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Mrs. Baines was in the dining-room, reading the morning paper, which had
CHAPTER XI. only just come, when Florence put her The grey sky and the dim trees, the head in at the door. She was evidently black hedges and the absolute stillness, all excited and agitated ; she held the paper these proved excellent comforters to in one hand, and looked out towards the Florence. They made her philosophical garden. But she seemed to have forgot. and almost smiling again. It was only ten all the unpleasantness of the morning when an empty wagonette of Steggall's when she spoke.
passed her that she remembered the vex“My love, are you going out?” she ations of the morning. “ Poor old lady," asked.
she said to herself with almost a laugh, "I thought you had an engagement, "in future she must not be trusted with Aunt Anne, and would not want me.” money, that is all. If she only would not
“ That is true, my dear, and I shall be scold me and treat me like a child, I glad to be alone for a little while, if you should not mind it so much. Of course will forgive me for saying it. There is an when Walter does it, I like it; but I don't announcement in the paper that gives me like it from Aunt Anne." the deepest pain, Florence. Sir William She had walked quite a long way. She Rammage is ill again – he is confined to was getting tired. The messengers of his room."
night were abroad, the stray breezes, the “Oh, poor Aunt Anne."
dark flecked clouds, the shadows loitering "I must write to him instantly. I felt by the trees, the strange little sounds sure there was some good reason for his among the hedges by the wayside. Far not having told me his decision in re- off, beyond the wood, she heard a clock gard to the allowance.” Then, as if she belonging to a big house strike six. It had suddenly remembered the little scrim- was time to hurry home. If she walked mage of the morning, she went on quickly, the two miles between herself and the “My love, give me a kiss. Do not think cottage quickly, she would be in by half that I am angry with you. I never could past six. At seven, after the children be that; but it is unpleasant at my time had gone to bed, she and Aunt Anne were of life to be made to give an exact ac- to sit down to a little evening meal they count of money. You will remember that, called supper. They would be very cosy won't
you dear? I should never expect it that night, they would linger over their from you. If I had hundreds and hun. food, and Aunt Anne should talk of bydreds a year I would share them with you gone days, and the quaint old world that and your darlings, and I would ask you always seemed to be just behind her. for no accounts, dear Florence. I should It was rather dull in the country, Florthink that the money was as much yours ence thought. In the summer, of course, as mine. You know it, don't you, my the outdoor life made it delighiful, but love?"
now there was so little to fill the days, “Yes, dear, I think I do,” Florence an only the children and the housekeeping, swered, and kissed the old lady affection. wonderings about Walter, and the writing ately, thinking that perhaps, after all, she of the bit of diary on very thin paper had made rather too much fuss.
which she had promised to post out to him “ Then let us forget about it, my dar- every week. She was not a woman who ling,” Mrs. Baines said, with the gracious made an intellectual atmosphere for her. smile that always had its influence ; “I self. She lived her life through her hus. could never remember anything long of band, read the same books, and drew her you, but your kindness and hospitality: conclusions by the light of his. Now that Believe me, I am quite sure that you did he had gone the world seemed half empty, not mean to wound me this morning. It and very dull and tame. There was no was your zealous care of dear Walter's glamour over anything. Perhaps it was interests that made you for a moment this that had helped to make her a little forget what was due to me. I quite un- unkind to Aunt Anne, for gradually she derstand, my darling. Now go for your was persuading herself that she had been walk, and be assured that Aunt Anne loves uokind. She wished Aunt Anne had an
income of her own, and the home for which And Florence was dismissed, feeling she had said she longed. It would be so as the children had felt the evening be much better for everybody. fore when they had been sent to bed When she was nearly home, a sudden and told of the chocolate under their pil. dread seized her lest Mr. Wimple should lows.
