THE PRINCESS

“Thro’ light and shadow thou dost range,
Sudden glances, sweet and strange,
Delicious spites and darling angers,
And airy forms of flitting change.”
LORD TENNYSON.

There were white curtains at the windows in all the front rooms now. Mr.
Wycherly’s books were ranged on their appointed shelves and the packing
cases removed to the attic. Mrs. Dew was admitted to the study with
duster and broom, and it began to look home-like and habitable. Once
more did Mr. Wycherly sit at his knee-hole table engaged in his great
work upon the Nikomachean ethics. The family was settling down.

“Will everybody come and see us now they know we’re here?” asked Edmund,
who had invaded the study one afternoon just after luncheon.

“I’m not at all sure that anyone will come and see us,” Mr. Wycherly
answered serenely. “Why should they?”

“Oh, well, for friendliness. How are we to get to know people if they
don’t come and see us? Shall we go and see them?”

“Certainly not,” Mr. Wycherly said hastily. “That would be pushing and
impertinent.”

“But I like knowing folks,” Edmund persisted. “I knew everybody at
Burnhead.”

“Burnhead is a little village. Oxford is a big town, and in big towns
people are too busy to concern themselves about newcomers.”

“Not Mrs. Methuen,” Edmund argued. “She takes a great interest in us.”

“She is a kind and gracious lady,” said Mr. Wycherly, “but you mustn’t
expect everybody to be like Mrs. Methuen.”

“I don’t want them to be like her. I want them to be different; but I
want some more people to come soon. I know the milkman, of course, and
the butcher and two postmen (we’d only one in Burnhead), but that’s not
enough. You see they don’t come in and have a crack. The butcher’s an
awfully nice man. I wish you knew him, Guardie. Why don’t they ever
come in?”

“I expect they are too busy. As it is, it seems to me that some
people’s meat must arrive very late if you have already found time to
discover the butcher’s amiable qualities during his morning visit.”

“You should hear him whistle,” Edmund persisted. “I’d give anything to
whistle like him.”

Mr. Wycherly did not answer. His mental attitude with regard to the
butcher’s musical efforts was coldly unsympathetic.

“Why do you never whistle, Guardie?”

“I don’t feel the smallest desire to whistle.”

“But, _why_ don’t you?”

Just at this moment Mrs. Dew appeared bearing a tray with a visiting
card upon it, while behind her came Montagu, breathless with excitement,
to announce that “a lady and a gentleman and a wee girl were waiting in
the parlour to see Mr. Wycherly.”

On the card were the names of “Mr. and Mrs. William Wycherly.”

“There, Edmund,” said Mr. Wycherly, “you’ve got your wish. Here are
visitors, and one of them is an old friend,” and looking really pleased
he hastened downstairs to the parlour, followed by the boys.

Seated in the deep window-seat was a tall young lady with fair hair;
beside her was a little girl, and a gentleman was standing on the
hearthrug. As Mr. Wycherly came in the lady crossed the room towards
him holding out both her hands. She seemed extraordinarily glad to see
him, and he held the friendly hands in his for quite a long time, while
she laughed and blushed and introduced her husband. Then she turned to
the boys: “Do neither of you remember me? Six years is a long time—but
you might, Montagu?”

“Weren’t you bonnie Margaret?” Montagu asked shyly.

“She is bonnie Margaret,” said Mr. Wycherly, “and this is my nephew.”

“Nobody is taking any notice of me,” said a clear, high voice, and the
handshaking group in the middle of the room turned to look at the little
figure standing all lonely in the window-seat.

“That is our daughter Herrick,” laughed Mrs. Wycherly; “a very important
person—quite unused to be overlooked.”

This was evident. The small girl stood in the seat silhouetted against
the window, a quaint, sedately fearless little figure with a somewhat
reproving expression on the round face framed in a Dutch bonnet. Under
the bonnet and over her shoulders billowed masses of yellow curls that
broke into misty clouds of fine spun floss that caught and held the
April sunshine. Her short-waisted coat, reaching nearly to her heels,
was of a warm tan-colour, and she carried a large, imposing-looking muff
of the same material bordered with fur.

Her mother lifted her down and led her to Mr. Wycherly, who bowed
gravely over the small hand extended to him, but did not kiss her, as
she evidently expected him to do; for she looked at him with large,
trustful eyes, smiling the while a confident smile that showed even
white teeth and deliciously uneven dimples in cheeks as fresh and pink
as the almond blossom just then bursting into flower.

Mrs. William Wycherly was Lady Alicia’s youngest daughter. Montagu
vaguely remembered that there was a great fuss at the time of bonnie
Margaret’s marriage, and that he had heard it whispered that she had run
away and that her mother was very angry. So he looked with great
interest at the gracious and beautiful young woman who had been so kind
to them when they were little. Certainly retribution did not appear to
have overtaken her. She looked radiantly well and happy, and Montagu
decided that her husband looked kind and pleasant. Herrick stood
leaning up against her mother’s knee, silently taking stock first of
Montagu, then of Edmund, then of Montagu again, turning her gravely
scrutinising eyes from one to the other without a trace of embarrassment
or shyness.

Presently Mr. Wycherly suggested that the boys should show Herrick the
garden.

“Will you go with them, darling?” asked her mother, and Herrick,
evidently satisfied with her investigations, declared her willingness to
do so.

Once outside the parlour door, the steep, crooked staircase attracted
her attention.

“I’d like to go up that; can I, boy?” she asked Edmund.

“Let’s take her and show her our attic,” he suggested. Edmund loved the
attics.

“Shall I carry you?” asked Montagu; “it’s a long stair.”

“Certainly not,” said the little girl with great dignity; “peoples as
old as me always walk upstairs.”

She fell up a good many times during the ascent, for she kept stepping
on her long coat in front, and every time she tripped she said: “Oh,
dear, how tahsome!”

At length they reached the attic, and the moment she saw the four-post
bed with the curtains she made a dart towards it, crying joyfully, “Oh,
what a beautiful castle it will make. Now we can play my game.”

She attempted to scramble up on to the bed, but again the coat got in
the way and prevented her.

“Please take it off,” she commanded, standing quite still, “and my
bonnet.”

Montagu unbuttoned the coat and untied the strings of the bonnet.

“That’s better,” she said; “now we can begin.”

In a moment she was up on the bed and had darted behind the curtains
which she immediately drew closely till she was well hidden.

Montagu and Edmund looked at one another. What in the world did this
portend?

Presently the curtains were parted a little, and a round, rosy face
appeared in the aperture.

The boys stood at the end of the bed looking awkward and sheepish.

“Go on,” she said impatiently; and she stamped her foot. “You must
_say_ it now.”

“But we don’t know what to say. Is it a game like proverbs, or what?”
asked Edmund.

Herrick sighed, and stepped out from behind the curtains. “I suppose I
must esplain,” she said, “but I thought everybody knowed that game; it’s
my most favourite play. This,” she said, waving her hand dramatically,
“is a _gloomy_ wood”—mere printers’ ink can never depict the darkness
and density of that wood as portrayed in Herrick’s voice—”and you are a
wandering prince.”

“Which of us?” asked Edmund; “or are we both princes?”

“No, there can’t be two, there can only be one. You’d better be him,”
she said, pointing to Montagu, “you’re the biggest, and the littler one
can be his servant.”

“A varlet,” Montagu, who was just then much under the influence of Sir
Walter Scott, suggested helpfully.

“A Scotch varlet, mind,” Edmund stipulated.

“And presently you see,” continued the little girl as though there had
been no interruption of any kind, “a most frowning sort of castle, but
just as you’re wondering what you’ll do there appears at the window——”

“Castles haven’t got windows,” Edmund objected, “only kind of slits.”

“This castle has a casement,” Herrick responded with dignity. “Don’t
interrupt—and the curtains are drawn, but pesenly they are drawn back,
and then you see _the_ most beautiful princess you ever dreamed of——”

“And then?” asked Montagu.

“Why, you go down on your knees, of course, and say so. Now, let’s
begin; you do need such a lot of esplanation.”

The princess retired behind her curtains; the prince and the varlet, who
manifested an unseemly inclination to giggle, marched about the room.

