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ever, lift itself up and slowly turn to look who came
between him and the fast fading light of the
afternoon. They got away from the place in haste,
and never word uttered they, until they were T\ithin
sight and sound of home. Uncle Christopher was
the only person in the hall when they entered. He
asked where they had been, and when Pennie told
him, Millicent bm-st into tears.

"Tut, tut, what's all this about?" cried the old
worldling, in an}i:hing but a s}-mpathizing tone, and
then, in the words of the old song, reminded her
that, —

Violets plucked, the sweetest showers will ne'er make grow again.
They left him, and retreated to their room, which



24: MR. WYNYARD'S WARD.

Millicent quitted no more tliat clay. She would have
no one to keep her company but the ancient family
nurse, who believed in many things but imperfectly
known in our philosophy, and whose talk was not
calculated to settle startled nerves. She gave it as
her opinion that Michael Forester had died with
something on his mind, which he now sought to
communicate to his capricious mistress — '' for capri-
cious you was, Miss Milly, and used him very hard,
there's no gainsaying," was her ultimatum.

That some mystery was afloat had now become
plain to all the world at Brackenfield. "What is
it ? " asked Captain Blake next morning, almost
testily. " The house seems to be standing on tiptoe
^^ith expectant alarm. There's Millicent taking her
cup of tea in bed, there's Pennie as solemn as an
owl, there's nurse going about upstairs in shoes of
silence bidding the children Whisht! If anybody
has seen a ghost, as rumour whispers, pray confess
it, and let us hunt the shabby rascals who frighten
ladies, out of their lair. For as for ghosts, bless j^ou,
they're knaves ingrain, no more bullet proof than
you or I. Show me your ghost, and I'll abolish him.



MISTLETOE AND HOLLY-BERRIES. 25

I'll cause him to efface himself. Now, Quixote, I
shall begin with you — look me straight in the face,
and don't prevaricate, but be pleased to tell what
makes your droll little phiz as grave as a mustard-
pot ? "

Thus adjured, Pennie eclipsed herself in her
coffee-cup, and Uncle Christopher interposed with —
" Say nothing, Pennie, it is grand to keep a secret."

" There is a ghost, depend upon it," added the
Captain. "Let us all open our eyes, and be on the
look-out for him."

Here the dame considerately said, she wished
they would remember there were children in the
room. There 2vere children in the room, listening
with ears on the stretch. Little Lois, indeed, began
to lisp an account of a ghost she had seen, but when
comically requested to be precise in her description of
him, she could only put up her hands and gasp, until
Geoffi-ey cut her short by saying that she meant bo-
peep behind the curtains. Playing at ghosts was the
favourite game that day, and when Pennie took a
walk with the youngsters, she was impressed for the
chief character, and required to march with stiff



26 MK. wynyard's ward.

legs, and solemn features to the roll of Geoffrey's
drum.

They wandered a long way, and returned by the
woods, which were pleasant in the frosty sunshine
since the wind had sunk. Pennie gathered the first
snow-drops of the season, peeping up amidst pale
green leaves at the sheltered roots of the trees.
Anna and Lois kept her company while the boys
made wider excursions on their own account. After
one prolonged absence, they returned to the girls
proclaiming that they had seen such a strange-
looking man, with a face the colour of stone, a hat
like Eobinson Crusoe, and a bear's cloak on his
shoulders. He was leaning over the gate into the
meadow, and stared at them very hard, but did not
speak.

" Perhaps he is the new farmer who is coming
to the Lodge," suggested Francis.

" Perhaps he is the ghost,'' said Maurice, and
then they scampered off again, laughing and fearless.

But Pennie was not laughing. She was chilled
to the very marrow of her bones ; for she perceived
that to these unromantic, unimaginative boys also



MISTLETOE AND HOLLY-BERRIES. 27

had been revealed the dreadful phantom -shape of
Michael Forester. But stay, phantom- shape ! Could
it possibly be Michael in the body, the very Michael
himself that was never dead ?

The idea made her heart jump, and off home she
started with joyful hurry to communicate it to Mil-
licent. But when she saw Milhcent's forlorn face,
somehow her own buoyant hope collapsed. The
dame and Theodora were with her trying, without
seeming to tiy, to entice her into cheerfulness. It
was too bad, everybody said, to have dear. Aunt Milly
in the dumps at Christmas time. Only Uncle Chris-
topher chuckled, and did not care. Before lunch
Pennie being left with her a minute alone, proposed
that if they were bantered any more, they should
make a clean breast of the whole affair, and Millicent
consented, only stipulating that Pennie should be
spokeswoman.

