Princess Sarah by John Strange Winter

 
"Take this lesson to thy heart;
That is best which lieth nearest."
--Gasper Bacerra
 

CHAPTER I

ORPHANED

In a poor little street in a crowded city there stood a small house, not alone, but in the middle of a row of other houses exactly like it. There was a tiny bow window on the left of the door, and two very small sash windows in the storey above; the frames were warped, and the paint, like that of the door, was blistered and cracked in many places. And the doorstep looked as if it had been cleaned a week or so before with whiting instead of pipe-clay, and evidently the person who had done it had, doubtless with the very best intentions in the world, given the lower part of the door a few daubs with the same cloth, which had not at all improved its shabby surface.

Between the house and the pavement there was a small garden, a very humble attempt at a garden, with a rockery in one corner and a raised bed in the middle.

It was a noisy street, though it was not a thoroughfare, for on that hot, sultry day the doors and windows were all open and the children were all playing about pavements and road, caring little for the heat and dust, screaming, laughing, shouting, crying, as children will, except when they found themselves within reach of the house which I have described; then their voices were hushed, their tones sobered; then they stood to gaze up at the closed blinds which beat now and then against the open windows, as if a door had been opened and allowed a draught of air to sweep through the house; then one little maid of ten years old or so lifted a warning finger to check a lesser child, upon whom the fear and knowledge of death had not yet fallen. "Hush--sh! Don't make a noise, Annie," she said. "Mr. Gray is dead."

The younger child, Annie, ceased her laughter, turning from the closed house to stare at two ladies who came slowly down the street, looking from side to side as if they sought one of the houses in particular.

"This must be it," said one, as her eyes fell upon the closed blinds.

"Yes," returned the other; "that must be it."

So they passed in at the little gate and knocked softly at the shabby door.

"Poor fellow!" said one, with a glance at the bit of garden before the bow window, "his doing, evidently; there's not another garden in the street like it."

"No. And what pains he must have taken with it. Poor fellow!" echoed the other.

There was a moment's scuffle within the house, the sound of loudly-whispering voices; then a heavy footstep, and the door was opened by a stout, elderly person in a shabby black gown and white apron--a person who was unmistakably a nurse. She curtsied as she saw the ladies, and the one who had spoken last addressed her.

"We heard early this morning. I see the sad news is too true," she began.

"Yes'm," shaking her head. "He went off quite quiet about ten o'clock last night. Ah, I've seen a-many, but I never saw a more peaceful end--never!"

The two ladies each made a murmur of sympathy.

"And the little girl?" said one of them.

"Well, mum, she do fret a good bit," replied the nurse pityingly.

"Poor little thing! We have brought some fruit and some other little things," said the lady, handing a basket to the nurse.

"It's real kind of you, mum!" the old woman cried. "She'll be rare and pleased, she will, poor little missy! You see, mum, it's been a queer, strange life for a child, for she's been everything to him, and she never could go out and play in the street with the other children. That couldn't be, and it was hard for the little thing to see 'em and be shut off from 'em all day as she was; and the master on that account used to make hisself more to her, which will make it all the harder for her now, poor fatherless, motherless lamb that she is!"

"Of course, of course. Poor little maid! And what will become of her, do you think?"

"I can't say for certain, mum; but the mistress, she had relations, and the master wrote to one of them on Thursday. He was sore troubled about little missy, was the master--aye, sore troubled. The letter was sent, and an answer came this morning to say that one of missy's aunts was coming to-day. The vicar opened it."

"Oh, well, I'm glad somebody is coming to the poor child," said the lady who had brought the basket of fruit. "I hope it will be all right. And you will give her the things, nurse?" with a look at the basket.

"Oh, yes, mum," with a curtsey.

There was not only some fruit in the basket, but a pot of jam and a jar of potted meat, a glass of jelly, some sponge cakes, and a packet of sweeties, such as little folk love.

The old nurse carried them into the sitting-room and set them down on the table before a little girl who was sitting beside it.

"See, missy, what a nice basket of good things Mrs. Tracy has brought for you!" the old woman cried. "Wasn't it kind of her?"

"Very kind," said the little girl, brightening up somewhat at the unexpected kindness from one almost a stranger to her.

"Grapes, Miss Sarah, and peaches, and Orleans plums; and see--potted meat! Now how could she know you're so fond of potted meat?"

"I don't know, nurse; he liked potted meat too, you know."

"Yes, dear, yes; but he's gone where he has all he's most fond of, you know."

"Except me," murmured Sarah, under her breath.

"Ah, that's true, my lamb; but you mustn't repine. Him as took the master away so calm and peaceful last night knew just what was best to do, and He'll do it, never fear! It's hard to bear, my honey, and sure," with a sigh, "no one knows better what bearing such is than old nurse. And--hark! to think of any one coming with a knock like that! enough to waken the----" But then she broke off short, and went to open the door.

CHAPTER II

HER NEW-FOUND AUNT

A short, stout, well-dressed woman stood upon the door-step, and the cabman was just hauling a box off the roof of his cab.

"Mr. Gray's 'ouse?" demanded the stout lady. "Ah, pore thing! I see it's all over. Pore thing! Well, I'm sorry, of course, though I don't suppose 'e'll be much loss to any one; pore, dreaming, shiftless thing!"

"Miss Sarah is here, mum," said the old nurse, pointing severely towards the door of the sitting-room.

"Miss Sarah--oh, the child! Eh, well, my dear," going into the room, and taking Sarah's limp and shaking hand, "I'm sorry to come on such an errand the first time ever I see you; but that was your pore pa's fault, not mine. I never was one to turn my back on my own flesh and blood--never, though perhaps I say it that shouldn't; but your pore pa, he was that awkward when he got a crotchet into his 'ead, that there was no doing aught with him. I think you favour your ma, my dear," she continued, with a complete change of tone. "Your pore pa-- Eh? What? oh, the cab! Yes, I'll come," and then she bustled out, fumbling at the fastening of a small leather bag which hung over her wrist, and leaving poor Sarah struck dumb with astonishment.

The child crept to the door and watched her new-found aunt settle with the cabman; and it is certain that never had Sarah seen a cabman settled with in that fashion before. They had not indulged in many cabs during the course of her short life; but, on the few occasions that they had enjoyed such luxuries, her father had paid for them with the air of a prince, and with a liberality such as made dispute out of the question. Alas, poor child! if the loving father now lying white and silent in the room above had had less of that princely air, and still less of that princely instinct of hospitality and generosity, life would at that moment probably have been very different for her. But all this was beyond Sarah, who was very young, and therefore not likely to see the advantages of the lengthened haggling process going on just then at the gate. A moment later Mrs. Stubbs entered the house again in triumph.

"Lot of thieving vagabonds them cabmen are, to be sure!" she remarked, with an air of indignation mingled with satisfaction. "But he don't get the better of me, not if I know it; and so I told him. But, dear! dear! 'Ow like your pore ma you are, child! Stubbs 'll be glad of it--he never could abide him as is gone, pore thing! Well, well, we needn't say aught again him now, for he won't trouble us no more; only, as I say, Stubbs 'll be glad of it."

"Please, who is Mr. Stubbs?" Sarah asked plaintively, feeling instinctively that she had better not try to argue with this strange relative.

Mrs. Stubbs, however, was so taken aback at so unexpected a question, that she was obliged to sit down, the better to show the extent of her astonishment.

"Well, I don't 'old with it!" she exclaimed to the nurse, who had come in to spread the cloth for a cup of tea which the visitor had expressed herself able and willing to take. "It's bringing up the child like a 'eathen in ignorance of what her own flesh and blood's very names is--'pon my word it is; it's 'eathenish."

"Miss Sarah doesn't understand," put in the old nurse pointedly.

For a moment Mrs. Stubbs gasped, much as she might have done if the older woman had dashed a pail of water in her face; but she took the hint with a very good grace, and turned to Sarah again.

"Your pore ma, my dear, was Stubbs' own sister," she said.

"Then Mr. Stubbs is my uncle--my own uncle?" Sarah asked.

"Your own uncle, and I'm your aunt; not your own aunt, of course, Sarah, but that's no matter. I've a good and a feeling 'eart, whatever other faults I may have to carry; and what's Stubbs' flesh and blood is my flesh and blood, and so you'll find. Besides, I've seven children of my own, and my 'eart feels for them that has no father nor mother to stand by 'em. And I believe in sticking to your own--everybody's not like that, Sarah, though maybe I say it that shouldn't. There is folks that believes in wearing yourself to the bone for other people's advantage, and letting your own flesh and blood starve in the gutter, so to speak. Ah, well, I ain't one of that sort, and I'm thankful for it, Sarah."

Poor little desolate Sarah, with her suddenly empty life and great aching void in her heart, crept a shade closer to her new-found aunt, and rested her tired head against her substantial arm.

"And I have seven cousins of my own?" she said, the shadows in her eyes clearing away for a moment.

"Seven cousins of your own!" cried Mrs. Stubbs, in an ecstasy of enjoyment. "Seven, Sarah, my dear! Why, I have seven children!"

"And have I some more aunts and uncles?" Sarah asked, feeling not a little bewildered.

"Why, dear, yes, three aunts and two uncles on your pore ma's side, to say naught of all there may be on your pa's side, with which I'm not familiar," said Mrs. Stubbs, with a certain air such as conveyed to Sarah that her ignorance was a decided loss to her father's family in general.

"There's your Uncle Joe--he 'as five boys, and lives at 'Ampstead; and there's your Uncle George--he 'as only three girls, and lives in great style at Brighton. He's in the corn trade, is your Uncle George."

Instinctively Sarah realized why once, when they had been going to the seaside for a fortnight, her father had said, "No, no, not Brighton," when that town was suggested; and as instinctively she kept the recollection to herself.

"And then there's Polly--your Aunt Mary, Sarah! She's the fine lady of the family--very 'aughty, she is, though her and me 'as always been very good friends, always. Still, she's uncommon 'aughty, and maybe she 'as a right, for she married a gentleman in the City, and keeps her carriage and pair and a footman, too. Ah, well! she 'asn't a family, 'asn't Mrs. Lennard; perhaps if she 'ad 'ad seven children, like me, she'd have 'ad to be content with a broom, as I am."

"We have a broom, too," said Sarah, watching the visitor stir her tea round and round; "indeed, we have two, and a very old one that Jane uses to sweep out the yard with."

For a minute Mrs. Stubbs was too thoroughly astounded to speak; then she subsided into weak fits of laughter, such as told Sarah she had made a terrible mistake somehow.

"A very old one to sweep out the yard with!" Mrs. Stubbs cried in gasps. "Oh, dear, dear! Why, child, you're just like a little 'eathen. A broom is a carriage, a close carriage, something like a four-wheel cab, only better. Oh, dear, dear! and we keep three, do we? Oh, what a joke to tell Stubbs!"

"Miss Sarah knows," struck in the old nurse, with some indignation; "the doctor's carriage is what Mrs. Stubbs calls a broom, dearie."

Sarah turned her crimson face from one to the other. "But Father always called that kind of carriage a bro-am," she emphasized, "and I didn't know you meant the same, Aunt."

"Well, never mind, my dear; I shouldn't 'ave laughed at you," returned Mrs. Stubbs, stirring her tea again with fat complaisance. "Little folks can't be expected to know everything, though there are some as does expect it, and most unreasonable it is of 'em. Only, Sarah, it's more stylish to say broom, so try to think of it, there's a good girl."

"I'll try," said Sarah, hoping that she had somewhat retrieved her character by knowing what kind of carriage her aunt meant by a "broom."

Then Mrs. Stubbs had another cup of tea, which she seemed to enjoy particularly.

"And you would like to go upstairs, mum?" said the nurse, as she set the cup down.

"Why, yes, nurse, it's my duty to go, and I'm not one as is ever backward in doing 'er duty," Mrs. Stubbs replied, upheaving herself from the somewhat uncertain depths of the big chair, the only easy chair in the house.

So the two women went up above together to visit that something which Sarah had not seen since the moment of death.

She sat just where they left her--a way she had, for Sarah was a very quiet child--wondering how life would be with this new-found aunt of hers. She was very kind, Sarah decided, and would be very good to her, she knew; and yet--yet--there was something about her from which she shrank instinctively--something she knew would have offended her father beyond everything.

Poor Sarah! At that moment Mrs. Stubbs was standing beside all that was left of him that had loved her so dearly during all the years of her short life.

"Pore thing!" she was saying. "Pore thing! We weren't good friends, nurse, but we must not think of that now; and I'll be a mother to his little girl just as if there'd never been a cloud between us. Pore thing, only thirty-six! Ah, well, pore thing; but he makes a pretty corpse!"

CHAPTER III

SARAH'S FUTURE IS ARRANGED

Two days later Sarah's father was buried, laid quietly away in a pretty little churchyard two miles outside the town, beside the young wife who had died nine years before.

The funeral was a very unostentatious affair; only one cab followed the coffin, and contained Sarah and Mrs. Stubbs, the old nurse, and Jane, the untidy little maid, who, after the manner of her sort, wept and sobbed and choked, until Mrs. Stubbs would right willingly have given her a good shaking.

Sarah was very subdued and quiet, and Mrs. Stubbs cried a little, and would have cried more had she not been so taken up with keeping an eye on "that stupid ninny Jane."

And then they went back to the little hot, stuffy house, and had a cup of tea, after which the vicar of the parish called and had a long talk with Mrs. Stubbs about Sarah's future.

"I can't say we was good friends with him, pore thing," Mrs. Stubbs explained; "but when death comes between, little differences should be forgotten. And Stubbs and me will forget all our differences now; it's Stubbs' wish as well as mine. I believe in sticking to your own flesh and blood, for if your own won't, whose can you expect to do it? So Sarah and me is the best of friends, and she is going back with me to share and share alike with my own children."

"Oh, you are going to take Sarah," said the vicar, who had felt a great interest in the dreamy artist whom they had just left to his last long rest in the quiet country churchyard; "that is very good of you, very good of you. I have been wondering what would become of the poor little woman."

"Why, what should become of her?" Mrs. Stubbs said indignantly. "Her mother was Stubbs' own sister."

"Yes," said the vicar, smiling; "but it is not every lady who would at all encourage the idea of bringing up a child because her mother happened to be her husband's sister."