“By my halidome!” exclaimed the prince, who had determined to play the
part after the fashion of his then favourite characters, “this place is
stoutly fortified.”

“Will we win through, think ye?” asked the varlet familiarly.

“Hush!” said a voice from behind the curtains.

They were parted. First the ravishingly lovely countenance (it really
was an adorably pretty little face, intensely solemn and earnest)
appeared, then more of the princess, till she stood revealed in short
embroidered muslin frock and a blue sash.

Flump! Prince and varlet went down on their knees.

“What light from yonder window breaks?” exclaimed the prince, who had
been doing “Romeo and Juliet” at school, and thought the quotation
appropriate.

“An’ wha’ll yon lassie be, prince?” asked the varlet.

“I,” said the princess slowly and solemnly, “_I_ am the Princess
Hildegarde——”

“Losh me!” interjected the varlet.

“Silence, dog!” said the prince severely. “How came you here, fair
lady?”

“I am imprisoned in this dreadful castle,” the princess continued
plaintively, “by a wicked baron, an enemy of my kingly father.”

“Where is the baron, lady? That we may slay him!” valiantly exclaimed
the prince.

“Is your faither deed?” further inquired the varlet, who really was
shockingly familiar.

“He died”—here the princess faltered and looked almost as though she
might weep at any moment—”while I was yet a babe, nigh upon forty years
ago.”

“That’s a long time,” murmured the prince thoughtfully.

“It is,” the princess agreed, “and meanwhile my evil cousin has usurped
the throne—— Now let us do it all over again.” Here she spoke in a
perfectly natural voice. “Perhaps you’ll be a bit better this time.
You ought to be much more surprised when I first appear, you ought to be
struck dumb with amazement and delight, and then say all sorts of
beautiful things. You should see my daddie do it.”

“No, no,” protested the varlet, as he arose and rubbed his knees, “we’ve
got to find that old baron first and kill him. Wouldn’t you like to be
the baron now for a change?”

“Certainly not,” said the princess with great dignity. “I’m only the
princess always; we never have killings or horrid things of that sort.
Are you ready?”

“Wouldn’t you like to see the garden?” Montagu suggested; “it’s very
very pretty.”

“I’ve seen plenty of gardens, thank you. This town is all over gardens.
Are you ready?”

The princess was once more shrouded by her curtains. Edmund looked
despairingly at Montagu.

“Shall we show her our secret place?” he whispered. “We simply can’t
play that silly old game all over again.”

“She’s got such a smart frock on,” Montagu objected. “Suppose she got
dirty.”

“What secret place?” asked the princess, emerging from behind the
curtains.

“It’s a wee tunnel, and you go up it and come out on the roof, but you’d
spoil your dress. Are you going to a party, that you’re so fine?”

“I’m not fine,” the princess cried indignantly. “It’s just an or’nary
dress; it’ll wash. _Do_ show me the secret place.”

“Will you promise not to play princess when we get there?” Edmund
demanded.

“Not if you don’t like it,” she answered, looking very surprised; “but
it’s such a lovely game.”

“Hush! they’re calling us,” Montagu exclaimed; “we must go down.”

“But the secret place,” cried Herrick. “I must see the secret place.”

“You can’t now; we must go. Next time, perhaps. All right, Guardie,
we’re coming. Here, you’d better let me carry you, the stairs are
awfully steep. Bring her coat and things, Edmund.”

This time the princess consented, and Montagu staggered downstairs
bearing this precious and, for him, exceedingly heavy burden.

“What have you been doing, children?” Mrs. Wycherly asked.

“I didn’t want to go in the garden,” Herrick said as if that explained
everything. “So we went upstairs and there was a lovely bed and we
played princess, but they’re not good. They didn’t do it really well.
You and daddie are much better.”

Mrs. Wycherly looked across at her husband and laughed. “One needs
educating up to that game,” she said. “I daresay Edmund and Montagu
will play it very well when they’ve got little girls of their own.”

“They didn’t seem to ’preciate me much,” the child said sadly, “but,”
tolerantly, “they did their best. I like the big one, he’s more
respectful.”

When their visitors had gone, Edmund sought Mr. Wycherly and climbed
upon his knee.

“Funny little kid, wasn’t she?” he said.

“She is a remarkably beautiful child.”

“Yes, she is nice to look at; all that hair’s so jolly. We were very
good to her, Guardie, really; we did everything she asked us once—but we
really couldn’t do it all over again.”

“Do what all over again?”

“Oh, be princes and admire her, and rubbish. She wouldn’t let us kill
the wicked baron or anything really jolly like that.”

“You’ve had very little to do with girls, ever,” Mr. Wycherly said
thoughtfully. “It is rather a pity. I sometimes wish we knew some nice
little girls for you to play with. They have, I expect, a refining
influence.”

“I don’t want any refining influences if it’s princesses and that sort
of thing. I couldn’t go on doing it to please anybody.”

“She’s only a baby, Edmund. You liked all sorts of queer games when you
were very little. I’m sure I’d be quite willing to play princes or
anything else to please the young lady.”

“And go down on your knees?”

“Certainly,” said Mr. Wycherly, who, however, looked rather startled,
“if it gave her pleasure.”

“I suppose we gave her pleasure,” Edmund grumbled, “but she didn’t seem
over-pleased, somehow. I can’t think _what_ she wanted, really.”

“Perhaps she didn’t know herself.”

“Oh, yes, she did, for she was so sure we were doing it wrong.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Mr. Wycherly, with unconscious irony, “it is a
better game for two.”

“Well, you won’t catch Montagu and me playing that game anyhow.”

“Who knows—some day,” said Mr. Wycherly.

*CHAPTER IV*

*THE BEGGAR MAID*

“Who loves me? dearest father, mother sweet,
I speak the names out sometimes by myself,
And make the silence shiver. They sound strange,
As Hindostani to an Ind-born man
Accustomed many years to English speech;
Or lovely poet-words grown obsolete,
Which will not leave off singing.”
E. B. BROWNING.

That evening, after the princess and her parents had gone, Mrs. Dew
asked Mr. Wycherly if she might “pop out” for an hour or so before
supper just to run home and see that all was well.

Mrs. Dew always “popped,” and according to herself, invariably ran,
though such modes of progression seemed hardly in keeping with her
stout, comfortable figure.

Before she left, she warned the boys to listen for knocks and rings
during her absence—”though ’tisn’t likely,” she said, “as anyone’ll come
to the side-door; the tradespeople’s all been.”

Mr. Wycherly was shut in his study and the boys were preparing to go out
into the garden where they assuredly would hear no knocks or rings, when
there came a faint and timid rap at the side-door.

Edmund rushed to open it, and there stood a little girl of about twelve,
who asked in a modest whisper: “Please, sir, can I see my aunt a
minute?”

“Is Mrs. Dew your aunt?” Edmund demanded.

“Yes, sir, please, sir. Can I see her?”

“She’s just gone out, not five minutes ago.”

“Oh dear,” sighed the little girl, “then I must have missed her.”

“Was she going to see you, do you think?” Edmund asked. He always took
the deepest interest in his fellow creatures.

“I expect so, but there’s so many ways one can come. I shall be certain
to miss her again going back and then——”

“And then,” Edmund repeated.

“She’ll be cross with me,” the little girl replied, and smiled at
Edmund.

Edmund smiled back and a friendly, confidential spirit was at once
established.

They looked at each other in silence for a minute.

The visitor was dressed in a brown stuff frock of some stiff, unyielding
woolen material. She wore a buff coloured cape reaching to the waist
and a hat of black straw, trimmed with a brown ribbon, of that
inverted-pie-dish shape seemingly peculiar to female orphans educated in
charitable institutions, for no other mortal ever wears such an one.

The pale face under the shadow of the inverted pie-dish was odd and
arresting. The eyes, long-lashed and brilliant, were really brown eyes,
almost the colour of old, dark sherry; deep-set under delicately
pencilled, very black eyebrows. Her mouth was rather large with well-cut
full red lips and strong even white teeth; but her face was painfully
thin, the cheeks so hollow and the chin so sharp that her eyes dominated
everything, were out of proportion, and imparted to the beholder an
uncomfortable sense of tragedy and gloom almost painful—until she
smiled. Then the slumbering fire in the great eyes was quenched and
they looked peaceful and pleasant as clear brown water under sunshine in
a Devonshire trout stream.