In the afternoon snow fell again, and games in
the hall were the order of the day for the children.
The elders, who could endure the clamour, congre-
gated there as well ; some of them even taking part
in the sports. The younger ladies made belief at



28 MR. wynyard's ward.

work and conversation round the fire, until Uncle
Christopher, who was playing chess with Sir Andrew,
exclaimed — " The sky will fall next : I heard Quixote
sigh ! " At that provocation, there bubbled up in
her a spirit of defiance, and wagging her head, she
retorted — " You would sigh too, sir, and perhaps
have a fit, if you had seen what Milly and I have
seen four times since Christmas Eve ! Either
Michael Forester's spirit is haunting Brackenfield,
or Michael Forester himself, no more dead than
we are."

They all looked serious enough now, except Uncle
Christopher, who said in his quizzical way, " Quixote,
your wickedness passes conception ! How dare you
insinuate that a man may be alive whose monument
is on the Church wall ? I should like to know where
you expect to go to ? "

" It would be awkward for a fellow to turn up
after the heir had taken possession," observed Sir
Andrew.

" Don't talk so lightly," interposed the dame ;
" there is no chance that poor Michael will return
now."



MISTLETOE AND HOLLY-BERRIES. 29

" More unlikely events have occurred in families
than the re-appearance of a member supposed to be
dead. I could give 3-ou an authentic instance
myself," began Sir Andrew. But his anecdote was
not encouraged, for all were eager to hear Pennie's
story. When she came to the glimpse of the spectre
they had had at the lodge, Uncle Christopher's
patience gave way. He declared he could not stand
such nonsense any longer, and demanded that Tom
Martineau should come out \\ith him even in the
wind and the snow to blow away the cobwebs that
little spider (meaning Pennie,) was trying to weave
over theii- wits. After that, all the gentlemen dropt
off rapidly, and the womenkind were left alone to the
discussion of Pennie's narrative, until the childi-en
fell tired of their romps, and insisted on fairy-tales
and riddles in the t-^ilight until the dressing-bell
rang, when young and old trooped upstairs to-
gether.

Millicent and Pennie were the last to descend to
the di-awing-room, and it struck Pennie oddly that
her companion had become the centre of most
demonstrative caresses. Theodora kissed her ;



30 MR. WYNYARD'S WARD.

Helen wreathed an arm round her waist ; Grace
cooed at her with sweet words. The dame com-
placently predicted that she would soon he herself
again, and Uncle Christopher, vdih. an unwonted
touch of sentiment, tucked her hand under his arm,
and patting it, hade her look more sprightly for a
picture of mnter in her all-white rohes, with the
ruhy-dropt holly spray in her hair. Theodora, the
most tender-hearted of women, had tears in her eyes
through dinner ; and of the rest, those who did not
look joyous, looked mysteriously important. Pennie
might have asked now if thei/ had seen a ghost ; and
she did at last intimate to Captain Blake that if
anything was going to happen, she should like to
know ; hut he only whispered with a tantalizing
air — "I shall not tell you, little quiz. When j'ou
had a secret you kept it four days ; now it is our
turn, and we can keep one too."

When the ladies rose to leave the tahle the dame
took Millicent's arm to cross the hall. For a miracle
none of the children were downstairs ; hut Helen
and Grace were in and out of the drawing-room half-
a-dozen times, though hoth their bahies were safe



MISTLETOE AND HOLLY-BERRIES.' 31

abed. Even grandmamma, so drowsy after dinner
on ordinary occasions, was now perfectly wide awake,
and trotted twice to the door, and opened it to listen
to the voices and laughter that issued from the
dining-room. Their restlessness communicated itself
to Millicent, and when she heard Uncle Christopher's
deep bass approaching, supported by a hum of lower
tones, she could not help quaking with a vague
expectancy of she knew not what. Instantly Helen
and Grace ran out, and the dame, holding Milly's
hand, followed. Pennie pursued them, of course ;
when, behold, there, in the middle of the half-gloom
of the hall, stood the ghost — no ghost at all, but a
man enveloped in a cavahy-cloak powdered with
snow, and on his head a Panama hat which he was
just in the act of plucking off.

"Who's this, Milly?" cried the Squire; and
Millicent, tall, pale, in her white robes spectral,
melted, vanished, disappeared somehow amongst the
gi'eat folds of Michael's cloak, and never again quite
emerged into a distinct identity. It was a recon-
ciliation by surprise, and no after-thought could
undo it.



