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absorbed to heed her.

"Listen, Polly! you have got to come with me at once. Give baby back to
Nurse. You must come with me directly."

"If it is anything more about Scorpion, I refuse to stir," answered
Polly. "If there is a creature in this world whom I absolutely loathe,
it's that detestable little animal!"

"You don't hate him more than I do," said Flower. "My news is about him.
Still, you must come, for it also means Firefly and your father. They'll
both get into awful trouble - I know they will - if we don't save them."

"What?" said Polly; "what? Take baby, please, Nurse. Now, what is it,
Flower?" pulling her outside the nursery door. "What _has_ that horrid
Scorpion to do with Fly and father?"

"Only this: Fly has confessed that she knows what has become of him, but
she's a dear little brick and won't tell. She says she's a Maybright,
and they don't tell lies. Three cheers for the Maybrights, if they are
all like Fly, say I! Well, the little love won't tell, and Mrs. Cameron
is fit to dance, and what does she do but gets leave from Dr. Strong to
see your father, and she's going to drag Fly before him at three o'clock
to-day, and make a fine story of what happened. She holds it over Fly
that your father will be made very ill again. Very likely he will, if
_we_ don't prevent it."

"It's horrible!" said Polly; "but _how_ can we prevent it, Flower?"

"Oh, easily enough. _You_ must guard your father's room. Let no one in
under any pretense whatever until I have found David."

"What do you mean by finding David? What can David have to say to it?"

"Oh! has he not? Poor Fly! David has got her into his toils. David is at
the bottom of all this, I am convinced. I guessed it the moment I saw
him go up so boldly to Mrs. Cameron and pretend to be sorry about the
dog. _He_ sorry about Scorpion! He hates him more than any of us."

"But then - I don't understand; if that is so, David told a deliberate
lie, Flower."

Flower colored.

"We have not been brought up like the Maybrights," she said. "Oh, yes,
_we_ could tell a lie; we were not brought up to be particular about
good things, or to avoid bad things. We were brought up - well, just
anyhow."

Polly stole up to Flower and kissed her.

"I am glad you have come to learn of my father," she said. "Now do tell
me what we are to do for poor, poor Fly. Do you think David is guilty,
and that he has got Fly to promise not to tell?"

"Yes, that is what I think. David must be found, and got to confess, and
so release Fly of her promise before three o'clock. David is a dreadful
boy to find when he takes it into his head to hide on purpose; but I
must look for him, and in the meantime will you guard your father,
Polly?"

"As a dragon," said Polly. "You may trust me about that at least. I will
go to his room at once to make all things safe, for there is really no
trusting Aunt Maria when she has a scheme of vengeance with regard to
_that dog_ in her head. Good-by, Flower; I'm off to father."

Polly turned away, and Flower ran quickly downstairs. She knew she had
not a moment to lose, for David, as she expressed it, was a very
difficult boy to find when he took it into his head to hide himself.

Flower had not been on the moor since that dreadful day when she had
taken the baby away. So much had happened since then, so many dreadful
things had come to pass, that she shuddered at the bare thought of the
great and desolate moorland. Nevertheless she guessed that David would
hide there, and without a moment's hesitation turned her steps in the
direction of Peg-Top Moor. She had walked for nearly half an hour, and
had reached rather a broad extent of table-land, when she saw - their
little figures plainly visible against the sky - two children, nearly a
quarter of a mile away, eagerly talking together. There was not the
least doubt as to their identity; the children - a boy and a girl - were
David and Fly. Fly was holding David's arm, and gesticulating and
talking eagerly; David's head was turned away. Flower quickened her
steps almost into a run. If only she could reach the two before they
parted; above all things, if she could reach them before David saw her!

Alas and alas! she was too late for this. David suddenly pushed his
little companion a couple of feet away from him, and to all appearance
vanished into the solid ground.

Fly, crying bitterly, began to run to meet Flower. Flower held out her
arms as the little girl approached.

"What is it, Firefly? Tell me, has David confessed?"

"Oh, what do you know about it, Flower? Oh, what am I to do, what am I
to do?"

"You are to go quietly home," said Flower, speaking in a voice of
authority. "You are to go quietly home, and leave this matter in my
hands. I know all about it, and just what David has done. He has bound
you by a sort of oath, you poor little thing - you dear, brave little
thing! Never mind, Fly; you leave David to me. I expect I shall find him
now - that is, if you don't keep me too long talking. Go home, and leave
matters to me."

