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Clarke, Henry, Mrs / Miss Merivale's Mistake
E-text prepared by Jonathan Ingram, Beth Trapaga, Charles Franks, and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team



MISS MERIVALE'S MISTAKE

By

MRS. HENRY CLARKE, M.A.







[Illustration: PAULINE SAT DOWN IN THE LOW CHAIR BY THE WINDOW AND TOOK
UP THE PHOTOGRAPH FRAME.]



CONTENTS

CHAPTER
I. A STARTLING DISCOVERY
II. WOODCOTE
III. A VISIT TO KENTISH TOWN
IV. TOM AND RHODA MEET
V. "A MERRY HEART GOES ALL THE WAY"
VI. PAULINE'S DIPLOMACY
VII. APPLES OF SODOM
VIII. AN INVITATION
IX. PAULINE HAS HER SUSPICIONS
X. A CONFESSION
XI. POLLY SMITH
XII. CONCLUSION



ILLUSTRATIONS

PAULINE SAT DOWN IN THE LOW CHAIR BY THE WINDOW AND TOOK UP THE
PHOTOGRAPH FRAME.

PAULINE LEANT AGAINST THE DRESSER AND WATCHED HER.

HE STARED AT HER, NOT COMPREHENDING.




CHAPTER I.

A STARTLING DISCOVERY.


Miss Merivale had not been paying much heed to the eager talk that was
going on between Rose and Pauline Smythe at the window.

The long drive from Woodcote had made her head ache, and she was drowsily
wishing that Miss Smythe would get her the cup of tea she had promised,
when the sound of a name made her suddenly sit bolt upright, her kind old
face full of anxious curiosity.

"Rhoda Sampson, the creature calls herself," Pauline was saying in her
clear, high-pitched voice. "Her people live in Kentish Town, or somewhere
in the dim wilds about there. You would know it by just looking at her."

"Does she come from Kentish Town every day?" asked Rose.

"Three times a week. On the top of an omnibus, one may be sure. And she
imbibes facts from _The Civil Service Geography_ all the way. I found the
book in her bag yesterday. I believe she wants to get into the Post Office
eventually. It is a worthy ambition."

"Whom are you talking of, my dears?" asked Miss Merivale from her seat by
the fire. Pauline turned round with a little stare. Miss Merivale was so
quiet and unassuming a personage that she had got into the habit of
ignoring her. "Of Clare's new amusement, Miss Merivale," she said, with a
laugh. Her laugh, like her voice, was a trifle hard. "It was scientific
dressmaking when I was at Woodcote last, you remember, Rose dear. Now it
is a society. Clare is secretary."

"But you spoke of some girl who came here," persisted Miss Merivale.

Pauline lifted her delicately-pencilled eyebrows. "Oh, that is Clare's
typewriter. She is part of the joke. If you saw Clare and her together
over their letters, you would think they were reforming the universe. It
hasn't dawned on poor Sampson yet that Clare will get tired of the whole
business in a month. It is lucky she has the Post Office to fall back on.
Clare is exactly what she used to be at school, Rose, 'everything by
starts and nothing long.' It amuses me to watch her."

"She doesn't tire of you, Pauline," said Rose fondly.

Pauline frowned a little. She did not care to be reminded, even by
foolish, flattering little Rose, that she was, in sober fact, nothing more
nor less than Clare's paid companion.

"Oh, we get on," she said coolly. "We each leave the other to go her own
way in peace. And it suits Lady Desborough in Rome to say that Clare is
living with her old governess. People think of me as a spectacled lady of
an uncertain age, and everybody is satisfied. But you would like some tea.
I wish Clare was in. She isn't afraid of that gas stove. I am ashamed to
confess that I am. Come out with me while I light it, Rosamunda mia. And
you shall make the tea. I never can remember how many spoonfuls to put in.
How pretty you look in blue! I wish I was eighteen, with hair the colour
of ripe wheat, then I would wear blue too."

She went off, laughing, with Rose to the tiny kitchen on the other side of
the passage. The sitting-room was the largest room in the little Chelsea
flat, and that was smaller than any of the rooms at Woodcote; but the
diminutive dimensions of the place only added to the fascinations of it in
Rose's eyes.

As she took the cups and saucers down from the toy-like dresser and put
them on the lilliputian table between the gas stove and the door, she felt
a thrill of ineffable pleasure.

"Oh, Pauline, I wish I lived here with you. It's so dull at Woodcote. And
it seems to get duller every day."