32 MR. wynyard's ward.

" Forgive and forget," said Uncle Cln-istoplier.
" Kiss and make friends ; you are under the mistletoe,
and it is Christmas time, Milly. Eare fun, Quixote,
isn't it? Get away, you round-eyed little elf, and
don't talk of seeing ghosts. Is he behaving like a
ghost ? Milly never would have been caught -without
a stratagem ; but now it is done, I hope you like the
dramatic conclusion ? "

Dramatic conclusion, indeed ! It was lucky Mil-
licent was past hearing the triumphant boast. It was
Pennie's firm belief that Uncle Christopher knew
from the beginning of their terrors that Michael
Forester uris, and was no ghost, and that it had
pleased his perversity to study MiUicent's pains and
repentance, before he told anybody the secret of her
lover's return. But he never would confess it — never.

The children laughed and were glad over the
event of this reunion without well knowing why, but
Penelope Croft, who was already somewhat of a
philosopher, cried with Millicent for sympathy, and
said, now she should always have faith in the happy
possibilities of life, let it look ever so blank, since
even sometimes the long dead came back.



MISTLETOE AND HOLLY-BERRIES. 33

" Oh, the lost years, the lost years, Pennie,"
sobbed her sweet companion ; "the lost years and
the change ! " That was the burthen of her regi-et and
her complaint. Pennie sighed and said nothing, and
presently fell asleep.

The morrow came — such a strange new morrow
to Millicent, who had a bewildered air of walking
amongst shadows ; and a yet stranger new mor-
row to the Eastwold childi'en, who were to return
home that day, packed in the old yellow chariot.

They had rejoiced to come to merry Christmas
Brackenfield ; they now equally rejoiced to go. A
week's distance lent enchantment to the view of the
dreary house on the hill, where they had left papa
and mamma. The little ones watched for an hour
from the hal]-\\indow, before the lean posters that
were to carry them away, came with a shambling
trot to grandpapa's door. " Good-by ! Good-by !
Good-by ! " rang from all tongues in chorus. Then
were the last kisses, and the tumbhngs into the
chariot, so musty and fusty, and anxious final inves-
tigations by Theodora into the warmth of WTaps, and
a futile warning to Penelope Croft not to achieve

VOL. I. 3



34 MR. WYN yard's WARD.

the windy, cold solitude of the rumble ; then a
quick, ''Are you all right?" from Uncle John, and
an, " Off with you ! " from Uncle Christopher, and
away they whirled in the clear blue morning, as
laughing and jubilant as when papa and mamma,
standing on the steps at Eastwold, had seen their
sunny faces fade in a mist of tears — sunny faces
that as little children's faces, papa was to see never
more — never more.



35



II.

EASTWOLD HOUSE IN DECAY.

Penelope Croft had the best of it in the rumble.
There Wiis an immense confusion of tongues within
the chariot. That peculiar j^oung -woman in certain
peculiar moods much affected her own society. The
blast blew with a capricious keenness, and swayed
hea\ily in the tall firs of the Brackenwood. Soon
that was out of sight. A gi-adual ascent lay long in
front, with round white hills swelling up on either
hand. Glimpses of life peeped out here and there
from the sheltered hollows, where the golden-brown
stacks of last harvest, now all hooded with snow,
were ranged in goodly ranks about the farmsteads.
Penelope's heart warmed to their look of homely
comfort ; for her earliest and pleasantest reminiscences
were of child-life in a farm. What set her musing

3—2



36 iMR. wynyard's ward.

of it now, when there was Millicent Hutton to think
of, and her wedding, that was no doubt to be soon ?
She did not know. But her fancy would fly over hill
and dale far faster than the posters, and drop her in
the midst now of a noisy sheep-washing at the beck ;
then perch her a-top of a hay- wain rolling sluggishly
home from the water-meads ; and again, set her in a
low, old-fashioned parlour at the knees of a comely,
cherry-cheeked dame, who was her mother. Then
Pennie wished herself going home to the dear old
Crofts of Craven, who were of her own blood, instead
of to the gentlefolks at Eastwold, who were kind
enough, but not kin.

