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The Clever Woman of the Family By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 38764

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

"My trust

Like a good parent did beget of him

A falsehood in its contrary as great

As my trust was, which had indeed no limit."-TEMPEST.

Rose found the wheeled chair, to which her aunt gave the preference, was engaged, and shaking her little discreet head at "the shakey chair" and "the stuffy chair," she turned pensively homeward, and was speeding down Mackarel Lane, when she was stayed by the words, "My little girl!" and the grandest and most bearded gentleman she had ever seen, demanded, "Can you tell me if Miss Williams lives here?"

"My aunt?" exclaimed Rose, gazing up with her pretty, frightened-fawn look.

"Indeed!" he exclaimed, looking eagerly at her, "then you are the child of a very old friend of mine! Did you never hear him speak of his old school-fellow, Colin Keith?"

"Papa is away," said Rose, turning back her neck to get a full view of his face from under the brim of her hat.

"'Will you run on and ask your aunt if she would like to see me?" he added.

Thus it was that Ermine heard the quick patter of the child's steps, followed by the manly tread, and the words sounded in her ears, "Aunt Ermine, there's a gentleman, and he has a great beard, and he says he is papa's old friend! And here he is."

Ermine's beaming eyes as absolutely met the new comer as though she had sprung forward. "I thought you would come," she said, in a voice serene with exceeding bliss.

"I have found you at last," as their hands clasped; and they gazed into each other's faces in the untroubled repose of the meeting, exclusive of all else.

Ermine was the first to break silence. "Oh, Colin, you look worn and altered."

"You don't; you have kept your sunbeam face for me with the dear brown glow I never thought to have seen again. Why did they tell me you were an invalid, Ermine?"

"Have you not seen Alison?" she asked, supposing he would have known all.

"I saw her, but did not hear her name, till just now at luncheon, when our looks met, and I saw it was not another disappointment."

"And she knows you are come to me?"

"It was not in me to speak to her till I had recovered you! One can forgive, but not forget."

"You will do more when you know her, and how she has only lived and worked for me, dear Ailie, and suffered far more than I-"

"While I was suffering from being unable to do anything but live for you," he repeated, taking up her words; "but that is ended now-" and as she made a negative motion of her head, "have you not trusted to me?"

"I have thought you not living," she said; "the last I know was your letter to dear Lady Alison, written from the hospital at Cape Town, after your wound. She was ill even when it came, and she could only give it to Ailie for me."

"Dear good aunt, she got into trouble with all the family for our sake; and when she was gone no one would give me any tidings of you."

"It was her last disappointment that you were not sent home on sick leave. Did you get well too fast?"

"Not exactly; but my father, or rather, I believe, my brother, intimated that I should be welcome only if I had laid aside a certain foolish fancy, and as lying on my back had not conduced to that end, I could only say I would stay where I was."

"And was it worse for you? I am sure, in spite of all that tanned skin, that your health has suffered. Ought you to have come home?"

"No, I do not know that London surgeons could have got at the ball," he said, putting his hand on his chest, "and it gives me no trouble in general. I was such a spectacle when I returned to duty, that good old Sir Stephen Temple, always a proverb for making his staff a refuge for the infirm, made me his aide-de-camp, and was like a father to me."

"Now I see why I never could find your name in any list of the officers in the moves of the regiment! I gave you quite up when I saw no Keith among those that came home from India. I did believe then that you were the Colonel Alexander Keith whose death I had seen mentioned, though I had long trusted to his not being honourable, nor having your first name."

"Ah! he succeeded to the command after Lady Temple's father. A kind friend to me he was, and he left me in charge of his son and daughter. A very good and gallant fellow is that young Alick. I must bring him to see you some day-"

"Oh! I saw his name; I remember! I gloried in the doings of a Keith; but I was afraid he had died, as there was no such name with the regiment when it came home."

"No, he was almost shattered to pieces; but Sir Stephen sent him up the hills to be nursed by Lady Temple and her mother, and he was sent home as soon as he could be moved. I was astonished to see how entirely he had recovered."