be there, but this, she reflected, was not
likely. It was long past calling time, and I and, if necessary, asked to cable over adAunt Anne was too great a sickler for vice. Perhaps Sir William Rammage etiquette to allow him to take a liberty, as would interfere. In the midst of all her she would call it. So Florence quickened perturbation seven o'clock struck, and her steps, and entered her home bravely there was no Aunt Anne. to the sound of the children's voices up. Florence was a healthy young woman, stairs singing as they went to bed. A fire and she had had a long walk. The pangs was blazing in the dining-room, and every of hunger assailed her vigorously, so, after thing looked comfortable, just as it had resisting them till half past seven, she sat the night before. But there was no sign down to her little supper alone. Food has of Aunt Anne. Probably she was up.stairs a soothing effect on an agitated mind, and "getting ready,” for a lace cap and bit of a quarter of an hour later, though Aunt white at her ihroat and an extra formal, Anne bad not appeared, Florence bad though not less affectionate, manner than come to the conclusion that she could not usual Aunt Anne seemed to think a fitting get very deeply into debt, because it was accompaniment to the evening meal. not likely that the tradespeople would Florence looked round the dining-room trust her. Perhaps, too, after all, she had with a little pride of ownership. She was not gone to Guildford. Suill, what could fond of the cottage, it was their very own, keep her out so late? The roads were hers and Walter's; and how wise they had dark and lonely, she knew no one in the been to do up that particular room, it made neighborhood. It was to be hoped that every meal they ate in it a pleasure. That nothing had happened to her, and, at this buttery-hatch too, it was absurd that it thought, Florence began to reproach hershould be so, but really it was a secret joy self again for all her unkindness of the to her. Suddenly her eye caught a pack- morning. But while she was still reviewage that had evidently come in her ab- ing her own conduct with much severity
A parcel of any sort was always there was a soft patter, patter, along the exciting. This could not be another pres- gravel path outside, and a feeble ring at ent from Aunt Anne ? and she drew a short ine bell. “ That dissipated old lady!” breath. Oh no, it had come by rail. laughed Florence to herself, only too de. Books. She knew what it was some lighted to think that she had returned novels from Mr. Fisher. “How kind he safely at last. is,” she said gratefully; "he says so few A moment later Aunt Anne entered. words, but he does so many things. I She was a little breathless, her left eye really don't see why Ethel should not love winked more frequently than usual, there him. I don't think she would find it diffi- was an air of happy excitement in her cult to do so," she thought, with the for- manner. She entered the room quickly, getfulness of womanhood for the days of and seated herself in the easy-chair with girlish fancy.
a sigh of relief. “Mrs. Baines has not yet returned,” the “My darling," she said, looking fondly servant said, entering to arrange the table. at Florence, “ I trust you did not wait for “Not returned! Is she out, then?” me, and that I have not caused you any
Yes, ma'am, she started half an hour inconvenience. But if I have,” she added, after you did. Steggall’s wagonette came in an almost cooing voice, “you will forgive for her.”
me when you know all.” Florence groaned inwardly.
“Oh yes, dear Aunt Anne, I will for“Do you know where she has gone?" give you,” and Florence signed to Jane to
“I think she has gone to Guildford, bring a plate. “ You must be shockingly ma'am, shopping; she often did while you hungry," she laughed. “Where have you were away. I heard her tell the driver to been, may I know?" drive quickly to the station, as she feared " I will tell you presently, my darling, she was late."
you shall know all. But I can't eat any“Oh. Did any one call, Jane?” thing," Aunt Anne answered quickly. “ No, ma'am.”
