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Gloria Dene's Schoolfellows by Nora Ryeman

 

I.—NARDA: THE NIGHTINGALE.

I.

“Here you are, miss,” said the red-faced cabby, putting his head in at the cab window, “this is Miss Melford's school.”

It was a large, many windowed, white house on Hertford Green, in sight of the famous spires of Silverbridge, and was for some six months to be both home and school to me, Gloria Dene.

I was late in my arrival, and I was tired, for I had come all the way from Erlingham in the heart of Norfolk, and moreover, I was hungry, and just a little homesick, and already wanted to return to the old homestead and to Uncle Gervase and Aunt Ducie, who had taken the place of my parents.

The cabman gave a loud rat-a-tat with the lion-headed knocker, and in due course a rosy-faced servant maid opened the door and ushered me in.

Then she preceded me through a broad flagged hall, lit by crimson lamps. And as I went I heard a sweet and thrilling voice singing,

        “Home, home, sweet, sweet home,
    Be it ever so humble there's no place like home.”

The words naturally appealed to me, and I exclaimed:

“How lovely! Who is singing?” only to be told that it was Mamselle Narda, the music mistress.

I thought of the nightingale which sang in our rose bush on summer nights at home, and found myself wondering what Mamselle was like.

The next day I saw her—Bernarda Torres; she was a brown beauty, with dark rippling hair, soft dark eyes, and a richly soft complexion, which put one in mind of a ripe peach on a southern wall.

She was of Spanish extraction, her father (a fruit merchant) hailing from Granada, her mother from Seville. Narda's path had been strewn with roses, until a bank failure interrupted a life of happiness, and then sorrows had come in battalions. Mamselle had really turned her silver notes into silver coins for the sake of “Home, Sweet Home.”

This love of home it was which united Narda and myself. She told me all about the house at home, about her brother, Carlos, and his pictures, and maman, who made point lace, and Olla Podrida, and little Nita, who was douce et belle. And I, in my turn, told her of the thatched homestead near the Broads, of the bay and mulberry trees, of Aunt Ducie's sweet kind face, and Uncle Gervase's early silvered hair.

And she called me “little sister,” and promised to spend her next vacation where the heron fishes and the robin pipes in fair and fresh East Anglia.

But one May morning, when the lilacs in our playground were full of sweet-scented, purple plumes, a bolt fell from the blue. A letter came to Narda telling her of her mother's failing health, her father's apathy, her brother's despair.

“It is enough,” said Mamselle, “I see my duty! An impresario once told me that my destiny was to sing in public. I will do it for 'Home, Sweet Home,' I will be La Narda the singer, instead of Miss Melford's Mamselle. God who helps the blind bird build its nest will help me to save mine.”

II.

There had been the first fall of the snow, and “ye Antiente Citie” looked like some town in dreamland, or in fairyland, as Miss Melford's boarders (myself amongst the number) went through its streets and wynds to the ballad concert (in aid of Crumblebolme's Charity), at which Mamselle, then La Narda, the cantatrice, was announced to sing. We were naturally much excited; it seemed, as Ivy Davis remarked, almost as though we were all going to sing in public.

We had front seats, quite near the tapestried platform from whence we took note of the audience.

“Look, look!” whispered Milly Reed eagerly. “The Countess of Jesmond, and the house-party at Coss have come to hear our Mamselle. That dark, handsome man next the countess is Count Mirloff, the Russian poet. Just think I——”

What more Milly would have said I really cannot say, for just then there was a soft clapping of hands, and La Narda came down the crimson steps of the Justice Room, and advanced to the footlights.

“She's like a fairy queen! She's just too lovely!” said the irrepressible Ivy. And though Miss Melford shook her head, I am sure she also was of the same opinion, and was proud of my dear brown nightingale.

The petite figure was robed in white silk, trimmed with frosted leaves and pink roses, and wore a garland of the same on her dark bright head.

    “Tell me, thou bonnie bird,
    When shall I marry me?
    When three braw gentlemen
    Churchward shall carry ye,”

sang the sweet full voice, and we listened entranced. The next song was “Robin Adair.”

Then came an encore, and as Narda acknowledged it, an accident occurred which (as the newspapers say) might have had a fatal termination.

A flounce of the singer's dress touched the footlights, and the flame began to creep upwards like a snake of fire.

Narda glanced downward, drew back, and was about to try to crush it out with her hands, when in less time than it takes to tell it, the Russian gentleman sprang forward, wrapped his fur-lined coat about her, and extinguished the flame.

The poet had saved the nightingale, and Miss Melford's romantic girls unanimously resolved “that he ought to marry her.”

III.

And he did shortly after. Our some time music-teacher who was good enough for any position became a grande dame with a mansion in St. Petersburg, and a country house in Livania. She went to balls at the Winter Palace, and was present at all the court ceremonies.

Yet was she still our Narda, she sent us girls presents of Viennese bonbons and French fruit, bought brother Carlo's paintings, sent petite Nita as a boarder to Miss Melford's, and studied under a great maestro.

When a wee birdie came into the Russian nest she named it Endora Gloria, and her happiness and my pride were complete.

Then came a great—a terrible blow. The count, whose opinions were liberal, was accused of being implicated in a revolutionary rising. He was cast into prison, and sent to the silver mines to work in the long underground passages for twenty years.

Ivy Davis, who was very romantic, was grievously disappointed because the countess returned to her profession instead of sharing her husband's exile. But there came a day and an hour when she honoured as well as loved the cantatrice; for she with Heaven's help freed the count, and obtained his pardon from the Czar—she herself shall tell you how she gained it.

Read the letter she sent to me:—

“Gloria, Alexis is free; he is nursing Endora as I write.

“When the officers took him from me I felt half mad, and knew not where to go.

“One morning as I knelt by my little one's white bed an inspiration came; over the mantel was a picture of 'The Good Shepherd,' and I clasped my hands, and cried aloud:

“'O bon Pasteur, help me to free Thy sheep.'

“And lo, a voice seemed to answer: 'Daughter, use the talent that you have.'

“I rose from my knees knowing what course to pursue. I sought new opportunities for the display of my one talent, I was more than successful, I became Narda the prima donna, and won golden guineas and opinions.

“At last came my opportunity. I was to sing at Bayreuth in Wagner's glorious opera, I was to sing the Swan Song, and the Czar was to be present.

“The house was crowded, there was row upon row, tier after tier of faces, but I saw one only—that of the Czar in his box.

“I stood there before the footlights in shining white, and sang my song.

“The heavenly music rose and fell, died away and rose again, and I sang as I had never done before. I sang for home, love, and child.

“When the curtain fell the Czar sent for me and complimented me graciously, offering me a diamond ring which I gratefully refused.

“'Sire,' I said, 'I ask for a gift more costly still.'

“'Is it,' he asked, 'a necklace?'

“'No, sire, it is my husband's pardon. Give my little daughter her father back.'

“He frowned, hesitated, then said that he would inquire into the matter.