"Then you went through all that Indian war?"

"Yes; with Sir Stephen."

"You must show me all your medals! How much you have to tell me! And then-?"

"Just when the regiment was coming home, my dear old chief was appointed to the command in Australia, and insisted on my coming with him as military secretary. He had come to depend on me so much that I could not well leave him; and in five years there was the way to promotion and to claiming you at once. We were just settled there, when what I heard made me long to have decided otherwise, but I could not break with him then. I wrote to Edward, but had my letter returned to me."

"No wonder; Edward was abroad, all connexion broken."

"I wrote to Beauchamp, and he knew nothing, and I could only wait till my chief's time should be up. You know how it was cut short, and how the care of the poor little widow detained me till she was fit for the voyage. I came and sought you in vain in town. I went home, and found my brother lonely and dispirited. He has lost his son, his daughters are married, and he and I are all the brothers left out of the six! He was urgent that I should come and live with him and marry. I told him I would, with all my heart, when I had found you, and he saw I was too much in earnest to be opposed. Then I went to Beauchamp, but Harry knew nothing about any one. I tried to find out your sister and Dr. Long, but heard they were gone to Belfast."

"Yes, they lost a good deal in the crash, and did not like retrenching among their neighbours, so they went to Ireland, and there they have a flourishing practice."

"I thought myself on my way there," he said, smiling; "only I had first to settle Lady Temple, little guessing who was her treasure of a governess! Last night I had nearly opened, on another false scent; I fell in with a description that I could have sworn was yours, of the heather behind the parsonage. I made a note of the publisher in case all else had failed."

"I'm glad you knew the scent of the thyme!"

"Then it was no false scent?"

"One must live, and I was thankful to do anything to lighten Ailie's burthen. I wrote down that description that I might live in the place in fancy; and one day, when the contribution was wanted and I was hard up for ideas, I sent it, though I was loth to lay open that bit of home and heart."

"Well it might give me the sense of meeting you! And in other papers of the series I traced your old self more ripened."

"The editor was a friend of Edward's, and in our London days he asked me to write letters on things in general, and when I said I saw the world through a key-hole, he answered that a circumscribed view gained in distinctness. Most kind and helpful he has been, and what began between sport and need to say out one's mind has come to be a resource for which we are very thankful. He sends us books for reviewal, and that is pleasant and improving, not to say profitable."

"Little did I think you were in such straits!" he said, stroking the child's head, and waiting as though her presence were a restraint on inquiries, but she eagerly availed herself of the pause. "Aunt Ermine, please what shall I say about the chairs? Will you have the nice one and Billy when they come home? I was to take the answer, only you did talk so that I could not ask!"

"Thank you, my dear; I don't want chairs nor anything else while I can talk so," she answered, smiling. "You had better take a run in the garden when you come back;" and Rose replied with a nod of assent that made the colonel smile and say, "Good-bye then, my sweet Lady Discretion, some day we will be better acquainted."

"Dear child," said Ermine, "she is our great blessing, and some day I trust will be the same to her dear father. Oh, Colin! it is too much to hope that you have not believed what you must have heard! And yet you wrote to him."

"Nay, I could not but feel great distrust of what I heard, since I was also told that his sisters were unconvinced; and besides, I had continually seen him at school the victim of other people's faults."

"This is best of all," exclaimed Ermine, with glistening eyes, and hand laid upon his; "it is the most comfortable word I have heard since it happened. Yes, indeed, many a time before I saw you, had I heard of 'Keith' as the friend who saw him righted. Oh, Colin! thanks, thanks for believing in him more than for all!"

"Not believing, but knowing," he answered-"knowing both you and Edward. Besides, is it not almost invariable that the inventor is ruined by his invention-a Prospero by nature?"

"It was not the invention," she answered; "that throve as long as my father lived."

"Yes, he was an excellent man of business."

"And he thought the concern so secure that there was no danger in embarking all the available capital of the family in it, and it did bring us in a very good income."