Had fortune used the little woman considerately
in making her a rich heiress, and setting her in a
place to which she was not born ? Pennie thought
not. She felt often lonely. If only she had been
pretty, or graceful, or engaging ! But she was none
of these things. She was only queer. Her face
provoked many a furtive smile — there was nothing in
nature more grotesque than Pennie's face when she
was pathetic. She knew^ fortune was not in the habit
of consulting her clients as to what lot she should



EAST WOLD HOUSE IX DECAY. 37

give them, but if she could have chosen hers, she
would have been interesting and jwor. She was
already more interesting than she knew. A woman
always is interesting who has heaps of money, let her
be as ugly as she may. Even her guardian had
many a time privately wished his son Francis were
of an age to go a-wooing to his ward. But Francis
was only a rough, hungry schoolboy, with his heart
in his stomach yet, and Pennie was just eighteen
and sentimental. '

How had Pennie come by her heiress- ship ? That
is soon told. Her father, Jonathan Croft, tenant-
farmer at Mayfield, had followed the plough in peace,
prosperity, and contentment for a score of years.
The railway mania set in. He was smitten with the
gold-fever ; he thirsted to become rich, drew his
thrifty savings out of the Xorminster Bank, invested
them in scrip, bought and sold, and bought and sold
again, and in a few months achieved a wonderful
great fortune. He did not live to lose it again, but
died hterally of amazement at his good-luck ; never
having seemed to realize it in any comfortable form,
but only as a means of buying up Wynyard of East-



38 MR. wynyaed's ward.

wold — Wynyard of Eastwold being the name most
honoured in those parts since feudal days.

Another idea that possessed his half-paralysed
brain was that his daughter Pen must be a lady.
He sent for the Squire, and begged him to accept her
as his ward. The Squire was astonished and a little
vexed. He was not a man who loved business. He
said he would consult Hargrove — Hargrove was his
factotum. Hargrove suggested that it might be an
excellent thing. He went over to Mayfield, talked
with Croft and his wife, and found that it might be
even a better thing than he had thought. He wrote
the old man's will, and when it came to be read after
his death, the charge of Penelope was coupled with a
bequest of two thousand pounds to the Squire and
five hundred to the lawyer. There was plenty of
gossip about it over pipes and at market dinners as a
very queer vA^ill, which left the money too free to the
handling even of trustees so honourable as Wynyard
of Eastwold and Doctor Grey; but Hargrove was a
cunning old file, bless you, and knew what he knew.
Grey would never act, and he would have it all his
ov;n way ; for the Squire did nothing "wdthout him.



EASTWOLD HOUSE IN DECAY. 39

Seventy thousand pounds ! The Httie lass had
seventy thousand pounds — not a penny less. And
how that would grow before she came of age.
Seventy thousand pounds ! And the widow well
left too ; but tied up not to marry again. Jonathan
Croft was a bit jealous, but not so far north as his
neighbours would have expected — not nearly so far
north. Trust, ay, trust — only let a man make sure
where he trusts. ^Miy wasn't his wife given any
care over the lass ? She came of a good family ; she
v\'as a woman of sense. Ay, marry was she, and a
downright hand at business. And her brother,
Lister of Kood, would have made as honest a guar-
dian for the lass as any squire in Craven. But
where was the use of talking ? Jonathan Croft had
put a sHght on his own folks and his wife's ; but he
had \silled as he had willed, and Penelope was to be
a lady.

Penelope was to be a lady. Her mother gave her
up Tvith a half sad, half proud reluctance, and the
ugly httle woman was carried away to Eastwold in
the yellow chariot — a much more pompous and
shining chariot then than now ; for seven years' wear



40 MR. WYN YARD'S WARD.

and tear make a mighty difference in chariots, though
they may leave ugly little women much the same for
ugliness. And during those seven years there had
been a gradual decay and blight creeping over the
splendours of Eastwold, such as dim the glossy
lacquer of chariots yellow or various, and the lacquer
of all other things that need frequent gold-wash to
keep them spruce. In fact, the mining property
which had enriched the ancient house for genera-
tions was working out, and the Wynyards were going
down in the world — doivn.

The children had not yet much character; but
they had the germs of character. On the outside
they were — the boys, noisy, domineering, fearless,
generous ; the girls, loving, obedient, prone to serve
what they loved — all given to enjoy, and without the
faintest, remotest idea of what signified self-denial,
self-renunciation, or world's work of any sort. For
were they not come of a master-race ? The tradi-
tions of Eastwold were long and honourable. The
children had been nurtured on them. It was as
much an article of their faith as anything in the
catechism that a Wynyard never had been and never



EASTWOLD HOUSE IN DECAY. 41

could be disloyal to king or cliurcli, to kindred or
friend. They had commonly been found ranged on
the losing side, and had shed their blood in many an
historical quarrel on the field and on the scafi"old;
but their name remained to their posterity without
spot and blameless. Not a bit of rusty old armour
that hung about the old hall and on the old staircase
but had been in its day the defence of a good man
and true. Francis had already made up his mind
that he was to be a soldier, and to tread in their
steps ; and Anna already looked to him as the hero
who would perpetuate the glory of a long line.