“Gloria, he did, God be praised! The evidence was sifted, much of it was found to be false. The pardon was made out. Your nightingale had sung with her breast against a thorn, 'her song had been a prayer which Heaven itself had heard.'”

II—ESTELLA: THE HEIRESS.

Her Christian name Estella Marie, her starry eyes and pale, earnest face, and her tall, lissom figure were the only beautiful things about Estella Keed. Everything else, dress, home, appointments, were exceeding plain. For her grandfather in whose house she lived was, though reputedly wealthy, a miserly man.

He lived in a large and antique house, with hooded windows, in Mercer's Lane, and was a dealer in antiques and curios. And his popular sobriquet was Simon the Saver (Anglicè, miser).

Stella was the only child of his only son, a clever musician, who had allied himself with a troupe of wandering minstrels, and married a Spaniard attached to the company, and who, when he followed his wife into the silent land, bequeathed his little girl to his father, beseeching him to overlook the estrangement of years, and befriend the orphan child. She inherited her name Estella from her Spanish mother, but they called her Molly in her new home—it was part of her discipline.

Simon Keed had accepted, and fulfilled the trust in his own peculiar way. That is to say, he had sheltered, fed, and clothed Estella, and after some years' primary instruction in a elementary school, had sent her to Miss Melford's to complete her studies.

Farther than this he had not gone, for she was totally without a proper outfit. In summer her patched and faded print frocks presented a pathetic contrast to the pink and blue cambrics, and floral muslins, of the other girls; and in winter, when velvets and furs were in evidence, the contrast made by her coarse plain serge, and untrimmed cape of Irish frieze, was quite as strong; indeed, her plainness was more than Quakerish, it was Spartan, she was totally destitute of the knicknacks so dear to the girlish heart, and though she had grown used to looking at grapes like Reynard in the fable, I am sure she often felt the sting of her grandfather's needless, almost cruel, economy. This was evidenced by what was ever after spoken of by us girls as the garden-party episode.

Near the old city was a quaint and pretty village, one famed in local history as having in “teacup,” Georgian, times been honoured by a visit by Mrs. Hannah More, who described it as Arcadian.

It had a fine, well-timbered park, full of green hollows in which grew the “'rath primrose,” and which harboured a large, Jacobean mansion, occupied, at the period of this story, by Dr. Tempest as a Boys' Preparatory School, and as Mrs. Tempest was an old friend of Miss Melford's, the senior pupils (both boarders and day scholars) were always invited to their annual garden-or breaking-up party, which was held in the lovely park.

Stella, as one of the senior girls, was duly invited; but no one deemed that she would accept the invitation, because her grandfather had been heard to say that education was one thing, and frivolity another.

“I suppose you won't go to the party,” said impulsive Ivy Davis, and Estella had answered with a darkened face:

“I cannot say. When I'm not here I have to stay in that gloomy old house, like a mouse in its hole. But if I can go anyhow, Ivy, I shall, you may depend upon that.”

Then we heard no more about the matter until the eventful day, when, to our surprise, Estella presented herself with the other day scholars, in readiness to go.

“Look, Gloria, look,” said Ivy, in a loud whisper, as we filed through the hall, “Stella's actually managed to come, and to make herself presentable. However did she do it?”

“Hush,” I whispered back, but, all the same, I also marvelled at the girl's appearance.

Her heliotrope and white muslin skirt was somewhat faded, it was true, but still, it was good material, and was pretty. The same could be said of her cream blouse. The marvel and the mystery lay in hat, necklet, and shoes.

The hat was of burnt straw, broad brimmed, low crowned, and of the previous summer's fashion. It was simply trimmed with a garland or band of dull black silk, and large choux of the same, all of which might have been fresher; but in front was an antique brooch, or buckle, of pale pink coral and gold, which was at once beautiful and curiously inconsistent with the rest of the costume. Round Estella's throat was a lovely gold and coral necklace, and her small, worn shoes boasted coral and gold buckles. She had got a coral set from somewhere, where and how we all wondered.

Even Miss Melford was astonished and impressed by Estella's unwonted splendour, for touching the necklet, I overheard her say:

“Very pretty, my dear! Your grandfather, I presume, gave you the set? Very kind of him!”

Stella, with a flushed face, replied:

“He did not give it, ma'am,” and the matter dropped.

Miss Melford and I presumed that Mr. Keed had simply lent his grand-daughter the articles—which likely enough belonged to his stock of antiquities—for the day.

It was a delightful fête—one of those bright and happy days which are shining milestones along the road of life. The peacocks strutted about on the terrace and made us laugh when they spread out their tails. We ate strawberries and cream under the elms, played all kinds of outdoor games on the greensward, and when we were tired rested in the cool, pot-pourri scented parlours.

I am of opinion that Estella enjoyed herself as much as any of us, though she became strangely quiet and downcast on our way home. But, as Ivy truly remarked, it was not to be wondered at; the fairy palace was left behind, and the rôle of Cinderella awaited her on the morrow.

Upon the day succeeding the party, we broke up. I went home to spend the vacation with my uncle and aunt, and when I returned to school I found as usual, on reassembling, that there were a few vacant places, amongst them that of Estella Keed. I wondered how this was, though I did not presume to question Miss Melford on the subject; but one autumn morning, when passing through Mercer's Lane, I came across Estella. She looked shabby and disconsolate, in her faded gown and worn headgear, and I asked her if she had been unwell.

“Oh dear no,” was the response, “only very dull. I never go anywhere, or see any one—how can I help being so? I am only Molly now. No one calls me by my beautiful mother's name, Estella. I want to learn to be a typewriter, or something, and go and live in a big city, but grandpa says I must wait, and then he'll see about it! I detest this horrid lane!” she added passionately.

I looked down the long, mediæval street, with its gabled houses, and then at the old church tower (round which the birds were circling in the distance), and replied with truth that it was picturesque, and carried one back into the storied past.

“I am tired of the past—it's all past at ours—the jewels have been worn by dead women, the old china, and bric-à-brac, has stood in empty houses! It's all of the dead and gone. So is the house, all the rooms are old. I should like to live in a new house.”

“Perhaps you want a change?” I said. “Why don't you come back to school?”

She shook her head, and glanced away from me—up at the old Gothic church tower, and then said hurriedly:

“I must hurry on now, Gloria—I am wanted—at home.”

One December evening not long after, during Miss Melford's hour with us, at recreation, she said:

“Young ladies, you will be pleased to hear that your old schoolmate, Estella Keed, returns to us to-morrow.”

On the morrow Estella came, but how different was she from the old and the former Estella!

She wore a suitable and becoming costume of royal blue, and was a beautiful and pleasant looking girl! Her own natural graces had their own proper setting. It seemed indeed as if all things had become new to her, as if she lived and breathed in a fresher and fairer world than of yore!

Perhaps because I had been sympathetic in the hour of trouble, she attached herself to me, and one day, during recess, she told me why she had been temporarily withdrawn from school.

“Gloria,” she said, “grandfather never gave me his permission to go to the garden-party—indeed, I never asked for it, for I was quite sure that he would not give it.

