A Pair of Clogs

General Information

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A Pair of Clogs by Amy Walton was published in 1888.

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K. C. Lee
Story Collector
June 13, 2011

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Her First Home

"My! What a pretty pair of clogs baby's gotten!"

The street was narrow and very steep, and paved with round stones; on each side of it were slate-coloured houses, some high, some low; and in the middle of it stood baby, her curly yellow head bare, and her blue cotton frock lifted high with both fat hands. She could not speak, but she wanted to show that on her feet were tiny new clogs with bright brass tips.

She stopped in front of all her acquaintances, men, women, children, and even dogs. Each of them, except the last, made much the same remark, and she then toddled cheerfully on, until nearly everyone in the village of Haworth knew of this wonderful new thing.

The baby's mother lived in Haworth, but all day long she had to work in the town of Keighley down below in the valley, for she was a factory-girl. From the hillside you could see the thick veil of smoke, never lifted, which hung over the tall chimneys and grey houses; the people there very seldom saw the sky clear and blue, but up at Haworth the wind blew freshly off the wide moor just above, and there was nothing to keep away the sunshine. This was the reason that Maggie Menzies still lived there, after she had taken to working in the factory; it was a long walk to and from Keighley, but it was healthier for the "li'le lass" to sleep in the fresh air. Everything in Maggie's life turned upon that one small object; the "li'le lass" was her one treasure, her one golden bit of happiness, the reason why she cared to see the sun shine, or to eat, or drink, or rest, or to be alive at all. Except for the child she was alone in the world, for her husband had been killed in an accident two years ago, when the baby was only a month old. Since then she had been Maggie's one thought and care; no one who has not at some time in their lives spent all their affection on a single thing or person can at all understand what she felt, or how strong her love was. It made all her troubles and hardships easy merely to think of the child; just to call to mind the dimples, and yellow hair, and fat hands, was enough to make her deaf to the whirr and rattle of the restless machinery, and the harsh tones of the overseer. When she began her work in the morning she said to herself, "I shall see her in the evening;" and when it was unusually tiresome during the day, and things went very wrong, she could be patient and even cheerful when she remembered "it's fur her." The factory-girls with boisterous good-nature had tried to make her sociable when she first came; they invited her to stroll with them by the river in the summer evenings, to stand and gossip with them at the street corners, to join in their parties of pleasure on Sundays. But they soon found it was of no use; Maggie's one idea, when work was over, was to throw her little checked shawl over her head, and turn her steps quickly towards a certain house in a narrow alley near the factory, for there, under the care of a neighbour, she left her child during the day.

It would have been much better, everyone told her, to leave her up at Haworth instead of bringing her into the smoky town; Maggie knew it, but her answer was always the same to this advice:

"I couldn't bring myself to it," she said. "I niver could git through the work if I didn't know she was near me."

So winter and summer, through the damp cold or the burning heat, she might be seen coming quickly down the steep hill from Haworth every morning clack, clack, in her wooden shoes, with her child in her arms. In the evening her pace was slower, for she was tired, and the road was hard to climb, and the child, generally asleep, weighed heavily. For the baby was getting beyond a baby now; she was nearly two years old. How pretty she was, how clever, what dear little knowing ways she had, what tiny feet and hands! How yellow her hair was, how white her skin! She was unlike any child in Haworth; she was matchless!

And indeed, quite apart from her mother's fond admiration, the baby was a beautiful child, delicately formed, and very different from the blunt-featured children of those parts; she was petted by everyone in the village, and had in consequence such proud, imperious little ways that she was a sort of small queen there; the biggest and roughest man among them was her humble subject, and ready to do her bidding when she wished to be tossed in the air or to ride pickaback. She could say very few words yet, but nothing could exceed her brightness and intelligence--a wonderful baby indeed!

She had been christened Betty; but the name was almost forgotten in all sorts of loving nicknames, and lately the people of Haworth had given her a new one, which she got in the following manner:--

Nearly at the bottom of the steep village street there was a cobbler's stall which Maggie passed every day in her journeys to and from Keighley. It was open to the road, and in it hung rows and rows of clogs of all sizes--some of them big enough to fit a man, and some for children, quite tiny. They all had wooden soles, and toes slightly turned-up tipped with gleaming brass, and a brass buckle on the instep; nearly all the people in Haworth and all the factory-girls in Keighley wore such shoes, but they were always called "clogs." Inside the stall sat an old man with twinkling blue eyes, and a stumpy turned-up nose: he sat and cobbled and mended, and made new clogs out of the old ones which lay in great heaps all round him. Over his stall was the name "T Monk," but in the village he was always known as Tommie; and though he was a silent and somewhat surly character, Tommie's opinion and advice were often asked, and much valued when given. Maggie regarded him with admiration and respect. When she passed with her child in her arms he always looked up and nodded, though he seldom gave any other answer to her "Good-day, Master Monk." Tommie never wasted his words: "Little words mak' bonnie do's," he was accustomed to say.

But one evening the sun happened to shine on the row of brass-tipped clogs, and made them glisten brightly just as Maggie went by. It caught the baby's attention, and she held out her arms to them and gave a little coo of pleasure.

"T'little lass is wantin' clogs, I reckon," said Tommie with a grim smile.

Maggie held out the baby's tiny foot with a laugh of pride.

"Here's a foot for a pair of clogs, Master Monk," she said; "t'wouldn't waste much leather to fashion 'em."

Tommie said nothing more, but a week afterwards he beckoned to Maggie with an important air as she went by.

"You come here," he said briefly.

Maggie went into the stall, and he reached down from a nail a pair of tiny, neatly finished clogs. They had jaunty brass-bound toes, and a row of brass nails all round where the leather joined the wooden sole, and on the instep there gleamed a pair of smart brass clasps with a pattern chased on them.

"Fur her," said Tommie as he gave them to Maggie. As he did so the baby stretched out her hands to the bright clasps.

"See!" exclaimed the delighted Maggie; "she likes 'em ever so. Oh, Master Monk, how good of yo'!"

"Them clasps is oncommon," said Tommie, regarding his work thoughtfully, his blue eyes twinkling with satisfaction, "I cam' at 'em by chance like."

Maggie had now taken off her baby's shoe, and fitted the clog on to the soft little foot.

"Ain't they bonnie?" she said.

The baby leaned forward and, seizing one toe in each hand, rocked herself gently to and fro.

Tommie looked on approvingly.

"Yo'll find 'em wear well," he said; "they're the best o' leather and the best o' workmanship."

After six months more were gone the baby began to walk, and you might hear a sharp little clatter on the pavement, like the sound of some small iron-shod animal. Tommie heard it one morning just as it was Maggie's usual time to pass, and looked out of his stall. There was Maggie coming down the road with a proud smile on her face, and the baby was there too. But not in her mother's arms. No, she was erect on her own small feet, tottering along in the new wooden clogs.

"My word!" exclaimed Tommie, his nose wrinkling with gratification; "we'll have to call her Little Clogs noo."

It was in this way that Maggie's child became known in the village as "Little Clogs." Not that it was any distinction to wear clogs in Haworth, everyone had them; but the baby's feet were so tiny, and she was so eager to show her new possession, that the clogs were as much noticed as though never before seen. When she stopped in front of some acquaintance, lifted her frock with both hands, and gazed seriously first at her own feet and then up in her friend's face, it was only possible to exclaim in surprise and admiration:

"Eh! To be sure. What pretty, pretty clogs baby's gotten!"

It was the middle of summer. Baby was just two years old and a month, and the clogs were still glossy and new, when one morning Maggie took the child with her down to Keighley as usual. It was stiflingly hot there, after the cool breeze which blew off the moor on the hillside; the air was thick with smoke and dust, and, as Maggie turned into the alley where she was to leave her child, she felt how close and stuffy it was.

"'Tain't good for her here," she thought, with a sigh. "I reckon I must mak' up my mind to leave her up yonder this hot weather."

But the baby did not seem to mind it. Maggie left her settled in the open doorway talking cheerfully to one of her little clogs which she had pulled off. This she filled with sand and emptied, over and over again, chuckling with satisfaction as a stray sunbeam touched the brass clasps and turned them into gold. In the distance she could hear the noise of the town, and presently amongst them there came a new sound--the beating of a drum. Baby liked music. She threw down the clog, lifted one finger, and said "Pitty!" turning her head to look into the room. But no one was there, for the woman of the house had gone into the back kitchen. The noise continued, and seemed to draw baby towards it: she got up on her feet, and staggered a little way down the alley, tottering a good deal, for one foot had the stout little clog on it, and the other nothing but a crumpled red sock. By degrees, however, after more than one tumble, she got down to the end of the alley, and stood facing the bustling street.

It was such a big, noisy world, with such a lot of people and horses and carts in it, that she was frightened now, put out her arms, and screwed up her face piteously, and cried, "Mammy, mammy!"

Just then a woman passed with a tambourine in her hand and a bright coloured handkerchief over her head. She shook the tambourine and smiled kindly at baby, showing very white teeth.

"Mammy, mammy!" said baby again, and began to sob.

"Don't cry, then, deary, and I'll take you to mammy," said the woman. She looked quickly up the alley, no one in sight. No one in the crowded street noticed her. She stooped, raised the child in her arms, wrapped a shawl round her, and walked swiftly away. And that evening, when Maggie came to fetch her little lass, she was not there; the only trace of her was one small clog, half full of sand, on the door-step!

The woman with the tambourine hurried along, keeping the child's head covered with her shawl, at her heels a dirty-white poodle followed closely. The street was bustling and crowded, for it was past twelve o'clock, and the workpeople were streaming out of the factories to go to their dinners. If Maggie had passed the woman, she would surely have felt that the bundle in her arms was her own little lass, even if she had not seen one small clogged foot escaping from under the shawl. Baby was quiet now, except for a short gasping sob now and then, for she thought she was being taken to mammy.

On and on went the woman through the town, past the railway-station, and at last reached a lonely country road; by that time, lulled by the rapid, even movement and the darkness, baby had forgotten her troubles, and was fast asleep. She slept almost without stirring for a whole hour, and then, feeling the light on her eyes, she blinked her long lashes, rubbed them with her fists, and stretched out her fat legs.

Next she looked up into mammy's face, as she thought, expecting the smile which always waited for her there; but it was not mammy's face, or anything like it. They were sharp black eyes which were looking down at her, and instead of the familiar checked shawl, there was a bright yellow handkerchief over the woman's head, and dangling ornaments in her ears. Baby turned up her lip in disgust, and looked round for someone she knew, but everything was strange to her. The woman, in whose lap she was lying, sat in a small donkey-cart, with two brown children and some bundles tightly packed in round her; a dark man walked by the side of it, and a dirty-white poodle ran at his heels. Discovering this state of things baby lost no time, but burst at once into loud wailing sobs and cries of "Mammy, mammy; me want mammy."

She cried so long and so bitterly that the woman, who had tried at first to soothe her by coaxing and petting, lost patience, and shook her roughly.

"Be still, little torment," she said, "or I'll throw you into the pond."

They were the first angry words baby had ever heard, and the experience was so new and surprising that she checked her sobs, staring up at the woman with frightened tear-filled eyes. She soon began to cry again, but it was with much less violence, only a little distressed whimper which no one noticed. This went on all day, and by the evening, having refused to touch food, she fell into an exhausted slumber, broken by plaintive moans. It was now dark, and being some miles from Keighley, the tramps thought it safe to stop for the night; they turned off the main road, therefore, tethered the donkey in a grassy lane, and crept into an old disused barn for shelter. The two children, boys of eight or nine years old, curled themselves up in a corner, with Mossoo, the poodle, tucked in between them, and all three covered with an old horse-cloth. The gypsy and his wife sat talking in the entrance over a small fire of dry wood they had lighted.

"You've bin a fool, Seraminta," said the man, looking down at the baby as she lay flushed with sleep on the woman's lap, her cheeks still wet with tears. "The child'll git us into trouble. That's no common child. Anyone 'ud know it agen, and then where are we? In quod, sure as my name's Perrin."

"You're the fool," replied the woman, looking at the man scornfully. "Think I'm goin' to take her about with a lily-white skin like that? A little walnut-juice'll make her as brown as Bennie yonder, so as her own mother wouldn't know her."

"Well, what good is she to us anyhow?" continued the man sulkily. "Only another mouth ter feed. 'Tain't wuth the risk."

"You hav'n't the sperrit of a chicken," replied the woman. "One 'ud think you was born yesterday, not to know that anyone'll give a copper to a pretty little kid like her. Once we git away down south, an' she gives over fretting, I mean her to go round with the tambourine after the dog dances in the towns. She'll more than earn her keep soon."

