[Frontispiece: "'The farmer would spare you those, madam.'"]
BARBARA IN BRITTANY
E. A. Gillie
Illustrated by FRANK ADAMS
LONDON AND GLASGOW
COLLINS' CLEAR-TYPE PRESS
MAISIE, MARGARET, AND CUTHBERT,
IN REMEMBRANCE OF SEPTEMBER 1905.
I. AUNT ANNE II. NO. 14 RUE ST. SULPICE III. A NOCTURNAL ADVENTURE IV. THE MAN IN BLUE GLASSES V. GOOD-BYE TO PARIS VI. THE REVOLT OF TWO VII. A WILD DRIVE VIII. MONT ST. MICHEL IX. MADEMOISELLE VIRE X. THE "AMERICAN PRETENDER" XI. BARBARA TURNS PLOTTER XII. THE PLOT THICKENS XIII. THE ESCAPE XIV. A WAYSIDE INN XV. THE STRIKE XVI. BARBARA TURNS DETECTIVE XVII. A MEMORY AND A "MANOIR" XVIII. AUNT ANNE AGAIN XIX. THE END OF THE STORY XX. THE CODA
"'The farmer would spare you those, madam.'" . . . Frontispiece
Title page artwork
"Barbara was reading a guide book on Brittany."
"She glanced over her shoulder at the sea."
"They surprised Denys by suddenly joining him."
Barbara in Brittany.
Barbara entered the nursery with rather a worried look on her face. "Aunt Anne is coming to-morrow, children," she announced.
"To-morrow!" exclaimed a fair-haired boy, rising from the window-seat. "Oh, I say, Barbe, that's really rather hard lines—in the holidays, too."
"Just as we were preparing to have a really exciting time," sighed Frances, who was her brother's close companion and ally.
"I know it's a little hard," Barbara said consolingly, sitting down beside them and taking one of the twins on her lap, while the other leaned up against her. "But you will all try to be good and nice to her, won't you? She went away with a bad opinion of us last time, and it worries mother. Besides, we mustn't forget that she was father's sister."
"I can't think how she ever came to be," sighed Frances. "She's so dreadfully particular, and we always seem naughtier when she's here. But we'll make an effort, Barbara."
"And you won't run away as soon as she speaks to you, Lucy?" Barbara went on, looking at the little girl in her lap. "It's rude, you know. You must try to talk nicely when she wants you to."
"Yes;" and the child nodded. "Only she does seem to make a lot of concussions when she comes."
"You mean discussions," Donald corrected. "You shouldn't use words you don't understand, Lucy. But I must say I agree with you; I know she always raises my corruption."
"What!" gasped Barbara.
"Raises my corruption," repeated her brother; "that's a good old Scottish expression that I've just found in a book, and it means—'makes you angry.'"
"Well, don't use it before Aunt Anne, there's a dear," Barbara urged, getting up. "She thinks we use quite enough queer expressions as it is."
"I'll speak like a regular infant prodigy. But surely you're not going yet? You've just come!"
"I must help to get things ready for Aunt Anne," Barbara said gaily, for she had recovered her spirits since procuring the children's promise of good behaviour. "I'll come to you later."
"Barbara is really rather an angel," remarked Donald after she had gone. "It's not many sisters would slave in the house, instead of having another maid, to let a fellow go to a decent school."
"You're quoting mother," Frances replied, hanging out of the window in a dangerous position; "but, of course, it's true. If I only had time I'd write a fascinating romance about her."
"I'll read every page of it and buy a hundred copies," her brother promised gallantly; but, as he knew that there was nothing Frances hated more than writing, he felt pretty safe. "Of course," he pursued, "Aunt Anne thinks mother spoils us. I don't quite think that—it's just that she's so nice and sympathetic with us when we're naughty, and Aunt Anne doesn't understand that. But still, to please Barbe, and as we've promised, we must try to be respectable and good this time. Remember, twins!"
The twins were not noted for long memories, but their intentions were good, and the first day of Aunt Anne's visit passed very well, the children remembering to rub their feet on the mat, shut the door softly, and not fidget at meals. But the exertion seemed too much for them, and the second day began rather boisterously, and did not improve as it went on. After lunch, when the twins came into the drawing-room, Lucy drew a footstool near her aunt, and sat down meekly upon it, thinking that the sooner Aunt Anne began to talk the sooner it would be over.