“But I meant to go all the same, and persuaded Mrs. Mansfield, the housekeeper, to help me. She it was who altered and did up an old gown of mother's for me to wear. But without the coral set I should not have been able to go; for, as you know, I had no adornments. I'd often seen them when on sale and wished for them; but I knew that they would neither be given nor lent for the party.

“Then Fate, as it seemed, befriended me; my grandfather had to go to London about some curios on the date fixed for the party, and I determined to borrow the set and make myself look presentable. All I had to do was to go to the window and take them out of their satin-lined case.

“I hoped to replace them before my grandfather returned from town, but when I got home from the fête I found that he had returned by an earlier and quicker train than he himself had expected to. He looked at me from head to foot, then touched the necklace and the clasp, and demanded of me sternly where I had been.

“I was tongue-tied for a few moments, and then I blurted out the truth:

“'Grandfather,' I said, 'I've been to Dr. Tempest's garden-party as one of Miss Melford's senior girls, and as I didn't want to be different from the other girls I borrowed the coral set for the day. They are not hurt in the least.'

“The room seemed going round with me as I spoke, even the dutch cheese on the supper table seemed to be bobbing up and down.

“At last my grandfather spoke:

“'Take the set off and give them to me,' he said shortly.

“I yielded up the treasures with trembling hands, and when I had done so he told me I should not return to school, and then added:

“'Go to your room and don't let me hear of this affair again. I fear you are as fond of finery as your mother was.'

“You know the rest. I did not return to Miss Melford's, and I should not have been here now but for Dr. Saunders. Soon after the garden-party my grandfather was taken ill, and the doctor had to be called in. I think he must have taken pity on me, and must have spoken to my grandfather about me. Anyhow, my grandfather called me to his bedside one day, and told me that he knew that he could not live many years longer, and that all he wanted was to leave me able—after he was gone—to live a good and useful life without want, and that if he had been too saving in the past, it was all that my future should be provided for. There was a strange tenderness in his voice. Strange at least it seemed to me, for I had never heard it there before, and I put my face down upon the pillow beside him and cried. He took my hand in his, and the silence was more full of hope and promise than any words of either could have been. I waited upon him after that, and he seemed to like to have me about him, and when he got better he told me that he wished me to return to school and to make the best use of my opportunities while I had them. He told me that he had decided to make me an allowance for dress, and that he hoped that I should so use it as to give him proof before he died that I could be trusted to deal wisely with all that he might have to leave.”

Estella remained at school until I left, and the last time I saw her there she was wearing the red coral set which had estranged her from her grandfather as a token of reconciliation; and she told me that the old man's hands trembled in giving them to her, even more than hers did in giving them up, as he said to her with tears in his eyes and voice:—

“All that I have is thine.”

III.—MAURA: THE MUNIFICENT.

I.

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT.

Maura was the most popular girl in the school. She would have been envied if she had not been so much loved. The reason was that she was amiable as well as pretty, she had plenty of pocket-money, and was generous to a fault. If a girl had lost, or mislaid, her gloves, Maura would instantly say, “Oh, don't make a fuss, go to my glove-box and take a pair.” Or if a pupil's stock of pin-money ran out before the end of the quarter, she would slip a few shillings into her hand, merrily whispering:

    “For every evil under the sun,
    There's either a remedy, or there's none;
        I've found one.”

Maura was heiress of Whichello-Towers, in the north, with the broad lands appertaining. She was an orphan, her nearest relative being her uncle, a banker, who was her guardian, and somewhat anxious about his charge. So anxious indeed that he sometimes curtailed her allowance, in order to teach her prudence.

“Maura, my dear, waste is wicked even in the wealthy; you need wisdom as well as wealth,” said Miss Melford to her one day. And indeed she did, for sometimes the articles she bought for others were singularly extravagant and inappropriate.

When Selina, the rosy-cheeked cook, was married from the school, the teachers and pupils naturally gave her wedding presents. My gift took the form of a teapot, Margot's of a dozen of fine linen handkerchiefs, and the others (with the exception of Maura) of things useful to a country gardener's wife.

Maura bought a dress of heliotrope silk, elaborately trimmed with white lace, and as the bride truly observed, “Fit for a princess.”

But the heiress of Whichello had a lodging in all our hearts, and when I, one midwinter morning, saw her distraught with a troubled look in her soft brown eyes, I was grieved, and begged her to confide in me.

“If I do, you cannot help me, Gloria,” said Maura. “The fact is, I'm short of money.”

“Not an unusual state of affairs,” rose to my lips, but the words changed as I uttered them.

“Poor Maura! Surely you have a little left?”

“Only these,” and she drew out two shillings.

“Well, you must draw on my little bank, until your uncle sends your next remittance,” was my reply.

“It isn't any use. Gloria, you are nice, and sweet, but your money would only be a drop in the ocean! I'm not to have any money all next quarter. This letter came this morning. Read it.”

I did. It was a letter from Maura's guardian, who informed her that he desired to give her an object lesson in thrift, and, therefore, would hold her next remittance—which had already been anticipated—over. He also intimated that any applications to him would be useless.

“Well, things might be worse,” was my comment, as I returned the letter. “You must let me be your banker and must economise, and be prudent till the next cheque arrives.”

“Yes, I will—but——”

“But what, Maura?”

“I'm in debt—dreadfully in debt. See.”

With this she drew some papers from her pocket, and handed them to me.

One by one I looked them over. The first was a coal dealer's bill for a fairly large load of coal.

That,” said Maura, “was for old Mrs. Grant, in Black-Cross Buildings. She was so cold, it made me quite creepy to look at her.”

I opened another. This was from a firm of motor-car and cycle dealers, and was the balance due upon a lady's cycle. I was perplexed.

“Why, you said you never intended to cycle,” I said, with amazement, “and now you have bought this Peerless bicycle!”

“Yes, but it was not for myself,” she said, “I gave it to Meg Morrison to ride to and from her work in the City! Trams and 'buses don't run to Kersley, and it was a terrible walk for the poor girl.”

“Could not Meg have bought one on the instalment system for herself?”

“Why, Gloria, how mean you are! She has seven brothers and sisters, and four of them are growing boys, with appetites! The butcher and baker claim just all she earns.”

I opened the third yellow envelope, and was surprised to see a bill with: To Joseph Greenaway, Furniture Dealer, one child's mahogany cot £1 10_s, upon it.

“Maura,” I cried, “this is the climax. Why ever did you buy a baby's cot—and how came Mr. Greenaway to trust you? You are only a minor—an infant in law!”

“Oh, do stop,” said Maura; “you're like Hermione or Rosalind, or—somebody—who put on a barrister's gown in the play——”

“Portia, I suppose you mean?”

“Yes, Portia. Mr. Greenaway let me have the cot because I once bought a little blue chair from him, for Selina's baby, for which I paid cash down.”

It is impossible to describe the triumphant manner in which she uttered “cash down,” it was as if she had said, I paid the national debt.

