Miss Merivale's Mistake
Mrs. Henry Clarke
Part 2 out of 2
Next morning she was practising her scales in the sitting-room, after
Pauline had gone to give some lessons, when Tom was ushered in by Mrs.
Richards. Rose ran to meet him with a glad cry.
"Oh, Tom, this is nice! Has Aunt Lucy come with you?"
"No; she sent me. She wants you and Miss Smythe to spend Saturday to
Monday with us. Why didn't you let us know you were coming yesterday,
Rosie? Aunt Lucy was so disappointed when she found you had come down."
"I didn't think of it till the middle of the day. You had gone to
Guilford, they told me. Wasn't that too far for Aunt Lucy?"
"Why should it be?" asked Tom in a surprised tone. "She has often driven
as far as that. She seemed to enjoy it. She is certainly stronger, Rosie.
But you will see on Saturday. You look rather pale. Come out with me. If
you'll ask me to lunch, I can stay."
Rose hesitated. "I don't think you would like Mrs. Richards' cooking, Tom.
I would rather you wouldn't stay."
"You inhospitable sister! Well, I'll ask you to lunch with me. Run and put
your hat on and let us go out. It is a glorious morning."
He watched her rather impatiently as she got the case and began to put her
violin away. He was anxious to get her out into the open air. It
distressed him to see how pale she was. And he had an uneasy feeling that
he had been neglecting his little sister lately. For days he had hardly
thought of her.
"You aren't practising too hard, I hope, Rosie?" he said kindly. "You
mustn't overdo it, you know."
"Oh, I don't practise too much," Rose returned. She did not tell him that
she found it impossible to practise except when Pauline was out. Pauline's
neuralgia came on directly she began to play. "And how does Miss Sampson
suit, Tom? I hope she looks after Aunt Lucy properly?"
Tom flushed up. "You will see for yourself on Saturday, Rosie. Aunt Lucy
is very fond of her."
"Yes, Wilmot told me that."
Tom gave his sister a hasty glance, was on the point of saying something,
but checked himself. And there was a moment's silence before he spoke. "I
wish you had not settled to stay here till June, Rosie. We want you at
It was in a choked voice Rose answered him. "I don't believe you do want
me. Aunt Lucy has got Miss Sampson. She doesn't want me."
Tom again paused a moment before he spoke. Each time Rose mentioned Rhoda
in that slighting tone it roused his anger against her. But he told
himself that Rose did not know Rhoda yet, and he must wait till they had
seen something of each other before he could expect Rose's sympathy. He
spoke very calmly and reasonably after the pause.
"Did you wish Aunt Lucy to be miserable while you were away, Rose? It was
your own wish to go. Surely you ought to be glad that she has found
someone to fill your place."
He felt he had said the wrong thing before Rose turned on him, her eyes
flashing. "How could Miss Sampson, a stranger, fill my place? Tom, you are
"Not at all," he said stoutly, bent on defending the position he had taken
up. "I don't want to hurt you, Rosie; but look at the thing reasonably.
Remember that you told me you were bored to death at home, that you would
give anything to live in London all the year round. I didn't believe you.
But suppose you had really wanted it? You couldn't have expected to keep
your place at home and yet have the freedom of a life like this. If a girl
gives up her home duties, she must take the consequences."
"I have only been away a fortnight," said Rose, with a trembling lip, "and
I shall feel nothing but a visitor when I go back on Saturday. You--you
only ask me because I went home yesterday and found you gone. I don't
believe you want me a bit." And, to Tom's distress and amazement, Rose,
poor little homesick Rose, burst into tears.
"I wish you would go back with me this minute and you'd find out whether
we wanted you," he exclaimed, drawing her hands down from her face. "You
silly child, what would Aunt Lucy say if she heard you talking such
nonsense? Rosie, just listen to me a moment. I am going to tell you
something I haven't even told Aunt Lucy yet, though I believe she guesses.
Don't cry any more. Just listen to me."
The quiver in Tom's voice made Rose look wonderingly at him. It was very
unlike him to show any emotion. His cool, matter-of-fact way of looking at
things had often irritated her. But she saw now that he was deeply moved.
And the reason of his agitation suddenly flashed upon her.
"Oh, Tom!" she faltered out.
"Rosie, you'll try to like her?" he said eagerly. "I'm not sure--I'm sure
of nothing, except that I shall never be happy again unless--Rosie, you
will be nice to her? You don't know her. There is nobody like her. You
won't be able to help liking her, I'm sure of that."
Rose was still looking at him with wide-open, wondering eyes.
"But, Tom, is she--is she a lady?" she faltered.
He frowned. "She hasn't sixteen quarterings on her shield, if you mean
that. But you won't ask the question again when you have seen her, Rose."
Rose did not remind him that she had seen her. She was trying to recall
her as she sat at the side table busy over her typewriting. Her jealousy
of Rhoda had somehow vanished in the light of Tom's wonderful confession.
She was eager to see the girl again who might one day be her sister.
"Do you really think Aunt Lucy knows, Tom?" she asked in a doubtful voice.
Tom's future wife had been often a subject for conversation between Miss
Merivale and Rose. And of the two, Miss Merivale had been the more
ambitious in her wishes. She had seemed to think that hardly anyone could
be good enough for Tom.
"I'm sure she knows," returned Tom, with conviction. "But don't say
anything to her, Rosie. I shouldn't have told you unless"--
"I'm glad you told me, Tom," said Rose, drawing a deep breath. "And I'm
sure I shall like her. I'm sure she must be nice."
Tom beamed at her. "But you did see her for a moment, Rosie. She came here
while you were staying with Miss Smythe last month."
"Yes; she sat at that table, and wrote the letters," Rose said, nodding
towards the little side table in the corner. "She had a brown dress on, I
remember. Tom, am I expected to say that I thought her very pretty? I
hardly looked at her."
"Well, you will see her on Saturday," Tom said.
Rose noticed that his voice sounded quite different when he spoke of
Rhoda. And there came a look into his face she had never seen there
before. It was impossible for her to cherish any jealous feelings in face
of the great fact that Tom was in love. It thrilled her to think of it.
That evening, when Tom was gone, and she and Pauline were sitting together
in their little sitting-room, she let her book lie unheeded on her lap,
while she looked forward dreamily into the future. She took it for granted
that Tom and Rhoda would marry. It seemed quite out of the question that
Tom could be refused. How strange it would be to have a sister! She had so
often wished for a sister. She hoped Rhoda would soon learn to love her.
She thought of her quite naturally as Rhoda now, and was tremulously eager
to see her again. She was sure that the girl Tom loved must be worthy of
his love. And the fact that he had made her his confidante had taken all
bitterness out of her heart. She was proud that he had trusted her.
"Rosie, whatever is your little head full of?" asked Pauline suddenly. She
had been watching her for some moments, unable to interpret the shining,
far-off look in her blue eyes.
Rose pave a start and looked hastily round. "I was thinking of Tom," she
said, feeling her colour rise.
"Tom ought to be flattered," laughed Pauline. "I believe you had forgotten
my existence. How you started when I spoke! Where were you? At Woodcote?"
"I fancy so," said Rose, getting up and stretching her hands above her
head. "Shall we have supper now, Pauline? I wonder why that lamp smells
so. Ours never do at home. I must ask Wilmot how to clean it. I am sure
Mrs. Richards can't do it properly."
"I don't suppose she does, my dear. I believe Sampson tried to teach her.
She's a domestic genius, isn't she? I am beginning to feel grateful to
Sampson. If your aunt had not heard of her you wouldn't have come to me."
"Pauline, I wish you would not speak of her like that," said Rose, with a
note of irritation in her voice. "Why do you?"