The man muttered and growled to himself for a short time, and said some very ugly words, but presently, stretched on the ground near the fire, he settled himself to sleep. The short summer night passed quickly away, and nothing disturbed the sleepers; the owls and bats flitted in and out of the barn, as was their custom, and, surprised to find it no longer empty, flapped suddenly up among the rafters, and looked down at the strangers by the dim light of the moon; at the two children huddled in the corner, with Mossoo's tangled head between them; at the dark form of Perrin, near the ashes of the fire; and at the fair child in Seraminta's arms, sleeping quietly at last. Before the cock in the farmyard near had answered a shrill friend in the distance more than twice, the whole party, except the baby, was awake, the donkey harnessed, and the journey continued.

Day after day passed in the same manner, and baby still cried for "Mammy," but every day less and less, for the tramps were kind to her in their rough way, and fortunately her memory was short, and soon ceased to recall Maggie's loving care and caresses. So before she had led her new life a week, she had found things to smile at again; sometimes flowers which the freckled Bennie picked for her in the hedges, sometimes the gay rattle of the tambourine, sometimes a ride on the donkey's back; the poodle also, from having been an object of fear, had now become a friend.

Mossoo was a dog who had known trouble. He well remembered the days when he had had to learn to dance, and what it was to shrink from blows, and to howl with pain and fear under punishment. Times were not so bad for him now, because his education was over, but still he had to work hard for his living. In every town they passed he must stiffen his long thin back, raise himself on his small feet, and dance gravely to the sound of the tambourine; if this happened at the end of a long day's tramp, it was both difficult and painful, but he seldom failed, for he knew the consequences--no supper and a beating.

Accordingly, until a certain sign was given, he kept one pink-rimmed eye on his mistress's face, and revolved slowly round and round, with drooping paws and an elegant curtsying movement, the centre of an admiring ring. Sometimes, when the performance was over, and he carried round a small tin plate for coppers, the spectators would drop off one by one, and give him nothing; sometimes he got a good deal, and took it to his mistress with joyful wags of his ragged tasselled tail. Now, Mossoo had noticed the addition of baby to the accustomed party, and also her passionate sobs and cries. She was in trouble, as he had often been, and one day this trouble was even deeper than usual. They had stopped to rest in a little wayside copse, and after the donkey was unharnessed the man and the two boys had started off on a foraging expedition, or, in other words, to see what they could beg or steal from the farmyards and houses near. Mossoo was left behind. Crouched on the ground, with his nose between his paws, he kept a watchful eye on Seraminta, who was busying herself with the child. She was going to make her "so as her own mother wouldn't know her." And first with a piece of rag she smeared over her pretty white skin with some dark juice out of a bottle; next she took off the little frock and underclothes which Maggie had always kept so neatly, and put on her a frock and petticoat of stiff striped stuff. Then she proceeded to remove the one little clog, but this baby resented. She had been quiet till now, and allowed her things to be changed without resistance, but this last indignity was too much. She fought, and kicked, and cried, and pushed at the woman with her tiny hands. Poor baby! They were far too small and weak to be of any use. In no time the friendly little clog, with its glistening clasp and bright toe, was gone, and in its place there was an ugly broken-out boot which had once belonged to Bennie. Her work done, Seraminta put the child on the ground and gave her a hard crust to play with. Baby immediately threw it from her with all her strength, cast herself flat on her face, and shrieked with anger and distress. She was heartbroken to have the clog taken from her, and cried as violently for it as she had done for mammy.

"You've got a fine temper of yer own, my young queen," said Seraminta, looking down at the small sobbing form. She did not attempt to quiet her, but turning away proceeded to arrange some bundles in the cart which stood at a short distance.

Mossoo was not so indifferent; he had watched the whole affair, and if he did not understand why the baby cried, at least he knew she was in trouble. True he had not seen a stick used, but here was the same result. He went and sat down near her, and wagged his tail to show he sympathised, but as she was lying on her face she did not even know he was there, and the sobs continued. Finding this, Mossoo sat for some time with his tongue hanging out, uncertain how to proceed, but presently noticing a little bit of bare fat neck he gave it a gentle lick. Baby turned her head; there were two bright eyes with pink rims close to her, and a ragged fringe of dirty-white hair, and a red tongue lolling out; she was so startled at this that she screamed louder than ever, and hid her face again. Unsuccessful, but full of zeal and compassion, the poodle next bethought himself of finding her a stick or a stone to throw for him; Bennie was never tired of playing this game with him, and perhaps the baby might like it too. He ran sniffing about with his nose to the ground, and presently caught sight of something that glistened, lying in the grass near the cart. It was the little clog. Quite unconscious of making a lucky hit, he took it in his mouth, carried it to her, and placed it with gentle care close to her ear. This time Mossoo had done the right thing, for when she saw what he had brought, a watery little smile gleamed through baby's tears, her sobs ceased, she sat up and seized the clog triumphantly. Waving it about in her small uncertain hands, she hit the friendly poodle smartly on the nose with it as he stood near; then leaning forward, grasped his drooping moustache and pulled it, which hurt him still more; but he did not cease to wag his tail with pleasure at his success.

From that day "Mossy," as she called the dog, was added to the number of baby's friends--the other two were Bennie and the little clog. To this last she confided, in language of her own, much that no one else understood, and Seraminta did not again attempt to take it from her. She was thankful that the child had something to soothe her in the stormy fits of crying which came when she was offended or thwarted in her will. At such times she would kick and struggle until her little strength was exhausted, and at last drop off to sleep with the clog cuddled up to her breast. Seraminta began to feel doubtful as to the advantages of her theft, and Perrin, the gypsy man, swore at his wife and reproached her in the strongest language for having brought the child away.

"I tell you what, my gal," he said one day, "the proper place for that child's the house, an' that's where she'll go soon as I git a chance. She've the sperrit of a duchess an' as 'orty in her ways as a queen. She'll never be no good to us in our line o' bizness, an' I'm not agoin' to keep her."

They wrangled and quarrelled over the subject continually, for Seraminta, partly from obstinacy, and partly because the child was so handsome, wished to keep her, and teach her to perform with the poodle in the streets. But all the while she had an inward feeling that Perrin would outwit her, and get his own way. And this turned out to be the case.

Travelling slowly but steadily along, sometimes stopping a day or so in a large town, where Seraminta played the tambourine in the streets, and Mossoo danced, they had now left the north far behind them. They were bound for certain races near London, and long before they arrived there Perrin had determined to get rid of the child whom he daily disliked more; he would leave her in the workhouse, and the burden would be off his hands. Baby's lucky star, however, was shining, and a better home was waiting for her.

One evening after a long dusty journey they came to a tiny village in a pleasant valley; Perrin had made up his mind to reach the town, two miles further on, before they stopped for the night, but by this time the whole party was so tired and jaded that he saw it would be impossible to push on. The donkey-cart came slowly down the hill past the vicarage, and the vicar's wife cutting roses in her garden stopped her work to look at it. At Seraminta seated in the cart with her knees almost as high as her nose, and her yellow handkerchief twisted round her head; at the dark Perrin, striding along by the donkey's side; at Mossoo, still adorned with his last dancing ribbon, but ragged and shabby, and so very very tired that he limped along on three legs; at the brown children among the bundles in the cart; and finally at baby. There her eyes rested in admiration: "What a lovely little child!" she said to herself. Baby was seated between the two boys, talking happily to herself; her head was bare, and her bush of golden hair was all the more striking from its contrast with her walnut-stained skin. It made a spot like sunlight in the midst of its dusky surroundings.

"Austin! Austin!" called out the vicar's wife excitedly as the cart moved slowly past. There was no answer for a moment, and she called again, until Austin appeared in the porch. He was a middle-aged grey-haired clergyman, with bulging blue eyes and stooping shoulders; in his hand he held a large pink rose. "Look," said his wife, "do look quickly at that beautiful child. Did you ever see such hair?" The Reverend Austin Vallance looked.

"An ill-looking set, to be sure," he said. "I must tell Joe to leave Brutus unchained to-night."

"But the child," said his wife, taking hold of his arm eagerly, "isn't she wonderful? She's like an Italian child."

"We shall hear of hen-roosts robbed to-morrow," continued Austin, pursuing his own train of thought.

"I feel perfectly convinced," said his wife leaning over the gate to look after the gypsies, "that that little girl is not theirs--she's as different as possible from the other children. How I should like to see her again!"

"Well, my dear," said Austin, "for my part I decidedly hope you won't. The sooner that fellow is several miles away from here, the better I shall be pleased."

"She was a lovely little thing," repeated Mrs Vallance with a sigh.

"Well, well," said her husband; "I daresay. But here's something quite as lovely. Just look at this Captain Christie. It's the best rose I've seen yet. I don't believe Chelwood has a finer."

"Not one of the little Chelwoods was ever a quarter as pretty as that gypsy child, even when they were babies," continued his wife gazing absently at the rose, "and now they're getting quite plain."

She could not forget the beautiful child all that evening, though she did not receive the least encouragement to talk of her from her husband. Mr Vallance was not so fond of children as his wife, and did not altogether regret that he had none of his own. His experience of them, drawn from Squire Chelwood's family who lived a little further up the valley, did not lead him to think that they added to the comfort of a household. When they came to spend the day at the vicarage he usually shut himself into his study, and issuing forth after they were gone, his soul was vexed to find footmarks on his borders, his finest fruit picked, and fragments of a meal left about on his smooth lawn. But Mrs Vallance grudged them nothing, and if she could have found it in her heart to envy anyone, it would have been Mrs Chelwood at the White House, who had a nursery and school-room full of children.

On the morning after the gypsies had passed, the Reverend Austin Vallance was out even earlier than usual in his garden. He was always an early riser, for he liked time for a stroll before taking the service in his little church. Just now his roses were in full perfection, and the weather was remarkably fine, so that it was scarcely six o'clock before he was out of doors. It was certainly a beautiful morning. By and by it would be hot and sultry, only fit for a sensible man to sit quietly in his study and doze a little, and make extracts for his next sermon. Now, it was deliciously cool and fresh. The roses were magnificent! What a pity that the blaze of the sun would soon dim their glorious colours and scorch their dewy fragrance. It would be a good plan to cut a few at once before they were spoilt by the heat. He took his knife out of his pocket and hesitated where to begin, for he never liked to cut his roses; but, remembering that Priscilla would insist on having some indoors, he set to work on the tree nearest him, and tenderly detached a full-blown Baroness Rothschild. He stood and looked at it complacently.

"I don't believe," he said to himself, "that Chelwood, with all his gardeners, will ever come up to my roses. There's nothing like personal attention. Roses are like children--they want individual, personal attention. And they pay for it. Children don't always do that."

At this very moment, and just as he was turning to another tree, a little chuckling laugh fell on his ear. It was such a strange sound in the stillness of the garden, and it seemed so close to him, that he started violently and dropped his knife. Where did it come from? He looked vaguely up in the sky, and down on the earth--there was nothing living to be seen, not even a bird. "I must have been mistaken," he thought, "but it's very odd; I never heard anything more clearly in my life." He picked up his knife, and moved further along the turf walk, a good deal disturbed and rather nervous. At the end of it there was a rustic sort of shed, which had once been an arbour, but was now only used for gardening tools, baskets, and rubbish: over the entrance hung a mass of white climbing roses. Walking slowly towards this, and cutting a rose or two on his way, Mr Vallance was soon again alarmed by the same noise--a low laugh of satisfaction; this time it came so distinctly from within the shed, that he quickened his pace at once and, holding back the dangling branches, looked in with a half feeling of dread. What he saw there so astonished him that he stood motionless for some moments, as though struck by some sight of horror. On the floor was a large wooden marketing basket, and in this, wrapped in an old shawl, lay a little child of two years old. She had bright yellow hair, and a brown skin, and in her fat hands she held a queer little shoe with brass nails in it and brass clasps; she was making small murmuring sounds to herself, and chuckling now and then in perfect contentment. Mr Vallance stared at her in great perplexity; here was a puzzling thing! Where did the child come from, and who had left it there? Whoever it was must come and take it away at once. He would go and tell Priscilla about it--she would know what to do. But just as he let the creepers fall back over the entrance a tiny voice issued from the basket.

"Mossy," it said; "me want Mossy."

"Now, who on earth is Mossy?" thought the troubled vicar, and without waiting to hear more he sped into the house and told his tale to. Priscilla.

In a very short time Priscilla was on the spot, full of interest and energy. She knelt beside the basket and looked at the child, who stared back at her with solemn brown eyes.

"I suppose it's one of the village children," said her husband, standing by.

"Village children, Austin!" repeated his wife looking round at him; "do you really mean to say that you don't recognise the child?"

"Certainly not, my dear; I never saw it before to my knowledge."

"Why, of course it's the gypsy child we saw yesterday. And now you see I was right."

"What an awful thing!" exclaimed Mr Vallance. He sat down suddenly on the handle of a wheel-barrow close by, in utter dejection. "Then they've left it here on purpose!"