“Now,” she proceeded, “I'll tell you why I bought it—I was one day passing a weaver's house in Revel Lane, when I saw a young woman crying bitterly but silently at the bottom of one of the long entries or passages. 'I fear you are in trouble' I said. 'Is any one ill?'

“She shook her head. She couldn't speak for a moment, then whispered:

“'Daisie's cot has followed the loom!'

“I asked her what following the loom meant.

“'O young lady,' she replied, 'the weaver's trade has been mortle bad lately, and last week I sold Daisie's cot for the rent—and when the broker took it up I thought my heart would break; but hearts don't break, missie, they just go on achin'.'

“Daisie was her only child, and the cot was a carved one, an heirloom in which several generations of the family had slept!

“I had only a florin in my purse, but I gave her that, took her name and address and walked on.

“But the woman haunted me. All the rest of the day I seemed to see her weeping in the long, grey street, and to hear her sobbing above the sound of the music in the music-room, and when I woke up in the middle of the night, I thought I would go to Mr. Greenaway the next day, and ask him to let me have a cot, and I'd pay him out of my next quarter's pocket-money. The very next day he sent the crib—'From an unknown friend.' That's all, Gloria! Now, what shall I do?”

“Go and tell Miss Melford all about it,” said I. “Come, now.”

Maura shrank from the ordeal, but in the end I persuaded her to accompany me to the cedar parlour, where the Lady Principal was writing.

A wood fire burned cheerily on the white marble hearth, and the winter sunlight fell brightly on the flower-stand full of flowers—amidst which the piping bullfinch, Puffball, hopped about.

Miss Melford, with her satin-brown hair, and golden-brown silk dress, was a pleasant figure to look upon as she put down her pen, and said sweetly:

“Well, girls, what is it?”

Maura drew back and was silent, but I was spokeswoman for her; and when I concluded my story there was silence for a few moments.

Then Miss Melford rose, and putting an arm round Maura's shoulders, gravely, but at the same time tenderly, in her own sweet way, pointed out the moral of the situation, and then added:

“You shall accompany me to see the people who have generously (if unwisely) allowed you to have the goods, and I will explain matters, and request them to wait.”

Maura was a quiet, subdued girl for a time after this, but a few days later she knocked timidly at Miss Melford's door. Miss Melford was alone, and bade her enter. Once in the room Maura hesitated, and then said:

“Please, Miss Melford, may I ask a favour?”

“Certainly, my dear! What is it?”

“If I can find any right and honourable way of earning the money to pay the bills with, may I do so?”

“Assuredly,” said Miss Melford, “if you will submit your plan to my approval; but, Maura, I am afraid you will find it is harder to earn money than you think.”

“Oh yes, I know money is hard to get, and very, very easy to spend. What a queer world it is!” was Maura's comment, as she left the room.

II.

THE BAL MASQUÉ.

There was to be a Children's Fancy Dress Ball—a Bal Masqué, to which all Miss Melford's senior pupils were going, and little else was talked of weeks before the great event was due!

Margot was to go as Evangeline, and I was to be Priscilla the Puritan Maiden, but none of us knew in what character Maura Merle was to appear. It was kept secret.

Knowing the state of her finances, both Miss Melford and the girls offered to provide her costume, but she gratefully and firmly rejected both proposals, saying that she had made arrangements for a dress, and that it would be a surprise.

And indeed it was, for when we all assembled in the white drawing-room, in readiness for our escort to the Town Hall, Maura was what newspapers style “the cynosure of all eyes.”

She wore a frock of pale blue silk! and all over it in golden letters were the words: “Sweets from Fairyland.”

Her waving golden hair was adorned by a small, white satin, Trigon hat, ornamented with a blue band, on which were the words: “Fairy Queen.”

From her waist depended an elaborate bonbonnière, her sash was dotted all over with imitation confections of various kinds, her blue satin shoes had rosettes of tiny bonbons, and her domino suggested chocolate cream.

There were of course loud exclamations of—“What does this mean, Maura?”

“Why, you are Fairy Queen, like the Fairyland Confectioner's Company's advertisements!” but all Maura said was:

“Girls, Miss Melford knows all about it, and approves.”

At this juncture, Miss Melford's voice was heard saying: “Follow me, my dears,” and we all filed out of the room, and down the stairs to the carriages in waiting. The Town Hall was beautifully decorated, and the costumes were delightful. There were cavaliers, sweeps, princesses, and beggar-maids, but no one attracted more notice than Fairy Queen, who instead of dancing glided about amongst the company, offering fondants and caramels from her big bonbonnière.

The young guests laughed as they ate the sweetmeats, and rallied her upon the character she had chosen.

“Why have you left Fairyland?” asked a musketeer, and Fairy Queen replied:

“Because I want you all to have fairy fare.”

“Won't you dance, Fairy Queen?” asked Bonnie Prince Charlie, persuasively, but Fairy Queen curtsied, and answered:

“I pray you excuse me, I'm on duty for the Company in Wayverne Square.”

I guessed that there was something behind all this, and the sequel proved my conjecture true.

For when the Bal Masqué was a golden memory, Maura came to me with a little bundle of receipted bills in her hand, saying:

“Look, Gloria, “Fairy Queen” paid these. I was with Ivy in a confectioner's one day when the mistress told us that a member of the newly started firm of sweetmeat manufacturers, who traded as the Fairyland Company, had said that he wished he had a daughter who could go to the ball as Fairy Queen, and exploit his goods.

“I thought to myself: 'Well, Maura Merle could do it,' and I went to the Company and offered to undertake the duty, subject, of course, to Miss Melford's permission.

“They said they would give me a handsome sum, and provide the dress, and I wrote to Uncle Felix, and begged him to let me have his sanction.

“His answer was: 'The money will be honestly earned, earn it.'

“So I did! The Company were much pleased with me, and here are the receipted bills. I need hardly tell you how much I enjoyed being what a newsboy in the street called me, 'The Little Chocolate Girl!'”

IV.—MARGOT: THE MARTYR.

I.

AT SCHOOL.

“Mademoiselle Margot, Professor Revere's daughter, who has come to share your English studies, girls,” said Miss Melford, presenting a tall, clear-complexioned, sweet-faced girl one May morning on the opening of school.

The new-comer bowed gracefully, and then took a vacant seat next to me, and we all took good-natured notice of her, for her black frock was worn for her newly lost mother, and her father, our popular French master, was an exile, who for a supposed political offence had forfeited his estate, near La Ville Sonnante, as the old city of Avignon is often called. Margot would have been une grande demoiselle in her own country had not monsieur fallen under the displeasure of a powerful cabinet minister during a change of régime, and Miss Melford's girls were of opinion that the position would have suited her, and she the position.

Mademoiselle Margot soon interested us all, not only in herself, but in her antecedents and prospects. She was never tired of talking of her old associations, and that with an enthusiasm that aroused our sympathy and inspired our hopes.