"Poor little Rose, it must be dull for you. Clare and I often talk of you
with pity. Clare pities you the most. A fellow-feeling makes us wondrous
kind, you know. She will have to go back to Desborough Park when her
mother returns, I suppose. The flat is only rented for six months. I
wish"--She stopped to take off the lid of the tea-kettle and peer
earnestly in. "When a kettle boils, little bubbles come to the top, don't
they? I have got a notebook where I write down interesting little details
of that sort. They will come useful by and by, if I have to live in a flat
by myself. I shouldn't be able to keep a regular servant."

"But a regular servant would spoil it all, even if you could afford it,"
said Rose, with sparkling eyes. "We couldn't come out here and get tea
like this, if you had a servant, Pauline.".

"She would have to stand in the passage, wouldn't she?" said Pauline,
looking round the tiny kitchen, with a laugh. "But how would you like to
get tea for yourself every day, little Rose? Clare seems to like it,
though. Her mother wanted Mrs. Richards to stay with us all day, but Clare
begged that she might go at three o'clock. And Clare is maid-of-all-work
after that. It seems to come natural to her to know what kitchen things
are meant for. Now, if you will make the tea, we will go back to your
aunt. This kettle is certainly boiling at last."

Rose carefully measured the tea into the pretty Japanese teapot. Pauline
leant against the dresser and watched her with her hands clasped at the
back of her head. Pauline was not pretty,--her features were badly cut and
her skin was sallow,--but she made a pretty picture standing there. Her
dress of ruddy brown was made in a graceful, artistic fashion, and was
just the right colour to set off her dark eyes and dark, wavy hair. Rose
thought her friend beautiful. She had adored her from the first day they
met, when Pauline was junior English governess at Miss Jephson's
Collegiate School for Young Ladies at Brighton, and Rose was a frightened,
lonely, homesick child of fourteen, tasting her first experience of
boarding-school.

Pauline had had many adorers among the younger girls, and a holiday rarely
passed without her receiving some delightful invitations. It was
spitefully noticed by the senior English governess that she was very
rarely invited twice to the same house; but after Rose came to the school,
it became a matter of course that Pauline should spend her holidays at
Woodcote. She had no home of her own, as she often sadly told the girls.
She very seldom said more than that, but it was understood in the school
that the seal ring she wore at her watch-chain belonged to her father, one
of the Norfolk Smythes; and the beautiful woman with powdered hair, whose
miniature hung in her bedroom, was her great-grandmother, the Marquise de
Villeroy, who perished on the scaffold during the Reign of Terror.

It was considered a high privilege by Pauline's band of worshippers to be
allowed to hold this miniature in their hands; but on Rose a still higher
privilege had been once conferred. She had worn the miniature tied round
her neck by a blue ribbon when she acted a part in the French play Miss
Jephson's pupils produced every Christmas. That was in Rose's last year at
school. She left at the end of the next term, as her aunt was in failing
health and wanted her at home.

Soon Pauline left too, and after a brief experience as a private
governess, commenced to give visiting lessons in London. She lived at
first with a cousin of Miss Jephson's, a clergyman's widow; but the
arrangement did not somehow prove a satisfactory one, and it was a relief
to them both when Clare Desborough, whose old admiration for Pauline had
revived on meeting her in London, had begged her to share the little flat
her mother had consented to rent for her, while the family spent the
winter in Italy.

Pauline found the freedom of a flat delightful, and looked forward with a
sinking heart to the day of Lady Desborough's return. Her only hope was
that Rose might be induced to entreat her aunt to let her live in London,
so that she might study music at the Royal Academy. Pauline was sure that
Miss Merivale would consent, if only Rose's pleading was urgent enough.
Rose had had her own way all her life.

[Illustration: PAULINE LEANT AGAINST THE DRESSER AND WATCHED HER.]

"There, it is quite ready now," Rose said, as she finished cutting the
bread and butter. "If you will move a little, Pauline, I will carry the
tray in."

"I ought to do that," said Pauline lazily. "What will your aunt think,
Rosie? I am not treating you like a visitor, am I?"

"I wish I wasn't a visitor," said Rose, with a faint little sigh. "I envy
Clare more than I ever envied anybody. She must be having a lovely time."
"It will soon be over, poor dear. I wish"--Pauline stopped again, and
began a fresh sentence. "You and I would get on better than Clare and I
do, Rose. We like the same things. She does not care a bit for music, but
I can't live without it. What delightful times we could have together,
Rose! But I don't suppose your aunt would hear of it. She is more
old-fashioned in her ideas than Lady Desborough."