“Hadn’t you better come in and wait for your aunt?” Edmund suggested.
“If you go back now you’re certain to miss her.”

“May I?” asked the little girl, smiling all over her face. “May I? I
hope aunt won’t mind.”

“Come in,” said Edmund, and shut the door.

The side-door opened straight into the scullery; then came the kitchen,
large, orderly, and comfortable; opening out of that was a housekeeper’s
room not yet completely furnished. Edmund led his guest through these
apartments and across a narrow passage to the dining-room where Montagu
was sitting on the floor fastening on his pads.

“Here’s Mrs. Dew’s niece!” Edmund announced. “This is Montagu,” he
continued. “What’s your name? We can’t call you Mrs. Dew’s niece all
the time.”

Montagu arose from the floor and shook hands in solemn silence after the
manner of boys.

“My name’s Jane-Anne, please, sir,” said the little girl.

“My name’s Edmund, please, miss,” that youth remarked, grinning broadly.

Jane-Anne looked surprised. She saw nothing unusual in her mode of
address.

For a minute the three stood and stared at each other.

“Would you like,” Edmund asked in tones of honeyed politeness, “to see
me bowl to him? I was just going to when you came.”

“Please, sir,” said Jane-Anne with commendable alacrity, “I should like
it very much.”

“Perhaps,” Montagu suggested, though not over hopefully, “you’d like to
field.”

“Field,” repeated Jane-Anne; “what’s that?”

“Run after the ball when he hits it, and throw it back to me,” Edmund
explained.

“Oh, I could do that—do let me—it would be lovelly.”

“Oh, you shall field as much as you like,” Edmund promised graciously,
and they all went into the garden.

Jane-Anne took off her hat and cape and hung them on the roller. It was
then to be seen that her little nose was very straight and almost in a
line with her forehead; no “dint,” as Edmund called it, between the
eyes. And her hair, parted in the centre from her brow to the nape of
her neck, was black, immensely long and thick, and tightly plaited in
two big pig-tails, each tied with a crumpled bit of brown ribbon.

Jane-Anne could run very fast and was quite a fair catch, but she could
not throw, as Montagu put it, “a hang” except in directions wholly
undesirable. She very nearly flung one ball through Mr. Wycherly’s
study window in her endeavours to send it to Edmund bowling at the other
end of the lawn. So it was settled that she must roll the ball along
the grass, which she did with fair precision.

The grass was wet and spongy after heavy rain that morning. Jane-Anne’s
boots were heavy and clumsy, and when she slid, as she often did, she
peeled the grass right off.

“I say,” Montagu exclaimed, “you’re making a frightful mess of the
grass. I think you’d better stop fielding.”

“I’ll take them off,” Jane-Anne exclaimed eagerly. “I can run much
faster in my stockings.”

This she did, regardless of the damp and unhindered by either of the
boys, who thought it was very “sporting” of her.

“This afternoon,” said Montagu, while she was unlacing them, “we had a
little girl who insisted on playing at being a princess, and when you
came I was afraid you’d want to play something of that sort too; perhaps
the beggar maid, for a change.”

“I shouldn’t ever want to _play_ that,” she said very low, and to his
dismay he noticed that her mouth drooped at the corners and her eyes
were full of tears. She stooped her head over the boot she was
unlacing, but Montagu had seen her face.

“Oh, don’t,” he exclaimed. “Whatever is the matter? I was only in fun
and you know, in the story—it’s a poem—I read it this very afternoon—the
beggar maid became the Queen.”

“_Did_ she?” cried Jane-Anne. “Are you sure? How lovelly! I’d like to
play at being a princess,” she added wistfully. “It’s not much fun to
play what you are already. You see I am a sort of beggar maid.”

“Oh, nonsense,” said Montagu, “you’re not in rags, your clothes look
very strong and comfortable.”

“They’re strong, but they’re not at all comfortable, they’re so stiff”;
and Jane-Anne rose lightly to her feet holding her arms out straight.

The brown garment was made after a fashion of many years ago—the sleeves
and body tight and skimpy and narrow-chested; the skirt unnecessarily
full and heavy.

“I think you’re rather like Mrs. Noah,” said Edmund, “only you’ve more
hair and petticoats.”

Jane-Anne dropped her arms, stooped, and picked up the boots. “Aren’t
they frightful?” she said. “That’s the asylum. We all have to wear
them.” Whereupon she cast the boots violently away from her and they
bounded into the midst of a herbaceous border.

“Now,” she said, with a little dancing movement indicative of relief,
“you’ll see that I can run.”

“What was that you said about an asylum?” Edmund asked suspiciously. “I
thought only mad people went to asylums.”

“It’s the Bainbridge Asylum for female orphans,” Jane-Anne explained.
“I’m female and I’m an orphan, and I wish I wasn’t. I’m at school there
and I hate it. But I’m generally ill, so I have to go to the hospital,
and there it’s lovelly.”

“Why are you ill?” asked Edmund.

“It’s so cold. If I go on being ill any more,” she added hopefully,
“they won’t keep me. It’s because I’m an orphan I have to go—it makes it
easier for aunt.”

“But we’re orphans too and we don’t go to asylums,” Edmund objected.

“Ah,” said Jane-Anne, “you’re rich, you see.”

“Indeed we’re not,” said Montagu. “We’re very poor really; Aunt
Esperance said so.”

“Poor!” echoed Jane-Anne scornfully, “and live in that beautiful house
and have Aunt Martha for a servant. Oh, no, you can’t be poor—not
really.”

“You see, there’s Guardie, he takes care of us,” Montagu explained, “but
we’re really orphans, too, you know.”

“Are you? I’m so sorry,” and she looked it.

“Oh, you needn’t be a bit sorry for us. We’re very jolly, thank you,”
and Edmund spoke in rather an offended tone. Pity was the last thing he
expected or desired.

“I beg your pardon,” she said quickly. “I know it’s quite different for
you; you’re gentry, you see.”

The boys glanced at one another and were horribly uncomfortable. In
some queer, subconscious way they felt that they had unaccountably and
unintentionally been “snobby” to Jane-Anne.

“Come on,” said Edmund, “we’re wasting time.”

The game was keen and exciting. Jane-Anne flew about on her slender
stockinged feet, and in spite of the stiff brown dress, there was
something singularly fleet and graceful in her movements.

The pleasant pinky light had already changed to grey when from the house
there came the sound of a hand-bell rung vigorously.

“Mercy!” exclaimed Edmund, “that’s for us to wash. Mrs. Dew must be
home and it’s nearly supper-time.”

Montagu was already half-way to the house when Jane-Anne caught Edmund
by the arm, exclaiming, “Oh, let me get my boots. Don’t go without me,
and don’t say I took them off. I don’t know what Aunt’d say. I’m sure
she’ll think it forward of me to play with you.”

“Rubbish,” said Edmund. “Hurry up. We asked you, and I hope you’ll
come often. You’d learn to chuck up a ball in time, and your running’s
simply ripping.”

“Can the princess one throw balls?” Jane-Anne asked as she laced a boot
at lightning speed.

“I don’t know. I shouldn’t think so; she’s a very little kid, you
know.”

“I should like to see her; is she like a princess, really?”

“Well, she is rather. She has a demandly sort of way as if she expected
everybody to do as she likes. You could see her if you came to-morrow
morning. They’re coming then, I know.”

“I’d love to, but what would aunt say? I’m certain she wouldn’t let me;
not in the morning when she’s so busy.”

“You come to the front door and I’ll let you in myself and take you up
to the attic. She’s certain to want to go back there. She doesn’t seem
to care for gardens.”

“Oh, I do,” cried Jane-Anne; “gardens are lovelly; but I’ll come,” she
added excitedly. “I’ll wait across the road, then you can see me from
the window and let me in. Mind you don’t forget.”

They ran back to the house and Edmund escorted Jane-Anne as far as the
kitchen, where Mrs. Dew was standing at the fireplace dishing up.

“Jane-Anne came to see you, Mrs. Dew,” Edmund announced loudly from the
doorway, “but you’d just gone, so we asked her in to wait till you came
back.”