“Picture to yourself,” she would say, “Mon Désir on a summer's day, the lawns spreading out their lovely carpet for the feet, the trees waving their glorious foliage overhead, the birds singing in the branches, the bees humming in the parterre, and the water plashing in the fountains. Maman loved it, as I did, and the country people loved us as we loved them. Maman used to say, 'A little sunshine, a little love, a little self-denial, that is life.' Even had we been poor there, walked instead of ridden, ate brown bread in lieu of white, we should have been amongst our own people. But now——”

Then we would all crowd round her and spin romances about the Prince Charming who would come her way, and present her with Mon Désir, with all its dear delights, and with it—his own hand.

Margot's failing was a too sensitive pride. She was proud both of and for the professor. She could not forget that he was, as she would say, un grand gentilhomme, that his ancestors had fought with Bayard and Turenne, had been gentlemen-in-waiting to kings, had wedded women who were ladies of the court.

I discovered this slight fault of my darling's on one occasion in this way: as we girls were going our usual noonday walk, we came to a large, red-brick house, standing alone in its own grounds; it was not a cottage of gentility, but a place which an estate agent would have described as a desirable mansion. Everything about it, mutely, but eloquently, said money. Big glass-houses, big coach-houses, big plate glass windows, spacious gardens, trim lawns, etc., etc., etc.

As the school filed past, an elaborate barouche drew up to the iron gateway, and a lady, who was about entering it, stared at our party, and then looked keenly at Margot. She was a pretty woman, blonde, with a mass of fluffy, honey-coloured hair, and a cold, pale blue pair of eyes. Her costume was of smooth, blue-grey cloth, the flowing cloak lined with ermine, and her hat a marvel of millinery; indeed, she presented a striking contrast to the professor's daughter in her plain, neat black coat and frock, and small toque, with its trimming of white narcissi, and I cannot say that I was favourably impressed by the unknown, she was far too cold and purse-proud looking to please me.

After a close and none too polite scrutiny, the lady bowed, approached, and held out her hand.

“Good-morning, Miss Revere,” she said graciously, yet with more than a suspicion of patronage, “I trust the professor is well,” and without waiting for an answer, “and your mother? We have been so busy entertaining, that I have been quite unable to call, or send! However, tell her that I am going to send for her to Bellevue, the very first day I'm alone, the very first!”

We two girls were alone (the rest having gone on with Fräulein Schwartze), and there was silence for a moment, during which the lady turned toward her well-appointed carriage; then Margot spoke, with some asperity, though I heard the tears in her silvery voice.

“Mrs. Seawood,” she said, “there is no more need to trouble; maman has gone where no one will be ashamed of her because she was poor.”

The lady turned a little pale, and expressed herself as shocked, and then, having offered some cold condolences, spoke to the coachman; and as we passed on we heard the quick rattle of the horses' hoofs, as the barouche rolled down the long drive.

There are times when silence is golden, and this was one! I did not speak until we came to a five-barred gate, on the topmost rung of which Margot laid her arms, bent her head, and sobbed like a little child.

I put my arm round her neck to comfort her.

“Margot, chérie,” I whispered, “tell me why you weep.”

It appeared that the professor had been used to teach the little delicate son of the purse-proud lady, and that he had taken great interest in the little fellow both on account of his backwardness and frail health.

“After he died,” said Margot, “his mother seemed grateful for these small kindnesses, and called upon us. Sometimes she sent the carriage for maman to spend a few hours at Bellevue, but always when the weather was unpleasant. Then, you see, I used to go to the Seawoods for my mother, take bouquets of violets, Easter eggs, and other small complimentary tokens of regard, and madame would exclaim, 'How sweet!' or 'How lovely!' but always in a patronising manner. I only told the 'How sweet!' and 'How beautiful!' to mother, because she used to look wistfully at me, and say how glad she was that I had some English friends.

“Once, I remember, I was passing Bellevue at night with papa; it was a cold, January evening, with snow falling, and we shivered a little. They were giving a grand party, the house was lit up like an enchanted palace, and papa (who is often as sweetly simple as Don Quixote) said:

“'I cannot understand why your friends have overlooked you, petite, you could have worn the little grey frock with blue trimmings, eh?'

“They never understood how hollow a friendship it was. They could not realise that others could display a meanness of which they themselves were incapable, and I suppose it was only my own proud heart, less free from the vanity of human weakness than theirs, which made me detect and resent it; and so I had to endure the misery of this proud patronage and let my parents think I was enjoying the friendship of love. To be proud and dependent, Gloria, is to be poor indeed. But I must conquer my pride, if only that I may conquer my poverty, and as Miss Melford told us at scripture this morning, he that conquers his own proud heart is greater than he that taketh a city.”

Then she linked her arm in mine, and said:

“The Good God has allowed me to become poor, but he has given me one talent, I can paint, and if only for papa's sake I must overcome evil with good and try to win a victory over myself.”

II.

THE PALM-BEARERS.

Miss Melford, and a chosen party of the senior girls (of whom I was one), stood in our beautiful Art Gallery attentively studying a water colour on the line. The picture was numbered 379 in the catalogue, was called “Palm-Bearers,” and was painted by Miss Margot Revere! Our Margot, the girl who had been my classmate, whom I had loved as a sister. The scene portrayed was a procession of early Christians entering an Eastern city at Eastertide. There were matrons and maids, golden-haired children, and white-haired men, all bearing green palm branches, under an intense, cerulean sky.

“Well done, Margot,” said Miss Melford softly, with a suspicious dimness in her eyes, and there was a general chorus of approval from all beholders.

Margot, who was much older than I, had left school long since, had studied, worked, copied in the great Art Galleries, exhibited, and sold her works.

She was then in Rome with her father, who had become blind, and I had at that moment a long letter from her in my bag, as I stood looking at her picture. In one passage of it she had written: “the girl with the crown of white roses in my last painting is my little Gloria, my girl comrade, who consoled me when I was sad, who watched next my pillow when I was sick, and when sad memories made me cry at night crept to me through the long dormitory and knelt beside me, like a white-robed ministering angel. Apropos of palms, mama was a palm-bearer; I must win one before I look on her dear, dear face.” As I thought on these words, Miss Melford's voice speaking to Gurda broke in on my thoughts.

“Dear, dear, how extremely like to Gloria is that figure in the middle of Margot's painting!”

“Of course, Miss Melford, Margot will have sketched it from her. She was her chum, her soul's sister.”

“Her soul's sister!” Those three words went with me through the gallery; into the sculpture room, amidst white marble figures, into the room full of Delia Robbia and majolica ware, everywhere!

Even when we descended the flight of steps, and came into the great white square, I seemed to hear them in the plashing of the fountains.

III.

THE RAIN OF FIRE.

It was August, and rain had fallen on the hot, parched earth.

The bells in the church tower were ringing a muffled peal, and as I listened to the sad, sweet music, I thought of Margot, lonely Margot, who had seen her father laid under the ilex trees, and then gone to visit a distant relative at Château Belair in the West Indies. It was a strange coincidence, but as I thought of her the servant brought in a card, bearing the name, M. Achille Levasseur, beneath which was pencilled:

“Late of Château Belair, and cousin of the late Mademoiselle Margot Revere.”

