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bewildered way. Could it be that she was having those dreadful things
said to her. She had often wondered how people felt, what they thought -
what they did, when they had suddenly to face so dreadful a thing.

"Where's granny?" she asked abruptly - almost violently.

There was a moment's silence. Then Patty Row's mother said in a
breathless, hesitating way, "Nobody - no one knows yet, Mona. Nor how the
house was set on fire," she added, hastily, as though anxious to give Mona
something else to think of. "Some say the wind must have blown down the
kitchen chimney and scattered some red-hot coals about the floor."

"But 'twas the top part of the house that was burning first along," broke
in old Tom Harris. "Mrs. Carne saw smoke and fire coming through the
bedroom windows and the roof."

"The top part! - where granny was sleeping!" Mona threw open the blanket
and struggled to her feet. "Oh, do stop talking, and tell me - hasn't
anyone found granny?" Her question ended almost in a scream.

"They - they're getting her - - " said somebody. The rest preserved an
ominous silence.

"There's a chain of men handing up buckets of water through the back
garden," said someone else, as though trying to distract her thoughts.
"They'll soon get the fiercest of the fire down."

"But - but think of granny. We can't wait for that. She's in the fire all
this time. She was in bed. Hasn't anyone been to her? Oh, they must
have. They can't have left her - an old woman - to save herself!"

Mona was beside herself with the horror of the thing.

"They tried," said Mrs. Row, gently, "but they were beaten back.
Mrs. Carne tried until she was - There! She's gone - Mona's gone!"
Her explanation ended in a scream. "Oh, stop her - somebody, do, she'll be
killed."

"It'd have been sensibler to have told her the truth at once," said Tom
Harris, impatiently. "She's got to know, poor maid. Now we shall have
another life thrown away, more than likely, and Mrs. Carne with a broken
leg, and nobody knows what other damage."

Slipping through the crowd in the darkness, Mona, in a perfect frenzy of
fear, dashed into the house. All she was conscious of was hot anger
against all those who stood about talking and looking on and doing
nothing, while granny lay helpless in her bed suffocating, perhaps
burning; were they mad! - did they want granny to die? - didn't they care,
that no one made any attempt to save her. Through the semi-darkness, the
haze of smoke and steam, she heard people, and voices, but she could not
see anyone. The heat was fearful, and the smell of burning made her feel
sick.

She groped her way stumblingly through the kitchen. The furniture seemed
to her to be scattered about as though on purpose to hinder her, but she
kept along by the dressers as well as she could. They would be a guide,
she thought. "Poor tea-set! There will be little of it left now."
Her fingers touched something soft. Lucy's stocks, still in the vase.
At last she found herself at the foot of the staircase. The door was
closed. Someone had wisely shut it to check the rush of air up it.
After a struggle, Mona managed to open it again, and fell back before the
overpowering heat and the smoke which choked and blinded her. She clapped
her hand over her nose and mouth, and crouching down, dragged herself a
little way up, lying almost flat on her face, she was so desperate now
with the horror of it all, beside herself. Ahead of her was what looked
like a blazing furnace. All around her was an awful roaring, the noise of
burning, broken into every now and again by a crash, after which the red
light blazed out brighter, and the roaring redoubled.

How could anyone live in such a furnace. An awful cry of despair broke
from her parched throat. "Granny!" she screamed. "Oh, granny! Where are
you? I can't reach - " Another crash, and a blazing beam fell across the
head of the burning staircase.

"Granny! Oh, God save my - - " But before she could finish she was seized
by strong arms and lifted up, and then darkness fell on her brain, and she
knew no more.



CHAPTER XIII.


When poor Lucy Carne next opened her eyes and came back with a sigh to the
horrors and suffering of which she had for a time been mercifully
unconscious, her first thought was for her husband.

"Has the boat come in? Did the storm die down? - or did it get worse?
Has anyone heard or seen anything of my husband?" She panted feebly.
But before they could answer her, she had floated off again into a
troubled delirium.

"Oh, the wind! Oh, the awful wind!" she kept on repeating. "Oh, can't
anything stop it! It's fanning the flames to fury; it's blowing them
towards granny's room. Oh, the noise - I must find her - I must save her -
she's so feeble. Oh, granny! Granny!" Her voice would end in a scream,
followed by a burst of tears; then she would begin again.

