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worry, missus," he said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
"She'll wait for me. They wouldn't let no train start 'fore me and my
passengers was in!"

All the rest of the passengers laughed, Mona too, at which the sour-faced
woman glared at them angrily. Then they jogged on again, and by that time
Mona had recovered sufficiently to be able to take more interest in her
surroundings.

She noticed that the woman beside her, and the woman opposite her, were
looking her up and down, and she felt very glad that she had on her best
hat and dress. She did wish, though, that she had mended the hole in her
gloves, for one of the women seemed more attracted by them than by
anything else, and it was really rather embarrassing. She longed to put
her hands behind her back to hide them, but that would have looked too
pointed; so, instead, she turned round and looked out of the window,
pretending to be lost to everything but the view.

It was a very pretty road that they were travelling, but very hilly,
and Lion's pace grew, if possible, even slower. One or two of the
passengers complained loudly, but Mona was enjoying herself thoroughly
now. To her everything was of interest, from the hedges and the ploughed
fields, just showing a tinge of green, to the cottages and farms they
passed here and there. To many people each mile would have seemed just
like the last, but to Mona each had a charm of its own. She knew all the
houses by sight, and knew the people who dwelt in some of them, and when
by and by the van drew near to Seacombe, and at last, between a dip in the
land, she caught her first glimpse of the sea, her heart gave a great
leap, and a something caught in her throat. This was home, this was her
real home. Mona knew it now, if she had never realised it before.

At Hillside something had always been lacking - she could hardly have told
what, but somehow, she had never loved the place itself. It had never
been quite 'home' to her, and never could be.

"I expect you're tired, dear, ain't you?" the woman beside her asked in a
kindly voice. The face Mona turned to her was pale, but it was with
feeling, not tiredness.

"Oh, no," she cried, hardly knowing what she felt, or how to put it into
words. "I was a little while ago - but I ain't now. I - I don't think I
could ever feel tired while I could see that!" She pointed towards the
stretch of blue water, with the setting sun making a road of gold right
across it and into the heaven that joined it.

The woman smiled sadly. "Are you so fond of it as all that! I wish I
was. I can't abide it - it frightens me. I never look at it if I can help
it. It makes me feel bad."

"And it makes me feel good," thought Mona, but she was shy of saying so.
"I think I should be ashamed to do anything mean when I was in sight of
the sea," she added to herself. And then the old horse drew up suddenly,
and she saw that they had actually reached their journey's end.

As she stepped down from the van and stood alone in the inn yard, where
John Darbie always unloaded, and put up his horse and van, Mona for the
first time felt shy and nervous. She and her new mother were really
strangers to each other. They had met but once, and that for only a
little while.

"And p'raps we shan't get on a bit," thought Mona. "P'raps she's very
particular, and will be always scolding!" and she felt very miserable.
And then, as she looked about her, and found that no one, as far as she
could tell, had come to meet her, she began to feel very forlorn, and
ill-used too. All the sharp little unkind remarks about Lucy Carne, which
had fallen from Granny Barnes' lips, came back to her mind.

"I do think somebody might have come to meet me!" she said to herself, and
being tired, and nervous, and a little bit homesick for granny, the tears
rushed to her eyes. Hastily diving in her pocket for her handkerchief,
her fingers touched her purse, and she suddenly realised that she had not
paid John Darbie his fare! With a thrill and a blush at her own
forgetfulness, she hurried back to where he was busy unloading his van.
He had already taken down the pigs and some bundles of peasticks, and a
chair which wanted a new cane seat, and was about to mount to the top to
drag down the luggage which was up there, when he saw Mona waiting for
him.

"Please, here's my fare. I'm sorry I forgot it, and how am I to get my
box up to my house?"

"Get your box up? Why the same way as you'll get yourself up. Hop inside
again, and I'll drive 'ee both up in a minute. I promised your mother I
would. You hold on to your money now, it'll be time enough to settle up
when I've done my job," and the old man chuckled amiably at his little
joke.

But Mona did not want to get back into the close, stuffy van again, and
sit there in solitary state, with everyone who passed by staring at her.
So, as soon as John Darbie was safely on the top and busy amongst the
boxes there, she walked quietly out of the yard and into the street.