So Margot was dead, had gone to join her loved ones where there are no distinctions between rich and poor.

Stunned, and half incredulous, I told the maid to show him in, and in a few minutes a tall, dark, foreign looking man stood in the bright, flower-scented room which (it being recess), I occupied in Miss Melford's absence.

I rose, bowed, and asked him to be seated, then, with an effort, said:

“M'sieu, I am Gloria, Margot's chum, and chosen sister. Tell me about her.”

The story was a short one, we had neither of us a desire to dwell upon the details. The island had been subject to the fury rain of a quenchless volcano. Whole villages had been overwhelmed and buried in the burning lava, and hundreds had met with a fiery death. In the midst of the mad confusion, Margot's calm presence and example inspired the strong, reassured the terrified, aided the feeble, and helped many on the way to safety. How many owed their lives to her, her cousin could not say, but that it was at the cost of her own, was only too terribly true. She had helped her cousin's family on to the higher ground, which ensured safety from the boiling lava, only to discover that one little one had been left behind peacefully sleeping in her cot, the little baby who had been christened Gloria at Margot's desire in memory of me. It was a terrible moment to all but Margot, and to her it was the moment of a supreme inspiration. She dashed down the hill before she could be stayed, though the ground shook under her feet, and the burning sea of fiery rain was pouring down the valley below. She reached the house and seized the infant, and started with frenzied speed to ascend the hill again. Her cousin, who had seen to the safety of the others of his family, had now started out to meet her. They saw each other and hurried with all the speed they could to meet. Within touch a terrific explosion deafened them as the father seized his child, and Margot, struck by a boulder belched from the throat of the fierce volcano, sank back into the fiery sea.

As M. Levasseur ceased, there came through the open window the silvery sound of the minster bells. They were playing the lovely air,

    Angels ever bright and fair,
    Take, O take, me to your care.

It came to me that they had taken Margot in a chariot of fire, and I seemed to see her in an angel throng with a palm branch in her hand.

My favourite trinket is a heart-shaped locket, containing a lock of dark brown hair, intermixed with golden threads. It is both a souvenir, and a mascot; for the hair is from the head of my girl chum Margot.

V.—IRENE: THE SNOW FLOWER.

I.

BEDFELLOWS.

Amongst Miss Melford's intimate friends, when I was a boarder at her school, was a silvery-haired, stately lady, known as Mrs. Dace, who in her early life had been gouvernante to the Imperial children at the court of the Czar. Her old friends and pupils wrote to her frequently, and she still took a keen interest in the Slav, and in things Slavonic.

When her Russian friends—the Petrovskys—came to England, they left their youngest child, Irene, as a pupil at Miss Melford's school, to pursue her education while they travelled in Western Europe for a while.

Irene Petrovsky was a pretty little thing, with flaxen hair and clear blue eyes, and we called her the Snow Flower, after that beautiful Siberian plant which blooms only in midwinter. I have never forgotten her first appearance at the school. When Miss Melford led her into the classroom we all looked up at the small figure in its plain white cloth frock trimmed with golden sable, and admired the tiny fair curls which clustered round her white brow. She made a grand court curtsey, and then sat silently, like a wee white flower, in a corner.

We elder pupils were made guardians of the younger ones in Miss Melford's school, and it was my duty as Irene's guardian to take her to rest in the little white nest next to mine in the long dormitory. In the middle of the first night I was disturbed by a faint sobbing near me, and I sat up to listen. The sobs proceeded from the bed of the little Russian girl, and I found she was crying for her elder sister, who, she said, used to take her in her arms and hold her by the hand until she fell asleep. A happy thought came to me; my white nest was larger than hers. So I bade her creep into it, which she readily did, and nestled up to me, like a trembling, affrighted little bird, falling at last into a calm, sweet sleep.

From that time forward we two were firm friends, and the girls used to call the Little Russ, Gloria's shadow.

She was very grateful, and I in my turn grew to love her dearly; so dearly that when her father, the count, came to take her home, in consequence of the death of her mother, I felt as if I had lost a little sister.

Ever after this our little snow flower was a fragrant memory to me. I often thought of her, and wondered as I watched the white clouds moving across the summer sky, or the silver moon shining in the heavens, whether she too was looking out upon the same fair scene from the other side the sea and thinking of her some time sister of Miss Melford's school.

II.

AFTER MANY DAYS.

Some years after I had left the school financial difficulties beset my uncle's affairs. Aunt Ducie died in the midst of them, and Uncle Gervase did not long survive. Our household gods went under the auctioneer's hammer, our beautiful home became the home of strangers, and I went to live in an obscure quarter of a distant town. My means being exceeding small, I took rooms in a small house in a semi-rural suburb, and from thence began to look for work for pen and pencil. I had learned to draw, and had succeeded in one or two small attempts at story telling, and with my pen and pencil for crutches, and with youth and hope on my side, I started out with nervous confidence upon the highway of fame.

Cherry-Tree Avenue was a long, narrow street within a stone's throw of the grim, grey castellated towers of the county gaol, and the weekly tenants who took the small, red-brick houses were continually changing.

Facing us was No. 3, Magdala Terrace, a house which was empty for some weeks, but one April evening a large van full of new furniture drove up to it, followed by a respectable looking man and woman of the artisan class, who soon began to set the house in order. Before sleep had fallen on the shabby street a cab drove up to No. 3, and from it stepped a woman, tall, slight, and closely veiled. I had been to the pillar box to post an answer to an advertisement, and it happened that I passed the door of the newly let house as the cab drew up. Without waiting to be summoned, the trim young woman came out to welcome the new-comer, and said in French:

“Madame, the place is poor, but clean, and quiet, and,” lowering her voice, “fitted for observation.”

In spite of my own anxieties I wondered who the stranger could be, and why the little house was to be an observatory. Then I remembered the vicinity of the big gaol, and thought that madame might have an interest in one of the black sheep incarcerated there.

Very soon strange rumours began to circulate amongst the dwellers in the avenue. The bright young woman was madame's foster sister; madame herself was of high degree, a countess, or one of even nobler rank, travelling in disguise; the quiet, dark young man, her foster sister's husband, was a woodcarver, who was out of work and only too glad to serve the foreign lady, who out of generous pity had come to stay with them.

I, of course, gave no credence to these seemingly absurd reports, but, all the same, I was aware that there was a mystery at No. 3. The lady was young, beautiful, and distinguished looking, she had dark, pathetic, haunting eyes, which reminded me forcibly of other eyes I had seen, but when and where I could not recall; and though her dresses were dark, they were chic, the word Paris was writ plain on all her toques.

Madame made no friends, and it was clear from the first that she desired to be undisturbed, at any rate by her neighbours. Every now and again there were visitors at No 3, but these were strangers, foreign looking visitors, cloaked, swarthy and sombre men who came and went, one of whom I overheard say in French as he flicked the ash from his cigar: “Chut! the rat keeps in his hole, he will not stir.”