"I remember that it struck me that the people at home would find that they had made a mistake after all, and missed a fortune for me! It was an invention for diminishing the fragility of glass under heat; was it not?"

"Yes, and the manufacture was very prosperous, so that my father was quite at ease about us. After his death we made a home for Edward in London, and looked after him when he used to be smitten with some new idea and forgot all sublunary matters. When he married we went to live at Richmond, and had his dear little wife very much with us, for she was a delicate tender creature, half killed by London. In process of time he fell in with a man named Maddox, plausible and clever, who became a sort of manager, especially while Edward was in his trances of invention; and at all times knew more about his accounts than he did himself. Nothing but my father's authority had ever made him really look into them, and this man took them all off his hands. There was a matter about the glass that Edward was bent on ascertaining, and he went to study the manufacture in Bohemia, taking his wife with him, and leaving Rose with us. Shortly after, Dr. Long and Harry Beauchamp received letters asking for a considerable advance, to be laid out on the materials that this improvement would require. Immediately afterwards came the crash."

"Exactly what I heard. Of course the letters were written in ignorance of what was impending."

"Colin, they were never written at all by Edward! He denied all knowledge of them. Alison saw Dr. Long's, most ingeniously managed-foreign paper and all-but she could swear to the forgery-"

"You suspect this Maddox?"

"Most strongly! He knew the state of the business; Edward did not. And he had a correspondence that would have enabled so ingenious a person easily to imitate Edward's letters. I do not wonder at their having been taken in; but how Julia-how Harry Beauchamp could believe-what they do believe. Oh, Colin! it will not do to think about it!"

"Oh, that I had been at home! Were no measures taken?"

"Alas! alas! we urged Edward to come home and clear himself; but that poor little wife of his was terrified beyond measure, imagined prisons and trials. She was unable to move, and he could not leave her; she took from him an unhappy promise not to put himself in what she fancied danger from the law, and then died, leaving him a baby that did not live a day. He was too broken-hearted to care for vindicating himself, and no one-no one would do it for him!"

Colonel Keith frowned and clenched the hand that lay in his grasp till it was absolute pain, but pain that was a relief to feel. "Madness, madness!" he said. "Miserable! But how was it at home-? Did this Maddox stand his ground?"

"Yes, if he had fled, all would have been clear, but he doctored the accounts his own way, and quite satisfied Dr. Long and Harry. He showed Edward's receipt for the £6000 that had been advanced, and besides, there was a large sum not accounted for, which was, of course, supposed to have been invested abroad by Edward-some said gambled away-as if he had not had a regular hatred of all sorts of games."

"Edward with his head in the clouds! One notion is as likely as the other.-Then absolutely nothing was done!"

"Nothing! The bankruptcy was declared, the whole affair broken up; and certainly if every one had not known Edward to be the most heedless of men, the confusion would have justified them in thinking him a dishonest one. Things had been done in his name by Maddox that might have made a stranger think him guilty of the rest, but to those who had ever known his abstraction, and far more his real honour and uprightness, nothing could have been plainer."

"It all turned upon his absence."

"Yes, he must have borne the brunt of what had been done in his name, I know; that would have been bad enough, but in a court of justice, his whole character would have been shown, and besides, a prosecution for forgery of his receipt would have shown what Maddox was, sufficiently to exculpate him."

"And you say the losers by the deception would not believe in it?"

"No, they only shook their heads at our weak sisterly affection."

"I wish I could see one of those letters. Where is Maddox now?"

"I cannot tell. He certainly did not go away immediately after the settlement of accounts, but it has not been possible to us to keep up a knowledge of his movements, or something might have turned up to justify Edward. Oh, what it is to be helpless women! You are the very first person, Colin, who has not looked at me pityingly, like a creature to be forborne with an undeniable delusion!"

"They must be very insolent people, then, to look at that brow and eyes, and think even sisterly love could blind them," he said. "Yes, Ermine, I was certain that unless Edward were more changed than I could believe, there must be some such explanation. You have never seen him since?"

