl did not notice this. In another half hour James himself came
into view, intent upon his monotonous task. Gradually the motionless
form of the girl and the plodding figure of the gardener drew
together, until he stood but two yards distant. Then he paused, looked
toward the arbor, and uttered an exclamation.

Beth looked up.

"Good morning," she said, pleasantly.

James stared at her, but made no reply save a slight inclination of
his head.

"Am I in your way?" she asked.

He turned his back to her, then, and began clipping away as before.
Beth sprang up and laid a hand upon his arm, arresting him. Again he
turned to stare at her, and in his eyes was a look almost of fear.

She drew back.

"Why won't you speak to me?" enquired the girl, gently. "I'm a
stranger at Elmhurst, but I want to be your friend. Won't you let me?"

To her amazement James threw up his hands, letting the shears clatter
to the ground, and with a hoarse cry turned and fled up the path as
swiftly as he could go.

Beth was really puzzled, but as she stood silently looking after the
gardener she heard a soft laugh, and found old Misery beside her.

"It's just his way, Miss; don't you be scared by anything that James
does," said the woman. "Why, at times he won't even speak to Miss

"He isn't dumb, is he?" asked Beth.

"Lor', no! But he's that odd an' contrary he won't talk to a soul.
Never did, since the day Master Tom was killed. James was travellin'
with Master Tom, you know, and there was an accident, an' the train
run off'n the track an' tipped over. James wasn't hurt at all, but he
dragged Master Tom out'n the wreck and sat by him until he died. Then
James brought Master Tom's body back home again; but his mind
seemed to have got a shock, in some way, and he never was the same
afterwards. He was powerful fond of young Master Tom. But then, we all

"Poor man!" said Beth.

"After that," resumed Misery, "all that James would do was to look
after the flowers. Miss Jane, after she came, made him the head
gardener, and he's proved a rare good one, too. But James he won't
even talk to Miss Jane, nor even to his old friend Lawyer Watson, who
used to be Master Tom's special chum an' comrade. He does his duty,
and obeys all Miss Jane's orders as faithful as can be; but he won't
talk, an' we've all give up tryin' to make him."

"But why should I frighten him?" asked the girl.

"You tried to make him talk, and you're a stranger. Strangers always
affect James that way. I remember when Miss Jane first came to
Elmhurst he screamed at the sight of her; but when he found out that
Master Tom loved her and had given her Elmhurst, James followed her
around like a dog, and did everything she told him to. But breakfast
is ready, Miss. I came to call you."

"Thank you," said Beth, turning to walk beside the housekeeper.

According to Aunt Jane's instructions the breakfast was served in her
own room, and presently Louise, dressed in a light silk kimona, came
in bearing her tray "to keep her cousin company," she laughingly

"I should have slept an hour longer," she yawned, over her chocolate,
"but old Misery--who seems rightly named--insisted on waking me, just
that I might eat. Isn't this a funny establishment?"

"It's different from everything I'm used to," answered Beth, gravely;
"but it seems very pleasant here, and everyone is most kind and

"Now I'll dress," said Louise, "and we'll take a long walk together,
and see the place."

So it happened that Kenneth clattered down the road on the sorrel mare
just a moment before the girls emerged from the house, and while he
was riding off his indignation at their presence at Elmhurst, they
were doing just what his horrified imagination had depicted--that is,
penetrating to all parts of the grounds, to every nook in the spacious
old gardens and even to the stables, where Beth endeavored to make a
friend of old Donald the coachman.

However, the gray-whiskered Scotsman was not to be taken by storm,
even by a pretty face. His loyalty to "the boy" induced him to be wary
in associating with these strange "young females" and although he
welcomed them to the stable with glum civility he withheld his opinion
of them until he should know them better.

In their rambles the girls found Kenneth's own stair, and were sitting
upon it when Phibbs came to summon Louise to attend upon Aunt Jane.

She obeyed with alacrity, for she wished to know more of the queer
relative whose guest she had become.

"Sit down," said Aunt Jane, very graciously, as the girl entered.

Louise leaned over the chair, kissed her and patted her cheek
affectionately, and then shook up the pillows to make them more

"I want you to talk to me," announced Aunt Jane, "and to tell me
something of the city and the society in which you live. I've been so
long dead to the world that I've lost track of people and things."

"Let me dress your hair at the same time," said Louise, pleadingly.
"It looks really frowsy, and I can talk while I work."

"I can't lift my left hand," said the invalid, flushing, "and Phibbs
is a stupid ass."

"Never mind, I can make it look beautiful in half a jiffy," said the
girl, standing behind the chair and drawing deftly the hairpins from
Aunt Jane's scanty grey locks, "and you can't imagine how it pleases
me to fuss over anyone."

It was surprising how meekly Aunt Jane submitted to this ordeal, but
she plied the girl with many shrewd questions and Louise, busily
working in a position where the old woman could not see her face,
never hesitated for an answer. She knew all the recent gossip of
fashionable society, and retailed it glibly. She had met this
celebrity at a ball and that one at a reception, and she described
them minutely, realizing that Aunt Jane would never be in a position
to contradict any assertion she might choose to make.

Indeed, Aunt Jane was really startled.

"However did your mother manage to gain an entree into society?" she
asked. "Your father was a poor man and of little account. I know, for
he was my own brother."

"He left us a very respectable life insurance," said Louise, demurely,
"and my mother had many friends who were glad to introduce us to good
society when we were able to afford such a luxury. Father died twelve
years ago, you know, and for several years, while I was at school,
mother lived very quietly. Then she decided it was time I made my
debut, but for the last season we have been rather gay, I admit."

"Are you rich?" asked Aunt Jane, sharply.

"Mercy, no!" laughed Louise, who had finished her work and now sat her
aunt's feet. "But we have enough for our requirements, and that makes
us feel quite independent. By the way, auntie, I want to return that
check you sent me. It was awfully good and generous of you, but I
didn't need it, you know, and so I want you to take it back."

She drew the slip of paper from her pocket and pressed it into Aunt
Jane's hand.

"It's quite enough for you to give me this nice treat in the country,"
resumed the girl, calmly. "The change from the city will do me a world
of good, and as I wanted to be quiet, and rest I declined all my other
invitations for the summer to accept yours. Isn't it glorious that we
can get acquainted at last? And I quite love Elmhurst, already!"

Aunt Jane was equally surprised and gratified. The return of the check
for a hundred dollars was very pleasant. She had drawn a similar check
for each of her three nieces, believing that it would be necessary for
her to meet their expenses, and she had considered the expenditure in
the nature of a business transaction. But Patricia had flung one check
in her face, practically, and now Louise had voluntarily returned
another, because she did not need the money. Really, Jane Merrick was
accomplishing her purpose for less money than she had expected, and
she had hoarded her wealth for so many years that she disliked to
spend any of it foolishly.