"Why shouldn't I? It isn't as if she was a lady. One of her uncles is a
butcher; she told Clare so."
"I don't see why she should be ashamed of it," returned Rose, answering
Pauline's tone rather than her words. "It's what people are in themselves
that matters, not what trade their relations belong to. But Miss Sampson
has no relations of her very own. The M'Alisters adopted her. And Aunt
Lucy thinks that her uncle might have been Cousin Lydia's husband. It is
that which made Aunt Lucy so interested in her at first. For, you know, if
Cousin Lydia's little girl had lived, she would have had Woodcote, and not
Tom. And she and her father would have come to England when Uncle James
Pauline was watching Rose's face curiously. She did not feel any interest
in Cousin Lydia and her husband, but she could not understand Rose's
change of attitude towards Rhoda Sampson. One explanation occurred to
her--a delightful one. Had Rose made up her mind to spend the summer in
London with her? Was this the reason she felt glad that her aunt had
someone she liked to take her place?
"Well, as I said before, Rosie, I am grateful to Miss Rhoda Sampson," she
said laughingly. "If she was not at Woodcote, you would not be here. And I
shall get more and more grateful to her as the weeks go on. I may get to
love her in time, if she enables us to spend the summer together. You are
quite happy about your aunt now, aren't you, my Rose?"
Rose looked aghast at the prospect of spending the whole summer in the
flat. She hardly knew how she was to endure it till June.
"I must go home in June, Pauline," she said hastily. "I couldn't stay
longer than that."
"Well, we shall see," said Pauline gaily. "You won't talk so lightly about
going back when you have had a few more weeks of freedom, Rose. And if
your aunt is so well provided for, there will be no need for you to go
back. You won't be wanted."
"Oh yes, I shall be," Rose answered, with a swelling heart. Tom had made
her feel sure of that. "Pauline, please don't think about my staying here
after June. I can't stay. I want to go home."
"You haven't forgiven me for that wretched concert!" Pauline exclaimed.
"I haven't thought of it again. It isn't that, Pauline. How could it be?
But I want to go home."
"You will be miserable, just as you were before. Remember how you talked
to me. You were bored to death."
Rose flushed scarlet. "I wasn't. Or if I was, I don't mean to be so silly
Pauline looked at her with an angry glance. "You are a homesick baby,
Rose, that is the long and short of it. I gave you credit for being
grown-up. It was a mistake you coming here at all. Clare didn't get
"Clare had her work," answered Rose, knitting her pretty brows and looking
miserably at Pauline's angry face. "I am doing nothing I couldn't do as
well at home. I could come up once a week for lessons. Pauline, don't be
angry. You didn't really think I should stay on after June, did you?"
"I gave you credit for meaning what you said," returned Pauline harshly.
"And what you said was true. You were not happy at home. If you go back,
you will get bored and unhappy again."
Rose shook her head. She had had a sharp lesson. She knew what the freedom
was worth that Pauline had offered her. She longed to take up again the
little daily cares that had filled her life at home. And she longed to get
away from Pauline. She was beginning to feel that she had never really
known her till now.
Pauline waited a moment for her to speak, and then turned sharply away.
"Well, I shall not press you to stay with me. Madame Verney would be glad
if I could live with her. I said it was impossible yesterday, as I was
bound to you. Now I shall feel quite free to make my own arrangements. But
you have disappointed me, Rose. I must tell you so quite frankly."
And Rose felt quite crushed for the moment by the judicial air with which
Pauline pronounced this judgment on her.
PAULINE HAS HER SUSPICIONS.
Pauline and Rose went down to Woodcote on Friday evening.
Pauline had apparently recovered her spirits, and was in her brightest
mood. She had been very sweet and caressing to Rose ever since their talk
on the evening of Tom's visit to the flat. Rose inwardly chafed at this
show of affection; she had ceased to believe in Pauline's sincerity.
Miss Merivale was waiting at the station for them with the pony carriage.
The groom had driven her down, but Rose begged to be allowed to drive
back. It was the first time she had driven the new pony, which was a
pretty, gentle, timid creature, obedient to the lightest touch on the
"We must take Miss Smythe to Bingley woods to-morrow, Rose dear," Miss
Merivale said, as they drove slowly up the long hill from the station.
"The primroses are very plentiful this year. Tom says the ground is
carpeted with them."
Rose did not answer. The pony had started aside at the sight of a railway
train that had just come out of the tunnel, and she was engaged in
"Rose, you had better let me drive," Pauline suggested. "I drove a great
deal when I was staying with the Warehams. You are not firm enough."
"It is only trains and traction engines Bob is frightened of," Miss
Merivale said. "And coaxing is best, I am sure. There, we shall have no
more trouble with him now. He is a dear little fellow."
Pauline said nothing, but she had some difficulty in keeping herself from
shrugging her shoulders. She thought both Miss Merivale and Rose
deplorably weak and silly. A smart stroke with the whip was what the pony
wanted. But she had come down determined to be on her best behaviour, and
she made some smiling remark on the beauty of the country.
"Rose has been pining for fresh air like a lark in a cage," she said. "Are
you content now, Rosie?"
"Tom said she looked pale," Miss Merivale said, giving Rose an anxious,
loving glance. "I wish you would come down again next week, dear. I can't
let a fortnight pass again without seeing you; it is much too long."
"Time goes faster in London," said Pauline, without allowing Rose to
answer. "It seems only yesterday that Rose came to me. How quiet it is
here! Don't you miss the roar of London, Rosie? I do. Not the clatter of
cabs and carts, but that deep, low roar we hear when we open the window.
It is like the voice of the great city. There is no music like it."
"I would rather hear the birds," Miss Merivale said gently; but she gave
Rosie another anxious look. She was wondering if the time had gone as
quickly with her as with Pauline.
Rose did not speak. She was waiting till they got home to pour her heart
out to her aunt. She could not speak before Pauline.
"I am afraid I haven't many rustic tastes," Pauline said in a cool,
superior voice. "But it is certainly lovely here. What a delightful change
it must be for that little Miss Sampson! I hear you find her very useful,
Miss Merivale. Clare will be pleased to hear it."
For the first time in her life Pauline saw Miss Merivale look angry. Her
mild blue eyes actually flashed as she answered in a voice that trembled a
little, "I don't think you can have heard that Rhoda is related to us,
Miss Smythe. She is staying with me as my visitor. Rose, my dear, I want
you to be very good to her."
Pauline stole a look at Rose, expecting to see a cloud of jealousy on her
pretty face; but she saw instead a tender, happy smile lurking in the
corners of her lips. She was distinctly mystified.
"Yes, I remember now that Rose spoke of some distant family connection,"
she said carelessly to Miss Merivale. "How very good of you to acknowledge
it, dear Miss Merivale! Some people wouldn't, I know. They think poor
relations should be kept out of sight as much as possible. But Miss
Sampson is hardly to be called a relation, is she? I forget the exact link
between you, though Rose told me."
"She is related to poor Cousin Lydia's second husband," Rose said, as Miss
Merivale did not answer. "He and his little girl were lost in the bush,
weren't they, Aunt Lucy?"
"Yes, dear," said Miss Merivale in a low voice. Her face had become very
"If she had lived, we might never have come to Woodcote," Rose went on,
her glance resting lovingly on the old house, which had just come into
sight. "How strange it seems to think of that! How old was she, Aunt Lucy?
It is only lately I have thought of her at all."
"She was about two years old, dear," Miss Merivale answered in the same
low voice. Pauline, who was watching her in some wonder, could see that
she was profoundly agitated.