Rose had clasped her hands together. "Oh, Pauline, it would be too
delightful! Would you really like to have me? Aunt Lucy might let me come,
though I'm afraid she could not get on without me. And there's Tom!"

Pauline's dark eyes grew quizzical "I didn't know you were afraid of Tom,
Rose. Doesn't he think everything you do is right? Was there ever a little
girl so spoiled by a big brother?"

"But he thinks I ought always to be at home to wait on him. You said the
other day that he was selfish, Pauline."

"All brothers are, my dear," returned Pauline oracularly, "and it is
sisters who make them so. Come, strike a blow for your liberty, Rose. You
are not really wanted at home, and you are wasting your days in that dull
little country place. Wouldn't you like to live here with me?"

Rose's face was answer enough. She drew a deep breath before she spoke.
"If only Aunt Lucy wouldn't miss me too much, Pauline! But she's not
strong. I don't think she could do without me."

"She would be better if she came up to London oftener and had a fuller
life," returned Pauline, with decision. "Her ill health has always been
mainly imaginary, Rose. When people have nothing else to do, they sink
into invalidism. But you are making me lose my character as a hostess
altogether. Let us take in the tea. Your aunt will wonder what we have
been doing."

But Miss Merivale had not noticed that the tea was a long time in making
its appearance. She was still absorbed in anxious thought when the girls
came in, and after a little while she managed to lead the conversation
back to Clare and her typewriter.

"Mr. Powell suggested that we should have the programmes for the concert
typewritten, Rose. He said it would be cheaper. Could you give me the
address of Miss Sampson, Miss Smythe?"

"I shouldn't advise you to employ her, Miss Merivale," returned Pauline in
a voice that had a sharp edge to it. For some reason or other, Clare's
assistant was evidently not a favourite of hers. "I don't believe she
knows her business properly. Lady Desborough's sister picked her up for
Clare."

"I might try her. Could you give me her address, my dear?"

Pauline opened her eyes. It was utterly unlike Miss Merivale to be so
persistent. "I am afraid I can't, Miss Merivale. I know nothing whatever
about her, except that she has just come from Australia with some
relations who kept a small shop out there. It was foolish of Mrs. Metcalfe
to send us such a person. There are so many ladies who would be glad to do
the work."

Miss Merivale had caught her breath sharply as Pauline mentioned
Australia, but neither of the girls noticed her agitation. Rose had
wandered to the window, and was looking with delight at the vast expanse
of chimney-tops, and the little glimpse of the river, grey under the cold
March sky. And Pauline was slowly stirring her tea, with her eyes cast
down. She was thinking whether it would be wise to drop a hint about
Rose's unhappiness at Woodcote. She had just made up her mind to say a
guarded word or two, when she found, to her sharp annoyance, that Miss
Merivale's mind was still running on Rhoda Sampson.

"She comes here three times a week, I think you said, my dear?" asked Miss
Merivale in her gentle voice. "Does she come in the mornings? She has her
meals here, perhaps?"

Pauline laughed. "We haven't invited her yet. I told Clare she must draw
the line somewhere. There is a Lockhart's Coffee House round the corner,
and she goes there. What makes you interested in her, Miss Merivale? If
you want some typewriting done, I can easily get a proper person for you.
Mrs. Metcalfe got Sampson because she is so cheap. She comes to Clare, on
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, for some ridiculous sum. If she knew
her work, she would have wanted more. In fact, she told Clare that she
knew very little. Rose, what are you looking at? Do you find the company
of chimney-tops exhilarating? I wish our flat was in the front of the
building. Then we could have a good view of the river."

"You have a delightful glimpse of it here," Rose said, without turning her
head.

Pauline smiled and looked at Miss Merivale. "Rose is in the mood to find
even London smuts fascinating," she said. "Could you spare her to us for a
night or two next week, Miss Merivale? Joachim is playing at St. James's
Hall, and I want Rose to hear him."

Miss Merivale started from a deep reverie. "Tom talked of bringing her up
for Joachim's concert," she said. "But if Rose would like to stay a day or
two--But have you room for a visitor?"

Rose had come from the window, her eyes sparkling at Pauline's suggestion
that she should stay with her and Clare. She now broke merrily in.
"Clare's two cousins stayed with them for a night last week, Aunt Lucy.
You don't know how elastic a flat is. Does she, Pauline? Oh, do let me!"

If Rose had been pleading to be let out of prison she could not have
spoken more earnestly. Another time Miss Merivale might have been hurt,
but just then she was hardly able to attend to what Rose was saying.

"We must ask Tom about the concert," she said. "You can write to Miss
Smythe to-morrow. Would any day next week be convenient, my dear?"