Once or twice she had recovered consciousness, and then had asked for her
husband or Mona. "Is she badly hurt? - will she get over it?"

The nurse soothed and comforted her, and did all she could. "She isn't
conscious yet, but they think she will be soon. She's got slight
concussion, and she has cut herself a bit - but she will do all right if
she gets over the shock. They are keeping her very quiet; it is the only
way. You must try not to scream and call out, dear. For if she began to
come round and heard you, it might be very, very serious for her."

After that Lucy lay trying hard to keep fast hold of her senses.
"Don't let me scream!" she pleaded. "Put something over my head if I
begin. I can keep myself quiet as long as I have my senses - but when they
drift away - I - don't know what I do. I didn't know I made a noise.
Oh - h - h!" as some slight movement racked her with pain.

"Poor dear," said Nurse. "I expect you're feeling your bruises now, and
your leg."

"I seem to be one big lump of pain," sighed poor Lucy. "But I don't mind
if only Mona pulls through, and Peter is safe. Oh, my poor husband - what
a home-coming!"

"Now try not to dwell on it. You'll only get yourself worse, and for his
sake, poor man, you ought to try and get well as fast as you can.
There, look at those flowers Patty Row has brought you. Aren't they
sweet!"

"Oh, my!" Lucy drew in deep breaths of their fragrance. "Stocks, and
sweet-brier - oh, how lovely! They'll help to take away the - smell of the
burning." Then her mind seemed to float away again, but not this time
through a raging furnace, but through sweet-scented gardens, and sunlight,
and soft pure air.

When she came back to the hospital ward again, Nurse smiled at her with
eyes full of pleasure. "I've good news for you," she said, bending low,
so that her words might quite reach the poor dazed brain. "Your husband
is safe!"

"Oh, thank God! Thank God!" Her eyes swam in tears of joy. "Does - he
know?" she asked a moment later, her face full of anxiety. The thought of
his sad home-coming was anguish to her.

Nurse nodded. "Yes, dear, he knows. The Vicar went to Baymouth by the
first train and brought him back. He did not want him to have the news
blurted out to him without any preparation."

"How very kind! How is he? Peter, I mean. Is he feeling it very badly?
Oh, I wish I could be there to help him, to comfort him. He'll be so
lonely - and there will be so much to do."

"My dear, he won't want for help. Everyone is ready and anxious to do
what they can. Of course, he is upset. He wouldn't be the man he is if
he wasn't. It is all a terrible shock to him! But it might have been so
much worse. He is so thankful that you and Mona are safe. He doesn't
give a single thought to himself."

"He never does," said Lucy, half-smiling, half-weeping. "That's why he
needs me to take thought of him. When may I see him, Nurse?"

"That's what he is asking. If you keep very quiet now, and have a nice
sleep, perhaps you'll be strong enough for just a peep at him when you
wake up."

"I'll lie still, and be very quiet, but I can't promise to sleep."
She did sleep, though, in spite of herself, for when next she turned her
head to see if the hands of the clock had moved at all, she found her
husband sitting beside her, smiling at her.

"Why, however did you get here, dear? I never saw you come - nor heard a
sound."

"I reckon I must have growed up out of the floor," said Peter, bending to
kiss her. "Well, my girl, this isn't where I expected to see 'ee when I
came back - but I'm so thankful to find you at all, I can't think of
anything else."

"Oh, my dear, I'm so glad you've come," she cried, clinging to him
passionately. "I never thought we should meet again in this world.
Oh! Peter - what we've been through! Oh! That night! That awful night!"

He patted her soothingly, holding her hand in his. "I know, I know - but
you must try not to dwell on it. If you throw yourself back, I shan't be
allowed to come again."

Lucy put a great restraint upon herself. "They've told you: - poor granny
is dead?" she whispered, but more calmly.

"Yes - they've told me. I believe I know the worst now. I've one bit of
comfort, though, for all of us. I've just seen the doctor, and he says
she was dead before the fire reached her. She must have died almost as
soon as she lay down."

Then Lucy broke down and wept from sheer relief. "Oh, thank God," she
said, fervently, "for taking her to Himself, and sparing her the horrors
of that awful night. Thank Him, too, for Mona's sake. The thought that
granny perished in the fire because no one reached her in time would have
been the worst of all the thoughts weighing on her mind. She will be
spared that now."