"You're right there, Mr. Moore; you are right," Mrs. Stubbs cried; "but some women 'ave 'earts of stone instead of flesh and blood. I'm not one of that sort."

"And about the furniture, and so on," the vicar broke in, having heard Mrs. Stubbs's remarks about her own good qualities several times already.

Mrs. Stubbs looked round the room in good-natured contempt. "There's nothing to speak of," she answered--and she was right enough--"but what there is 'll have to go to paying for the doctor and the undertaker. If there's a few pounds left over, Stubbs says put it into the savings bank and let the child 'ave it when she grows up. She'll want to buy a ring or something to remember her father by."

"And you are going to take the sole charge and expense of her?" the vicar exclaimed.

"Oh, yes. We've seven of our own, and when you've so many, one more or less makes very little difference. But I wanted to ask you something else, Mr. Moore, and I'll ask it before it slips my memory. You know Mr. Gray--'e's gone now, pore thing, and I don't wish to say aught against him--brought Sarah up in a very strange way; indeed, as I said at the time to the nurse, it's quite 'eathenish; and, it you'll believe me, sir, she didn't even know how many aunts and uncles she 'ad, nor what our very names were. But he 'as taught her some things, and playing the fiddle is one."

"Yes, Sarah plays the violin remarkably well for her age," said the vicar promptly.

"Yes, so the old nurse says," returned Mrs. Stubbs, with an air of melancholy. "But I don't altogether 'old with it myself; it seems to me such an outlandish thing for a little girl to play on. I wish it had been the piano or the 'arp! There's so much more style about them."

"The violin is the most fashionable instrument a lady can learn just now, Mrs. Stubbs," put in the clergyman hastily, wishing to secure Sarah the free use of her beloved violin, if it were possible.

"Dear me. You don't say so. What, are young ladies about 'ere learning it?" Mrs. Stubbs asked, with interest.

"Yes. I was dining at Lord Allington's last week, and in the evening one of his daughters played a violin solo; but she doesn't play nearly as well as Sarah," he replied.

"Then Sarah shall keep her violin and play to her 'eart's content," Mrs. Stubbs cried enthusiastically. "That was what I wanted to ask you--if you thought I should encourage or discourage the child in keeping it up. But, as you say so plainly encourage, I will; and Sarah shall 'ave good lessons as soon as she's fairly settled down at 'ome."

"That will be the greatest delight to Sarah, for the child loves her violin," said the vicar heartily; "and that is not all, Mrs. Stubbs--but, if she goes on as she has begun, there will always be a useful, or at least a remunerative, accomplishment at her fingers' ends."

"Oh, as to that," returned Mrs. Stubbs, with a lordly indifference to money such as told her visitor that she was well blessed with worldly goods, "Stubbs 'll provide for the child along with his own, and maybe her other uncles and aunts 'll do something for her, too. I will say that for his family, as a family they're not mean. I will say that for 'em."

So Sarah's future was arranged. She was to go home with Mrs. Stubbs, who lived at South Kensington, and be one with her children. She was to have the best violin lessons to be had for love or money; and Mrs. Stubbs, in the warmth of her kindly but vulgar heart, even went so far as to suggest that if Sarah was a very good, industrious girl, and got on well with her practising, her uncle might very likely be induced to buy her a new violin for her next birthday, instead of the dingy old thing she was playing on now.

Poor, well-meaning Mrs. Stubbs! She little knew that the whole of Sarah's grateful soul rose in loathing at the suggestion. She dropped her bow upon the nearest chair, and hugged her precious violin as closely to her breast as if it had been a thing of life, and that life was threatened.

"Oh, Auntie!" she burst out; "a new violin!"

"Yes, child; I think it's very likely," returned Mrs. Stubbs, delighted to see the effect of her suggestion upon her pale little niece, and quite mistaking the meaning of her emotion. "Your uncle is very fond of making nice presents. He gave May a new piano last Christmas."

"But," gasped Sarah, "my violin is a real Amati! It belonged to my grandfather."

"And if it did, what then?" ejaculated Mrs. Stubbs, in no way impressed by the information. "All the more reason why you should 'ave a new one. The wonder to me is you play half as well as you do on an old thing like that."

"It's--it's worth five hundred pounds!" Sarah cried, her face in a flame.

Mrs. Stubbs fairly gasped in her surprise. "Sarah," she said, "what are you saying? Little girls ought not to tell stories; it's wicked. Do you know where you'll go to? Sarah, I'm shocked and surprised at you!"

"Auntie, dear," said Sarah, "it's true--all true. It is, indeed! Ask the doctor, ask the vicar--ask any one who knows about violins, and they'll tell you! It's a real Amati; it's worth five hundred pounds--perhaps more. I'm not telling stories, Auntie, but Father was offered that much for it, only he wouldn't take it because he said it was all he had to give me, and that it would be worth more to me some day."

Never had Mrs. Stubbs heard Sarah say so much at one time before; but her earnest face and manner carried conviction with them, and she saw that the child knew what she was talking about, and was speaking only what she believed to be the truth.

"You really mean it, Sarah?" she asked, putting out a hand to touch the wonderful instrument.

"Oh, yes, Auntie, it's absolutely true," returned Sarah, using the longest adjective she could think of the better to impress her aunt.

"Then," exclaimed the good lady, with radiant triumph, "you'd better 'old your tongue about it, Sarah, and not say a word about it--or you'll be 'aving the Probate people down on you, robbing the fatherless and the orphan."

CHAPTER IV

HER NEW HOME

At last Mr. Gray's affairs were all cleared up, and Sarah was about to leave dingy old Bridgehampton behind for ever to take up her new life in London, the great city of the world.

There were some very sad farewells to be made still; and Mrs. Stubbs was a woman of very good feeling, and encouraged the child to go and say good-bye to everybody who had been kind to her in the past.

"There is Mrs. Tracy," said Sarah on the last day. "She brought me all that fruit and jam and the other things, Auntie."

"Oh, you must go and say good-bye to 'er, of course," returned Mrs. Stubbs; "and we must go and see your pore pa's grave, for 'eaven knows when you'll see it again."

"I should like to do that, please," said Sarah in a very low voice.

"Well, I can't drag out all that way," remarked Mrs. Stubbs, who, being stout, was not good at walking exercise. "We'll have an open carriage if nurse can get one; and nurse shall go too."

So Sarah went and said "good-bye" to her father's grave; and the wise old nurse, after a minute spent beside it, drew Mrs. Stubbs away to the other side of the pretty churchyard to show her a curious tombstone about which she had been telling her as they drove along. So Sarah, for a few minutes, was left alone--free to kneel down and bid her farewell in peace.

It was a relief to the child to be alone, for Mrs. Stubbs, though meaning to be kindness itself, was not a woman in whose presence it was possible to grieve in comfort. Her remarks about "your pore pa" invariably had the effect of stifling any feeling of emotion which was aroused in her childish heart.

She was very good. Sarah knew that she meant to be so.

"I'll try not to mind the difference, dear Father," she whispered to the brown sods above his dear head. "It's all so different to you, so different to when there was just you and I together. Nobody will ever understand me like you, dear Daddy; but Auntie means to be very kind, and I'll try my hardest to grow up so that you'll love me better when we meet again."

As she rose up, Mrs. Stubbs and the nurse were coming across the grass between the graves to fetch her. Mrs. Stubbs noticed the tears on her cheeks and still flooding her eyes.

"Nay, now, you mustn't fret, Sarah," she said kindly; "'e's better off, pore thing, than when he was 'ere, so you mustn't fret for 'im, there's a good girl."

Sarah wiped her eyes, and turned to go away. She said nothing, for she knew it was no use trying to make her aunt understand that her tears had not been so much for him as for herself. And Mrs. Stubbs stood for a moment looking down upon the mould, with its covering of brown, disjointed sods and its faded wreaths.

"Pore thing!" she murmured; "it's a sad end to 'ave. And he must 'ave felt leaving the little one badly 'fore he brought himself to write that letter! Pore thing! Well, I'm not one to bear ill-will for what's past and gone, and so beyond 'elp now; and I'll be as much a mother to Sarah as if 'im and me had always been the best of friends. 'E once said I was vulgar--and perhaps I am--it's vulgar to 'ave 'earts and such like, and he knows better now, pore thing! For I have a 'eart. Yes, and the Queen upon 'er throne, she has a 'eart, too, bless her."

There were tears on the good soul's cheeks as she turned to follow Sarah, whom she found at the gate waiting for her. By the time she had reached the child she had wiped them, but Sarah saw that they had been there.

"Dear Auntie," she said. "He wasn't friends with you, but he knows how good you are now,"--and then she flung her arms round her, and her victory over her uncle's wife was complete.

"Sarah," she said, when they were nearly at the end of their journey, "you have never 'ad any playfellows, have you, dear?"

"Never, Auntie--not real playfellows," Sarah answered, and flushing up with joy at the anticipation of those who were in store for her.

"Well, I'd better warn you, Sarah--it may not be all sugar and honey till you get used to them," said Mrs. Stubbs solemnly. "There's a good deal of give and take about children's ways; that is, if you want to get on peaceable. If you get a knock, you must just bear it without telling, or else you get called a 'tell-pie,' and treated according. It's what I've never encouraged, and I must do my children the justice to say if they gets a knock they gives it back again, and there's no more about it."

Thus Sarah was somewhat prepared for the darker side of her new life, though she gathered no true idea of the nest of young ruffians to whom she was made known an hour later.

They came out with a rush to the door when the carriage stopped, and welcomed their mother home again with a fluent and boisterous torrent of joy truly appalling to the little quiet and retiring Sarah, who was not accustomed to the domestic manners of children of the Stubbs class.

"Ma, what have you brought me?"

"Is that Sarah, Ma? My, ain't she a littl'un!"

"Ma, Mary was late this morning. Yes, and our kao-kao was burnt--I told her I should tell you."

"Pa slapped Johnnie last night, because he wouldn't be washed to come down to dessert."

"And Flossie has torn her best frock."

"And May----"

"Hush! Be quiet, children!" exclaimed Mrs. Stubbs, holding her hands to her ears. "'Pon my word, you're like a lot of young savages. Miss Clark can't have taken much care of you whilst I've bin away. Really, you're enough to frighten Sarah out of her senses. This is your cousin Sarah. She's going to live 'ere in future, so come and say ''Ow d'ye do?' to her nicely."

Thus bidden, the young Stubbses all turned their attention on their new cousin, and said their greeting and shook hands with various kinds of manner.

There was May, aged fourteen, a very consequential young person, with an inclination to be short and stout, like her mother, and had her nice fair hair plaited into a tail behind and tied with a bunch of mauve ribbon, worn with a white frock in memory of the uncle by marriage whom she had never seen.

"How d'you do, Cousin Sarah?" she said, with a fine-lady air which petrified poor Sarah, who thought that and her cousin's earrings and watch-chain the finest things she had ever beheld about any human being before. Then there came the redoubtable Flossie, who had torn her best frock, and was twelve and a half. Flossie, who was nearly as big as May, came forward with a giggle, and said "How----" and went off into fits of laughter at some private joke of her own.

"I'm ashamed of you, Flossie," cried Mrs. Stubbs sharply; "shake 'ands with your cousin Sarah at once. Ah! this is Lily--Lily's five and a 'alf, Sarah--she's the baby."

Then there was Tom, the eldest boy, who gripped hold of Sarah's hand and wrung it until she could have shrieked with the pain, but, taking it as an expression of kindness and welcome, she bore it bravely and looked at him with a smiling face; she knew better afterwards.

After Tom came the twins, Minnie and the Johnnie who had been slapped the day before; and last of all, Janey, the prettiest, and Sarah fancied the sweetest, of them all. Janey was seven, or, as she said herself, nearly eight.

"I suppose," said Mrs. Stubbs, addressing herself to Flossie, "that your pa 'asn't got 'ome yet?"

"No, Ma, not yet," returned Flossie.

But, presently, when Mrs. Stubbs had changed her dress for a garment such as Sarah had never beheld before, and which May told her was a tea-gown, and was enjoying a cup of sweet-smelling tea in the large and shady drawing-room--to Sarah a perfect dream of beauty--he came! Came with a bustle and noise like a tempest, and caught his stout wife round the waist, with a "Hulloa, old woman, it's a sight for sore eyes to see you 'ome again!"

Sarah had determined to be surprised at nothing, but her Uncle Stubbs was altogether too much for her resolution. In apologising to herself afterwards, she said she was obliged to stare.

"And where's the little lass?" Mr. Stubbs asked when he had kissed his wife. "Oh, there! Well, aren't you going to speak to your uncle, eh?"

"Yes, Uncle," said Sarah shyly.

He drew her nearer to him, and turned her face to the light.

"Like her dear ma," put in Mrs. Stubbs.

"Yes," said Mr. Stubbs shortly.

"Not like her pa at all," Mrs. Stubbs persisted.

"No!" more shortly still; then, after a pause, "I 'ope you'll be a good gal, Sarah, and remember, though your father and me wasn't friends, yet, as long as I've a 'ome to call my own, you're welcome to a shelter in it. Your mother was my favourite sister, and though she turned 'er back on me, I'll never do that on you, never."

"Father knows better now, Uncle," said the child, with an effort; "he knows how good you and Auntie are to me. You'd be friends now, wouldn't you?" earnestly.

"I don't know--I don't know at all," replied Mr. Stubbs shortly; then, struck by the pleading look on the child's wistful face, added gruffly, "I suppose we should; any way, I hope so."

At this point Mrs. Stubbs broke in,--

"Any way, it's no fault of Sarah's that we wasn't all the very best of friends, Stubbs; and Sarah and me's real fond of one another already, aren't we, Sarah? So say no more about it; what's past and gone is beyond 'elp. Flossie, you can take Sarah upstairs now. It's just six--time for your tea. Be sure she gets a good tea."

CHAPTER V

A TASTE OF THE FUTURE

Thus bidden, Flossie took Sarah's hand and led her upstairs. "You won't like Miss Clark," she remarked, as they went. "We don't like her, not any of us. She's so mean; always telling tales about somebody. She got Johnnie slapped and sent off to bed last night; it was all spite--nasty old thing!"

"Who is Miss Clark?" Sarah asked, feeling rather bewildered.

"Miss Clark! What! didn't Ma tell you about her?" ejaculated Miss Flossie, in surprise.