"Of course they have," said Mrs Vallance; "and you see I was right, don't you?"

"I don't know what you mean," said the vicar getting up again, "by being right. Everything's as wrong as it can be, I should say."

"I mean, that she doesn't belong to those gypsies. I was sure of it."

"Why not?" asked her husband helplessly.

"Because no mother would have given up a darling like this--she would have died first."

Mrs Vallance had taken the child on her knee while she was speaking and opened the old shawl: baby seemed to like her new position, she leaned her curly head back, stretched out her limbs easily, and gazed gravely up at the distracted vicar.

"Well," he said, "whoever she belongs to, there are only two courses to be pursued, and the first is to try and find the people who left her here. If we can't do that, there only remains--"

"What?" asked his wife looking anxiously up at him.

"There only remains--the workhouse, my dear Priscilla."

Priscilla pressed the child closer to her and stood upright facing him.

"Austin," she said, "I couldn't do it. You mustn't ask me to. I'll try and find her mother. I'll put an advertisement in the paper; but I won't send her to the workhouse. And you couldn't either. You couldn't give up a little helpless child when Heaven has laid it at your very threshold."

Mr Vallance strode quickly up and down the garden path; he foresaw that he would have to yield, and it made him very angry.

"Nonsense, my dear," he said testily; "people are much too fond of talking about Heaven doing this and that. That ill-looking scamp of a gypsy fellow hadn't much to do with Heaven, I fancy."

"Heaven chooses its own instruments," said Priscilla quietly; and Mr Vallance made no answer, for he had said that very same thing in his last sermon.

"I'll have those tramps looked after at any rate," he said, rousing himself with sudden energy. "I'll send Joe one way, and drive the other way myself in the pony-cart. They can't have got far yet."

He hurried out of the garden, and Mrs Vallance was left alone with her prize. It was almost too good to be true. Already her mind was busy with arrangements for the baby's comfort and making plans for her future--the blue-room looking into the garden for the nursery, and the blacksmith's eldest daughter for a nurse-maid, and some little white frocks and pinafores made; and what should she be called? Some simple name would do. Mary, perhaps. And then suddenly Mrs Vallance checked herself.

"What a foolish woman I am!" she said. "Very likely those horrible people will be found, and I shall have to give her up. But nothing shall induce me to believe that she belongs to them."

She kissed the child, carried her into the house, and fed her with some bread and milk, after which baby soon fell into a sound sleep. Mrs Vallance laid her on the sofa, and sat near with her work, but she could not settle at all quietly to it. Every moment she got up to look out of the window, or to listen to some sound which might be Austin coming back triumphant with news of the gypsies. But the day went on and nothing happened. The vicarage was full of suppressed excitement, the maids whispered softly together, and came creeping in at intervals to look at the beautiful child, who still clasped the little clog in her hands.

"Yonder's a queer little shoe, mum," said the cook, "quite a cur'osity."

"I think it's a sort of toy," replied Mrs Vallance, for she had never been to the north of England and had never seen a clog.

"Bless her pretty little 'art!" said the cook, and went away.

It was evening when Mr Vallance returned, hot, tired, and vexed in spirit. His wife ran out to meet him at the gate, having first sent the child upstairs.

"No trace whatever," he said in a dejected voice.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Priscilla, trying not to look too pleased, and just then a casement-window above their heads was thrown open, a white-capped head was thrust out, and an excited voice called out, "Ma'am! Ma'am!"

"Well, what?" said Mrs Vallance, looking up alarmed.

"It's all come off, mum--the brown colour has--and she's got a skin as white as a lily."

Mrs Vallance cast a glance of triumph at her husband, but forebore to say anything, in consideration of his depressed condition; then she rushed hurriedly upstairs to see the new wonder.

And thus began baby's life in her third home, and she brought nothing of her own to it except her one little clog.


The village of Wensdale was snugly shut in from the rest of the world in a narrow valley. It had a little river flowing through it, and a little grey church standing on a hill, and a rose-covered vicarage, a blacksmith's forge, and a post-office. Further up the valley, where the woods began, you could see the chimneys of the White House where Squire Chelwood lived, and about three miles further on still was Dorminster, a good-sized market-town. But in Wensdale itself there was only a handful of thatched cottages scattered about here and there round the vicarage. Life was so regular and quiet there that you might almost tell the time without looking at the clock. When you heard cling, clang, from the blacksmith's forge, and quack, quack, from the army of ducks waddling down to the river, it was five o'clock. Ding, dong from the church-tower, and the tall figure of Mr Vallance climbing the hill to read prayers--eight o'clock. So on throughout the day until evening came, and you knew that soon after the cows had gone lowing through the village, and the ducks had taken their way to bed in a long uneven line, that perfect silence would follow, deep and undisturbed.

In this quiet refuge Maggie's baby grew up for seven years, under the name of Mary Vallance. She was now nine years old. As she grew the qualities which had shown themselves as a baby, and made Perrin call her as "orty as a duchess," grew also, though they were kept in check by wise and loving influences. To command seemed more natural to her than to obey, and far more pleasant, and this often caused trouble to herself and others. True, nothing could be more thorough than her repentance after a fit of naughtiness, for she was a very affectionate child; but then she was quite ready on the next occasion to repeat the offence--as ready as Mrs Vallance was to forgive it. Mary was vain, too, as well as wilful; but this was not astonishing, for from a very little child she had heard the most open remarks about her beauty. Wensdale was a small place, but there were not wanting unwise people in it, who imagined that their nods and winks and whispers of admiration were unnoticed by the child. A great mistake. No one could be quicker than Mary to see them, to give her little neck a prouder turn, and to toss back her glittering hair self-consciously. So she knew by the time she was nine years old that she had beautiful hair and lovely eyes, and a skin like milk--that she walked gracefully, and that her feet and hands were smaller and prettier than Agatha Chelwood's. All this strengthened a way she had of ordering her companions about imperiously, as though she had a right to command. "No common child," she often heard people say, and by degrees she came to think that she was very uncommon indeed--much prettier and cleverer than any of the other children. "You've no call to be so tossy in your ways, Miss Mary," said Rice, the outspoken old nurse at the White House; "handsome is as handsome does." But Mary treated such a remark with scorn.

If the little clog, standing on the mantel-piece in her bed-room, could have spoken, what strange and humbling things it would have told her! For to belong to poor people would have seemed dreadful to Mary's proud spirit. As it could not, however, she remained in ignorance of her real condition, and even in her dreams no remembrance of her real mother, or of the gypsies and her playfellows Bennie and Mossy, ever came to visit her.

Things at Wensdale had not altered much since Mary had been left there as a child of two years old. The roses still flourished in the vicarage garden under Mr Vallance's loving care, and he still thought them much finer than Chelwood's. At the White House there were now three children in the nursery and four in the school-room, of whom the eldest was a girl of ten named Agatha. These were Mary's constant companions; she joined them in some of their lessons and in all their pleasures and plans of amusement. Not a picnic or a treat of any kind took place without her, and though quarrels were not unknown, Mary would have been very much missed on these occasions. It was she who invented the games and gave names to the various playgrounds in the woods; she could climb well, and run swiftly, and had such a daring spirit of adventure that she feared nothing. In fact, her presence made everything so much more interesting, that, by common consent, she was allowed to take the lead, and no expedition was considered complete without her. Perhaps her contrast to the good, quiet, brown Agatha, who was so nearly her own age, made her all the more valued. Agatha was always ready to follow, to give up, to yield. She never tore her frocks, always knew her lessons, was always punctual; but she never invented anything, and had to be told exactly what to say in any game requiring imagination. So it came to pass naturally that Mary was at the head of everything, and she became so used to taking the command that she sometimes did so when it was neither convenient nor becoming. There were indeed moments when even Jackie, her most faithful supporter among the Chelwood children, rebelled against her authority, and found it poor fun for Mary always to have her own way and arrange everything.

Jackie was nine years old, and felt in himself a large capacity for taking the lead: after all, why should Mary always drive when they went out in the donkey-cart, or settle the place for the fire to be made when they had a picnic, and choose the games, and even order about Fraulein Schnipp the governess? Certainly her plans and arrangements always turned out well, but still it became tiresome sometimes. Jackie grew restive. He had a quarrel with Mary, who flew down the garden in a rage, her hair streaming behind her like the tail of an angry comet. But it did not last: Jackie had a forgiving spirit, and was too fond of her to be angry long. He was always the first to make up a dispute, so that Mary was not at all surprised to see him soon afterwards waiting outside the vicarage door in a high state of excitement. He was going to drive with father in the dog-cart to Dorminster--might Mary come too? Consent given, Mary lost no time in throwing on a hat and jacket, while Squire Chelwood's tall horse fretted and caught impatiently at his bit: then she was lifted up to Jackie on the back seat, and they were soon rolling quickly on their way. It was good of Jackie to have asked for her to go, Mary thought, after she had been so cross. She could not have done it in his place, and she determined to give him a very handsome present on his birthday, which was coming soon.

There were few things the children liked better than going into Dorminster with the squire. Beside the pleasant rapid drive, perched up on the high dog-cart, there was so much to see, particularly if it happened to be market-day; and, above all, Mr Greenop lived there. Mr Greenop was a bird-fancier, and kept an interesting shop in the market-place, full of live birds and stuffed animals in glass cases. There was always a pleasant uncertainty as to what might be found at Greenop's, for he sometimes launched out in an unexpected manner. He often had lop-eared rabbits to sell, and Jackie had once seen a monkey there: as for pigeons, there was not a variety you could mention which Greenop could not at once produce.

He was a nice little man, very like a bird himself, with pointed features and kind, bright eyes; when he wore a dash of red in his neck-cloth the resemblance to a robin was striking. The children applied to him when any of their pets were ill, and had the utmost confidence in his opinion and treatment. The most difficult cases were successfully managed by him; he had even saved the life of Agatha's jack-daw when it had swallowed a thimble. Mr Greenop was an object, therefore, of gratitude and admiration, and no visit to Dorminster was complete without going to his shop.

So when Jackie asked in an off-hand manner, "Shall you be going near Greenop's, father?" the squire knew that his answer was waited for with anxiety, and said at once:

"Yes, I'm going to the gunmaker's next door."

That was all right. Jackie screwed up his shoulders in an ecstasy.

"Father's always an immense long time at the gunmaker's," he said; "we shall have time to look at all Greenop's things. I hope he's got some new ones."

"And I want to buy some hemp-seed," said Mary.

Mr Greenop welcomed the children with his usual brisk cheerfulness, and had, as Jackie had hoped, a good many new things to show them; the nicest of all was a bullfinch which piped the tune of "Bonnie Dundee" "at command," as his owner expressed it. The children were delighted with it, and immediately asked the price, which was their custom with every article of Mr Greenop's stock, and being told, proceeded to examine further. They came upon a charming squirrel with the bushiest tail possible, and while they were admiring it Mr Greenop was called to attend on a customer.

"Jackie," said Mary suddenly, "if you might choose, what would you have out of all the shop?"

Jackie looked thoughtful. His birthday was approaching, and though he would not have hinted at such a thing, it did pass through his mind that Mary's question might have something to do with that occasion. He studied the matter therefore with the attention it deserved, for he had to consider both his own inclinations and the limits of Mary's purse. At last he said deliberately:

"The squirrel. What would you choose?"

"The piping bullfinch," said Mary, without an instant's hesitation.

"Why," exclaimed Jackie, "that's almost the most expensive thing in the shop!"

"I don't see that that matters at all," answered Mary. "You asked me what I liked best, and I like that best--much."

More customers and acquaintances had now crowded in, and the little shop was quite full.

"I believe we've seen everything," said Jackie; "let's get up in the dog-cart and wait there for father. Oh," he continued with a sigh, when they were seated again, "how jolly it must be to be Greenop! Wouldn't you like to be him?"

"No," said Mary decidedly, "I shouldn't like it at all; I couldn't bear it."

"Why?" asked Jackie.

"Oh, because he's quite a common man, and tucks up his shirt sleeves, and keeps a shop."

"Well, that's just the nice part of it," said Jackie eagerly--"so interesting, always to be among the animals and things. And then his shop's in the very best part of Dorminster, where he can see everything pass, and all his friends drop in and tell him the news. I don't expect he's ever dull."

"I daresay not," said Mary, with a shrug of contempt; "but I shouldn't like to be a common vulgar man like that."

Jackie got quite hot.

"I don't believe Greenop's vulgar at all," he said. "Look how he stuffed those pheasants for father. I heard father say, `Greenop's an uncommonly clever fellow!' Father likes to talk to him, so he can't be vulgar."

Mary did not want another quarrel; she tried to soften her speech down.

"But you see I couldn't be Mr. Greenop," she said, "I could only be Mrs. Greenop, and sit in that dull little hole at the back of the shop and darn all day."