Aunt Anne was feeling almost as much embarrassed by the presence of so many children as they were by that of their aunt, but her sense of duty was strong, and she began to make conversation with the one nearest her—who happened to be Lucy.
"What are you doing in lessons now, Lucy?"
Lucy looked solemn.
"Chiefly history," she said.
"It's only stories," she exclaimed, "that Barbara tells her and Dick."
"It's history," repeated Lucy indignantly; "isn't it, Dick? It's all about England."
"I should have thought writing was more suitable for a little girl like you."
Frances opened her mouth to retort, but caught a warning glance from Barbara and subsided. Then conversation languished and Lucy looked across longingly at her sister, to see if she had done her duty. But not being able to catch her eye, she sighed, and supposing she had not yet fulfilled her part, cast about in her mind for something else to say.
"Do you live far from here?" she began suddenly, staring at her aunt.
"Quite a long way," Miss Britton replied. "In Wales—perhaps you know where that is?"
"Oh, yes," exclaimed Lucy, rising in her excitement. "It's where the ancient Britons were sent. Barbara told us about them. Oh, please Aunt Anne, aren't you an ancient Briton?"
Aunt Anne smiled grimly.
"No, I am not. They lived in quite the olden times, and were clothed in skins."
"But are you sure?" pressed the child. "It's just the skins seem wanting. They were driven into Wales, and surely you're a Briton and come from the olden times. You're really quite ancient aren't you, Aunt Anne?"
Barbara was thankful her aunt laughed, but she was not so glad that Donald and Frances found their laughter so irrepressible that they had to resort to the sofa-cushions; and when the twins were dismissed a little later by Mrs. Britton, she was rather relieved to see them follow. But from that moment the spirit of hilarity seemed to have fallen upon all the children, and Barbara looked regretfully at the falling rain and wondered how she should keep them occupied for the rest of the day—for it was just the beginning of the holidays, when they were usually allowed a good deal of liberty.
She knew by the noise that presently sounded from upstairs that they had begun "hide-and-seek," and she read disapproval of the uproar in her aunt's face, and went upstairs to suggest something else. The children good-temperedly betook themselves to "soap bubbles," Frances consenting to fetch the tray "to keep things tidy" if Donald would take it back; and Barbara left them, congratulating herself that they were safely settled over something quiet.
It was, therefore, surely an evil fate that made Aunt Anne begin to go upstairs later in the afternoon, just as Donald was descending rapidly with the tray—not in his hand.
"I am so sorry," he said, getting up in dismay after his rapid slide. "What a comfort I didn't knock you over; but it's so much the quickest way of bringing a tray down. I—— Have you ever tried it?"
If he had not been considerably agitated he would not have asked such a foolish question, and perhaps if Aunt Anne had really not got a severe fright she would not have been so much annoyed. But as it was, she stalked past him without saying a word and went up to her room.
"There!" he said ruefully, "I've done it, and I really did mean to be good."
The incident subdued them all considerably, and Barbara hoped that now they might get to the end of the visit without any further mishaps. But next morning at breakfast that hope was banished, for her aunt came downstairs with such an expression of annoyance upon her face, that every one knew something really unpleasant was coming.
"Is anything wrong?" Mrs. Britton asked anxiously. "Did you not sleep well—or—surely the children did not—annoy you in any way?" Visions of apple-pie beds were floating before her mind, although the children's looks of innocence somewhat reassured her on that point.
"Some one has annoyed me considerably," Aunt Anne said coldly, "by interfering with my clothes. When I came to put on my blue blouse this morning, I found that every other one of the silver buttons had been cut off."
There was a gasp of astonishment, and Barbara was just about to scorn the notion that any of the children could have been concerned in the matter, when her eyes fell on Dick's face. Miss Britton was looking in the same direction.
"I should think that little boy knows something about it," she said.
"Dick!" Mrs. Britton exclaimed, for he was usually the least apt of the three to get into mischief.
"Dick, what did you do it for? Tell us why you did it?" Barbara questioned eagerly, and the little boy was just about to reply when Miss Britton spoke again.