Mrs. Dew turned hastily and beheld her niece standing just behind her.

“But I’ve been back over an hour,” Mrs. Dew exclaimed. “Wherever have
you been since, Jane-Anne?”

“We asked her to play cricket with us,” Edmund explained. “We never
heard you come in. Good-bye, Jane-Anne, I must go and wash.”

Wagging his curly head meaningly in token of the assignation for the
morrow, Edmund departed and Jane-Anne was left face to face with her
aunt.

“Well!” that good woman ejaculated. “You’ve given me a pretty turn. I
couldn’t think where you was gone; evening and all, and then to think
you’ve been all this time playing with the young gentlemen like one of
theirselves, and me never so much as dreaming where you was. What
possessed you to come at all, Jane-Anne?”

“I was lonely, Aunt Martha, I wanted to see you.”

“You might have seen me over an hour ago if you’d a’ chose. Well, now
you must run back home before it gets dark. I can’t let you wait for me
to take you, there’s all them dinner things to wash up. How hot you are
child! Mind you don’t catch cold, and school beginning next week.”

Jane-Anne looked wistfully at the sizzling cutlets in the frying-pan.
She had started off before her tea and was very hungry. Her aunt had
turned again to the range and was absorbed in lifting her cutlets out
one by one and setting them to drain on a dish covered with white paper.
As she carefully placed the last one, she turned and saw the flushed,
wistful little face under the shadow of the inverted pie-dish.

“There, child,” she said impatiently, “don’t dawdle, it’s late enough as
it is, and Miss Morecraft ’ll be in a fine taking where you can have got
to.”

“Good-night, Aunt Martha,” Jane-Anne said obediently, and held up her
face to be kissed.

Mrs. Dew stooped and kissed the child with great kindness and felt in
the pocket of her skirt. “You buy a cake for your supper,” she said,
pressing a penny into Jane-Anne’s hand, “on your way back. I can’t give
you anything here for the food’s not mine, and to take my employer’s
victuals is what I never have done nor never will.”

Jane-Anne flung her arms round her aunt’s neck. “I do love you, Aunt
Martha,” she whispered chokily.

“There, there, do get home, and remember that if so be as I’m out when
you call, you’re to go away again and not come in as bold as brass as if
you was a friend of the family—playing with the young gentlemen and all.
Folks ought to keep to their proper stations.”

“But he asked me to come and play,” Jane-Anne expostulated.

“Law bless you, Master Edmund’d ask in a tramp off the road, he’s that
full of caddle. Now look sharp, child, and get home.”

Jane-Anne let herself out at the side-door and went through under the
archway into the street. It was quite deserted, and as she passed the
dining-room window she stopped, and pressing her face against the glass,
looked in.

The electric light above the table had a rose-coloured shade and filled
the room with a warm, soft light. A bright fire was burning on the
hearth, for the evenings were still cold and a shrewd wind blew down the
empty street. To Jane-Anne, shivering now after being much too hot, the
room looked inexpressibly comfortable and cheery.

Mr. Wycherly, his white hair shining with a silvery radiance, was
standing with Montagu, newly promoted to a dinner-jacket on the
hearth-rug. His hand was on the boy’s shoulder, and he smiled down at
him, for Montagu was talking eagerly. There was evidently such perfect
confidence and affection between what Jane-Anne called “the beautiful
old gentleman” and the boy for whom she had just been fielding, that she
felt a passionate desire to be there too. Surely anyone who looked so
gracious and benign would have a kindly word for her. Should she rap at
the window and attract their attention? Somehow she was certain that
neither of them would be cross. Her eyes filled with tears, and the
figures standing on the hearth-rug became blurred and indistinct, but
she saw her aunt come in and cross towards the window to pull down the
blind. Jane-Anne darted away, the big tears chasing each other down her
cheeks.

“I wish I was that kind of orphan!” sobbed Jane-Anne.

*CHAPTER V*

*THEIR MEETING*

“For may not a person be only five,
And yet have the neatest of taste alive?
As a matter of fact, this one has views
Of the strictest sort as to frocks and shoes.”
AUSTIN DOBSON.

Little Herrick had no companions of her own age except for an occasional
visit to cousins. Therefore did she invent comrades for herself and
sternly impose them upon her family.

There was “Umpy dear” who, as his name suggested, was a meek,
inefficient sort of person, often in trouble of various kinds, but
always entirely amiable and desirous of pleasing. Quite other was “Mr.
Woolykneeze,” a stern, characterful personality who was quoted as an
authority on all questions of manners and deportment. Even Janet, the
commonsensical, trembled before Mr. Woolykneeze. One day at tea, having
toothache, she had ventured to leave a piece of crust upon her plate,
when Herrick remarked it and said sternly, “Mr. Woolykneeze thinks it’s
very impolite to leave bits, ’specially crusts,” and poor Janet was fain
to soak the crust in her tea and mumble it that way rather than offend
this mysterious and invisible censor.

When asked the age of “Umpy dear,” Herrick always persisted that he was
“three months and one day.” He never grew any older and his social
solecisms were surely excusable in one of such tender age. “Mrs. Miff”
was “Umpy dear’s” mother, and her character was believed to have been
founded on that of a charwoman who occasionally came to the house. Like
her offspring she was meek and rather feckless, frequently arousing the
wrath of Mr. Woolykneeze by her untidy and careless habits.

No one knew whence Herrick got the names or how she divined their
various characters, but the people were there and had come to stay, and
her family had to put up with them.

Her visit to Oxford opened up whole vistas of new possibilities. Here
were two real boys with whom she had been allowed to play. It is true
that they did not fall into her scheme with that instant understanding
and obedience to which she was accustomed from her parents, but still
they played after a fashion, a new and piquant fashion, and Herrick went
back to the King’s Arms after her visit to Holywell chattering
incessantly of “Monkagu” and “Emmund,” and demanding an instant return
to their society. She wept bitterly when she found she could not go
back that night, and declared that Mr. Woolykneeze and Umpy dear were
equally upset. Her father suggested that these gentlemen might stroll
round by themselves, when Herrick, regarding him with tearful
astonishment, sobbed out: “They’d never be so unkind as to go wivout me.
Besides, Umpy dear might spill something on your uncle’s best carpet.
Can’t _I_ take them?”

“Not to-night, I fear.”

“Why?”

“Because, you see, we’ve been already; it would be troublesome to go
twice.”

“Why would it be troublesome? I want to play with those little boys
again.”

“They’re not very little boys, you know. They’re a great deal bigger
than you are. Perhaps they don’t care to play with little girls.”

At this Herrick opened her tearful eyes wide, repeating in astonishment,
“Not care to play wiv _me_? Why not?”

“Well, you see, boys don’t always care for the same games that girls
like.”

“But they’re nice boys.”

“I’m glad to hear it; still, you know, even nice boys don’t always care
to play with little girls.”

Herrick sighed deeply. It was a horrid suggestion, the more so that she
felt secretly assured that the princess game had not been a wild
success.

“I want to see the varlet again,” she persisted.

“Which is the varlet?”

“The littler one. I do want him to play wiv me.”

“Perhaps he will to-morrow.”

“D’rectly after breakfas’, mind; you promise.”

William Wycherly promised, and Herrick went to bed to dream that
“Emmund” and “Monkagu” were walking down Holywell arm-in-arm with Umpy
dear and Mr. Woolykneeze, and that they all four called at the hotel to
take her for a walk in St. John’s Gardens.

Next morning Herrick woke very early. Janet, her Scottish nurse, was
having a fortnight’s holiday, therefore at that time her mother was her
sole guardian and attendant. Her bed was in a little dressing-room off
that of her mother, the door between the two rooms being left open.

For a little while Herrick was content to sit up and wonder at the
floors of the King’s Arms Hotel, which are not as ordinary floors, but
slope up and down in all sorts of unexpected directions. But she soon
got tired of this, and so effectually roused her devoted parents that
the three of them were down in the coffee-room and had finished
breakfast by half-past eight.

“Now let us go and see your uncle, daddie dear,” Herrick suggested as
soon as she was lifted down from her chair. It seemed so extraordinary
to her that anyone as old as her father should have an uncle, and she
never failed to lay great stress upon the pronoun.