"Oh, well," Jackie acknowledged, "that might not be so pleasant; but," he added, "you might be his daughter, and help to feed the birds, and serve in the shop."

Mary tossed her head.

"What's the good of talking like that?" she said; "I'm not his daughter, and I'm sure I don't want to be."

"But you're always fond of pretending things," persisted Jackie. "Supposing you could change, whose daughter would you like to be?"

"Well," said Mary, after a little reflection, "if I could change I should like to be a countess, or a princess, or a Lady somebody. Lady Mary Vallance sounds rather nice, I think."

Just then the squire came out of the shop, and they soon started rapidly homewards.

"Mary," said Jackie, squeezing himself close up to her, when they were well on the way, and lowering his voice mysteriously, "I've got a secret to tell you."

Jackie's secrets were never very important, and Mary was not prepared to be interested in this one.

"Have you?" she said absently; "look at all those crows in that field."

"Oh, if you don't want to hear it--" said Jackie, drawing back with a hurt expression; "it's something to do with you, too."

"Well, what is it?" said Mary; "I'm listening."

"I haven't told Agatha, or Jennie, or Patrick," continued he in an injured voice.

"Why, it wouldn't be a secret if you had," said Mary. "Go on; I really want to hear it."

"It was yesterday," began Jackie, lowering his voice again; "I was sitting in the school-room window-seat reading, and Rice came in with a message for Fraulein. And then she stayed talking about lots of things, and then they began to talk about you." Jackie paused.

"That's not much of a secret," said Mary. "Is that all?"

"Of course not. It's only the beginning. They said a lot which I didn't hear, and then Rice told Fraulein a long story in a very low voice, and Fraulein held up her hands and called out `Himmel!' But the part I really did hear was the last bit."

"Well," said Mary, "what was it? I don't think anything of what you've told me yet."

"`These awful words fell upon my ears,'" said Jackie gloomily, quoting from a favourite ghost story: "`As brown as a berry, and her name's no more Mary Vallance than mine is!'"

"But I'm not as brown as a berry," said Mary. "You must have heard wrong. They couldn't have been talking about me at all."

"I know they were," said Jackie with decision, "for when Fraulein saw me she nodded at Rice and put her finger on her lip, and Rice said something about `buried in his book.' You see," added Jackie, "I didn't really listen, but I heard--because I couldn't help it."

Wensdale was now in sight, and five minutes afterwards the dog-cart stopped at the vicarage gate.

"Don't tell anyone else," whispered Mary hurriedly as she clambered down. "I'm going to ask mother about it."

She ran into the house feeling rather excited, but almost sure that Jackie was mistaken. He often made muddles. What was her astonishment, therefore, after pouring out the story breathlessly, when Mrs Vallance, instead of laughing at the idea, only looked very grave and kept silence.

"Of course I am Mary Vallance, ain't I, mother?" she repeated.

"You are our dear little adopted daughter," said Mrs Vallance; "but that is not really your name."

"What is it then?" asked Mary.

"I do not know. Some day I will tell you how you first came here, but not until you are older."

How mysterious it all was! Mary gazed thoughtfully out into the quiet road, at the ducks splashing about in the river; but she was not thinking of them, her head seemed to whirl. Presently she said:

"Do you know my real mother and father?"

"No," answered Mrs Vallance.

"Perhaps," continued Mary, after a pause, "they live in a big house like the Chelwoods, and have a garden and a park like theirs."

"Perhaps they have," said Mrs Vallance, "and perhaps they live in a little cottage like the blacksmith and his wife, and have no garden at all."

"Oh, I shouldn't like that at all," said Mary quickly; then she suddenly threw her arms round Mrs Vallance's neck and kissed her.

"Whoever they are," she said, "I love you and father best, and always shall."

She asked a great many more questions, but Mrs Vallance seemed determined to answer nothing but "yes" and "no." It was very disappointing to know so much and yet so little, and it seemed impossible to wait patiently till she was older to hear more. At last Mrs Vallance forbade the subject:

"I don't want you to talk of this any more now, Mary," she said. "When the proper time comes, you shall hear all I have to tell; what I want you to remember is this: Whoever you are, and whatever sort of people you belong to, you cannot alter it; but you may have a great deal to do with what you are. We can all make our characters noble by goodness, however poor our stations are; but if we are proud and vain, and despise others, nothing can save us from becoming vulgar and low, even if we belong to very high rank indeed. That is all you have to think of."

Excellent advice; but though Mary heard all the words, they did not sink into her mind any more than the water on the ducks' backs in the river outside; they rolled off it at once, and only the wonderful, wonderful fact remained, that she was not Mary Vallance. Who was she, then? And, above all, what could Rice have meant by "brown as a berry?" Who was brown as a berry? Certainly not Mary herself; she was quite used to hearing that she was "as white as snow" and "as fair as a lily"--it was Agatha Chelwood who had a brown skin. Altogether it was very mysterious and deeply interesting; soon she began to make up long stories about herself, in which it was always discovered at last that she belonged to very rich people with grand titles. This was what people had meant when they whispered that she was "no common child." Mary's foolish head was in a whirl of excitement, and filled from morning to night with visions of grandeur. If the little clog could only have spoken! Mute, yet full of expression it stood there, while Mary dreamed in her little white bed of palaces and princesses.

"I was not made," it would have said, "for foot of princess or lady, or to tread on soft carpets and take dainty steps; I am a hardworking shoe made by rough hands, though the heart they belonged to was kind and gentle; I have nothing to do with luxury and idleness."

But no one understood this silent language. The clog was admired, and wondered at, and called "a quaint little shoe," and its history remained unknown.

Mary longed now to tell Jackie her mighty secret, which began to weigh too heavily to keep to herself; but when he did come to the vicarage again, he was not nearly so much impressed by it as she had hoped. This was partly, perhaps, because his mind was full of a certain project which he wished her to join, and she had scarcely bound him by a solemn promise not to breathe a word to the other children of what she had told him, than he began eagerly:

"We're going to spend the day at Maskells to-morrow--the whole day. Will Mrs Vallance let you go too?"

"Come and ask her," said Mary; and Jackie, rather breathless, for he had run the whole way from the White House, proceeded with his request:

"The donkey-cart's going," he said, "and the three little ones, and Rice, and Fraulein, and all of us, and we're going quite early because it's so hot, and we shall stop to tea, and make a fire, of course, and mother hopes you'll let Mary go."

"Well, I can't say no," said Mrs Vallance, smiling at Jackie's heated face; "but I'm not very fond of Maskells, there are so many dangerous places in it."

"Oh, you mean the forbidden rooms," said Jackie; "we don't go into those now. There are three of them, where the floor's given way, you know, with great holes in them. Maskells is such a jolly place," he added pleadingly; "we don't like any other half so well."

"You say Fraulein is going?" said Mrs Vallance.

"Yes, and Rice, too; but they won't be in the way, because Fraulein's going to sketch, and Rice will have to be with the little ones."

"I hope they will be in the way," replied Mrs Vallance, "and prevent you heedless children climbing about in unsafe places and breaking your limbs."

"Then Mary may go? And we start punctually at nine, so she mustn't be late."

Consent once given, Jackie took his departure, and his stout knickerbockered legs were soon out of sight.

Mary was delighted, for Maskells was the most charming place possible to spend a day in, and the prospect of going there made her forget for a time the one subject which had lately filled her mind--herself.

Maskells was a deserted house standing near the high-road between the White House and Dorminster; it had once been a place of some consequence, and still had pleasant meadows round it, sloping down to a river at the back; but the garden and orchard were tangled and neglected--much more interesting, the children thought, than if they had been properly cared for.

The house had two projecting wings, and quaint latticed windows; outside, it had the appearance of being in tolerable repair, but there was in truth scarcely a whole room in it, floors and ceilings had given way, and great rifts and gaps yawned in them. The rotten old staircases were all the more dangerous because they still looked firm enough to bear a light weight, and though Jackie had once crawled up to the top of one, out on to the roof, the attempt was never repeated. He had remained there for half an hour clinging on to the side of a tall chimney, unable to move, until a farmer had fetched a ladder and got him down. Since then staircases and upper rooms had been forbidden, and the children had to content themselves with playing on the ground floor and in the outhouses. There was a mystery hanging about the old place which added to its attractions, for they had heard that it had fallen into this decay and been uninhabited so long because it was "in Chancery." A mysterious expression, which might mean anything, and was more than enough to clothe it with all the terrors which belong to the unknown.

When dusk came on, and the owls and bats flapped their wings in shadowy corners, it was desirable to cling closely together and feel afraid in company--a tremor was excusable in the boldest. Patrick, indeed, always declared he had once seen a ghost in Maskells. Pressed for details, he had been unable to give any clear account of it, and was a good deal laughed at, especially by Mary; but it was dimly felt by all that there might be truth in it--anything was possible for a place "in Chancery."

Mary liked to imagine things about Maskells; it would do for the Tower of London with dungeons in it, or for Lochleven with Mary Queen of Scots escaping by night, or for a besieged castle, and hundreds of other fancies. She invented games founded on those scenes which were popular at first, but as she always took the leading parts herself, the other children soon tired of them.

"Don't let's pretend anything else," Jennie would say, who had a practical mind; "let's have a game of hide-and-seek."

And certainly no place could have been better fitted than Maskells for the purpose.

The Adventure

Mary did not fail to start in good time for the White House on the morning after Jackie's invitation, and reached the gates leading into the stable-yard just as the clock was striking nine. The donkey-cart was standing there ready, and the four elder children were busily engaged round it stowing away large parcels to the best advantage, and thrusting in a variety of small ones. There was an anxious look on all their faces, for they had so many things to remember and the cart was small. Rice, the old nurse, stood by with the youngest child in her arms; she was to ride in the cart with her three charges, who were too small to walk so far, but it seemed more than doubtful at present if there would be room by the time the packing was finished. Taught by experience, however, she wisely forebore to interfere with the arrangements and waited patiently.

"Have you got everything?" asked Mary as she entered.

There was not much more visible of Jackie than his boots, for he was making great exertions head-foremost in the cart, but he answered in a muffled voice:

"I think so. Read the list, Agatha."

"Potatoes and apples to roast--" began Agatha.

"There, now!" said Jackie, and the next minute he was plunging in at the kitchen door.

"I knew you'd forget something," said Mary triumphantly. "What a good idea it was of mine to have a list!"

Jackie soon came back with a knobbly-looking canvas bag in his hand, and followed by Fraulein Schnipp the German governess.

"I say," he said, "we've forgotten Fraulein's camp-stool and sketching things; and she says she can't go without them."

"Well," said Jennie in a low tone, "I don't believe you can get them in. I should think she might carry them herself."

"Don't," said Patrick with a nudge of his elbow; "you'll make her cry."

It was a puzzling habit that Fraulein had, to weep silently at unexpected moments, and say her feelings were hurt. This was so distressing that the children were always anxious to avoid it if possible. She stood looking on now with a pleased smile, grasping her camp-stool, and understanding very little of the chatter going on round her. Fraulein was very good-natured looking, with large soft blue eyes and a quantity of frizzy fair hair.

At last the packing was done; camp-stool, sketching-books, and three small children on the top of everything. Rice would have to walk by the side of the cart. It really was a wonderfully hot day, and there was scarcely any shade; the donkey went even slower than usual, and by the time they reached Maskells the whole party was rather exhausted-- Fraulein more so than anyone, and she sank at once on the ground under some beech-trees opposite the house. It was in this spot that the cart was always unpacked, the cloth laid, and dinner spread. Later on in the day a fire was made here to boil the kettle for tea, but until then the children were free to roam about and do as they liked.

As Jackie had said, Fraulein was anxious to make a sketch of the old house, and after dinner was over and she had a little recovered from her fatigue she planted her camp-stool conveniently and set to work. The children knew now that neither she nor Rice would be "in the way" that afternoon; they were both comfortably settled and would not be likely to stir for hours.

But it was almost too hot to play, and the games went on languidly until four o'clock, when it began to get cooler, and there were pleasant shadows round about.

"We ought to begin to pick up wood," said the careful Agatha, "or the fire won't be ready for tea-time."

"Well, we'll just have one game of hide-and-seek first," said Jackie; and so it was agreed.

Agatha hid first, but she was soon found, for she was not fond of venturing far into the dark corners round Maskells; then it was Jackie's turn, and then it came to Mary.