"No, he was too utterly broken by the loss of his wife to feel anything else. For a long time we heard nothing, and that was the most dreadful time of all! Then he wrote from a little German town, where he was getting his bread as a photographer's assistant. And since that he has cast about the world, till just now he has some rather interesting employment at the mines in the Oural Mountains, the first thing he has really seemed to like or care for."

"The Oural Mountains! that is out of reach. I wish I could see him. One might find some means of clearing him. What directed your suspicion to Maddox?"

"Chiefly that the letters professed to have been sent in a parcel to him to be posted from the office. If it had been so, Edward and Lucy would certainly have written to us at the same time. I could have shown, too, that Maddox had written to me the day before to ascertain where Edward was, so as to be sure of the date. It was a little country village, and I made a blunder in copying the spelling from Lucy's writing. Ailie found that very blunder repeated in Dr. Long's letter, and we showed him that Edward did not write it so. Besides, before going abroad, Edward had lost the seal-ring with his crest, which you gave him. You remember the Saxon's head?"

"I remember! You all took it much to heart that the engraver had made it a Saracen's head, and not a long-haired Saxon."

"Well, Edward had renewed the ring, and taken care to make it a Saxon. Now Ailie could get no one to believe her, but she is certain that the letter was sealed with the old Saracen not the new Saxon. But-but-if you had but been there-"

"Tell me you wished for me, Ermine."

"I durst not wish anything about you," she said, looking up through a mist of tears.

"And you, what fixed you here?"

"An old servant of ours had married and settled here, and had written to us of her satisfaction in finding that the clergyman was from Hereford. We thought he would recommend Ailie as daily governess to visitors, and that Sarah would be a comfortable landlady. It has answered very well; Rose deserves her name far more than when we brought her here, and it is wonderful how much better I have been since doctors have become a mere luxury."

"Do you, can you really mean that you are supporting yourselves?"

"All but twenty-five pounds a year, from a legacy to us, that Mr. Beauchamp would not let them touch. But it has been most remarkable, Colin," she said, with the dew in her eyes, "how we have never wanted our daily bread, and how happy we have been! If it had not been for Edward, this would in many ways have been our happiest time. Since the old days the little frets have told less, and Ailie has been infinitely happier and brighter since she has had to work instead of only to watch me. Ah, Colin, must I not own to having been happy? Indeed it was very much because peace had come when the suspense had sunk into belief that I might think of you as-, where you would not be grieved by the sight of what I am now-"

As she spoke, a knock, not at the house, but at the room door, made them both start, and impel their chairs to a more ordinary distance, just as Rachel Curtis made her entrance, extremely amazed to find, not Mr. Touchett, but a much greater foe and rival in that unexpected quarter. Ermine, the least disconcerted, was the first to speak. "You are surprised to find a visitor here," she said, "and indeed only now, did we find out that 'our military secretary,' as your little cousins say, was our clear old squire's nephew."

There was a ring of gladness in the usually patient voice that struck even Rachel, though she was usually too eager to be observant, but she was still unready with talk for the occasion, and Ermine continued: "We had heard so much of the Major before-hand, that we had a sort of Jupiter-like expectation of the coming man. I am not sure that I shall not go on expecting a mythic major!"

Rachel, never understanding playfulness, thought this both audacious and unnecessary, and if it had come from any one else, would have administered a snub, but she felt the invalid sacred from her weapons.

"Have you ever seen the boys?" asked Colonel Keith. "I am rather proud of Conrade, my pupil; he is so chivalrous towards his mother."

"Alison has brought down a division or two to show me. How much alike they are."

"Exactly alike, and excessively unruly and unmanageable," said Rachel. "I pity your sister."

