Excerpt for Miss Elizabeth's Niece by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




About the Book


"You have scandalised your name and ours, and the only thing to do is to make the best of it, and teach Maisie at least the first principles of ladylike conduct." Trevor Stratheyre, from a wealthy and aristocratic English family, impulsively marries Maisie, a servant girl he meets while touring the Continent. Maisie's mother had died at an Italian inn, leaving three-year-old Maisie to be brought up by the landlord and his wife, and helps as a maid at the inn, and cares for the animals. Maisie is charming and affectionate, but when Trevor takes her back to Stratheyre in England as his bride, to the large estate he is expecting to inherit, it is clear that Maisie's ways are not those of the upper classes. When she tells titled guests at dinner that she was once herding some cows home in a thunder storm and one was struck by lightning, trouble is bound to follow.


Miss Elizabeth's Niece

Margaret S. Haycraft

1855-1936


White Tree Publishing

Abridged Edition


Original book first published 1898


This abridged edition ©Chris Wright 2018


eBook ISBN: 978-0-9957594-7-3


Published by

White Tree Publishing

Bristol

UNITED KINGDOM


wtpbristol@gmail.com


Full list of books and updates on

www.whitetreepublishing.com



Miss Elizabeth's Niece is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.


All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this abridged edition.


Table of Contents

Cover

About the Book

Author Biography

Note

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17j

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

About White Tree Publishing

More Books from White Tree Publishing

Christian non-fiction

Christian Fiction

Books for Younger Readers




Author Biography


Margaret Scott Haycraft was born Margaret Scott MacRitchie at Newport Pagnell, England in 1855. She married William Parnell Haycraft in 1883 and wrote mostly under her married name. In 1891 she was living in Brighton, on the south coast of England, and died in Bournemouth, also on the south coast, in 1936. She also wrote under her maiden name of Margaret MacRitchie. Margaret Haycraft is by far our most popular author of fiction.

Margaret was a contemporary of the much better-known Christian writer Mrs. O. F. Walton. Both ladies wrote Christian stories for children that were very much for the time in which they lived, with little children often preparing for an early death. Mrs. Walton wrote three romances for adults (with no suffering children, and now published by White Tree in abridged versions). Margaret Haycraft concentrated mainly on books for children. However, she wrote several romances for older readers. Unusually for Victorian writers, the majority of Margaret Haycraft's stories are told in the present tense, but not this one.

Both Mrs. Walton's and Margaret Haycraft's books for all ages can be over-sentimental, referring throughout, for example, to a mother as the dear, sweet mother, and a child as the darling little child. In our abridged editions overindulgent descriptions of people have been shortened to make a more robust story, but the characters and storyline are always unchanged.

A problem of Victorian writers is the tendency to insert intrusive comments concerning what is going to happen later in the story. Today we call them spoilers. They are usually along the lines of: "Little did he/she know that...." I have removed these when appropriate.

£100 in 1898 may not sound much, but in income value it is worth £12,000 pounds today (about US$15,000). I mention this in case the sums of money in this book sound insignificant!

Chris Wright

Editor


NOTE

There are 30 chapters in this book. In the last third are advertisements for our other books, so the story may end earlier than expected! The last chapter is marked as such. We aim to make our eBooks free or for a nominal cost, and cannot invest in other forms of advertising. However, word of mouth by satisfied readers will also help get our books more widely known. When the story ends, please take a look at what we publish: Christian non-fiction, Christian fiction, and books for younger readers.


Chapter 1


Maisie

"You are surely not in earnest, Signor? It is impossible. She is only a child, and besides----"

"I do not joke about such a subject," said the tall, serious young Englishman who faced the innkeeper. "Maisie is not happy here, and since I owe my life to her when my horse bolted, the least I can do for her is to take care of her future. I wish you clearly to understand that I am asking the hand of your niece."

"As to that," said the astonished Italian, rapidly and excitedly, "I do not grudge Maisie her good fortune -- the saints forbid! -- but milord surely knows she is but seventeen or eighteen, and a little wild thing like a young child. She has had no bringing up -- no education, except what she gets for herself by reading the books the visitors here leave about."

"I shall charge myself with her intellectual training," said Trevor Mulgrave, stiffly.

"Well, Signor, I have nothing more to say," said the innkeeper, looking somewhat offended. "Of course it will save us money if you choose to marry the girl, for we have kept her since her mother died here -- kept her out of pity, though my wife finds her tiresome enough. And it's only out of pity we call her our niece. She never had any folks of her own that we know of."

"Do you mean to say you really know nothing of her parentage?" asked Mulgrave, his composure suddenly shaken.

"Nothing whatever, Signor. She was three years old when her mother came here one evening, just as ill as she could be, and asked for lodging. The wife saw she was English, and we like the English, for, as milord has heard, we kept a shop for some years near Hyde Park in London.

"The wife saw, too, there was still a little money in the purse she opened, and we gave her a comfortable room and saw to her supper. But she scarcely ate or drank. The next morning she was so faint that we sent for a doctor who said she must have been getting ill for a long time, and she had only strength to last out a few weeks. Weeks, Signor! Three days afterwards she was cold and still, and the little one -- Maisie, as she called herself -- was crying about the place for her mamma.

"All we could find after the mother's death was an old Bible, with some pages lost and the fly-leaf torn, and a bag containing nothing save a few bits of clothes for the child. We buried her in the strangers' quarter, and ever since then we have burdened ourselves with the child -- a fighting, quarrelsome creature. I beg your pardon, milord, I forgot the honour you mean to do her."

"I am sorry I did not know the fact of this obscurity as to her parentage," said Trevor, rather hesitantly. "I imagined she was at least connected with hardworking, respectable people. However, now I have pledged my word to Maisie, I shall not withdraw."