"But Flower - Flower, you do comfort me a little; but Flower, it will
soon be three o'clock, and then - and then - oh, dear father! Oh, it is
so dreadful!"

"No, you silly mite; it is not dreadful at all. Polly is in charge of
the Doctor. She is sitting with him now, and the door is locked, and the
key is in Polly's pocket, and she has promised me not to open that door
to any one - no, Fly, not to a hundred of your Aunt Marias - until I
bring David home."

Fly's face underwent a transformation. Her big eyes looked full up into
Flower's. A smile flitted across her quivering lips. With a sudden,
passionate gesture, she stooped down and kissed Flower's fingers, then
ran obediently back in the direction of Sleepy Hollow.

"She is a perfect little darling!" said Flower to herself. "If Master
David does not rue it for making her suffer, my name is not Flower
Dalrymple."

She ran on swiftly. She was always very quick and light in her
movements. Soon she came to the place where David had to all appearance
disappeared. She did not stay there long. She ran on to where the
bracken grew thick and long, then suddenly lay flat down on the ground,
and pressed her ear close to Mother Earth. What she heard did not
satisfy her. She rose again, repeating the same process several times.
Suddenly her eyes brightened; she raised her head, and listened
attentively, then she whistled a long peculiar note. There was no
answer, but Flower's face retained its watchful, intent expression. She
laid her head down once more close to the ground, and began to speak,
"David, David, I know you are there; there is no use in your hiding.
Come here, I want you, I, Flower. I will give you two minutes, David; if
you don't come then I'll keep the threat I made when you made me angry
with you at Ballarat."

A perfect silence followed Flower's words. She still lay flat on the
ground. One of the minutes flew by.

"I'll keep my word, David!" she said again. "You know me; you know what
my threat means. Three-quarters of a minute more, half a minute, then
I'll go home, and I'll do what I said I would do when you made me angry
at Ballarat."

Again there was silence, but this time quickly broken; a boy's black
head appeared above the bracken, a little brown hand was held out, and
David, without troubling himself to move a hair's breadth, looked full
into his sister's face.

"I don't want to lose you, Flower!" he said. "You are the only person in
all the world I care two-pence about. Now what's the row?"

"You're a cowardly boy, David, and I'm ashamed of you; come with me this
minute."




CHAPTER XVIII.

OH, FIE! POLLY.


While these events were taking place, and the children in their various
ways were preparing checkmate for Aunt Maria Cameron, that good lady
was having a by no means unexciting experience of her own. After her
housekeeping cares were over, after she had interviewed Mrs. Power, and
made Alice thoroughly uncomfortable; after, in short, meaning it all the
while for the best, she had succeeded in jarring the whole household
machinery to the utmost, it was her custom morning after morning to
retire with Scorpion into the seldom used drawing-room, and there,
seated comfortably in an old-fashioned arm-chair, with her feet well
supported on a large cushion, and the dog on her lap, to devote herself
to worsted work. Not crewel work, not church embroidery, not anything
which would admit of the use of modern art colors, but genuine,
old-fashioned worsted work. Mrs. Cameron delighted in the flaring
scarlets, pinks, greens, blues, and mauves of thirty years ago. She
admired with all her soul the hard, staring flowers which these colors
produced. They looked, she said, substantial and durable. They _looked_
like artificial flowers; nobody could mistake them for the real article,
which was occasionally known to be the case with that flimsy, in her
opinion, ugly, art embroidery. No, no, Mrs. Cameron would not be smitten
by the art craze. "Let nature _be_ nature!" she would say, "and worsted
work be worsted work, and don't let us try to clash the poor things into
one, as that wretched art-school is always endeavoring to do." So each
morning Mrs. Cameron plied her worsted needle, and Scorpion slumbered
peacefully on her knee. She liked to sit with her back to the light, so
that it should fall comfortably on her work, and her own eyes be
protected from an extensive and very beautiful view of the south moor.

Mrs. Cameron hated the moor; it gave her, as she expressed it, "the
creeps," and on all occasions she avoided looking at it. On this
morning, as usual, she took out her large roll of worsted work, and
prepared to ground a huge, impossible arum lily. Her thoughts, however,
were not, as usual, with her work. Her cheeks were flushed, and her
whole face expressed annoyance and anxiety.

"How I miss even his dear little playful bite!" she said aloud, a big
tear falling on her empty lap. "Ah, my Scorpion! why did I love you, but
to lose you? How true are the poet's words:

'I never loved a dear gazelle.'