"More unmanageable in appearance than in reality," said the colonel: "there's always a little trial of strength against the hand over them, and they yield when they find it is really a hand. They were wonderfully good and considerate when it was an object to keep the house qui


Rachel would not encourage him to talk of Lady Temple, so she turned to Ermine on the business that had brought her, collecting and adapting old clothes for emigrants.-It was not exactly gentlemen's pastime, and Ermine tried to put it aside and converse, but Rachel never permitted any petty consideration to interfere with a useful design, and as there was a press of time for the things, she felt herself justified in driving the intruder off the field and outstaying him. She succeeded; he recollected the desire of the boys that he should take them to inspect the pony at the "Jolly Mariner," and took leave with-"I shall see you to-morrow."

"You knew him all the time!" exclaimed Rachel, pausing in her unfolding of the Master Temples' ship wardrobe. "Why did you not say so?"

"We did not know his name. He was always the 'Major.'"

"Who, and what is he?" demanded Rachel, as she knelt before her victim, fixing those great prominent eyes, so like those of Red Riding Hood's grandmother, that Ermine involuntarily gave a backward impulse to her wheeled chair, as she answered the readiest thing that occurred to her,-"He is brother to Lord Keith of Gowan-brae."

"Oh," said Rachel, kneeling on meditatively, "that accounts for it. So much the worse. The staff is made up of idle honourables."

"Quoth the 'Times!'" replied Ermine; "but his appointment began on account of a wound, and went on because of his usefulness-"

"Wounded! I don't like wounded heroes," said Rachel; "people make such a fuss with them that they always get spoilt."

"This was nine years ago, so you may forget it if you like," said Ermine, diversion suppressing displeasure.

"And what is your opinion of him?" said Rachel, edging forward on her knees, so as to bring her inquisitorial eyes to bear more fully.

"I had not seen him for twelve years," said Ermine, rather faintly.

"He must have had a formed character when you saw him last. The twelve years before five-and-forty don't alter the nature."

"Five-and-forty! Illness and climate have told, but I did not think it was so much. He is only thirty-six-"

"That is not what I care about," said Rachel, "you are both of you so cautious that you tell me what amounts to nothing! You should consider how important it is to me to know something about the person in whose power my cousin's affairs are left."

"Have you not sufficient guarantee in the very fact of her husband's confidence?"

"I don't know. A simple-hearted old soldier always means a very foolish old man."

"Witness the Newcomes," said Ermine, who, besides her usual amusement in tracing Rachel's dicta to their source, could only keep in her indignation by laughing.

"General observation," said Rachel, not to be turned from her purpose. "I am not foolishly suspicious, but it is not pleasant to see great influence and intimacy without some knowledge of the person exercising it."

"I think," said Ermine, bringing herself with difficulty to answer quietly, "that you can hardly understand the terms they are on without having seen how much a staff officer becomes one of the family."

"I suppose much must be allowed for the frivolity and narrowness of a military set in a colony. Imagine my one attempt at rational conversation last night. Asking his views on female emigration, absolutely he had none at all; he and Fanny only went off upon a nursemaid married to a sergeant!"

"Perhaps the bearings of the question would hardly suit mixed company."

"To be sure there was a conceited young officer there; for as ill luck will have it, my uncle's old regiment is quartered at Avoncester, and I suppose they will all be coming after Fanny. It is well they are no nearer, and as this colonel says he is going to Belfast in a day or two, there will not be much provocation to them to come here. Now this great event of the Major's coming is over, we will try to put Fanny upon a definite system, and I look to you and your sister as a great assistance to me, in counteracting the follies and nonsenses that her situation naturally exposes her to. I have been writing a little sketch of the dangers of indecision, that I thought of sending to the 'Traveller.' It would strike Fanny to see there what I so often tell her; but I can't get an answer about my paper on 'Curatocult,' as you made me call it."

"Did I!"

"You said the other word was of two languages. I can't think why they don't insert it; but in the meantime I will bring down my 'Human Reeds,' and show them to you. I have only an hour's work on them; so I'll come to-morrow afternoon."

"I think Colonel Keith talked of calling again-thank you," suggested Ermine in despair.