"Noble, excellent Signor," murmured the innkeeper, removing the cloth in search of which he had entered the room, when Mulgrave electrified him by the curt proposal for the girl who had run wild about his inn and vineyard for so many years. At this juncture a carriage was heard driving up to the inn, and the good man departed hastily to welcome the coming guest. Mulgrave sat down by the window, kicked off his boots rather moodily, and gave himself up to thought.

"It strikes me," he meditated, "that the prudence for which the Squire has often praised me has somehow deserted me of late. Many a time he has said, 'You have been too hot-headed and impulsive. Your young shoulders should carry a cool and cautious head.' What will he say when he hears of this marriage? And what will his sister, Miss Stratheyre, say to it? She is, after all, my guardian, and she has great plans for my marriage into society. I somehow wish I had not been quite so hasty. Surely the young woman is a witch! What made her take such a fancy to me? Simply, I suppose, because I treated her with ordinary civility. She is ordered here and ordered there, and scarcely received a kindly word, I do believe, till I praised her for stopping my horse.

"How her great eyes shone like dark, fiery gems as I handed her a gold coin, and how her pretty lips trembled as she said she wanted no money -- she loved to be serving me. Poor little woman! I found out she actually cleaned my boots and polished my floor. I did not know she was a maid-of-all-work in house and stable, and I begged her off some of the drudgery, for I wanted her as a model for my artist studies of heads. How quietly she has sat here hour after hour, to help me in my painting.

"I could scarcely believe her aunt's tale that she used to fight with the other boys and girls. When I questioned her, did she not look pretty that day as she flushed all over and said she only fought as a child, and that was because the others would not love her. She never shook them, she said, without kissing them first to see if they would not love her.

"I think the people here are jealous of her beauty. Madame, with her growing daughters, must dread such a rival as Maisie. There must be some good in her, for every animal in the place idolises her. It is fortunate for me that it is so, for when I lost control over my excitable horse Victor, Maisie dashed in front of him seizing the rein. Instead of trampling her as everyone expected, he stood quiet, trembling all over, willing to endure my unwelcome guidance rather than hurt a hair of her head. Yes, I was certainly bewitched yesterday evening.

"I went to thank her, and I found her crying in the stables. I meant to speak a few cordial words. What made me take her hands and ask her if she were crying because of my approaching departure? And when I drew from her that she was crying because I might have been hurt, what prompted me to kiss her and call her fond names? I suppose people are right when they say love is madness. I never dreamt that I should ever make such an extraordinary alliance, but things may turn out better than I expect. Maisie will always be a splendid artist's model, and it will be interesting to watch her mind develop at Stratheyre Manor. Things must go forward towards the marriage, come what may. None of our race -- the race into which I have been adopted -- ever broke his word. We are loyal to our motto, 'Tenez la foy -- Keep the faith!'"

Meanwhile an agitated scene was going on in the vine-wreathed parlour of the inn. Madame, as everyone called the wife of Lorghetti, was a vivacious Frenchwoman who had been a waitress once in his little restaurant at the West End of London. She was not an unkindly woman, but as Mulgrave suspected, jealousy for her daughters had aroused in her a real dislike for Maisie, and she refused to believe that "the prince" had really arrived, and had overlooked the ruddy charms of Marietta, Julia, and Delphine, choosing to share his good things with the dark-eyed Cinderella.

Loud was her wrath, and bitter was her sarcasm as she seized the dishes which the unfortunate bearer of the news was about to convey to the newly arrived travellers. Telling him it was all his fault for letting that sly Maisie be painted by the young Englishman, she bounced upstairs with supper herself, leaving Lorghetti perplexed and uncomfortable, yet cheered by the thought that his sons and daughters could expect generous gifts from the wealthy Englishman.

The girls, too, were greatly concerned as to the dresses they should wear at the wedding, for of course their Sunday gowns would never do on an occasion so resplendent as the marriage of their young companion with an English "milord," as their father flatteringly termed Trevor Mulgrave, Esq., of Stratheyre Manor, Dorsetshire, England. It was a pity, they thought, that he had no real title, but he had come here from one of the best hotels in Rome, and he had lived at their house regardless of expense. Doubtless his was a great and wealthy family, and Maisie might yet prove the making of them all!

Maisie herself was in the garden at the back of the house, her hands filled with a great bunch of the cyclamen that grew everywhere, her eyes looking beyond the clustering flowers to the gorgeous sunset that was slowly unfolding its canopy of sapphire. She was a brown-tressed maiden with a clear, warm skin, through which every emotion showed some changing tint.

Her temperament seemed like an April day, varying from the dews of sorrow to the flash of sudden gladness. But her soft, dusky hair, her tender, shadowed eyes, and the tremulous beauty of her mouth reminded one more of the autumn time, wherein there is the speechless eloquence of suffering and endurance. She had tended the fowls, fastened the goats, and taken the grain to the manger. Her day's work was not done till the washing up of the supper things, and she was free to dream of the marvellous joy that heaven had granted to her heart -- the consciousness that Trevor Mulgrave, her hero, her idol, the embodiment to her heart of all the poetry she had read and learnt, found her fair and well-pleasing, and had chosen her to be his wife.

Sometimes it seemed as if she would awake and find the vision unreal, and the future filled only with hard words and monotonous employment, jealous sneers from Madame, and impatient orders from the guests. But no, he had held her in his arms, therein she had entered Eden. The merciful Lord had opened the glorious gates to her for ever.


"Brown-haired maid, with witching smile,

Full of love, and free from guile:

God be with thee, brown-haired maid,

In the sunshine or the shade!"


So sang a musical, well-trained voice down the garden, and a hand was gently laid upon her curling hair. Maisie, proud of her English origin, had spared no pains to acquaint herself with her mother's tongue, and spoke and understood English well. Lorghetti had afforded her a course of English lessons, finding his children averse to linguistic efforts, and wishing that one of the young people should be able to converse with his numerous British guests. But she scarcely caught the sense of Trevor's harmonious outburst. It was sufficient for her that his proud face had softened directly he saw her, and that a low, sweet love had been born upon his lips.