How familiar it all was, and how unchanged! After Milbrook - the little
ugly new town, scarcely worthy the name of town - and the hamlet where her
granny lived, the street and houses looked small and old-fashioned, but
they looked homelike and strong. The Milbrook houses, with their walls
half a brick thick, and their fronts all bow-windows, would not have
lasted any time in little stormy, wind-swept Seacombe. Experience had
taught Seacombe folk that their walls must be nearly as solid as the
cliffs on which many of them were built, and the windows must be small and
set deep in the walls; otherwise they were as likely as not to be blown in
altogether when the winter storms raged; that roofs must come well down to
meet the little windows, like heavy brows protecting the eyes beneath,
which under their shelter, could gaze out defiantly at sea and storm.

To Mona, seeing them again after many months' absence, the houses looked
rough and poor, and plain; yet she loved them, and, as she walked up the
steep, narrow street, she glanced about her with eager, glowing eyes.
For the time her loneliness and nervousness were forgotten. Here and
there someone recognised her, but at that hour there were never many
people about.

"Why, Mona Carne! is it really you! Well, your mother and father'll be
glad to have you home again." Mona beamed gratefully on the speaker.

"Is it really Mona," cried another. "Why, now, you've grown! I didn't
know you till Mrs. Row said your name!"

Mona began to feel less forlorn and ill-used, and she was more glad than
ever that she had on her best clothes, and had put her hair up in squibs
the night before.

Outside one of the few shops Seacombe possessed, she drew up and looked in
at the windows with interest. They had improved a little. The draper's
was particularly gay with new spring things, and to Mona who had not seen
a shop lately, unless she walked the three miles to Milbrook, the sight
was fascinating. One window was full of ties, gloves, and ribbons; the
other was as gay as a garden with flowers of every kind and colour, all
blooming at once. Many of them were crude and common, but to Mona's eyes
they were beautiful. There were wreaths of wall-flowers, of roses, and of
lilacs, but the prettiest of all to Mona was one of roses and
forget-me-nots woven in together.

"Oh," she gasped, "how I'd love to have that one! Oh, I'd love it!"
There were hats in the window, too. Pretty, light, wide-brimmed hats.
Mona's eyes travelled backwards and forwards over them till she saw one of
the palest green straw, the colour of a duck's egg.

"Oh, wouldn't the roses and forget-me-nots look lovely on that, with just
a bow of white ribbon at the back. Oh, I wish - - "

"Why, it's Mona Carne!" cried a voice behind her, and Mona, wheeling
swiftly round, found Millie Higgins at her elbow.

"Why, who ever would have thought of meeting you strolling up the street
just as though you had never been away!" cried Millie. "But you've grown,
Mona. You are ever so much taller than when you went away, and your
hair's longer too. Do you think I am changed?"

Mona was delighted. She wanted to be tall, and she wanted to have nice
long hair. She had never cared for Millie Higgins before, but at that
moment she felt that she liked her very much indeed, and they chattered
eagerly to each other, lost to everything but the news they had to pour
into each other's ears.

After a little while, though, Millie tired of talking. She wanted to get
on, and what Millie wanted to do she generally did. "I must fly - and
there's your poor mother home worrying herself all this time to a
fiddle-string, wondering what has become of you. She expected the van an
hour ago, and had got your tea all ready and waiting for you."

Mona started guiltily, and then began to excuse herself. "Well, we were
late in coming, we were so long on the road. Mr. Darbie said he'd drive
me up, but I liked walking best. If I had gone up by the van I shouldn't
have been there yet, so it's all the same."

"The van! Why, it's gone by. Only a minute ago, though. If you run
you'll be there almost as soon as he will."

Without staying to say good-bye, Mona ran, but either Millie's minute had
been a very long one, or 'Lion' had stepped out more briskly at the end of
the day than at the beginning, for when Mona got to the house John Darbie
was just coming away. "Thank'ee, ma'am," he was saying, and Mona saw him
putting some coins in his pocket.

"I've got the - - " she began to call out to him, but stopped, for her new
mother came out to the gate, and looked anxiously down the hill. She was
looking for herself, Mona knew, and a fit of shyness came over her which
drove every other thought from her mind.