"No; Auntie never told me about her at all."

"Lor! There, that shows Ma herself don't think much of her! I'll tell Miss Clark, any way."

"Don't, don't!" Sarah cried, in an agony.

"Yes, I shall," the amiable Flossie returned, suddenly opening a door and dragging her cousin into the midst of a noisy crew, all squabbling round a tea-table. "Miss Clark, what d'you think? Ma actually never told Sarah a single word about you!"

"Well, my dear, never mind; perhaps Mrs. Stubbs didn't say very much about any of us."

"She didn't," put in Sarah hastily.

"I suppose this is Sarah?" Miss Clark went on.

"Yes," answered Flossie, adding, under her breath to Johnnie, "Stupid little thing!"

"How do you do, Sarah?" asked the governess, with the air of primness which had made her unruly young pupils dislike her. "I hope we shall be very good friends, and that you will do your best to be a very tidy and industrious little girl."

This rather took Sarah's breath away, but she replied, politely, that she would try her best.

"Come and sit by me, Sarah," said May, with a very condescending air of protection.

"Yes, sit by May," added Miss Clark. "May is my right hand; without May I could not endure all the worry and trial of the others. Copy May, and you will be quite right."

So Sarah watched May mincing with her knife and fork, and conscientiously tried to do likewise, to the infinite amusement of the younger ones, of whom May took no notice whatever, and to whose jibing remarks she showed a superb indifference.

"Sarah," shouted Tom, stuffing his mouth so full of pressed tongue and bread-and-butter that Sarah's heart stood still for fear of his choking, "how many pieces of bread-and-butter can you put into your mouth at once?"

"Disgusting boy!" remarked May disdainfully, without giving Sarah time to reply. "You grow more atrociously vulgar every day you live!"

"Hi, hi!" shouted Tom, seizing a tablespoon and ramming it down his throat until even boy's nature revolted and expressed disapproval.

"Put that spoon down," cried Miss Clark authoritatively. "If I see you do that again, Tom, you shall not go down to dessert."

Now this was almost the only threat by which poor Miss Clark, whose life was one long-continued struggle and fight, was able to hold her own over Tom when he was at home for his holidays. Not going down to dessert meant, not only the punishment of losing a share of the good things below, but also it meant inquiry as to the cause of absence, and other effects according to evidence.

Tom's exuberance of spirits settled down promptly into discreet behaviour, and Miss Clark had time to look round the table.

"Johnnie, you are forbidden to eat jam for a week," she burst out. "Minnie, take his plate away."

"It's a shame poor Johnnie isn't to have any jam," Minnie began whining--"all for nothing, too. It's a real downright shame, it is," and forthwith she took the opportunity of daubing a thick slice of bread-and-butter with jam off her own plate, and smuggling it into the luckless Johnnie's hand in such a way that he might eat it upside down, to the intense delight of Tom opposite, who had seen the little manoeuvre, and was bursting to disclose it.

For once nodding and winking had no effect, for nobody happened to be looking at him. So Tom, in despair lest such an amusing incident should be altogether lost, began vigorously nudging Flossie, who sat next to him, with his elbow. Flossie, unfortunately, was in the act of raising a large cup of very hot tea to her lips, and Tom's nudge causing the hot cup to touch her knuckle, made her jerk violently, and over the tea went in a deluge on to her lap.

It is almost impossible to give an adequate description of the scene which followed. Flossie shrieked and screamed as if she was being murdered by a slow process; Tom vowed and protested that it was not his fault; Janey had pushed him over against Flossie; Janey appealed to Miss Clark to remember that at the very moment she was handing her cup in the opposite direction; and Miss Clark began to wring her hands and exclaim that she would ask to have Tom sent back to school again, for stand his cruel and unbrotherly behaviour she neither could nor would. And in the midst of it all, young Johnnie seized the opportunity of helping Minnie freely to jam and eating off her plate, as if he were eating for a wager.

Sarah sat looking, as she was, scared; and May calmly surveyed the scene of uproar with disdainful face.

"Disgusting boy!" she said to the still protesting Tom. "You get more vulgar every day. Don't take any notice, Sarah; you will get used to it by-and-by."

Eventually Miss Clark began to cry weakly.

"It's too much for me; how am I to bear four weeks more of this dreadful boy?" she sobbed.

"Do like me, take no notice," suggested May.

"But I must take notice," Miss Clark cried desperately. "My only comfort is that you do sit still, May dear. As for Sarah, she is a good girl, a pattern to you," with a withering glance at Tom. "I feel sure Sarah has never seen such a disgraceful scene before; have you, Sarah?"

"No," whispered Sarah, wishing fervently that Miss Clark had been pleased to leave her out of the discussion.

"I thought so. I knew Sarah's manners were far too good for her to have been brought up among this sort of thing. Sarah is like a young princess."

By this time the tumult had subsided a little. Flossie had recovered from her fright, and was consoling herself with buttered scones and honey, looking darkly at Tom the while, just by way of reminding him that she had not by any means forgotten. But Tom was unconscious of her wrath--a fresh idea had presented itself to his volatile mind, and for the moment he had utterly forgotten not only Flossie's wrath, but also that other probable wrath to come.

"Princess Sarah!" he shouted, pointing at his cousin. "Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah--of Nowhere. Princess Sarah!"

"Princess Sarah!" cried Johnnie, taking up the taunt, and waving his bread-and-butter like a flag. "Three cheers for Princess Sarah!"

CHAPTER VI

THE AMIABLE FLOSSIE

Miss Clark did not tell that time. It was not Flossie, but May, who poured oil on the troubled waters.

"It's no use making a fuss, Flossie," she said wisely. "Tom didn't mean to spill your tea; he only wanted you to look at Johnnie cribbing jam when he'd been told not to have any. And it's the first night Ma's at home, and Tom's her favourite; and if you get him into trouble with Pa, she'll give what she's brought for you to somebody else. So you just hold your tongue, Flossie, and be a bit nice to Miss Clark, and get her to say nothing about it. It isn't as if you were hurt--and besides, you can't pretend you're hurt and then go down to dessert. It's your turn to go down to-night." Thus advised, Flossie went to Miss Clark and begged her to say nothing more about Tom's unfortunate accident.

"Tom says he didn't mean to, Miss Clark, and Ma's tired, I dare say; so you won't say anything about it, will you?"

"I think I ought to say something about it, Flossie," said Miss Clark severely, though in her heart she was as glad to get off telling as even Tom himself could be.

"No, Miss Clark, I don't think you ought. Ma always gets a headache after a long journey, and if Pa's put out with Tom, and perhaps whips him, Ma 'll go to bed and cry all night. And it wasn't as if Tom meant to spill the tea over me--it was quite an accident. He was only jogging me to look at Johnnie."

With much apparent reluctance, Miss Clark at last consented to say no more about it; and so occupied was she in making Flossie feel how great a concession it was for her to do so, that she forgot to ask what Johnnie had happened to be doing to attract Tom's attention.

So Johnnie escaped scot free also, and Flossie and Tom went off to prepare for going down to dessert, which the young Stubbses did in strict turn, two at a time.

As soon as the table was cleared, Miss Clark got out a little work-box and began a delicate piece of embroidery. Sarah kept close to May, whom at present she liked best of any of the young people and May sat down with a piece of fancy work also, of which she did very little.

"Miss Clark," she began, after she had done a few stitches, "isn't it jolly without Tom?"

"Very," said Miss Clark, with a great sigh of relief.

"I don't think Tom meant to be disagreeable," said May, turning Miss Clark's silks over with careless fingers; "but he's a boy, and boys are very tiresome animals, Miss Clark."

"Yes," Miss Clark replied.

"How many times have you been engaged?" and May leant her elbows upon the table and regarded the governess with interested eyes.

"Twice," answered Miss Clark, in a low voice.

"And he was nice?" May inquired, with vivid interest.

"I thought them both nice at the time," Miss Clark returned, with a sigh and a smile. "But--oh, here is Flossie ready to go down. Flossie, my dear, how quick you have been!"

"But I'm quite tidy, Miss Clark," Flossie replied. "I wish Tom would be quick. I say, Sarah, don't you wish you were going down, too?"

"Sarah's quite happy with Miss Clark and me," put in May; "ain't you, Sarah?"

"Yes, quite," Sarah replied.

"Oh, are you? Then I shall tell Ma you said you didn't want to go down to see her, then," Flossie retorted.

Poor Sarah's eyes filled with tears, and she turned to May in the hope of getting protection from her.

"Take no notice," said May superbly. "You'll get used to Flossie after a bit. She's a regular tell-tale; but she won't tell Ma, for Ma won't listen. She never does. Ma never will listen to tales, not even from Tom."

Flossie began to laugh uproariously, as if it was the greatest joke in the world to tease Sarah, who had yet to learn the peculiar workings of a Stubbs character. Then Miss Clark interrupted with a remark that Flossie's sash was not very well tied.

"Come here and let me tie it properly," she said sharply; and, as Flossie knew that any shortcoming would be sharply noticed and commented upon when she got downstairs, she turned obediently round and allowed Miss Clark to arrange her garments to her satisfaction. By that time Tom was ready, and the two went down together.

"Thank goodness," remarked May piously. "Now, Miss Clark, we shall have a little peace."

May was destined to have even a greater peace for her little chat with the governess than she had anticipated, for a few minutes after Flossie and Tom had gone downstairs one of the maids came up and said that the mistress wished Miss Sarah to come down at once. Miss Sarah, she added, was not to stay to dress more than she was then.

"Mayn't I just wash my hands?" Sarah asked imploringly of May.

"Of course," May answered, good-naturedly. "I'll go with you and make you straight."

May was very good-natured, though it is true that she was somewhat condescending; and she went with Sarah and showed her the room she was to share with Janey and Lily, showed her where to wash her face and hands, and herself combed her hair and made her look quite presentable.

"There! you look all right; let Miss Clark see you," she said. And, after Sarah had been for inspection and approval, she followed the maid, and went down, for the first time in her life, to dessert.

"'Ere she is!" Mrs. Stubbs exclaimed, as the little figure in black appeared in the doorway. "Flossie ought to have known you would come down to dessert the first evening; and, after that, you must take it in turn with the others."

"Yes, Auntie," said Sarah shyly, taking the chair next to Mrs. Stubbs, for which she was thankful.

"Will you 'ave some grapes, my dear?" Mrs. Stubbs asked kindly.

"Sarah 'd like a nectarine," said Mr. Stubbs, who made a god of his stomach, and loved good things.

"I doubt if she will," his wife said; "they're bitter to a child's taste; but 'ave which you like best, Sarah."

"Grapes, please, Auntie," said Sarah promptly.

As a matter of fact, Sarah did not exactly know what nectarines were; and, not liking to confess her ignorance, lest by doing so she should bring on herself sarcastic glances, to be followed later by sarcastic remarks from Flossie and Tom, she chose what she was sure of; besides, she did not want to run the risk of getting something upon her plate which she did not like, and perhaps could not eat. Poor Sarah still had a lively recollection of once helping herself to a piece of crystallised ginger when out to tea with her father. She could not bear hot things, and it seemed to her that that piece of ginger was the hottest morsel she had ever put in her mouth. She sucked and sucked in the hope of reducing it, and so getting rid of it, and the harder she sucked the hotter it grew. She tried crushing it between her sharp young teeth, but that process only seemed to bring out the heat more and more.

And at last, in sheer desperation, Sarah bethought herself of her pocket-handkerchief, and, putting it up as if to wipe her lips, ejected the pungent morsel, and at the same time seized the opportunity of putting her poor little burning tongue out to cool.

"Have another piece of ginger, dear," the lady of the house had said, seeing that her plate was empty.

CHAPTER VII

COUSINLY AMENITIES

The following morning Mrs. Stubbs began preparing vigorously for the move to Brighton, which the family invariably made at this time of the year. Usually, indeed, they went a week or so earlier, but Mrs. Stubbs being at Bridgehampton, Miss Clark had done no more towards going than to see that the children's summer and seaside frocks and other clothes were all ready.

"I think May and Flossie must 'ave new white best frocks," Mrs. Stubbs remarked; "and Sarah's things must be attended to. I knew it was no use getting the child anything but a black frock in that old-fashioned Bridge'ampton. I'd better go and see about them this morning; and if they're not done by Thursday they can come after us."

So Sarah was dressed, and with May went out in the neat "broom" with Mrs. Stubbs; and when she had arranged about the white frocks for her own children, Mrs. Stubbs began to lay in a stock of clothes for Sarah. Poor Sarah was bewildered, and felt more ready to cry than anything else.

"Am I to wear all these?" she asked, with what was almost horror, as she surveyed the pile of stockings, petticoats, gloves, sash-ribbons, pocket-handkerchiefs, and such things, which quickly accumulated upon the counter.

Mrs. Stubbs laughed good-naturedly. "You won't say 'all' when you've been a month at Brighton grubbing about on the shingle and going donkey-rides, and such like. You must be tidy, you know, Sarah. And I told you" (in an undertone) "that you would be the same as my own. I never do things by 'alves; I'm not one of that sort, thank 'eaven."

So, to Sarah's dismay, she bought lavishly of many things--frocks, boots, smart pinafores, a pretty, light summer jacket, and two hats, one a white sailor hat, the other a black trimmed one for best.

"Do you take cold easy, Sarah?" Mrs. Stubbs inquired, pausing as they went out of the showroom before a huge pile of furs.

"I think I do rather, Auntie; and I had bronchitis last year."

"That settles it!" her aunt exclaimed. "I don't believe in bronchitis and doctors' bills; waste of money, I call it. You shall 'ave a fur cape."

Now for two years past the dream of Sarah's life had been to possess a fur cape--"a beautiful, warm, soft, and lovely fur cape," as she expressed it; but until now, poor child, she had never dared to think it might ever be more than a dream--that it might come to be a possibility or a reality. The sudden realization was almost too much for her. She gave a little gasp of delight, and squeezed her aunt's arm hard.

"Oh, Auntie!" she whispered, with a sob of delight, "what shall I ever do for you?"

"Nay, nay! don't, Sarah!" Mrs. Stubbs expostulated, fearing the child was going to break down. "Be a good girl and love your aunt, that's all, dear."

"Oh, Auntie, I do, I do!" Sarah whispered back; "but if only Father knew--if only he knew!"