"What castles in the air are you picturing, little one?" asked Trevor, casting himself down on a flowery bank beside her. "I fear your visions are too rose-coloured, Maisie. The Squire says I must settle down at the Stratheyre estate now, and you will find ours a very quiet existence. You will soon get tired of spending your time in the studio while I paint."

"Will you let me be there?" she asked, looking reverently up towards her fiancé who addressed her so kindly and graciously.

"Of course. You may bring your lessons there, for I shall want you to study hard and carefully. A well-informed wife is always good company for a man."

"I should like to learn to sing," she said hesitatingly.

"You sing like a bird already," said Trevor, with a slight frown. "I consider yours a wonderful voice, but I do not feel disposed to develop the gift. Such abilities are bad form in our society, except in professionals."

Maisie did not understand, but she crept nearer and nestled her two soft hands into his. "And yours is the gift of art, is it not, Signor? You will become a great painter, and famous like Raphael -- like Angelo."

"I must not disappoint your dreams for me," said the young man, complacently. "I am very fond of using my brush, and I flatter myself my Continental tour has greatly improved my style. What a dear little creature you look, Maisie, in that green dress, with the red flower at your breast! I believe you will turn out a sweet little wife. You have grown out of the childish tempers and waywardness now, have you not, cara mia?" And he extended his arms to her.

"Ah, I was wicked then," she said, shuddering. "1 used to hit Alexis and Delphine in my tempers; but I was so miserable, Signor. Nobody wanted me, and nobody liked me, except the horses and the dogs and the cattle."

"But it is different now," said Trevor, holding her tightly, despite an inner whisper that the powers at Stratheyre would be considerably astonished could they see him now. "You will henceforth be encircled by a husband's love, so let misery and passion be forever forgotten, Maisie. I must be present when the Squire's birthday is celebrated at home this day fortnight. It will suit my plans if we fix the wedding for Tuesday or Wednesday next. Let it be just as quiet as possible. None of Madame's fancy dresses, or Julia's remarkable bodices -- and then we can go on to Venice, as I am anxious to finish the interior of a church that I began when last I was there."


Chapter 2


A Letter from Venice

Miss Stratheyre came down to breakfast in high good humour. The guests for whom she had striven so long had consented at last to grace Stratheyre Manor, and the plans that she had mentally matured seemed already in visible blossom

"Trevor's career" had been the object of Miss Stratheyre's existence ever since his dying mother -- once her rival in love -- laid him trustfully within her arms. She was proud of the fact that the gentlemanly, well-behaved lad had never caused her a tear of sorrow or a pang of anxiety. He had passed satisfactorily through school and college, not brilliantly enough to be conspicuous, but sufficiently well to satisfy her as his guardian, and satisfy her brother, the good-natured Squire who had adopted Trevor.

It was acknowledged throughout their circle that Trevor had a decided taste for art. His etchings and designs were in great favour with their young lady friends, and Miss Stratheyre confidently expected that the Continental tour, to which she had reluctantly yielded, would result in universal recognition of real genius in her charge.

But one point yet remained to be settled -- the important question of Trevor's marriage. He refused to be satisfied with the pretty, pleasant girls who hovered about Miss Stratheyre, especially of late. The Squire's heir, as his adopted son was known to be, would have plenty of money. What Miss Stratheyre desired for him was social elevation. To this end she had long cultivated the friendship of Lady Granton, the widow of an earl, whose only daughter was decidedly the belle of that part of the county. Unfortunately, owing to circumstances, Trevor himself had not seen her for more than two years.

Lady Granton had many friends, but for some time she had promised a visit to Stratheyre Manor. Perhaps she had some idea of Miss Stratheyre's wishes, but she raised no inward objection, for the wealth of Stratheyre was well known. The family, though untitled, was an old one, and Trevor Mulgrave himself was well born, his father having died in active service as a military officer. Lady Granton's young daughter, Lady Cecily, was tired out with London society, and the doctors recommended purer air. So a dainty little missive found its way to Stratheyre, saying that mother and daughter would with pleasure avail themselves of the kind invitation so often repeated.

The mistress of the Manor was radiant with satisfaction as she descended to the breakfast room, and reflected how surely Lady Cecily's perfection of face and form would captivate Trevor's artist eye, and how, if the young people suited each other as well as she anticipated, a circle of the highest in the land would undoubtedly be drawn around Stratheyre Manor.

"I have not lived in vain," she thought, reflecting on these things. A softer look came to her hard, proud face as she remembered the soldier's grave of her first love, to whose memory she had been true, and the trustfulness of his young wife, who on her deathbed knew she would cherish the boy as her own.

"I have been faithful to my charge," she said to herself. "With my brother Guy's large property, and Cecily's family connections and his own talents, Trevor will become a power in the county."

"I hope the boy is coming home soon," said Squire Stratheyre, as he strode into the breakfast room and tossed, in his impetuous fashion, a letter across to his sister. The Squire prided himself on being of the old school -- a regular "John Bull" -- one of the "fine old English gentleman" species -- but everybody knew by this time that quiet Miss Stratheyre ruled at the Manor, and that the Squire held his sister in awe and reverence. She took his brusqueness calmly enough, knowing that of all the concerns of Stratheyre Manor she held the reins very firmly.

"A letter from Trevor," she said smiling. "Why did not Wheatland bring it up with the others to my room?"