"Any day," said Pauline smilingly. "But the sooner the better. Be sure and
bring your violin, Rose. I want Mrs. Metcalfe to hear you play. She is a
brilliant performer herself. We must have a musical afternoon while you
are here. Don't you think you could spare her for a week, Miss Merivale?
We shall have so much to do."

"We will see, my dear," said Miss Merivale, getting up. "A week sounds a
long time. But we will see. We must go now, Rosie. The carriage will be
waiting. You and Miss Desborough must come and see us, my dear. I am sure
even a day in the country would be good for you. Don't you pine for the
country now the spring is coming?"




CHAPTER II.

WOODCOTE.


The drive home to Woodcote was a very silent one. Miss Merivale and Rose
were both absorbed in their own thoughts, and neither of them even dimly
divined the thoughts of the other.

It had never entered Miss Merivale's head that Rose, her pet and darling,
her little nurse and helper, could be longing to live with Pauline in
London; and how could Rose have guessed that her aunt's thoughts were
fixed on Rhoda Sampson, the girl Pauline had spoken of in such
contemptuous terms? She supposed her aunt was asleep, she sat so still in
the corner of the carriage with her eyes closed, and she took good care
not to disturb her. She was glad to be free to dwell on the delightful
visions Pauline had called up for her.

Miss Merivale roused herself as the carriage turned in at the gates of the
drive. The March twilight had gathered thickly, and lights were shining
from the windows of the low, irregular house. They could see them
twinkling through the trees.

"I wonder if Tom is back from Guilford yet, Rosie. He will scold us for
being late. Oh, how sweet and fresh the air is here! Don't you pity those
girls cooped up in that stuffy little flat? You must not promise to stay a
week with them, Rosie. You would find two days quite long enough."

Rose was saved from attempting to answer this by the carriage stopping
before the wide porch. A short, fair-haired young man, with a pleasant
face and merry blue eyes, was waiting to open the door.

"Auntie, you have no business to be out as late as this and an east wind
blowing," he said, in a playful scolding tone. "Rose, you should not have
allowed it. But come in. There is a jolly fire in the dining-room, and tea
is quite ready. Next time you go to London, I mean to go with you."

The dining-room looked a picture of comfort, with the curtains drawn, and
the table laid for tea. Miss Merivale never had late dinner except when
she gave a dinner party. She liked the simple, old-fashioned ways she had
been accustomed to in her youth. But the table was laid with dainty care;
the swinging lamps shone upon shining silver that had been in the family
for two hundred years, on an old Worcester tea-set that had been bought by
Miss Merivale's grandmother, on bowls of early spring flowers gathered by
Rose that morning from the beautiful old garden at the back of the house.
Everything in the room spoke of long years of quiet prosperity. As Miss
Merivale took her accustomed seat at the tea-table and looked about her,
and then at Tom sitting opposite her, all unwitting of the terrible blow
that might be about to fall on him, she could scarcely keep back the sob
that rose to her lips.

Tom met her glance without seeing the trouble in it, and he smiled
cheerfully back at her.

"Well, how did the shopping get on?" he asked, "Did you remember the
seeds, Rose?"

Rose gave him a guilty look. "Oh, Tom, I quite forgot. Did you want them?"

He looked vexed for a moment, but only for a moment. "It does not matter.
I can write. I promised Jackson he should have them this week. Cousin Ann
has a wonderful show of anemones this year, Aunt Lucy. The square bed in
the back garden is brilliant with them. We must try them here again next
year. I don't intend to be satisfied till we have beaten Cousin Ann."

"She says the soil here doesn't suit anemones; they are fanciful
flowers," returned Miss Merivale. "Then you went to Broadhurst, Tom?"

"Yes, I just managed it. Old Mrs. Harding was there. She is failing very
fast, poor old soul. Part of the time she thought I was Cousin James, Aunt
Lucy. She wanted to know when I heard last from my sister Lydia."

Miss Merivale put her cup down with a little clatter. Her hand had begun
to tremble. "You are very much like James, Tom," she said, glancing at the
portrait that hung on the wainscoted wall just above him, "and you get
more like him every day."

It was the portrait of her only brother she was looking at. Tom and Rose
were her cousin's children, though they called her aunt. She had adopted
them when Rose was a baby and Tom a sturdy lad of five. Woodcote had been
their home ever since. Tom had grown up knowing that the estate was to be
his at Miss Merivale's death. James Merivale had died young, ten years
before his father; and Lydia, Miss Merivale's only sister, had married
against her father's wishes, and had been disowned by him. After vainly
trying to gain his forgiveness, she and her husband emigrated to
Australia, and for some years nothing was heard of them. Then Lydia wrote
to her father, telling him that she was a widow, and begging him to send
her money that she might come home. The stern old man burnt the letter
without answering it and without showing it to his daughter Lucy, and the
next news came in a letter written by Lydia to her sister.