"Why, maybe he does," said Mrs. Stubbs kindly. "But come, Sarah, my dear, let us try your cape on. We are wasting this gentleman's time."

The gentleman in question protested that it was of no consequence, and begged Mrs. Stubbs not to hurry herself. But time was passing, and Mrs. Stubbs wanted to get home again, so she urged Sarah to be quick.

Ten minutes later Sarah was the proud possessor of a beautiful brown fur cape, just a little large for her, "that she might have room to grow," but so warm and cosy, and so entirely to her liking, that, in spite of the sultry day, the child would willingly have kept it on and gone home in it. She did not, however, dare to propose it to her aunt, and if she had done so Mrs. Stubbs had far too much good sense to have allowed it.

So they went home gaily enough to lunch, which was the young folk's dinner, but not without a petition from May that they should stop at some nice shop and have ices.

"It will spoil your dinner!" exclaimed Mrs. Stubbs.

"Oh, no, Mother," said May, who sometimes called her mother so. "And Sarah ought to have an ice the very first time she has ever had a drive with you."

Thus pressed, Mrs. Stubbs gave in, and stopped the carriage at a confectioner's in Regent Street.

"I'll have Vanilla," said May. "Which are you going to have, Sarah?"

"Whichever you like," said Sarah, who had never tasted an ice in her life, and was thus gaining another new experience.

"Try strawberry, then," said May, "and then we can help one another to a spoonful."

Sarah did try strawberry, and very good she found it. And then, when they had each eaten about half of their ices, May proposed that they should change about. Sarah did not find the Vanilla ice nearly so much to her liking as the strawberry one had been; but not liking to say so, as her cousin seemed to appreciate the change, she finished her portion, and said she had enjoyed herself very much.

"You'll buy us some sweets, Ma?" said May.

Sarah stared aghast; it seemed to her a terrible extravagance to have had the ices, particularly after having spent so much money as her aunt must have done for the clothes that morning. And then to ask for sweets! It seemed to her that May had no conscience.

And perhaps she was not very far wrong. But May, if she had no conscience, had a wonderful knack of smoothing the path of daily life for herself. Mrs. Stubbs demurred decidedly to buying sweets; but May gave a good reason for her demand.

"Oh, Ma, dear, do! Flossie 'll be as cross as two sticks at Sarah being out with you instead of her. And she's sure to ask if we had ices, and, you know we can't either of us tell a story about it--at least, I can't, and I don't think Sarah's at all the story-telling sort--are you, Sarah?"

"Oh no, indeed, Auntie, I'll never tell you a story," Sarah protested.

"And Flossie will go on anyhow, and taunt her; I know she will. She and Tom were at it last night--calling her Princess Sarah--her Royal Highness Princess Sarah," May went on--"didn't they, Sarah?"

"Never mind," said Sarah, trying to make light of it.

"But what did they call her that for?" Mrs. Stubbs asked, listening in a way that was rare with her to a bit of tittle-tattle from the schoolroom.

"Well, Ma, dear, you know what Tom is. He doesn't mean to be rough or rude, but he's just a boy home for the holidays; and after she's had the little ones all day, and perhaps not me to talk to at all, Tom does get a bit too much for Miss Clark's nerves. And last night Tom was just a bit more boisterous than usual, and poor Miss Clark didn't feel very well, and it tried her, you know. And Sarah was sitting by me, and very quiet, and Miss Clark happened to say she behaved like a princess--and so she did. And Tom took it up--Princess Sarah, of Nowhere; her Royal Highness Princess Sarah, of Nowhere, and such-like. I don't think Tom meant to be unkind, but it wasn't very nice for Sarah, being strange to us all; and then Flossie took it up, and Johnnie, but Miss Clark told Johnnie he should go to bed if he said it again, so he soon shut up."

"Well, it's no use taking any notice of it," said Mrs. Stubbs, stroking Sarah's hand kindly, "but you'd better put a stop to it whenever you hear 'em at it, May. I only 'ope Tom won't let his pa 'ear him. He'd be very angry, for Sarah's pore ma, that's dead and gone, was 'is favourite sister, and Pa'd never forgive a slight that was put on her little girl. It isn't," said Mrs. Stubbs, warming to her subject, "any fault of Sarah's that she's left, at nine years old, without a father, or a mother, or a 'ome; and it's no credit of any of yours that you've got a kind pa and ma, and a lux'r'ous 'ome, and a broom to ride about in. So, Sarah, my dear, don't take no notice if they begin teasing you about anything. Remember, your ma was your uncle's favourite sister, and that you was as welcome as flowers in May to him when I brought you 'ome."

Sarah looked up. "I don't mind anything, Auntie, dear," she said bravely, though her lips were trembling and her eyes were moist. "I'll remember what you told me when we were coming--give and take."

"That's a brave little woman!" Mrs. Stubbs exclaimed. "Yes, you'd better go and choose some sweets, May. Perhaps it was a little 'ard on Flossie she should have to stop at 'ome, but I can't do with more than three in the broom--it gets so 'ot and so stuffy. Perhaps, some day, your pa 'll buy us an open carriage, and then I don't mind 'ow many there are."

May went out into the shop--for they had been sitting alone in an inner room--to choose the sweets, and Mrs. Stubbs continued her talk to Sarah.

"I don't 'old with telling, as a rule; I want my children to be better than tell-pies," she said; "but I am glad May told me of this. If anything goes wrong with you, you tell May about it, Sarah; she's my right 'and; I don't know what I should do without her."

CHAPTER VIII

FLOSSIE'S GRIEVANCES

It was just as well that May had had sufficient forethought to provide herself with a bundle of sweets in the shape of a peace-offering for Flossie, for when they got in they found Flossie in anything but an amiable mood.

And when Flossie was not in an amiable mood, she was anything but an agreeable young person.

She was sitting in the schoolroom, staring sullenly out of the window and kicking impatiently against the window-board in a way which upset Miss Clark's nerves until they could only be fairly described as "shattered."

For everything from first to last had gone wrong with poor Flossie that morning. In the first place, she had been intensely disappointed at being left at home that Sarah might go in the carriage with Mrs. Stubbs. Flossie was particularly fond of going out with her mother in the carriage, and was also very fond of shopping. It was, therefore, quite in vain that Miss Clark tried to make her understand that Sarah had not been taken for favouritism, but simply in order that her aunt might buy her the clothes necessary for their trip to Brighton. Flossie thought and said it was a horrid shame, and vowed vengeance on the unfortunate and inoffensive, though offending, Sarah in consequence.

"Nasty little mean white-faced thing!" she exclaimed. "I suppose I shall always be shoved into the background now, just that she may be coddled up and made to think herself better than anybody else. Princess Sarah! Yes, that's to be the new idea. We're all to be put on one side for Princess Sarah."

"Flossie," said Miss Clark, very severely, "you ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. To be jealous of a poor little girl who has no father or mother, who has come among strangers at nine years old, and is fretting her poor little heart out for the sake of the father who loved her better than any one in all the world; to be jealous of her being taken out once when you know it is only on business they have gone--oh! for shame, Flossie! for shame!"

"Oh, well, she needn't fret after her pa so much," Flossie retorted, not taking Miss Clark's remarks to heart at all. "He didn't do so much for her. He wasn't a gentleman like Pa. If he had been, he'd have left her some money of her own."

Miss Clark's whole soul rose up in absolute loathing within her.

"You vulgar, vulgar child!" she thought. Aloud she said, "Flossie, my dear, a lady would not say such a thing as that. Your mother would be very, very angry if she heard it. Come, it is useless to stay grumbling and sulking here; you will have to accept the situation. Mrs. Stubbs is your mother, and the mistress of this house and family. She does not ask your leave whether she shall take you out with her or not. She would be a very bad mother to you if she did, instead of being, as she is now, a very good one. Let me hear not another word, but put your things on to go out with me."

"Is Tom going?" Flossie inquired, not daring to refuse, though she would dearly have liked to do so.

"No. Tom and Johnnie are going out with Charles."

"And I have to just go out with you and three stupid girls?"

"With your three sisters, certainly."

"It's a beastly shame," Flossie burst out.

"Not another word," said the governess sharply. "Go and get ready at once."

And poor Flossie had to go. Of course it happened that as she began wrong at the beginning nothing went very well with her during the rest of the morning. Miss Clark went the one way she hated above all others; but Miss Clark had to do a small but important commission for Mrs. Stubbs, and was obliged to take it.

Then her sisters, whom she heartily despised--Tom being her favourite--annoyed her excessively. Janey would persist in lagging behind, and Minnie got a stone in her shoe and had to stop and take it off and shake out the pebble; and then, of course, she had to stop also to have her shoe tied again, and one or two people stopped to see what was amiss, as people do stop when they see any impediment to the general traffic in the London streets. "Making a perfect show of them all," Flossie said angrily.

And when they got home, Flossie not feeling quite so bad as when they set off, Mrs. Stubbs and May and "that Sarah" actually had not come back. It really was too bad, and Flossie sat down in the schoolroom window to watch for them with a face like a thunder cloud and a heart in which every outraged and injured feeling capable of being felt by weak human nature seemed to be seething and struggling at once.

If only Tom had come back, it would not have been so bad. But Charles, the indoor servant, had taken him and Johnnie down to Seven Dials to buy some guinea-pigs, and Seven Dials being a long way from South Kensington, they could not possibly have got back by that time if they had tried ever so. Poor Flossie!

So she sat and brooded--brooded over what she was pleased to call her wrongs. She would not so much have minded not going out with the "broom" if only she might have gone with Charles and Tom and Johnnie to enjoy the somewhat doubtful delights of Seven Dials. That, however, Mrs. Stubbs had resolutely and peremptorily refused to allow. So it happened that Flossie sat in the window waiting for their return.

At last they came. She saw them get out of the carriage and disappear within the house; she saw the carriage drive round to the stables.

And then there was a long pause. But they none of them seemed to think of coming upstairs, even then. Poor Flossie kicked at the window-board more noisily than ever, and in vain Miss Clark, driven almost to desperation, cried, "Flossie, will you be quiet?"

And then the door opened quietly, and May came in, looking radiant. Flossie felt more ill-used even than before.

"Oh, you are here, Flossie. I've been looking for you everywhere," she remarked.

"Well, you can't have looked very hard, or you'd have found me," Flossie snapped. Then with a fierce glance at the parcel in her sister's hand, she blurted out, "You've been having ices!"

"Yes, we have," answered May; "but you needn't look like that, Flossie; I've brought you back a great deal more than both our ices cost."

"What have you brought?" half mollified.

"Caramels in chocolate."

"I hate caramels!" Flossie declared, fearing, with the old clinging to ungraciousness that sulky people have, that her last reply had sounded too much like coming round, a concession which Flossie never made too soon or made too cheap.

"Nougāt?" said May, putting the caramels on one side.

"You know I can't eat nougāt; it always makes my teeth ache!" Flossie cried.

"Fondants?" May knew that her sister was passionately fond of that form of sweetmeats. But Flossie would have none of it.

"I detest fondants!" she said, with an impressiveness which would have been worthy of the occasion had she said that she detested--well, prussic acid, or some pleasant and deadly preparation of that kind.

"Well, it's a pity I worried Ma for them at all," May remarked with her usual placid air of disgust. "Perhaps, though, you'll think differently after lunch. Come down, and pray don't look like that! Pa's at home."

CHAPTER IX

AN ASTUTE TELL-PIE

But not even the presence of Mr. Stubbs, who was held in great awe by his sons and daughters, and was most emphatically what is known as "master in his own house," was sufficient to restore the redoubtable Flossie to her usual careless, happy-go-lucky, giggling sauciness.

She went down and took her seat at table, speaking only when spoken to, but nevertheless contriving to eat an uncommonly good meal. And Tom entertained her with an account of his excursion to the Dials; and although Flossie had spent the last three hours in a passion of jealousy, envy, and unhappiness too great for alleviation, even when it came in the shape of caramels, nougāt, and fondants, yet she could not resist the temptation of hearing all that Tom had to say, and of arranging to go round to the stables with him to see his new pets when lunch should be over.

And presently she was graciously pleased to accept the caramels and nougāt and the fondants. But for some hours she did not forgive Sarah--"Princess Sarah" she unceasingly called her, although solemnly warned by May that "Ma" had already heard of the name, and that if "Pa" heard it the consequences would indeed be dreadful.

"Ah, I suppose Miss Tell-pie has been making up to Ma this morning!" suggested Flossie, with a frightful sneer.

"Nothing of the kind!" returned May quickly, but in her most condescending tone; "it was quite another person. Sarah has never said a word, not even when she was asked. But, any way, Ma did hear it, and she's very angry about it. And Ma says if Pa gets to know about it he'll be fearfully angry, for Sarah's ma was his favourite sister. And so you'd better just mind what you're doing, Miss Flossie!"

"I do hate that Miss Clark!" Flossie remarked.

"Miss Clark!" exclaimed May. "Why, whatever for?"

"Nasty, mean, spiteful tell-pie!" Flossie explained.

"It wasn't Miss Clark. I tell you Ma got to hear about it."

"Who was it then?"

"Ah, that I can't tell you; but, any way, Ma got to hear of it, and she told me to put a stop to it, and so you'd better be careful, that's all."

And never for a moment did Flossie suspect that some blades are so sharp that they can cut two ways, and that her informant was quite as clever at carrying tales to one side as to the other. Ah! but blundering, boisterous Flossie was not nearly so astute as Mrs. Stubbs's right hand--May.

When they had come from Bridgehampton Mrs. Stubbs had only brought her own box and one which contained Sarah's modest wardrobe with them. Her father's pictures and the precious Amati, with one or two bits of old carved oak, a chair, a table, a little chest, and a stool, with one or two bits of armour and a few pieces of very good china, were all packed and sent off by goods train.

They arrived that afternoon, and Mrs. Stubbs had them all unpacked, and declared her intention of putting them into the little bedroom which, after they came back from Brighton, should be Sarah's own.

"They're lovely things, and belong to the child herself, and it's right she should have them kept for 'er, you know, Stubbs."

"Quite right, quite right," returned Mr. Stubbs promptly, and turning to see the effect of his wife's consideration on Sarah, whose character he was studying earnestly and diligently for the purpose of finding out whether any taint of what he called her "fine gentleman father" was about her.

