Miss Stepney's Fortune
By Sarah Doudney, 1883
The light of a January day was beginning to fade. Anne Stepney had watched the sun go down behind the roofs of the opposite houses, leaving a dull yellow glow above the chimney-stacks. She was tired of sitting there in the quiet room, and listening to the crackling of the fire; for more than half an hour her grandfather had been sleeping in his old arm-chair, and Anne had sat motionless by the window.
There was not much to be seen in the street, although it was in the middle of a large town. When the market carts had come and gone, and the butcher and baker had rattled past the houses, the traffic of the day was almost over. As to the foot-passengers, they were of the unfashionable class, for the street was not in an aristocratic quarter of the place.
The muffin man had already passed the window, in his clean white apron, but he did not waste his breath in crying muffins before Mr. Stepney's door. Mr. Stepney's small household never reveled in luxuries. "Muffins consumed a great deal of butter, and were decidedly bad for the digestion," said Anne's grandfather. The muffin man called Mr. Stepney "an old skinflint, who'd ruin a poor fellow's trade, if he could get everybody to agree with him."
The young girl turned her head away from the window, and began to watch the dancing firelight. It shone brightly over the room, giving color to the faded drab maroon curtains and shabby carpets. It played upon the face of the sleeper in the arm-chair, now glancing on his white hair, and then on his sharply-cut features. It was not a noble face, nor did the brow denote intellect of a high order; but Anne had learnt to love it well. Those lips had never spoken an unkind word to her; nor had they ever refused to grant any reasonable request.
It was true that Mr. Stepney was a niggardly man. But his granddaughter fared well, if not luxuriously, and was comfortably clad, although jewels and costly trifles were denied her. Perhaps she was none the worse for living on plain food; and there were not a few who admired the simplicity of her dress. Yet, in these early days of hers, Anne sometimes thought it hard that she could not bedizen herself with lockets and chains; and looked enviously upon the tinkling ornaments of other young ladies.
It was half an hour to tea-time, and old Charity's company was better than solitude. Anne rose softly and crept out of the room.
Charity was sitting by a bright fire in the small kitchen. Here there was a little paved yard to be seen from the window, and a strip of brown mold under the wall. The spires of snowdrops had already pierced through the damp earth; there was a straggling piece of ivy climbing up the wall, and its dark leaves were glistening in the last light of the sunset. Charity's glance often wandered to these green things that were growing in the midst of a large town. They reminded her of those sacred thoughts which sometimes spring up, fresh and beautiful, in a heart that is crowded with everyday cares. She was a hardworking, elderly woman, who had always led a very prosaic life; but she had a watchful spirit, ever looking out for the bits of comfort and beauty that were scattered about her.
She looked up, with a sudden brightness in her careworn face, as the young girl entered. Without being a positive beauty, Anne was a very pleasant object for eyes to rest upon. She had such a clear red-and-white complexion, and such deeply-colored chestnut hair, that one forgot to criticize features. It did not matter that she wore a gray linsey gown, with only a linen collar and a small, old-fashioned broach to relieve its plainness. There was something so flower-like about her, that she seemed to have no need of ribbon or gem.
"I have been moping in the parlor, Charity," she said. "There is something very dreary in sitting with a person who is asleep; I think it is worse than being alone. You feel he has gone off into dreamland, and doesn't belong to your world. I'm glad to creep away to you."
"This is but a dull house for a young body," Charity admitted.
"I wish grandfather would move into a livelier neighborhood," Anne went on. "If he would only take lodgings by the sea in summer, I'd be quite satisfied. Why should he scrape, and save every sixpence as he does?"
"He can't forget his losses, Miss Anne," Charity replied. "Haven't you heard that he lost a fortune years ago?"
"But hasn't he made another?" Anne asked eagerly. "People say that when he retired from business he must have saved a great deal of money."
"People's sayings aren't to be trusted," said the old servant, shaking her head. "All that I know is soon told, my dear;—when he retired from business, he purchased an annuity. And he said to me, 'Charity, I'll give you fifteen pounds a year if you'll do all my house-work.' And I said to him, 'Master, I'm quite willing to stay with you and serve you to my life's end.' So it was settled, and we left the old business premises and came here. The annuity is two hundred a year, and not a farthing more."
"That's a very small income," Anne responded, gravely. "He must have scraped dreadfully to send me to school."
"He didn't make any difference in his way of living at that time," Charity answered. "So I suppose he must have saved some money. But I really don't think he is a rich man, Miss Anne; and I'm sorry that people have got the notion that you are to be an heiress."
Charity looked earnestly into the girl's bright face as she spoke. She had read few books beside her Bible, or she might have been reminded of the saying of a modern writer that "money is a carrion that draws vultures." But some thought like this was in her heart at the moment.
"Miss Devereux was talking about my prospects the other day," said Anne, after a pause. "Her father remembers when the business was sold, and he says he is sure that grandfather didn't sink all his money in purchasing the annuity."
"The Devereux are all eyes and ears," responded Charity sharply. "It's a painful thing to talk about, my dear; but your grandfather had all your father's debts to pay, and heavy enough they were! You were a baby in those days, and your mother was just dead. Poor thing;—the Lord took her away to save her from a deal of trouble!"
"I don't recollect my father at all," Anne remarked. "How was it that he couldn't pay his debts?"
"Because he lived beyond his means," Charity answered. "I liked Mr. Joseph well, but when I saw that he loved play better than work, and was never content unless he could be grander than his neighbors, I knew what the end would be. And he was one of those men who'll have their fling to the very last. He gave a large party the night before he stopped payment."
"And then grandfather paid the creditors, and took charge of me," said Anne, gratefully.
"Yes, you were put into my hands," replied Charity, wiping her eyes, "and poor Mr. Joseph died in Australia. Sometimes I think the master has never been quite himself since that time. When he'd paid his son's debts, he just bought himself an annuity, and settled down here. And I've noticed that he doesn't even care to speak about money."
Anne's thoughts had wandered away from her grandfather. Charity looked at her again earnestly; then rose from her seat, and began to cut some slices of bread for toasting.
"Now I do hope she isn't thinking of "Felix Devereux," mused the old woman. "God forgive me if I'm judging him harshly, but I believe he's a self-seeker. That's a young man who can't see anything beyond his own interest, or I'm very much mistaken. And the worst of it is, such people don't rightly know what their own interests are. They go blundering and muddling through life, just because they're always looking inward, instead of upward and outward."
Were Charity's instincts at fault? She had watched her nursling from childhood to womanhood, and there were certain little signs which told her that Anne was not altogether fancy free.