Louise had read her nature correctly. It had been a little hard to
return so large a check, but the girl's policy was not to appear
before Aunt Jane as a poor relation, but rather as a young lady fitted
by social education and position to become a gracious mistress of
Elmhurst. This she believed would give her a powerful advantage over
all competitors.

Whether she was right or not in this surmise it is certain that she
rose several points in Aunt Jane's estimation during this interview,
and when she was dismissed it was so graciously that she told herself
the money her little plot had cost had been well expended.

Afterward Elizabeth was summoned to attend her aunt.

"I want to be amused. Can you read aloud?" said the invalid.

"Not very well, I'm afraid. But I'll be glad to try," answered Beth.
"What do you like?"

"Select your own book," said Aunt Jane, pointing to a heap of volumes
beside her.

The girl hesitated. Louise would doubtless have chosen a romance, or
some light tale sure to interest for the hour, and so amuse the old
lady. But Beth erroneously judged that the aged and infirm love sober
and scholarly books, and picked out a treatise that proved ineffably
dull and tedious.

Aunt Jane sniffed, and then smiled slyly and proceeded to settle
herself for a nap. If the girl was a fool, let her be properly

Beth read for an hour, uncertain whether her aunt were intensely
interested or really asleep. At the end of that dreadful period old
Misery entered and aroused the sleeper without ceremony.

"What's the matter?" asked Aunt Jane, querrulously, for she resented
being disturbed.

"There's a man to see you, Miss."

"Send him about his business!"


"I won't see him, I tell you!"

"But he says he's your brother, Miss."


"Your brother."

Miss Jane stared as if bewildered.

"Your brother John, Miss."

The invalid sank back upon her cushions with a sigh of resignation.

"I thought he was dead, long ago; but if he's alive I suppose I'll
have to see him," she said. "Elizabeth, leave the room. Misery, send
the man here!"



Beth went out to find Louise, and discovered her standing near the
stables, where a boy was rubbing down the sides of a sorrel mare with
wisps of straw.

"Something has happened," she said to Louise in a troubled voice.


"A man has arrived who says he is Aunt Jane's brother."

"Impossible! Have you seen him?"

"No; he says he's Aunt Jane's brother John."

"Oh; I know. The peddler, or tinker, or something or other who
disappeared years ago. But it doesn't matter."

"It may matter a good deal," said practical Beth. "Aunt Jane may leave
him her money."

"Why, he's older than she is. I've heard mother say he was the eldest
of the family. Aunt Jane wont leave her money to an old man, you may
be sure."

Beth felt a little reassured at this, and stood for a moment beside
Louise watching the boy. Presently Oscar came to him, and after
touching his hat respectfully took the mare and led her into the
stable. The boy turned away, with his hands in his pockets, and
strolled up a path, unaware that the two dreaded girls had been
observing him.

"I wonder who that is," said Beth.

"We'll find out," returned Louise. "I took him for a stable boy, at
first. But Oscar seemed to treat him as a superior."

She walked into the stable, followed by her cousin, and found the
groom tying the mare.

"Who was the young man?" she asked.

"Which young man, Miss?"

"The one who has just arrived with the horse."

"Oh; that's Master Kenneth, Miss," answered Oscar, with a grin.

"Where did he come from?"

"Master Kenneth? Why, he lives here."

"At the house?"

"Yes, Miss."

"Who is he?"

"Master Tom's nephew--he as used to own Elmhurst, you know."

"Mr. Thomas Bradley?"

"The same, Miss."

"Ah. How long has Master Kenneth lived here?"

"A good many years. I can't just remember how long."

"Thank you, Oscar."

The girls walked away, and when they were alone Louise remarked:

"Here is a more surprising discovery than Uncle John, Beth. The boy
has a better right than any of us to inherit Elmhurst."

"Then why did Aunt Jane send for us?"

"It's a mystery, dear. Let us try to solve it."

"Come; we'll ask the housekeeper," said Beth. "I'm sure old Misery
will tell us all we want to know."

So they returned to the house and, with little difficulty, found the
old housekeeper.

"Master Kenneth?" she exclaimed. "Why, he's just Master Tom's nephew,
that's all."

"Is this his home?" asked Beth.

"All the home he's got, my dear. His father and mother are both dead,
and Miss Jane took him to care for just because she thought Master Tom
would 'a' liked it."

"Is she fond of him?" enquired Louise.

"Fond of the boy? Why, Miss Jane just hates him, for a fact. She won't
even see him, or have him near her. So he keeps to his little room in
the left wing, and eats and sleeps there."

"It's strange," remarked Beth, thoughtfully. "Isn't he a nice boy?"

"We're all very fond of Master Kenneth," replied the housekeeper,
simply. "But I'll admit he's a queer lad, and has a bad temper. It may
be due to his lack of bringin' up, you know; for he just runs wild,
and old Mr. Chase, who comes from the village to tutor him, is a poor
lot, and lets the boy do as he pleases. For that reason he won't
study, and he won't work, and I'm sure I don't know whatever will
become of him, when Miss Jane dies."

"Thank you," said Beth, much relieved, and the girls walked away with
lighter hearts.

"There's no danger in that quarter, after all," said Louise, gaily.
"The boy is a mere hanger-on. You see, Aunt Jane's old sweetheart,
Thomas Bradley, left everything to her when he died, and she can do as
she likes with it."

After luncheon, which they ate alone and unattended save by the maid
Susan, who was old Misery's daughter, the girls walked away to
the rose arbor, where Beth declared they could read or sew quite

But sitting upon the bench they found a little old man, his legs
extended, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, and a look of calm
meditation upon his round and placid face. Between his teeth was a
black brier pipe, which he puffed lazily.

Beth was for drawing back, but Louise took her arm and drew her

"Isn't this Uncle John?" she asked.

The little man turned his eyes upon them, withdrew his hands from his
pockets and his pipe from his mouth, and then bowed profoundly.

"If you are my nieces, then I am Uncle John," he said, affably. "Sit
down, my dears, and let us get acquainted."

Louise smiled, and her rapid survey took in the man's crumpled and
somewhat soiled shirt-front, the frayed black necktie that seemed to
have done years of faithful service, and the thick and dusty cow-hide
boots. His clothing was old and much worn, and the thought crossed
her mind that Oscar the groom was far neater in appearance than this
newly-found relative.

Beth merely noticed that Uncle John was neither dignified nor imposing
in appearance. She sat down beside him--leaving a wide space between
them--with a feeling of disappointment that he was "like all the rest
of the Merricks."

"You have just arrived, we hear," remarked Louise.

"Yes. Walked up from the station this forenoon," said Uncle John.
"Come to see Jane, you know, but hadn't any idea I'd find two nieces.
Hadn't any idea I possessed two nieces, to be honest about it."

"I believe you have three," said Louise, in an, amused tone.

"Three? Who's the other?"

"Why, Patricia Doyle."

"Doyle? Doyle? Don't remember the name."