"I don't know," said the Squire, attacking the sirloin, "unless the woman is short-sighted. I found it sticking in the letterbox. Come, Elizabeth, I want my coffee. I have to be off to Byne Abbey about that trespassing case. If Gregory can't keep his people off my land, I'll give him a taste of the law. Good gracious, woman, what's amiss? Don't say the lad is ill, Elizabeth -- I told you so -- I knew how it would be. Those wretched countries are full of fever and cholera and everything unwholesome and un-English"

"He is well," said Miss Stratheyre, speaking in a voice that alarmed the Squire. "He writes from Venice. He has ruined himself -- that is all!"

"Ruined himself? Don't look like that, Elizabeth. Remember, I said no good could possibly come of his mixing with foreigners. We Stratheyres know too much of foreigners to our cost already. But he is only a lad, Elizabeth. Boys will have their fling, you know, and I've sown my wild oats in my time, like the rest. It cannot be too late to save him. Where's Payne? I want my bag packed."

The butler entered the room just then with the teapot. Miss Stratheyre motioned him away, and he reported downstairs that the mistress was looking as upset as ever he had seen her during the twenty years he had reigned over the pantry.

"It would be useless for you to go to Venice, Guy," said Miss Stratheyre. "Trevor dates his letter thence, but he is coming home by slow stages, and has probably started already. Listen to his words, and you will understand his folly -- his wicked madness.


"'My dear Guardian,

You will doubtless be surprised to receive the news of my marriage, which took place yesterday morning at the Protestant church in the village of San Justo where I have had a very pleasant stay. My wife and her friends have been accustomed to attend this church, and the clergyman's wife has instructed Maisie in the English tongue. I need scarcely say that every legal formality has been observed, and that I am at this present time very happy in the love of one whom I hope soon to introduce to the Squire and yourself.

I have never had any concealments from you, so I will tell you at once that Maisie, whose surname is unknown, is untutored and unsophisticated, having been brought up as an orphan waif by a respectable couple -- innkeepers -- who employed her to help them as she grew older, and to whom I have endeavoured to make some pecuniary return. Maisie is very pretty, and I am sure docile and submissive, and I ask your valuable guidance and training for one who has had so few advantages. I am coming home by slow stages, wishing to improve my style at various galleries yet unvisited; but I hope to see you in the course of nine or ten days, and will communicate further before our arrival. With love to the Squire and to yourself,

I remain, dear Guardian, yours affectionately,

Trevor Percy Mulgrave."


The Squire laid down his knife and fork and looked aghast. "The cool impudence of the fellow!" he said. "Married without consulting those who have brought him up. Married to a little bold-faced wench at an inn! Our young sister Mercy married an Italian. Elizabeth, are those detestable foreigners to crop up at every turn in our family history? Are there not men and women enough of English race without the young folks of Stratheyre casting eyes at benighted macaroni-eaters? But I'll treat him as I served Mercy -- I'll disown him. I'll disinherit him. I'll forbid the doors of Stratheyre Manor to him."

"Gently, Guy," said Miss Stratheyre, who loved her protégé considerably more than she had loved the wayward little sister who ran away in the long past with her Italian singing-master, and of whose death, after years of poverty, vague tidings had reached them. "Let us see this ... this young person first, before we decide the measure of Trevor's disgrace. Remember, he has nothing but the pitiful allowance inherited from his father and the expectation of the small sum I can leave him. Without your continued bounty he must starve."

"He should have thought of that before," said the Squire fiercely. "Every pauper that wants to get married goes and pops the question without giving a thought to the future. Trevor has chosen to saddle himself with a wife not of our choosing, and I am not going to support her. You did not plead for patience and moderation where our sister Mercy was concerned when she married the wrong man, and this seems to me only a repetition of the same thing."

The Squire had always cherished a shrewd idea that Elizabeth's coldness towards their young sister arose from the knowledge that Captain Mulgrave had proposed to the bright little debutante soon after she left school. Perhaps her influence might have availed with him to extend a helping hand to Mercy and her delicate husband in their lifetime, but that influence had never been exerted, and the memory of his sternness towards his dead sister hardened his heart towards Trevor now.

"I have had breakfast enough," he said agitatedly. "Do you suppose I am going to be milder to a fellow past his majority, old enough to know better, and none of my own kith and kin either, than I was to our sister Mercy, who used to be the sunshine of the house? No, I'll have nothing to do with those who cast in their lot with foreigners. I'm an Englishman, bred and born, and I can't and won't stand any alliance with frog-eaters. I shall write and tell Trevor he and his may live as best they can."

For once Miss Elizabeth's self-control forsook her, and for the first time since Trevor's infant arms caressed her, she burst into tears.

"Have a cup of tea," said the Squire, thoroughly alarmed. He hurried to the tray where he overturned the cream jug to the carpet, greatly to the delight of the black Persian cat stretched across the rug. "For goodness' sake don't cry. I've never known you to do such a thing before. Dry your eyes, and tell me what you want. You cannot expect me to receive this girl, picked up at a tavern, with open arms!"

Miss Stratheyre shuddered. It seemed to her too terrible to be true that the career for which she had lived was shattered by the slight hand of a village girl, and at that moment a bitter hatred towards the new-made wife filled her heart and startled her by its vehemence.

"The boy has been infatuated -- bewitched!" she said hysterically. "Your position became known to the innkeeper at San Justo, and this woman set her cap determinately at the poor lad, guileless of scheming wiles. I daresay she is much older than he is, and thinks he is now entirely in her power. But we must have compassion on his youth, Guy, and give him the shelter of our roof. We must show her he has protectors still, and that she has not achieved the absolute success she supposes. I will take care she learns that both of them are eating the bread of bounty. But do not cast him off, Guy. He has been as a child to me so long, and this is not his fault. I know what women can be. Let him come home. He has never known want or inconvenience. He cannot make his own way in the world."

Miss Stratheyre was accustomed to argue with her brother rather than plead, and her beseeching tones, by their very novelty, carried the day.

"Have your will," he said. "Let the lad come, since you yearn for him still. But keep that scheming Italian woman out of my sight as far as possible."