Felix Devereux was the son of a lawyer, who had lately taken him into partnership. He was a sharp young man, ready-witted and fluent in speech. As to character, he was spoken of as being steady, not caring to part easily with his money, nor given to luxurious habits. Yet there were some who whispered that Felix could enjoy himself pretty freely at other people's expense. He seldom paid for any treat out of his own pocket. He understood the art of getting most of his pleasures for nothing.
Charity did not quite know how her young lady's intimacy with the Devereuxs had begun. Felix and his sister were always together, and people said that they were cast in the same mold. Both were below middle height, both handsome and smooth in manner. And when Louisa Devereux made advances to Anne Stepney, Felix was not slow in following her example. But it was generally understood that Anne was his sister's friend. As yet there had been nothing decidedly pointed in his attentions. Only Charity's instincts, ever wide-awake, had given her warnings of what might be expected.
"If he were a godly man," thought Charity, "I'd be glad to see my darling settled. But it strikes me that he's a good deal like that Mr. Brisk, who came a-courting Mercy in the second part of 'Pilgrim's Progress.' And if Miss Anne takes him, I'm afraid he'll prove a clog to her soul."
But had Anne yet learned to desire that freedom of soul which is only to be found in the service of Christ? Charity was not sure that she had. She knew, however, that good seed had been early sown in her heart, and she looked as confidently for its fruits as the gardener for his crops. Why should not the spiritual harvest be as sure as the earthly ingathering? One promise that Charity had found in her Bible was this—"My Word shall not return unto Me void." And she did not see why it should not be as literally accepted as—"While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest shall not cease."
So she watched, in faith and prayer, for the appearance of the first green blade.
While the old servant was getting the tea ready, Anne was lost in meditation. And it must be confessed that, in her musings, Felix Devereux played a prominent part.
She was to spend an evening with the Devereuxs next Wednesday, and that today was Saturday. She was going over all the pleasure beforehand; but she had not yet acknowledged to herself that the sweetness of it would lie, not in Louisa's company and conversation, but in the attentions of Louisa's brother. Would anything be said that was worth remembering? Would an influence be exerted that should leave her better than it found her? These were questions that Anne had never asked her heart.
The sound of Mr. Stepney's footsteps echoing along the narrow passage, between the kitchen and the parlor, broke in upon her musings. The steps went slowly upstairs, and were heard moving about overhead. The old man had gone to his chamber to search for a book that he had left there.
Anne did not linger in the kitchen. She remembered that it was time to light the parlor lamp, a duty that always fell to her share.
But when she re-entered the quiet room, dreamy with shadows and firelight, the spirit of musing came upon her again. She left the lamp standing on the little sideboard, and sat down by the fireside in her grandfather's armchair.
Moments passed away as she kept her seat and gazed at the red embers. The chair was large enough to have held two people of Anne's size. It was a piece of furniture seldom to be seen in these days, and was neither so comfortable nor so elegant as the arm-chairs of modern times. It had a high square back, a vast seat, and wide-spread arms; and was entirely covered with very strong leather, There were no springs, and the stuffing was unelastic. Altogether, it looked too big for the small parlor, and took up more room than could well be spared.
Yet, if that old chair could have had the gift of speech, it might have related some interesting experiences. Even Mr. Stepney had never known it when it was fresh and new. He had seen it standing, dusty and neglected, in a broker's shop, with pots and pans piled up in its capacious arms, and a shabby hearthrug hanging over its back. The broker was glad to get rid of the lumbering old thing, which occupied so much valuable space; and so it was sold for a trifling sum.
The dealer said it had come from a very old house in a very old town, and he had bought it with a deal of rubbish, at a sale. He saw it carted away from his shop and taken to its purchaser's abode with genuine satisfaction, and ever since that day it had kept its place at Mr. Stepney's fireside.
Sometimes, when Charity had laid little Anne to rest on that wide seat, she wondered how many other babies had been cradled there. Lovers might have sat in it, side by side whispering of days to come; old people might have dozed in it, dreaming of days gone by. Not a few, perhaps, had knelt beside it in the agony of prayer, or ecstasy of thanksgiving. And many a petition had gone up from Charity's heart, as she watched over the sleeping child.
Possibly this was why the old chair always seemed almost sacred to the good woman. She could remember certain doubts that had been stilled, and certain puzzling questions that had been answered, as she sat there, hushing her young charge in her arms. When little Anne had been given into her keeping, a void in her heart had been filled up at last. She was widowed early—very early, too, had her own baby been taken from her; and there was ever that empty niche in her life, waiting for the presence of a little child. She was not slow to recognize the Divine love which had sent her master's orphan grandchild to the dull house; her ears were open to that Divine voice that said, "Take this child, and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages."
Truly the wages had been given her; and more was yet to come. The child of her adoption was destined to be the best blessing that God had ever bestowed upon her. And even in the days of Anne's infancy, Charity had felt a foreshadowing of the Father's purpose in sending her this little one.
But Anne, sitting in the old chair, and seeing pictures in the fire, had no glimpse of the way by which she was to be led to peace. The fancy was traveling over a smooth, broad road which her feet would never tread.
Her grandfather had come downstairs, and had entered the parlor unheard. He was standing in the front of her, upon the hearthrug, before she came conscious of his presence.
"Sit up, child," he said angrily. "Are there no other chairs in the room that you must take mine? I won't have it, I say! That chair is my place, and mine only."
Anne started up, amazed, and frightened at the harsh tone. He had never spoken to her in that way before; and surely the offence did not merit such a stern rebuke.
"I did not mean to vex you, grandfather," she answered.
He quickly possessed himself of the vacated seat; and she went at once to the sideboard to light the lamp. Perhaps he had been displeased to find the room still in darkness, and—as many people do—had vented his annoyance on anything but the real cause.
Anne's conscience told her that lately she had wasted a good many hours in idle reveries. Could it be possible that her grandfather had noticed these dreamy habits of hers? More than once old Charity's anxious glance had roused her from a fit of useless musing. But then, Charity's eyes were far sharper than her master's.
She set the lighted lamp on the table just as the old servant entered with the tea-tray. She wondered uneasily if her grandfather would be cross for the rest of the evening? But in a few moments he seemed quite to have recovered his temper.
"That's right, Charity," he said, as she drew the window-curtains. "It's a dismal kind of night out of doors, and cold too. You may bring in another log. Folks may call me stingy if they like, but they can't say I don't keep up good fires. Better pay for fuel than gruel, say I."