But almost as quickly as the shyness came it disappeared again, for Lucy's
eyes fell on her, and, her face alight with pleasure, Lucy came forward
with arms outstretched in welcome. "Why, you poor little tired thing,
you," she cried, kissing her warmly, "you must be famished! Come in, do.
I was quite frightened about you, for I've been expecting you this hour
and more, and then when Mr. Darbie came, and brought only your box,
it seemed as if I wasn't ever going to see you. Come in, dear," drawing
Mona's arm through her own, and leading her into the house. "Sit down and
rest a bit before you go up to see your room."

Exhausted with excitement, and talking, and the extra exertion, Lucy
herself had to sit down for a few minutes to get her breath. Mona, more
tired than she realised until she came to sit down, lay back in her
father's big chair and looked about her with shy interest. How familiar
it all seemed, yet how changed. Instead of the old torn, soiled drab
paper, the walls were covered with a pretty blue one, against which the
dresser and table and the old familiar china showed up spotless and
dainty; the steel on the stove might have been silver, the floor was as
clean and snowy as the table.

Mona's memory of it all was very different. In those days there had been
muddle, dust, grease everywhere, the grate was always greasy and choked
with ashes, the table sloppy and greasy, the floor unwashed, even unswept,
the dressers with more dust than anything else on them. Mona could
scarcely believe that the same place and things could look so different.

"Oh, how nice it all is," she said in a voice full of admiration, and Lucy
smiled with pleasure. She knew that many girls would not have admitted
any improvement even if they had seen it.

"Shall we go upstairs now?" she said. "I've got my breath again," and she
led the way up the steep little staircase, which Mona remembered so well.

"You know the way to your old room, don't you?"

Mona walked ahead to it, but at the door she drew up with a cry of
delight. "Oh, Mother!" she turned to say with a beaming face, and without
noticing that she had called her by the name about which she and granny
had debated so long.

Lucy noticed it though, and coloured with pleasure. She had felt more shy
than had Mona, about suggesting what her stepchild should call her.
"Thank you, dear, for calling me that," she said, putting her arm about
her and kissing her. "I didn't know, I wondered how you would feel about
it."

But Mona was too delighted with everything she saw to feel anything but
pleasure and gratitude then. The walls had been papered with a pretty
rose-covered paper, the shabby little bed had been painted white.
Pretty pink curtains hung at the window, and beside the bed stood a small
bookcase with all Mona's own books in it. Books that she had left lying
about torn and shabby, and had thought would have been thrown away, or
burnt, long ago. Lucy had collected them, and mended and cleaned them.
And Lucy, who had brought to her new house many of the ideas she had
gathered while in service at the Squire's, had painted the furniture white
too, to match the bed.

Mona had never in her life before seen anything so pretty and dainty.
"Isn't it lovely!" she cried, sitting down plump on the clean white quilt,
and crushing it. "I can't believe it's for me." She looked about her
with admiring eyes as she dragged off her hat and tossed it from her,
accidentally knocking over the candlestick as she did so.

Lucy stooped and picked up both. The candlestick was chipped, the hat was
certainly not improved.

"The chipped place will not show much," said Lucy in her gentle, tired
voice, "but you've crushed the flowers in your hat."

Mona looked at the hat with indifferent eyes. "Have I? Oh, well, it's my
last year's one. I shall want a new one for the summer."

"Shall you, dear?"

Mona did not notice the little anxious pucker of her mother's forehead.
Carried away by all that had been done for her already, she had the
feeling that money must be plentiful at Cliff Cottage. Her father's boat
had done well, she supposed.

But before any more was said, a sound of footsteps reached them from
below, and a loud voice, gruff but kindly, shouted through the little
place "Lucy, where are you, my girl? Has the little maid come?" and the
next moment Mona was darting down the stairs and, taking the last in one
flying leap, as in the old days, sprang into her father's arms.

"My word! What a big maid you are grown!" he cried, holding her a little
way from him, and eyeing her proudly. "Granny Barnes must have taken good
care of you! And now you've come to take care of Lucy and me.
Eh! Isn't that it?"

"Yes, dad, that's it," cried Mona, excitedly, and sat back with all her
weight on the pretty flowers and the fresh eggs that her grandmother had
sent to Lucy by her.