She had married again, her husband's partner, James Sampson, and had a
little daughter, whom she had named Rhoda, after her mother. The letter
asked for money, and Miss Merivale sent what she could, though she had
little to send, for her father demanded a strict account of all she spent.

She gave him the letter to read, and he returned it to her without a word;
but his heart must have relented towards his disobedient daughter at the
last, for by a codicil to his will it was provided that at Miss Merivale's
death Woodcote was to pass to Lydia, or, in the event of her not surviving
her sister, to her daughter Rhoda.

But poor Lydia never knew that her father had forgiven her. She died three
days before him; and when her sister's letter reached Australia, James
Sampson had broken up his home in Melbourne and started with his little
daughter for a distant settlement. He never reached the settlement, and
all Miss Merivale's efforts to trace him proved fruitless. She at last
accepted the belief of the lawyers that he had lost his way, and, like so
many other hapless wanderers, had perished in the bush.

When Tom had become dear as a son to her, fears would sometimes rise that
his claim to Woodcote might one day be disputed; but as the quiet years
went on these fears ceased to present themselves, and when Pauline
mentioned Rhoda Sampson the name had gone through her like a knife. She
tried--she had been trying ever since--to tell herself that it was
impossible it could be James Sampson's child, but the terror had laid fast
hold of her, and she could not shake it off. It was as James Sampson's
child she had always thought of her niece. Her heart had refused to give
her the place Lydia's little girl had a right to claim. She could not
think of her as Lydia's.

Tom had not noticed his aunt's agitation at the mention of her sister's
name. He went on speaking of his visit to Broadhurst.

"They want you to spend a day or two there next week, Rosie. Mr. Powell
has asked Laura to sing at the concert, and she wants to practise with
you."

Rose's pretty face clouded over. "But I am going to stay with Pauline next
week. And I wish people wouldn't ask Laura to sing in public. She can't
sing."

"It's a pleasure to listen to her, though," returned Tom sturdily. "We
aren't all as critical as you, Rosie; and our Parish Room isn't the Albert
Hall. You had much better go to Broadhurst than to Chelsea. Miss Smythe
and Miss Desborough live in two cupboards up among the clouds, don't
they?"

"It isn't quite as bad as that, my dear," broke in Miss Merivale, as she
saw Rose's vexed expression. "I promised that Rose should stay with them
for a day or two. I thought that if you went up to Joachim's concert you
might leave Rose behind, and fetch her next day."

"But, Aunt Lucy, Pauline said a week!" exclaimed Rose in dismay. "We could
do nothing in a day. And we want to do so much. Time always flies so fast
in London. One _lives_ there."

"We only vegetate here, eh, Rosie?" said Tom in a tone of good-humoured
banter. "Was Wordsworth a vegetable too? He lived in the country, you
know."

But Rose refused to answer this. "Aunt Lucy, I may stay longer than a day,
may I not?"

"Yes, dear, of course. Don't mind Tom's teasing. I must go up to town
again to-morrow, I find, and I will call at Cadogan Mansions and see Miss
Smythe for you. And I can get your seeds, Tom."

Both Rose and Tom stared in surprise at this. "Aunt Lucy, you will tire
yourself out if you go off shopping again to-morrow," exclaimed Tom.
"Can't I go for you?"

"No; I must go, my dear. I shall go by train, I think. You shall drive me
to the station, and I can take a hansom at Victoria. No, you must not come
with me, Tom. I want to see Mr. Thomson."

"You won't be able to find your way to Lincoln's Inn by yourself," said
Tom teasingly. "We can't let her go alone, can we, Rose?"

"Don't be such foolish children," returned Miss Merivale, getting up from
the table. "I have a matter of business to talk over with Mr. Thomson,
Tom. And I would rather go alone, please."

She spoke with such unwonted decision Tom could say no more. But he was
both hurt and surprised. Miss Merivale was accustomed to ask his opinion
on every business matter. He practically managed the estate for her. It
seemed very strange to him that she should be so bent on going to see Mr.
Thomson alone. He felt as if he must have proved himself in some way
unworthy of her confidence.

Miss Merivale saw that he was hurt, though he tried his best to hide it.
But it was impossible for her to explain. She had determined to be silent
till she had seen Rhoda Sampson and found out who she was.