He laughed as he spoke, and looked at Anne, as if he expected her to see the joke. She laughed too, rather feebly, but with a sense of relief.
When the tea-things were removed, and the pair had set themselves for the evening, Mr. Stepney seemed even brighter and more cheerful than usual. His eyes rested on his granddaughter as she bent over her sewing, and he smiled several times when she was not looking at him. The fire blazed merrily, the little room looked pleasanter in the lamplight than it ever did in the sunshine. And the old man appeared to enjoy the comforts of home.
"Give me a song, child," he said at last. "You have a pretty voice, Anne; it's like your mother's. She was a sweet singer when my Joseph married her. Afterwards her strength failed, and her voice grew weaker, and weaker, poor thing!"
There was a cottage piano in the parlor, which had found a place there since Anne left school. She rose at once at her grandfather's request, and began to turn over her music. And then, some impulse moved her to let the modern ballads lie, and sing from memory, an old Scotch song. It was one that she had learned, in her childhood, from Charity, whose mother had been a Scotchwoman.
Slowly and softly the opening chords were played; and the clear fresh voice sang the familiar words to the solemn tune.
"I'm wearin' awa', Jean,
Like snow-wreaths in thaw, Jean,
I'm wearin' awa' to the Land o' the Leal."
"Can I see Mr. Stepney?" asked Donald Pringle, in a strong, and rather harsh voice.
The voice fell pleasantly upon Charity's ears —not only because it reminded her, too, of other days, but because she recognized it as belonging to "a godly man." The speaker was a young minister who had lately come to preach at the church which she attended. She had heard the people tell each other that he was to be an assistant to the old pastor who was getting feeble.
"Yes, sir," she answered readily. And Donald found himself at once ushered into the presence of Mr. Stepney, and the singer of the Land o' the Leal.
The small room was so bright with lamp and fire, that his sight was quite dazzled for a moment. But when the old man invited him to be seated, and Anne stepped forward to give him a chair, he discovered that she was a pretty girl, modest and attractive, and having nothing impure about her. Little did she dream that her despised gray gown had a charm in the eyes of the visitor. And if the truth must be told, she was congratulating herself that he was no one of any importance; and being a minister, he would not, of course, take notice of her ugly dress.
"Mr. Stepney," said Donald, going straight to his point at once, "do you remember one John Lumley, who was your porter in Bankstreet, and was with you until you sold your business?"
"To be sure I do," the old gentleman replied. "He was a hard-working fellow ; I'd no fault to find with Lumley."
"He's now in great distress," continued the minister. "He had a very bad fall some time ago, and was hurt sorely. And this morning his wife came to tell me that her savings are all gone. She is a decent body, and a countrywoman of mine. I told her I'd see you, Mr. Stepney, and ask you to help them."
"The parish will help her," said the old man, rubbing the palms of his hand on the leathercovered arms of his chair, a movement that indicated uneasiness of mind.
"Ay, but there are nine children," rejoined Donald, speaking earnestly; "and it's hard to find clothes and food for them all."
Mr. Stepney fidgeted in his seat.
"I suppose you've got the notion that I'm a rich man, Mr. Pringle?" he exclaimed, almost angrily. "But there are hundreds of people in Stonyport who can afford to be charitable better than I can. I have had losses—terrible losses, I assure you."
"Well, well," said the young minister in a soothing tone, "the Lord will never expect too much from you, Mr. Stepney."
"The Lord has taken a great deal away from me," responded the old man peevishly. "If He had meant me to be generous, I suppose He would have left me the means of doing good."
"His ways are past finding out," Donald answered. "But, in my judgment, it's but seldom that He leaves us without the powers of helping our neighbors. And when He takes away the possessions, He often gives a blessing in its stead."
"Those who have never had much to lose, can speak lightly of losses," Mr. Stepney remarked.
Donald smiled. Truly the family in the Auchendinny manse had never been overburdened with silver; but their losses had been of another sort. They had known almost every kind of sorrow--save the sorrow of losing money.
"You must not think I'm taking your troubles for trifles," he said. "But if you compare them with the sore afflictions that have fallen on the Lumleys, you'll see that it's the Lord's pleasure to give the crumb to some and the crust to others. And you will forgive me, Mr. Stepney, for coming to plead the cause of the poor."
Mr. Stepney put his hand in his pocket, fumbled for a moment, then took out a shilling, and laid it silently on the table before the minister.
Chancing to glance at Anne, at that instant Donald saw the rich color deepen on her cheeks. He quietly took up the coin, thanked the donor, and courteously took his leave of the grandfather and granddaughter.
As he went out again into the misty night, he was almost tempted to think that his errand had been a bootless one. And yet, as his footsteps echoed on the deserted pavement, he began to hum to himself some snatches of the old song that Anne had been singing.
After all, he could not be sorry that he had made her acquaintance, although that acquaintance was of the very slightest kind. Perhaps it was destined never to be more intimate, until they should meet in that land whereof she had sung so sweetly.
It was scarcely probable that she would often cross his path, although they lived in the same town. He believed, in common with most of old Stepney's neighbors, that this young girl would be an heiress. People said that the old man was saving for his grandchild; his life could not last much longer, and then Anne would enjoy the miser's hoard.
As the minister called to mind these remarks made by the gossips of Stonyport, he tried to dismiss Anne's face and voice from his thoughts. He remembered that he was but a poor servant of God; what had he to do with a beauty and an heiress? The good old parents in the manse at home would have bid him walk circumspectly. And then, when he reached his humble apartment, and found the neglected fire burning low, he had a second attack of homesickness. Oh! for the warm old cottage, and the dear faces glowing in the cheerful light! Oh! for the porridge served up by motherly hands! Never had his food and lodging seemed so distasteful and dreary as they did that night.
But he was not unprovided with a remedy against low spirits. He opened his well-worn Bible at the twenty-first chapter of Revelation, and read the familiar description of the holy city. And even as he read, the sweet voice seemed to be singing—
"There's na sorrow there, Jean,
There's na cold nor care, Jean,
The days are yes fair,
In the Land o' the Leal."
Meanwhile, her grandfather's miserable donation had covered Anne with shame. There was no more music that night, nor did he ask for another song. She closed the piano, and went back to her sewing; and he appeared to be deeply interested in his book.
While the busy needle flew in and out, Anne thought "If it was out of one's power to do a great deal, was that any reason for withholding one's hand from the little?"