"It may be possible yet," said Miss Stratheyre, compressing her lips, "to set this strange marriage aside, or, failing that, to effect a separation. Oh, to think of all the social advantages my poor Trevor has lost through this nameless girl he has married!" And the tears of bitter disappointment and vexation dimmed those keen, bright eyes again.


<><><><>


"What was the Professor talking to you about, little one?" asked Trevor Mulgrave, looking fondly down on his young wife as she sprang towards him among the flowers that graced the staircase of their Parisian hotel. "You quite monopolised his attention at dinnertime. Come up to our own room now, and tell me what the great man found to say to such a sprite as my wife."

"You won't like it, Trevor," she said, nestling up to him in happy confidence. "He spoke, like the people of Venice, about my voice, and said ... what do you think he said, Trevor? Why, that I should have made my fortune as a concert singer. But your artist's brush will make our fortune, will it not, Trevor?"

"I made my fortune when I obtained my wife," he said gallantly.

It was their honeymoon, and Maisie looked charming in a Parisian costume which in his devotion he had insisted on purchasing for her. "But I hope you gave the Professor to understand, my dear, that your husband is an English country gentleman, and that there can be no possible question of any connection between yourself and the stage. Nothing would hurt me more, Maisie, than for my little wife to become a public character. Fortunately the idea is absurd. Well, did he pay you any more compliments?"

"I don't know," she said, laughing, "but he said my forehead and mouth remind him vividly of an old friend of his, a teacher in England. I wanted to hear more, but dinner was over. He is a nice old man, Trevor, and he gave me this card in case circumstances should ever induce me to require special vocal training. He said he had seen so many ups and downs in life."

"Dear girl, at Stratheyre you will be secure from even the idea of such circumstances as the Professor may have seen. We are a rich family, Maisie, and though I am only one of them by adoption, yet it has come to be almost forgotten that I am not of their blood."

"I don't want the card," said Maisie, tearing it up. "If ever we want to see more of Senor Dura we can do so by inquiring here when we visit Paris again. I do like Paris, Trevor. Everybody looks so happy, Oh, I could not go back to the lonely days at San Justo."

"You never shall, sweetheart. You shall learn what English voices mean when they sing of home, sweet home. Pleasant as is Parisian life, England is the best place -- at least, so we Englishmen think -- to realise home-happiness. Stratheyre Manor will be a real home now my wife is by my side."

"Tell me about your friends," Maisie said wistfully. "I wish you had a mother. I have always wanted a mother."

"My guardian has been to me as a mother," said Trevor. "She is a very superior woman, Maisie -- one of singular sense and ability. The Squire, who is her brother, takes her advice, even in matters concerning the farms and estate. It will be a great advantage to you to be moulded by Miss Stratheyre."

"And, Trevor, is she nice?"

"Nice? What a funny expression, Maisie! What do you mean?"

"I mean ... well, do girls like her, and come to see her; and has she got a dog or cat?"

"Yes, she has a Persian that is quite an empress among cats. My guardian is proud of its size and beauty. And as to the girls, oh, yes, there are always plenty about, so they must like coming to see her. Lady Cecily Granton, who is about your own age, I fancy, is staying at Stratheyre now."

"I am so glad," said Maisie simply. "But, Trevor, I want to ask you something. We are not always to live in the grand castle, are we? Shall we not have a little cottage together, you and I? I would keep it so clean, and take such care of the garden."

"Maisie, when will you remember you are now a lady, by right of your marriage to me? You must not let people see you have ever been a servant. Our friends do not live in cottages, nor keep their houses clean themselves. And you must never let them think you have been accustomed to scrub and polish."

"Why not, Trevor?"

"Of course not, Maisie. That would not do at all. Don't look so proud, little woman. What a funny face yours is. Just now the Professor fancied your likeness to a friend of his, and I declare you remind me of someone I have seen in a painting in a picture gallery. There, the likeness has gone now. Only at that moment when you looked so proud."

"Well, I do not see why I should be ashamed to say I had worked hard for my living, but I promised to obey you, Trevor, and so I will. It won't matter if other people look down on me. You will care for me, always -- always!"

Trevor Stratheyre lifted her gentle face between his hands, and spoke his answer in his eyes. A wonderful feeling had come to him -- all the heart he had to give was in the keeping of this girl-wife with the tremulous mouth and the tender, clasping hands.

The sound of joyous music came from somewhere below, the hum of busy life from the Paris streets, but in that honeymoon hour they seemed deaf to all but the voice of love. They looked neither before nor behind -- they had nothing to dread, since they were evermore together.


Chapter 3


"Home, Sweet Home"

Trevor Mulgrave was a bad letter writer, and his promise to acquaint his guardian at Stratheyre with his further movements was never fulfilled. He travelled and rested with Maisie at his own sweet will, and at last arrived, without any preceding notice, at Abermere Station five miles from Stratheyre Manor, one autumn afternoon when the light was fast fading and the gas lamps at the little country station were beginning to flicker through the deepening mist.

Maisie, bred in southern air, shivered as she drew her cloak around her. "Is it always cold in England, Trevor?" she asked. "But never mind, it is so cosy to get home when it is chilly outside."

"Yes, dear, they always keep good fires going at Stratheyre Manor, for the location is somewhat exposed. I wish we could have reached here earlier. I wanted you to see our place by daylight. 'Bonnie Stratheyre,' as I called it in the painting I sent up to the Academy. There is a Scottish place of the same name, you know, but it cannot beat my home. Tomorrow you will see the sun shining on the lake and trees, and the moorland beyond. We shall reach in good time for dinner, Maisie. What a nuisance that I forgot to telegraph. Of course there is nothing waiting, but they keep a fly at the railway inn."