Determined to distinguish herself, and find a more difficult place than the others, she wandered round to the side of the house which looked upon the neglected orchard, and was furthest away from where Fraulein and Rice were sitting. She would not cry "Whoop!" for a long while, she thought, till she had found a very good place indeed. As she pushed her way among the low boughs of the apple-trees, and through the tall tangled grass which reached nearly to her waist, she felt very bold and adventurous, for the children seldom ventured on this side--it was unknown ground. Certainly the house looked far more mournful and ruinous here than it did in front. Wooden shutters were fastened outside most of the windows, and one of them had swung back and gave a dismal creak now and then on its rusty hinges. Trailing masses of convolvulus and ivy and Virginian creeper were hanging about everywhere, and the walls were covered so thickly that for some time Mary looked in vain for an entrance. But at last she saw a little low-arched door. How inviting it looked! No doubt it would be locked; but at least she would try it, and if she could get in it would be a splendid hiding-place. The others would never, never find her. She lifted the iron ring which hung from the lock, gave a little twist and a push, and was surprised to find that it yielded easily. Before her was an almost entirely dark room with a low vaulted ceiling; through the cracks in the closed shutters came faint streaks of light, and she could just see that at the end of it there was another door like the one she had entered.

Mary's heart beat fast with excitement. What was on the other side of that door? Hidden treasure, perhaps, or a dungeon where some captive had been pining for years! Here was an adventure, indeed! Everything else was now completely forgotten. She had no doubt that she was on the very edge of some great discovery; and though she did wish for a second that Jackie was there too, she decided directly afterwards that there was more honour and glory in being quite alone.

So she went boldly up to the door with a fast-beating heart and turned the handle. Wonderful! It opened at once, and straight in front of her there rose a short steep flight of stone steps, with another door, partly open, at the top. But here she stopped uncertainly, and for the first time fear was mingled with curiosity, for plainly to be heard through that half-open door came the sound of voices. It was unpleasant to remember Patrick's ghost just then. Was this where it lived? If so, she thought she would go back. Yet it would be a pity, now that she had got so far, and something urged her strongly to go and peep into the room above. Mary had many faults but she was no coward, and besides this, her proud spirit made her ashamed to run away, so after a little hesitation she crept softly up the stone steps. She hardly dared to breathe lest she should be heard, and as she went the voices became clearer and clearer: they certainly sounded just like a man and woman talking. When she reached the top she paused a minute to gather courage, and then peeped cautiously round the door.

It was a large room--one of those which Jackie had called forbidden rooms--for there was quite a big hole in one corner where the floor had given way. There was a wide open fireplace with a high carved stone mantel-piece, and on the hearth a fire of sticks crackled away under a black pipkin which stood on legs; from this there came a strange and savoury smell. A woman was crouching on the ground in front of it with her back to the door, and a tall dark man leant against the mantel-piece and fed the fire with some dry boughs which he broke into pieces. Here were no ghosts at any rate. There was something reassuring in the sight of the fire and the black pot and the smell of food; but what were they doing here, and who were they? It was perhaps some dark affair connected with "Chancery."

Mary felt frightened. She could not see the woman's face, but the man looked so evil and dark, and had such bright black eyes! She drew back her head and prepared to creep softly down the steps and make her way out. Now that she had seen these ghosts she would have plenty to tell Jackie and the others, and they would all think her very brave. She began to feel anxious to be with them again.

Just then the woman spoke.

"Bennie's late," she said. "Supper's most ready."

"He's havin' a look round," answered the man, "against to-night."

"What's the old chap's name?" continued the woman.

"Chelwood," said the man. "He's a JP."

"What's that?"

"A bloke wot sits in court and sends yer to prison," answered the man.

Mary listened with all her ears and her eyes starting with horror. Here was some dreadful plot--they were going to murder Squire Chelwood, perhaps! Should she run at once and give the alarm, or wait to hear more? While she hesitated the woman spoke again.

"I suppose it's best to begin there?"

"There's nowhere else, not to speak of," answered the man, "'cept the parson's."

The woman gave a low laugh. "I wonder how he liked the present you made him this time seven years back," she said.

She got up as she spoke to lift the lid of the pot and stir its contents; and Mary, afraid of being discovered, turned to go, trembling with excitement. Treading with great care, and feeling her way with one hand on the wall, she was almost half-way down when there fell on her ear a sound which brought her to a sudden stand-still. Towards her, coming through the empty room at the bottom of the stairs, there were footsteps plainly to be heard! Without doubt it was "Bennie" returning. The thought darted through Mary's mind, leaving her cold with terror. What could she do? To go backwards or forwards was equally dreadful-- she was caught in a kind of trap. Oh for Jackie, Fraulein, Rice, who were so near, and yet powerless to help her! All her courage gone, she sank down on the stone step, covered her face with her hands, and waited. The footsteps came nearer. In another minute the door at the foot of the stairs swung back, and a youth of eighteen or twenty came quickly up, almost stumbling over Mary in the dim light.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed, "it's a child!" He put his fingers in his mouth and gave a low strange whistle, and in a moment the gypsy and his wife came out of the room above.

"Here's a shine!" said Bennie.

He pointed to Mary, who still crouched motionless on the step with her hair falling over her shoulders. They all stood staring at her in surprise.

"Belongs to a party outside, I bet," said Bennie. "There's a lot of 'em t'other side of the house. Seed 'em as I wur comin' back."

"Did they see you?" asked the man.

"No fear," answered Bennie shortly. "Got over the wall."

They muttered hoarsely together over Mary's head, using a strange language which she could not understand; but she made out that they were annoyed, and that they could not agree what should be done. At last the woman stooped down to her.

"Where do you come from, my pretty?" she said in a wheedling tone.

Mary did not answer, but still kept her face hidden.

"Come alonger me, darling," continued the woman. She took Mary's arm, and half-dragged, half-led her into the room above. The child's hat had fallen off, and the light streamed down upon her bright yellow hair and her frightened brown eyes, as she raised them timidly to the dark faces round her. The woman started and gave a quick significant glance at her husband.

"You live at the parson's house in Wensdale, don't yer, dearie?" she said coaxingly.

"Yes," said Mary. She wondered how the woman knew.

"But you're not the parson's child," continued the woman. "Give me your hand." She bent, muttering over it: "No, no, not the parson's child-- you belong to dark people, for all so white and fair you are."

Was the woman a witch? Mary gazed at her with eyes wide with fear, and the man and boy stood by with a cunning grin on their faces.

"Seven years ago," the woman went on in a sing-song tone, "you was lost. Seven years ago you was found. Seven years you've lived with strangers, and now you've come to yer own people."

What did she mean? These dirty, dark, evil-looking tramps her own people! Mary took courage and drew herself haughtily upright.

"You're not my people," she said boldly. "I live at the vicarage, with Mr and Mrs Vallance. I must go back to the others--it's getting late."

"Not so fast, my little queen," said the woman, still holding her hand and gazing at the palm. "What's this 'ere little token I ketch sight on? Why, it's a little shoe! A little leather shoe with a row o' brass nails an' a brass toe. Now, by that 'ere token I know you belongs to us. Yonder's yer father, and yonder's yer brother; nobody and nothin' can't take you from us now."

Mary burst into tears. It was too dreadful to find that this woman knew all about her; was it possible that she belonged to her in any way?

"I can't stay with you," she sobbed, "I must go back. They wouldn't let you keep me if they knew."

"They couldn't help it," said the woman with a scornful laugh, "not all the parsons and squires as ever was couldn't."

Poor Mary! All her spirit had gone from her now, she stood helplessly crying in the middle of the room.

"Wouldn't yer like to come back to pore Seraminta, yer own mother, what brought yer up and took care on yer?" the woman said in coaxing tones, "an to father Perrin, and dear brother Bennie."

"No--no--no," sobbed Mary, "I must go home."

"Well, now," said the woman, with a side wink to the two men, "suppose we was to go agen our nateral feelin's and let you go back, what would you promise to do in return?"

"Anything--I'll do anything," said Mary, checking her tears and looking up with a gleam of hope.

"Then, look you here," said Seraminta, changing her soft tone to a threatening one, and frowning darkly. "First you've got to promise not to tell a soul of yer havin' bin in this room an' how you got 'ere. Next, to keep a quiet tongue about what you heard us say; and last, to bring all the money you've got and put it under the flat stone where the four roads meet, to-morrow at six o'clock in the evening. An' if yer do all these things we'll let you bide at the parson's. But if you breathe a word about what you've seen an' heard, whether it's in the dark or the light, whether it's sleeping or waking, whether it's to man, woman, or child, that very minute you'll be claimed for ours, and ours you'll be for ever."

The room was getting dark by this time, and the fire burning low gave a sudden flicker now and then, and died down again; by this uncertain light the dark figures standing round, and the lowering frown on Seraminta's crafty face, looked doubly awful.

Mary was frightened almost out of her wits, for she believed every word the woman had said, and thought her quite capable of carrying out her threat. The one thing was to escape. If she could only do that, she would gladly keep silence about these dreadful people and their possible relation to her.

"I promise," she said eagerly. "I never, never will. Not to anybody."

The gypsies drew together near the fire and talked in low tones, using the language which Mary could not understand: after a minute the woman came back to her.

"Give me yer handkercher," she said, and when Mary drew it tremblingly out of her pocket she tied it over the child's eyes and took hold of her hand.

"Come along," she said, and Mary followed meekly.

Although she could see nothing, she knew that they went down the stone steps and along the way she had come, and presently they were outside the house, for she felt the wind in her face and the long grass under her feet. Suddenly the woman stopped.

"Now," she said, "remember; if you speak it will be the worse for you and for your friends, an' you'll be sorry for it all your life long. An' it's Seraminta as tells you so."

"I won't," said Mary, "if you'll only let me go."

"It goes agen me," said Seraminta, pretending to hesitate, "it naterally goes agen me. But I dessay you'll be better off at the parson's than yer could be with yer pore mother. Don't forgit the money. Now count fifty, an' then take off the handkercher."

Mary began obediently; she had never been so submissive in her life. When she was half-way through the number she fancied she heard a rustle, and as she said the last one she pulled off the handkerchief and looked round. To her great relief she was quite alone, in the thickest part of the orchard; the woman had vanished, and it seemed for a moment as though it might have been some ugly dream. But no, it was too true. It had all really happened. "Ours you'll be for ever" echoed in Seraminta's harsh tones close to her ear. She shuddered, and began with feverish eagerness to push her way out through the thick growing boughs. Oh to be with the others again! After searching for some time she found a gate which led into the open fields. She could now see where she was. Oh joy! There in the distance was the well-known group of beech-trees and the blaze of a fire, round which were small figures dimly moving. Mary could have shouted for delight and relief; she set off running as hard as she could, never pausing till she arrived breathless in the midst of them. They all crowded round her, exclaiming and asking questions.

"Here she is! Where have you been? Fraulein and Rice are still looking for you. Did you lose yourself? Did you tumble down? Have you been into the forbidden rooms?"

Fortunately for Mary it was impossible to answer all these questions, so she did not attempt to answer any of them.

"Anyhow you didn't find me," she managed to say as she threw herself on the ground near the fire.

"Oh, but isn't Fraulein in a state of mind?" said Jackie. "She says she's `out of herself' with anxiety, and she's been crying. Here she comes."

Poor Fraulein now appeared with Rice. She was so greatly agitated, and yet so relieved to find that Mary had come back, that she could not express herself in English. For some moments she poured forth a torrent of German and French, half laughing and half crying, but Rice looked very cross, and said severely at once:

"You've given us all a deal of trouble and anxiety, Miss Mary, with them foolish pranks."

Mary felt as though she must cry; it was hard to be scolded when she had just come through such a terrible trial. Her eyes filled with tears, and Jackie saw them; as usual, he was her comforter in distress, and drawing near, with a blackened potato and a roasted apple in his hand, he seated himself close to her in a friendly manner.

"I cooked 'em for you myself," he said, as he made his offering; "they're awfully good ones."

This attention consoled Mary a little, and she managed to bear up, but a dulness had fallen over the whole party; Fraulein was still tearful, and Rice cross, so that none of the children were sorry when the wagonette arrived to take them back to Wensdale. To Mary it was the greatest possible relief; she never never wished to see Maskells again. When she found herself tightly squeezed in between Fraulein and Jackie, with friendly faces all round her, she began to feel safer, and very soon the last glimpse of the tall chimneys was lost to sight in a turn of the road. What a comfort it was to be with them all again! At another time she would have complained that Jackie was taking up too much room, and digging his elbow into her, but all that was altered. He could not possibly be too close, her only dread was to be left alone. She was so unusually meek, and looked so white, that presently Patrick, who was sitting opposite and staring at her with large round eyes, remarked:

"I expect Mary saw the ghost, only she won't say so."

This interesting subject once started, lasted for some time, and Mary was tortured with all manner of minute questions. She managed to answer them all somehow, but with so much less spirit than usual that it was plain to see something was wrong. Jackie made up his mind to ask her afterwards, and meanwhile Fraulein interfered.

"You shall not tease any more with your questions," she said. "Mary is fatigue."