At that moment, though, Mona was troubled by no thoughts at all. She lay
in her bed in the ward just as they had placed her there hours before,
absolutely unconscious. If it had not been for the faint beating of her
heart she might have been taken for dead. Doctors came and looked at her
and went away again, the day nurses went off duty, and the night nurses
came on and went off again, but still she showed no sign of life.
With her head and her arms swathed in bandages, she lay with her eyes
closed, her lips slightly parted. It was not until the following day, the
day Granny Barnes was laid to rest in the little churchyard on the hill,
that she opened her eyes on this world once more, and glanced about her,
dazed and bewildered.

"Where?" she began. But before she had finished her sentence, her eyes
closed.

This time, though, it was not unconsciousness, but sleep that she drifted
off into, and it was not until afternoon that she opened her eyes once
more.

"Where am I?" She completed her question this time. Then, at the sight
of a nurse in uniform, a look of alarm crept into her eyes.

"Where are you, dear? Why, here in hospital, being taken care of, and
your mother is here, too."

"Mother."

"Yes, and we are looking after you so well! You are both better already."

The cheerful voice and smile, the kindly face, drove all Mona's fears away
at once, and for ever. But, as memory returned, other fears took their
place.

"Is - mother - hurt?"

"Yes - but, oh, not nearly as badly as she might have been. She will be
well again soon. You shall go into the ward with her when you are a
little better. You must keep very quiet now, and not talk."

"But - granny - and father?" faltered Mona. "I _must_ know - I can't rest -
till - I do."

For a moment the Nurse hesitated. It was very difficult to know what to
do for the best. "She will only fret and worry if I don't tell her,
and imagine things worse than they are," she thought to herself.

"Your father is home, and safe and well. You shall see him soon.
Your poor granny is safe, too, dear, and well. So well, she will never
suffer any more."

"They - let her - die - - "

"No one let her die, dear. She had died in her sleep before the fire
broke out. She was mercifully spared that - and isn't that something to be
thankful for, Mona? There, there, don't cry, dear. You mustn't cry, or
you will be ill again, and, for your father's and mother's sake, you must
try and get well. Your father wants you home to take care of him until
your mother can come. Think of him, dear, and how badly he needs you, and
try your best to get better. He is longing to come to see you."

Mercifully for Mona, she was too weak to weep much, or even to think,
and before very long she had sunk into an exhausted sleep.
Mercifully, too, perhaps, in the horror of her awakening, that terrible
night, and the distracting hours that followed, it never entered her head
that it was she who had brought about the disaster. It was not till later
that that dreadful truth came home to her, to be repented of through years
of bitter regret.

The next day her father came to see her, and a few days after that she was
carried into the adjoining ward and put into the bed next to her mother.

That was a great step forward. For the first time a ray of sunshine
penetrated the heavy cloud of sorrow which had overshadowed them all.

"Keep them both as cheerful as possible," the doctor had said, "and don't
let them dwell on the tragedy if you can help it." So every day a visitor
came to see them - Miss Grace Lester, Mrs. Row, and Patty, Millie Higgins,
and Philippa - and as they all brought flowers and fruit, the little ward
became a perfect garden, gay with bright colours and sweet scents.

Miss Grace brought a book for Mona, and a soft, warm shawl for Lucy.
They were delighted. "And please, Miss," said Lucy, "may I give you my
best wishes for your happiness? We heard you were going to be married
before so very long."

Grace Lester blushed prettily. "Yes, but not till next spring," she said.
"Thank you for your good wishes, Mrs. Carne. It was very sweet of you to
remember me through all the troubles you have been through lately.
I am so glad my new home will be in Seacombe, where I know and love
everyone. I should have been very grieved if I had had to leave it.
Mona, what are you thinking about, to make you look so excited? You know
the doctor ordered you to keep calm! I don't know what he would say if he
saw you now. He would blame me for exciting you, and I should never be
allowed to come again."

"Oh, Miss Grace, I am calm - I really am. I won't be excited, I won't be
ill, but, oh, I must tell you - I thought of something as soon as ever I
heard there was to be a wedding - and oh, I wish you would - I am sure it
would be lovely. We want - all your Sunday School girls, I mean, Miss
Grace - to be allowed to come and strew flowers in your path as you come
out of church, and we'd all be dressed in white, and - and some would have
pink, and some blue in their hats, and - Oh, Miss Grace, do please think
about it and try and say 'Yes!'"