"I believe your sister Violet married a man named Doyle."

"So she did. Captain Doyle--or Major Doyle--or some such fellow. But
what is your name?"

"I am Louise Merrick, your brother Will's daughter."

"Oh! And you?" turning to Beth.

"My mother was Julia Merrick," said Beth, not very graciously. "She
married Professor DeGraf. I am Elizabeth DeGraf."

"Yes, yes," observed Uncle John, nodding his head. "I remember Julia
very well, as a girl. She used to put on a lot of airs, and jaw father
because he wouldn't have the old top-buggy painted every spring. Same
now as ever, I s'pose?"

Beth did not reply.

"And Will's dead, and out of his troubles, I hope," continued Uncle
John, reflectively. "He wrote me once that his wife had nearly driven
him crazy. Perhaps she murdered him in his sleep--eh, Louise?"

"Sir," said Louise, much offended, "you are speaking of my mother."

"Ah, yes. It's the same one your father spoke of," he answered,
unmoved. "But that's neither here nor there. The fact is, I've found
two nieces," looking shrewdly from one face into the other, "and I
seem to be in luck, for you're quite pretty and ladylike, my dears."

"Thank you," said Louise, rather coldly. "You're a competent judge,
sir, I suppose."

"Tolerable," he responded, with a chuckle. "So good a judge that I've
kep' single all my life."

"Where did you come from?" asked the girl.

"From out on the coast," tossing his grizzled head toward the west.

"What brought you back here, after all these years?"

"Family affection, I guess. Wanted to find out what folks yet belonged
to me."

An awkward silence followed this, during which Uncle John relighted
his pipe and Beth sat in moody silence. Louise drew a pattern in the
gravel with the end of her parasol. This new uncle, she reflected,
might become an intolerable bore, if she encouraged his frank

"Now that you are here," she said, presently, "what are you going to

"Nothing, my dear."

"Have you any money?"

He looked at her with a droll expression.

"Might have expected that question, my dear," said he; "but it's
rather hard to answer. If I say no, you'll be afraid I'll want to
borrow a little spendin' money, now an' then; and if I say yes, you'll
take me for a Rockyfeller."

"Not exactly," smiled Louise.

"Well, then, if I figure close I won't have to borrow," he responded,
gravely. "And here's Jane, my sister, just rolling in wealth that she
don't know what to do with. And she's invited me to stay a while. So
let's call the money question settled, my dear."

Another silence ensued. Louise had satisfied her curiosity concerning
her new uncle, and Beth had never had any. There was nothing more to
say, and as Uncle John showed no intention of abandoning the arbored
seat, it was evident they must go themselves. Louise was about to rise
when the man remarked:

"Jane won't last long".

"You think not?" she asked.

"She says she's half dead a'ready, and I believe it. It's about time,
you know. She's let her temper and restless disposition wear her out.
Pretty soon she'll blow out, like a candle. All that worries her is to
keep alive until she can decide who to leave her money to. That's why
you're here, I s'pose, my dears. How do you like being on exhibition,
an' goin' through your paces, like a bunch o' trotting hosses, to see
which is worth the most?"

"Uncle John," said Beth, "I had hoped I would like you. But if you are
going to be so very disagreeable, I'll have nothing more to do with

With this she arose and marched up the path, vastly indignant, and
Louise marched beside her. At the bend in the walk they glanced back,
and saw Uncle John sitting upon the bench all doubled up and shaking
with silent laughter.

"He's a queer old man," said Beth, flushing; "but he's impudent and
half a fool."

"Don't judge hastily, Beth," replied Louise, reflectively. "I can't
make up my mind, just yet, whether Uncle John is a fool or not."

"Anyhow," snapped Beth, "he's laughing at us."

"And that," said her cousin, softly, "is the strongest evidence of his
sanity. Beth, my love, Aunt Jane has placed us in a most ridiculous

That evening at dinner they met Uncle John again, seated opposite Aunt
Jane in the great dining hall. The mistress of Elmhurst always dressed
for this meal and tonight she wore a rich black silk and had her
invalid chair wheeled to her place at the head of the table. Uncle
John had simply changed his old black necktie for a soiled white one.
Otherwise his apparel was the same as before, and his stubby gray hair
was in a sad state of disarray. But his round face wore a cheerful
smile, nevertheless, and Aunt Jane seemed not to observe anything
_outre_ in her brother's appearance. And so the meal passed pleasantly

After it was finished Uncle John strolled into the garden to smoke his
pipe under the stars and Louise sang a few songs for Aunt Jane in the
dimly-lit drawing room. Beth, who was a music teacher's daughter,
could not sing at all.

It was some time later when John Merrick came to his sister's room to
bid her good night.

"Well," she asked him, "what do you think of the girls?"

"My nieces?"


"During my lifetime," said the old man, "I've always noticed that
girls are just girls--and nothing more. Jane, your sex is a puzzle
that ain't worth the trouble solving. You're all alike, and what
little I've seen of my nieces convinces me they're regulation
females--no better nor worse than their kind."

"Louise seems a capable girl," declared Aunt Jane, musingly. "I didn't
care much for her, at first; but she improves on acquaintance. She has
been well trained by her mother, and is very ladylike and agreeable."

"She's smarter than the other one, but not so honest," said Uncle

"Beth has no tact at all," replied Aunt Jane. "But then, she's younger
than Louise."

"If you're trying to figure out what they are, and what they are not,"
returned the man, "you've got a hard job on your hands, Jane, and like
as not you'll make a mistake in the end. Where's the other niece?
Aren't there three of them?"

"Yes. The other's coming. Silas Watson, my lawyer, has just
telegraphed from New York that he's bringing Patricia back with him."

"Had to send for her, eh?"

"Yes. She's Irish, and if I remember rightly her father is a
disgraceful old reprobate, who caused poor Violet no end of worry. The
girl may be like him, for she wrote me a dreadful letter, scolding me
because I hadn't kept her parents supplied with money, and refusing to
become my guest."

"But she's changed her mind?"

"I sent Watson after her, and he's bringing her. I wanted to see what
the girl is like."

Uncle John whistled a few bars of an ancient tune.

"My advice is," he said, finally, "to let 'em draw cuts for Elmhurst.
If you want to leave your money to the best o' the lot, you're as sure
of striking it right that way as any other."

"Nonsense!" said Jane Merrick, sharply. "I don't want to leave my
money to the best of the lot."


"By no means. I want to leave it to the one I prefer--whether she's
the best or not."

"I see. Jane, I'll repeat my former observation. Your sex is a puzzle
that isn't worth solving. Good night, old girl."

"Good night, John."



Patricia sat down opposite her Aunt Jane. She still wore her hat and
the gray wrap.

"Well, here I am," she exclaimed, with a laugh; "but whether I ought
to be here or not I have my doubts."

Aunt Jane surveyed her critically.