Now Anne was allowed five shillings a week for dress and pocket money. She would have been quite ashamed for Louisa Devereux to have known how small that allowance was. But if it had been larger, the necessity for skillful needlework would not have existed; and narrow means had made Anne a good seamstress, and even a tolerable milliner. As she sat sewing by the lamplight, her thoughts turned towards two half-sovereigns that were lying in her little desk upstairs. Could she bring herself to part with them.
She sewed faster as she asked herself this question. There was a certain stylish hat in a shop-window in the fashionable part of Stonyport, and the price of that hat was one pound five. Anne had set her mind upon it; but there were one or two indispensable things to be bought, and if she gave away twenty shillings the hat might be unattainable.
The coveted hat was resplendent with a long scarlet feather. She pictured herself thus adorned, and almost decided that the sacrifice was too great. And then she thought of the poor harassed mother, and the nine children; and the longing to give waxed stronger than the longing to have.
She took her resolution that very night. Only she was sorry that she had neglected to ask the young minister for Mrs. Lumley's address. She wanted to take her little offering to the Lumleys herself; and then they might suppose that she was her grandfather's messenger. She did not like them to know that Mr. Stepney was indifferent to the misfortunes of his old porter.
"When I come out of church tomorrow morning," she thought, "I will walk through the street where the Presbyterian Chapel is. Perhaps I shall meet some of the people, who can tell me where Mr. Pringle lives."
She said nothing about her intention to Charity. In her heart of hearts she was ashamed to tell the old servant of this little act of mercy. She was as shy of revealing her benevolence as if it had been a sin. And perhaps this shyness sprang from the consciousness that it was her first deliberate act of self-denial.
When we take the first step in a new direction, we often want to take it alone.
Sunday morning dawned fair and clear; the blue sky was to be seen from Anne's chamber window as she dressed herself for going to church. There seemed to be a cheerfulness about the general aspect of things. Looking down into the little yard, she saw the ivy glistening on the wall, on the top of which sat the house cat, basking in the sunshine. Church bells filled the air with their chimes, and their tones sounded more harmoniously than usual. Perhaps this was because Anne's own spirit was in tune.
The day was like a herald of spring. Bright as the sunlight was, Anne forgot to notice that it made her winter garments look shabby. She even forgot the hat with the scarlet feather, for her mind was full of happy thoughts. Her little gift would be a great comfort to the poor family. Never having had much money in her own possession, a sovereign seemed quite a handsome sum to her;—what then, must it seem to Mrs. Lumley?
When service was over, she carried out her intention, and instead of walking homeward, turned her steps in the direction of the Scotch Chapel. It was a plain, heavy-looking building, standing in a decent, but gloomy street—a street which had never a tree nor a grass-plot to enliven it. All the doorsteps were clean, and the houses there so quiet that Anne felt sure the Sabbath was strictly observed in this locality. She went straight to the chapel door and listened. The service was not yet ended, and she turned away.
It was a very long street; but she thought there would be time enough to walk to the end of it and turn into the next thoroughfare before the people were loosed from the service. She wanted to spend a little while near the church she had just left. It was an old church; and the churchyard, long disused, was still shaded by one or two trees. There were a few shrubs within the iron railings; and the sight of the soft green turf was pleasant to eyes that were weary of bricks and mortar.
So she retraced her steps, and stood looking through the railings at the sacred enclosure. The iron gates were always locked after service, for the Stonyport boys would have made a playground of the old churchyard if they could have got into it. The light came stealing down through the leafless branches of the old trees, and one or two small birds hopped from twig to twig. The grass sparkled where the sunbeams touched it; even the gray headstone caught a stray gleam now and then. It was so quiet and sweet that Anne lingered over long.
When she re-entered the other street, the congregation had already left the church, and gone their respective ways. But she caught sight of a tall, rugged-looking man, striding rather awkwardly along the causeway, and recognized him at once as the young minister himself.
Donald Pringle was not what is termed a ladies' man. He could not have turned a compliment, or made a pretty speech, if a fortune had depended on it. He had been brought up by simple, God-fearing people, who would have deemed it a sin to say anything that was not strictly sincere. Something of the sternness and ruggedness of his own land seemed to cling to him externally. And when Anne suddenly met and accosted him, his manner appeared to her to be cold.
"Excuse me, Mr. Pringle," she said, "we forgot to ask you, last night, where the Lumleys are living. I mean to go and see them."
"They are in Crook Alley," he answered. "It's a very wretched place, Miss Stepney."
"Oh, I don't mind the wretchedness," responded Anne, thinking that he doubted her strength of mind. "Thank you, Mr. Pringle; I shall certainly go there tomorrow. Goodmorning."
"Good-morning," said Donald.
He entered his lodgings, thanking God that old Stepney's heart was touched. Surely this was a plain proof that last night's errand had not been in vain.
"We are yes too apt to think that the Lord is not working through us and in us, when we are going about His business;" he said to himself.
Perhaps he scarcely realized how great an encouragement he had received. The announcement of Anne's intention showed that God had indeed made use of him. The Great Master knows that it takes a very small thing to lift the heart of a faithful servant. Two or three little stepping-stones will carry us over the stream that has crossed our way, and save us from wetting our feet.
That night, Donald's sermon was of love and thanksgiving to the King whom he served. Many a spirit leaped up at the glad words that fell from his lips. The old minister listened, pleased and surprised; he had at first feared that his younger brother was too much disposed to hang his harp upon the willows.
"Eh! but the Lord has led him up Mount Tabor," said one of the elders. "And he may bide there a wee bit; but there's no doubt that he'll come down again!"
"Well, well," remarked another, "he'll be none the worse for going up there. If a man gets a lift in temporal matters, he often gets a spiritual fall. But if the Lord gives him a spiritual lift, He means it to be a comfort to him when he's traversing the plain afterwards. We're none the better for a glimpse of a fine country."
Charity was among the number of Donald Pringle's hearers that night. She was, as she phrased it, "built up by that sermon, just when her faith was a'most falling to pieces."
She had gone into the church, worried and perplexed about her young mistress. On her way there, she had chanced to meet an acquaintance who had been living in the Devereux's service, and had lately given notice.
"Do you know of a place that'll suit me, Mrs. Gage?" she inquired, as Charity stopped to shake hands with her. "I'm going to leave the Devereux."
"Why's that?" Charity asked.
"Well, I put up with Miss Devereux's temper as long as I could," answered the young woman, and not being an angel, I gave way at last. What aggravates me is, that they don't believe a word you say in that house. They disbelieves and suspects, until they almost make you a liar and a thief against your will. But your young lady is mighty thick with 'em, Mrs. Gage. I'm not so blind that I can't see Mr. Felix has got his eye on her."