"Ah, yes, one does not want to be liable to interruptions in the most interesting part. When he is gone to Belfast-"

"Yes, when he is gone to Belfast!" repeated Ermine, with an irresistible gleam of mirth about her lips and eyes, and at that moment Alison made her appearance. The looks of the sisters met, and read one another so far as to know that the meeting was over, and for the rest they endured, while Rachel remained, little imagining the trial her presence had been to Alison's burning heart-sick anxiety and doubt. How could it be well? Let him be loveable, let him be constant, that only rendered Ermine's condition the more pitiable, and the shining glance of her eyes was almost more than Alison could bear. So happy as the sisters had been together, so absolutely united, it did seem hard to disturb that calm life with hopes and agitations that must needs be futile; and Alison, whose whole life and soul were in her sister, could not without a pang see that sister's heart belonging to another, and not for hopeful joy, but pain and grief. The yearning of jealousy was sternly reproved and forced down, and told that Ermine had long been Colin Keith's, that the perpetrator of the evil had the least right of any one to murmur that her own monopoly of her sister was interfered with; that she was selfish, unkind, envious; that she had only to hate herself and pray for strength to bear the punishment, without alloying Ermine's happiness while it lasted. How it could be so bright Alison knew not, but so it was she recognised by every tone of the voice, by every smile on the lip, by even the upright vigour with which Ermine sat in her chair and undertook Rachel's tasks of needlework.

And yet, when the visitor rose at last to go, Alison was almost unwilling to be alone with her sister, and have that power of sympathy put to the test by those clear eyes that were wont to see her through and through. She went with Rachel to the door, and stood taking a last instruction, hearing it not at all, but answering, and relieved by the delay, hardly knowing whether to be glad or not that when she returned Rose was leaning on the arm of her aunt's chair with the most eager face. But Rose was to be no protection, for what was passing between her and her aunt?

"O auntie, I am go glad he is coming back. He is just like the picture you drew of Robert Bruce for me. And he is so kind. I never saw any gentleman speak to you in such: a nice soft voice."

Alison had no difficulty in smiling as Ermine stroked the child's hair, kissed her, and looked up with an arch, blushing, glittering face that could not have been brighter those long twelve years ago.

And then Rose turned round, impatient to tell her other aunt her story. "O aunt Ailie, we have had such a gentleman here, with a great brown beard like a picture. And he is papa's old friend, and kissed me because I am papa's little girl, and I do like him so very much. I went where I could look at him in the garden, when you sent me out, aunt Ermine."

"You did, you monkey?" said Ermine, laughing, and blushing again. "What will you do if I send you out next time? No, I won't then, my dear, for all the time, I should like you to see him and know him."

"Only, if you want to talk of anything very particular," observed Rose.

"I don't think I need ask many questions," said Alison, smiling being happily made very easy to her. "Dear Ermine, I see you are perfectly satisfied-"

"O Ailie, that is no word for it! Not only himself, but to find him loving Rose for her father's sake, undoubting of him through all. Ailie, the thankfulness of it is more than one can bear."

"And he is the same?" said Alison.

"The same-no, not the same. It is more, better, or I am able to feel it more. It was just like the morrow of the day he walked down the lane with me and gathered honeysuckles, only the night between has been a very, very strange time."

"I hope the interruption did not come very soon."

"I thought it was directly, but it could not have been so soon, since you are come home. We had just had time to tell what we most wanted to know, and I know a little more of what he is. I feel as if it were not only Colin again, but ten times Colin. O Ailie, it must be a little bit like the meetings in heaven!"

"I believe it is so with you," said Alison, scarcely able to keep the tears from her eyes.

"After sometimes not daring to dwell on him, and then only venturing because I thought he must be dead, to have him back again with the same looks, only deeper-to find that he clung to those weeks so long ago, and, above all, that there was not one cloud, one doubt about the troubles-Oh, it is too, too much."