Grace Lester's eyes were misty with happy tears by the time Mona had done.
"Why, you nice, kind children," she cried, "to have such plans for making
my wedding day beautiful and happy! I had not thought of anything so
charming."

For a few moments she sat silent, thinking deeply, and Mona lay back on
her pillow watching her face. "Would she consent - Oh, would she?
It would almost be too lovely, though," she concluded. "It could not
really come true."

"Mona," said Miss Grace at last. "Do you know what I thought you might be
going to ask?"

Mona shook her head, her eyes were full of questioning.

"I thought, perhaps, you were going to ask if you might come and be my
little housemaid in my new home!"

"Oh - h - h!" Mona and her mother both exclaimed aloud and in the same tone
of delight. "Oh, Miss Grace!" Mona sprang up in her bed and clapped her
hands, bandages and all. "Oh, Miss Grace! do you really mean it?
That would be better than anything, because that would be for always.
Oh, mother," turning to Lucy, her face radiant, "wouldn't that be lovely!"

"Lovely," said Lucy, her eyes full of deep pleasure. "I wouldn't ask for
anything better for you, Mona. I think - I know, it'll be the best that
can possibly happen."

"How very nice of you, Mrs. Carne." Grace Lester pressed Lucy's hand.
"You make me feel - very, very proud - but - well, I will try to do my best
for her. Good-bye. I must not stay any longer now, or Nurse will be
coming to scold me, but," with a smile, "I must just stay long enough to
say I engage Mona now to come to me in April. We will talk about wages
and uniform, and all those things later on, when you are both stronger,
and I have had time to think. Now, good-bye - and Mona, don't keep your
mother awake, or I shall be in everyone's bad books."

"Oh, I'm as excited as she is, I think," said Lucy, smiling up at Mona's
future mistress, "and it will be a real pleasure to me to teach her and
get her as ready as I can - and I can't tell you, Miss, how pleased her
father'll be that she is going where she will be so happy and well looked
after."

Grace Lester clasped Lucy's hand again. "It will be a great pleasure to
me to have her," she said warmly, "and, trained by you, I know she will be
a comfort to any mistress."

With this new interest to lift her thoughts from her troubles, Mona
regained health so rapidly that she was able to leave the hospital sooner
than anyone had dared to hope. Poor Lucy, who had to stay there some
weeks longer, watched her departure with tearful eyes. "I shall feel
lonely without you, dear," she said, "but for your own sake, and father's,
I am glad you are going home. You will look after him, won't you, and see
to his comforts - and I'll be back in about three weeks, they say, though
I'll have to go about on crutches for a bit."

"Oh, yes, I'll look after father. Don't you worry, mother, I'll see to
things," Mona reassured her.

"I expect you will find the house in a pretty mess, and the garden too.
When I ran out that night, I little thought I wouldn't be back for nigh on
two months. It's a lesson to one to be always prepared."

"Don't you worry, mother, we'll soon get it all straight again. I am sure
your place was tidier than any other in Seacombe would be, left in a hurry
like that, and in the middle of the night."

"But, Mona, you mustn't do too much." Lucy's anxieties took a new
direction. She knew how Mona could, and would work, when she was in the
mood to. "Don't be doing too much and making yourself ill. That would
trouble me ever so much more than having the house untidy. You leave it
all till I come home. When I am able to move about again I'll soon get
things nice."

Mona nodded, with a laugh in her eyes. "Why, of course, everything will
be scrubbed inside and out, top and bottom, when you get home to do it,
mother." But in her mind she added, "if you can find anything needing
it."

Then she kissed her 'good-bye,' promising to come again soon. "And I'll
take her a few flowers out of her own garden," she thought. "She will
love that better than anything. But I expect the garden has run wild by
this time."

She did not say as much to her mother, for she had learnt how much such
thoughts worried her; but she did to her father when he came to fetch her.
He only smiled though. "You wait till you see it, my girl," he said
mysteriously, "then you'll know how things have gone since you have been
away."

"There!" triumphantly, when they presently drew up at the gate.
"Do you say now that a poor lone man can't keep his place tidy while his
women-folk are away!" and Mona stared, wide-eyed with surprise, for,
instead of bushes all beaten down and tangled, weedy paths, and stripped
flower beds, as she had pictured, the whole garden seemed full.
Geraniums, phlox, mignonette, roses, snapdragons, and pansies made the
beds gay, while at the back of them great bushes of Michaelmas daisies and
chrysanthemums stood erect, neatly tied up to stakes.