But the questions had reminded Mary of something which till now she had forgotten--Squire Chelwood's danger. She ought to warn Jackie; but if she did, the gypsies would come and take her away, perhaps that very night. She could not risk that. And yet, Jackie's father! It would be too dreadful. "Ours you'll be for ever" seemed to sound in her ear: she shuddered; no, she could not do it. Suddenly a thought struck her, and she pulled Jackie gently by the sleeve.

"Jackie," she said softly, very softly, so that Seraminta might not hear, "where does Hamlet sleep at night?"

Hamlet was a Danish boar-hound belonging to the squire.

"Hamlet," said Jackie. "Why, he sleeps just outside father's bed-room door, and sometimes in the night he walks up and down the corridor, and his tail goes flop up against the door. Once father thought it was thieves."

"I suppose Hamlet's very strong?" said Mary earnestly.

"I should just rather think he was," said Jackie. "He wouldn't make much of a robber. He'd just rear up on his hind-legs and take him by the throat--so." He launched himself forward as he spoke, and seized Patrick by the neck.

"And that would kill the robber?" asked Mary.

"Dead as a nail," replied Jackie with decision.

"Don't you wish robbers would come some night," suggested Jennie.

"What would you do if they did?" said Agatha.

"I know what she'd do," put in Patrick quickly; "she'd hide her head under the bed-clothes and keep on screaming for Rice."

"If I had a pistol I should shoot them," said Jackie, "only mine won't go off."

"And perhaps," said Agatha, "they'd have pistols that would go off."

"Oh! I say," exclaimed Jackie suddenly, "if here isn't Mary actually crying away like anything. What's the matter with her?"

It was quite true. Overwrought and frightened, these dreadful pictures of robbers and pistols had a reality for her which was too much to bear. Mary the courageous, the high-spirited, who scorned tears and laughed at weakness, was now crying and sobbing helplessly, like the greatest coward of them all.

Fraulein put her arm round her compassionately. "She is quaite too tired," she said; "it is an attack of nerfs. Nefer mind, dear shild. When you will sleep to-night you shall feel quaite better to-morrow."

She drew her closely to her side; and Mary, who generally despised Fraulein and laughed at her broken English, was thankful now to feel the comfort of her kind protecting arm.

A Gypsy Child?

The sun was streaming through Mary's small window when she woke up somewhat later than usual the next morning. For a minute she lay with half-closed eyes, feeling very snug and comfortable, quietly gazing at all the well-known objects in the room--at the picture of the little girl reading, which hung opposite her bed, at the book-shelf with all the brightly-covered books she was so fond of, at her canary hopping restlessly in his cage, at the cuckoo clock, and finally at the little clog in the middle of the mantel-piece. But when she came to this her eyes opened wide, she sat up, rubbed them, and looked at it again; for all in a minute, just as we remember a dream, there came back to her the dreadful events of yesterday. The gypsies, the dimly-seen room, the flickering fire, Seraminta's dark face as she described the little shoe. "Ours you'll be for ever." Could it possibly be true that she, Mary Vallance, was the child of such people? What a dreadful thing! She did not feel so frightened this morning, and, her natural spirit partly returning after her night's rest, she was more inclined to believe that Seraminta had spoken falsely. "If I told father all about it," she said to herself, "I don't believe she'd dare to take me away." And yet, when she thought it over, how could the woman have known about the shoe? And besides, Rice's remark flashed across her, "brown as a berry," certainly that would apply to Seraminta, she was a darker brown than anyone Mary had ever seen. It was true, then, she really was a gypsy child, and if so, they had a right to claim her if they wished. How could she escape it? Her only chance lay in keeping perfect silence as they had told her, and also in taking them the money she had promised this evening. How much had she? Mary wondered. Her money-box, a small red post-office, stood on the mantel-piece; she jumped out of bed and counted the contents; more than usual, because she had been saving it up for Jackie's present. Now it must all go to those wicked people, and Jackie could have no present--Jackie, who was always so good to her, and who had not grudged the savings of a whole year in pennies to buy her a couple of white bantams. How unkind, how mean he would think it! Mary gazed mournfully at the money-box. It was a great trial to her, for she had a generous nature and was very fond of Jackie. Might she not leave just a little in the box? But no--she dared not. Perhaps even now there were dark eyes peering in at the window, and at night, who could tell from what unexpected quarter Perrin might appear to take her away? She must give them every penny of it. With a sigh she put all the money back, dressed herself and went down-stairs. Mr Vallance was speaking as she entered the breakfast-room, and she just caught these words:

"Such a fine fellow! I can't think how the wretches managed to kill him without noise."

Mary stopped short and turned very white; she looked anxiously at Mrs Vallance, who was pouring out tea. Was it Squire Chelwood they had killed, or was it Hamlet? She did not dare to ask any questions.

"Is anything the matter, my dear child?" asked Mrs Vallance. "You look frightened, and so pale."

Mary murmured something about being tired, and crept into her place at the table.

"I never like those expeditions to Maskells," continued Mrs Vallance; "you all run about so wildly and excite yourselves so much."

"Morris says," said Mr Vallance, turning round from the window, "that all his finest pullets are gone, too, and some of his ducks."

Morris was the poultry-man at the White House.

"Do you hear that, Mary?" said Mrs Vallance. "Morris has just been down to tell your father that the poultry-yard was robbed yesterday."

"And your old enemy the great turkey gobbler was found dead on the ground," added Mr Vallance.

Mary breathed again. If it were only the turkey gobbler.

"Was anything else killed?" she asked in a trembling voice.

"How they managed it I can't think," repeated Mr Vallance; "and they appear to have got clear off with their spoil, there's no trace of them."

"Except the poor turkey gobbler," said Mrs Vallance.

"Did they get into the house?" Mary now ventured to ask.

"No, my dear, no; they were not so daring as that. This sort of tramps is not too fond of going where there are likely to be dogs and pistols."

"We must take warning by this, Mary," said Mrs Vallance, "and be careful about our fowl-house; it would not do to lose my cochin-chinas or your pretty white bantams in the same way."

"I don't suppose there's much fear of their attempting a second robbery in the same place," said Mr Vallance. "They're probably far enough away by this time; still, I'm sorry we've no dog now. Poor old Brutus! We miss him, don't we?"

While all this was going on Mary felt as guilty as if she had stolen the fowls and killed the turkey gobbler. She knew where the thieves were, safely hidden in the old house, and no doubt planning some other dreadful deed. If she could only have spoken! Her food tasted like dry chips in her mouth, she swallowed it with the utmost difficulty, and it was only by taking great gulps of tea that she could get on at all. Mrs Vallance noticed her disturbed looks.

"I think you ran about in the sun too much yesterday, Mary," she said at last. "I will send up to Fraulein and ask her to excuse your lessons this morning. You will be better for a quiet day at home with me."

Mary was relieved not to go to the White House, for she dreaded more questions from the children, but as to spending a "quiet" day at home, that was not possible. It never would be possible any more, she thought, for now she had to consider and contrive how to get her money to the appointed place at six o'clock that evening. She knew the spot well, it was only a little distance beyond the White House. Just where the four roads met there stood a sign-post; near this was a large old oak-tree, and at its foot a broad flat stone with a hollow under one side. It was there she had to put her money, but how to get it there without observation?

Her mind was so full of this as the day went on that everything else seemed like a sort of dream; she heard Mrs Vallance talking to her, and answered, but so absently that her mother looked at her in surprise. "She is certainly very much over-tired," she said to herself; "I always knew that Maskells was not a place for the children, and I shall tell Mrs Chelwood so."

Meanwhile the dreaded hour drew nearer and nearer, the bell was ringing for evening service, and Mr Vallance came out of his study and put on his wide-awake.

"Would you rather not go to church this evening, Mary?" said Mrs Vallance.

"My head aches," answered Mary. "If they will only go without me," she said to herself, "I can do it."

"Very well, darling," said kind Mrs Vallance; "I will stay with you, and we will go on with that nice book you like so much."

Mary's face became as red as it had been white a moment ago.

"Oh, no," she stammered; "I'd rather be alone. May I go and lie down on my bed until you come back?"

What a strange request from the ever-active Mary!

"Do as you like, dear," said Mrs Vallance, and as she left the house she added to her husband, "I hope the child's not going to be ill, she looks so dull, and flushes up so."

Mary listened until she heard the click of the garden gate, then she sprang up from her bed, wrapped all her money in a piece of paper and put it in her pocket. She looked at the clock, in five minutes they would be in church, then she would start, and if she ran all the way she would be in time.

Concealment was so new to her that she felt as though she were doing something very wicked as she ran quickly along the familiar road; she met no one, but every rustle in the hedge, every innocent sound, made her start and tremble, and when in the distance she saw the tall sign-post standing there with outstretched arms she shook with fear. She reached it; no one in sight; all the four roads silent and bare; and having hidden her packet tremblingly under the broad stone she turned to go, with guilty footsteps, when suddenly, from the tree above, there fell at her feet a small screwed-up piece of paper. She looked up; amongst the thick leafy branches in the very heart of the oak there was a freckled face peering down at her. It was the youth Bennie. She stood motionless with terror, staring at him, and he pointed at the piece of paper, making signs that she was to pick it up. As she stooped to do so there sounded in the distance the steady trot of a horse, and looking round the tree she saw, coming along the road from Dorminster, a sturdy grey cob with a broad-shouldered man on his back. Even at that distance Mary knew the cob and she knew the man. It was Squire Chelwood: Bennie's quick eye saw him too.

"Hide!" he said, in a low threatening voice, and pointed to a gap in the hedge opposite.

Mary's brain reeled. Should she stop Mr Chelwood and betray Bennie? But then the gypsies would claim her, she would belong to them, they would take her away. Anything was better than that. She jumped through the gap, and crouched down behind the hedge.

On came the squire, nearer and nearer, his square shoulders rising and falling with his horse's movement, his jolly brown face puckered with a frown of annoyance; no doubt he had been trying to find out the thieves. How strong he looked, how ready he would be to help her, how glad to know where Bennie was! Now he was passing close, close to her hiding-place; if she sprang out now she could stop him. But no, she could not; in another minute it was too late, the cob had turned briskly into the Wensdale Road, and the sound of his hoofs soon became faint in the distance.

She now saw Bennie slide nimbly to the ground, cast one quick glance round, and snatch the money from under the stone; then stooping low, he ran swiftly along under the hedge in the direction of Maskells, like some active wild animal, and disappeared.

Left alone, Mary also crept out of her hiding-place and took her way back to the vicarage as fast as she could. Humble and crest-fallen, how different to the Mary of two days ago, who had such lofty ambitions! How foolish now seemed those vain dreams and fancies! No "Lady Mary," but a gypsy child; it was a change indeed. She got home before service was over, threw herself on her little bed, and hid her face on her pillow. How unhappy she was! No one could help her, and yet she had many kind friends near, who would be so sorry for her if they knew. But they must not know, that was the worst part of it, she must bear this dreadful thing all alone. She had been fond once of having "a secret," a mystery she could share with Jackie only, and talk about in corners. What a different matter it was to have a real one to keep!

Presently she heard Mrs Vallance's step on the stairs; Mary felt that she could not answer any questions about her headache, so she shut her eyes and pretended to be asleep. When her kind mother bent over her and kissed her, how hard it was not to put her arms round her neck and tell her how miserable she was; but she must not, she must lie quite still, and soon she knew that Mrs Vallance was going softly out of the room. It grew gradually dusk; Mary got up and began to undress herself, she would not go down-stairs again that night, she would go to bed at once, she thought. As she put her hand into her pocket, she felt something there beside her handkerchief, and drew it quickly out. There was the dirty scrap of paper Bennie had thrown from the tree, and which she had quite forgotten. What did it mean? Was there anything inside it? With a thrill of fear she darted to the window, untwisted the paper, and by the dim light could just make out the following scrawl: "Leeve the en roost oppen nex Munday nite." Mary gazed at it with horror, unable for the first few minutes to take in the sense, but when she did so she sank down on the ground and burst into tears. What wicked, wicked people they were! Not content with taking all her money, they wanted to rob the hen-roost, to steal her pretty bantams and Mrs Vallance's splendid white cochin-chinas. It was too cruel. She clenched her fist passionately. "They sha'n't do it," she said to herself starting to her feet. "I will tell the squire; I will have them punished. They shall be put in prison."

Then another thought came, and she drooped her head mournfully. "If I do that they will claim me for their child. `Not all the parsons and all the squires as ever was could prevent it,' Seraminta had said. What would happen then? I should have to go away from Wensdale, from father and mother, from Jackie, and all of them at the White House. They would all know that I belonged to thieves--not only to common, poor people, but to bad people. I should have to tramp about the country in dirty old clothes, and perhaps no shoes. Anything would be better. I would rather they stole all the chickens. Perhaps after that they will go away, and I shall never see them again."

She seized the scrap of paper and spelt it over a second time. Monday night--that was Jackie's birthday, a whole week off. Surely something might happen before then. The squire might find out the gypsies' hiding-place, and lock them up. Oh, if she might only give him the least little hint!