But Sarah was quite oblivious. She had got hold of her beloved violin, from which she had never been parted before in all her life, and was dusting it jealously with her little pocket-handkerchief.

Mrs. Stubbs saw the look and understood it

"The child didn't 'ear," she explained; and having attracted Sarah's attention, told her what her plans were for her future comfort. "You'll like that, won't you?" she ended.

Sarah's reply was as astounding as it was prompt. "Oh, no, dear Auntie, not at all," she said earnestly.

"And why not?" Mrs. Stubbs inquired, while her husband stared as if he thought the world might be coming to an end.

"Why, Auntie, didn't you say your own self how beautiful they were, and how well they would set off a hall? I'd much rather you'd put them downstairs than in a bedroom, for you would see them every time you went in and out, and that would please me."

"There's unselfishness for you!" Mrs. Stubbs cried.

"No, Auntie. I don't think it is," said Sarah in her sweet, humble voice. "It's nothing so grand as unselfishness; it's just because I love you."

"Kiss me, my woman," cried Mrs. Stubbs with rapture.

"And come and kiss me," said Mr. Stubbs. "You're a good girl, Sarah, your mother's own daughter. She was right, my lass, to stick to the husband she loved and married, though I never thought so till this moment."

"Oh, Uncle!" Sarah gasped, for to hear him speak so of the mother she had never seen, but whom she had been taught to love from her babyhood, was joy almost greater than her child's heart could bear.

"There, there! If aught goes wrong, come to me," Mr. Stubbs murmured. "And if you always speak to your aunt as you've done to-day, I shall think your pore father must have been a fine fellow, or you'd never be what you are."

Oh, Sarah was so happy! After all, what could, what did it matter if Flossie and Tom did call her Princess Sarah of Nowhere? Why, just nothing at all--nothing at all.

"Uncle," she said, after a moment or two, "may I play you something on my violin?"

"Yes," he answered.

"That," remarked Mrs. Stubbs, as Sarah opened the piano and began to tune up in a way which made her uncle open his eyes with astonishment, "is the fiddle Sarah says is worth five hundred pounds."

"Like enough. Some of 'em are," he answered.

And then Sarah played a German lied and a Hungarian dance; then "Home, Sweet Home."

"Well," said Mrs. Stubbs, looking at him, when she ceased, "what do you think of it?"

"I think she's--a genius," answered Mr. Stubbs.

CHAPTER X

A PLEASANT RAILWAY JOURNEY

On the Thursday following the whole Stubbs family went to Brighton. Sarah enjoyed the journey intensely, journeys being still almost a novelty with her. She would have enjoyed it more if May had not grumbled at going second-class, and if Flossie and Tom had not vied with one another in trying how far they could lean out of either window of the carriage. Poor Miss Clark was almost beside herself with fright.

"Tom, put your head in immediately," she cried in desperation, and expecting every moment to see the door fly open and Tom shoot out headlong, to be picked up a mangled corpse or in actual fragments. "Tom, do you hear me? Tom, I insist upon it."

But if Miss Clark had shouted till she had killed herself with shouting, Tom, leaning half his body out of the window, with the wind whistling in his ears and the roar and rattle of the engine and wheels all helping to deaden any such small sounds as that of a human voice, and that the voice of a weak and rather helpless woman, could not have heard her, and Miss Clark had no choice but, with May's help, to tug Tom in by the nether part of his garments. This done, she pulled up the window with a jerk.

"I forbid you to open that window again," she said with such severity that even Tom was cowed, and sat meekly down with a somewhat sulky air.

Miss Clark had thus time to turn her attention to the other children, when, to her horror, she found that Flossie was not only emulating but far surpassing her brother, not contenting herself with leaning well out of the window, but was actually standing on the seat that she might push herself out the farther. To pull her in and put her down on her seat with a bump was the work of but a moment.

"If I have to speak to you again, Flossie," she said in accents of solemn warning, "I shall get out at the next station and take you to your father's carriage. I fancy you will sit quiet there."

Flossie thought so too, and sat quietly enough till the next station was passed; but after that May complained so bitterly of the closed windows and the horrid stuffiness of the carriage that Miss Clark's sternness relented a little, and she allowed the window beside which May was sitting to be let down. And the very fact of the window being open seemed to set all Tom's nerves, and muscles, and longings tingling. He moved about uneasily in his seat, kept dodging round to look sideways through the glass at the side, and finally jumped up in a hurry and pushed his head and shoulders through the window. In vain did Miss Clark tug and pull at him and his garments alike. Tom had his elbows out of the window this time, and, as he chose not to give way, not all the combined strength of Miss Clark and May, with such help as Sarah and Minnie could give, had the smallest effect upon him. At last Miss Clark, who, as I have said, was not very strong, sat down and began to sniff in a way which sounded very hysterical, for she really was horribly afraid some dreadful accident would happen long before they got to their destination. However, as the suspicious little sob was heard and understood by May, that young lady took the law into her own hands and administered a sharp corrective immediately.

"Tom," she shouted, "come in."

Tom did not hear more than that he was being shouted at, and, as a natural consequence, did not move. Whereupon May quietly reached up to the rack and fished out Tom's own, his very own, riding-whip, and with that she began to belabour him soundly.

It had effect! After half a dozen cuts, Tom began to struggle in, but May was a stout and heavily-set young lady, and as resolute in will as ever was her father, when she was once fairly roused. So she calmly held him by his neck and went on administering her corrective until she was utterly tired.

Then she let him go, and when he, blind with rage and fury, and vowing vengeance upon her, made for her, and would have fought her, she sprang up at the knob by which you can signal to the driver and stop a train, and threatened to pull it if he touched her.

And oh, Tom was angry! Angry--he was furious; but he was mastered. For it happened that on the very day that he and Johnnie had gone with Charles to Seven Dials, he had asked Charles all about the alarm bell, by means of which trains may be stopped if necessary, and Charles had explained the matter in a clear and lucid way peculiar to himself--a talent which made him especially valuable in a home where there were boys.

"Why, Master Tom," he exclaimed, "you see that's a indicator. If you wants to storp the trayin you just pulls that knob, and it rings a bell on the engine somewhere, and the driver storps the trayin at once."

"Let's stop it," suggested Tom, in high glee at the prospect of a walk through a dark and dangerous tunnel.

It must be admitted that Charles's heart fairly stood still at the thought of what his explanation had suggested.

"Master Tom," said he, with a face of horror which was so expressive that Tom was greatly impressed by it, "don't you go for to do nothing of the kind! It's almost a 'anging matter is storping of trayins--useless like. If you was took ill, or 'ad a fit, or somebody was a-murdering of you, why, it would be all right; but to storp a trayin when there's naught wrong, is--well, I believe, as a matter of fact, it's seven years."

"Seven years--seven years what?" Tom asked, thinking the whole thing a grand joke.

"Prison," returned Charles laconically; "that is, if it was me. If it was you, Master Tom, it would mean reformatory school, with plenty of stick and no meat, nor no 'olidays. No, I wouldn't go for to storp no trayins if I was you, Master Tom."

"But we needn't say it was us that rang," pleaded Tom, whose fingers were just itching to ring that bell.

Charles laughed. "Lor! Master Tom, they're up to that game!" he answered. "Bless you! they 'ave a lot of numbers, and they'd know in a minute which carriage it was that rang. No, Master Tom, don't you go for to ring no bells and storp no trayins. I lived servant with a young fellow once as had had five years of a reformatory school, and the tales he used to tell of what went on there was enough to make your blood curdle and your very 'air stand on end--mine did many a time!"

"Which--your blood or your hair, Charles?" Tom inquired, with keen interest.

"Both!" returned Charles, in a tone which carried conviction with it.

Thus Tom had no further resource, when May vowed to ring the bell and stop the train if he touched her, but to sit down and bear his aches and his defeat in silence. But, oh, he was angry! To be beaten and beaten again by a girl! It was too humiliating, too lowering to bear. Yet poor Tom had to bear it--that was the worst of it. So they eventually got to Brighton in safety.

CHAPTER XI

AUNT GEORGE

It would be hard for me to tell of all the joys and pleasures which Brighton gave to the Stubbs family and to Sarah in particular. To the younger of the Stubbs children all was joy and delight, though they had been there several times before; to Miss Clark it was rest and peace, because she was not much troubled with Tom; and Flossie, too, was allowed to go about with him and Johnnie a great deal more freely than she ever was at home. May--always Miss Clark's favourite--spent much of her time beside her, though she went shopping sometimes with her mother, and also driving. But, on the whole, Mrs. Stubbs did not give up very much of her time just then to her children.

For Mr. Stubbs was taking his holiday, and Mr. Stubbs was troubled with a threatened fit of the gout, and do with the sound of the children's racket and bustle he simply could not. He was often threatened with the gout, though the threatenings seldom came to anything more than temper. So, whilst they were at Brighton, Mrs. Stubbs--who was as good a wife as she was a mother--devoted herself to him, and left the children to take care of themselves a good deal.

Their life was naturally quite a different one to what it was in town. They had a furnished house in which they slept and took their meals, but which at other times they did not much affect--they had early dinner there, and a high tea at seven o'clock, at which they all ate like ravenous wolves, Sarah amongst the number. This was a very happy, free-and-easy meal; for, though Mr. and Mrs. Stubbs joined in the early dinner, and called it lunch, they did not go in for the high tea but invariably went to the Grand Hotel and had dinner there.

Oh, what happy, happy days they were! There was the early run out on the Parade or the Sea Wall before breakfast; then the delicious seaside breakfast, with fresh whitings every morning. There was the daily dip in the sea, and the daily donkey ride or goat-chaise drive. There was the ever new and delightful shingle, on which they played and skipped, and dug and delved to their hearts' content. There were the niggers, and the blind man who sang to his own accompaniment on a sort of hand-organ, and wore a smart blue necktie, and a flower in his button-hole. There was a sweet little child, too, wearing a big sun-bonnet, whom they used to watch for every morning, who came with toddling three-year-old gravity with a penny for the niggers, to the infinite amusement of the bystanders.

"Here, black man."

"Thank you, my little Snowdrop," was the invariable reply of the nigger minstrel; and then the little wee "Snowdrop" would make a stately bow. The nigger would take off his hat with a bow to match it, and the little scene was over till the morrow.

Then there was the Aquarium, and the delightful shop, which they called "The Creameries," a little way past Mutton's; and once or twice they all, except Mr. Stubbs, went for a trip in the steamer, when Mrs. Stubbs took chief charge, and Miss Clark was so horribly ill that she thought she would have died.

And once Mr. and Mrs. Stubbs went to Newhaven, and thence to Dieppe, taking Tom with them--not at all because Tom wanted to go, but because May represented to her mother that neither she nor Miss Clark were feeling very well, and that without "Pa's" restraining influence she was sure Tom would not only worry them all to death, but would also incite Flossie into all manner of dreadful pranks, the consequences of which might be dire and terrible.

So Tom went with them over the water on to French soil, and May remarked, triumphantly, to the governess, "I've got rid of him, Miss Clark, so now we shall have a little peace, and enjoy ourselves."

And so they did. To be without Tom was like the enjoyment of the calm which comes after a storm; and they, one and all, with the exception of Flossie, enjoyed it to the full. Flossie was very much aggrieved at being thus deprived of her playfellow.

"It is too bad that Tom should have to go with Pa and Ma," she complained. "He won't have a soul to speak to or a boy to play with, or anything, except some stupid little French boy, perhaps, who can't speak a word of anything but gibberish. I call it a beastly shame. I suppose it's old Clark's doing, and that she was just afraid Tom would get an extra good time while they were away. Nasty old cat!"

"Miss Clark had no more to do with it than you had," May replied. "Ma chose to take him, and that's enough."

As Tom was actually gone, there was not the smallest use in grumbling. So Flossie, thus left idle, turned her attention upon Sarah. It is needless to say that very, very soon Flossie also began to tease her, and, in consequence, Sarah's life became more or less of a burden to her. In this way Sarah, who was a singularly uncomplaining child, crept nearer and nearer to Miss Clark and May, as there she was safe from Flossie's taunts and jeers; and it was in this way that some notice was taken of her by one of the great lights of the Stubbs family, Mrs. George Stubbs, the corn-factor's wife, who lived in great style at Brighton.

It happened that one morning Sarah and May were waiting for Miss Clark to come out with the younger children, when Mrs. George came slowly along in a bath-chair. As she passed by them she called to the man to stop. "Dear me, is that you, May?" she remarked; "how you've grown. Your papa and mamma came to see us the other day, but I was not at home. I was out."

"They have gone over to Dieppe," said May, "and Tom with them. This is our cousin, Sarah, Aunt George."

"Oh! is it? Yes, your mamma told me when she wrote last that she was coming to live with you. How do you do, Sarah?"

All this was uttered in a languid tone, as if, on the whole, life was too much trouble to be lived at all. Sarah had met with nothing of this kind in all her life before, and looked only impressed; in truth, she looked a good deal more impressed than she was, or rather she looked differently impressed to what she was, and Mrs. George Stubbs was pleased to be a little flattered thereby.

"You must come and have tea with me," she observed graciously to May. "I have not been able to get out except the day your mamma called--my unfortunate neuralgia has been so very trying. You may bring Sarah. Would you like to come to-night?

"Very much indeed, thank you, Aunt George," responded May.

"Very much indeed," echoed Sarah.

"Your cousins are, of course, all at school in Paris, and your uncle is in London, so we will have high tea at seven o'clock. Bring your music with you."

"Sarah plays the violin," said May, who hated playing in company herself. "She plays it beautifully. She's going to have lessons."

"Then bring your violin and let me hear you," said Mrs. George to Sarah; "it is a most stylish instrument."

"I will," said Sarah.

"Oh, is Flossie to come, Aunt George?" asked May, as they shook hands.

"Flossie? No. I can-not do with Flossie," replied Mrs. George, in a tone which was enough to remind May that the very last time they had visited their aunt, Flossie had been clever enough to break a beautiful Venetian glass, which was, as Mrs. George had remarked pathetically over the fragments, simply of priceless value.