"But how? - who - whenever did you find time, father?"

"I've never put a hand to it."

"Then it must have been the fairies," she laughed. "Flowers may grow by
themselves, but paths can't pull up their own weeds - I wish they could -
nor bushes tie themselves up to stakes."

Her father laughed too. "Well, never having seen a fairy, I can't
contradict. But I'm bound to say that Matthew Luxmore was never my idea
of one."

"Mr. Luxmore?"

"Yes, he's come two and three times a week, all the time your mother's
been in hospital, and tended the garden the same as if it had been his
own. Don't you call that acting the real Christian?"

"I do. Oh, father, I wish mother could see it. Wouldn't it make her
happy." Mona was touched almost to tears. "And doesn't it make you want
to do something nice for people in return! But everybody has been so kind
I don't know where to begin."

"The only way to begin," said Peter Carne, as he led Mona slowly up the
path, "is to take the first oppertoonity that comes along of doing a
kindness to one of them, and to keep on taking all the oppertoonities you
can. I know that the folks that have been good to us would be cut to the
heart if we were to talk about returns. You can't return such things as
they've done for us. You can only let them know how grateful you are.
And if a chance comes of doing anything for them - why, do it. Now, you
come along in, my girl, and sit down. You've done enough for one while.
You've got to sit there and rest while I make you a cup of tea.
That's right, the fire's just proper for making a nice bit of toast."

Mona sank down in the arm-chair, and stared about her in speechless
surprise. "Why, it's like a palace! I came home meaning to clean it from
top to bottom, and there's nothing for me to do. Has Mr. Luxmore been
acting the fairy here too, father!"

"No, the fairies in this department were a smaller sort, and more like my
idea of fairies. It's Millie Higgins and Patty that have set this all to
rights for you. They came and begged of me to let them, till I couldn't
refuse any longer. Patty's mother has cooked for me and looked after me
all the time. There never was such folk as Seacombe folk I'm certain
sure. There, there's a nice bit of toast for you, child, and the kettle
just going to boil right out over our shining fender. We'll have a cup of
tea in a brace of shakes now. Then you will feel like a new woman."

"I do that already," said Mona. "I mean," she added softly, "I am going to
try to be, father."



CHAPTER XIV.


More than six months have passed away, and spring has come.
Lucy Carne, strong and well again, is able to walk without even a trace of
a limp. Mona has grown an inch or two, has put up her hair, and
lengthened her skirts.

"You see I must learn to do it nicely by the time Miss Grace wants me,"
she explained, when, on Christmas day, she appeared for the first time
with it coiled about her head. And, for a few weeks after, knew no peace
of mind. "I shall never keep it up," she sighed, "unless I take a hammer
and nails and fix it to my head that way."

Lucy complained that she spent a fortune in hairpins, and her father said
he could always trace where Mona had been by the hairpins strewing the
place.

Lucy and she had been busy since the New Year came in making her uniform,
blue print frocks, and large white linen aprons for the mornings, and a
brown cloth dress and muslin aprons for the afternoons. She was to have
muslin caps too, and white collars and cuffs.

"I don't think black is really more serviceable than any other colour,"
Miss Lester had said when she came to talk to Lucy about Mona, "and I
think I would like to have something new. So I want my servants to wear
a pretty warm brown."

Mona was enraptured. The idea of wearing a uniform was delightful enough,
but to have one unlike what other servants wore was doubly attractive.
And when, on top of that, Miss Grace had said she had been thinking a
great deal about Mona's pretty suggestion for her wedding day, and would
be very happy indeed if her Bible-class girls would carry it out, Mona
thought that life was almost too full of happiness. "I'm afraid I shall
wake up and find it's all a dream," she said pathetically. "Mother, I'm
not dreaming, am I?"

"And I would like to give you all the muslin to make your dresses of,"
added Miss Grace.

Lucy looked at her gratefully. "It's too good of you, Miss, and you with
so much else to think about, and such a lot to get. I don't know how to
thank you."

"Then don't try," said Miss Grace. "I understand. I shall leave it to
you," turning smilingly to Mona, "to provide the flowers you are going to
throw."

"Oh, we are all doing our best to get plenty of those," said Lucy.


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