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      Captain Hulbert took his yacht to other waters in November, only to come sailing back again in December, when he finally laid up the Vendetta in winter quarters, and took up his abode at the Mount, where he availed himself of his brother's stud, which had been reduced to two old hunters and a pair of carriage-horses of mediocre quality. And so the shortening days drew on towards Christmas; baby's first Christmas, as that small person's adorers remarkedas if it were a wonderful thing for any young Christian to make a beginning of lifeand all was happiness at the Angler's Nest. All was happiness without a cloud, till one morningAllegra and her brother being alone in the library, where she sometimes painted at her little table-easel, while he readshe put down her palette and went over to him, laying her hand upon his shoulder as he sat in his accustomed place in the old-fashioned bow-window.

      He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the sofa, and flung open the shutters and let the light and air stream in upon her, as she lay prostrate and exhausted, wiping her white lips with a blood-stained handkerchief. He looked at her in a kind of horrified compassion. He thought that she was raving, that the excitement of the morning had culminated in fever and delirium. He was going to ring for help, meaning to send instantly for her doctor, when she stopped him, laying her thin cold hand upon his arm, and holding him by her side.CHAPTER XXI.

      I shall soon be back, then, she said. Its scarcely worth while my taking that long journey; its a waste of time and money.She was startled and bewildered. It was the first time she had ever been made love to, for though no doubt every young man in the camp worshiped her, and would have gladly made her his wife, not one of them had ever dared to tell her so, or to even hint by word or sign at the state of his feelings, for the simple reason that she was regarded by the whole camp as a kind of queen. Besides, it was well known that her guardian, Varley Howard, would not permit of any love-making, and that the man who should venture to propose marriage to Esmeralda would far more probably be the chief personage in a funeral than in a wedding.

      "I hardly know her well enough to like or dislike her. She is very handsome."She called to him from the window, and he came tramping across the sodden grass and put three letters into her outstretched hand.

      The child made so close a bond between them. Both lives were seemingly bound and entwined about this fragile life of Isola's firstborn. Mr. Baynham had no reason now to complain of his patient's want of the maternal instinct.[Pg 138] He had rather to restrain her in her devotion to the child. He had to reprove her for her sleepless nights and morbid anxieties."You do not misunderstand them, mamma," returned Astra, fondly.

      A slender, girlish shape,a graceful head, drooping like a lily on its stem,a fair, pure, bright face,this was the vision that confronted him, and carried him back to his youth, and to the love of his youth; the untoward course of which had doubtless helped to make him the man that he was.

      They cant, said Lord Norman. Theyve borrowed money on them, and if they hadnt they couldnt sell them. It would be a kind of sacrilege.



      [Pg 237]


      She woke with the chill of the charnel-house freezing her blood. The fire had gone out. Tim had curled himself at her feet in the folds of her gown. The Persian was staring discontentedly at the ashes in the grate, and Tabitha's sturdy footsteps might be heard in the room above, bustling to and fro, and anon poking the fire, and putting on coals, making all snug and ready for her mistress's toilet.Shes the sweetest girl, Mr. Howard, he said, with a stiff little bow which remained to him from his old scholastic daysthe sweetest and most amiable girl you could possibly find, and she has a remarkable capacity for acquiring knowledge; indeed, she has an extraordinary quick and retentive mind. It would be easy enough to teach her anything, Mr. Howard, if one could only induce her to apply herself for even a short time each day. But it is almost impossible to do so! She will jump up after we have been at work five minutes, and run out of the room and leave me with the book before me. Sometimes she will keep away altogether, and hide in the woods, or ride off on that pony of hers. Yesterday sheshe hit me over the head with the grammar, and declared that if she couldnt talk without that rubbish she wouldnt speak again. I dont tell you this in a spirit of complaint, Mr. Howard, butersimply that you may understand why Miss Esmeralda makes such slow progress, and that you may not be dissatisfied with me.