"Then she would have been about twenty now," Rose went on, not noticing
her aunt's disinclination to talk of her niece. "How old is Miss Sampson,
Aunt Lucy? I wonder if they ever saw each other."
"She is nearly twenty; I remember Clare telling me so," said Pauline,
answering for Miss Merivale. "But she looks much older. It is the kind of
life she has lived, I suppose."
Rose was intent on turning the curve of the drive in a masterly manner,
and did not answer this. And Pauline, after another glance at Miss
Merivale's face, was silent about Rhoda. It was plain to her that, for
some reason or another, the subject was intensely painful to Miss
Rhoda came shyly across the hall as they entered. She had on a new brown
dress that Miss Merivale had given her. It was brown cashmere, made very
simply, but it was a prettier dress than Pauline had ever seen her
wearing, and she stared undisguisedly at her as they shook hands.
"I hardly knew you, Miss Sampson," she said. "How very well you are
looking! But you must be having quite a holiday."
The condescending tone did not appear to irritate Rhoda. She answered
pleasantly; there was even a twinkle deep down in her dark eyes as she met
It was Rose who felt irritated. Now that she saw Rhoda's face in the full
light, with no hat to shade it, she recognised what a frank, sweet face it
was. She did not wonder that Tom loved her, or that her aunt smiled upon
his wooing. And Pauline's assumption of superiority vexed her intensely.
Miss Merivale asked Rhoda to show Pauline the room that had been prepared
for her, and they went upstairs together. Rose cast an anxious glance
"I had better go too, Aunt Lucy."
"No, wait a moment, darling. I want to have a good look at you. Tom gave
me a bad account. And you are looking pale. You are not working too hard?"
"Not a bit of it," laughed Rose. "And I am quite well. But I shall be glad
when June comes, Aunt Lucy. I am beginning to count the days. But don't
tell Pauline that."
A delighted look flashed into Miss Merivale's face. "My darling, it is so
sweet to hear you say that. I was afraid you would find it dull here when
you came back. I have missed you more than I could tell you."
"Really?" asked Rose half wistfully, half teasingly. "You've had Miss
Sampson, you know, Aunt Lucy."
"I want you both," Miss Merivale said in an eager voice. "Rose, you will
try to love her, won't you? She is so lonely. Mrs. M'Alister and her
children have gone to Devonshire, and Rhoda was left behind. She has
nobody but us. You won't treat her like a stranger, will you, dearest?"
Rose felt chilled and hurt by her aunt's strange eagerness. It was all
very well for Tom to speak so, but her aunt was different. Why should she
plead for Rhoda like that?
"You'll see how sweet I mean to be to her, Aunt Lucy," she said gaily; and
Miss Merivale did not notice that the gaiety was forced. "I'll go up now
and send her down to you. I wonder why Pauline is keeping her."
She hastened away, and Miss Merivale sat down in the porch and put her
hand on the head of Bruno, Tom's black Newfoundland, who had come to her
side with an inquiring glance in his beautiful eyes.
"Your master will be home soon, Bruno," she said. The dog wagged his tail,
but still kept looking at her. She went on speaking to him. "And
everything is coming right, Bruno," she said. "I am glad I was silent.
It's all coming right. We shall all be happy together."
She looked round as she spoke, and saw Rhoda coming down the broad shallow
stairs into the wainscoted hall. A tender smile brightened her face as she
watched her. She had lost the feeling that she was doing her an injustice
by not acknowledging her as her niece. As Tom's wife she would be as a
daughter to her. She would have everything that was hers by right.
Rhoda stepped rather slowly down, her head bent, a line of anxiety showing
between her clearly pencilled dark brows. She knew something about Pauline
that she was beginning to feel Miss Merivale should know. Yet she had no
wish to disclose the secret she had accidentally learnt. At first it had
amused her, it amused her still. In the brief, decidedly unpleasant
_tete-a-tete_ which Rose had just put an end to, she had found it easy to
bear Pauline's half-veiled taunts. Ever since her visit to Leyton she had
understood the bitter animosity which Miss Smythe had shown her from the
first. It was not altogether a personal dislike. Rhoda was sure that she
would have treated in the same manner any girl who was poor and yet was
not ashamed of her poverty or of her friends.
Miss Merivale's gentle call made her hurry her footsteps. Her face had a
wonderfully sweet look on it as she approached Miss Merivale. Miss
Merivale's kindness had completely won the girl's heart. She was so happy
at Woodcote that sometimes she felt as if it must be a dream from which
she would awake to find herself in the lonely bedroom in Acacia Road with
the boys' cots empty, and a long London day of searching for work to look
"Sit down here beside me, dear," Miss Merivale said, taking her hand and
drawing her down on the seat. "Just look at Bruno. He has been asking me
when Tom is coming back. I tell him he will be back in a few moments."
Rhoda had turned her head quickly away to look at the dog, but Miss
Merivale saw how her colour rose, making even the little ear pink. And she
smiled to herself.
"I hope Tom will be able to go with us to-morrow," she went on, without
giving Rhoda time to speak. "I want to take Miss Smythe to Bingley woods.
It is too early for a picnic, but we could drive over there directly after
lunch. Ah, there is Tom."
Bruno had heard the click of the wicket gate leading to the stables before
Miss Merivale spoke. So had Rhoda. She started up. "I promised Wilmot I
would light the lamps, Miss Merivale, as Ann is out. We shall want them
Miss Merivale let her go, smiling softly again to herself. "Rose and Miss
Smythe have come, Tom," she called to him, as he crossed the lawn,
swinging his stick, and walking with a free, happy step.
"I'm glad of that. Where is Rosie? I'm afraid I shall not be able to see
much of her to-morrow, Aunt Lucy. I must go to Croydon, after all. But
I'll get back early. How do you think Rose is looking?"
"She is pale, Tom; but she says she is very well. I don't think she likes
it as much as she expected She is anxious to come home in June."
Tom's eyes twinkled. "Yes, I gathered that on Tuesday. I am glad you let
her go, Aunt Lucy. But there is no need for her to stay till June if she
does not like it, is there? Why should she go back at all?"
"I don't think it would be quite fair to Miss Smythe for her to leave her
now, dear," said Miss Merivale gently. "I am sure Rose would rather go
Their talk was interrupted by Rose herself, who came flying across the
hall at the sight of Tom, followed more slowly by Pauline. "Oh, Tom, have
you come back? I drove Bob from the station. Did Aunt Lucy tell you?"
"She hasn't had time. I have only just come in. How do you do, Miss
Smythe? I hope Rose has been a good little girl since Tuesday?"
"Have you, Rose?" said Pauline, with a lazy smile.
Rose did not hear the question. She had caught sight of Rhoda entering the
hall through the swing doors that led to Wilmot's pantry, and she stepped
back to speak to her. They stood talking together by the wide stone
hearth, filled now with green fir boughs. Pauline noticed how Tom's eyes
kept wandering to them as he made disjointed remarks to her and his aunt,
and he presently moved across the hall to join them.
Miss Merivale got up from her seat in the porch. "It is getting chilly, my
dear," she said to Pauline. "Shall we go into the dining-room? Tea will be
ready in a few moments."
But Pauline lingered in the hall. Though the twilight had begun to gather,
enough light streamed through the great west window to make the portraits
on the wainscoted walls clearly visible. Pauline went from one to the
other, asking Miss Merivale a question now and then, but really far more
intent on studying the group at the fireplace than the pictures she
appeared to be interested in.
Over the fireplace hung the portrait of Miss Merivale's mother, a sweet,
gentle-eyed woman, very much like Miss Merivale, except that her eyes were
a soft brown instead of a soft blue.