Well, I must say it, I seldom came across more wicked, heartless
children than the Maybrights and Daisy Rymple. David is really the only
one of the bunch worth rearing. Ah, my poor sister! your removal has
doubtless spared you many sorrows, for what could you expect of the
future of such a family as yours? Now, what is that? This moor is enough
to keep anybody's nerves in a state of tension. What _is_ that awful
sound approaching the house?"

The noise in question was the unmistakable one of a woman's loud
sobbing. It came nearer and nearer, gaining in fullness and volume as it
approached the house.

Mrs. Cameron was always intensely curious. She threw open the
drawing-room window; and as the sufferer approached, effectually stopped
her progress with her own stout person.

"Now, my dear, good creature, what is this most unpleasant sound? Don't
you know that it is frightfully bad-mannered to cry in that loud,
unrestrained fashion? Pray restrain yourself. You are quite childish.
You cannot know what real affliction means. Now, if you had lost
a - a - - If, my poor woman, you had lost a dear little dog!"

"Is it a dog?" gasped Mrs. Ricketts, for it was she. "Is it a dog? Oh,
my word! Much you know about 'flictions and such-like! Let me go to the
house, ma'am. It isn't to you as I has come to tell my tale."

"Then let me inform you that you are going to tell it to no one else.
Here I stand, and here I remain until you choose to explain to me the
reason of your loud bursts of uncontrollable grief. During the illness
of its master I am the mistress here, and either you speak to me or you
go home."

Mrs. Ricketts had by this time so far restrained her sobs as to be able
to take a long and very acute glance at the lady in question. Doubtless
she was face to face with the formidable Mrs. Cameron, that terrible
personage who had got her Maggie dismissed, and who had locked up poor
darling Miss Polly for days in her bedroom.

There was no one, perhaps, in the world whom Mrs. Ricketts more
cordially disliked than this good lady, but all the same, it was now her
policy to propitiate her. She smoothed, therefore, her brow, dried her
eyes, and, with a profound courtesy, began her tale.

"Ef you please, ma'am, it's this way; it's my character that's at stake.
I always was, and always will be, honest of the honest. 'Ard I works,
ma'am, and the bread of poverty I eats, but honest I am, and honest I
brings up those fatherless lambs, my children."

Mrs. Cameron waved one of her fat hands impressively.

"Pardon me, my good woman. I am really not interested in your family.
Pray come to the point, and then go home."

"To the p'int, ma'am? Oh, yes, I'll come to the p'int. This is the p'int
ef you please, ma'am," and she suddenly thrust, almost into Mrs.
Cameron's dazzled face, the splendid gleam and glitter of a large unset
diamond. "This is the p'int, ma'am; this is what's to take my character
away, and the bread out of the mouths of my innocent children."

Mrs. Cameron never considered herself a worldly woman. She was
undoubtedly a very Christian-minded, charitable, good woman, but all the
same, she loved fine houses and big dinners and rich apparel, and above
all things she adored jewelry. Flowers - that is, natural flowers - had
never yet drawn a smile out of her. She had never pined for them or
valued them, but jewels, ah! they were worth possessing. She quite
gasped now, as she realized the value of the gem which Mrs. Ricketts so
unceremoniously thrust under her nose.

"A diamond! Good gracious! How did you come by it? A most valuable
diamond of extraordinary size. Give it to me this moment, my good dear
creature! and come into the drawing-room. You can step in by this open
window. We won't be disturbed in here. I suppose you were weeping in
that loud and violent manner at the thought of the grief of the person
who had lost this treasure?"

"No, ma'am, I were a sobbing at the grief of her what _'ad_ it. Oh, my
word! And the young lady said for sure as I'd get nine-and-fourpence
halfpenny for it. No, ma'am, I won't go into the 'ouse, thank you. Oh,
dear! oh, dear! the young lady did set store by it, and said for certain
I'd get my nine-and-fourpence halfpenny back, but when I took the stone
to the shop to-day, and asked the baker to give me some bread and let
this go partly to pay the account, he stared at me and said as I wasn't
honest, and he thrust it back in my hand. Oh, dearie me! oh, dearie me!
the foreign young lady shouldn't have done it!"

"_I_ am very sure that you're honest, my good creature! Now, do tell me
about this stone. How did you come by it?"

"It was the young lady, ma'am; the young lady from Australia."

"Daisy Rymple, do you mean?"