"You're a queer little thing," she said, bluntly. "I wonder why I took
so much trouble to get you."

"So do I," returned Patsy, her eyes twinkling. "You'll probably be
sorry for it."

Lawyer Watson, who had remained standing, now broke in nervously.

"I explained to Miss Doyle," said he, "that you were ill, and wanted
to see her. And she kindly consented to come to Elmhurst for a few

"You see," said Patsy, "I'd just got Daddy away on his vacation, to
visit his old colonel. I've wanted him to go this three years back,
but he couldn't afford it until I got a raise this Spring. He'll have
a glorious old time with the colonel, and they'll fish and hunt and
drink whiskey all day, and fight the war all over again every evening.
So I was quite by myself when Mr. Watson came to me and wouldn't take
no for his answer."

"Why did you object to come here?" asked Aunt Jane.

"Well, I didn't know you; and I didn't especially want to know you.
Not that I bear grudges, understand, although you've been little of a
friend to my folks these past years. But you are rich and proud--and I
suspect you're a little cross, Aunt Jane--while we are poor and proud
and like to live our lives in our own way."

"Are you a working girl?" enquired Miss Merrick.

"Surely," said Patsy, "and drawing a big lump of salary every Saturday
night. I'm a hair-dresser, you know--and by the way, Aunt Jane, it
puzzles me to find a certain kink in your hair that I thought I'd
invented myself."

"Louise dressed my hair this way," said Miss Merrick, a bit stiffly.

"Your maid?"

"My niece, Louise Merrick."

Patsy whistled, and then clapped her hand over her mouth and looked

"Is she here?" she asked, a moment later.

"Yes, and your other cousin, Elizabeth De Graf, is here also."

"That's just the trouble," cried Patsy, energetically. "That's why I
didn't want to come, you know."

"I don't understand you, Patricia."

"Why, it's as plain as the nose on your face, even if I hadn't pumped
Mr. Watson until I got the truth out of him. You want us girls here
just to compare us with each other, and pick out the one you like


"The others you'll throw over, and the favorite will get your money."

"Haven't I a right to do that?" asked the invalid, in an amazed tone.

"Perhaps you have. But we may as well understand each other right
now, Aunt Jane. I won't touch a penny of your money, under any

"I don't think you will, Patricia."

The girl laughed, with a joyous, infectious merriment that was hard to

"Stick to that, aunt, and there's no reason we shouldn't be friends,"
she said, pleasantly. "I don't mind coming to see you, for it will
give me a bit of a rest and the country is beautiful just now. More
than that, I believe I shall like you. You've had your own way a long
time, and you've grown crochetty and harsh and disagreeable; but there
are good lines around your mouth and eyes, and your nature's liable to
soften and get sunny again. I'm sure I hope so. So, if you'd like me
to stay a few days, I'll take off my things and make myself at home.
But I'm out of the race for your money, and I'll pay my way from now
on just as I have always done."

Silas Watson watched Aunt Jane's face during this speech with an
anxious and half-frightened expression upon his own. No one but
himself had ever dared to talk to Jane Merrick as plainly as this
before, and he wondered how she would accept such frankness from a
young girl.

But Patricia's manner was not at all offensive. Her big eyes were
as frank as her words, but they glistened with kindliness and good
nature, and it was evident the girl had no doubt at all of her aunt's
reply, for she straightway begun to take off her hat.

The invalid had kept her eyes sternly fastened upon her young niece
ever since the beginning of the interview. Now she reached out a hand
and touched her bell.

"Misery," she said to the old housekeeper, "show my niece, Miss
Patricia, to the rose chamber. And see that she is made comfortable."

"Thank you," said Patsy, jumping up to go.

"Make yourself perfectly free of the place," continued Aunt Jane, in
an even tone, turning to Patricia, "and have as good a time as you
can. I'm afraid it's rather stupid here for girls, but that can't be
helped. Stay as long as you please, and go home whenever you like; but
while you are here, if you ever feel like chatting with a harsh
and disagreeable old woman, come to me at any time and you will be

Patsy, standing before her, looked down into her worn face with a
pitying expression.

"Ah! I've been cruel to you," she exclaimed, impulsively, "and I
didn't mean to hurt you at all, Aunt Jane. You must forgive me. It's
just my blunt Irish way, you see; but if I hadn't been drawn to you
from the first I wouldn't have said a word--good or bad!"

"Go now," replied Aunt Jane, turning in her chair rather wearily. "But
come to me again whenever you like."

Patsy nodded, and followed the housekeeper to the rose chamber--the
prettiest room old Elmhurst possessed, with broad windows opening
directly upon the finest part of the garden.

Lawyer Watson sat opposite his old friend for some moments in
thoughtful silence. "The child is impossible." he said, at last.

"You think so?" she enquired, moodily.

"Absolutely. Either of the others would make a better Lady of
Elmhurst. Yet I like the little thing, I confess. She quite won my old
heart after I had known her for five minutes. But money would ruin
her. She's a child of the people, and ought not to be raised from her
proper level. Jane, Jane--you're making a grave mistake in all this.
Why don't you do the only right thing in your power, and leave
Elmhurst to Kenneth?"

"You bore me, Silas," she answered, coldly. "The boy is the most
impossible of all."

It was the old protest and the old reply. He had hardly expected
anything different.

After a period of thought he asked;

"What is this I hear about John Merrick having returned from the

"He came yesterday. It was a great surprise to me."

"I never knew this brother, I believe."

"No; he had gone away before I became acquainted with either you or

"What sort of a man is he?"

"Honest and simple, hard-headed and experienced."

"Is he independent?"

"I believe so; he has never mentioned his affairs to me. But he has
worked hard all his life, he says, and now means to end his days
peacefully. John is not especially refined in his manner, nor did he
have much of an education; but he seems to be a good deal of a man,
for all that. I am very glad he appeared at Elmhurst just at this

"You had believed him dead?"

"Yes. He had passed out of my life completely, and I never knew what
became of him."

"He must be an eccentric person," said Mr. Watson, with a smile.

"He is." she acknowledged. "But blood is thicker than water, Silas,
and I'm glad brother John is here at last."

A little later the lawyer left her and picked his way through the
gardens until he came to Kenneth's wing and the stair that led to
his room. Here he paused a moment, finding himself surrounded by a
profound stillness, broken only by the chirping of the birds in the
shrubbery. Perhaps Kenneth was not in. He half decided to retrace
his steps, but finally mounted the stair softly and stood within the
doorway of the room.

The boy and a little stout man were playing chess at a table, and both
were in a deep study of the game. The boy's back was toward him, but
the man observed the newcomer and gave a nod. Then he dropped his eyes
again to the table.

Kenneth was frowning sullenly.

"You're bound to lose the pawn, whichever way you play," said the
little man quietly.