In these hopeful visions of their fresh youth they
almost lost sight of the cloud impending over the
fortunes of Eastwold. There had been year by year
a curtailing of their pleasures, but no complaining.
Papa and mamma wrapt their robes of pride about
them, and dechned quietly from past prosperity.
The children imitated the dignified example. When
papa looked jaded and despondent, when mamma
was tired and tearful, could they be grumbling and
dissatisfied ? Francis and Anna, at all events, were
old enough to see and know better, and they did the



42 MR. WY^YARD'S WARD.

best they Imew. The troubles that were coming on
them would not be embittered by the worst of all
wants — the want of love.

The January afternoon was trenching on twilight
when the yellow chariot rattled up the white avenue
to Eastwold door. For a marvel nobody was waiting
to welcome the children — not even nurse. But before
they could disentangle themselves and tumble out, it
was Oldened by mamma in person — by mamma nicely
dressed, and smiling, as if she had just come down
from her room. She was smiling, but it was a smile
so forced that Francis immediately said, *'What is
the matter, mamma ? Where is papa ? "

"He has gone on a journey, dear; I will tell
you about it by-and-by. Come in now — tea will
soon be ready, with ham and eggs, in the drawdng-
room. I am sure you are hungry;" and then
Mrs. Wynyard broke off suddenly, with a quiver
in her voice, looking round upon them all half
bewildered.

" Tea in the drawing-room, mamma; shall we
have it with you ? " cried Lois, delighted.



EASTWOLD HOUSE IN DECAY. 43

" Witli me, my vrinter blossom," responded Mrs.
Wynyard, and took her youngest child in her arms.
It seemed to Lois, Maurice, and Geoffrey that
mamma was gay; but Francis and Anna looked
at her and at each other, and felt that it was only
fair-seeming to hide sharp suffering.

Nurse now came on the scene — nurse without
any pretence at jollity. *' You've gotten home,
bairns," was her address; "you've had your bit
of pleasure, and it's over."

" It is over, but we have had it," rejoined Geoffrey,
mimicking her lugubrious tone.

Then there came inquuies about grandpapa and
grandmamma, and the uncles, aunts, and cousins,
which loosed all the 3'oung tongues, and set them
going together on the eloquent theme of Bracken-
field and its festivities. In the full midst of the
gossip, nurse swept the chatterers off impatiently
upstairs, to change their travelling garb for some-
thing more suitable to sit at tea in the dra\\ing-
room — in its way a treat worthy even to compare
with those enjoyed in the hospitable Christmas
Eden whence they were just returned. But tbe



44 MR. wynyard's ward.

check only invigorated their powers of speech. When
they were re-collected round the tahle, with mamma
presiding at the tea-board, and Anna dispensing
fragrant collops, the loudness and fluency of Geofii'ey
and Maurice became quite stunning, deafening.
Francis said little, but he thought the more. The
irrepressible loquacity of his brothers annoyed him,
because he saw the effort his mother had to make
to bear it. She listened with a sweet patience ;
with a careful, self- watchful attention, dropping a
question here, a word of wonder there, a note of
admiration everywhere, as if fearing lest her chil-
dren should detect some want, some loss.

*' Oh, dear mamma, I love you ; I am so happy,"
gushed Lois, presently, leaning a soft little cheek
towards her, courting the caress which Mrs. Wyn-
yard never withheld from her expectations. She
took the darling into her lap now, and poured
out second cups of tea with inconvenient satisfac-
tion to them both.

Penelope Croft sat in her accustomed place, where
she could turn on the water from the urn to replenish
the pot, and cut fresh wedges of bread to appease.



EASTWOLD HOUSE IN DECAY. 45

if possible, those unappeasable young appetites.
She had felt the atmosphere of restraint and pain
the moment she came into the house. Nobod}^
more sensitive to atmospheres and currents, whether
literal or metaphorical, than Pennie. The result
was perfect silence on her part. Millicent Hutton,
Mayfield, every romantic or pathetic fancy that had
kept her sweet company through the day's journey
vanished now — out of sight, out of mind — under
the influence of a very present but imisible disaster.
All the Eastwold children had acquired that discre-
tion of speech which lies in asking few questions.
Allien they asked one, and were not directly an-
swered, they never repeated or pressed it. Francis
was exceedingly impatient to be alone with his
mother, but his impatience sought no manifestation
beyond an occasional reminder to Maurice that,
while he talked so fast, he did not eat, and when all


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