“We can’t possibly invade them so early as this,” Margaret said firmly;
“they’re probably not downstairs yet.”

“Umpy dear thinks they’re up and finished breakfast,” Herrick remarked
in a detached, impersonal tone, “_and_ waiting for me.”

“Well, I must beg to differ from Umpy dear. We said we’d call about ten,
and it won’t be ten for an hour and a half yet. I must write some
letters, and you must amuse yourself somehow while I do it. What toys
will you have?”

“I’ll look out of the window, sank you,” Herrick remarked with dignity,
and climbed upon a chair that she might see over the wire blind.

Her mother gave one amused glance at the small offended back turned
towards her and went upstairs to get her writing-case.

William Wycherly, seeing his daughter apparently engrossed in her
inspection of the street, strolled to the bureau to look up trains, for
they were to leave that afternoon.

No sooner was he out of sight than Herrick, muttering something to the
effect that “Mr. Woolykneeze _knows_ they’re waiting,” scrambled down
from the chair and tip-toed out to the hall and thence into the street.

No one saw her, for none of the other sojourners at the King’s Arms were
down, and at that moment there was not even a waiter in the hall.

It was a perfect April morning. The sun shone clear and warm, and a
shy, caressing wind lifted Herrick’s curls and turned them to a haze of
golden floss as she stepped daintily to the pavement and looked up
street and down street carefully. Then, as fast as her sturdy legs
would carry her, she ran till she reached Mr. Wycherly’s gabled house.

But there she was met by a difficulty, for she could reach neither
knocker nor bell. For a moment she stood undecided in the doorway, but
she was not lacking in resource. She couldn’t quite see into the
windows but she could reach them with her hand. She selected that on
the left-hand side of the door and tapped on the glass. No response;
evidently there was no one in that room.

She tried the other. Still no one came to see who was there.

A passing boy, who noted her efforts, inquired good-naturedly: “Want to
get in, missie?”

“Please! Would you ring for me?” she asked, smiling up at him in
bewitching fashion; “there doesn’t seem to be anybody in those rooms.”

The boy rang loudly, knocked like a postman, and went up the street,
where he waited a few doors off to see what happened.

The door was opened.

Mrs. Dew looked down at this hatless, golden-haired person in an
elaborate blue linen smock the colour of her eyes, and recognised
yesterday’s visitor.

“Come in, my dear,” she said hospitably. “They’re none of ’em down yet,
but I can hear the young gentlemen hollerin’ and rampagin’, so they
won’t be long——” “Parents want to get her out of the way for a bit, I
expect,” she thought to herself, “her mamma must get pretty tired of it
without no nurse.”

Herrick followed Mrs. Dew into the dining-room, where breakfast was
laid. “One minute, my dear,” said that good woman, “I must just pop
back to my bacon and eggs, then I’ll come and see to you.”

But Herrick had not come to see Mrs. Dew. No sooner was she left alone
than she sought the steep, narrow staircase and began to climb upstairs,
whispering as she went, “You’d better take my hand, Umpy dear.”

Two doors on the landing were open. The bathroom faced her, empty, and
very wet. She walked straight through the second open door on the other
side of the landing and came upon Montagu brushing his hair at the glass
while Edmund, still in his shirt-sleeves, was practising a handspring on
the end of his bed.

Montagu saw her reflected in the mirror and in speechless astonishment
watched her as she paused well inside the doorway, announcing genially,
“We’ve all three come.”

Edmund’s feet dropped to the floor with a flump.

“Mercy goodness!” Montagu ejaculated, and dashed for the door that led
into Mr. Wycherly’s room. On this he thumped loudly; without waiting
for permission to enter, he opened it just wide enough to thrust in his
head, and repeated, “They’ve all three come,” in a penetrating whisper.

Mr. Wycherly, who was shaving, dropped his razor and turned a soapy and
astonished countenance towards Montagu, exclaiming, “What! al——!” when
he hastily changed his remark to: “They’ve come to breakfast with us,
have they? How exceedingly kind and friendly; run down at once and ask
Mrs. Dew to lay three more places.”

Herrick staring at Edmund, heard this and said slowly: “They don’t
generally lay for them.”

“What?” cried Edmund, immensely interested. “Don’t you have plates and
knives and things?”

“_I_ do,” said Herrick; “at least not knives ’cept a silver one, but
they never do. They _will_ be pleased.”

“But do you mean to tell me,” Edmund exclaimed, appalled at the
eccentricity of the Wycherly _ménage_ as revealed by their daughter,
“that they eat things right off the cloth? Whatever do they do when
there’s gravy?”

“They never has gravy, poor dears,” said Herrick sadly.

Edmund sighed. As old Elsa would have said, it was “ayont him”; and
they both looked so nice too. It was impossible to imagine Mr. and Mrs.
Wycherly gnawing cutlets without so much as a plate between them. He
got into his waistcoat and jacket in thoughtful silence. Montagu, who
had not paid any attention to these astonishing revelations, being
filled with hospitable concern as to whether there would be sufficient
bacon and eggs for three extra persons, gave his hair one final thump
with the brush and prepared to go downstairs.

“Stop!” cried Edmund; “you haven’t said your prayers; hurry up!” Both
boys knelt down by the bed, side by side, while Herrick watched their
bowed heads with solemn interest.

“Why don’t you begin?” she asked impatiently after a minute’s silence.

“I’ve _done_,” Edmund announced cheerfully, arising from his knees, when
Montagu followed suit and rushed downstairs.

“But you didn’t say anything.”

“We don’t say prayers out loud. It’s only very little children say them
out loud.”

“Oh!” she said, as though suddenly enlightened. “Umpy dear says his
very loud, but Mr. Woolykneeze looks into his hat like a grown-up
genpleman; you can’t hear a fing.”

“But,” Edmund objected, “one hasn’t always got a hat in the morning,”
and opening Mr. Wycherly’s door a very little, he called through: “I
say, Guardie, do you always say your prayers into a hat?”

“Really, Edmund,” said poor Mr. Wycherly, much perturbed by this second
interruption, “I do so dislike doors being opened while I am shaving,
especially when as in this instance——”

Edmund banged the door.

“I’m sure he doesn’t,” he said confidently. “He can’t, for his hat’s
downstairs. P’raps that Mr. What’s-is-name you mentioned has a special
kind.”

“Mr. Woolykneeze has hundreds of hats,” Herrick announced magnificently.

“What a lot of room they must take up,” said Edmund, much impressed.

“They do,” said Herrick, “rooms and rooms.”

“Is yon Mr. Woolykneeze a relation?” Edmund asked.

Herrick looked thoughtful. “Not exactly,” she said slowly, “but he’s a
dear fend.”

“How many pairs of trousers has he?”

Here was a poser. Herrick was not yet very familiar with the science of
numbers. “I’ve not seen them all,” she said cautiously; “he wears
different ones every day. Let’s come downstairs,” she added quickly
lest he should ask more inconvenient questions. “You may show me the
garden till bretfus is ready if you like.”

By the time Mr. Wycherly came down, six places were laid for breakfast
and Mrs. Dew had cooked three extra portions of bacon and eggs. She
rang the bell loudly and the boys with little Herrick came in from the
garden.

“Perhaps you’d better run along to the King’s Arms, Edmund, and tell my
nephew and his wife that breakfast is ready,” said Mr. Wycherly. “I
thought, my dear,” he added, turning towards Herrick, “that you said
your father and mother had come. I hope they haven’t gone away in
despair because none of us were down.”

Herrick looked up at him with candid, forget-me-not blue eyes.

“No,” she said gravely, “I never said they’d come for they didn’t.”

“But you did!” Montagu exclaimed. “You said, ’We’ve all three come’
when you first came upstairs.”

“So we have,” she said. “Mr. Woolykneeze and Umpy dear and me; not
mummy and daddie. I ’spect this is him now,” as a loud knock and ring
came at the front door.

And sure enough it was William Wycherly, so relieved to see his daughter
safe that he forgot altogether to scold her for running away.