Rose was as much surprised as Tom at her aunt's determination to go alone
to London next day. She talked of it to Tom in the drawing-room when Miss
Merivale had gone up to her room.

"You don't think it is about her will, do you?" she said, in a hushed
tone.

Tom gave her a look of strong disgust. "I don't think anything about it.
But she isn't fit to go by herself. Get her to take Maitland, if she won't
take one of us. She was looking quite ill this evening, didn't you notice?
I wouldn't stay away a week, Rosie, if I were you. She misses you
dreadfully if you are away only a day."

"But it is so dull here, doing nothing day after day but wait on Aunt
Lucy, and pick the flowers, and look after the old people in the village,"
said Rose, moved to a sudden burst of confidence. "It's different for you,
Tom. You have your shooting and fishing, and the estate to look after, and
all the rest of it. But I'm at home all day"--

"That's where a girl ought to be, my dear," returned Tom good-humouredly.
"I'm not going to pity you. If you are dull, it's your own fault. Laura
isn't dull."

"I don't suppose an oyster is dull," was Rose's disdainful retort. "But
it's no good to talk to you, Tom."

"I don't say Laura is as clever as you, my dear," returned Tom, with
undiminished good humour. "But it is no good grumbling about your lot.
Aunt Lucy couldn't do without you, and you wouldn't leave her if you
could. So what's the use of talking? And as to your being dull, I don't
believe it. You only imagine you are. That's where your cleverness comes
in, you see. We stupid people aren't ashamed to be contented."

Rose could not help laughing at this, though she felt very cross. But she
felt Tom was right in saying that her aunt could not do without her for
very long. And she told herself sorrowfully that she must give up all hope
of sharing Pauline's flat when Clare went back to dull captivity at
Desborough Park. She could not be spared. It seemed doubtful if she would
be able to persuade her aunt and Tom to let her stay more than a day or
two when she made her promised visit in the following week.

She went up to her aunt's room to bid her good-night, feeling herself a
martyr, but determined to bear her hard lot with decent cheerfulness.

Miss Merivale was sitting at the old bureau where she kept her most
private papers. She had been reading over again the letter in which Lydia
told her of the birth of her little dark-eyed girl.

Many tears had fallen on the yellow pages before she put them away, and
she turned such a white, worn face to Rose as she entered, Rose felt
horribly ashamed at having ever thought of sharing Pauline's flat. And the
good-night embrace she gave Miss Merivale before going into the little
white room that opened from her aunt's had compunction in it as well as
warm affection.

"Aunt Lucy, do let Tom go with you to-morrow," she begged. "But must you
go to-morrow?"

"Yes, I must, dear. And I want to go alone," Miss Merivale answered. Then
she pinched Rose's cheek, trying to speak playfully. "You silly children,
am I not to be trusted to go anywhere alone? I shall start early, and get
back early. It is business I cannot put off, Rose. Perhaps to-morrow I
shall be able to tell you all about it."




CHAPTER III.

A VISIT TO KENTISH TOWN.


It was just before twelve o'clock next morning when Miss Merivale reached
Cadogan Mansions. She told the cabman to wait, and walked slowly up the
long flights of stone steps.

About half-way up, she met a girl coming down, with light springing steps,
buttoning a pair of shabby dogskin gloves. Her dress was shabby too, and
the little black straw hat had seen long service; but Miss Merivale only
noticed her bonnie face. It brightened the dreary staircase like a gleam
of sunshine.

It never struck her that this was the girl she had come to see. From
Pauline's words the day before, she had pictured Rhoda Sampson as a very
different sort of girl.

The flat was at the top of the high buildings, and Miss Merivale was out
of breath by the time she reached the neat front door with the electric
bell. She had not long to wait before her ring was answered by Mrs.
Richards, a thin, careworn woman, who ushered her into the sitting-room
where Miss Desborough sat at her writing-table.

She jumped up, with her pen in her hand. "Miss Merivale, what a delightful
surprise! Is Rose with you? I was so sorry to miss you yesterday, but I
had to go to a committee meeting. I have more work on my hands just now
than I can do. Would you mind my just finishing this letter for the post?
It is very important. I shall not be five minutes."

Miss Merivale, who had seen Clare running about the garden at Woodcote
three summers before with her hair flying, was considerably taken aback by
her extremely "grown-up" manner. She sat meekly down on the sofa and
waited for the letter to be finished.