But she soon made up her mind firmly that she would risk nothing. She would do all they told her, she would leave the door unlocked, and help them to steal the chickens, and neither by word or look would she do anything to lead to their discovery. For she felt certain of what would follow if she did--disgrace, ragged clothes, and utter misery.

After many sorrowful thoughts of this kind she at last sobbed herself to sleep, and dreamed that she saw Perrin the gypsy man stealing stealthily out of the garden with a hen under each arm.

During the week that followed she felt as though she were dreaming still, though everything went on as usual with quiet regularity. She worked in her garden and fed her chickens, and went to the White House for her lessons with Fraulein. Outwardly it was all exactly the same, but within what a heavy heart she carried about with her! If she forgot her troubles for a few minutes in a merry game or a book, they all came back to her afterwards with double force. She belonged to gypsies; Monday they would steal the chickens; it was Jackie's birthday, and she could give him no present. Those three things weighed on her mind like lead and altered her in so many ways that everyone was puzzled. She was submissive at home and obedient to Fraulein at the White House, never even smiling at her funniest English words; she was ready to give up her own will and pleasure to the other children; and more than once Jackie had discovered her in tears--she was "proud Mary" no longer.

As the days went on it became almost impossible to be so unhappy without telling someone. Often, when she and Jackie were alone together, her heart was so full that the words were on the very tip of her tongue, but fear kept them back. It was a heart-rending thing just now to feed the chickens and to hear Mrs Vallance talk so unconsciously about them, and say how many eggs they laid. Only three more days and they would all be gone; the fowl-house would be empty, and there would be no white cock to waken her in the morning with his cheerful crow.

There seemed no chance now that the gypsies would be discovered, for the stir which the robbery had caused had quite quieted down. No other theft had been heard of, and the village people had ceased to talk about the affair, and settled their minds to the idea that the scamps had got off to some great distance. Only Mary knew better.

The Chelwood children did not let the matter drop so lightly. They had composed a game founded on the event, which they called "Robbers," and were much disappointed when Mary steadily refused to join them in it, for they had counted on her help in adding interesting details and finishing touches. She seemed, however, to shudder at the very idea.

"I believe Mary's afraid," said Patrick jeeringly; but even this taunt failed to rouse her. She took it quite quietly. What could be the matter with Mary?

"I shouldn't be a bit surprised," was Rice's remark, "if Miss Mary's sickening for something."

The days flew past. Saturday now, and Mary came down to breakfast in a state of dull despair.

"Mary, dear," said Mrs Vallance, smiling as she entered the room, "I have just made a plan for you that you will like. Your father is going to drive in to Dorminster, and you are to go with him and buy Jackie's present."

She waited for the look of delight which she felt sure of seeing, for she knew what Mary had set her heart on for Jackie--the squirrel out of Greenop's shop.

Poor Mary! Her thoughts flew to the empty post-office upstairs. Not a penny in it. No squirrel for Jackie, no drive to Dorminster for her. As she remembered what a jolly little squirrel it was, what bright eyes it had, what soft red-brown fur, and how Jackie would have liked it, her heart swelled. Now, she must go to his birthday party empty-handed, and it would have been the best present there.

With eyes full of tears and a scarlet flush on her cheeks she muttered very low:

"I've changed my mind. I don't want to buy the squirrel."

"You don't want the squirrel!" repeated Mrs Vallance in great surprise.

"N-no," stammered Mary, and she put her head suddenly down on the table and cried.

Mrs Vallance was much perplexed and very sorry for Mary's distress, for she knew how she had looked forward to giving the squirrel to Jackie. It was not like her to change her mind about such an important matter for any slight cause.

"I'm afraid you and Jackie have been quarrelling," she said, stroking Mary's hair gently; "but if I were you I should take this opportunity of making it up. Give him the squirrel and be friends, and then you'll be happy again."

How Mary wished she could! She made no answer, only sobbed more bitterly, and felt that she was the most miserable child in the world.

For now she had no longer any hope. Evidently nothing would happen to discover the gypsies and save the chickens. The days went on with cruel quickness, and Monday would be here in no time--a black Monday indeed.

Sunday morning came, and she sat with those thoughts in her mind by Mrs Vallance's side, and looked round at all the well-known objects in church with a half feeling that one of them might help her. They were such old friends. From the painted window opposite the twelve apostles in their gorgeous coloured robes had gazed seriously down at her every Sunday for the last five years. Much study of them during sermon time, though she always tried to attend, had made her quite familiar with their faces, and to-day she fancied that Peter would be the one she would choose to ask for advice and assistance. Turning from these her eye fell on another acquaintance of her earliest childhood--the life-size stone figure of a man. He lay in a niche in the chancel, peacefully at rest on his side, with closed eyes and one hand under his cheek. He had a short peaked beard and wore an enormous ruff; his face looked very grave and quiet--so quiet that it always filled Mary with a sort of awe. He had lain there for more than three hundred years, undisturbed by pain, or trouble, or joy. Would he be sorry for her, she wondered, if he knew how unhappy she was? But no--he would not mind-- his calm face would not alter; "nothing matters any more," it seemed to say. There was no comfort for her there. With a sigh she turned a little to the right where the Chelwoods sat--the Squire and Mrs Chelwood in front, and Fraulein with the children behind. Restless Jackie, to whom it was torture to sit still so long, was not ready as usual to catch her eye, for he was following with breathless interest, which Patrick shared, the progress of a large black spider towards Fraulein's ungloved hand. Fraulein was very frightened of spiders, and there was every reason to hope that, when it touched her hand, she would give a great jump and shriek out "Himmel!"

Mary's glance wandered further, but suddenly it stopped short, for at last it was met and answered by another pair of eyes, dark and eager, with such longing earnestness in their gaze, that she felt as though she could not look away again. For a minute, which seemed a long, long time, she stared fixedly at them, and then began to wonder who it was that took so much interest in her. It was a tall woman of about thirty, who sat among the servants from the White House; a stranger, with nothing remarkable about her except the extreme plainness of her dress, and a certain hungry expression in her eyes. "I wonder who she is," thought Mary, "and why she stares at me like that."

She turned her head away again, and five minutes afterwards the service was over and the congregation clattering out of the church. As she stood in the porch waiting for the Chelwood children the strange woman came quickly up to her, and, bending down, said hurriedly:

"Might I ask, missie, what your name is?"

"My name's Mary Vallance," said Mary.

The woman shrank back, and the eager light died out of her eyes.

"Thank you, missie. I ask pardon," she murmured, and passing on went quickly down the churchyard to the gate.

What an odd woman! When the children were all walking together towards the vicarage they passed her, and Mary asked who she was.

"That?" said Agatha. "Oh, that's our new school-room maid."

"She only came yesterday," added Jennie. "She comes from Yorkshire. And what do you think? When Patrick first heard she was coming he said he was sure he shouldn't like her; and when Rice asked him why, he said, `Because I hate Yorkshire pudding so.'" "Well," said Patrick, "it's the only thing I know about Yorkshire."

"But you oughtn't to judge people by puddings," said Agatha reprovingly.

"Anyhow," returned Patrick, "she doesn't look nice--there's such a great big frown on her forehead. I expect she's cross."

"No, she's not cross," said Jackie, "she's sorry; mother told us all about it. She lost her child a long while ago. That's what makes her look grave. Mother says we ought to be very kind to her."

"Jennie and I shall have most to do with her," remarked the matter-of-fact Agatha, "because she's going to brush our hair instead of Rice."

They had now reached the vicarage gate, and Jackie lingered after the rest to have a few last words with Mary.

"You'll come early to-morrow afternoon, won't you?" he said, "because I want to show you my presents before the others come. I know what two of 'em are going to be. Jolly! Something you'll like as well."

Jackie cut a high caper of delight as he spoke, in spite of its being Sunday and Fraulein quite near. His pleasure in anything was always doubled if Mary could share it. That was so nice of Jackie. It made it all the more distressing at that moment to remember that she could give him no present to-morrow, besides the mortification of appearing mean and stingy to the other children. She began to think that it would be almost better to give up going to his birthday party. But what excuse could she make? Then another idea came to her. Was there anything among her own possessions that he would like to have? She ran them over in her mind. Books? Jackie hated books; it was only under strong pressure that he would ever open one, and she could not pretend to be ignorant of this. If only Jackie were a girl! Then she could give him her work-box, which was nearly new, or a doll, or a set of tea-things, but it was no use to think of that. Still pondering the matter she went upstairs into her own little room, and the moment she entered her eye fell on the little clog standing in the middle of the mantel-piece. The very thing! Jackie had often and often admired it, and though everyone would know that she had not spent any money in getting it, still it would be much much better than having nothing at all to give. She took it off the mantel-piece and polished it up with her pocket-handkerchief. Dear little clog, she would be sorry to part with it, and it would leave a great gap among the other ornaments, but still it must go--after all it would not go far, only to the White House. Thinking thus, and rubbing it meanwhile, she noticed for the first time that there were two letters faintly scratched on the wooden sole, "BM." Who was BM? "Perhaps that's my name," she thought; "but I don't want to know it if it is. I'd rather be Mary Vallance." And then the dark faces of Perrin and Seraminta came before her and she frowned. How hateful it was to belong to them! She, Mary Vallance, who had always been so proud and delicate in her ways, so vain of her white skin, and so sure, only the other day, that her people were rich and great. That was all over now; even Rice could not call her "Tossy" any more.

It was in a very humble and downcast spirit that she paid a farewell visit to the fowls on Monday afternoon, before starting for the White House. The white bantams had become very tame, and when they pecked the corn out of her hand it was almost too much to bear. It was the last time she should feed them! Angry tears filled her eyes as she thought how they would be stolen that night; she longed to punish the gypsy people, and yet she was powerless in their hands, and must even help them in their wickedness. Poor Mary! She was very unhappy, and surprised that nothing happened to prevent it. It seemed so hard and cruel. Nevertheless, every step she took that afternoon towards the White House was bringing her nearer to help and comfort, though she did not know it.

Jackie came running to meet her in the hall, arrayed in his best suit and best manners.

"Come along into the school-room," he said, "and see the presents."

While he was showing them to her, two little heads looked in at the open window from the garden. They were Patrick and Jennie.

"We've guessed what your present is, Mary," they both cried at once.

The twins were such tiresome children! If there was an uncomfortable thing to say, they always said it.

"I'm sure you haven't," answered Mary sharply.

"It comes from Dorminster," said Patrick grinning.

"And it begins with S," added Jennie.

"It lives in a cage," chimed in Patrick.

"And eats nuts," finished Jennie in a squeaky voice of triumph.

Their little eager tormenting faces came just above the window sill: Mary felt inclined to box their ears.

Jackie, who was a polite boy, pretended not to hear. He knew quite well that Mary had brought him a present, and he more than suspected what it was, but this was a most improper way to refer to it.

"Shut up, will you," he said, and just at that minute Agatha came into the room with some visitors. They had all brought presents, and Mary knew by the way Agatha stared at her that she was wondering where hers was. Perhaps it would be better to give the clog now, though she had intended to wait until she and Jackie were alone. She was drawing it out of her pocket when Fraulein, who had been admiring the various gifts and chattering away in broken English, said suddenly:

"And vair is Mary's present? It is zumzing ver pretty, ver nice, ver wot you call `jollie,' I suppose. Zumzing better zan all, as she and Jean are so attach."

This speech changed Mary's intention. She was ashamed to produce the clog now. She drew her hand out of her pocket empty, gave a proud toss of the head, and said with crimson cheeks:

"I haven't brought anything."

There was silence in the room. Every eye was fixed upon her; it was the most cruel moment of her life. Even Jackie flushed hotly, turned away, and began to pull out all the blades of a new pocket-knife someone had given him.

How stupid it was of Fraulein not to let the matter drop, without saying anything more! Instead of this she held up her hands and exclaimed:

"Est-ce possible? Do I onderstand? Nozing? You have not brought nozing for Jean's jour de fete? But perhaps I do not onderstand?"

It was so irritating to see her standing there waiting for an answer, that Mary, never very patient, lost her temper completely.