"I've heard nothing of that kind," said Charity, stoutly.
"But I have," responded the other. "Mr. Felix was talking to his sister the other night, when I was clearing away the supper-things. 'She's a pretty girl,' he says; and I knowed who he meant!' ‘Yes,' says Miss Devereux, 'but you mustn't commit yourself yet. Wait a bit, and see how the old man leaves her. He can't last much longer.' ‘Oh, I won't be in too great a hurry, Louisa,' he says; 'but there's no doubt she'll have a comfortable income.' Now, what do you think of that, Mrs. Gage?"
"I think that those who wait for dead men's shoes often go barefoot all their days," replied Charity, in a severe tone.
"Oh, you were always a close one," said the young woman, " but it's no business of mine. Anyhow, if Miss Stepney be rich or poor, I'll wish her a better husband than Mr. Felix will ever make! I could tell tales if I chose. Good evening, Mrs. Gage; you'll let me know if you hear of a comfortable place."
This conversation had sent poor Charity to church with an unquiet mind. But the sermon seemed to be a direct message from her Lord, rebuking all her fears.
When she came back to her master's house and saw Anne sitting by her grandfather's side, the remembrance of her talk with the Devereuxs' servant scarcely troubled her. She did not believe that the young woman had spoken falsely; the girl was honest and hardworking, and had been known to Charity for several years. But her contempt for Felix Devereux's unblushing covetousness led her to under-estimate his influence over Anne. Surely, she thought, her young lady would not fail to recognize his baseness. And He in whom Charity trusted would lead her darling into the right way.
True, Charity; but God often chooses to lead us into the path of peace by ways that we have not known. And, sometimes, when we are tempted to think that He is dealing harshly with our dear ones, He is doing for them the very thing that we most desire. Only it must be done in His manner, not in ours.
Anne went to bed that night with her thoughts full of the Lumleys and their misfortunes. She was wholly unaccustomed to visiting the poor, and had never entered Crook's Alley in her life, although she knew where it was to be found. The young minister had seemed to think that she would hardly care to face a scene of poverty and wretchedness; but he should learn that he was mistaken.
It might have been that a little vainglorying was marring her really good impulse.
She had meant to go to Crook's Alley on the morning of Monday, being resolved that the grass should not grow under her feet. But all the bright morning hours stole away, and she was detained in the house. Her grandfather, more fidgety than usual, had set his mind on having his books dusted and arranged, and would brook no delay. There were no volumes of great value among them; all were of the kind that may be easily picked up at second-hand shops. But Mr. Stepney firmly believed them to be a rare collection, and often pleased himself with calculating the sum that they would fetch, if offered for sale.
So Anne dusted and re-arranged, with outward cheerfulness, although she chafed at being kept indoors.
"SUNDRY AND MANIFOLD CHANGES"
When the one o'clock dinner was over, she put on her out-of-door garments with all speed, and was leaving the house, when Mr. Stepney called her back.
"Anne," he said, "you must go at once to the chemist's, and tell him that the last mixture he sent me has done my cough no good. And then go on to Perks, the shoemaker, and ask him if my shoes are mended yet? And—here, wait a bit, child—bring me some peppermint lozenges as quickly as you can."
There was nothing for it but to obey. Anne conscientiously did as he desired, and came back with the lozenges in her hand. Even then he detained her to make her repeat all that the chemist and the shoemaker had said, until her patience was well-near worn out.
Thus it came to pass that when she at last turned her steps towards Crook's Alley, the brightness of the day was gone; and the wintry gold was gradually fading from the skies.
When she reached the entrance of the alley, and caught the first whiff of its evil odors, she was conscious of a vague fear. It was a grim, dark place, in which night seemed to begin earlier and last longer than in the open streets. The houses, which were old, and in bad repair, leaned towards each other across a broken pavement and a dirty gutter. It was a long, narrow lane, apparently given up to such filth and wretchedness as always exists in a large and busy town.
Crook's Alley was a blind alley, terminating in a high wall, which separated it from a large manufactory. A miserable-looking little girl was the first person accosted by Anne. She did not like the looks of the untidy women who came to their doors to stare at her, and addressed her inquiry to the child.
"Can you tell me where John Lumley lives?" she asked.
The little girl looked vacantly into her face without vouchsafing any reply. She repeated her question, and then one of the women called out in a rough tone:
"The child don't know nothing. Why couldn't you ask one of us?"
"I want to find John Lumley's house," said Anne, rather timidly.
"It's the last on the left side," was the surly answer.
Anne hurried on, wishing heartily that she could have performed her mission earlier in the day. It seemed to be growing darker and darker every moment.
The Lumley's dwelling was far cleaner than their neighbors'. Great poverty was plainly visible; but there were evidences of self-respect, and an unconquerable desire not to sink to the level of one's misfortunes, which spoke well of poor Lumley's Scotch wife.
She was a tidy body, who kept her good looks in spite of trouble and privation. Anne's gift was received with a quiet earnestness of gratitude ; but not with many words.
"Don’t be thinking you're not well thanked, because I thanked God first," she said, eagerly.
She went on to tell Anne how John Lumley had met with his accident. At first it had seemed likely that he would speedily recover from the effects of the fall; but some subtle injury had been sustained, and he had grown worse, rather than better. Weeks lengthened into months; and he was, at last, removed to a hospital. It grieved his good wife sorely to move into such a place as Crook's Alley; but the rent was lower there than in any other part of the town. She should leave it, she added hopefully, when her good man came back to her.
Some few words she said concerning the kindness of Mr. Pringle, whom she remembered as a good man, and then Anne went her way.
It was now almost dark in the alley, although in the open streets the lamplighters were only just beginning to light the lamps. She felt rather nervous when Mrs. Lumley's door closed behind her, and began to walk at a rapid pace.
There were dangerous holes in the broken pavement. She was compelled to walk with head bent, and eyes fixed intently on the ground. More than once a shout of drunken laughter reached her ears, and made her quicken her steps. The noise came from one house, whose door stood open, while a stream of light issued from a ground-floor window. So bright was this light, that it illumined the fronts of the opposite houses; and when Anne was within a few yards of the dwelling from which it proceeded, a volume of smoke suddenly poured forth.
Then the laughter was changed into screams and yells of terror. In an instant, men, women, and children swarmed out of their wretched homes, and completely blocked up the narrow alley. Not one of them seemed capable of making an effort to extinguish the flames. But it soon became evident that there were several persons in the upper story of the burning house.