"Miss Flower she called herself, ma'am. She come to me in sore plight
late one evening, when we was all in bed, and 'Mrs. Ricketts,' said she,
dear lamb, 'will you help me to go away to Mrs. Cameron, to Bath? I want
the money to go third class to Bath. Can you let me have nine shillings
and fourpence halfpenny, Mrs. Ricketts? and I'll give you this for the
money!' and she flashed that bit of a glittering stone right up into my
eyes. My word, I thought as I was blinded by it. 'You'll get most like
two pounds for it, Mrs. Ricketts,' she said, 'for my father told me it
was worth a sight of money.' That's how I come by it, ma'am, and that's
the way I was treated about it to-day."

Mrs. Cameron slowly drew out her purse.

"I will give you two sovereigns for the stone!" she said. "There, take
them and go home, and say nothing about the money. It will be the worse
for you if you do; now go quickly home."

Mrs. Ricketts' broad face was one glow of delight. She dropped another
courtesy, and tried to articulate some words of thanks, but Mrs. Cameron
had already disappeared into the drawing-room, where she now sat,
holding the diamond in the palm of her open hand.

She knew enough about precious stones to guess at something of its
probable value. The idea of in this way possessing herself of Flower's
diamond never for a moment entered her head, but she was worldly-minded
enough to wish that it could be her own, and she could not help owning
to a feeling of satisfaction, even to a sense of compensation for the
loss of Scorpion, while she held the beautiful glittering thing in her
open palm.

Even Flower rose in her estimation when she found that she had possessed
a gem so brilliant. A girl who could have such a treasure and so lightly
part with it was undoubtedly a simpleton - but she was a simpleton who
ought to be guarded and prized - the sort of young innocent who should
be surrounded by protecting friends. Mrs. Cameron felt her interest in
Flower growing and growing. Suppose she offered to release the Doctor of
this wearisome burden. Suppose she undertook the care of Flower and her
diamond herself.

No sooner did this thought occur to Mrs. Cameron, than she resolved to
act upon it. Of course the Doctor would be delighted to part with
Flower. She would see him on the subject at once.

She went slowly upstairs and knocked with a calm, steady hand at the
door of the dressing-room which opened into Dr. Maybright's apartment.
No sound or reply of any kind came from within. She listened for a
moment, then knocked again, then tried to turn the handle of the door.
It resisted her pressure, being locked from within.

Mrs. Cameron raised her voice. She was not a person who liked to be
opposed, and that locked door, joined to that most exasperating silence,
became more than trying. Surely the Doctor was not deaf as well as
blind. Surely he must hear her loud demands, even though a dressing-room
stood between his room and the suppliant without.

And surely the Doctor would have heard, for a more polite man never
lived, were it not for that all mischievous and irrepressible Polly. But
she, being left in charge, had set her sharp brains to work, and had
devised a plan to outwit Mrs. Cameron. The dressing-room in question
contained a double baize door. This door was seldom or never used, but
it came in very conveniently now, for the furtherance of Polly's plan.
When it was shut, and thick curtains also drawn across, and when, in
addition, the door leading into Dr. Maybright's room was securely
fastened and curtained off, Polly felt sure that she and her father
might pass their morning in delicious quietude. Not hearing Mrs.
Cameron, she argued with herself that no one _could_ possibly blame her
for not letting her in. Therefore, in high good humor, this young lady
sat down to read, work, and chatter gayly. As the Doctor listened, he
said to himself that surely there never was in the world a sweeter or
more agreeable companion than his Polly.

With all her precautions, however, as the hours flew by, sundry muffled
and distant sounds did penetrate to the sick chamber.

"What a peculiar noise!" remarked the Doctor.

"Can it be mice?" queried Polly's _most_ innocent voice.

More time passed.

Suddenly the sharp and unmistakable sound of gravel being flung against
the window forced the young lady to go to ascertain what was the matter.

On looking out, she saw what caused her to utter an amazed exclamation.

Mrs. Cameron, very red in the face, and holding the lost Scorpion in one
encircling arm, while the other was thrown firmly round a most
sulky-looking David; Firefly, pale and with traces of tears on her face;
Flower, looking excited and eager - all stood under the window. This
group were loud in demanding instant admission to the Doctor's room.

"What is it, what is it?" questioned the patient from the bed.

"Oh, you are _not_ strong enough to see them, father."

"To see whom?"

"Aunt Maria - Scorpion - the children."