The boy gave an angry cry, and thrust the table from him, sending the
chess-men clattering into a corner. Instantly the little man leaned
over and grasped the boy by the collar, and with a sudden jerk landed
him across his own fat knees. Then, while the prisoner screamed and
struggled, the man brought his hand down with a slap that echoed
throughout the room, and continued the operation until Master Kenneth
had received a sound spanking.

Then he let the boy slip to the floor, from whence he arose slowly and
backed toward the door, scowling and muttering angrily.

"You broke the bargain, and I kept my word," said Uncle John, calmly
taking his pipe from his pocket and filling it. "The compact was that
if you raised a rough-house, like you did yesterday, and got unruly,
that I'd give you a good thrashing. Now, wasn't it?"

"Yes," acknowledged the boy.

"Well, that blamed temper o' your'n got away with you again, and
you're well spanked for not heading it off. Pick up the board. Ken, my
lad, and let's try it again."

The boy hesitated. Then he looked around and saw Lawyer Watson, who
had stood motionless by the doorway, and with a cry that was half a
sob Kenneth threw himself into his old friend's arms and burst into a
flood of tears.

Uncle John struck a match, and lighted his pipe.

"A bargain's a bargain," he observed, composedly.

"He whipped me!" sobbed the boy. "He whipped me like a child."

"Your own fault," said Uncle John. "You wanted me to play a game with
you, and I agreed, providin' you behaved yourself. And you didn't.
Now, look here. Do you blame me any?"

"No," said the boy.

"No harm's done, is there?"


"Then stop blubberin', and introduce me to your friend," continued
Uncle John. "Name's Watson, ain't it."

"Silas Watson, sir, at your service," said the lawyer, smiling. "And
this must be John Merrick, who I understand has arrived at Elmhurst
during my absence."

"Exactly," said Uncle John, and the two men shook hands cordially.

"Glad to welcome you to Elmhurst, sir," continued the lawyer. "I've
known it ever since I was a boy, when it belonged to my dear friend
Thomas Bradley. And I hope you'll love it as much as I do, when you
know it better."

"Bradley must have been a fool to give this place to Jane," said Uncle
John, reflectively.

"He was in love, sir," observed the other, and they both smiled. Then
the lawyer turned to Kenneth. "How are things going?" he asked. "Have
the girls bothered you much, as yet?"

"No," said the boy. "I keep out of their way."

"That's a good idea. By the bye, sir," turning to John Merrick. "I've
just brought you a new niece."


"She prefers to be called Patsy. A queer little thing; half Irish, you

"And half Merrick. That's an odd combination, but the Irish may be
able to stand it," said Uncle John. "These nieces are more than I
bargained for. I came to see one relative, and find three more--and
all women!"

"I think you'll like Patsy, anyhow. And so will you, Kenneth."

The boy gave an indignant roar.

"I hate all girls!" he said.

"You won't hate this one. She's as wild and impulsive as you are, but
better natured. She'll make a good comrade, although she may box your
ears once in a while."

The boy turned away sulkily, and began picking up the scattered
chess-men. The two men walked down the stair and strolled together
through the garden.

"A strange boy," said Uncle John, presently.

"I'm glad to see you've made friends with him," replied the lawyer,
earnestly. "Until now he has had no one to befriend him but me, and at
times he's so unmanageable that it worries me dreadfully."

"There's considerable character about the lad," said John Merrick;
"but he's been spoiled and allowed to grow up wild, like a weed. He's
got it in him to make a criminal or a gentleman, whichever way his
nature happens to develop."

"He ought to go to a military school," replied Lawyer Watson. "Proper
training would make a man of Kenneth; but I can't induce Jane to spend
the money on him. She gives him food and clothing and lodging--all
of the simplest description--but there her generosity ends. With
thousands of dollars lying idle, she won't assist the only nephew of
Tom Bradley to secure a proper education."

"Jane's queer, too," said that lady's brother, with a sigh. "In fact,
Mr. Watson, it's a queer world, and the longer I live in it the
queerer I find it. Once I thought it would be a good idea to regulate
things myself and run the world as it ought to be run; but I gave it
up long ago. The world's a stage, they say; but the show ain't always
amusing, by a long chalk, and sometimes I wish I didn't have a
reserved seat."



Lawyer Watson, unable to direct events at Elmhurst, became a silent
spectator of the little comedy being enacted there, and never
regretted that, as Uncle John expressed it, he "had a reserved seat at
the show."

Jane Merrick, formerly the most imperious and irrascible of women, had
become wonderfully reserved since the arrival of her nieces, and was
evidently making a sincere effort to study their diverse characters.
Day by day the invalid's health was failing visibly. She had no more
strokes of paralysis, but her left limb did not recover, and the
numbness was gradually creeping upward toward her heart.

Perhaps the old woman appreciated this more fully than anyone else. At
any event, she became more gentle toward Phibbs and Misery, who mostly
attended her, and showed as much consideration as possible for her
nieces and her brother. Silas Watson she kept constantly by her side.
He was her oldest and most trusted friend, and the only differences
they had ever had were over the boy Kenneth, whom she stubbornly
refused to favor.

Uncle John speedily became an established fixture at the place. The
servants grew accustomed to seeing him wander aimlessly about the
grounds, his pipe always in his mouth, his hands usually in his
pockets. He had a pleasant word always for Donald or Oscar or James,
but was not prone to long conversations. Every evening, when he
appeared at dinner, he wore his soiled white tie; at other times
the black one was always in evidence; but other than this his dress
underwent no change. Even Kenneth came to wonder what the bundle had
contained that Uncle John brought under his arm to Elmhurst.

The little man seemed from the first much attracted by his three
nieces. Notwithstanding Louise's constant snubs and Beth's haughty
silence he was sure to meet them when they strolled out and try to
engage them in conversation. It was hard to resist his simple good
nature, and the girls came in time to accept him as an inevitable
companion, and Louise mischievously poked fun at him while Beth
conscientiously corrected him in his speech and endeavored to improve
his manners. All this seemed very gratifying to Uncle John. He thanked
Beth very humbly for her kind attention, and laughed with Louise when
she ridiculed his pudgy, round form and wondered if his bristly gray
hair wouldn't make a good scrubbing brush.

Patsy didn't get along very well with her cousins. From the first,
when Louise recognized her, with well assumed surprise, as "the girl
who had been sent to dress her hair," Patricia declared that their
stations in life were entirely different.

"There's no use of our getting mixed up, just because we're cousins
and all visiting Aunt Jane," she said. "One of you will get her money,
for I've told her I wouldn't touch a penny of it, and she has told me
I wouldn't get the chance. So one of you will be a great lady, while I
shall always earn my own living. I'll not stay long, anyhow; so just
forget I'm here, and I'll amuse myself and try not to bother you."

Both Beth and Louise considered this very sensible, and took Patricia
at her word. Moreover, Phibbs had related to Beth, whose devoted
adherent she was, all of the conversation between Aunt Jane and
Patricia, from which the girls learned they had nothing to fear from
their cousin's interference. So they let her go her way, and the three
only met at the state dinners, which Aunt Jane still attended, in
spite of her growing weakness.