"I should think he had no reason at all except wanton mischief. Perhaps he used the buttons for marbles; there cannot be any real reason for such a silly deed, though he may make one up. Well, why did you do it?"
Barbara saw the obstinate expression that they dreaded creeping over the little boy's face at her aunt's words, and knew that now they would probably get nothing satisfactory from him; but she was not quite prepared for the answer that came so defiantly.
"I did it for ornament, of course."
There was silence for a moment; then Mrs. Britton sent the little boy to the nursery to stay there till he was sent for.
"I am so sorry, Anne," she said in distress. "I cannot think what has made him do it."
"It is just the result of your upbringing. I always said you were absurdly indulgent to the children."
Then, because Barbara was sure that Dick had had some other reason that would perhaps have explained his action, and because she saw tears in her mother's eyes, and knew how lonely and tired she often felt, and how anxious about the welfare of the children and the care of the house, she turned wrathfully upon her aunt.
"You have no right to criticise mother like that, Aunt Anne, and, of course, she knows a great deal more about bringing up children than you do. If you had not interfered, Dick would have given the proper reason, and, certainly, if we do what we shouldn't it's our fault, not mother's."
At this there were confirmatory nods from the children, who continued to gaze in startled, but admiring, astonishment at Barbara, whose politeness was usually their example, and whom they hardly recognised in this new role. They awaited—they knew not what—from their aunt, but except for a horrified cry of "Barbara!" from Mrs. Britton, the girl's outburst was received in silence, her aunt merely shrugging her shoulders and continuing her breakfast. The children finished theirs in uncomfortable silence, then slipped quietly away.
"Well!" Donald said ruefully, when Frances and he had climbed into the apple-tree where they usually discussed matters of importance. "She did look fine, didn't she? But I'm afraid she's done it now. Aunt will clear out soon enough, I should think, and Barbe will just be as sorry as can be to have flared out like that at a guest, and father's sister too."
In that last supposition Donald was quite right, for Mrs. Britton needed to say nothing to make Barbara feel very much ashamed of herself. But in his conclusion about his aunt he was quite wrong, for, to the children's astonishment, Miss Britton showed no signs of speedy departure. Indeed, later in the day, the children felt honesty demanded they must own her to be "rather a brick," for she accepted Barbara's apology with good grace, and said that though, of course, she had been rude, she would not deny that there had been some provocation, and that if Barbara could find out anything more from Dick, she would be glad to hear of it.
It was then, after much manoeuvring, that the girl got to the truth of the matter, which Dick related with tears. He had taken the buttons for mother, he said. When he was out with her the other day they had looked for quite a long time at some beautiful silver ones, and when he asked his mother why she did not buy them, she had said she had not enough money just then. They were very like the kind on Aunt Anne's blouse, and having noticed that she did not use half of them to button it up, Dick had not seen any reason why they should be left on—although he had meant to tell her what he had done immediately after breakfast.
Miss Britton accepted the explanation, and said she thought there was no need for the culprit to be punished this time, and she hoped he would have more sense soon. But about Barbara she had something of more importance to communicate.
"In my opinion," she said, in a manner that inferred she expected her advice to be taken, "the girl is much too young to have finished her education—boys or no boys—and I am thinking of sending her to France for a time, to learn more of the language and see something of the world. It is not good for a girl of her age to have so much responsibility."
Now, it had been Barbara's dream to go abroad, but after the first gasp of delight and astonishment she grew grave, and said she was afraid she could not leave her mother and the children.
"Fiddlesticks!" Aunt Anne replied, without allowing Mrs. Britton time to speak. "You are far too young, my dear, to imagine yourself of such importance in the world. I will send a good old-fashioned nurse that I know of to take your place, and it will be good for the children to have a stricter regime than yours has been for a while."
Even if Aunt Anne had been accustomed to have her words disregarded—which she was not—Mrs. Britton would not have needed much persuasion to make her fall in with the proposal, for she had often grieved in private over the fact that, since her husband's death, Barbara's education had had to suffer that Donald's might advance. And now, though she wondered how she would get on without her eldest daughter, she was only too thankful to have such an opportunity thrown in her way.
"I cannot think why I never interfered before," Miss Britton said, "but it is better late than never, and we will have as little delay now as possible."