Pauline remarked on the likeness at once. "Except for the dark eyes, it
might be your portrait, Miss Merivale."
Rose had been glancing from the portrait to Rhoda. "Aunt Lucy, your
mother's eyes are exactly the same colour as Miss Sampson's."
Pauline, who was standing by Miss Merivale, felt her start violently. "I
had not noticed, dear," she said, without looking at Rhoda.
"Oh, but they are," Rose went on. "Only Miss Sampson's are shaped a little
differently. And she was named Rhoda, wasn't she, Aunt Lucy? Tom, don't
you see the likeness?"
"I can't say I do, Rosie," said Tom, who considered in his heart of hearts
that Rhoda's long-lashed, sparkling dark eyes were far more beautiful than
the mild brown ones in the portrait. As he spoke he moved quickly towards
his aunt. "Aunt Lucy, it is too cold for you here. Come in by the
dining-room fire. Why, you are trembling with the cold. The evening is
very chilly for April."
Pauline stood still for a moment gazing intently up at the picture, and
then followed the others into the dining-room. Before Tom had spoken to
his aunt she had seen how white and strange her face was--as white as if
she was about to faint. And a sudden idea had flashed upon Pauline, making
her heart beat fast.
That night, when Rhoda was brushing her hair, she heard a soft tap at the
door. To her surprise, it was Pauline who entered.
"I have come to borrow some matches," she said. "I find my box is empty.
How pretty your room is! So is mine. It is a charming house altogether.
May I sit down and talk to you a little? I want you and Miss Merivale to
spend a long day with us next week. Do you think you could persuade her to
The change in Pauline's manner was so extraordinary that Rhoda found it
difficult to speak. But Pauline did not appear to notice her constrained
answer. She sat down in the low chair by the window and took up the
photograph frame that stood there by Rhoda's little writing case and a
saucer filled with white violets and moss.
"May I look at this? It is your aunt and cousins, isn't it? What a dear
little fellow that is on your aunt's lap! Is that the little boy who was
ill? You took him into the country, didn't you?"
An irrepressible glimmer of fun came into Rhoda's dark eyes. "Yes, into
Essex," she said demurely.
"They have all gone into the country now, haven't they? How fortunate it
was that Miss Merivale heard me mention you, Miss Sampson! She noticed the
name at once. It is quite certain, isn't it, that you are related to her
through her sister's marriage?"
"Miss Merivale insists on thinking so," said Rhoda quietly. "But I cannot
be sure of it."
"Don't you remember your own people at all? I can feel for you, if that is
so. My father and mother died while I was a baby. Can you remember your
mother? I wish I could."
"No, I cannot remember her."
"And your father?"
"Just a little."
Rhoda's cold, brief replies checked Pauline. She did not find it so easy
to pump Rhoda as she had expected. She put the photograph down, and got up
with a yawn. "I am keeping you up," she said. "May I have the matches?
Thank you. Good-night." She gave Rhoda one of her most charming smiles as
she spoke; but Rhoda's good-night was studiously cold. She had no desire
to accept the olive branch Pauline was holding out to her.
The more Pauline thought of it the more she felt convinced that she had
solved the mystery of Miss Merivale's sudden interest in Rhoda. And she
spent a long time in considering what was the best use she could make of
Her first idea had been to disclose the truth to Rhoda herself, and thus
establish a claim to her gratitude. But something in Rhoda's manner the
night before made her hesitate. And she felt half inclined to believe that
her best plan would be to speak to Miss Merivale and assure her that she
could be trusted to keep silent.
She was still undecided when she went into the garden next morning to help
Rose pick the flowers for the table.
Rhoda was already in the garden. Old Jackson, the gardener, had come to
the house to seek her directly after breakfast.
"Jackson expects Rhoda to spend half the day in his company," Miss
Merivale said, with a laugh. "He won't sow a seed without asking her
opinion first. My opinions he has always laughed to scorn."
"And mine too," said Rose, with a merry glance at Rhoda. "He has always
been a regular despot about the garden. How have you managed to subdue
him, Miss Sampson?"
"I expect he has found out that Miss Sampson knows more than he does,"
said Pauline smilingly. "I want you to teach me something about flowers
while I am here, Miss Sampson. I have schemes for a flower-box outside our
windows at the flat. Don't you think that would be a delightful plan,
Rhoda made some fitting response, but Pauline discerned the coldness in
her voice. She said angrily to herself that Rhoda did not deserve to know
what she could tell her. And ten minutes later she had fully made up her
mind to speak to Miss Merivale. It was another discovery which had led her
to a decision. She had wandered on before Rose towards the end of the
garden, where an archway through a clipped yew hedge led to the stables
and farm buildings. Her steps made no sound on the turf path, and she
suddenly came in sight of Tom and Rhoda standing close to the archway.
Rhoda had her gardening gloves and apron on, and a trowel in her hand. She
had just been sowing seeds in the bed that ran along the yew hedge. Tom
had come through the archway to bid her good-bye before starting on his
"I wish I was going to Bingley woods with you," he said. "You will have a
"Yes, it will be beautiful," Rhoda answered, finding it just as difficult
as Tom did to speak these ordinary words in an ordinary tone. A blush came
over her face, and she dropped her eyes. She could not meet his eager
glance. For one moment Tom was silent--a moment that was eloquent to them
both. Then, "Rhoda!" he said, almost below his breath.
It was at that moment Pauline turned the corner by the great lilac bushes
and caught sight of them. Rhoda came towards her instantly, showing no
sign of discomposure except a controlled quivering at the corners of her
firm lips; but Pauline was not deceived by her calmness. Her only doubt
was as to whether Tom shared Miss Merivale's knowledge as to Rhoda's
parentage. And after a moment or two's consideration she decided that he
did not. It was impossible to look at Tom and doubt his perfect honesty.
After a short talk, he went through the archway to start on his ride, and
Pauline returned to Rose, leaving Rhoda to her gardening.
"Rose, why didn't you warn me?" she said in a tone of laughing reproach
when she joined her. "I am afraid your brother will never forgive me. I
have just interrupted a _tete-a-tete_."
"What do you mean, Pauline?" asked Rose, jarred through and through by her
"Is it possible you don't guess, you blind girl? But perhaps you would
rather I did not speak of it? I thought I could say anything to you,
"You spoke of Tom," Rose answered. "Of course I know what you mean,
"Ah, you are jealous, Rosie."
Rose flashed a glance at her. "I am not jealous. I am not so horrid as
that. But don't make a joke of it, Pauline, please don't."
Pauline burst into a loud laugh. "Oh, Rosie, what a solemn little face!
But, seriously, do you think the course of true love is likely to run
smooth? Surely your aunt will object. We are not all so unworldly and
sentimental as you."
"Aunt Lucy is glad, I am sure of it. And so am I," said Rose stoutly, "I
am beginning to see what Rhoda is."
"You think Miss Merivale will be glad? Well, you are odd people. I shall
begin to think Miss Sampson must have a fairy godmother. It's a new
version of Cinderella, isn't it?"
This made Rose too angry to answer, and she walked away to the next
flower-bed to put an end to the conversation. Pauline did not attempt to
follow her. After standing in deep thought for a moment, she returned to
Miss Merivale was sitting in the drawing-room busy with her embroidery.
She looked up with a smile as Pauline entered. "I was just wishing you or
Rose would come in, Miss Smythe," she said. "I am not sure whether blue or
green would be best for the centre of this flower."
Pauline gravely examined the embroidery, and gave her opinion. Then she
took up the basket of silks. "May I sort these for you, Miss Merivale?"