CHAPTER XII

SARAH MAKES AN IMPRESSION

"What a shame!" said Flossie, when she heard of the invitation. "Just like the nasty old thing, to remember an accident that I couldn't help. Not that I care! I shall enjoy myself far better at home"; and Flossie caught hold of Minnie's arm, and stalked along the Parade as if she cared so little that she did not want to hear any more about that great lady, her Aunt George.

"What did you think of her?" May asked of Sarah.

"Is she very ill?" Sarah asked, thinking of the bath-chair and her aunt's languid wrists and tones.

"Ill?--no! Ma says she's a hy-po-chon-driac," returned May, pronouncing the long word in syllables. "That's fancying yourself ill when you ain't. See? But all the same, Aunt George is very stylish."

"She's not half so nice as Auntie," Sarah flashed out.

"No, she isn't! But she's a great deal stylisher than Ma is," May returned. "Didn't you hear the way she told the man to go on? 'Go-on-Chawles!'" and May leant back on the seat, slightly waved a languid hand, flickered her drooping eyelids, and gave a half-languid, half-supercilious smile.

It was a fine imitation of Mrs. George's stylish airs, and Sarah was lost in admiration of it.

"I wonder," she remarked presently, after thinking the question over, "I wonder if she eats her dinner like that; because, if she does, it must generally get cold before she has half finished it."

"Oh, Aunt's much too stylish to eat much," May explained. "She nibbles at this and picks at that. You'll see to-night."

And Sarah did see--saw that, in spite of her airs and her nibbling and her picking, Mrs. George contrived to put a good meal out of sight--quite as much as ever her sister-in-law could manage to do. That evening was also a new experience to Sarah; it was so much more stately than anything she had seen before.

Mr. and Mrs. George Stubbs lived in a very large house in a large square in the best part of Brighton. A resplendent footman received them when they got out of the cab--yes, they had a cab, though it was only a short way from their own house--and a solemn butler ushered them into Mrs. George's presence. She wore a tea-gown of soft yellow silk, with a very voluminous trailing skirt, and showers of white lace and broad yellow ribbons about it. It was a garment that suited the languid air, the quivering eye-lids, the weak wrists, and the soft, drawling voice to perfection.

The resplendent footman had relieved Sarah of her violin-case and carried it upstairs for her. Mrs. George motioned to it as he announced her visitors. "With great care, Chawles," and "Chawles" put it down on a chair beside the inlaid grand piano as if it were a baby and might squeal.

"How are you, dears?" Mrs. George said, giving each a limp and languid hand. "How oppressive the evening is!" Then to "Chawles," "Let tea be served."

Very soon tea was announced, and they went downstairs. It was all new to Sarah--the large, spacious dining-room, with its rich, costly art-furniture; the pretty round table, with flowers and pretty-coloured glasses, with quaint little figures holding trays of sweets or preserves, or wheeling barrows of tiny ferns or miniature palms.

And the board was well-spread, too. There was salmon, salad, and a boiled chicken covered with white, frothy sauce. There was an aspic jelly, with eggs and green peas, and certain dark things which May told her afterwards were truffles; and there were several kinds of sweet dishes, and more than one kind of wine.

To Sarah it was a resplendent feast--as resplendent as the gorgeous footman who stood midway between her chair and May's, only a little in the rear; the solemn butler keeping guard over his mistress, whom he served first, as if she had been a royal queen.

"Now you shall play to me," Mrs. George said to Sarah, when they had got back to the drawing-room again.

Sarah rose obediently

"What shall I play?" she asked.

"What can you play?" Mrs. George asked, in reply.

"Oh, a great many things," Sarah said modestly.

"Let Sarah play what she fancies," put in May, who had established herself in a low, lounging chair, and was fanning herself with a fan she had found on a table at hand with the closest imitation of Mrs. George she could manage; "she always plays the best then."

"Very well," Mrs. George said graciously. So Sarah began.

She felt that in all her life before she had never played as she played then. The influence of the luxurious meal of which they had just partaken was upon her. The exquisite coloured glass, the sweet-scented flowers, the smell of the fragrant coffee, the stately servants moving softly about with quiet footsteps and smooth gestures, each and all had made her feel calm and peaceful; and now the soft-toned drawing-room, with its plush and lace hangings, its delicate china, its Indian embroideries, and those two quiet figures lying back in the half light, making no movement except the slow waving to and fro of their fans, completed the influence. It was all food to Sarah's artistic soul, and she made the Amati speak for her all that was passing through her mind. Mrs. George was spell-bound. She actually forgot to fan herself in the desire not to miss a single note. Nay, she did more, she forgot to be languid, and sat bolt upright in her chair, her head moving to and fro in time with Sarah's music.

"Why, child, you are a genius!" she exclaimed, as Sarah came to a close and turned her speaking eyes upon her for comment.

"That's just what Papa said," put in May, adjusting her language to her company.

"If you go on--if you work," Mrs. George continued, "your violin will be your fortune. You will be a great woman some day."

Sarah's great eyes blazed at the thought of it; her heart began to beat hard and fast.

"Do you really think so, Aunt George?" she asked.

"I really do. I am sure of it. But, child, your violin seems to me a very good one. Where did you get it?"

"Father gave it to me; it was his grandfather's," said Sarah, holding it out for inspection. "It is an Amati."

"It is worth five hundred pounds," said May, who was eminently practical, and measured most things by a pounds, shillings, and pence standard.

"Of course--if it is an Amati," murmured Mrs. George, becoming languid again. "But go on, my child. I should like a little more."

So Sarah played and played until the room grew darker and darker, and gradually the shadows deepened, until it was only by the lamps from the square that she could distinguish the outlines of the figure in the yellow sweeping robes.

It was like a shock when the door was gently opened and the footman came in, bearing a huge lamp with a crimson shade. Then the coffee followed, and before very long one of the servants came back, and said that the cab for the young ladies had come.

"You have given me great pleasure," said Mrs. George to Sarah; "and when Mrs. Stubbs comes back I must make an afternoon party, and Sarah shall play at it. I have not been so pleased for a long time." And then she kissed them both, and with "good-night" they left her.

"Won't Ma be pleased!" remarked May, with great satisfaction, as they drove along the Parade. "I shan't mind a bit her being vexed that Flossie wasn't asked. Really, Sarah, I never saw Aunt George so excited before. She's generally so die-away and all that."

But Sarah was hardly listening, and not heeding at all. With her precious Amati on her knee, she was looking away over the moonlit sea, thinking of what her aunt had said to her. "If you go on--if you work--your violin will be your fortune. You will be a great woman."

"I will go on; I will work," she said to herself. "If I can be a great woman, I will."

CHAPTER XIII

THE TURNING POINT OF HER LIFE

Mrs. George's opinion of Sarah's violin-playing proved to be the turning point of her life as a violin-player. A few days later, when Mr. and Mrs. Stubbs had returned from Dieppe, she gave a large afternoon reception, to which Sarah took her violin, and played--her best. And the visitors--elegant ladies and gentlemen--crowded round the child, and would have turned her head with praises, had it not been such a sensible little head that they had no sort of effect upon it.

"They talked such a lot," she said to her aunt afterwards, "that I felt frightened at first; but I found that they didn't really know much about it, for one of my strings got flat, and they praised that more than anything."

But her aunt, Mrs. Stubbs, was proud enough and elated enough for a dozen violin-players, and she stood beside Sarah, explaining who she was and how she was going to have lessons from the best master they could get, until Mrs. George felt sick to think that her grand friends should know "that dreadful woman" was a relation of hers.

"Sarah, my dear, Lady Golladay wishes you to play again. Something pathetic."

So Sarah tuned up again, and Mrs. Stubbs was silent.

"She can't talk when the child is playing," murmured Mrs. George to her husband. "Do take her down to have some tea or something, and keep her as long as you can--anything to keep her out of sight."

"All right," he answered, and immediately that Sarah's melody came to an end, followed by a burst of applause, he offered his arm to his sister-in-law, and begged her to go with him and have some refreshments.

This reception completely opened Mrs. Stubbs's eyes, and she went back to London strangely impressed with a belief that Sarah was not only a genius, but a new fashion. She gave a party, too--not an afternoon party, for she wanted her husband to be there, and he was never at home before six o'clock. No, it was not an afternoon, but an evening party, at which the elder children were all present, and at which Sarah played.

And then Sarah began with her violin lessons, and worked hard, very hard. Mrs. George wrote from Brighton that she would provide all the new music she required, and that her Uncle George enclosed a sovereign for herself.

So time went on. Sarah had two lessons a week, and improved daily in her playing. Tom went back to school, and Johnnie with him, and Flossie's turbulent spirit became a good deal subdued, though she never forgot to keep Sarah reminded that she was "Princess Sarah of Nowhere."

The weeks rolled into months, and months into years. Miss Clark went away and got married--to May's mingled sorrow and delight, and to Flossie's unfeigned and unutterable disgust--for Mrs. Stubbs chose a lady to fill her place, who was what she called "a strict disciplinarian," and Flossie had considerably less freedom and fun than she had aforetime. For Miss Best had not only a strong mind and a strong will, but also a remarkably strong body, and seemed able to be on the alert at all times and seasons. She had, too, not the smallest objection to telling tales in school or out of it. The slightest infringement of her rules was visited with heavy punishment in the form of extra lessons, and the least attempt to shirk them was reported to headquarters immediately. In fact, Miss Best was a power, a power to be felt and feared, and Flossie did both accordingly.

Of all her pupils, Sarah was Miss Best's favourite. In her she recognised the only worker. May was good-tempered, and possessed the blessing of a placid and dignified disposition; but May's capacity for learning was not great, and Miss Best soon found that it was no use trying to drive her a shade faster along the royal road to knowledge. She went at a willing jog-trot; she could not gallop because she had not the power. With Flossie it was different. Flossie had brilliant capacities which she would not use. Miss Best was determined that she should use them and exert them. Flossie was equally determined that she would not; and so for the first few months life in the Stubbs's schoolroom was a hand-to-hand fight between Flossie and Miss Best; and Miss Best came off winner.

Yet, though she got the better of Flossie and made her work, she never gave her the same place in her heart that she gave to Sarah, who worked with all her heart and soul, because she was impressed with the idea that if she only worked hard enough she might be a great woman one day.

And as she was a favourite with Miss Best, so was she a favourite with Signor Capri, the master who taught her the violin. He was quick to recognise the true artist soul that dwelt within her, and gave her all the help that lay in his power; in fact, Sarah was his favourite pupil, his pet, and he put many chances of advancement toward her great ambition in her way.

For instance, many times he took her out with him to play at concerts and private houses, so that she might grow accustomed to playing before an audience of strangers and also that she might become known.

And known very soon Sarah was, and welcomed to many a noble house for the sake of the exquisite sounds she was able to draw from the strings of the Amati. Besides that, Sarah was a very pretty child, and, as she grew older, was an equally pretty girl. She never had that gawky legginess which distinguishes so many girls in their teens--there was nothing awkward about her, nothing rough or boisterous. All her movements were soft and gentle; her voice was sweet, and her laugh very musical, but not loud; and with her tall, slim figure, and the great, grey, earnest eyes looking out from under the shining masses of sunny hair, she was, indeed, an uncommon-looking girl, and a great contrast to the young Stubbses, who were all short, and inclined to be stout, and had twine-coloured hair, and pale, pasty complexions; though, in spite of that, they all had, like their mother, a certain bonniness which made them pleasant looking enough.

Sarah had been nearly four years living at Jesamond Road, where Mrs. Stubbs's home was, when May "came out." May was then nearly eighteen, and just what she had been when Sarah first saw her--placid, good-tempered, and obliging, not very quick in mind, nor yet in body; willing to take advantage of every pleasure that came in her road, but not willing to give herself the smallest trouble that other people might have pleasure too. She was very different to Flossie, who was a regular little spitfire, and had neither consideration for, nor fear of, anything on earth, except Miss Best, whom she detested, but whom she dared not openly defy; if she had dared, Flossie would have done it.

As for Tom, he was beyond the control of anybody in that house, excepting his father. He was wilder, rougher, more unmerciful, and more impudent than ever; and whenever Tom's holidays drew near, Sarah used to quake for fear lest her precious Amati should not survive the visit; and invariably she carried it to the cupboard in Miss Best's room for safety. Happily, into that room Master Tom did not presume to put even so much as the tip of his nose.

CHAPTER XIV

A BRILLIANT MARRIAGE

When May left the schoolroom behind her, Sarah found a great difference in her life. In her placid, good-natured way, May had always been fond of her, and had in a great measure stood between her and Flossie; but Flossie, when she became the senior of the schoolroom, took every opportunity she had of making the younger ones, particularly Sarah, aware of that fact.

Sarah was then nearly fourteen, and rather taller than Flossie, who was turned sixteen; so, had she chosen to do so, she could easily have got the best of her; but Sarah never forgot--never, indeed, was allowed to forget--that she was not a daughter of the house, and was not, therefore, free to fight and wrangle as much and as disagreeably as the others allowed themselves to do.

Very, very often, in those days, did she have the old taunt of Princess Sarah thrown at her. "Oh! Princess Sarah is quite too high and mighty to quarrel over it. Princess Sarah is going to do the mute martyr style of thing."

So Flossie would--though she did not know it--encourage her cousin to work harder than ever, just by way of showing that she had something more in her than to spend her life in bickering and snarling. Stay! I do Sarah an injustice there--she was moved by another and a better motive, both in trying to keep peace and in trying to get on with her work, for she had always the grateful feeling, "It will please Auntie so," and always a feeling that it was a slight return to her uncle's wife if she bore Flossie's attentions without complaining.

They did not see much of May; all day she was in the drawing-room with her mother, if she was not out on some errand of pleasure. And at night, when the schoolroom tea was over, she used to come down for a minute and show herself, a vision of comeliness--for May was considered a great beauty in the Stubbs' set--in white or roseate airy garments, with hair crimpled and fluffy, feathers and flowers, fans and bangles, pearls and diamonds, and all the other necessaries for a young lady of fashion in her first season.

Some time previously Mr. Stubbs had made his wife a present of an elegant landau and a pair of high-stepping horses. But Flossie, to her disgust, found that her drives were no more frequent than they had been in the days of the one-horse "broom." Then her mother had not unreasonably declared herself unable to bear the stuffiness of a carriage full of people. Now May objected to any one going with them on the score of her dress being crushed and the unpleasantness of "looking like a family ark."