"They'll all be burnt to cinders !"' shrieked a woman with an infant in her arms, who was pressing close to Anne. "The staircase has caught fire!" The frightened girl implored the people to allow her to pass; but they were quite deaf to her entreaties. Hustled and pushed on all sides, she was beginning to lose her presence of mind, when the throng suddenly gave way a little. And at that moment a strong hand roughly grasped her arm, and dragged her quickly into the shadow of a doorway.
She was too bewildered to see the face of the fellow who had seized her. But when, still holding her with one hand, he attempted to wrench her watch from its chain, she screamed and resisted with all her might. The struggle, which lasted only a few seconds, seemed to her to be fearfully long. It was, however, terminated suddenly, and decisively; for a tall, powerful man took her assailant by the wrist, and forced him to let go his hold. In the next moment, just as the thief's arm was lifted to deal a blow, he was knocked backwards. The door behind him, not being fastened, opened at once, and he fell heavily into the entry.
"Miss Stepney," said Donald Pringle, speaking in a quick, excited tone; "what made you come here alone?"
He neither waited for a reply, nor expected one. She felt herself half led, half carried through the crowd ; and then, almost before she realized her safety, she was standing outside the dreadful alley, with the minister by her side.
He let her stand there silently for a little while. She leaned on his arm, panting and giddy with fright. But, as her self-control returned, and the fresh evening wind blew softly into her face, she began to understand that her folly and ignorance had exposed her to a real danger; and that Mr. Pringle was her deliverer.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, eagerly. "You must have been very roughly handled?"
"I am not seriously hurt," she replied, keeping down a sob. "Only my arm is bruised. But oh, it might have been ever so much worse, Mr. Pringle! I don't know how to thank you!"
"No need, no need," he said quickly. "I was just passing the entrance of the alley, when, I heard the cry of fire. And I then run in, on impulse, thinking of poor Jeanie Lumley and the children. Eh, it was the Lord who sent me at the right moment."
"Poor things, they may be in danger," cried Anne, forgetting herself, as she remembered that the flames might spread, and that the Lumley's house was at the very end of the alley. "What can be done?"
"The police are on the spot," answered Donald; "they were going in as we came out. And I think the fire is pretty well extinguished," he added, as a boy passed them, shouting out that "it was all over.''
It afterwards transpired that a party of drunken revelers had accidentally ignited a cask of oil which stood in the room where they were carousing. All the furniture, the doors and window-frames were consumed; and two of the drunkards were severely burned. But the fire was put out before further damage was done.
"I must go home," said Anne, after another short pause. She removed her hand from his arm as she spoke.
"Shall I call a carriage for you?" he inquired.
"No, thank you," she replied, thinking that her grandfather would not easily forgive her for such a piece of extravagance.
"Then I will walk with you to your own door," said Donald. "You had better take my arm again, Miss Stepney."
Feeling herself still trembling from head to foot, Anne complied. In silence the two walked together through the dusty streets, thinking very different thoughts. Donald was heartily thanking God that he had been of use to somebody that day; and perhaps his thanks were all the heartier because that "somebody" happened to be Anne Stepney. His companion was re-enacting the scene which was just over, and scarcely daring to confess, even to herself, that she wished Felix Devereux had come to her rescue instead of the minister.
Alas! she was not the first woman who has preferred the friend of her own choosing, to one of God's sending.
"Won't you come in, Mr. Pringle?" she asked, as they stopped at Mr. Stepney's house. "Grandfather would like to thank you when he hears what you have done for me."
For an instant Donald hesitated. He had visions of spending the evening in that shabby, yet comfortable parlor, and hearing his favorite song again. But some other influence which he could scarcely define, controlled his inclination.
He declined to enter the house, and made light of the service he had rendered Anne. But when old Charity opened the door, and she stepped in, reluctantly leaving him in the cold street, he almost quarreled with himself for not accepting her invitation. It must be admitted that Charity's heart leaped with joyful surprise at seeing her young lady and the minister together. A sudden hope darted into her mind. Was this the way in which the Lord was going to silence all her fears? Ah, Charity, we may sometimes guess God's purposes; but we seldom foreknow the manner in which He will bring them to pass!
Mr. Stepney had been waiting Anne's return with some impatience. It was considerably past the usual tea-hour, and he did not like any irregularity in meals. When he had heard her account of herself he scolded her in a fretful kind of way. Why had she gone to see the Lumley's? He had already sent them relief, and it was not Anne's business to look after them. She said nothing about the money that she had given them; but Charity, reading between the lines of her story, easily divined the truth, and hailed it as another hopeful sign.
It struck Anne that her grandfather was getting more peevish day by day; and she began to have her fears about his health. But the old man obstinately declared that he was quite well; and so the weeks wore on, bringing the sweet spring days nearer and nearer. And as the winter passed away, Charity's anxieties returned.
Felix Devereux was growing more marked in his attentions. One or two bouquets were left at Mr. Stepney's door by the Devereux's smart page; and the old servant longed to send back the flowers to the donor. It vexed her to see Anne's face flush and brighten at the sight of them. It vexed her yet more to find that her young lady never threw them away, but preserved and dried them carefully; thus storing up heart-aches for a future day, as many a wiser woman has done before her. But why didn’t Felix Devereux declare himself in plain English words, instead of sending flowers?
A VOICE OUT OF THE CLOUD
As the spring went by, and the summer advanced, Anne's few acquaintances began to hint that her admirer seemed to be rather slow in speaking his mind. Was it a private engagement? They hoped not, for there was surely no need for concealment. There was never a merry-making at the lawyer's house to which Anne was not invited; and she was the guest that Felix delighted to honor. What with water-parties and picnics it was a mirthful summer to Anne Stepney; and yet after one of these pleasant excursions, she generally came home with a dull pain underlying all the gaiety of her heart. She was always waiting for something—just the one thing that did not come—and others were watching and waiting for it too. It was a period of prolonged expectancy; but the lookers-on whispered that it was time it came to a close.
So thought Donald Pringle, who could not help hearing the gossip of the townsfolk. Donald prayed and worked harder than ever, and wearied more than ever for the old manse at Auchendinny. He had never paid a second visit to the Stepney's house; but he sometimes met Anne in the street, and then she always stopped, frankly, to shake hands with him, not unmindful of the night when he had come to her aid. He thought that her bright face was beginning to look a little strained and worn; and somehow these chance meetings always saddened him. She never failed to ask for the Lumleys. Their troubles were well-nigh over, for John Lumley had been discharged from the hospital cured, and had even succeeded in getting work. The family had moved to more comfortable quarters, and Crook's Alley would know them no more.