"Oh, do, my dear. The kittens got hold of the basket just now and made sad
work with it."
Pauline seated herself at a little distance and began quickly and
skilfully to arrange the basket, glancing once or twice at her companion.
Miss Merivale looked very composed and cheerful. She was intent on her
embroidery, and seemed in no hurry to talk.
It was Pauline who began the conversation.
"I have just been talking to Miss Sampson in the garden, Miss Merivale.
How very happy she seems here!"
"Yes, I think she is happy, my dear."
"And if you and Rosie had not come to the flat that afternoon, you might
never have heard of her. How strangely things come about, don't they, dear
"I am very glad we came," Miss Merivale answered. "What colour shall I use
for this leaf, my dear? My eyes are not what they used to be, and I like
to take advice."
Pauline bent forward to look, and patiently discussed the question; but
she spoke of Rhoda again directly it was decided. "But something still
more strange might have happened, Miss Merivale," she went on lightly.
"Suppose Miss Sampson had been your own niece? She might have been. People
who are supposed to be lost in the bush aren't always lost, and--Oh, Miss
Merivale, what have I said?"
Miss Merivale had dropped her work, and was staring at Pauline with
wide-open, terrified eyes. She made no effort to answer her. She was
incapable of speech.
"What have I said?" repeated Pauline. She got up and came close to Miss
Merivale, kneeling down beside her. "You are angry with me. I have hurt
you. Is it possible that Rhoda is your niece, and that you do not want her
to know it? But you must trust me. Please trust me, Miss Merivale."
Miss Merivale put her hand up to her eyes. She spoke in a stunned voice.
Pauline's words had suddenly torn away the veil which had hidden the
meaning of her own conduct from her.
"Yes, Rhoda is my niece," she said. "She is my sister Lydia's little girl.
What made you guess it?"
Pauline was slightly taken aback at this speech of Miss Merivale's. She
had not expected her to admit the truth so readily. "Miss Merivale, you
must trust me," she said in a low, eager voice. "I understand exactly why
you want it to be a secret. No one shall ever know from me."
Miss Merivale pushed her chair back, freeing herself from the touch of
Pauline's hands. A shock of repulsion had gone through her.
"It will be no secret after to-day," she said in the same stunned, heavy
voice. "I shall tell Tom this afternoon. I ought to have told him before."
Tom came home late in the afternoon. He expected to find that his aunt and
the girls had all gone to Bingley woods, and he only went to the house to
change his riding boots before going to meet them. He passed through the
archway in the yew hedge, marking with tender, happy eyes the exact spot
where Rhoda had stood that morning while they talked together. His feet
lingered a little as he went down the turf path to the house. Everything
in the garden spoke to him of Rhoda, and it was in the garden he had seen
He went through the open window of the library and across the hall. As he
reached the foot of the stairs he was surprised to hear his aunt's voice.
She was standing at the drawing-room door, with her hand resting heavily
on the jamb. It was with difficulty she had crossed the room to call him
on hearing his step. Her limbs were trembling under her.
"I thought you had all gone to Bingley woods," Tom exclaimed. "Have the
"Yes; I would not let them stay at home. I was feeling too tired to go."
"You caught cold yesterday in the porch," Tom said in a playful scolding
voice. "You do want a lot of looking after, Aunt Lucy. Have you a fire?
The wind is keen, though the sun is so bright. Here, let me make a better
fire than this."
He knelt down on the rug, stirring the logs into a cheerful blaze. Miss
Merivale sank down on the sofa and watched him in silence. If Tom had
looked attentively at her, he would have seen that her face was grey with
pain. She had spent some bitter hours since Pauline had spoken to her that
morning. Though she had done it for Tom's sake, she feared that he would
find it very hard to forgive her. And looking back over the last few
weeks, she found it almost impossible to understand how she could have
been happy for a moment while keeping such a secret from him.
The knowledge that Pauline shared the secret had been like a light brought
into a dark room. Her shock of repulsion at Pauline's eagerness to
convince her that she would be silent had been followed by the sad
reflection that she had no right to blame Pauline for being willing to do
what she herself had done for a month past.
"There, that is better," Tom said, getting up. "Let me draw your sofa
close up to the fire. Where is your knitting, Aunt Lucy? I know you can't
have your afternoon nap without it."
But Miss Merivale did not laugh at the old joke that she pretended to be
knitting when she was really fast asleep. "Tom, sit down," she said. "I
want to speak to you."
Tom hesitated. She had spoken in so low a tone he had not noticed how her
voice trembled. "I thought I would go to meet them, Aunt Lucy. They will
be coming back by this time."
"Sit down," she repeated more urgently. "I want to speak to you. I must
tell you before they come home."
He was thoroughly startled now. "Has anything happened?" he said. "What is
it?" He drew a chair close to her and sat down, his square, honest face
full of concern. "What is it, Aunt Lucy?"
She turned away from him. It was more difficult to speak than she had
expected, though she had known it would be very difficult. "Tom, it is
about Rhoda," she said in a choked voice.
He straightened himself in his chair. "About Rhoda?" he echoed. She heard
the challenge in his grave voice.
"Yes, about Rhoda. I want to tell you why I asked her here. You know that
I love her, Tom. You know how happy it has made me to see that you"--
"Dear Aunt Lucy, I was sure you had guessed," Tom said in an eager voice.
"Tom, wait," she said breathlessly. "You don't understand me yet. Has it
never struck you as strange that I should have asked Rhoda to live here,
that I should have treated her as a child of my own?"
No, Tom was not able to say that he had thought it strange. Rhoda being
Rhoda, it had seemed to him most natural that his aunt should have loved
her at first sight, just as he had done. But his voice was anxious as he
answered, "Aunt Lucy, I don't understand in the least what you are driving
at. What is it you want to tell me?"
She turned towards him, clasping her hands together. "Tom, Rhoda is
Lydia's little girl. She is my own niece. I have known it ever since the
first day she came to see me."
He stared at her, not comprehending. "How can she be Cousin Lydia's
child?" he asked. "She would have known you were her aunt."
"She does not. She knows nothing. But, Tom, she is Lydia's daughter. I
know it. I have known it all these weeks."
"But why"--he began, and then stopped, a dark flush rising in his face. He
knew why his aunt had been silent.
"Tom, at first I tried to persuade myself I was mistaken," she faltered.
"And then, when I saw"--
He made a quick gesture that was full of pain. The flush in his face had
faded, leaving it very white. "Aunt Lucy, do not speak of that," he said,
turning his face aside.
[Illustration: HE STARED AT HER, NOT COMPREHENDING.]
She drew closer to him, putting her hand on his arm. "Tom, what do you
"Don't you see?" he returned, just glancing at her and then looking away
again. "You have made it impossible, Aunt Lucy. I could never ask her to
marry me now."
The bitterness in his voice overwhelmed her. "Tom, you don't suppose she
would believe that you--Oh, what have I done? Tom, you will never forgive
At the sound of the quick sob that choked her voice he turned quickly to
her. "Aunt Lucy, do not talk like that. What is done can't be undone. But
let me understand. What proofs have you that Rhoda is your niece? You must
write to Mr. Thomson and tell him all you know. But he will want proofs."
He spoke so quietly, she took courage. And she was able to speak fully to
him. He listened with grave intentness, asking a question now and then.
"We must write to this Mr. Harding," he said, when she had finished. "Mrs.
M'Alister will be sure to know his address. Shall I go up and see Mr.
Thomson for you to-morrow, Aunt Lucy? I think the first step is to tell
"And Rhoda, Tom?"
"Wait till I have seen Thomson. Though there seems no room for doubt. Aunt
Lucy, I wish you had told me at first."