They had become very gay. Scarcely a night passed but they went out to some gay entertainment or other, and many parties were given at home, when the elder of the younger members of the family had the pleasure of participating in them.

Flossie was terribly indignant at being kept at home that May might have more room in the luxurious and roomy carriage.

"Just you wait till I come out, Miss May." She said one day, "and then see if your airs and graces will keep me in the background! The fact is, you're afraid to show off against me; you know as well as I do that, with all your fine dress and your finer airs, you are not half so much noticed as I am! And as for that Sarah----"

"Leave Sarah out of it!" laughed May; "she doesn't want to go."

"I'd soon stop it if she did!" growled Flossie.

It was really very hard, and Flossie thought and said so. But May was inflexible, and long before Flossie was ready to come out May became engaged to be married.

It was a very brilliant marriage indeed, and the entire family were wonderfully elated about it. True, the bridegroom was a good deal older than May, and was pompous to a degree. But then he was enormously rich, and had a great cheap clothes manufactory down the East End somewhere, and could give May bigger diamonds than anybody they knew. He had, too, a house in Palace Gardens and a retinue of silk-stockinged servants, in comparison with whom Mrs. George's footman at Brighton was a mere country clod.

So in time May was married--married with such pomp and ceremony that feelings seemed left out altogether, and if tender-hearted Mrs. Stubbs shed a few tears at parting with the first of all her brood, they were smothered among the billows of lace which bedecked her, and nobody but herself was any the wiser.

After this it became an established custom that Flossie should take May's place in the carriage; and it was not long before she managed to persuade her mother that it was time for her to throw off Miss Best's yoke altogether, and go out as a young lady of fashion.

Before very long Mrs. Stubbs began dearly to repent herself of her weakness; for Flossie, with her emancipation, seemed to have left her old self in the schoolroom, and to have taken up a new character altogether. She became very refined, very fashionable, very elegant in all her ideas and desires.

"My mother really is a great trial to me," she said one day to Sarah. "She's very good, and all that, you know; but she's so--well, there's no sort of style about poor mother. And it is trying to have to take men up and introduce them to her. And they look at her, don't you know, as if she were something new, something strange--as if they hadn't seen anything like her before. It's annoying, to say the least of it."

"Well, if I were you," retorted Sarah hotly, "I should say to such people, and pretty sharply, 'If my mother is not good enough for you, why, neither am I.'"

"But then, you see, I am," remarked Flossie, with ineffable conceit.

"You don't understand what I mean," said Sarah, with a patient sigh.

"That's because you're so bad at expressing yourself, my dear," said Flossie, with a fine air of condescension. "It all comes out of shutting yourself up so much with that squeaking old violin of yours. I can't think why you didn't go in for the guitar--it's such a pretty instrument to play, and it backs up a voice so well."

"But I haven't got a voice," cried Sarah, laughing.

"Oh, that doesn't matter. Lady Lomys hasn't a voice either, but she sings everywhere--everywhere."

"Where did you hear her?" Sarah asked.

"Oh, well, I haven't heard her myself," Flossie admitted; "but then, that's what everybody says about Lady Lomys."

"Oh! I see," murmured Sarah, not at all impressed by the mention of her ladyship's accomplishments.

It happened not very long after this that the Stubbses gave a ball--not just a dance, but a regular ball, with every available room in the house cleared and specially decorated, with the balconies covered in with awnings, and with every window and chimney-shelf, every fireplace and corner, filled with banks of flowers or stacks of exquisite palms or ferns. The entire house looked like fairyland, and Mrs. Stubbs went to and fro like a substantial fairy godmother, who was not quite sure how her charms were going to work.

May came, with her elderly husband, from her great mansion in Palace Gardens, wearing a white velvet gown and such a blaze of diamonds that the mind refused to estimate their real value, and ran instinctively to paste. And Mrs. George, who was in town for "the season," came with her daughters, and languidly patronised everything but those diamonds, which she cheapened at once as being a little "off colour" and a "trifle overdone." Mrs. George herself had put on every single stone she was possessed of--even to making use of her husband's breast-pin to fasten a stray end of lace on the bosom of her gown; but that, of course, had nothing really to do with her remarks on her niece's taste--oh, no!

Flossie had a new dress for the occasion, of course; and she had coaxed a beautiful diamond arrow out of her father on some pretext or other. Sarah thought she had never seen her look so charming before, and she told her so; it was with a smile and a conscious toss of her head that Flossie received the information, and looked at herself once more in the glass of her wardrobe.

As she stood there, with Sarah, in a simple white muslin gown, watching her, a maid entered with a large white cardboard box.

"For Miss Flossie," she said.

The box contained a beautiful bouquet of rare and fragrant hothouse flowers, and attached to the stem was a small parcel. The parcel proved to contain a superb diamond bangle, and Flossie went proudly downstairs, wearing it upon her arm.

And that night it crept out among the young ones in the Stubbs' schoolroom that Flossie was going to be married.

CHAPTER XV

A FAMILY CATASTROPHE

I am bound to say that Flossie's brothers and sisters (and Sarah) received the news of her approaching departure from her father's roof with unmixed feelings. Not a drop of sorrow was there to mar the cup of joy which the occasion presented to every one. Not a regret at the blank her going would cause leavened the general satisfaction at her happiness. And Flossie herself was the least sorrowful, the least regretful, and the most satisfied of all.

Like May, she was marrying well--that is to say, she was marrying money. But, unlike May's husband, who was old, her future lord and master was young--only five years older than herself. It is true he was not much to look at; but then, as Mrs. Stubbs remarked to her husband, that was Flossie's business. It was equally true that he was reputed to be a young scamp, with an atrocious temper; but then, as Tom said, that was Flossie's look-out, and decidedly Flossie was not without little failings of that kind--though why, if one bad-tempered person decides upon marrying another bad-tempered person, it is generally considered by the world to be all right, because the one is as bad to get on with as the other, it would be hard to say; perhaps it is on the principle of two negatives making an affirmative, or in the belief that two wrongs will make eventually a right; I cannot say. But, odd as it is, that is the very general opinion.

The engagement was an unusually short one. Indeed, the bride had barely time to get her things ready by the day, and a great part of her trousseau was not able to be ready before her return from her honeymoon. But still they never seemed to think of putting off the wedding for a single day, although it was fixed to take place just six weeks from the day of the ball, when the engagement had begun.

It seemed to Sarah, well used as she had become to seeing liberal expenditure, that at this time the entire family seemed to be spending money like water! May's wedding had been a very grand one, but Flossie's outshone it in every way--in the number of the bridesmaids, in the number of the guests, in the number of the carriages, and the servants, and the flowers, in the splendour of the presents and the dresses of the trousseau, nay, in the very length of the bride's train.

The presents were gorgeous! Mr. Stubbs gave his daughter a gold-mounted dressing-case and a cheque for a thousand pounds; Mrs. Stubbs gave a diamond star, and May a necklace of such magnificence that even Flossie was astounded when she saw it.

So Flossie became Mrs. Jones, and passed away from her old home; and when it was all over, and the tokens of the great feast and merry-making had been cleared away, the household for a few days settled down into comparative quietude.

Only for a few days, however. With the exception of Sarah, who was too deeply engrossed in her work to care much for passing pleasures, the entire family seemed to have caught a fever of restlessness and love of excitement. After ten days the bride and bridegroom returned, and there were great parties to welcome them. Every day there seemed some reason why they should launch out a little further, and yet a little further, and instead of the family being less expensive now that two daughters were married, the general expenditure was far more lavish than it had ever been before. They had a second man-servant and another maid, and then they found that it was impossible to get on any longer without a second "broom" horse for night-work.

They did, indeed, begin to talk about leaving Jesamond Road, and going into a larger house. The boys--Tom was just seventeen, and Johnnie only fifteen--wanted a billiard-room, and Minnie wanted a boudoir, and Mr. Stubbs wanted a larger study, and Mrs. Stubbs wanted a double hall. That change, however, was never made, although Mrs. Stubbs and Minnie had seen and set their hearts upon a mansion in Earl's Court at a modest rental of five hundred a year, which they thought quite a reasonable rent--for one awful night the senior clerk came tearing up to the door in a cab, with the horse all in a lather and his own face like chalk, and asked for the master.

The master and mistress were just going out to a great dinner-party at the house of Mrs. Giath, their eldest daughter, in Palace Gardens, but Mr. Stubbs came down and saw him in the study. They were shut up there together for some time, until Mrs. Stubbs grew impatient, and knocked several times at the door, with a reminder that they would be very late, and that May would not like to be kept waiting. And at last Mr. Stubbs opened the door and came out.

"Get my coat, James," he said to the servant; then, as he buttoned it, added, "Mr. Senior will have a glass of wine and a biscuit before he goes. Good-night, Senior. See you in the morning."

"Lor, Pa!" exclaimed Mrs. Stubbs, as they rolled away from the door, "I thought something was the matter."

"No, my dear, only some important business Senior thought I ought to know about," he answered; and Mr. Stubbs that evening was the very light and life of his daughter's party.

But in the morning the crash came! Not that he was there to see it, though; for just as they reached home again, and he passed into his own house, Mr. Stubbs reeled and fell to the ground in all the hideousness of a severe paralytic seizure.

Nor did he ever, even partially, recover his senses; before the day was done he had gone out of the sea of trouble which overwhelmed him, to answer for his doings before a high and just tribunal, which, let us hope, would give him a more merciful judgment than he would have found in this world.

Mrs. Stubbs was broken-hearted and inconsolable. "If he had only been spared for a bit," she sobbed to her married daughters, who came to her in her trouble; "but to be taken sudden like that! oh, it is 'ard--it is 'ard."

"Poor Pa," murmured May; "he was so active, he couldn't have borne to be ill and helpless, as he would have been if he'd lived. I wouldn't fret so, if I were you, Ma, dear, I really wouldn't."

"There's nothing dishonourable," Mrs. Stubbs sobbed; "all's gone, but your poor Pa's good name's 'ere still. I do thank 'eaven for that--yes, I do."

"H'm! If Pa'd been half sharp," Flossie remarked, "he'd have taken care there was something left."

"He's left his good name and his good deeds behind him--that's better than mere money," said Sarah softly, holding her aunt's hand very tightly in both of hers.

"Oh, well, as to that, Sarah," said Flossie, "of course it isn't likely you'll blame Pa for being so lavish as he was; dressed just the same as us, and expensive violin lessons twice a week, and all that."

Mrs. Stubbs and May both cried out upon Flossie for her words.

"Cruel, cruel!" Mrs. Stubbs exclaimed; "when you've had every lux'ry you could wish, to blame your poor Pa for his charity before he's laid in his grave. I'm ashamed of you, Flossie, I am!" And then she hid her face on Sarah's slim young shoulder, and broke into bitter sobs and tears.

CHAPTER XVI

A CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES

When her husband's affairs were all investigated and arranged, it was found, to Mrs. Stubbs's great joy, that matters were scarcely quite so bad as had at first been anticipated. True everything--or what she called everything--was gone; but no stain was there to sully a name which had always been held among City men as a blameless and honourable one.

The actual cause of the crash had been the failure of a large bank, which had ruined two important houses with which the firm of Stubbs & Co. had very large dealings; these houses were unable to pay their debts to Stubbs & Co.; and Stubbs & Co., having been living in great extravagance up to the last penny which could be squeezed out of the business, were not able to stand the strain of the unexpected losses.

But when everything was arranged, it was found that, with careful nursing and management, the business could be carried on for the benefit of the children until such time as the boys should be of an age to take the management of it themselves. Meanwhile, the trustees took Tom away from the expensive public school at which he was at the time of his father's death, and, instead of sending him to Oxford, as his father intended to have done a few months later, put him into the clerks' department of a large mercantile house, where they made him work--as Tom himself said indignantly--as if he were a mere under-clerk at a few shillings a week.

It happened that the trustees were both bachelors, who understood the management of a large and expensive household just about as well as they sympathised with the desire for social prominence. Therefore, they believed themselves to be doing a really generous and almost unheard-of action when they agreed to allow Mrs. Stubbs three hundred a year out of the proceeds of the business. "And the lad will have his pound a week," they said to one another, as a further proof of their consideration for their old friend's widow.

But to Mrs. Stubbs it seemed as if the future was all so black that she could not even see where she was to get food for herself and her children. Poor soul! she had forgotten what the old friends of her dead husband remembered only too well--the days when she had run up and down stairs after her mother's lodgers, of whom poor John Stubbs was one. On the whole, it is pretty certain that we rise much more easily than we fall. We find climbing up much easier than we find slipping down. And Mrs. Stubbs had got so used to spending twice three thousand a year, that to her a descent to three hundred seemed but very little better than the workhouse.

"A nice little 'ouse at Fulham!" she exclaimed, when Flossie tried to paint such a home in glowing colours. "You know I never could a-bear little 'ouses. Besides, 'ow am I to get them all into a nice little 'ouse? There's Sarah and me----"

"Oh, Sarah first, of course!" snapped Flossie.

"For shame, Flossie; you seem as if you don't know how to be mean enough to Sarah. I said 'er name first because she's my right 'and just now, and I lean on her for everything. There's Sarah and me, and Tom and Johnnie, and there's Minnie, and Janey, and Lily--that's seven. 'Ow am I to put seven of us away in what you call a nice little 'ouse?"

"Why, you'll have five bedrooms," Flossie cried.

"And where are the servants to go?" Mrs. Stubbs demanded. "Oh, I suppose I'm to do without a servant at all!"

"Well, I shouldn't think you'll want more than one," returned Flossie, who had six.

Mrs. Stubbs rocked herself to and fro in the depth of her misery and despair.

"And what's to become of me when Lily comes of age?" she cried.

For, by Mr. Stubbs's will, the business was to be carried on for the benefit of his children until the youngest should come of age, when the two boys were to have it as partners.

He had believed his wife and children were safely provided for out of his property, which had nothing to do with the business, of which Mrs. Stubbs was to take half absolutely, and the other half was to go equally among the children. Every penny of this had, however, been swallowed up by the losses which had in reality killed him; so that, though there was a provision for the children, Mrs. Stubbs was, except through the favour of the trustees, absolutely unprovided for.

"Oh, well, it's a good long time till then," Flossie returned coldly. "And really, Ma, I do think it's ungrateful of you to make such a fuss, when things might be so different. Just supposing, now, May and I weren't married; you might grumble then."