"There, it's done!" Clare exclaimed, after a moment or two. "Now I will
just give it to Mrs. Richards, and we can have a little talk. Pauline will
be back in half an hour," She glanced as she spoke at a tiny clock on the
writing-table. "Then after lunch I must rush off to Southwark. I shall
find a big mothers' meeting waiting for me. The women bring their
needlework, and I talk to them. Last week we considered Food Stuffs in
reference to young children, and this afternoon I am going to discuss
Herbert Spencer's Theory of Education."

"Dear me! these sound very difficult subjects for you, my dear," said Miss
Merivale, trying to repress a laugh as she looked at Clare's serious young
face. "They must need a great deal of preparation."

"Yes, that is the worst of it. I haven't time for any study. We workers
lead very busy lives, Miss Merivale. I am rushing all day from one thing
to another, feeling all the time that I ought to be doing something else."

It suggested itself to Miss Merivale that work undertaken in that hurried
fashion must do more harm than good; but she was too eager to speak of
Rhoda Sampson to think much of anything else. "You have someone to help
you, Miss Smythe told us yesterday," she said. "Someone who typewrites
your letters."

"Oh, Miss Sampson? Yes, she is an energetic little thing. But she has
vexed me to-day. I particularly wanted her this afternoon, and she has
asked for a holiday. Her little cousin is ill, and she wants to take him
into the country somewhere. She has just gone. You must have met her on
the stairs."

Miss Merivale started. "Yes, I met someone coming down. Was that Miss
Sampson? Then she is not coming back to-day? I wanted some programmes
typewritten. Could you give me her address?"

"Yes, I have it here somewhere. But she will be here on Monday. I will
speak to her, if you like I shall be glad to get her some work; for after
next week I shall not want her, though I have not told her so yet. Mother
is coming home rather sooner than we expected, and I am going back to
Desborough with her."

"Indeed? You will be sorry to give up your work, won't you, my dear?"
asked Miss Merivale mechanically, as she watched Clare turning over her
address-book.

"Mother has promised that I shall come back later on and stay with Aunt
Metcalfe. I shall like that better than this. One gets tired of a flat
after a time. But here is Miss Sampson's address. Will you write to her,
or shall I tell her what you want?"

"I will go there now," Miss Merivale said, her hand closing eagerly on the
slip of paper Clare gave her. "She has just come from Australia, Miss
Smythe said."

"Yes; they have been in England a few months only. I know nothing more of
her. But she is a good little thing. Pauline does not like her, but
Pauline is too critical sometimes. I notice that she is strangely lacking
in sympathy towards girls of Miss Sampson's class."

It was a long drive from Chelsea to Acacia Road, Kentish Town. Miss
Merivale knew London very little, though she had lived near it all her
life, and the dreary, respectable streets she drove through after leaving
Oxford Street behind her oppressed her even more than Whitechapel had done
in her one visit to it with Tom, the year before, to see a loan collection
of pictures. Street after street of blank, drab-faced houses--dull,
unsmiling houses! She thought of children growing up there, wan and
joyless, like plants kept out of the sun. And then two happy-eyed boys
came running by with their satchels under their arms, while a door opened
and a woman with a smiling mother-face came out to welcome them. And Miss
Merivale confessed to herself the mistake she had been making. Where love
is, even a dull London street has its sunshine.

Acacia Road was reached at last, and the cab drew up before a small
bow-windowed house that had a card, "Apartments to Let," over the hall
door. A little servant with a dirty apron and a merry face opened the
door, and two boys with bright red pinafores came rushing from the
sitting-room behind her.

Miss Sampson wasn't in, but her aunt, Mrs. M'Alister, was, the smiling
servant-maid told Miss Merivale, and led the way into the front
sitting-room. The boys ran upstairs. Miss Merivale heard them shouting to
their mother that a lady wanted her, and she sat down on a chair near the
door, trembling all over.

The room was the ordinary lodging-house sitting-room; but though there was
a litter of toys on the worn carpet, it had evidently been carefully swept
and dusted that morning, and there was a brown jug filled with fresh
daffodils on the centre table. On the side table near Miss Merivale there
was a pile of books. She looked at the titles as she waited for a step on
the stairs--_The Civil Service Geography, Hamblin Smith's Arithmetic_, one
or two French Readers, a novel by George MacDonald, and a worn edition of
Longfellow's Poems. Miss Merivale wondered if they all belonged to Rhoda.

She was not kept waiting very long. Almost before she had finished looking
at the books she heard someone coming down the stairs, and the door opened
to admit a tall, angular woman, whose brown hair was thickly streaked with
grey. Miss Merivale found herself unable to begin at once to make the
inquiries she had come to make, and fell back on the programmes she wanted
typewritten. Mrs. M'Alister eagerly promised that Rhoda would undertake
the work. She had not a typewriter of her own, but a friend would lend the
use of hers, and Miss Merivale might rely on the work being done
punctually.