"No, you don't understand. You never do," she said, and rushed out of the room into the garden. She ran quickly when she once got outside, for she felt that she could not get far enough away from the whole party in the school-room; from Fraulein with her stupid remarks, from the visitors who had all stared in surprise, even from Jackie who misunderstood. But it was natural, after all, that he should do that. How could he know she had brought anything for him? And now she had been rude to Fraulein, and made his party uncomfortable. She wondered presently whether they would come after her, and persuade her to go back; it would be unkind if they did not, and yet she would rather be alone just then. There was no one following her, and she thought she would go somewhere out of sight. The nut-walk would be best. So she turned into the kitchen-garden, and soon came to the nut-walk; the trees grew on each side of it with their branches meeting overhead, and in one of the biggest Jackie had contrived to fix a sort of perch made out of an old board. There was a convenient notch a little lower down, where you could place your feet, and it was considered a most comfortable seat, amply large enough for two. Mary was fond of sitting there, and now it seemed a sort of refuge in distress; she swung herself up into it, sat down, and leaned her bare head against the branches at the back. Through the thick leaves she could see a long way--all over the kitchen-garden, and a bit of the lawn near the house, and the brown roof of the stables, where the pigeons sat in a long row. When the children came out she should see them too, she thought, but she need not join them unless she liked. For some time the garden was very quiet, and she began to think that perhaps they meant to play indoors. That was not at all like Jackie, who always liked a game with a good deal of running in it, and besides, he must want to know where she was. It was rather dull, after all, to sit there alone, while the others were enjoying themselves. Should she go a little nearer the house? Just as she thought this, she was startled by a distinct cry of "Whoop!" which seemed to come from the walk below. She peeped down through the leaves. There was Jackie crouching in a frog-like attitude behind a tree, with his limbs gathered into the smallest possible compass. The rustling made him look up, and he held out his hand with all the fingers outstretched, and a sudden grimace which meant "Don't speak." They were playing hide-and-seek.

Mary knew better than to spoil the game, but she gave a beseeching glance at him, and beckoned. Jackie shook his head; evidently his feelings were hurt, and he did not mean to be friends just yet. Mary was in despair. How could she manage to speak to him? Perhaps this was her only chance of doing so alone. From her perch she could see the pursuers scouring wildly about in a wrong direction at present, but soon they could not fail to search the nut-walk, and then it would be too late. She took the little clog from her pocket, cautiously descended the tree, and creeping up to Jackie, placed the parcel noiselessly at his side. It was neatly folded in white paper, and had his name written on it in elegant fancy letters. Jackie turned his head and saw the inscription:

"For Jackie, with Mary's love."

His screwed-up mouth widened into a grin, he picked it up, turned it round and round, and at last whispered hoarsely:

"Why didn't you give it before?"

"Because of Fraulein," answered Mary in the same tone; "they're a long way off. Come up into the tree."

Both children were soon tightly wedged into the nut-tree seat, and Jackie at once began to examine his package; watching his face, Mary could see that he was surprised when the clog appeared, though he tried to hide it by another grin.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"It's the only thing I had," explained Mary hurriedly. "I meant to give you such a nice thing. I saved my money, and I had enough. You would have liked it so--" She stopped and sobbed a little under her breath.

Jackie said nothing. He was evidently wondering why she had not given him this nice thing. The reason was such a dreadful reason, and it was so hard not to be able to explain it all to him, that Mary could not keep back her tears: she bit her lip, and screwed up her face, but it was useless, they would come, so she leant her forehead against Jackie's velveteen shoulder, and cried in good earnest, without saying another word. Jackie was both startled and uncomfortable; the tree quite shook with the violence of Mary's sobs, and her long hair got into his eyes and tickled his face as he sat, screwed up close to her in the narrow perch. He did not mind that, but he was very sorry indeed to see her so unhappy, and could not think how to comfort her. Lately he had seen her cry several times, but never as badly as this. What could be the matter? With some difficulty he tugged out of his pocket a small handkerchief, which by a lucky chance was perfectly clean, and, raising her face a little, dabbed her eyes softly with it.

"Don't," he whispered. "I like the shoe awfully--much better than the other thing you were going to give me. Don't cry."

But Mary cried on.

"You don't surely mind what that owl of a Fraulein said, do you?" continued Jackie.

"N-no," said Mary.

"What are you crying for, then?"

If she could only tell him!

"Is it anything about the Secret?" asked Jackie.

No answer.

"I expect it is," he went on in an excited whisper. "But you ought to tell me, you know, however horrid it is. Is it horrid?"

Mary nodded. There was comfort even in that, though she must not say anything.

Jackie leant eagerly forward. Splash! Fell a great rain-drop on the tip of his nose, and a pelting shower quickly followed. Patter, patter, fell the fast-falling rain on the leaves above the children's heads, sprinkling Mary's yellow hair and Jackie's best velveteen suit.

"We must go in," he said; "all the others have gone. Won't you just tell me first?"

"I can't tell you," said Mary mournfully. "And I don't want to go in. I should like to stop here always."

"Well, you couldn't do that, you know," said Jackie gravely. "There's no roof, and you'd get wet through, and hungry too. Come along."

He gave her hand a gentle pull, and prepared to descend. As he cautiously lowered one leg, a woman with a shawl over her head came running down the nut-walk; it was Maggie, the new school-room maid.

"Why, there you are, Master Jackie," she said; "we've been looking everywhere for you. You're to come in out of the rain this minute, please. And have you seen Miss Mary? Marcy me, my dear, where did you get yon?"

She pointed excitedly to the little shoe which Jackie still held.

"Mary gave it me," he answered.

Without further ceremony this strange woman seized the shoe from him, and with trembling hands turned it over and looked closely at the wooden sole. Then she clasped it to her breast, and with a sudden light in her eyes exclaimed:

"I knew it. I felt it was her. Heaven be praised!" and before Jackie had at all regained his breath, she had rushed away down the nut-walk, and was out of sight.

Mary, who had remained unseen, looked down from the tree.

"Isn't she an odd woman?" she said. "Do you think she's mad? Or perhaps those are Yorkshire ways."

"If they are," replied Jackie much ruffled and discomposed, "I don't like Yorkshire ways at all. What business has she to cut away like that with my shoe?"

There was something mysterious altogether about Maggie's behaviour, for when the children reached the house they found that the others were full of excitement and curiosity. She had been seen to rush wildly in from the garden with the little shoe hugged to her breast, and now she had been talking to mother alone for a long while. But soon tea-time came, all manner of games followed, and the school-room maid was forgotten in more interesting matters. Even Mary was able to put away her troubles for a little while, and almost to enjoy herself as she had been used before they began. She was to stop at the White House that night, because it was still wet and stormy, so she resolved not to think of the chickens or Perrin or Seraminta just for that one evening. It would be time enough to be miserable again when morning came.

Everything went on merrily until Jackie's guests were all gone away.

"What shall we do now?" he said, yawning a little, for there was still an hour to be filled up before bed-time. Just as he spoke Mrs Chelwood came into the school-room.

"Children," she said, "would you like me to tell you a story?"

Nothing could possibly be better, and the offer came at the right moment when things were feeling a little flat; the children received it joyfully, and gathered round their mother eagerly, and yet with a certain seriousness, for it was an honour as well as a delight to have a story from her--it happened so seldom.

"This is a story," began Mrs Chelwood when they were all settled, "which I have only just heard myself, and it is a true one. It has something to do with one of Jackie's presents to-day."

"I wonder which?" said Jackie, rubbing his knees.

"You shall hear," said his mother. "Now, listen.

"Once there was a poor mother who lived far away from here in the north of England, and worked in a factory. She had only one child, which she loved so fondly that it was more than all the world to her, and though she had to work very hard all day, it seemed quite light and easy for the child's sake."

"Why didn't the father work?" asked Agatha.

"The father was dead."

"Was it a boy or a girl?" asked Patrick.

"And what was its name?" added Jennie.

"It was a little girl," said Mrs Chelwood, "and she was called Betty."

"But Betty isn't a name," objected Agatha, "it's short for something."

"In the north it is used as a name by itself," replied Mrs Chelwood; "many of the children there are christened Betty, and so was this little girl, though she was very seldom called so."

"Why?" asked Mary.

"Because the people in the village had given her a nickname. They called her `Little Clogs.'"

"What a frightful name to give her!" said Agatha. "What did they do it for?"

"Because she was so proud of a tiny pair of shoes which someone had made for her. They were exactly like that one Mary gave Jackie, and they are properly called `clogs.'"

"They're not a bit like the clogs Mrs Moser, the charwoman, wears," said Agatha.

"If you interrupt me so often I shall never finish my story," said her mother. "Well, this poor mother couldn't take her child with her into the factory, so she used to leave her with a friend close by, and fetch her after her work. But one evening when she went as usual there was no baby to be found--she was gone!"

"Where?" said Mary.

"No one knew. She had been stolen away, or lost, and on the door-step, where she had been playing, there was one little clog left."

"Who had stolen her?" asked Mary anxiously.

"They heard later that a fair-skinned child had been seen with gypsies on the road to London, but that was not till long afterwards. For years the mother heard no news of her, and wandered up and down the country with the one little clog in her hand seeking her: she felt sure she should know her again, though all this time the child was growing up, and was a baby no longer. But the mother never quite despaired, and she had a feeling that somehow the little clog would help her in her search: on its wooden sole, as well as on that of the lost one, she had scratched two letters--BM.

"So the time went on and on. It was seven long years after she had lost her child that the mother heard of a situation in a place called Wensdale, and went there to live. Now you can tell me the mother's name."

"Why, of course, it must be Maggie," said Jackie, who had been staring fixedly at Mary for the last two minutes with his mouth wide open; "and that's why she caught hold of my shoe and--"

"Let me finish the story," said Mrs Chelwood, "and then you shall talk about it as much as you like. In this very place there was a little girl living at the vicarage who had been left in the garden there by gypsies seven years ago. She had a funny little shoe with her when she was found, and had kept it ever since; and now, perhaps, you know who that little girl is."

"It's me!" cried Mary, starting up--"it's my shoe--and I saw the letters--and I don't belong to the gypsies after all, and--"

"My dear," said the squire, putting his head in at the door, "I'm too muddy to come in, but you'll all be glad to hear that we've caught those rascals and they're all in Dorminster jail."

Mrs Chelwood hurried out of the room, and the children all began to talk at once, to ask questions, to exclaim, to wonder if the gypsies would be hanged, and so on. Presently, however, it was found that Mary had strange and dreadful experiences to relate. A silence fell upon the others until she had finished, and then they looked at her with a sort of awe.

"So our chickens won't be stolen," she repeated, "and that dreadful Seraminta can't take me away."

"It's a tremendously puzzling thing though," said Jackie reflectively; "here you've got two mothers, you see, and two names. How will you manage, and where will you live?"

"She's only got one real mother," cried Patrick.

"And one real name," said Jennie.

"And shall you mind," continued Jackie seriously, "about not being grand? You're not Lady anything, you see, but just `Betty.'"

"I don't want to be grand any more," said Mary earnestly, "and I don't mind anything else one bit, now I don't belong to the gypsies."

"How glad your last mother--no, I mean your first mother--must be," said Agatha, "that someone made you that Pair of Clogs."

This was only one of many and many a conversation amongst the children on the same subject during several following weeks. And what a wonderful subject it was! Surely never had such a strange thing happened in a quiet village as this discovery of Mary's mother, and as to Mary herself, she was now surrounded by an air of romance which was more interesting than any story-book. If she could only have remembered a little about that time she passed with the gypsies! But none of Jackie's earnest appeals to "try hard" produced any results, for all that part of her life was wiped as clean out of her memory as when one washes marks off a slate with a sponge. It was all gone, and when she looked back it was not Seraminta and Perrin and the donkey-cart she saw, but the kind faces of Mr and Mrs Vallance and her happy, pleasant home at the vicarage. And yet, though her earliest recollections were of these, she did not in truth belong to them; they were not her people, and sunny Wensdale was not her place; Maggie was her mother, and cold, grey Haworth on the hillside was her real home. It was, as Jackie had said, a most puzzling thing, and the important question arose--would Mary have to go away? It was wildly irritating to be shut out from all the talks and conferences which were always going on now between Mary's two mothers and Mrs Chelwood. The children felt that it was more their concern than anyone's, but they were told nothing, and the air of the school-room was so full of excitement and curiosity that Fraulein was in despair. The slightest noises in the house during lesson time now seemed to carry deep meaning--perhaps only a bell ringing, or some one shutting the door of mother's sitting-room, but it was enough to make Jackie put down his slate-pencil and look at Mary with an awestruck and impressive gaze. She would give an answering nod of intelligence, and Patrick and Jennie, not to be left out in the cold, would at once begin to nod rapidly at each other, as much as to say, "We understand too." It was only Agatha who took her placid way undisturbed. But the day came when, matters being at last arranged, the children were told all about it, and this is what they heard:

Mary was to spend a year with her real mother at Haworth, and a year with Mrs Vallance at Wensdale, alternately, until she was eighteen years old. On her eighteenth birthday she might choose at which of these two homes she would live altogether.

"If you could choose," Jackie had once said to her in jest, "whose daughter would you be?"

And now, in years to come, the choice would really have to be made--the choice between Haworth and Wensdale, hard work and idleness, poverty and riches. Which would it be?

"Of course," was Jackie's first remark, "you'll choose Wensdale, won't you?"

But so many strange things had happened lately to Mary that she did not just now feel as if anything was "of course." (End)