In a few days the children were all as busy as bees helping to get Barbara ready. They assisted in choosing her new frocks and hats, and the style of making; and poor Miss Smith, who came to sew for her, was nearly distracted by their popping in every now and then to see how she was getting on. Even Donald, who hated talking about "girls' fashions," bought a paper, because he saw it had a pattern of a blouse advertised, and he thought it might be useful.
The family were very curious to hear with whom she was going to France and where she was going to be, for Aunt Anne had undertaken to make all the arrangements, and it certainly was a slight shock to the children when she wrote to say she had made up her mind to go herself for a fortnight to Paris before sending Barbara off to Brittany, where she had found a "most suitable place" for her in the house of two maiden ladies who took in people wanting to learn French.
Donald whistled when Mrs. Britton read that out.
"Fancy a fortnight with Aunt Anne, and then the two maiden ladies. Jiggers!" (that was a favourite expression of his)—"you'll be worried out of your life, Barbe."
The worst of it was, that Aunt Anne, who had not been abroad for many years, said she was going to let Barbara manage the journey and the sight-seeing in Paris, and sent her a guide-book to read up everything of interest. She said she was doing this to give her niece experience and prepare her for being by herself later on; but Donald declared she wanted to see "what kind of stuff" she was made of, and that if Barbara did not do things well, she would scoff at her greatly for thinking she could manage a house and children while she could not succeed in finding her way about France.
"But I know the old lady, and we'll just show her you're our sister, and before we've done you'll know that guide-book from cover to cover," he assured her.
They had only a week left, for Aunt Anne was very rapid in her decisions and plans; but they studied the guide-book morning, noon, and night. It was most instructive holiday work, Donald said, and when Barbara had not time to read it, Frances and he read for her and poured their knowledge into her ears at meal-times.
They learned what coloured omnibus went to the different parts of Paris, and on what days different buildings were open, and by the end of the week they all felt they could "personally conduct" tours all over Paris.
It was rather hard when the last day came, because they knew that the house would seem horribly empty without Barbara. The two little ones were on the verge of crying all the afternoon, and Frances had to be very stern, while Donald rose to flights of wit hitherto undreamed of, to keep up every one's spirits.
Of course the two elder ones knew it would be hardest on them after Barbara left, because some of her responsibility would fall on their shoulders. But they were quite determined she should have a cheerful "send-off" next morning, so they bribed the children with promises of sweets if they did not cry, and they succeeded in giving her quite a hilarious good-bye at the station.
After the train had gone, however, and they turned homewards, Frances felt that if she had not promised Barbara to help her mother she would have hidden herself in the attic and cried, although that would have been so "horribly babyish" for a girl of twelve that she knew she would have felt ashamed of herself afterwards; though perhaps, her pillow could have told tales of a grief confided to it that the gay-hearted Frances did not usually indulge in.
NO. 14 RUE ST. SUPLICE.
Meanwhile, Barbara and her aunt pursued their journey, and in due time arrived at Newhaven, where the first thing they were told was that the tide was unusually low at Dieppe, which would prevent them entering that harbour, and therefore they were not going to leave Newhaven for another hour and a half. Aunt Anne gazed in indignation upon their informant, and declared it was scandalous that a boat, timed to leave at a certain hour, should be so irregular and unpunctual; whereupon the captain, shrugging his shoulders, said that the lady should complain to the moon about the tides rather than to him.
They managed to fill in the time very well with lunch, however, and after a little grumbling, Aunt Anne resigned herself to Fate, though she was glad enough when they finally steamed out of the harbour. Miss Britton was not a very good sailor, and in preparation for "the voyage," as she called the crossing, had accumulated great stores of knowledge as to how to treat seasickness. She established herself on the upper deck, let down a deck-chair as low as it would go, and replacing her hat by a weird little Tam o' Shanter, covered her eyes with a handkerchief.
"To avoid seasickness, Barbara," she said, "you must lie as flat as possible, keep the eyes closed, and breathe in correspondence with the ship's motion—though," she added, "I really cannot tell at present which is its motion; perhaps there will be more when we get farther out."
Barbara chuckled, but deferred making similar preparations until the motion was more defined, for she was much too interested in what was going on around her to close her eyes to it all.