How she wished it she tried to tell him, but her tears prevented her. She
sobbed hysterically, while he did his best to soothe her, forgetting his
own pain at the sight of hers. When she could speak, her first words were
"Tom, you won't let this come between you? Tom dear, I know she loves
His face quivered all over. "I have no right to speak to her yet," he
said. "Perhaps--but I must wait. Can't you see it must be so? I shall have
my own way to make in the world." He squared his shoulders as he said it,
as if eager to begin the struggle.
"Tom, I don't see it," his aunt burst out. But he would not let her go on.
He could not bear it. He felt that it was utterly impossible for him to
ask Rhoda to marry him if she was heiress of Woodcote and he without a
penny he could call his own. If they had met knowing their relative
positions, it might have been different. But now he could make no claim on
her. His aunt's conduct had raised a barrier between them that could not
be broken down till he had won an independent position for himself.
Miss Merivale's heart ached as she looked at him, but she was far from
understanding the full bitterness of the blow she had inflicted on him.
Tom felt as if he had suddenly grown old. He left his aunt presently and
went out into the open air. He no longer felt inclined to go and meet the
pony carriage, but he went through the wood to the furzy common beyond.
From there he could see the high road stretching like a white ribbon
across the downs.
No pony carriage was in sight, but a traction engine was lumbering heavily
upwards, with a man walking before it carrying a red flag. Tom was glad to
see it disappear over the dip of the hill. The lane from Bingley woods
entered the high road lower down the hill. There was no danger of Bob's
nerves being shaken by the sight of the fiery-throated monster.
The road lay white and silent in the sunshine now. Tom sat down on a turf
hillock, fixing his eyes drearily upon it. He felt intensely miserable.
The expedition to Bingley woods was not a success. Pauline was in one of
her worst tempers, and treated Rose so rudely that the poor girl was more
ashamed of her chosen friend than angry with her.
To Rhoda, Pauline was all that was sweet and flattering. She had promised
Miss Merivale to say nothing to her; but she was eager to ingratiate
herself with the girl whom she now knew to be an heiress, and to make her
forget how she had treated her while she was Clare's assistant.
Rhoda was strongly irritated by her advances. Pauline's snubs had never
wounded her very deeply. Rhoda only valued the good opinion of those whom
she respected. But Pauline's eagerness to make friends turned her
indifference to something like violent dislike. She found it hardly
possible to speak civilly to her.
She went off at last into the depths of the wood, leaving Rose and Pauline
together. Her irritation soon passed away when she was alone. The basket
she had brought to fill with primroses remained empty in her hands. She
wandered on, her eyes drinking in the beauty round her. Only the lower
boughs of the trees were in leaf as yet, and the wood was full of golden
light. Primroses were everywhere, and in the more open spaces celandines
starred the ground with deeper yellow. In a month the glades between the
trees would be carpeted by bluebells. But there were no bluebells yet.
Spring was still in its infancy. The great oaks that skirted the wood
stretched bare wintry boughs over the flowers beneath them.
It was a time of hope, of delicate, exquisite promise; and Rhoda's lips
curved with a happy, dreamy smile, as she listened to the story the woods
whispered to her that April day.
The deep voice of the clock in Bingley church tower recalled her to the
necessity of going back to her companions. It was four o'clock, the time
they had fixed for starting homewards. It was not with any pleasure that
she thought of the long drive. She suspected that Pauline and Rose had had
a serious quarrel, and that Pauline's politeness to her arose from a wish
to vex Rose.
All the way to the woods Pauline had criticised Rose's driving, speaking
with authority, as if she had driven a pony carriage all her life. Rhoda
could have laughed outright if she had not been so angry.
She found the two girls ready to start for the village when she got back
to the spot where she had left them.
"Pauline wants to go round by the high road," Rose said, looking
appealingly at Rhoda. "It will make us much later at home. You can see the
Abbey another day, Pauline. There isn't much to see; is there, Miss
"It will not take us half an hour longer. How obstinate you are, Rosie!"
exclaimed Pauline irritably. "I will drive, and make Bob understand that
he must hurry a little. Why should we walk up that long tiresome lane to
save his legs? There is no hill to speak of the other way, you say. I am
too tired to walk a step. I am not so strong as you are. Miss Sampson,
don't you agree with me that the high road will be much the better way for
"We promised Miss Merivale that we would be back early," Rhoda said
coldly. "I think it is a pity to go out of our way."
"But we should be at home just as soon. Rose insists that we must all walk
up the lane. I am sure you are too tired to do it, Miss Sampson, if I was
not. But Bob is to be considered before either of us, eh, Rose?"
Rose walked down the turf slope towards the village without answering; she
was too cross to discuss the question any further.
A new complication arose when they reached the rustic inn where Bob and
the carriage had been left. One of Bob's shoes was found to be loose, and
it was necessary to get it fixed before starting for home.
Rose drew Rhoda aside, and spoke eagerly to her. "Miss Sampson, would you
drive home with Pauline? I could walk across the downs and be home in half
an hour. I don't like to leave Aunt Lucy so long alone."
"Will you let me go?" Rhoda answered, as eagerly as Rose had spoken. "I
know the way quite well. I would so much rather go, if you don't mind."
Rose could quite well understand that Rhoda must find Pauline's society
unpleasant, even though Pauline now appeared bent on being agreeable to
her. "Are you sure you know the way?" she said doubtfully. "But it is
easy. You will see Woodcote when once you are on the top of the downs."
"I know the way quite well," Rhoda said, with a bright face. It was
delightful to her to escape the drive home with Pauline.
She started at once, and was soon on the top of the downs, enjoying the
breezy expanse of beautiful rolling country round her. Half an hour's
rapid walking brought her to the furzy common close to Woodcote woods. She
had come down to it from the downs; and Tom, seated on his hillock, with
his eyes turned to the road, did not become aware of her presence till she
was quite close to him. He had been hidden by the gorse bushes from Rhoda
till the moment before he started up. And she would have shyly hurried on
without speaking to him if the sound of her step had not made him look
She hurriedly explained how she came to be there alone. "I don't think
they will be back for an hour or more," she said, looking at the white
ribbon of road Tom had been watching for so long. "The high road is much
longer than the lane, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Tom briefly. He had forgotten all about the traction engine.
In fact, he had hardly understood what Rhoda was saying. His heart was
heavy within him.
They turned and walked down the sunny bit of slope, where the bees were
busy among the golden gorse blossoms. Tom was not silent. He could not
trust himself to be silent. He began to speak of the meeting he had just
been attending at Croydon. He gave Rhoda a vivid account of it, which
lasted till they got close to the house; then, with a hasty excuse of
having forgotten to tell Jackson something, he left her.
Rhoda walked on to the house with a calm, even step. Wilmot, who met her
in the hall, and told her that Miss Merivale was lying down and did not
wish to be disturbed, noticed nothing unusual about her. She stood and
talked some minutes with the old servant before going upstairs to her
room. And she gave her a sunny smile as she left her. Even when she was
alone, and had shut the door between her and the world, she did not fling
herself down by the bed and burst into tears, as unhappy heroines so often
do. She changed her dress, and carefully mended a rent the briers had made
in the one she took off. Then she got _Hamblin Smith's Arithmetic_ and her
notebook, and began the hour's work she set herself every day. A tear or
two did come--she could not keep them back; but she worked steadily on.
She would not even allow herself to think how she could have offended Tom,
or what the explanation of his changed manner could be. She picked out the
hardest examples in Complex Fractions she could find, and concentrated her
mind on them.
She was still working when Wilmot came to her door.
"Miss Rose and Miss Smythe have not come home, miss. Shall I send in tea?