Even the thought of food seemed to make Then, once more, Florence delivered her impatient. “Jane,” she said, with the herself over to despair. Aunt Anne must little air of pride that Jane resented, “you have gone to buy more surprises, and if need not bring a plate for me. I do not she had only ten shillings in the world it require anything." Then, speaking to was quite clear she would have to get Florence again, she went on with hall. them on credit. Something would have beaming, half-condescending gentleness: to be done. The tradespeople would have “ Finish your repast, my darling ; pray to be warned. Walter must be written to, I don't let my intrusion -- for it is an intru
sion when I am not able to join in your “Yes, oh yes, dear Florence had meal - hurry you. When you have fin- so often heard of that pear-tree. But what ished, but not till then, I have a commu could it have to do with the present situanication to make to you. It is one I feel tion? to be due to you before any one else ; and “I shall never forget the picture you it will prove to you how much I depend two made,” the old lady went on, not beedon your sympathy and love." She spoke ing the interruption ; "I knew all that was with earnestness, unfastening her cloak in your dear heart then, just as I feel that and nervously fastening it the while. you will understand all that is in mine Florence looked at her with surprise, with now.” Her face was flushed, her eyes pity. Poor old lady, she thought, how were almost bright, and there were tears easily she worked herseif into a state of in them, the left one winked tremulously. excitement.
Florence looked at her in amazement. “Tell me what it is now, dear Auot“ What is it, Aunt Anne? Do tell me; Anne," she said gently: “ Has anything tell me at once, dear,” she said entreatoccurred to worry you? Have you been ingly. " And tell me where you have to Guildford ?"
been, so late, and in the dark." For a "To Guildford ? No, my dear. Some moment Aunt Anne hesitated, then, with a thing has occurred, but not to worry me. gasp and a strong effort to be firm and It is something that will make me very dignified, she raised her head and spoke. happy, and I trust that it will make you "My dear – my dear, all this time I very happy to hear it. I rely on your have been with Alfred Wimple. He loves sympathy and Walter's to support me.” me. Florence was
not very curious. Aunt “He loves you,” Florence repeated, her Anne had always so much earnestness at eyes full of wonder; "he loves you. Yes, her command, and was always prodigal of of course he loves you, we all do," she it. Besides, it did not seem likely that said soothiogly, too much surprised to anything important had happened ; some speculate farther. trifling pleasure or vexation, probably, “Yes, he loves me," Aunt Apne said nothing more.
again, in an almost solemn voice, “and I At last the little meal was finished, the have promised to be his wife.” things pushed through the buttery-hatch, “ Aunt Anne !
to marry him!” the crumbs swept off the cloth by Jane, “Yes, dear, to marry him," and she who seemed to linger in a manner that waited as if for congratulations. Mrs. Baines in her own mind felt to be “But, Aunt Anne, dear -" Florwholly reprehensible, and wanting in re-ence began in astonishment, and then she spect towards her superiors. But the cloth stopped; for though she had had some was folded and put away at last, the idea of the old lady's infatuation, she had buttery-batch closed, the fire adjusted, and never dreamt of its ending in matrimony. the door shut. Aunt Anne gave a sigh of Mrs. Baines was excited and strange; it relief, then throwing her cloak back over might be some delusion, some joke that the chair, she rose and stood irresolute on had been played on her, for Mr. Wimple the hearth-rug. Florence went towards could not have seriously asked her to her.
marry him. Florence waited, not know“ Have you been anywhere by train ?”ing what to say. But Aunt Anne's exciteshe asked.
ment seemed to be passing, and with a “No, my love. I went to the station tender, pitiful expression on her face, she to meet some one." She trembled with waited for her piece to speak. "But, excitement while she spoke. Florence Aunt Anne, dear," was all Florence could noticed it with wonder.
say again in her bewilderment. What is it, Aunt Anne ? " she asked “ But what, Florence?” Mrs. Baines gently. The old lady stretched out her spoke with a half-tragic, half-resentful two thin hands, and suddenly dropped her manner. “Have you nothing more to say head for a moment on Florence's shoul- to me, my love?” der; but she raised it quickly, and evi- " But you are not really going to marry dently struggled to be calín.