The summer came to an end. Autumn winds began to moan through the dull street in which the Stepneys still lived. Again Anne took up the habit of sitting at the window to watch the last flush of the early sunset, and was often to be found there in the twilight when Charity entered with the tea-tray, And so November and December glided away.
Before Charity's snowdrops had begun to show their green tips above ground Mr. Stepney's life on earth was done.
There was no lingering illness, nor even time for leave-taking. He died painlessly, in the arms of the doctor, who had been summoned without his consent. And when the event was made known, there was no small curiosity among those who had taken an interest in his granddaughter's affairs.
"Well, I'm downright sorry for that pretty young lady in Garland Street," said Donald Pringle's landlady, one morning. "I'm speaking of Miss Stepney, sir—old Mister Stepney's grandchild. You know, he died a week or more ago?"
"Yes," Donald answered, quietly.
"It was always believed that she'd be left very handsomely," the woman went on. "But there's nothing for her beyond his goods and chattels, and goodness knows they aren't worth much! His annuity was small, and he couldn't be expected to save out of it. But, deary me, sir, everybody thought he'd got his secret hoards!"
"Is there no will?" Donald asked.
"No, sir. But if he'd left thousands of pounds, Miss Stepney would have had 'em all. He had no other relative in the world."
Donald was silent. And after a brief pause the landlady hazarded another remark.
"I wonder if Miss Stepney's marriage will come off soon," she said. "Young Mr. Devereux's been a-dangling after her for some time. He ought to give her a home now, if he means to."
The minister rose from his seat, and crossed the room to his book-shelves. Mrs. Smith took this as a hint that he had had enough of the subject, and went her way.
But the subject was in Donald's mind all that day, and for many a day afterwards. And it was in his prayers too.
Contrary to his usual habit, he began to make a few inquiries about Felix Devereux. One of the elders—a quiet, observant man—was the person to whom he applied.
"Well, I hope you've no occasion for law dealings with the Devereux," was the reply of Mr. Jamieson. "The father is a hard man; and the son's a cunning child with a flatterin' tongue, and an eye to the silver."
"Some say he is going to marry Miss Stepney," said the minister, making an effort to speak indifferently.
"No, no," responded the elder, with a sharp glance; "he's too worldly for that. He won’t take a wife without money. Eh, she's a penniless lass, and hasn't even a pedigree!"
Of a truth, poor Anne's romance had come to an end. It was known soon enough that she was a "penniless lass;" and the first time she went out of doors after the funeral, she met Felix Devereux. His face flushed at the sight of her; but he passed her with a ceremonious bow. It was a wordless parting.
She went straight back to the old house, and sat down quietly in her grandfather's big armchair. There was nobody to chide her for sitting in it now. And then, with a steady determination of which few would have deemed her capable, she looked her sorrow full in the face.
At first it seemed like a thick black cloud, shutting out all that was hopeful and bright in her future. The easy, happy past was gone; there could be no turning back to look for brightness. But after a while "there came a voice out of the cloud." And it said, "I am the Light of the world."
Then Anne slowly began to understand that she had been expecting too much radiance from the lesser lights that God has set in the world. She had looked for sunlight from a poor taper which the first gust of adversity had blown out. As she realized the mistake she had made, the cloud gradually parted, and a great glory streamed through the rift. And there was never the same darkness again.
I do not say that all the pain was gone. There were many hours when the change in her lot seemed very hard to bear. It was no small grief to prepare to leave the old house which had been her home since babyhood. She had grumbled at it often enough; but now, as she was about to seek a new shelter, it grew dearer than it had ever been before.
ANNE'S NEW QUARTERS
I've found a nice, comfortable lodging, my dear," said Charity, cheerfully. "I shall turn a pretty penny by getting up babies' robes and ladies' muslins; you know I've never lost my old skill in that line. And there's poor Mrs. Brace, the laundress in Brier Lane, is longin' to get me for her partner."
"Are we going to live in Brier Lane?" asked Anne, with a slight start.
"Well, dearie, it isn't a bad sort of place," replied Charity, anxiously. "And it's open and healthy as can be;—just a row of cottages with gardens behind 'em, and the fences of Farmer Rickson's fields opposite their front doors! Won't it delightful to look between those fences, and see the cows feeding on the grass?"
"Yes," said Anne, her pale face suddenly brightening; "and beyond those fields is the blue sea."
"To be sure there is!" exclaimed the faithful old servant, in a tone of relief. "To my thinking, you'll find it a deal pleasanter to live in Brier Lane than to be shut up in bricks and mortar."
As Donald Pringle's landlady had said, poor old Stepney's goods and possessions were not worth much. The piano was the most valuable thing in the house, and Charity would not let her young lady part with that. She made arrangements with a broker to come and value the furniture; but on the very day that this was to be done, her firmness suddenly gave way. It was, apparently, a trifle which upset her composure, as in such cases it generally is.
"I wonder," Anne chanced to say sadly, "what will become of poor grandfather's old chair?"
Whereupon Charity unexpectedly burst into a passion of tears.
"It shan't be taken away!" she sobbed.
"Those shan't go and stand in a dirty shop full of rubbish. He liked it, and we'll keep it. He was a good master to me, and never gave me a harsh word."
Then the old woman and the young one wept together. Mr. Stepney had not, perhaps, been a very lovable man, but he was quiet and gentle in his ways, and had always maintained peace in his household. His grandchild mourned for him deeply and sincerely. Old Charity had been with him in the days of his losses and bereavements, and he was endeared to her by the remembrance of his sorrow.
So when the broker arrived, he was told that the piano and the chair were not to be disposed of. As his glance fell upon the latter, he shrugged his shoulders, and said that he "shouldn't have given much for that old thing, as must have been made out of whatever was left of Noah's ark."
Shortly afterwards, the piano and the "old thing" were carted off to Brier Lane, which was situated on the outskirts of the town.
Mrs. Brace's cottage was the last in the row. There were but six tenements in the lane, and the laundress's dwelling, being detached, stood apart from its more modern neighbors. It was a quaint, one-story little house, having four ground-floor rooms, besides a kitchen and wash-house. The ceilings were very low, and the floors uneven; but it was not an uncomfortable abode, and people said that it was picturesque within and without. For it retained its thatched roof, and its walls, warmly tinted with yellow ochre, could boast of a honeysuckle and a healthy climbing rose. It was a bit of mellow coloring, very pleasant to the jaded townsfolk who walked through Brier Lane on Sunday evenings in summer.