Old Silas Watson, interested as he was in the result, found it hard to
decide, after ten days, which of her nieces Jane Merrick most favored.
Personally he preferred that Beth should inherit, and frankly told his
old friend that the girl would make the best mistress of Elmhurst.
Moreover, all the servants sang Beth's praises, from Misery and Phibbs
down to Oscar and Susan. Of course James the gardener favored no one,
as the numerous strangers at Elmhurst kept him in a constant state of
irritation, and his malady seemed even worse than usual. He avoided
everyone but his mistress, and although his work was now often
neglected Miss Merrick made no complaint. James' peculiarities were
well understood and aroused nothing but sympathy.

Louise, however, had played her cards so well that all Beth's friends
were powerless to eject the elder girl from Aunt Jane's esteem. Louise
had not only returned the check to her aunt, but she came often to sit
beside her and cheer her with a budget of new social gossip, and no
one could arrange the pillows so comfortably or stroke the tired head
so gently as Louise. And then, she was observing, and called Aunt
Jane's attention to several ways of curtailing the household
expenditures, which the woman's illness had forced her to neglect.

So Miss Merrick asked Louise to look over the weekly accounts, and in
this way came to depend upon her almost as much as she did upon Lawyer

As for Patsy, she made no attempt whatever to conciliate her aunt, who
seldom mentioned her name to the others but always brightened visibly
when the girl came into her presence with her cheery speeches and
merry laughter. She never stayed long, but came and went, like a
streak of sunshine, whenever the fancy seized her; and Silas Watson,
shrewdly looking on, saw a new light in Jane's eyes as she looked
after her wayward, irresponsible niece, and wondered if the bargain
between them, regarding the money, would really hold good.

It was all an incomprehensible problem, this matter of the
inheritance, and although the lawyer expected daily to be asked to
draw up Jane Merrick's will, and had, indeed, prepared several forms,
to be used in case of emergency, no word had yet passed her lips
regarding her intentions.

Kenneth's life, during this period, was one of genuine misery. It
seemed to his morbid fancy that whatever path he might take, he was
sure of running upon one or more of those detestable girls who were
visiting at Elmhurst. Even in Donald's harness-room he was not secure
from interruption, for little Patsy was frequently perched upon the
bench there, watching with serious eyes old Donald's motions, and
laughing joyously when in his embarrassment he overturned a can of oil
or buckled the wrong straps together.

Worse than all, this trying creature would saddle Nora, the sorrel
mare, and dash away through the lanes like a tom-boy, leaving him
only old Sam to ride--for Donald would allow no one to use the coach
horses. Sam was tall and boney, and had an unpleasant gait, so that
the boy felt he was thoroughly justified in hating the girl who so
frequently interfered with his whims.

Louise was at first quite interested in Kenneth, and resolved to force
him to talk and become more sociable.

She caught him in a little summer-house one morning, from whence,
there being but one entrance, he could not escape, and at once entered
into conversation.

"Ah, you are Kenneth Forbes, I suppose," she began, pleasantly. "I
am very glad to make your acquaintance. I am Louise Merrick, Miss
Merrick's niece, and have come to visit her."

The boy shrank back as fur as possible, staring her full in the face,
but made no reply.

"You needn't be afraid of me," continued Louise. "I'm very fond of
boys, and you must be nearly my own age."

Still no reply.

"I suppose you don't know much of girls and are rather shy," she
persisted. "But I want to be friendly and I hope you'll let me.
There's so much about this interesting old place that you can tell me,
having lived here so many years. Come, I'll sit beside you on this
bench, and we'll have a good talk together."

"Go away!" cried the boy, hoarsely, raising his hands as if to ward
off her approach.

Louise looked surprised and pained.

"Why, we are almost cousins," she said. "Cannot we become friends and

With a sudden bound he dashed her aside, so rudely that she almost
fell, and an instant later he had left the summer house and disappear
among the hedges.

Louise laughed at her own discomfiture and gave up the attempt to make
the boy's acquaintance.

"He's a regular savage," she told Beth, afterward, "and a little
crazy, too, I suspect."

"Never mind," said Beth, philosophically. "He's only a boy, and
doesn't amount to anything, anyway. After Aunt Jane dies he will
probably go somewhere else to live. Don't let us bother about him."

Kenneth's one persistent friend was Uncle John. He came every day
to the boy's room to play chess with him, and after that one day's
punishment, which, singularly enough, Kenneth in no way resented, they
got along very nicely together. Uncle John was a shrewd player of the
difficult game, but the boy was quick as a flash to see an advantage
and use it against his opponent; so neither was ever sure of winning
and the interest in the game was constantly maintained. At evening
also the little man often came to sit on the stair outside the boy's
room and smoke his pipe, and frequently they would sit beneath the
stars, absorbed in thought and without exchanging a single word.

Unfortunately, Louise and Beth soon discovered the boy's secluded
retreat, and loved to torment him by entering his own bit of garden
and even ascending the stairs to his little room. He could easily
escape them by running through the numerous upper halls of the
mansion; but here he was liable to meet others, and his especial dread
was encountering old Miss Merrick. So he conceived a plan for avoiding
the girls in another way.

In the hallway of the left wing, near his door, was a small ladder
leading to the second story roof, and a dozen feet from the edge of
the roof stood an old oak tree, on the further side of a tall hedge.
Kenneth managed to carry a plank to the roof, where, after several
attempts, he succeeded in dropping one end into a crotch of the oak,
thus connecting the edge of the roof with the tree by means of the
narrow plank. After this, at first sight of the girls in his end of
the garden, he fled to the roof, ran across the improvised bridge,
"shinned" down the tree and, hidden by the hedge, made good his

The girls discovered this plan, and were wicked enough to surprise the
boy often and force him to cross the dizzy plank to the tree. Having
frightened him away they would laugh and stroll on, highly amused at
the evident fear they aroused in the only boy about the place.

Patricia, who was not in the other girls' secret, knew nothing of this
little comedy and really disturbed Kenneth least of the three. But he
seemed to avoid her as much as he did the others.

She sooned learned from Oscar that the boy loved to ride as well as
she did, and once or twice she met him on a lonely road perched on top
of big Sam. This led her to suspect she had thoughtlessly deprived him
of his regular mount. So one morning she said to the groom:

"Doesn't Kenneth usually ride Nora?"

"Yes, Miss," answered the man.

"Then I'd better take Sam this morning," she decided.

But the groom demurred.

"You won't like Sam, Miss," he said, "and he gets ugly at times and
acts bad. Master Kenneth won't use Nora today, I'm sure."

She hesitated.

"I think I'll ask him," said she, after a moment, and turned away into
the garden, anxious to have this plausible opportunity to speak to the
lonely boy.