There was no fire in the dingy little waiting room, and Maisie tarried there somewhat drearily, comforted sometimes by a vision of Trevor's back as he argued with the stationmaster that there ought to be a refreshment room at Abermere, or at any rate a cup of tea for a much-enduring lady traveller. The stationmaster, however, was a bachelor, and hot water was not easily forthcoming. Trevor did not like to take Maisie to the little inn which was crowded and noisy by reason of market day, and they were mutually relieved when the primitive conveyance came jolting along, warning them of somewhat ungentle treatment along the rough country roads, but giving them good hope of the warmth and hospitality of Stratheyre.

Trevor became excited as he peered out into the darkness, declaring that he could see Chadwell Church and Warley Barrow and sundry other landmarks long familiar to him. Maisie's hand was in his arm, but she sat very quiet, her heart beating fast and nervously as she thought of her new relations and the changes that had rushed so thickly upon her orphaned life.

Trevor was too full of genuine pleasure to notice her unusual silence. He told her that the ancient avenue was the pride of the Stratheyres; that their fern shrubberies were the finest in the county; and their preserves such as to satisfy the Squire himself, keen sportsman as he was. All this Maisie heard as in a dream, but the clasp of her hand tightened as the fly turned a corner of the long avenue, and a vista of lights burst suddenly upon her sight.

"There's no place like home!" exclaimed Trevor. "Especially in such wretched weather as this. Here is your fare, Ben. Put your horse up for a bit, and get a cup of hot coffee or something."

The driver knew his way to the hospitable regions well enough, and turned towards the stables as Trevor rushed up the steps and knocked and rang imperiously.

"Our luggage is in the fly, Payne," he said to the butler, who looked thunderstruck when his young master ushered a girlish figure into the hall. "Have the boxes seen to presently. The driver wants some refreshment. How are you all? My dear, this is Payne, whom I can remember as being here all my life. Mrs. Mulgrave would like to shake hands with you, Payne."

Payne's statuesque demeanour relaxed when a gentle little hand was slipped into his, and Maisie's pretty voice, with its half-foreign accent, inquired, "How do you do, Mr. Payne?"

"I am very well I thank you, your ladyship," was the reply. The title slipped out, much to Trevor's amusement.

"Payne paid you a compliment, Maisie," he whispered as they crossed the hall. "He used to live at the Duke of Redford's, and when he first came here I have heard he was always conferring titles of nobility on the family. There must be something in you that recalled his bygone aristocratic notions to the old man. Miss Stratheyre will be in her own room at afternoon tea, I fancy. This is the way to her sanctum."

As they entered the room, Trevor said, "Guardian, Maisie and I have come home."

Maisie went forward eagerly, her arms a little outstretched, to a buxom, motherly-looking dowager who sat sipping tea and resting in the cosiest of chairs. But the good lady only looked at her as if mystified, and with a certain repressing expression that Maisie's sensitiveness instantly perceived.

"No, no, that is Lady Granton," said Trevor laughing, while trying to speak easily as he, too, became conscious of the frigid atmosphere. "How do you do, Lady Granton?" He turned to the young lady he had known for many years. "And how are you, Lady Cecily? Guardian, this girl is half frozen. She wants a cup of tea to thaw her."

Miss Stratheyre did not attempt to rise from her position beside the teapot. The sudden appearance of the pair caused her to feel faint, and it was a new sensation, after having prepared herself and her guests to meet at some future time a middle-aged, scheming hotel servant, to be confronted by such a young face with eyes of inexpressible beauty, and proud, wilful lips that set her pulses stirring most uncomfortably. What was it that sprang out of the past to her memory with Maisie's face? Something to which she refused to give definite shape, but which was tangible enough to upset and discompose her.

If she had wanted to speak the warmest of welcomes, she could not have found words just then. Why should she think of a little schoolgirl sister, of whom she had once been jealous, and whom she had silently allowed to drift on to a union which she knew would estrange her from her family for ever? There was a vision of the dead before her as Maisie's arms dropped to her side. The girl stood, pained and trembling, too surprised to return Miss Stratheyre's chilling inclination of her head.

Young Cecily Granton, lying on the sofa due to her invalid languor, scarcely opened her eyes to observe the reception. She was one whose aspect seemed wholly unruffled, and who appeared to survey the proceedings of others from a far-removed pinnacle of beauty and greatness. Maisie took in her faultless blonde beauty at a glance, but decided, with a sinking heart, that this young lady, to whose company she had looked forward, was selfish, cold-hearted, pitiless, and proud.

Lady Granton was the first to break the awkward silence. "Your arrival was so sudden, Mr. Mulgrave," she said. "It has given Miss Stratheyre quite a shock. I suppose you have travelled from Dover? Dear me, I hope you had plenty of wraps. Mrs. Mulgrave looks exceedingly chilly."

Trevor assisted Maisie to remove her travelling cloak and hat, and would have liked to take her into his arms and rub some heat into the cold little hands, but his lifelong awe of Miss Stratheyre had its effect, and he only placed a chair for his wife very politely, going over to his guardian to apologise for taking her thus by storm.

"I was never a good letter writer," he said, "but I suppose it is excusable to forget correspondence on one's honeymoon. When shall we see the Squire? I see Arnott has got in for Warley division, Guardian."

Trevor knew very well that he could best conciliate Miss Stratheyre by showing some interest in politics, her dearest wish being to behold him in Parliament. Very little did the art-dreamer care about the affairs of the State, but he knew it to be of the utmost importance to enlist his guardian's sympathies for Maisie if their marriage was to result in happiness.

"I am glad," said Miss Stratheyre Manor, fixing stony eyes on Maisie, to whose dark eyes the tears were welling, not unnoticed by good-natured Lady Granton, "I am glad that amid the escapades of your tour you found time to read the local papers I sent you. Will you take a cup of tea?"