Ermine lent back with clasped hands. She was like one weary with happiness, and lain to rest in the sense of newly-won peace. She said little more that evening, and if spoken to, seemed like one wakened out of a dream, so that more than once she laughed at herself, begged her sister's pardon, and said that it seemed to her that she could not hear anything for the one glad voice that rang in her ear, "Colin is come home." That was sufficient for her, no need for any other sympathy, felt Alison, with another of those pangs crushed down. Then wonder came-whether Ermine could really contemplate the future, or if it were absolutely lost in the present?

Colonel Keith went back to be seized by Conrade and Francis, and walked off to the pony inspection, the two boys, on either side of him, communicating to him the great grievance of living in a poky place like this, where nobody had ever been in the army, nor had a bit of sense, and Aunt Rachel was always bothering, and trying to make mamma think that Con told stories.

"I don't mind that," said Conrade, stoutly; "let her try!"

"Oh, but she wanted mamma to shut you up," added Francis.

"Well, and mamma knows better," said Conrade, "and it made her leave off teaching me, so it was lucky. But I don't mind that; only don't you see, Colonel, they don't know how to treat mamma! They go and bully her, and treat her like-like a subaltern, till I hate the very sight of it."

"My boy," said the Colonel, who had been giving only half attention; "you must make up your mind to your mother not being at the head of everything, as she used to be in your father's time. She will always be respected, but you must look to yourself as you grow up to make a position tor her!"

"I wish I was grown up!" sighed Conrade; "how I would give it to Aunt Rachel! But why must we live here to have her plaguing us?"

Questions that the Colonel was glad to turn aside by moans of the ponies, and by a suggestion that, if a very quiet one were found, and if Conrade would be very careful, mamma might, perhaps, go out riding with them. The motion was so transcendant that, no sooner had the ponies been seen, than the boys raced home, and had communicated it at the top of their voices to mamma long before their friend made his appearance. Lady Temple was quite startled at the idea. "Dear papa," as she always called her husband, "had wished her to ride, but she had seldom done so, and now-" The tears came into her eyes.

"I think you might," said the Colonel, gently; "I could find you a quiet animal, and to have you with Conrade would be such a protection to him," he added, as the boys had rushed out of the room.

"Yes; perhaps, dear boy. But I could not begin alone; it is so long since I rode. Perhaps when you come back from Ireland."

"I am not going to Ireland."

"I thought you said-" said Fanny looking up surprised; "I am very glad! But if you wished to go, pray don't think about us! I shall learn to manage in time, and I cannot bear to detain you."

"You do not detain me," he said, sitting down by her; "I have found what I was going in search of, and through your means."

"What-what do you mean! You were going to see Miss Williams this afternoon, I thought!"

"Yes, and it was she whom I was seeking." He paused, and added slowly, as if merely for the sake of dwelling on the words, "I have found her!"

"Miss Williams!" said Fanny, with perplexed looks.

"Miss Williams!-my Ermine whom I had not seen since the day after her accident, when we parted as on her deathbed!"

"That sister! Oh, poor thing, I am so glad! But I am sorry!" cried the much confused Fanny, in a breath; "were not you very much shocked?"

"I had never hoped to see her face in all its brightness again," he said. "Twelve years! It is twelve years that she has suffered, and of late she has been brought to this grievous state of poverty, and yet the spirit is as brave and cheerful as ever! It looks out of the beautiful eyes-more beautiful than when I first saw them,-I could see and think of nothing else!"

"Twelve years!" repeated Fanny; "is it so long since you saw her?"

"Almost since I heard of her! She was like a daughter to my aunt at Beauchamp, and her brother was my schoolfellow. For one summer, when I was quartered at Hertford, I was with her constantly, but my family would not even hear of the indefinite engagement that was all we could have looked to, and made me exchange into the -th."

"Ah! that was the way we came to have you! I must tell you, dear Sir Stephen always guessed. Once when he had quite vexed poor mamma by preventing her from joking you in her way about young ladies, he told me that once, when he was young, he had liked some one who died or was married, I don't quite know which, and he thought it was the same with you, from something that happened when you withdrew your application for leave after your wound."

"Yes! it was a letter from home, implying that my return would be accepted as a sign that I gave her up. So that was an additional instance of the exceeding kindness that I always received."