"It is very kind of Miss Desborough to recommend Rhoda," she said in her
anxious voice. "It is difficult to get work in London, we find."

"You have lately come from Australia, have you not?" asked Miss Merivale
gently.

Mrs. M'Alister was too simple-minded to discern the profound agitation
that lay beneath Miss Merivale's quiet manner. And the kind voice and
kind, gentle face of her visitor led her to be more confidential than was
her wont with strangers.

"Yes, we came back just before Christmas. When my husband died, I felt I
must come home. My brothers offered to help me with the boys. Rhoda has
taken the youngest down to one of his uncles to-day. But it's only in
Essex; she will be back to-night."

She said the last words hurriedly, as if afraid of wearying her visitor.
She little knew how Miss Merivale was hanging on her words.

"Your niece must be a great comfort to you," Miss Merivale said, after a
moment's pause. "Has she always lived with you?"

"As good as always. She wasn't five when we had her first. Her father was
our nearest neighbour; we were living up in the hills then, fifty miles
from a town. She used to stay with us for days together while her father
went off after cattle. And when he died we brought her home for good. I
haven't a girl of my own, but I've never known what it is to miss one.
Rhoda's no kith or kin to us, but she has been a daughter to me, all the
same, and a sister to the boys. We've had a hard fight since we came home,
for my brothers have been unfortunate lately, and are not able to help us
as they wanted to; but Rhoda hasn't lost heart for a moment."

Mrs. M'Alister had been drawn into making this long speech by the eager
look of interest she saw in Miss Merivale's face; but now she stopped
short, her pale face flushing a little. She felt afraid lest Miss Merivale
might think she was asking for help.

"Then I suppose she had no relatives of her own?" asked Miss Merivale,
after a pause, in which she had been struggling for her voice.

"She had some on her mother's side. I never heard their names. But her
father seemed certain that they would be unkind to the child, and he was
thankful when we promised to keep her. He was a queer, silent sort of man.
We never knew much about him, except that he had lived in Adelaide. But he
was mother and father both to Rhoda. He was just wrapped up in her. It was
a pretty sight to see them together."

There were many questions Miss Merivale would have liked to ask, but she
had not the courage to. She was afraid of betraying herself. She no longer
felt any doubt about Rhoda's parentage. James Sampson had not perished in
the bush, but had hidden himself in that lonely spot up among the hills,
where either no news of the will had reached him, or he had deliberately
refrained from communicating with England. Perhaps he thought that his
girl would be happier with the kind M'Alisters than with her rich English
relatives.

But the most probable supposition was that he had never heard of the will.
Mrs. M'Alister had said that they were living fifty miles from a town. How
easily it might have happened that the advertisements they put in the
Melbourne papers had never been seen by him.

As soon as she could she got away, after arranging that Rhoda should bring
the programmes to Woodcote one day in the following week, so that she
might talk over with her the details of some other work she wanted done.
Miss Merivale marvelled at herself for the calmness with which she settled
all this.

But when once she was in the cab her strength left her. After telling the
man to drive her to Victoria, she sank back faint and trembling. The
alternatives that lay before her seemed equally impossible. If Rhoda was
Lydia's child, her own niece, her successor to Woodcote, how could she
leave her unacknowledged? How could she be silent about the discovery she
had made, even for a day? And as Miss Merivale thought this she stretched
her hand to the check-string, determining to drive at once to Lincoln's
Inn to see her lawyer.

But her hand dropped at her side. All his life Tom had thought of Woodcote
as his inheritance; every stone, every blade of grass, was dear to him. He
would have to leave it, to go out into the world to fight for his living.
How could she let him go? If she was silent, no one would be likely to
guess that Rhoda was Lydia's child. She was not mentioned by name in the
will. And she should not suffer. Ways and means of providing for her could
be found. But she could not have Woodcote. That was Tom's. It would break
Tom's heart to give it up.

As Miss Merivale thought of Tom her heart grew hard against Rhoda. She who
had never hated anyone felt herself in danger of hating Lydia's little
girl. Tears burst from her eyes and streamed down her cheeks. She did not
think of wiping them away. She sat with her hands clasped on her lap,
staring miserably in front of her. What she was to do she did not know.




CHAPTER IV.

TOM AND RHODA MEET.


On the day of the Joachim concert Tom and Rose went up to London soon
after breakfast.



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