This abrupt question, suddenly pointed at Maisie, had the effect of almost taking away the girl's breath, and she replied so awkwardly that Trevor felt really annoyed, and wondered why she could not be her charming graceful self, and why she grasped her cup, instead of poising it with the graceful way displayed by Lady Cecily.

Presently the dressing bell rang, and Maisie put down her un-tasted tea and followed a housemaid to the new wing of the Manor. Here was situated the suite of rooms -- bedroom, dressing room, smoking den, and studio -- that it had been Miss Stratheyre's delight to prepare for Trevor's possession when he left college.

Fortunately, the servants had orders to keep these rooms in constant readiness, and each of them now had a newly-kindled fire that welcomed Maisie to quiet and rest, and made her long to nestle in the light of the flame for a season. Instead, she was required to array herself for another encounter with her husband's friends, who, she drearily recognised, had armed themselves with weapons of cold courtesy more dreadful to bear than all Madame's scoldings at San Justo.

But she had little time to reflect on these things, for the housemaid informed her that Mr. Mulgrave had bidden her render assistance till Mrs. Mulgrave secured a maid. The housemaid began to unpack the dress trunk, with eyes full of wonder and curiosity, the servants' hall having as yet gained no information about the marriage except a vague idea that such an event had taken place. Fanny longed to obtain some news to share with the lower regions, and as Maisie's childlike face drooped sadly by the fire, forgetful of her presence, she ventured to say: "You will feel better, ma'am, when you have had a little dinner."

"Yes, thank you," said Maisie gently. "I am tired after our long journey."

"And I expect you feel a bit strange among English folks. You come from foreign parts, don't you, ma'am? And Miss Stratheyre, she ain't the sort to make one feel at home."

"I shall wear the brown velvet this evening," said Maisie. "May I trouble you to find the bodice?" She spoke quietly, not meaning to reprove, but with an innate shrinking from discussing Trevor's friends with the maid. Fanny, however, relapsed into startled silence, sullen at first, and only soothed by Maisie's gentle thanks for her services, and sympathy in the matter of a slight burn she had sustained upon her hand.

"I don't believe nothing about her being a servant," said Fanny, downstairs. "She's quite the lady, and have got lovely French dresses that made me open my eyes wide, I can tell you. Lady Cecily Granton's gone down to dinner in a white silk and diamonds, looking like a queen; but Mr. Trevor, he's got no call to be ashamed of Mrs. Mulgrave. I watched her go down in her brown velvet -- pale brown, and shot all over with gold, and just a string of pearls round her neck, -- and, thinks I, I've never been lady's maid before, but I've beaten Lady Granton's duchess of a waiting maid, with all her airs, first time of trying!"


Chapter 4


Maisie Finds a Friend

The dining room at Stratheyre Manor was not calculated to reassure those who lacked self-possession. The table was of noble proportions, and the little group that met to dine this evening, despite the magnificence of some present, looked out of harmony with the huge dining hall, a relict of the days when a Stratheyre was wont to entertain a little army of retainers.

The footmen were so stately and numerous that Maisie's eyes were fairly bewildered. She had taken the hotel life of her honeymoon contentedly enough, finding everywhere polite and considerate manners around her, even when her natural lack of knowledge of certain details of etiquette slipped out now and then, but it startled her to know that all this was to be the accompaniment of her future home life.

Trevor had told her he was only a simple country gentleman. Would he always dine so grandly, and would inquisitive eyes henceforth be watching her every mouthful? Her very self-consciousness made her suppose that company and servants alike were criticising her. She again and again met her husband's warning glances. Once, when she was forgetfully about to insert her little white teeth into a dinner roll, he pressed her foot so sharply that it was little wonder the nervous crimson rushed to her face.

Fortunately, Maisie had picked up a good deal pertaining to society ways in the short interval since her marriage, and her conduct created no open scandal, though the Squire, who had honoured Trevor's introduction by no more than a nod, stared at her fixedly as though he wondered by what right she sat at the table of an out-and-out Englishman, and Miss Stratheyre sighed conspicuously more than once when Trevor happened to mention San Justo.

"Women get on all right when they are together," thought Trevor, left alone with the Squire who respected his opinion as an expert angler sufficiently to unbend into an argument about some "newfangled" bait. "Before I see Maisie again she will no doubt be hand-and-glove with Lady Cecily. As for my guardian -- well, of course Maisie has a good deal to learn before she gets to be the sort Miss Stratheyre would have chosen for me."

He went on eating nuts complacently, thinking with a good deal of satisfaction about the pretty brown dress and long lashed eyes that had passed from the room, whilst the Squire presently grew pettish over the discovery that his own thoughts were wandering from the bait, and recalling most unaccountably certain scenes in the vanished years that troubled his conscience a little sometimes, especially of late, when stiffness and occasional attacks of gout reminded him that the time of grey hairs was upon him.

In the drawing room, Lady Granton took up some dainty work in silks, intended for the top of a footstool. Young Lady Cecily betook herself at once to a lounge and a novel, and Miss Stratheyre read an agricultural treatise that had arrived by the evening post, having provided Maisie with a photograph album and a copy of "The Ancient Mariner," copiously illustrated. Maisie could make nothing of the "Mariner," and she coloured in shame for her ignorance as she took refuge in the album. There she found Trevor in knickerbockers at nine years old, and her hand wandered to the picture with an unconscious caress, while a quiver of pain and yearning came to her lips.

Was this home -- was this to be their future? Oh, that he had just been poor and struggling, like so many of the artists who came to San Justo. Hand-in-hand the struggles would have been so sweet.

So she dreamed till a voice, musical in its every tone, startled her suddenly by saying: "What are you crying about?"

"I did not know I was crying," said Maisie, brokenly, swallowing a lump that seemed to rise in her throat, in awe of the violet-eyed young lady who had established herself languidly on an ottoman near her.