him, are you?” Florence asked in an in“My darling,” she said, “I know you credulous voice. will sympathize with me, I know your love The old lady answered in a terribly ing heart. I knew it the first day I saw earnest one. you, when you were at Rottingdean, and * Yes, Florence, I am; and never shall stood under the pear-tree with your dear man have truer, more loving help-meet Walter --"
than I will be to him," she burst out hero
ically, holding herself erect and looking hand to her throat to steady her quivering her niece in the face. There was some- voice — "as if you would not let me taste thing infinitely pathetic about her as she the cup of happiness of which you driok stood there, quivering with feeling, and every day." aching for sympathy, yet old, wrinkled, and But, 'Aunt Anne, it isn't that, indeed," absurd, her poor, scanty hair pushed back Florence answered, thinking despairingly and her weak eyes full of tears. For a of Waiter, and wishing that she could bemoment there was silence.
gin writing to him that very minute, asking “ But, dear Aunt Apne, he - he is so him what on earth she ought to say or do. much younger than you,” Florence said at “It is that – that - it is so unexpected, last, bringing out her words slowly, and so strange. I knew, of course, that you hating herself for saying them.
liked him, that you were good friends; " Age is not counted by years, my dar- but I never dreamt that he was in love ling," Aunt Anne answered, “and'if he with you." Aunt Anne's tears seemed to does not feel my age a drawback, why vanish as if by magic, her left eye winked should I count bis youth one? He loves almost fiercely, her lips opened, but no me, Florence, I know he loves me," she sound came. With a great effort she rebroke out in a passionate, tearful voice, covered her voice at last, and with some "and you would not have me throw away of her old dignity, dashed with severe or depreciate a faithful heart that has been surprise, she asked :: given me ?"
“My darling, is there any reason why Then the practical side of Florence's he should not love me?" nature spoke up in despair. “But, Aunt She stood gravely waiting for a reply, Anne, he is very poor.”
while Florence felt ihat she was managing “I know he is poor, but he is young and badly, that she was somehow hurting and strong and hopeful; and he will work. He insulting Aunt Anne. After all, the old says he will work like a slave for me; and lady had a right to do as she liked ; it was if he is content to face poverty with me, evident that she was incapable of taking how can I be afraid to face it with him?" in the absurdity of the situation.
" But you want comforts, Aunt Anne?" But, Aunt Anne- - " she begao, and
“Oh no, my love, my tastes are very stopped. simple, and I shall be content to do with. "My dear Florence," Mrs. Baines reout them for his sake."
peated still more severely, “will you tell “ But at your time of life, dear Aunt me if there is any very obvious reason Anne, you do want them — you are not why he should not love me? I am not an young- - as he is." Then Aunt Anne ogress, my darling – I am not an ogress, burst into tears, tears that were evidently she cried, suddeoly breaking down and a blessed relief, and had been pent up in bursting into floods of tears, while her her poor old heart, waiting for an excuse head dropped on to her black merino to come forth.
dress. “ Florence, I did not think you would She looked so old and word, so wretched tell me of my age. If I do not feel it, and and lonely as she stood there weeping he does not, why should you remind me of bitterly, that Florence could stand it no it? And why should you tell me that he longer, and going forward she put her is poor? Do you suppose that I am so arms round the poor old soul, and kissed selfish or - or that I would sell myself for her fondly. comfort and luxury? If he can face pov- “ No, dear Aunt Anne," she said, “ you erty with me, I can face it with him. I are not an ogress; you are a sweet old did think, Florence, that you would have dear, and I love you. Don't cry – don't been kind to me, and understood and sym- cry, you dear." pathized. I told him that on your heart “My love, you are cruel to me," Aunt and Walter's I could rely. You know Anne sobbed. how lonely I have been, how desolate and Oh no, I am not, and you shall marry how miserable. But for your bounty and any one you like. It was a little surprisgoodness I should have died
ing, you know, and of course I didn't “Oh no, dear Aunt Anne
I didn't think that marrying was in your “And now, in this great crisis now, thoughts,” she added feebly, for she didn't when a young, brave, beautiful life is laid know what to say. at my feet, now that I am loved as truly as “ Bless you, my darling, bless you," the ever woman was loved in this world, as old lady gasped gratefully; "I knew you tenderly as Walter loves you, Florence, would be staunch to me when you had you fail me, as — as if” – she put her recovered from the surprise of my com
munication, but ” — and she gently dis- case her feet in the evening. “There, engaged herself from Florence's embrace. now, you will feel better, you poor dear," and spoke in the nervous, quivering voice she said, when they were put on and the that always came to her in moments of old lady sat silent and composed, looking excitement — “but, Florence, since the as if she were contemplating her future, first moment we met, Alfred Wimple and and the new life before her. Florence I have felt that we were ordained for each stood by her silently for a moment, thinkother."