And there was a pause, both much affected by the thought of the good old man's ever ready consideration. At last Fanny said, "I am sure it was well for us! What would he have done without you?-and," she added, "do you really mean that you never heard of her all these years?"

"Never after my aunt's death, except just after we went to Melbourne, when I heard in general terms of the ruin of the family and the false imputation on their brother."

"Ah! I remember that you did say something about going home, and Sir Stephen was distressed, and mamma and I persuaded you because we saw he would have missed you so much, and mamma was quite hurt at your thinking of going. But if you had only told him your reason, he would never have thought of standing in your way."

"I know he would not, but I saw he could hardly find any one else just then who knew his ways so well. Besides, there was little use in going home till I had my promotion, and could offer her a home; and I had no notion how utter the ruin was, or that she had lost so much. So little did I imagine their straits that, but for Alison's look, I should hardly have inquired even on hearing her name."

"How very curious-how strangely things come round!" said Fanny; then with a start of dismay, "but what shall I do? Pray, tell me what you would like. If I might only keep her a little while till I can find some one else, though no one will ever be so nice, but indeed I would not for a moment, if you had rather not."

"Why so? Alison is very happy with you, and there can be no reason against her going on."

"Oh!" cried Lady Temple, with an odd sound of satisfaction, doubt, and surprise, "but I thought you would not like it."

"I should like, of course, to set them all at ease, but as I can do no more than make a home for Ermine and her niece, I can only rejoice that Alison is with you."

"But your brother!"

"If he does not like it, he must take the consequence of the utter separation he made my father insist on," said the Colonel sternly. "For my own part, I only esteem both sisters the more, if that were possible, for what they have done for themselves."

"Oh! that is what Rachel would like! She is so fond of the sick-I mean of your-Miss Williams. I suppose I may not tell her yet."

"Not yet, if you please. I have scarcely had time as yet to know what Ermine wishes, but I could not help telling you."

"Thank you-I am so glad," she said, with sweet earnestness, holding out her hand in congratulation. "When may I go to her? I should like for her to come and stay here. Do you think she would?"

"Thank you, I will see. I know how kind you would be-indeed, have already been to her."

"And I am so thankful that I may keep Miss Williams! The dear boys never were so good. And perhaps she may stay till baby is grown up. Oh! how long it will be first!"

"She could not have a kinder friend," said the Colonel, smiling, and looking at his watch.

"Oh, is it time to dress? It is very kind of my dear aunt; but I do wish we could have stayed at home to-night. It is so dull for the boys when I dine out, and I had so much to ask you. One thing was about that poor little Bessie Keith. Don't you think I might ask her down here, to be near her brother?"

"It would be a very kind thing in you, and very good for her, but you must be prepared for rather a gay young lady."

"Oh, but she would not mind my not going out. She would have Alick, you know, and all the boys to amuse her; but, if you think it would be tiresome for her, and that she would not be happy, I should be very sorry to have her, poor child."

"I was not afraid for her," said Colonel Keith, smiling, "but of her being rather too much for you."

"Rachel is not too much for me," said Fanny, "and she and Grace will entertain Bessie, and take her out. But I will talk to Alick. He spoke of coming to-morrow. And don't you think I might ask Colonel and Mrs. Hammond to spend a day? They would so like the sea for the children."


"Then perhaps you would write-oh, I forgot," colouring up, "I never can forget the old days, it seems as if you were on the staff still."

"I always am on yours, and always hope to be," he said, smiling, "though I am afraid I can't write your note to the Hammonds for you."

"But you won't go away," she said. "I know your time will be taken up, and you must not let me or the boys be troublesome; but to have you here makes me so much less lost and lonely. And I shall have such a friend in your Erminia. Is that her name?"

"Ermine, an old Welsh name, the softest I ever heard. Indeed it is dressing time," added Colonel Keith, and both moved away with the startled precision of members of a punctual military household, still feeling themselves accountable to somebody.

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