On a wintry afternoon a carriage, laden with boxes, stopped at Mrs. Brace's gate, and Anne and Charity entered the cottage. The neighbors were inoffensive people who rather prided themselves on their respectability, and would not demean themselves by coming to their doors to stare at the poor young lady in her new mourning. So Anne went into her lonely abode without feeling herself to be under inspection.
She found that her sitting-room and sleeping room communicated with each other, taking up the whole of one side of the little house. Both the small rooms were perfectly neat and clean, and her books and piano gave a home-like look to the parlor. By the fireside stood the old chair, spreading out its great arms as if in welcome. It must be confessed that the piano and the chair left scanty space for anything else; but Anne and Charity did not complain of that.
Before she had been a week in her new quarters, Anne said frankly that she was happier here than she could ever have been if she had stayed in Garland Street. When there is a change in fortunes it is better to make a change in residence. And this change prepared the way for another. The first person who called upon Anne in the laundress's cottage was Donald Pringle, and to him she at once confided her desire to earn her own living.
"When the small sum that I have received for my grandfather's furniture is gone, I shall have nothing left," she said, with her usual straightforwardness. "Of course I shall not let Charity work for me. I could be a daily governess, if I could get pupils, Mr. Pringle."
It was very easy to be candid to the minister. If a man of Felix Devereux's stamp had been sitting in his place, a certain false shame might have kept Anne silent about her poverty. But to those who, like their Lord, are lowly of heart, we do not fear to talk of our needs, nor to confess our humble circumstances. Unconsciously we pay a tribute to their Christian character by our frankness. We know that the true followers of Christ are one with us in this life, and recognize us, even in our lowliest garb, as heirs to the same heritage.
"I think I can help you in this matter," answered Donald; and the sense of being able to help quite conquered his shyness. "Our elder, Mr. Jamieson, is looking for a daily governess. He has six children, all lasses, and the eldest is under twelve. Would that suit you, Miss Stepney?"
It did suit her very well. Mr. Jamieson was the wealthiest linen draper in Stonyport; but he was a quiet man who made little show. He was accustomed to say that a tradesman's prosperity had better be known by charity than by pomp. He "didn’t want to fling away his silver in outshining his neighbors. One might enjoy one's wealth without luxuries. And he who had gotten God's grace should be loath to get man's envy."
So the good elder had bought himself a substantial house with a large garden, situated about a mile from the town, and walked daily to his business and back again. Here his wife and children could have the blessings of pure air, and fresh milk, and flowers and fruit, while the father was putting by an ample portion for each of his bonnie lasses. It was a healthy, happy family; from the day of Anne's first introduction to the Jamiesons her whole life grew brighter. Their house was not far from Brier Lane, and even on rainy days the walk was easily accomplished.
So the months went on. Of the Devereux’s Anne heard nothing, for even Louisa had entirely dropped her acquaintance. How could she think of calling on any one who lived with a laundress, and got her living by teaching? Louisa's friendship was of that kind which rests solely on the props of gentility. When these props were, or seemed to be, removed, it fell heavily to the ground.
HOW THE FORTUNE WAS FOUND
When the old minister died, Donald Pringle was invited to step into his place; and there was not one member of the church who had a word to say against him.
Anne Stepney had been living in Brier Lane exactly twelve months when Donald's elevation was brought to pass. And it was certainly no surprise, either to old Charity or the Jamiesons when Mr. Pringle came to the laundress's cottage, and asked Miss Stepney to be the mistress of his manse.
"We'll walk side by side, until we get to the Land o' the Leal," he said, when he had got Anne's answer. And Anne could say yes from the very depths of her heart. It was a very happy woman who sat in the little parlor with her hand held fast in Donald's strong clasp, and her eyes shining with grateful tears. As to old Charity, she went about her work singing psalms of thanksgiving in a high quavering voice that could be heard by all the neighbors, morn, noon, and night.
A month went by, and a great deal of sewing and dressmaking was going on in the little cottage. The laundress's married daughter was engaged to help in doing some of the plain needlework required for the "plenishing" of the manse; and one day she entered Anne's humble parlor, carrying a bundle under her arm.
"Here are the sheets and towels, miss; all done at last," said she, cheerily. "Now, Tommy, be quiet, sir, and don't get meddling with things on the table."
The last remark was addressed to her son, a little man of three, who was trying to inspect the contents of Charity's big workbasket.
"Oh, he won't do any mischief," said Anne, good-naturedly patting the child's rosy cheek.
"If you please, Miss Stepney," cried the laundress, bustling in, "here's a large hamper come for you, and Mrs. Gage is just longing to see what's inside it. It's standing on my kitchen floor, miss, this moment."
Full of pleasant excitement, Anne threw down her sewing, and ran out of the room; and the married daughter took the liberty of following her. First, however, the mother picked up little Tom, gave him an admonitory shake, and seated him between the wide-spreading arms of Grandfather Stepney's venerable arm-chair.
Thus left to his own devices, Master Tommy began to look about him in search of amusement; and the first object that arrested his attention was Charity's scissors, lying on the edge of the table, just within reach of his fat little hand. This was delightful, scissors being a specially-forbidden plaything; and this was such a very big pair.
But the little fingers could not manage to cut a piece out of Tommy's pinafore, although they tried hard to do it; and after a few minutes spent in vain endeavors, they began to ache. It was just at this moment that Tommy happily perceived a hole in the leather-covered arm of the chair, and a little tuft of horsehair sticking through it.
Into that hole went one small plump finger and then, presently, the finger was withdrawn, and in went the scissors. Tommy was succeeding beyond his expectations; the leather yielded to his continued efforts, and the hole was rapidly growing bigger and bigger. It had attained quite a respectable size when his mother reentered the room.
She flew towards him with a shriek that would have been followed by a slap if Anne had not interposed.
"Never mind, Mrs. Grigg," said Miss Stepney kindly. "The leather is very shabby, and Charity and I mean to have the old chair covered again some day."
Charity advanced with rather a slow step to examine the extent of the damage. "What was it that made her start as she caught sight of a piece of flimsy white paper, among the horsehair stuffing? Charity Gage was a quick woman, and she divined the truth in a moment.
Nobody scolded Tommy when it was discovered that the arms of the old chair contained Bank of England notes to the amount of six thousand pounds. And nobody pitied Felix Devereux, when his private speculations turned out so badly that he was obliged to leave the country. As for Donald Pringle and his wife, old Mr. Stepney's hoard could hardly add to their happiness, although it certainly increased their comfort, and gave them greater importance in the eyes of the good folks of Stonyport who are never tired of relating the story of Miss Stepney's fortune.