Margaret, thinking her husband was in charge of Herrick, had not hurried
down and he, returning to the empty coffee-room, concluded that Herrick
had been fetched upstairs by her mother. It was not till Margaret came
down that they discovered she had apparently vanished into space.
William instantly fell into a panic and was for summoning a detective at
once, when Margaret calmly interposed with the suggestion that he should
first look for his daughter in his uncle’s house. After considerable
explanation which included the important personalities of Mr.
Woolykneeze and Umpy dear, William was fain to go back to the King’s
Arms without his daughter, and Herrick sat at Mr. Wycherly’s right hand,
raised high in her chair upon a dictionary and Cruden’s Concordance, and
had breakfast all over again “wivout a bib” as she joyfully announced.
The blue smock also bore testimony to that fact when the meal was over.
The extra bacon and eggs were not wasted; Montagu and Edmund consumed
the lot.

By the time breakfast was over it was nearly ten o’clock, and Edmund
went to the front door to look for Jane-Anne. Sure enough she was there
waiting in a doorway just down the street. Jane-Anne saw him and came
out from her doorway, advancing rather timidly.

“Where’s Aunt Martha?” she whispered.

“Upstairs, making beds,” Edmund answered, “so we can’t go to the attics,
but you can come into the garden. There’s only one room looks out into
the garden and that’s Guardie’s study. He’s gone there now so Mrs. Dew
won’t be in that.”

“Are you sure?” Jane-Anne whispered again. “She’d be awfully vexed if
she saw me.”

“Come on. That kid is here and she can’t stop long for we’re all going
out on the river. Hurry up if you really want to see her.”

Jane-Anne came in sideways, as though by that means she made herself
less conspicuous.

Herrick and Montagu were standing on the lawn under an apple tree,
looking at some trumpet daffodils that were growing at its root.
Herrick, very gently, was lifting each yellow bell to look inside it.

“Fairies live in these,” she was saying, “but it’s such a beautiful
morning, I ’spect they’ve all flown away. You have to be very early to
catch a fairy. Who’s that with Edmund and what’s she come for?”

“To see you, I think,” Montagu replied. “Jane-Anne’s her name and she’s
Mrs. Dew’s niece.”

Jane-Anne looked more haggard than ever this morning; pale to
ghastliness with dark shadows under her great eyes, she was singularly
unattractive. Little Herrick felt both puzzled and repelled, but
Margaret’s teaching held good and the child walked forward holding out
her hand with a little gracious air that was very captivating.

“How do you do?” said Herrick.

To her surprise, this strange-looking person dropped on one knee before
her and taking the eggy little hand in both her own, kissed it.

“You’re quite right,” Jane-Anne remarked to Montagu over her shoulder,
“she is like a princess.”

“You may kiss me if you like,” said Herrick graciously.

“If you please, miss, I’d rather you’d kiss me if you will,” said
Jane-Anne humbly. “I’d like to think anything so pretty as you had
kissed me.”

There was something so wistful and pathetic in the pale face that gazed
so longingly into her own that little Herrick’s warm heart was touched
and she flung her arms round Jane-Anne’s neck and kissed her heartily.

“Thank you,” said Jane-Anne as she rose up to her feet. “I shall never
forget it, never.”

“Now I,” interposed Edmund, who had looked on with astounded
disapprobation at this display of sentiment, “I should loathe and
abominate anyone who kissed me and I should try to forget it as soon as
ever I could.”

“So should I,” Montagu agreed, “rather—but I suppose girls are
different.”

“Course they are,” Herrick chimed in; “quite different and much better
and more precious. Daddie says so.”

This point of view did not appeal to the boys.

“I don’t know about ’precious,’” Edmund said scornfully. “It depends
what you mean by precious.”

“_I’m_ precious,” Herrick explained, “very, very precious. That’s why
they were so afraid they’d lost me this morning, ’cause I’m so
precious.”

“I’m not,” said Jane-Anne. “Female orphans never are so far as I can
make out, but I’d like to be. Oh, it would be lovelly!”

Herrick had been staring hard at Jane-Anne for some minutes and at last
could contain herself no longer.

“Why,” she demanded, “do you wear such a funny hat? Do you like it?”

“Why d’you wear no hat at all?” Montagu interposed, vaguely aware that
Herrick’s question was not tactful.

“I wear a bonnet generally,” Herrick remarked with dignity, “but I came
out without it this morning ’cause they were in such a hurry. D’you
like my smock?” she asked, turning to Jane-Anne. “Mummy made it.”

“I like everything about you,” Jane-Anne answered, with commendable
enthusiasm. “I think you’re a dear darling, and I hate all my clothes,
but I can’t go about without any because people would stare, beside it’s
generally too cold.” And though the sun was shining hot on the lawn,
Jane-Anne shivered.

Montagu looked at his watch.

“We’ll have to go and get ready,” he said. “We’re all going on the river
this morning—they’re going away this afternoon—and I promised to take
her back to the hotel at half-past ten to have her face washed. I wish
you were coming too,” he added kindly, “but it’s not our party.”

“Good-bye, little girl,” said Herrick, “and I hope you’ll soon have a
nicer hat, a really pretty one.” And again Herrick kissed Jane-Anne.

“I’ll let you out at the garden door,” said Edmund, “then we shan’t run
into Mrs. Dew.”

Quite silently Jane-Anne followed him to the end of the garden where
there was a door in the wall. It was seldom used and the key was stiff,
but by great efforts with both hands, Edmund managed to turn it.

“Come again, soon,” he said hospitably, “and we’ll have some more
cricket.”

Jane-Anne murmured something unintelligible and passed out with bent
head, the pie-dish effectually concealing her face. Edmund locked the
door behind her and ran back to the house.

Outside the garden, in Saville Road, it was very quiet. It is true
there was a distant rumble of carts from Holywell and a thrush was
singing in one of Mr. Wycherly’s apple-trees, but of human kind there
wasn’t a sign.

Jane-Anne went down on her knees, her shoulder pressed close against the
garden door.

“Dear God,” she prayed, “I do so want to be precious too. Please let me
be precious to somebody. Please do.”

*CHAPTER VI*

*MR. WYCHERLY ADDS TO HIS RESPONSIBILITIES*

“Some cheeses are made o’ skim milk and some o’ new milk, and it’s no
matter what you call ’em, you may tell which is which by the look and
the smell.” _Adam Bede_.

Next day Mrs. Methuen took the boys out on the river for the whole
afternoon. She invited Mr. Wycherly to go too, but the previous day had
been his first experience of his wards as oarsmen, and he came to the
conclusion that he preferred their society on land.

He was sitting at his writing-table in his study. The great oriel
window was open and he could see that there were already patches of pink
on the largest apple-tree, while the pear-trees had shed their snowy
blossoms and shone brilliantly green against the blue and cloudless sky.

It was a pleasant prospect from the study window: the long irregular
strip of garden, with smoothly shaven lawn in the centre and winding
paths among borders where vegetables, fruit and flowers grew side by
side in perfect amity.

The afternoon was singularly quiet, and, knowing Mr. Wycherly’s habits,
one would have felt that here was an excellent opportunity for his great
work on the Nikomachean ethics which had been sadly neglected during the
last strenuous weeks. Yet he neither took up the pen nor did he open
any of the fat, calf-bound books piled one upon another at his elbow.

He sat very still, his long white hands resting idly on the arms of his
chair, his kind eyes dreamy, his whole attitude eloquent of contented
tranquillity.

Presently there came a modest tap at the study door, followed by the
entrance of Mrs. Dew with her small round tray, and on it a rather dirty
piece of paper which she presented to Mr. Wycherly with the
announcement: “A young person to see you, sir.”

Mr. Wycherly, roused from his agreeable reverie, looked bewildered.

“A young person?” he repeated vaguely, “to see me. What sort of a young
person, Mrs. Dew?”

Mrs. Dew’s face preserved the non-committal expression of one who has
seen service in really good families, as she replied: “A young woman,
sir, from the Registry Office, I should suppose.”

Mr. Wycherly took the piece of paper off the tray and read as follows:

“_M. Fairfield exp.: general character six months twelve months plain
cooking age 23 very respectable._”

There were no stops.