"Yes, I am quite strong enough. Let them come up at once."

"But father!"

"But Polly! You don't suppose seriously that your Aunt Maria can disturb
my equanimity?"

"Oh! She will worry you with so many tales."

"About my very naughty family?"

"Yes, yes; you had much better not see her."

"Because she wants me to get a chaperon for you?"

"Oh! yes - oh! don't see her."

"My dear, you can trust me; you happen to be _my_ children, not hers. I
would rather have the matter out. I knew there was something wrong from
the way little Fly kissed my hand this morning. Show the deputation
outside the window into the audience chamber at once, Polly."

So admonished, the curtains had to be drawn back, the baize door
reopened, and Polly - a most unwilling hostess - had to receive her
guests. But no words can describe the babel of sounds which there and
then filled the Doctor's room; no words can tell how patiently the blind
man listened.

Aunt Maria had a good tale to tell, and it lost nothing in the telling.
The story of Scorpion's disappearance; of the wickedness of David and
Fly; of the recovering of the little animal from the man who had bought
it, through Flower's instrumentality; all this she told, following up
with the full and particular history of the sale of a valuable diamond.
At last - at long last - the good lady stopped for want of breath.

There was a delicious pause, then the Doctor said, quietly:

"In short, Maria, you have never come across such absolutely wicked
children as the Maybrights and Dalrymples?"

"No, Andrew - never! never!"

"It is lucky they are not your children?"

"Thank Heaven!"

"Would it not be well to leave them to me? I am accustomed to them."

"Yes; I wash my hands of you all; or no - not quite of you all - I heap
coals of fire on your head, Andrew; I offer to relieve you of the charge
of Daisy Rymple."

"Of Flower? - but she is one of the worst of us."

Here Flower ran over, crouched down by the Doctor, and put one of her
hands into his.

"But I will be good with you," she said with a half-sob.

"Hear her," said the Doctor. "She says she will be good with me.
Perhaps, after all, Maria, I _can_ manage my own children better than
any one else can."

"Daisy is not your child - you had better give her to me."

"I can't part with Flower; she is an excellent reader. I am a blind man,
but she scarcely allows me to miss my eyes."

Flower gave a low ecstatic sob.

"And you will allow her to part with valuable gems like this?"

"Thanks to you, Maria, she has recovered her diamond."

"Andrew, I never met such an obstinate, such a misguided man! Are you
really going to bring up these unfortunate children without a chaperon?"

"I think you must allow us to be good _and_ naughty in our own way."

"Father is looking very tired, Aunt Maria," here whispered Polly.

"My dear, _I_ am never going to fatigue him more. Andrew, I wash my
hands of your affairs. Daisy, take your diamond. At least, my little
precious dog, I have recovered _you_. We return to Bath by the next
train."




CHAPTER XIX.

ONE YEAR AFTER.


"Helen, here's a letter."

"Yes. Who is it for?"

"I think it's for us all. See: 'the Misses Maybright and Miss
Dalrymple.'"

"Well, where's Flower? We can't open it till Flower comes down. It must
be - yes, it must be about father! You know it was yesterday his eyes
were to be operated on."

"As if I didn't know it, Nell! I never closed my eyes last night. I felt
nearly as bad as that awful day a year ago now. I wish I might tear open
this envelope. Where is Flower? Need we wait for her?"

"It would be unkind not to wait! No one feels about father as Flower
does."

"David, please call her this instant!"

David flew out of the room, and Polly began to finger the precious
letter.

"It's thick," she said; "but I don't think there's much writing inside.
Yes," she continued, "Flower is certainly very sensitive about father.
She's a dear girl. All the same, I'm sometimes jealous of her."

"Oh, dear Polly! why?"

"Father thinks so much of her. Yes, I know it's wrong, but I do feel a
little sore now and then. Not often though, and never when I look into
Flower's lovely eyes."

"She is very sweet with father," said Helen. "It seems to me that during
this past year she has given up her very life to him. And did you ever
hear any one read better?"

"No, that's one of the reasons why I'm devoured with jealousy. Don't
talk to me about it, it's an enemy I haven't yet learnt to overcome. Ah!
here she comes."

"_And_ Fly, _and_ the twins!" echoed Helen. "Here's a letter from
father, Flower. At least, we think so. It's directed to us and to you."

A tall, very fair girl, with soft, shining eyes, and a wonderful mane of
yellow hair came up and put her arm round Polly's neck. She did not


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