"Get out of here!" shouted the boy, angrily, as Patsy appeared at the
foot of his stair.

"I won't!" she answered indignantly. "I've come to speak to you about
the mare, and you'll just treat me decently or I'll know the reason

But he didn't wait to hear this explanation. He saw her advancing up
the stairs, and fled in his usual hasty manner to the hall and up the
ladder to the roof.

Patsy stepped back into the garden, vexed at his flight, and the next
instant she saw him appear, upon the sloping roof and start to run
down the plank.

Even as she looked the boy slipped, fell headlong, and slid swiftly
downward. In a moment he was over the edge, clutching wildly at the
plank, which was a foot or more beyond his reach. Headforemost he
dove into space, but the clutching hand found something at last--the
projecting hook of an old eaves-trough that had long since been
removed--and to this he clung fast in spite of the jerk of his
arrested body, which threatened to tear away his grip.

But his plight was desperate, nevertheless. He was dangling in space,
the hard pavement thirty feet below him, with no possible way of
pulling himself up to the roof again. And the hook was so small that
there was no place for his other hand. The only way he could cling
to it at all was to grasp his wrist with the free hand as a partial
relief from the strain upon his arm.

"Hold fast!" called Patsy. "I'm coming."

She sprang up the steps, through the boy's room and into the hallway.
There she quickly perceived the ladder, and mounted it to the roof.
Taking in the situation at a glance she ran with steady steps down
the sloping roof to where the plank lay, and stepped out upon it far
enough to see the boy dangling beside her. Then she decided instantly
what to do.

"Hang on!" she called, and returning to the roof dragged the end of
the plank to a position directly over the hook. Then she lay flat upon
it, an arm on either side of the plank, and reaching down seized one
of the boy's wrists firmly in each hand.

"Now, then," said she, "let go the hook."

"If I do," answered the boy, his white face upturned to hers, "I'll
drag you down with me."

"No you won't. I'm very strong, and I'm sure I can save you. Let go,"
she said, imperatively.

"I'm not afraid to die," replied the boy, his voice full of
bitterness. "Take away your hands, and I'll drop."

But Patsy gripped him more firmly than ever.

"Don't be a fool!" she cried. "There's no danger whatever, if you do
just what I tell you."

His eyes met hers in a mute appeal; but suddenly he gained confidence,
and resolved to trust her. In any event, he could not cling to the
hook much longer.

He released his hold, and swung in mid-air just beneath the plank,
where the girl lay holding him by his wrists.

"Now, then," she said, quietly, "when I lift you up, grab the edges of
the plank."

Patricia's strength was equal to her courage, and under the excitement
of that desperate moment she did what few other girls of her size
could ever have accomplished. She drew the boy up until his eager
hands caught the edges of the plank, and gripped it firmly. Then she
released him and crept a little back toward the roof.

"Now swing your legs up and you're safe!" she cried.

He tried to obey, but his strength was failing him, and he could do no
more than touch the plank with his toes.

"Once more," called the girl.

This time she caught his feet as they swung upward, and drew his legs
around the plank.

"Can you climb up, now?" she asked, anxiously.

"I'll try," he panted.

The plank upon which this little tragedy was being enacted was in full
view of the small garden where Aunt Jane loved to sit in her chair and
enjoy the flowers and the sunshine. She could not see Kenneth's wing
at all, but she could see the elevated plank leading from the roof to
the oak tree, and for several days had been puzzled by its appearance
and wondered for what purpose it was there.

Today, as she sat talking with John Merrick and Silas Watson, she
suddenly gave a cry of surprise, and following her eyes the two men
saw Kenneth step out upon the roof, fall, and slide over the edge.
For a moment all three remained motionless, seized with fear and
consternation, and then they saw Patsy appear and run down to the

This they watched her move, and saw her lie down upon it.

"She's trying to save him--he must be caught somewhere!" cried the
lawyer, and both men started at full speed to reach the spot by the
round-about paths through the garden.

Aunt Jane sat still and watched. Suddenly the form of the boy swung
into view beneath the plank, dangling from the girl's outstretched
arms. The woman caught her breath, wondering what would happen next.
Patricia drew him up, until he seized the plank with his hands. Then
the girl crept back a little, and as the boy swung his feet upward she
caught them and twined his legs over the plank.

And now came the supreme struggle. The girl could do little more to
help him. He must manage to clamber upon the top of the plank himself.

Ordinarily Kenneth might have done this easily; but now his nerves
were all unstrung, and he was half exhausted by the strain of the past
few minutes. Almost he did it; but not quite. The next effort would be
even weaker. But now Patricia walked out upon the plank and Aunt Jane
saw her lean down, grasp the boy's collar and drag him into a position
of safety.

"Bravely done!" she murmured, but even as the sound came from her lips
the girl upon the bridge seemed in the exertion of the struggle to
lose her balance. She threw out her arms, leaned sidewise, and then
fell headlong into the chasm and disappeared from view.

Aunt Jane's agonized scream brought Phibbs running to her side. At
a glance she saw that her mistress had fainted, and looking hastily
around to discover the cause she observed the boy crawl slowly across
the plank, reach the tree, and slide down its trunk to pass out of
view behind the high hedge.

"Drat the boy!" growled the old servant, angrily, "he'll be the death
of Miss Jane, yet."



Uncle John could not run so swiftly as the lawyer, but he broke
through a gap in the hedge and arrived at a point just beneath the
plank at the same time that Silas Watson did.

One glance showed them the boy safely perched on top of the plank,
but the girl was bending backward. She threw out her arms in a vain
endeavor to save herself, and with a low cry toppled and plunged
swiftly toward the ground.

There was little time for the men to consider their actions.
Involuntarily they tried to catch Patricia, whose body struck them
sharply, felling them to the ground, and then bounded against the
hedge and back to the pavement.

When, half dazed, they scrambled to their feet, the girl lay
motionless before them, a stream of red blood welling from a deep cut
in her forhead, her eyes closed as if in sleep.

A moment more and the boy was kneeling beside her, striving to stay
the bleeding with his handkerchief.

"Do something! For God's sake try to do something," he wailed,
piteously. "Can't you see she's killed herself to save me?"

Uncle John knelt down and took the still form in his arms.

"Quiet, my lad," he said. "She isn't dead. Get Nora, and fetch the
doctor as soon as you can."

The boy was gone instantly, his agony relieved by the chance of
action, and followed by the lawyer, Uncle John carried his niece to
the rose chamber and laid her upon her white bed.

Misery met them, then, and following her came Louise and Beth, full of
horror and pity for the victim of the dreadful accident.

Jane Merrick had promptly recovered consciousness, for fainting spells
were foreign to her nature. Her first words to Phibbs, who was bending
over her, were:

"Is she dead?"

"Who, Miss Jane?"


"I don't know, Miss Jane. Why should she be dead?"