At Maytime, in the early gloaming, the foreign lady and I met in the narrow street.

We met face to face, and passed each other with a slight bow of recognition; a moment after I heard soft, hurried footfalls, and the strange lady was by my side.

She held out an envelope addressed to me, saying:

“Pardon me, if I mistake not, you dropped this. Is it not so?”

I thanked her, and took the letter, saying:

“It is mine, and I should have troubled had I lost it.”

This little incident broke down our old-time reserve, and saying:

“I go to-morrow,” she placed a bunch of amber roses she was carrying in my hand. I thanked her, and asked by what name I might remember her?

“As Nadine,” she whispered softly. “I need not ask you yours.”

The mention of the name electrified me. Here was I bidding farewell to Nadine, whose little sister Irene, our sweet snow flower, I had loved and lost at the old school far away.

Nadine noticed my excitement, and putting her finger to her lips, cautioned me to silence. But I was not to be denied.

“Irene?” I said in a whisper, “Irene, where is Irene?”

“Hush!” she said, taking me by the arm and drawing me in at the open doorway of No. 3. “Speak of it not again. Irene fell a victim to our cruel Russian laws, and lies beside her husband among the snow tombs of Siberia.”

The next morning the strange dark house was empty. The woodcarver and his wife, and the beautiful Nadine, had vanished with the shadows of the night.

VI.—NADINE: THE PRINCESS.

I.

WHICHELLO TOWERS.

It was between the lights. I was looking down the dingy street from behind the curtains of my little window at the postman who was working his way slowly from side to side delivering his messages of hope and fear, and was wondering whether I was among those to whom he bore tidings of joy or sorrow. I had few correspondents, and no expectations, and so it was with surprise that I saw him ultimately turn in at our little garden gate and place a letter in our box.

I was not long in breaking the seal, and it was with real delight and surprise that I discovered that it was from my old schoolfellow, the generous and sometimes extravagant Maura. It ran thus:

                     “WHICHELLO TOWERS,
                    
October 3rd.

     “MY DEAR ABSURD LITTLE GLORIA,—

     “Why have you hidden away from your friends so long? Was it
     pride, self-styled dignity? Never mind, I have found you
     out at last, and I want you to join our house-party here.
     We have some interesting people with us of whom you can
     make pencil sketches and pen pictures (they call them
     cameos or thumbnails, do they not?). Amongst them are the
     beautiful Princess Milontine, who wrote, 'Over the
     Steppes,' and the famous Russian General, Loris Trakoff.

     “The change will do you good. Name the day and time of your
     arrival, and I will meet you at the station. There are
     surprises in store for you, but you must come if you would
     realise them.

                     “Your affectionate MAURA.”

I put by the missive, and meditated over the pros and cons. My wardrobe would need replenishing, and I had none too much money to spend. I could manage this, however, but there arose another question.

I was a worker—would it do me harm to disport myself in the flowery mead with the butterflies? Should I feel a distaste for the bread earned by labour and pain after the honey placed, effortless, on my plate?

So much for the cons. The pros were these:

Black, being most inexpensive in a smoky town, was my wear, relieved by a few touches of blue. And I should not go as a butterfly, but as a quiet worker in my dark things. I need only buy a new walking costume, and a fresh dinner dress. The costume difficulty was disposed of. Then again, I had been without a day's change for five years; and here was the prospect of one I should enjoy. The pros had the victory, I went.

I arrived at the station in the gloaming, when twilight veiled the everlasting hills, and found two figures waiting on the narrow platform.

One of these had a fresh, fair, bonnie face, framed in hair of a golden brown, and I knew her for Maura Merle, my old schoolfellow, the lady of Whichello Towers. The other was darker, taller, and the very dark blue eyes had a pensive expression, she could have posed as a study for Milton's Il Pensoroso, and I did not recognise her for an instant, and then I exclaimed: “Not—not 'Stella.”

“Yes, 'Stella,” said Maura. Our own beautiful Estella and the miser's heiress came forward and kissed my first surprise away. As she did so I noticed that she was wearing the beautiful coral set which had wrought the tragedy of her school days.

We had naturally much to say to each other, and as we walked towards Whichello Towers together, Maura said:

“You have worked and suffered, Gloria, since we were last together. You look thoughtful, are graver, and there are violet circles under your eyes, which used to be so merry.”

“Yes,” I said, “I've had to fight the battle of life for myself since I left school, but it makes the more welcome this reunion with my old schoolfellows.”

“Speaking of them,” interposed Maura, “we have Princess Milontine staying with us—little Irene's sister—I left her doing the honours on my behalf when I came to meet you.”

This then was the second surprise in store for me. Neither of my companions had the slightest idea how great a surprise it was.

Naturally, we had much to talk of during our walk up to the Towers, Miss Melford had passed away, and one or two of my old companions had followed her across the border. Irene was, of course, one of them, but I took the news of her death as though I had not heard it before.

I had not heard of Miss Melford's death previously, and the angel of memory came down and troubled the waters of my soul, so I was silent for a time.

The silence was broken by Maura, saying:

“There is something painful, if not tragical, connected with Irene's death, of which the princess refuses to speak; so the subject is never mentioned to her.” And then, as if to change the subject, she added, “I have named my little daughter Cordelia after Miss Melford, but we call her Corrie.”

As she spoke we came in sight of The Towers—a large, four-winged mansion, with pepper box turrets, oriel windows, a square lawn, and many tree-lined walks.

“Home,” said Maura, and in a few minutes I found myself in the large warm hall, bright with firelight, and sweet with autumn flowers.

Standing by a table, and turning over the leaves of a book, stood a graceful woman in fawn and cream, who turned round upon our entrance, saying:

“There is tea on the way, you will take some?”

“Thank you, princess, yes, directly we come down,” said Maura, and then she added: “See, I have brought an old friend to see you, Gloria, Princess Milontine.”

The foreign lady held out her hand, and as I took it I found myself almost involuntarily murmuring, “Nadine.” For the dark pathetic eyes of the Russian princess were those of the mysterious foreigner who had lodged in Cherry-Tree Avenue. She kissed me (foreign fashion) on both cheeks, and as she did so whispered: “Hush! let the dead past sleep.”

Wondering much, I held my peace and went to inspect the sunshine of Whichello Towers, the pretty dimpled Corrie; and though I forgot the incident during the evening, I remembered it when I found myself in my own room.

Why had Nadine lived in the mean street with the so-called woodcarver and his wife? She was a widow, true, but widows of rank do not usually lodge in such humble places for pleasure. Then again, what was the mystery attaching to Irene? Would the tangled skein ever be unravelled? Time would show.

Whichello Towers was more than a great house, it was a home, a northern liberty hall, surrounded by woods and big breezy moors. There was something for every one in this broad domain. A fine library full of rare editions of rare books, a museum of natural history specimens, a gallery of antiquities, a lake on which to skate or row, preserves in which to shoot, a grand ball-room with an old-world polished floor, a long corridor full of pictures and articles of vertu, and a beautiful music-room.