"I 'aven't as much," Mrs. Stubbs cried, "to bring up five children on as you and May each 'ave to dress on."

"Perhaps not; but then, we have to go into a great deal of society; and look what that costs," Flossie retorted. "Any way, Mr. Jones is too much disgusted at all this happening just now to let me help you. And as for my allowance, I have to pay my maid out of it, so I really don't see that you can expect me to do anything for you."

"I don't think Auntie wants you to do anything for her; I'm sure she doesn't expect it," put in Sarah, who was so utterly disgusted that she could keep silence no longer, though she had determined not to speak at all.

"Well, Sarah, I really can't see what occasion there is for you to put your word in," said Mrs. Jones, with an air of dignity. "We have heard a great deal about what you were going to do; perhaps now you will do it, and let us see whether the princess is going to turn out a real princess after all or not."

For a moment Sarah looked at her with such utter disdain in her grey eyes that the redoubtable Flossie fairly quailed beneath her gaze.

"I am going always to treat my dear aunt with the respect and love she deserves, Flossie," she said gravely; "and, even if I prove an utter failure in every other way, you might still take a lesson from me with great improvement to yourself."

"Oh, you think so, do you?" sneered Flossie.

"Yes, I do," said Sarah promptly.

"Then let me tell you, Miss Sarah Gray, that I think your tone and manner exceedingly impertinent and familiar. In future, call me Mrs. Jones, if you please, and try if you can remember to keep your place."

"Mrs. Jones, I will; and do you remember to keep yours," Sarah replied; "and do you remember, too, that you need not insult my aunt any further."

"I shall speak as I like to my own mother," Flossie cried furiously.

Sarah opened her eyes wide.

"If I do put you out of the house, Mrs. Jones," she said, speaking with ominous calmness, "I may be a little rough with you." And then the door opened, and May came languidly in.

"What is the matter?" she cried. "Flossie, is that you--at it again? Do go away, please. I am not well. I came to have a little talk to Ma, and I can't bear quarrelling. Do go away, Flossie, I beg."

"That Sarah has insulted me," Flossie gasped--but May was remarkably unsympathetic.

"Oh, I've no doubt--a very good thing, too, for you've insulted her ever since you first saw her. Do go away. I'm sure I shall faint. I never could bear wrangling and fighting; and poor Pa's going off like that has upset me so--I just feel as if I could burst out crying if any one speaks to me."

On this, Flossie, finding that May was unmistakably preparing herself for a nice comfortable faint, went stormily away, and rolled off in her grand carriage, looking like a thunder-cloud. May recovered immediately.

"I really don't envy Flossie's husband the rest of his life," she remarked. "What a comfort she has gone away! Well, Ma, dear, I came in to have a quiet talk with you, and that tiresome girl has upset you. I would not take any notice if I were you, dear. I don't suppose Flossie means it. But she is so impetuous, and she's so jealous of Sarah. I'm sure I don't know what you ever did to upset her, Sarah; but you and I were always the best of friends."

"The best of friends, May," said Sarah; then bent down and kissed her cousin's soft ungloved hand. "I didn't mean to speak, not to say a word--but she was so unkind to poor Auntie--and, May, it is hard on Auntie after all this"--looking round the room--"and her beautiful carriages and horses, and her kind husband who was so fond of her, to have just three hundred a year to keep five children on. It is hard."

Poor Mrs. Stubbs broke down and began to sob instantly. "Sarah puts it all so beautifully," she said. "That's just as it was--your poor Pa--and----" but then she stopped, unable to go on, choked by her tears.

"Now, Ma, dear, don't," May entreated; "we don't know why everything is. It might have been worse, you know, dear; just think, if you'd had Flossie at home."

"Ah! it is a comfort to me to think Flossie is married," said Mrs. Stubbs, drying her eyes; "she's never been like a child to me."

"And there might have been nothing, you know; after all there is something, and you'll be able to keep them all together. I shall help you all I can, Ma, dear; you know I shall do that! And if I can't do much else, I can take you for drives, and see if I can't help Minnie to get married. You'll think it queer, Ma, dear, that I'm not just able to say 'I'll give you a cheque for a hundred now and then.' But I can't. Life isn't all roses for me either. Of course I have a grand house in Palace Gardens, and diamonds, and carriages, and all that; but Mr. Giath doesn't give me much money; he isn't like poor dear Pa. Of course he made a very big settlement--Pa insisted on that--but only at his death. I don't get it now, and he pays my dress bills himself; and," with a sob, "I don't find it all roses to be an old man's darling. But I don't want to trouble you with all that, Ma, dear; you've got enough troubles and worries of your own. But you'll understand just how it is, won't you, dear? And, of course, there'll be many little ways that I shall be able to help you."

"Well, I have got my troubles," said Mrs. Stubbs, drying her eyes, and looking at her daughter's pretty flushed face; "but others has them as well. You were always my right 'and, May, from the time you was a little girl in short petticoats; and you're more comfort to me now than all my other children put together, all of them. Flossie's been 'ere turning up her nose at her mother and insulting Sarah shameful; and Tom's grumbling all day long at what he calls his 'beggarly screw'; and saying it won't pay for 'is cigars and cabs and such-like; and Minnie's been crying all this morning because it's her birthday and nobody's remembered it; and, really, altogether I feel as if it wouldn't take much more to send me off my head altogether."

"But I did remember it," cried May; "I've brought her a birthday present, poor child."

"I'm sure it is good of you, May," poor Mrs. Stubbs cried. "Minnie 'll be a bit comforted now. You know it is 'ard on her, for we used to make so much of birthdays. But neither she nor the little ones ever seem to think of what they've 'ad--and no more I do myself for that matter--only of what they 'aven't got. 'Pon my word, there is but one in the 'ouse to-day who hasn' 'ad their grumble over something or other, and that's Sarah."

Sarah laughed as she patted her aunt's fat hand. "I've got something else to do just now, Auntie," she said bravely. "I've got to put my shoulder to the wheel now. I've been riding on the top of the wagon all along."

CHAPTER XVII

SARAH'S OPPORTUNITY

A few days later they made the move to the little house at Fulham, which, in poor lavish Mrs. Stubbs's eyes, was but a degree better than a removal to the workhouse.

But Sarah--who somehow seemed to have naturally the management of everything--worked like a slave to get everything into good order before her aunt should set foot in the place at all. She turned the house in Jesamond Road out that she might take the prettiest and most suitable things for the little Queen Anne box to which they were going, and, with the help of Johnnie and the new servant, succeeded in having everything in perfect order by the time of Mrs. Stubbs's arrival.

But it was very, very small. Mrs. Stubbs looked hopelessly at the narrow passage and the narrower doorways when she entered, sobbed as she recognised one article of furniture after another, or missed such as Sarah had not thought it wise or in good taste to bring.

"Oh, dear, dear! I ought to think it all very pretty and nice," she wailed; "I left it all to you, Sarah, and I know you've done your best--I know it; but I did think I should have been able to keep my own inlaid market writing-table that Stubbs gave me on my last wedding-day--I did."

"Dear Auntie, you shall have it," Sarah explained, soothingly. "I couldn't get you to choose just what you would have, and I had to be guided by size a good deal. But we can fetch the table easily enough; it will stand here in the window beautifully, and just finish off the room nicely."

"Flossie says she'll not be able to come and see us very often." Mrs. Stubbs wandered off again. "She says it knocks the carriage about so, coming down these new neighbourhoods. Ah, I never used to think of my carriages before my relations, never!"

"Flossie will have more sense by-and-by," said Sarah, who had but small patience with Mrs. Jones's airs and graces.

Poor Sarah was so tired of Flossie and her airs! To her mind, she was hardly worth a moment's consideration or regret; to her she was just an ungenerous, self-sufficient, very vulgar and heartless young person, who would have been more in her place had she been scrubbing floors or washing dishes than she was, or ever would be, riding in her own carriage behind a pair of high-stepping horses that had cost four hundred guineas.

"Don't think about Flossie at all, dear," she said to her aunt. "Some day she'll be sorry for all that has happened lately; perhaps some day she may have trouble herself, and then she will understand how unkind she has been to you. But May is always sweet and good, though she is tied up by that horrid old man, and can't help you as she would like; and the little ones are different--they would never hurt your feelings willingly."

Poor Mrs. Stubbs shook her head sadly. She had said nothing to Sarah, for a wonder--for as a rule she carried all her troubles to her--but only that morning Tom had flung off to "his beastly office" in a rage, because she had not been able to give him a sovereign and had suggested that the pound a week he was receiving ought to be more than enough for his personal expenses; and Minnie had pouted and cried because she could not have a pair of new gloves; and the little ones had looked at her in utter dismay because there was not a fresh pot of jam for their breakfast. Perhaps Mrs. Stubbs felt that Sarah was young, and must not be disheartened when she was doing her best; I know not. Any way, she kept these things to herself, and after shaking her head as a sort of tribute to her troubles, promised that she would try to make herself happy in her new home.

And then Sarah felt herself at liberty to go and pay a visit to Signor Capri, her violin master, one she had been wishing to pay ever since her uncle's death. She went at a time when she knew he would be alone, and indeed she found him so.

"Ah, my little Sara!" he cried; "I was hoping to see you again soon. And tell me, you have lost the good uncle, eh?"

"Yes, Signor," she answered, and briefly told him all the story of her uncle's misfortune and death. "And now," she ended, "I want to make money. They have done everything for me; now I want to do something for them. Can you help me?"

"You are a brave child!" the violin-master cried; "and God has given you the rarest of all good gifts--a grateful heart. I think I can help you; I think so. Only this morning I had a letter from a friend who is arranging a concert tour; he has first-rate artistes, and he wants a lady violinist."

"Me!" cried Sarah excitedly.

"But," said the maestro, raising his hand, "he does not give much money."

"But it would be a beginning," she broke in.

"He gives six pounds a week."

"I'll go!" Sarah cried.

"Then we will go and see him at once; I have an hour to spare," said the Italian kindly.

Well, before that hour was ended, Sarah had engaged herself to go on a twelve weeks' tour, at a salary of six pounds a week and her travelling expenses; and before ten days more had gone over her head, she had set off on her travels in search of fame and fortune.

Flossie's remarks were very pious. "I'm sure, Sarah," she said, setting her rich folds of crape and silk straight, "I am heartily glad to find that you have so much good feeling as to wish to relieve poor Ma of the expense of keeping you. How much happier you will be to feel you are no longer a burden on anybody! There's nothing like independence. I'm sure every time I think of poor Ma, I say to myself, 'Thank Heaven, I'm no burden upon her!"

"That must be a great comfort to you, I'm sure, Flossie," said Sarah gravely.

"Yes; I often tell Mr. Jones so. And what salary are you going to have, Sarah?"

"Enough to help my aunt a little," replied Sarah coldly.

"Well, really, I can't see why you need be so close about it," Flossie observed, "nor why you should want to help Ma. I'm sure she'll have enough to live very comfortably, only, of course, she must be content to live a little less extravagantly than she did before. I do believe," she added, with a superb air, "in people being content and happy with what they have; it's so much more sensible than always pining after what they haven't got. By the bye, Sarah, we are going to have a dinner-party to-morrow night; I couldn't ask Ma because of her mourning, but if you like to come in in the evening, and bring your violin, we shall be very pleased, I'm sure."

"If you like to ask me as a professional, and pay my fee," began Sarah mischievously.

"Pay your fee! Well, I never! To your own cousin, and when you owe us so much!" Flossie exclaimed.

"I don't think I owe you anything, Flossie, not even civility or kindness," said Sarah coldly; but Mrs. Jones had flounced away in a huff.

"Such impudence!" as she said to her husband afterwards.

Well, Sarah went off on her tour, and won a fair amount of success--enough to make her manager anxious to secure her for the following winter on the same terms. But Sarah had promised Signor Capri to do nothing without his knowledge, and he wrote back, "Wait! Before next winter you may be famous."

But the months passed over, and still fame had not come, except in a moderate degree. The manager was very glad to take Sarah on tour again at a salary advanced to seven pounds a week instead of six, and Sarah was equally glad to go.

In the meantime, she had made a good deal of money by playing at private houses and at concerts. She had taken a well-earned holiday to the Channel Islands, and had given her aunt and the little ones a very good time there, all out of her own pocket, and had added a very liberal sum to the housekeeping purse of the little Queen Anne house at Fulham.

Twice she had dined with the Giaths in Palace Gardens, and had taken her violin because May had not asked her to do so. And more than once she had been asked to go in the evening to grace the rooms of Mrs. Jones--an honour which she persistently declined.

So time went on, and Sarah worked late and early, hoping, longing, praying to be one day a great woman.

Thus several years went by, and at last there came a glad and joyous day when she received a command to play at a State concert--a day when she woke to find herself looked upon as one of the first violinists of the age. It was wonderful, then, how engagements crowded in upon her; how she was sought out, flattered, and made much of; how even the redoubtable Flossie was proud to go about saying that she was Miss Gray's cousin.

Not that she ever owned it to Sarah; but Sarah heard from time to time that Mrs. Jones had spread the fact of the relationship abroad. The object of Flossie's life now seemed to be to get Sarah to play at her house; for, as she explained to her mother and May--now a rich young widow--"Of course it looks odd to other people that they never see Sarah at my house, and I don't wish to do Sarah harm by saying that I don't care to have her there. But sometimes when she's staying with you, May, you might bring her."

"I don't think she would come," laughed May. "You see, you sat upon Sarah so frightfully when she wasn't anybody in particular, that now, when she is somebody of more consequence than all the lot of us put together, she naturally doesn't feel inclined to have anything to do with you. I know I shouldn't."

"And Lady Bright asked particularly if she was going to play on the 9th," said Flossie, with a rueful face, and not attempting to deny the past in any way.

"And what did you say?"

"I said I hoped so."

"Oh, well, that will be all the same. Lady Bright will understand after a time that 'Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.'" May laughed. "And perhaps it will be as well to remember in future that ugly ducklings may turn out swans some day, and that if they do, they are sometimes painfully aware of the fact that some people would have kept them ducklings for ever. You see, you and Tom, who is more horrid now even than he was as a boy--yes, I see you agree with me--gave her the name of Princess Sarah! She has grown up to the name, that is all."

THE END