"Run, you idiot! Run at once and find out. Ask my brother--ask
anyone--if Patricia is dead!"

And so Phibbs came to the rose chamber and found the little group
bending over the girl's unconscious form.

"Is she dead, sir? Miss Jane wants to know," said the old servant, in
awe-struck tones.

"No," answered Uncle John, gravely. "She isn't dead, I'm sure; but I
can't tell how badly she is hurt. One of her legs--the right one--is
broken, I know, for I felt it as I carried the child in my arms; but
we must wait until the doctor comes before I can tell more."

Misery was something of a nurse, it seemed, and with the assistance of
Louise, who proved most helpful in the emergency, she bathed the
wound in the girl's forehead and bandaged it as well as she was able.
Between them the women also removed Patricia's clothing and got her
into bed, where she lay white and still unconscious, but breathing so
softly that they knew she was yet alive.

The doctor was not long in arriving, for Kenneth forced him to leap
upon Nora's back and race away to Elmhurst, while the boy followed as
swiftly as he could on the doctor's sober cob.

Dr. Eliel was only a country practitioner, but his varied experiences
through many years had given him a practical knowledge of surgery,
and after a careful examination of Patricia's injuries he was able to
declare that she would make a fine recovery.

"Her leg is fractured, and she's badly bruised," he reported to Aunt
Jane, who sent for him as soon as he could leave the sick room. "But I
do not think she has suffered any internal injuries, and the wound on
her forehead is a mere nothing. So, with good care, I expect the young
lady to get along nicely."

"Do everything you can for her," said the woman, earnestly. "You shall
be well paid, Dr. Eliel."

Before Patricia recovered her senses the doctor had sewn up her
forehead and set the fractured limb, so that she suffered little pain
from the first.

Louise and Beth hovered over her constantly, ministering to every
possible want and filled with tenderest sympathy for their injured
cousin. The accident seemed to draw them out of their selfishness and
petty intrigues and discovered in them the true womanly qualities that
had lurked beneath the surface.

Patsy was not allowed to talk, but she smiled gratefully at her
cousins, and the three girls seemed suddenly drawn nearer together
than any of them would have thought possible a few hours before.

The boy paced constantly up and down outside Patricia's door, begging
everyone who left the room, for news of the girl's condition. All his
reserve and fear of women seemed to have melted away as if by magic.
Even Beth and Louise were questioned eagerly, and they, having learned
the story of Patricia's brave rescue of the boy, were very gentle with
him and took pains not to frighten or offend him.

Toward evening Louise asked Patricia if she would see Kenneth for a
moment, and the girl nodded a ready assent.

He came in awkward and trembling, glancing fearfully at the bandaged
forehead and the still white face. But Patricia managed to smile
reassuringly, and held out a little hand for him to take. The boy
grasped it in both his own, and held it for several minutes while he
stood motionless beside her, his wide eyes fixed intently upon her

Then Louise sent him away, and he went to his room and wept profusely,
and then quieted down into a sort of dull stupor.

The next morning Uncle John dragged him away from Patricia's door and
forced him to play chess. The boy lost every game, being inattentive
and absorbed in thought, until finally Uncle John gave up the attempt
to amuse him and settled himself on the top stair for a quiet smoke.
The boy turned to the table, and took a sheet of paper from the
drawer. For an hour, perhaps, neither of these curious friends spoke
a word, but at the end of that time Uncle John arose and knocked the
ashes from his pipe. Kenneth did not notice him. The man approached
the table and looked over the boy's shoulder, uttering an exclamation
of surprise. Upon the paper appeared a cleverly drawn pencil sketch
of Patricia lying in her bed, a faint smile upon her face and her big
blue eyes turned pleasantly upon a shadowy form that stood beside her
holding her hand. The likeness was admirable, and if there were faults
in the perspective and composition Uncle John did not recognize them.

He gave a low whistle and turned thoughtfully away, and the young
artist was so absorbed that he did not even look up.

Strolling away to the stables, Uncle John met old Donald, who

"How is Miss Patsy this morning, sir?" It was the name she had given,
and preferred to be called by.

"She's doing finely," said Uncle John.

"A brave girl, sir!"

"Yes, Donald."

"And the boy?"

"Why, he seems changed, in some way, Donald. Not so nervous and wild
as usual, you know. I've just left him drawing a picture. Curious. A
good picture, too."

"Ah, he can do that, sir, as well as a real artist."

"Have you known him to draw, before this?"

"Why, he's always at it, sir, in his quieter moods. I've got a rare
good likeness o' myself, as he did long ago, in the harness-room."

"May I see it?"

"With pleasure, sir."

Donald led the way to the harness-room, and took from the cupboard the
precious board he had so carefully preserved.

Uncle John glanced at it and laughed aloud. He could well appreciate
the humor of the sketch, which Donald never had understood, and the
caricature was as clever as it was amusing. He handed the treasure
back to Donald and went away even more thoughtful than before.

A few days later a large package arrived at Elmhurst addressed to
Kenneth Forbes, and Oscar carried it at once to the boy's room, who
sat for an hour looking at it in silent amazement. Then he carefully
unwrapped it, and found it to contain a portable easel, a quantity of
canvas and drawing-paper, paints and oils of every description
(mostly all unknown to him) and pencils, brushes and water colors in

Kenneth's heart bounded with joy. Here was wealth, indeed, greater
than he had ever hoped for. He puzzled his brain for weeks to discover
how this fairy gift had ever come to him, but he was happier in its
possession than he had ever been before in all his life.

Patricia improved rapidly. Had it not been for the broken leg she
would have been out of the house in a week, as good as ever; but
broken limbs take time to heal, and Dr. Eliel would not permit the
girl to leave her bed until ten days had passed.

Meantime everyone delighted to attend her. Louise and Beth sat with
her for hours, reading or working, for the rose chamber was cheery and
pleasant, and its big windows opened upon the prettiest part of the
gardens. The two girls were even yet suspicious of one another, each
striving to win an advantage with Aunt Jane; but neither had the
slightest fear that Patricia would ever interfere with their plans. So
they allowed their natural inclinations to pet and admire the heroine
of the hour full sway, and Patsy responded so sweetly and frankly to
their advances that they came to love her dearly, and wondered why
they had not discovered from the first how lovable their Irish cousin
could be.

Kenneth, also came daily to the sick room for a visit, and Patsy had
a way of drawing the boy out and making him talk that was really
irresistible. After his fairy gift arrived he could not help telling
the girls all about it and then he brought the things down and
displayed them, and promised Patsy he would make a picture of the
garden for her.

Then, after the girl got better, he brought his easel down to her
room, where she could watch him work, and began upon the picture,
while the cousins joined him in speculations as to who the mysterious
donor could he.

"At first," said Kenneth, "I thought it was Mr. Watson, for he's alway
been very good to me; but he says he knows nothing about it. Then I
though it might be Uncle John; but Uncle John is too poor to afford

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