Miss Stratheyre was reading aloud at the other side of the fire to Lady Granton, who was inwardly wondering how she could manage to quit, with sufficient courtesy, this dullest of country houses before the time arranged for her visit expired.

"I saw the tears on your cheek," said Lady Cecily, "and you are really very foolish. It is unbecoming to cry, and childish and useless. And, besides, if you are homesick so soon, why did you leave your father and mother and marry an English husband? You knew you must choose between him and them. I should like my maid to copy that skirt in the morning."

Maisie looked astonished at the young lady's change of subject, but Lady Cecily's face was not an expressive one, and its icy composure seemed wholly unaltered, whatever the theme of discourse.

"I could make a skirt for you," said Maisie eagerly. "I want something to do. I cannot be idle."

"There is plenty to do at Stratheyre, I believe," said young Lady Cecily, toying with the bells of her mite of a pug. "Mr. Stratheyre has to keep trespassers away -- there were some children after holly only yesterday -- and Miss Stratheyre keeps quite a library of account books. My maid will manage the skirt, thank you. Are you crying for San Justo?"

"I don't know," said Maisie. "You are so different ... you would not understand. Life seems so puzzling sometimes."

"But not to you," said Lady Cecily, and Maisie fancied a faint rose-tint on the exquisite face. "You are so different. Whatever comes to you, you are side by side with the one you love. Nothing can alter that."

"No, nothing can alter that," said Maisie, a light that was almost a glory in the dark eyes she raised to Lady Cecily's. "But ... but ... I could not bear it if he were ashamed of me."

"You have been a servant, have you not? You look...." Here Lady Cecily stopped, and glanced with a little more interest than she usually displayed at the shapely little figure and pretty hands.

"Yes, I worked for my adopted parents at the inn," said Maisie. "They kept servants, but we girls helped a good deal, and I had to be busy all day. They took care of me when I was left, a stray child, on their hands. I helped about the house, and in the fields and vineyard."

"And why should Mr. Mulgrave be ashamed of you?"

"I know so little," said Maisie. "I cannot even play the piano."

"There are always people present who are equal to that," said Lady Cecily, shrugging her shoulders. "Do not spoil your eyes by crying. You have everything life can want. Your husband has money enough, and to spare. And depend upon it, if he has not been ashamed of you yet, he will not begin in the time to come. Yours is the sort of face that does not show years. That is the worst of being a blonde -- one goes off so early."

"Are you engaged?" asked Maisie timidly, with girlish reverence for the queenly face that rested against the pale blue cushion of the ottoman.

"Not yet," said Lady Cecily, rather sharply. "I am expected to be before the end of next season. Did you see Marcele's shop in the rue du Palais when you were in Paris? That is where I bought Launcelot's collar. He is a specialist in jewelled dog-collars."

"It is good of Lady Cecily to notice the poor boy's unfortunate choice," said Miss Stratheyre to Lady Granton when they were alone; "but I think, dear Lady Granton, I understand your wish to return home sooner than you at first intended. I did not know Trevor would bring her here so soon. And of course you cannot permit your daughter to make a companion of this deplorable addition to our household."

Lady Granton was in difficulty as to a courteous excuse for leaving, but she was too honest to put the blame of her desertion on Maisie's imputed vulgarity.

"I think newly-married people get on better with a smaller household," she said. "And you and Mrs. Mulgrave, free from guests, will have the opportunity of making acquaintance with each other. The girl, whatever her scheming may have been, is both ladylike and very pretty. Cecily may make friends with her if she chooses. One who has settled herself so advantageously will, doubtless, be able to furnish good advice to others."

"It is quite different with your daughter, Lady Granton. Everyone knows who she is, but this nameless...."

"I hold, Miss Stratheyre, that every woman has a right to make the best marriage she can. Nay, as I tell Cecily, it is only a woman's duty to aim high in this respect, for marriage is a solemn responsibility and has often made or marred a lifetime. For Cecily to think of marriage to a poor man, as I fear she did once, would be madness. Her expensive tastes would ruin him, and she would be miserable, debarred from her accustomed luxuries."

"I can never imagine Lady Cecily as removed from wealthy surroundings," owned Miss Stratheyre. "Fortunately, with her great beauty, she has a choice of eligible suitors."

"Yes and I am thankful to say that she has the good sense herself to dread poverty. That inconsiderate brother of mine had an East End curate called Rupert Dene staying at his house at the same time as ourselves last summer. I began to be quite alarmed lest Cecily should act foolishly, for he was quite the best-looking young man there, and full of those impractical schemes so charming to some girls. He actually dared to ask me if he might propose to Cecily! Fancy his telling me he had two hundred a year private income, and a curacy worth one hundred! I forbade his speaking a word to the girl, but unknown to us both she was in the window-seat. When I suddenly discovered her she came forward as white as a ghost, and told him I had said correctly. She could never live in poverty. Poor child, I believe she was fond of the Mr. Dene, but she rightly intends to count her income by thousands. Here comes Mr. Mulgrave. Dear, dear, how strangely things turn out. Do you remember how well his voice went with Cecily's when they were quite little children?"

Miss Stratheyre remembered very well, and now insisted on their trying a number of duets, to which Maisie listened, well content to hear Trevor's voice, and thinking of the tender, "God be with thee, brown-haired maid!" that had echoed in her heart since he sang to her in the Italian garden.

Presently Lady Cecily played some sonatas of Beethoven, and Maisie was struck with wonder at the brilliancy of the young lady's execution. Her audience seemed spellbound, so perfect was her timing, so correct every intricate passage, but nothing spoke to Maisie's spirit till, in the wistful melody of the Moonlight Sonata, Lady Cecily suddenly lost her individuality and drew from the notes such a passion of appeal that Maisie's own beating heart recognised a life in the soul she had too hastily deemed lifeless.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-35 show above.)