It is past six o'clock."
Rhoda opened the door. "I will go and ask Miss Merivale, Wilmot."
Wilmot looked doubtful. Her mistress had given strict orders that she was
not to be disturbed.
"I will not go in," Rhoda said, as she saw her doubtful glance. "I will
just knock softly. If she is awake, she might be glad of a cup of tea."
Rhoda's first knock was not answered; but when she tapped softly again,
she heard Miss Merivale's voice telling her to come in. Miss Merivale was
lying on the bed, with her face turned to the wall. She reached out her
hand for Rhoda's, and clasped it tenderly, but did not turn round.
"My head is very bad, darling. Tell Rose I won't have any tea. I want to
keep quite quiet."
Rhoda did not tell her that Rose and Pauline had not returned. She was
afraid she might be alarmed. The deadly pallor of her face quite
frightened her. She spoke to Tom when she went downstairs.
"Miss Merivale looks very ill," she said, "and she won't let me do
anything for her."
Tom was sitting at the table before the hall window, busy making flies for
his trout fishing. He was so intent on his work that he did not look up.
"She gets bad headaches. I should not be anxious. She always likes to be
Rhoda did not answer this. She went into the dining-room, where tea was
laid ready, and sat down in the broad window-seat with some needlework.
If Tom had come in then, she would have been very cold to him. Her pride
was up in arms. But he did not come near her; and for a miserable half
hour Rhoda sat there alone, feeling as if all life's music had suddenly
stopped, and winter had taken the place of spring.
Wilmot came in at last to urge her to have some tea. "Miss Rosie may be
stopping to tea at the Rectory. It isn't any good for you and Mr. Tom to
wait any longer."
Rhoda looked at the clock in some alarm. She had not been conscious of the
lapse of time. "I don't think Miss Rosie meant to stop anywhere, Wilmot.
But they ought to be home. I hope nothing has happened."
At that moment Tom entered the room. "It is getting very late," he said to
Rhoda. "How long did Jones mean to take to put that shoe right? Not very
"Miss Merivale thought they would be at home by six o'clock," Rhoda
"And it is seven now," Tom said, glancing at the clock. "It will be dark
in half an hour. They were coming by the high road all the way, didn't you
"Yes; Miss Smythe did not want to go up the lane. But the high road is not
very much longer, is it, Mr. Merivale?"
"About two miles longer. But it is a better road. They ought to be home by
Rhoda was standing by the window, and he came to her side and looked out.
He carefully avoided glancing at her, yet he knew that her face was very
proud and cold.
"I think I will go down the road to meet them," he said. His voice shook a
little. It was very hard--it was almost harder than he could bear--to let
her go on misunderstanding him. Yet how could he explain?
"I wish they would come home," Rhoda answered. "Do go and meet them, Mr.
Merivale. Miss Smythe wanted to drive, and I do not trust her driving."
"Bob doesn't want much driving," Tom answered. But as he spoke he suddenly
remembered the traction engine crawling up the hill. For the first time he
felt really alarmed. "I will go down the road," he said, moving quickly
from the window. "Though I daresay I shall meet them almost at once."
Wilmot followed him into the hall. "Mr. Tom, where can they be?"
"Somewhere on the road between Bingley and our gates," he said lightly.
"Don't alarm Miss Sampson or my aunt, Wilmot. But send Ann round to the
stables to tell Jack to get my horse ready. If I do not see any sign of
them on the road, I will ride towards Bingley."
He went off; and Rhoda, after watching him down the drive, crept upstairs
to listen at Miss Merivale's door. But as she crossed the landing the door
opened, and Miss Merivale stepped out, a black lace shawl framing the
whiteness of her face.
"Rhoda, where has Tom gone?" she asked. "How still the house is! Haven't
Rose and Miss Smythe come back?"
"Not yet," answered Rhoda lightly. "Bob's shoe got loose, you know. They
were delayed at the village."
"But it is nearly dark. Something must have happened. Let us go down to
the gate, Rhoda. I am frightened."
Rhoda could not persuade her to let her go alone, and they went together
down the drive. Tom had just ridden off; they could hear the sound of his
horse's feet on the hilly road. But when that died away, a long period of
silence ensued. They went out of the gates and down the hill towards the
station, Miss Merivale clinging to Rhoda.
It was after what seemed hours to them both that they heard a horse
trotting rapidly towards them. Miss Merivale leant against the low stone
wall that divided the road on one side from the common.
"Rhoda, that is Tom. I could tell Black Beauty's trot anywhere. Go on to
meet him, dear. I cannot go any farther."
Rhoda went quickly on. It was Tom; he sprang off his horse on catching
sight of her.
"Miss Smythe has been badly hurt," he said. "She is at the Rectory. Rose
is with her."
"Your sister is not hurt?"
"A bruise or two. They met that traction engine; Miss Smythe was driving,
and tried to make Bob pass it. The result was that Bob bolted down the
They were walking quickly up the hill as he spoke. Rhoda told him that
Miss Merivale was waiting for them, and a couple of moments brought them
to her side. She refused to accept at first Tom's emphatic assurances that
Rose had escaped with only a bruise or two, and begged him to take her to
the Rectory. Tom would not hear of her going. "Rose did not want to leave
Miss Smythe, or I would have brought her home, Aunt Lucy. She is perfectly
well. Rose is a plucky little girl She wasn't half as frightened as you
It was not till they got back to the house and he had made Miss Merivale
drink the cup of tea Wilmot brought her, that he allowed her to know how
serious Pauline's injuries were.
"They fear concussion of the brain," he said. "I have promised Hartley to
telegraph for her friends. Can you give me their address?"
Miss Merivale hesitated. "I am afraid she has no near relatives, poor
girl. I never heard her speak of any."
"But she is continually calling for 'Granny,' Mrs. Hartley says. Her
grandmother ought to be here, if she has one. How could we find out?"
Rhoda, who had been sitting silent till then, now looked up and spoke.
"Her grandparents live at Leyton, Miss Merivale. They have a shop next
door to Aunt Mary's brother. Mr. Smith is a grocer."
Miss Merivale stared at her. "My dear, are you sure?"
"Quite sure," Rhoda answered. "I saw her photograph when I took little
Hugh to his uncle's, and they talked a great deal about her. Polly, they
call her. She writes to them constantly. They brought her up, and I expect
she is really very fond of them."
"But--Rhoda, are you quite sure? Why has she never spoken of them? Do you
think she was ashamed of the shop? It must have been that."
"She had no reason to be ashamed," Rhoda answered quietly. "They are dear,
"Poor girl, poor girl!" was all Miss Merivale could say; but Tom, who had
brought a telegraph form from the library, asked Rhoda to give him the
"I will send this off at once," he said, getting up. "She evidently wants
to have her grandmother with her now. She calls continually for her."
When the twelve o'clock train stopped at the station next morning two
passengers got out--a little old lady dressed with Quaker-like neatness,
and a tall, grizzled, sunburnt man with a breezy, open-air look about him.
Tom and the Rector were both waiting on the platform, and hurried up to
them. There was good news.
"Your granddaughter is better, Mrs. Smith," the Rector said in his kind
voice. "But she may not know you. You must not be alarmed at that. The
doctor is much more hopeful this morning, and she calls continually for
you. We trust it may soothe her to have you near her."
The tears were streaming fast over Mrs. Smith's wrinkled face. "Polly
would never have no one but me to nurse her," she said. "She was always
like that from a baby. I came off the first minute I could. Mr. Smith
wasn't able to leave the shop, but Mr. Harding came with me. I've never
travelled alone in my life, and I'd have lost my way sure enough without
him. Mr. Harding's from Australia, sir," she added, looking at Tom, whom
she had identified as Mr. Merivale. "And he'd be glad to see Miss Sampson
if she's still with Miss Merivale supposing 'twas convenient."