Her father looked vexed. He knew how much his ailing wife enjoyed fresh
eggs, and how seldom she allowed herself one, but he could not very well
express his feelings just when Mona had come back to her home after her
long absence, so he only laughed a little ruefully, and said, "Same as
ever, Mona! Same as ever!"

But, to his surprise, tears welled up into Mona's eyes. "I - I didn't mean
to be," she said tremulously. "I meant to try to be careful - but I - I've
done nothing but break things ever since I came. You - you'll be wishing
you had never had me home."

"We shan't do that, I know," said Lucy kindly. "There's some days when
one seems to break everything one touches - but they don't happen often.
Now I'll make the tea. I'm sure we all want some. Come, Peter, and take
your own chair. There's no moving around the kitchen till we've put you
in your corner. Mona, will you sit in the window?"

"I think I ought to stand," said Mona tragically. "I've sat down once too
often already."

At which they all burst out laughing, and drew round the table in the
happiest of spirits.



CHAPTER III.


From the moment she lay down in her little white bed, Mona had slept the
whole night through. She had risen early the day before - early at least,
for her, for her grandmother always got up first, and lighted the fire and
swept the kitchen before she called Mona, who got down, as a rule, in time
to sit down to the breakfast her grandmother had got ready for her.

On this first morning in her home she woke of her own accord, and
half-waking, half-sleeping, and with not a thought of getting up, she
turned over and was about to snuggle down into the cosy warmth again,
when across her drowsy eyes flashed the light from her sunny window.

"Why, how does the window get over there?" she asked herself, and then
recollection came pouring over her, and sleepiness vanished, for life
seemed suddenly very pleasant and interesting, and full of things to do,
and see, and think about.

Presently the clock in the church-tower struck seven. "Only seven!
Then I've got another hour before I need get up! But I'll just have a
look out to see what it all looks like. How funny it seems to be back
again!" She slipped out of bed and across the floor to draw back the
curtains. Outside the narrow street stretched sunny and deserted.
The garden, drenched with dew, was bathed in sunshine too. But it was not
on the garden or the street that her eyes lingered, but on the sea beyond
the low stone wall on the opposite side of the way. Deep blue it
stretched, its bosom gently heaving, blue as the sky above, and the jewels
with which its bosom was decked flashed and sparkled in the morning
sunshine.

"Oh-h-h!" gasped Mona. "Oh-h-h! I don't know how anyone can ever live
away from the sea!"

In spite of the sun, though, the morning was cold, with a touch of frost
in the air which nipped Mona's toes, and sent her scuttling back to her
bed again. She remembered, joyfully, from the old days, that if she
propped herself up a little she could see the sea from her bed.
So she lay with her pillow doubled up under her head, and the bedclothes
drawn up to her chin, and gazed and gazed at the sea and sky, until
presently she was on the sea, in a boat, floating through waves covered
with diamonds, and the diamonds came pattering against the sides of the
boat, as though inviting her to put out her hands and gather them up,
and so become rich for ever. Strangely enough, though, she did not heed,
or care for them. All she wanted was a big bunch of the forget-me-nots
which grew on the opposite shore, and she rowed and rowed, with might and
main, to reach the forget-me-nots, and she put up a sail and flew before
the wind, yet no nearer could she get to the patch of blue and green.

"But I can smell them!" she cried. "I can smell them!" and then
remembered that forget-me-nots had no scent and realised that the scent
was that of the wallflowers growing in her own garden; and suddenly all
the spirit went out of her, for she did not care for what she could reach,
but only for the unattainable; and the oars dropped out of her hands, and
the diamonds no longer tapped against the boat, for the boat was still,
and Mona sat in it disappointed and sullen. The sun went in too,
and nothing was the same but the scent of the flowers. And then, through
her sullen thoughts, the sound of her father's voice came to her.

"Mona! Mona! It's eight o'clock. Ain't you getting up yet? I want you to
see about the breakfast. Your mother isn't well."

Mona jumped up with a start, and felt rather cross in consequence.
"All right, father," she called back. "I'll come as soon as I can,"
but to herself she added, in an injured tone, "I s'pose this is what I've
been had home for! Hard lines, I call it, to have to get up and light the
fire the very first morning."