He looked beseechingly at Mrs. Dew, but her eyes were bent upon the
carpet and she waited his pleasure a perfect monument of respectful
detachment. Poor Mr. Wycherly had forgotten all about his search for
the accomplished general. Somewhere in the back of his brain there
lurked the consciousness that Mrs. Dew was only a temporary blessing,
really there “to oblige Mrs. Methuen,” till such time as a suitable and
permanent servant should be obtained; but she fitted into her niche so
perfectly, her sway was so benevolent, if a trifle despotic, that he
began to look upon her as part of the established order of things, and,
since his one visit to the High Class Registry Office, had made no
effort of any kind to find her successor.

“Couldn’t you see her for me, Mrs. Dew?” he entreated almost abjectly.
“You could judge of her capabilities far better than I can.”

Mrs. Dew raised her eyes and looked Mr. Wycherly full in the face,
shaking her head the while: “No, sir, I think not, sir; it would be more
satisfactory for all parties if you was to see the young person
yourself.”

Mr. Wycherly sighed heavily. “Do you think she seems likely to be
suitable?”

Mrs. Dew’s wholesome, good-natured face once more became sphinx-like.
“I really couldn’t say, sir. The appearance of the young women of the
present day is often very much against them. We can only hope they’re
better servants than they look. Shall I show her up here, sir?”

“Please, Mrs. Dew, but I do wish you could have interviewed her for
me—wait one moment. Could you kindly suggest some of the questions I
ought to ask her?”

Mr. Wycherly’s voice betrayed his extreme perturbation and he swung
round in his revolving chair almost as though he had thoughts of laying
violent hands on Mrs. Dew to prevent her departure.

She paused on the threshold and an imaginative person might perhaps have
discovered a trace of pity in the glance she bent on Mr. Wycherly’s
agitated figure.

“The usual questions, sir, will, I should think, be quite sufficient.”

And she shut the door behind her.

“The usual questions.”

But what on earth were the usual questions? Mr. Wycherly could only
think of those in the church Catechism. He picked up the dirty scrap of
paper and read it again. “Exp.” conveyed nothing to his mind. They
were coming upstairs and he had no plan of campaign arranged. He felt
absolutely forlorn and helpless. Suppose the young person didn’t go away
of her own accord? How could he ever suggest to her that the interview
was at an end? He found himself longing for the moral support of
Edmund, who at all events, never lacked the power of asking questions;
and no sort of young person, or, for the matter of that, old person
either, could inspire him with the unreasoning terror his guardian felt
at the prospect of the _tête-à-tête_ thus imminent.

Mrs. Dew opened the door.

“The young person,” she announced, and her disapproving expression
changed to one of downright horror as Mr. Wycherly rose to his feet to
receive his visitor.

She was a short, stout young woman, dressed in a bright blue coat and
skirt of the shade known by drapers as “Royal.” Her hat was large and
was trimmed with tumbled pink roses. Her hair was frizzy and flamboyant
and her boots creaked—Mr. Wycherly thought to himself—infernally.

“Pray be seated,” he said courteously.

The young woman selected a chair as far off as possible and giggled
affably.

“I understand,” he began in a faint voice, “that you think you would be
able to undertake the duties of—er—thorough general servant—that I
believe is the correct term?”

“I always ’ave been general,” the young woman replied, “though I did
think of betterin’ myself, but Mrs. Councer she said as yours was a
heasy place with no missus naggin’ at you an’ I thought it might suit me
so I come along to have a look at things. It’s a largish ’ouse for one
but I suppose you don’t ’ave much cookin’ and waitin’.”

“But there are three of us,” Mr. Wycherly interposed eagerly. “I’m
afraid that you would find it too much. You are rather young to
undertake the entire management of this household. You see there would
be the housekeeping to do—ordering, books to pay and so on, as well as
the actual work.”

“Oh, I could do all that,” she replied confidently. “I’ll do the
shoppin’ meself. I likes a run out between my reg’lar times, an’ I’d
see they didn’t cheat you in the books, puttin’ down things you’ve never
’ad.”

Miss Fairfield smiled happily at Mr. Wycherly. She liked his looks. She
was sure he would be easy to live with and probably would be unaware of
the existence of the followers. In common with every woman ever brought
into personal relations with him, she was certain that he was in need of
protection from the others, and decided there and then that it was her
mission to see that he wasn’t put upon by anybody else.

“When will you be requirin’ my services?” she asked.

Mr. Wycherly gasped. “I should require to consider the question,” he
said feebly, “and it is usual, is it not, to give some——”

“My last mistress’ll give me a character. I was there six months and
she almost went down on ’er knees for me to stop; but I couldn’t, it was
such an ’eavy place.”

“Are you a good plain cook?” Mr. Wycherly asked, feeling here indeed was
a leading question; some of Lady Alicia’s instructions were gradually
recurring to his mind. “Can you—er—do fish?”

“Fry fish, why bless you, sir, my last place was a fried-fish shop,
that’s why I left. One gets tired of frying morning, noon and night. I
can do plain roast and boiled and milk puddin’s an’ that, but I don’t
profess to do pastry.”

“Thank you,” said Mr. Wycherly, and paused. To get rid of her, he was on
the point of saying that he would consider her qualifications and let
her know his decision later, when his delicate sense of honour pointed
out that such a course would not be quite straightforward dealing. She
was a terrible young woman and his fastidious soul revolted from the
very thought of the fried-fish shop, but she was young and she was a
woman; it would not be fair to let her depart with the impression that
she was a likely applicant when nothing on earth could induce him to
employ her.

“I fear,” he added gently, “that you are not quite experienced enough
for us here, and therefore I will not trouble your late mistress with
inquiries. I am sorry you should have had to come in vain—were you to
put any expense?”

The girl gave a short laugh. “I’ve only come about half a mile,” she
said. “I’m sorry I don’t suit you; I think I could be very ’appy in
your situation.”

Poor Mr. Wycherly looked most unhappy. He rose and rang the bell,
saying:

“Mrs. Dew will show you the way out.” He opened the door for her with
the gravest courtesy and she creaked downstairs, wondering why she had
not demanded at least “’arf a crownd” for expenses. “I’d ’a’ got it
too,” she thought to herself, “but it never entered me ’ead to say
nothin’ to ’im but the plain truth an’ ’im so civil and affable.”

Mr. Wycherly went back to his chair and reached for a pamphlet dealing
with the philosophy of Eubulides, which he thought might be soothing,
but he had got no further than the statement that, “in Eubulides
positive faith was superseded by delight in his own subtlety,” when
there came another knock at his door and again Mrs. Dew presented
herself.

“I beg your pardon, sir, for venturing to intrude upon you,” Mrs. Dew
said respectfully, “but did you come to any arrangement with the young
person?”

Mr. Wycherly laid down Eubulides. “Oh, dear, no,” he groaned, “she was
quite impossible. A most well-meaning girl, I am sure—but——”

“I feared so, sir, from her very flashy appearance, but one always hopes
they may be better than their looks. Being only temporary I should like
to know you’d found someone really suitable.”

“Look here, Mrs. Dew,” said Mr. Wycherly, suddenly taking heart of
grace. “Why should you be only temporary? Could you not settle down
with us? If you find the work too much when my wards are at home why
not get a young girl to help you?”

“You’re very kind, sir,” said Mrs. Dew, fingering her apron and looking
embarrassed, “but you see, I’m not without encumbrances. Husband I’ve
none, children I’ve none, but what I have got is a niece and my bits of
things. I’m bound to keep a little home for her in the holidays, that’s
why I can’t take a permanent situation. You see, no one wants a child
of twelve tacked on to a servant for weeks at a time.”

“But listen, Mrs. Dew, there is the cottage—the little cottage off the
kitchen where your bedroom is now—why not bring your things and furnish
it and the housekeeper’s room and there would be a home for your niece?”

Mrs. Dew turned very red. “It’s most uncommon kind of you, sir,” she
said, “but I shouldn’t like to take advantage of you. You see, it’s
just when the young gentlemen would be at home her holidays come, and
perhaps——”

“That, surely, would be the very time when she could be of most use to
you.”