Princess Nadine and I were much together, we talked of her little sister's school-days, but never of her latter ones, the subject was evidently tabooed.

General Trakoff (a stern, military man who had once been governor of the penal settlement of O——) was evidently devoted to the beautiful Russ, and I found myself hoping that she would not become “Madame la Générale,” for though the general was the very pink of politeness, I could not like him.

I had spent a happy fortnight at the Towers when the incident occurred which will always remain the most vivid in my memory. A sudden and severe frost had set in. All the trees turned to white coral, the lake was frozen stone hard. There were naturally many skating parties organised, and in these Nadine and I generally joined. One morning, after we had been skating for nearly half an hour, the princess averred herself tired, and said she would stand out for a time. The general declared that he would also rest awhile, and the two left the lake together, and stood watching the skaters at the edge of the pine wood.

By-and-by I too grew a little weary, and thought I would go for a stroll by myself through the woods I loved so much. The air was fresh and keen, squirrels jumped about in the trees, and the storm-cock sang blithely. Through an opening in the glade I saw the princess and the general chatting en tête-à-tête.

As I came up the former was saying, in a tone of earnest raillery:

“Now, tell me, general, is there nothing you regret doing, or having allowed to be done, when you were administrator of O——?”

She spoke with a strange, almost tragic, earnestness, and when her companion replied:

“No, on my honour, princess.”

She bowed gravely. A moment later, with a careless laugh, she opened a gold bonbonnière full of chocolate caramels, and held it temptingly towards him.

He hesitated, and as he did so I put my arm through the branches, and with a playful:

“By your leave, princess,” attempted to help myself.

Nadine started, and closed the box with a snap, a strange pallor coming over her white, set face. The general looked gravely at her, and then, raising his hat, with a “Till we meet again,” walked leisurely away.

I must own to being slightly offended, I was childishly fond of chocolate, and the act seemed so inexplicably discourteous. We walked to the house in silence, neither of us speaking, until we reached the side entrance. Here the princess paused by the nail-studded oaken door, and said:

“There will come a day when things done in secret will be declared upon the housetops, then (if not before) you will know the secret of the gold bonbonnière. Say, 'Forgiven, Nadine.'”

And I said it with my hand in hers.

How glad I was afterwards that I had done so.

II.

THE PASSING OF NADINE.

Throughout the great house of Whichello Towers there was a hush. Soft-footed servants went to and fro, all the guests save Estella and I went away with many condolences. The Princess Nadine was passing away in the room overlooking the pine woods. She had been thrown from her horse whilst hunting with the Whichello hounds, and the end was not far off.

I was sitting in the library with a great sadness in my heart, when the door opened, and Canon Manningtree, the white-haired rector of Whichello, came into the room.

“Miss Dene,” he said gravely, “in the absence of a priest of the Greek Church, I have ministered to Princess Milontine. She is going to meet a merciful Saviour who knows her temptations, and the singular circumstances in which she has been placed. She desires to see you. Do not excite her. Speak to her of the infinite love of God. Will you please go to her now.”

Weeping, I went.

Sitting beside the sufferer was Maura, who rose when I came in, and left us two alone, save for that unseen Angel who calls us to the presence of our God.

The princess looked at me with her beautiful wistful eyes, as she had looked when she gave me the amber roses in the narrow street.

“Gloria, little sister, I am going to tell how Irene died.”

“No, no, not if it distresses you.”

“I would rather tell you. Listen! I have not much time to speak. As you know, we are of a noble Russian family, and Irene and I were the only children. I was ten years older than Irene, and was educated in France; she came to England, and was your schoolmate!

“I was passionately fond of the child I had seen an infant lying in her pink-lined cot, and when she came out and married Prince Alex Laskine, I prayed that God's sunshine might light on my darling's head. Then, I myself married, and travelled with my husband in all kinds of strange, out-of-the-way places; in one of which he died, and I came back to St. Petersburgh, a childless, lonely widow!

“But there was no Irene; her husband had been implicated in a plot, and had been sent to O——, one of the most desolate places in Siberia, and my sister had voluntarily accompanied him!

“When I heard this, I never rested until I too was en route to Siberia! I wanted to take Irene in my arms and to console her as her dead mother would have done. O——was a fearful place, just a colony of dreary huts by the sea. Behind were the wolf-infested forests; in the midst of it, the frowning fortress prison! When I showed my ukase, and demanded to see my relations, they simply showed me two graves. Irene and Alex rested side by side, in the silent acre, and an exile told me how they had died! Alex had been knouted for refusing to play the part of Judas, and had passed away in the fortress. Irene was found dead inside their small wooden hut, kneeling beside her bed. Her heart had broken! My little Snow Flower had been crushed under the iron heel of despotism.

“He by whose mandate this iniquity was done was General Loris Trakoff, the governor of the province! I was turned to stone by Irene's grave, and afterwards became a partisan of the Nihilists.

“Night and day I pondered upon how I could be revenged upon Trakoff, and at last Fate seemed to favour me.

“The general (so it was reported) was coming to visit a former friend of his. I made up my mind to be there also, and to shoot him, if opportunity served.

“So, two members of our society, a young mechanic and his wife, rented a house in Cherry-Tree Avenue, to which I came, and whilst waiting for my revenge I became acquainted with you.”

She paused, whispered, “The restorative,” and I gave her the medicine.

The sweet, faint voice spoke again.

“I knew that you were Irene's friend because I saw your name upon the letter that I picked up, and I loved you, Gloria, aye, and was sorry for you.”

I laid my cheek next hers.

“Dear, I knew it, and was fond of you.”

“Fond of the Nihilist Princess, my little English Gloria! 'Tis a strange world!

“After all, the general did not come, and then we all left. I bided my time. No outsider knew me for a Révolutionnaire, so I mixed in society as before, and accepted the invitation to Whichello, on purpose to meet him here.

“The bonbonnière was filled with poisoned caramels, prepared by a Nihilist chemist, and it was my intention to destroy myself after I had destroyed my enemy. I gave him one chance; I asked him if he repented of anything, and he answered 'No.'

“At the great crisis your little hand, as a hand from another world—as Irene's hand might have done—came between us.

“Your coming saved him. I could not let you share his fate.”

“Oh, thank God!” I said. “Nadine, tell me—tell God, that you are sorry, that you repent your dreadful purpose.”

“I do, I do,” she whispered. “Lying here I see all the sins, the errors, the mistakes. I do not despair of God's mercy though I am myself deserving of His wrath. Irene used to tell me that when she fell asleep, in the new world of school life, it was in your arms. Put them round me, Gloria, and let me fall asleep.”

I placed my arm gently, very gently, under her head, and then sat very still.

I heard the big clock in the clock-tower slowly and distinctly strike the hour of twelve, I saw the pale lips move and heard them murmur: “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere mei.”

But save for this, all was silence! And in the silence Princess Nadine slept.

 
 
 

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