Her father called through the door again. "The fire's lighted, and
burning nicely, and I've put the kettle on. I lighted it before I went
out. I didn't call 'ee then, because I thought I heard you moving."

Then her father had been up and dressed for an hour or two, and at work
already! A faint sense of shame crossed Mona's mind. "All right,
father," she called back more amiably, "I'll dress as quick as I can.
I won't be more than a few minutes."

"That's a good maid," with a note of relief in his voice, and then she
heard him go softly down the stairs.

It always takes one a little longer than usual to dress in a strange
place, but it took Mona longer than it need have done, for instead of
unpacking her box the night before, and hanging up her frocks, and putting
her belongings neatly away in their places, she had just tumbled
everything over anyhow, to get at her nightdress, and so had left them.
It had taken her quite as long to find the nightdress as it would have to
lift the things out and put them in their proper places, for the garment
was almost at the bottom of the box, but Mona did not think of that.
Now, though, when she wanted to find her morning frock and apron, she grew
impatient and irritable. "Perhaps if I tip everything out on the floor
I'll find the old things that way!" she snapped crossly. "I s'pose I
shan't find them until they've given me all the trouble they can,"
and she had actually thrown a few things in every direction, when she
suddenly stopped and sat back on her heels.

"I've half a mind to put on my best dress again, then I can come and look
for the old one when I ain't in such a hurry." The dress - her best one -
was lying temptingly on a chair close beside her. She hesitated,
looked at it again, and picked it up. As she did so, something fell out
of the pocket. It was her purse, the little blue one her granny had
bought for her at Christmas. She picked it up and opened it, and as she
did so the colour rushed over her face. In one of the pockets was the
eighteenpence which had been given to her to pay John Darbie with.
"I - I suppose I ought to have given it to mother, but it went right out of
my head." She completed her dressing in a thoughtful mood, but she did
find, and put on, her old morning dress. "I suppose I had better tell
her - about the money." She put the blue purse in a drawer, however,
and tossed in a lot of things on top of it.

When at last she got downstairs it was already past half-past eight,
and the fire was burning low again. "Oh, dear," she cried, irritably,
"how ever am I going to get breakfast with a fire like that and how am I
to know what to get or where anything is kept. I think I might have had a
day or two given me to settle down in. I s'pose I'd better get some
sticks first and make the fire up. Bother the old thing, it only went out
just to vex me!"

She was feeling hungry and impatient, and out of tune with everything.
At Hillside she would have been just sitting down to a comfortable meal
which had cost her no trouble to get. For the moment she wished she was
back there again.

As she returned to the kitchen with her hands full of wood, her mother
came down the stairs. She looked very white and ill, and very fragile,
but she was fully dressed.

"I thought you were too bad to get up," said Mona, unsmilingly.
"I was going to bring you up some breakfast as soon as I could,
but the silly old fire was gone down - - "

"I was afraid it would. That was why I got up. I couldn't be still,
I was so fidgeted about your father's breakfast. He'll be home for it in
a few minutes. He's had a busy morning, and must want something."

Mona looked glummer than ever. "I never had to get up early at granny's,"
she said in a reproachful voice. "I ain't accustomed to it. I s'pose I
shall have to get so."

"Did you let your grandmother - did your grandmother come down first and
get things ready for you?" asked Lucy, surprised; and something in her
voice, or words, made Mona feel ashamed, instead of proud of the fact.

"Granny liked getting up early," she said, excusingly. Lucy did not make
any comment, and Mona felt more ashamed than if she had.

"Hasn't father had his breakfast yet?" she asked presently. "He always
used to come home for it at eight."

"He did to-day, but you see there wasn't any. The fire wasn't lighted
even. He thought you were dressing, and he wouldn't let me get up.
When he'd lighted the fire he went off to work again. He's painting his
boat, and he said he'd finish giving her her first coat before he'd stop
again; then she could be drying. I'll manage better another morning.
I daresay I'll feel better to-morrow."

Lucy did look very unwell, and Mona's heart was touched. "I wish father
had told me earlier," she said in a less grumbling tone. "I was awake at
seven, and got up and looked out of the window. I never thought of
dressing then, it seemed so early, and I didn't hear father moving."

"Never mind, dear, we will manage better another time. It's nice having


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