Mrs. Dew looked queerly at Mr. Wycherly, then, as though forcing herself
to speak against her will, she said slowly: “You see, sir, I must be
straightforward with you. If Jane-Anne was like some girls—like what I
was myself—I shouldn’t ’esitate to accept your very kind offer, for it
would make a great difference to me. I hate choppin’ and changin’ and
if I may make so bold, sir, you need a staid person here to look after
things, but Jane-Anne’s the sort of child what crops up continual. I
_couldn’t_ promise for ’er as she’d keep ’erself to ’erself like she
ought. I’d do my best, sir, to keep her in our own part of the ’ouse,
but——”

Mrs. Dew paused and shook her head. Whenever she was very much in
earnest she dropped into the speech of her youth; the aitchless,
broad-vowelled talk of the Cotswold country whence she came.

“But, I shall like to see your niece about the house,” said Mr.
Wycherly. “It will be pleasant to have a young girl growing up in our
midst, good for me and for the boys.”

Again Mrs. Dew gave Mr. Wycherly that queer look, half-scornful,
half-admirative.

“You mustn’t think, sir, that there’s any real ’arm in Jane-Anne,” she
said earnestly. “There’s nothing of the minx about her, I will say that;
but—I don’t know how to put it without being hard on the child, and yet
it wouldn’t be fair to you, sir, to let her come without telling you——”

Again Mrs. Dew paused and Mr. Wycherly looked rather anxious.

“She do make a sort of stir wherever she do go and that’s the long and
short of it.” And Mrs. Dew relapsed into broadest Gloucestershire again
as she blurted out this startling fact.

“Stir,” Mr. Wycherly repeated, “stir. Do you mean that she is a
particularly noisy child?”

“No, sir, not that. Jane-Anne isn’t that; but she does things no other
child ever thinks of doing and you can’t seem to guard against it. The
very first month she was at the asylum, she went and put ’er foot
through a staircase window trying to see some soldiers as was passing.
They had a board meeting about it.”

Mr. Wycherly laughed. “It is unusual to put one’s foot through a
window, but surely that was an accident and not a moral offence?”

“It was a staircase window, as stretched all down one side of that
wing,” Mrs. Dew said solemnly, “and the bannisters was up against it,
and Jane-Anne she leant over cranin’ ’er ’ead to see them soldiers, and
she lost ’er balance and swung back and drove ’er foot right through and
cut ’er leg so it bled dreadful.”

“Poor child,” said Mr. Wycherly, “that’s one thing she is quite safe
from here. There will be no temptation for her to put her feet through
any windows. Has she lost both her parents, Mrs. Dew?”

“That’s another thing,” said Mrs. Dew, dropping her voice mysteriously,
“as I feel you ought to know, and that is, Jane-Anne’s father was a
Grecian.”

“Really,” Mr. Wycherly remarked, evidently quite unmoved by what Mrs.
Dew considered a most damaging fact. “A Greek; how interesting! What
was his name?”

“Staff rides,” Mrs. Dew answered promptly. “At least that’s what I call
it, but he called it something longer. I’ve tried to English it as much
as possible to match her really respectable Christian name.”

“Do you happen to remember how it was spelt?” Mr. Wycherly asked.

“Yes, sir, S-T-A-V-R-I-D-E-S.”

“Ah,” Mr. Wycherly exclaimed; “now I’ve got it. Stavrides. Quite a
common Greek name. What part of Greece did he come from?”

“Athens, sir, an’ it was there he met my sister, who was lady’s maid to
Mrs. Methuen’s cousin. She’d been schoolroom-maid first of all, then
when the young ladies grew up, they had her taught dressmaking and
hairdressin’ and took her everywhere with them. And when Lady Lettice
married she took my sister Jane with her, and they travelled a lot, an’
in Athens there was a carriage accident and my sister was thrown out and
stunned, and this young man was passing and he picked her up, and it
seems he fell in love with her there and then, for all her eye was swole
up with the bump she got—she was a very-good-looking girl was
Jane—anyway, ’e never rested till ’e’d married ’er. He was, I suppose,
in a rather better position than she was, though, from bein’ with the
young ladies so constant, my sister seemed to have caught their pretty
ways, and spoke exactly like them. She wasn’t a bit like me,” said Mrs.
Dew simply, “you’d never ’ave thought we was sisters.”

“What was Stavrides?” Mr. Wycherly asked.

“A sort of writer, sir, for newspapers. When they got married he came to
London, and he was correspondent for some paper, some Grecian paper. It
isn’t a trade I thinks much on, but he earned good money and he insured
his life heavy. And then, just like him it was, he forgot to pay the
premium, fell ill and died all of a hurry when Jane-Anne was but
four-year-old, and my sister was left without anything at all but some
forty pounds they ’ad in the bank.”

“Poor thing,” said Mr. Wycherly. “What did she do?”

“She did dressmaking, an’ she took a lodger. Lady Lettice an’ the young
ladies ’elped her all they could, and she was doin’ pretty well when she
took an’ died, an’ she left Jane-Anne to me. My ’usban’ was alive
then—not as he was much use, an’ I’ve done my best, but you see, I’m
only a servant an’ not being out reg’lar makes it harder. Lord Dursley,
he got her a nomination for the asylum at Baresgill, but I don’t know if
she can stop there. It’s very cold up there in Northumberland, an’
she’s got a delicate chest. She’ve been there fifteen months, but ’as
’ad a lot of illness, an’ I don’t know if she can keep on. They don’t
like it, you see, sir, such a lot of illness.”

“I understand it is some kind of an orphanage. The boys, you know, spoke
to me about your niece, Mrs. Dew. I quite look forward to making her
acquaintance. Do they receive any special training where she is?”

“Oh, yes, sir, it’s a most superior place where they train them for
young servants. They get their education and their clothes and good,
thorough training in household duties, and when they’re seventeen they
put them out in good families that they know about, where they take an
interest in the servants and treat them well.”

“It sounds an admirable institution,” said Mr. Wycherly. “Are the
children happy there?”

“Most of the girls, sir, are happy as birds. It’s a really good place,
sir, plenty of wholesome food, nice airy rooms—but there! Jane-Anne she
frets something dreadful. Sometimes I fear she’ll never make a good
dependable servant. If it’s book-learnin’, now, she’s on to it like a
cat on to a mouse. There’s never no complaint there—but you never know
what flightiness Jane-Anne ’ll be after.”

“You see,” Mr. Wycherly said indulgently, “she is only a child as yet.
We must have patience. Anyway, Mrs. Dew, I hope that is settled. Send
for your furniture and for Jane-Anne——”

“I am deeply obliged to you, sir,” Mrs. Dew said earnestly, “and I will
endeavour to serve you faithful. I will arrange with Miss Morecraft,
her as I shares the ’ouse with, and I’ll fetch Jane-Anne most thankfully
when she can be moved——”

“Is she ill then?”

“She’s managed to get a most fearful cold on ’er chest; ’ow I can’t
conceive, but so it is; she’s that hoarse and croupy, Miss Morecraft’s
kep’ ’er in bed, and what I really came to ask, sir, was if I might pop
round after supper to see ’ow the child is.”

“By all means, Mrs. Dew, and whenever she can be moved, bring her here.
Then you can look after her yourself.”

Mr. Wycherly was very exhausted after this long conversation. He lay
back in his chair and closed his eyes with a sense of well-earned
repose. Whatever this child—this window-breaking, “cropping-up,”
generally disturbing little girl might be, she could not be one half so
dreadful as the sort of servant Mr. Wycherly saw himself a thrall to if
Mrs. Dew deserted him. Besides, Mrs. Dew, herself, would be there to
keep her in order.

“These domestic cares are very disorganising,” he reflected. He felt a
positive distaste for the Migrarian School of Philosophy just then. The
pamphlet on Eubulides lay open at his elbow, but he ignored it.
Instead, he went over to his book-case and took from it “Tristram
Shandy,” which he dearly loved. He opened it at random, standing where
he was, and his eyes fell on this passage:

“_’I can’t get out—I can’t get out,’ said the starling._

“_I stood looking at the bird; and to every person who came through the
passage, it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approached it,
with the same lamentation of its captivity. ’I can’t get out,’ said the
starling. ’God help thee!’ said I, ’but I’ll let thee out, cost what it
will.’_”

“I wonder now,” Mr. Wycherly thought to himself, “if that poor little
half-Greek girl feels like Sterne’s starling.”