"I am going back to Woodcote now," Tom said, looking at Mr. Harding. He
had started violently at the first mention of his name by Mrs. Smith, but
he spoke coolly enough. "Will you walk back with me? My aunt will be very
glad to see you. Miss Sampson is now at the Rectory, but I am going to
fetch her and my sister after lunch."
The Rector's trap was waiting outside, and Mrs. Smith was soon comfortably
settled in it. She was too simple and homely to be shy, and it was plain
both to the Rector and Tom that her distress at Pauline's accident was
largely mingled with delight at the prospect of having her to nurse. She
spoke with eagerness to the Rector as they drove off of the time when she
could take Polly back with her to Leyton.
"She's a good sort," Mr. Harding said, as he and Tom turned to walk up the
hill. "I hope her Polly will soon be better. She is a governess, isn't
she? Price told me she didn't spend much time with the old folks."
Tom did not feel called upon to answer this. He was determined to find out
at once how much Mr. Harding knew about Rhoda's father and mother. "My
aunt and I were talking about you yesterday, Mr. Harding, but we had no
idea that you were in England."
Mr. Harding turned his keen black eyes upon him. "No, I only landed last
"My aunt has some reason to believe that Miss Sampson is related to her,"
Tom hurried on. "You knew her father well, I believe?"
Mr. Harding's answer was emphatic. "I should say I did, sir. Poor old Jack
and I were boys together. Why, he married a cousin of mine, as good as a
sister. And we should have been partners now if he hadn't died. Some
people never understood Jack, and after Jenny died he got queerer than
ever; but he and I never had a cloud between us."
Tom had stopped still in the road. The ground seemed to be swaying under
his feet, and something caught him in the throat so that he could scarcely
speak. "Was your cousin Rhoda's mother?" he asked.
"Yes; she was their only child. I knew she was safe and happy with the
M'Alisters, or I would have looked after her more. I've no chick nor child
of my own, and I mean Rhoda to have a big slice of what I've got to
Tom did not catch the last words clearly. "My aunt's sister married a Mr.
James Sampson," he hurried to say. "Was he related to Miss Sampson's
"Ah, that was Jim. He got lost in the bush, poor fellow. He had his girl
with him. Yes, he was Jack's brother. They lived close together in
Melbourne. I fancy Rhoda was named after Jim's little girl. They were
about the same age; but Jenny died when Rhoda was a year old, and Jack
left Melbourne for Adelaide."
When Tom and Mr. Harding reached the house, he went hastily in search of
his aunt. He found her in her own room, her eyes dim with weeping. She
started up at the sight of his face.
"Oh, Tom, what have you come to tell me?"
In a few rapid words he made her understand. "You see how your mistake
arose, Aunt Lucy. They both had the same name, Rhoda and Cousin Lydia's
little girl. And Cousin Lydia must have given that locket to Rhoda's
mother or to Rhoda's father for her when they left Melbourne. But come
down and speak to Mr. Harding. There is no need for him to know the
mistake you fell into. Let us forget it, Aunt Lucy."
At this, Miss Merivale's tears began to flow afresh. "Oh, Tom, I have told
"You told her? Why did you? I thought we had decided to wait till I had
"Tom, I could not help it. She was so miserable, poor child. She tried to
hide it, but she could not hide it from me. She thought she had offended
you. I do not know what she thought. How could you treat her so
differently? Do you think you will get her to forgive you?"
A glimmer of a smile showed itself in Miss Merivale's eyes as she spoke.
But Tom could not smile yet.
"Well, you told her," he said. "Did she believe you?"
"I don't know. But she declared that nothing would induce her to claim her
rights if she had any. She said there were no proofs, and if she had them
she would not produce them. She spoke very strongly, Tom."
Tom made no answer for a moment. "She has gone to the Rectory?" he said
"Yes, she was anxious to go. But she is going to walk home across the
downs. I think she was anxious to avoid you, Tom. No wonder! How could you
make her so unhappy?"
Tom did not point out that he had been far more unhappy, and that it was
all Miss Merivale's fault. He looked at his aunt, giving her now back
smile for smile. "Aunt Lucy, will you go and fetch Rose?" he said.
Rose was delighted to see her aunt in the carriage when she ran out to
"Rhoda did not think you would be able to come, Aunt Lucy. Were you very
much frightened when you heard about it? Poor Rhoda looks quite ill But
Pauline is really better. She has slept since her grandmother came. She
knew her directly, and has held her hand tight ever since. Poor old lady,
she is so fond of her."
"I wish we could move her to Woodcote," Miss Merivale said. "I must speak
to the doctor about it. I will go and see Mrs. Prance for a moment, Rosie
darling. And then we will go home. Oh, my darling, I am so thankful!"
She held Rose close to her, and kissed her once or twice before she let
her go. Till that moment she had hardly been able to realise her happiness
in having Rose safe.
Rose began to talk again of Pauline as they were driving home. "How
strange she could be so silent about her grandmother and yet be so fond
of her, Aunt Lucy! Or do you think that she is only fond of her when she
wants her? She was calling for her over and over again all last night."
"I expect she is really fond of her, dear. As fond as she can be of
anybody. I don't wish to speak harshly of her, Rose, and we will do all
we can for her. But you must not live with her again. Not because her
grandmother is Mrs. Smith," added Miss Merivale quickly, afraid that Rose
might misunderstand her. "It isn't that. Rhoda's people are in the same
rank of life as the Smiths, yet Rhoda is a true gentlewoman."
"Aunt Lucy, I could not live with Pauline again," Rose said earnestly.
"Besides, I want to live at home. I believe I shall loathe the thought of
a flat as long as I live. Pauline has effectually cured me of my desire to
live in one."
"She and Mrs. Smith must come to stay with us as soon as she can be
moved," Miss Merivale said. "Perhaps this illness will make her see
things differently, Rosie. Let us hope so."
"Rhoda knew all the time," Rose said, after a moment's pause. "Poor
Pauline, how angry she would have been if she had guessed it! If I had
been Rhoda, I should have told her."
"We should not have known where to telegraph if it had not been for Rhoda.
Her uncle--Mr. M'Alister's brother, I mean--has a shop next door to Mr.
Price. It was he who told Mr. Harding that Rhoda was with us. I fancy he
was rather distressed to find that she was not with Mrs. M'Alister. But I
think I have convinced him that we have taken good care of her."
Tom and Mr. Harding were outside the porch together when the carriage drew
up. While Mr. Harding talked to Rose, Tom drew his aunt aside.
"Aunt Lucy, will you go up to Rhoda?" he whispered.
She gave him one shining look, and went quickly in.
Rhoda had heard the carriage enter, and was standing in the middle of the
room when Miss Merivale softly knocked and entered. There was a tremulous,
eager, anxious look in the girl's face. Happy as she was, she could not be
quite happy till she was sure Miss Merivale was content.
But it was only a tiny shadow of doubt that clouded the brightness, and
when Miss Merivale clasped her close, and kissed her as fondly and
tenderly as she had kissed Rose a little while before, it nearly all fled
"My dear, I am delighted," Miss Merivale said, with happy tears in her
voice. "Tom has always been like a son to me, and now you will be my
"And you are not sorry you asked me here?" Rhoda whispered. She felt she
must ask the question once.
"Ask Tom if he thinks I am sorry," returned Miss Merivale, kissing her
again. And this was answer enough. Rhoda doubted no more.
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