ing the past weeks over in which Aunt. "Yes, dear,” Florence said soothingly. Anne, with her poverty and dignity, her
“He says he shall never forget the mo- generosity and recklessness, had formed ments we sat together on your balcony so striking a figure. Then she thought of that night when your dear Walter fetched the lonely life the poor old lady had led in the white shawl of yours, Florence, to put the little lodging. round my shoulders,” the old lady went After all, if she only had even a very on earnestly. " And the sympathy be- little happiness with that horrid Mr. Wimtween us is so great that we do not feel ple, it would be something; and of course, the difference of years; besides, he says if he didn't behave properly, Walter could he has never liked very young women, he take her away. The worst of it was she has always felt that the power to love ac. had understood that Mr. Wimple had no cumulated with time, as my power to love money. She had heard that he lived on a has done. Few of the women who have small allowance from an uncle, and the been loved by great men have been very uncle might stop that allowance when he young, my darling."
heard that his nephew bad married an old "I didn't know,” Florence began, for woman who had not a penny. Aunt Anne had paused, almost as if she " Aunt Anne,” she asked gently, “does were repeating something she had learnt he know that you are not rich ? " by heari.
“ Florence, I told him plainly that I had “ He asked me to-night,” she went on, no fortune,” the old lady answered, with with another little gasp," if I remembered a pathetic, half-hunted look on her face - if I remembered - I forget But that made Florence hate herself for her all the great passions of history have been lack of sympathy. But she felt that she concentrated on women in their prime. ought to ask some questions. Walter Petrarch's Laura had eight children when would be so angry if she allowed her to the poet fell in love with her, and Helen of go into misery and fresh poverty without Troy was sixty when – when - I forget," inaking a single effort to save her. she said again, shaking her head ; “ but he “And has he money, dear – enough to remembers; he went through them all to keep you both, at any rate ? " night. Besides, I may be old in years, but The tears trickled dowo Aunt Aone's I am not old in heart; you cannot say that face again while she answered:I am, Florence."
"If I did not ask him that question, She was getting excited again. Almost Florence, it is not for you to ask it me. I without her knowledge Florence led her neither know nor care what he has. If to the easy.chair, and gently pushing her he is willing to take me for myself only, down on to it, undid the strings and tried so am I willing to take him, loving him to take off her bonnet; but the old lady for himself only too. I am too old to resisted.
marry for money, and he is too noble to do “No, my dear, don't take off my bon- so. We are grown-up man and woman, cet,” she said, “unless you will permit me Florence, and know our own hearts; we to ring,” she added, getting back to her will brook no interference we will brook old-fashioned formality," and request Jane no interference, my darling, not even from to bring me my cap from up-stairs.” you.”
But Florence felt that Jane might look She got up tremblingly. curiously at the wrinkled face that still “I must retire," she said ; "you must showed signs of recent agitation, so she allow me to retire, and in the privacy of put her hand softly on the one that Aunt my own room I shall be able to reflect.”. Anne had stretched out to touch the bell. The long words were coming back;
" I will get it for you, dear,” she said, they were a sign that Aunt Anne was herand in a moment she had tripped up-stairs self again. and brought down the soft lace cap put
“Yes, dear Aunt Aone; I am sure you ready on the bed, and the cashmere slip must want to be alone, and to think,” Florpers edged with fur and lined with redence said gently. Aannel, in which Aunt Anne liked to en- The old lady was not appeased.