Aunt Anne asked her at intervals if it was getting rougher, but though her niece assured her there were no signs of such a thing, she did not venture to sit up until they were quite near Dieppe.
"Oh, aunt!" Barbara exclaimed joyfully, "just look at all the officials in their high-peaked hats. Don't they look nice, so Frenchy and foreign!"
"You would hardly expect them to look English," Aunt Anne returned drily, and began to gather together her belongings preparatory to leaving the boat.
"It is some time since I have been in France, Barbara," she exclaimed, "having been quite contented with our own beautiful land; but I remember it was best to be very quick in going to the train so as to get good seats. Follow me closely, child."
Barbara obediently did as she was told, and having got safely through the troubles of the douane, they chose their carriage and proceeded to arrange their possessions.
"My umbrella!" Aunt Anne cried suddenly, looking anxiously on the racks and under the seat. "Barbara, I must have left it on the boat; why did you not remind me? You must just run back for it now—but don't let the train go without you. Run, child, run!"
Barbara obediently hurried away, and after a halting and somewhat lengthy explanation on the quay, was allowed to go on board again, and spied the missing umbrella on the deck. When she returned, the train had been moved higher up, and she could not distinguish the carriage anywhere. The guard was already beginning to wave the signal, and Barbara felt she was a lost passenger, when a dark, stout little man dashed up to her and seized her by the arm.
"Par ici, par ici," he cried, "votre maman vous attend, mademoiselle," and they flew down the platform with the guard shouting warnings behind them. They were barely in time, and Barbara sank panting into her seat.
"Fancy!" Aunt Anne cried indignantly—"fancy getting lost like that! It just shows that you are not fit to look after children when you cannot manage an umbrella!"
Barbara was too breathless to reply and too much amused, perhaps, really to mind. The country was pretty enough, but it soon began to grow dusk, and they wondered when they would arrive in Paris. The train was due at 7.30, but there did not seem to be the least chance of getting in at that hour, for, late as they already were, they continued to lose time on the way. The little Frenchman was their only companion, and he did not seem to know much English.
However, between his shreds of that language and Barbara's scanty French she managed to find out that they would not arrive in Paris until midnight. Aunt Anne expressed her annoyance in no measured terms, but he merely shrugged his shoulders and smiled, until she collapsed into a corner speechless with disgust. He left them at Rouen, and Barbara, watching her aunt sleeping in a corner, wondered what they would do when they finally did arrive at the station. But, as soon as the lights of the Gare de Lazare showed through the darkness, Miss Britton began to bestir herself, and, when the train stopped, marched boldly out of the carriage as if she had been in Paris dozens of times.
In a little while they were seated in a fiacre, going along through brightly-lighted streets, feeling very satisfied that they were actually nearing their destination. But their content did not last long, for soon leaving the lighted thoroughfares, they turned into a dark road with high walls on either side, and just a lamp now and then. It really seemed rather lonely, and they both began to feel uncomfortable and to wonder if they were being taken to the wrong place. Stories of mysterious disappearances began to flit through Barbara's brain, and she started when Aunt Anne said in a very emphatic tone, "He looked a very nice cabman, quite respectable and honest."
"Yes," Barbara said meekly, though she had hardly noticed him.
"I knew it was some distance from the station, of course."
"Yes," Barbara replied once more, and added, "of course," as Miss Britton began to look rather fierce.
"It was a little stupid of you not to think of proposing to stay in the station hotel while I was collecting the wraps," she went on rather sharply, and Barbara was trying to think of something soothing to say, when the cab drew up suddenly and they were both precipitated on to the hat-boxes on the other seat.
Barbara put her hat straight and looked out of the window. It certainly seemed to be a funny place to which they had come. The houses were high and narrow, and the one they had stopped at had a dirty archway without a single light; but, as the driver showed no intention of getting down and ringing, Barbara stepped out and groped about for a bell or a knocker of some kind. Then the cabman, pointing with his whip up the archway, said, "Numero quatorze, par la." The girl did not much relish going into the darkness by herself, for she was sure there must be some mistake. But she was afraid that, if Miss Britton got out too, the man might drive away and leave them, so she begged her aunt to remain in the cab while she went into the archway to make inquiries. After some groping she found a bell-rope, and rang three times without receiving any answer. She was just about to ring again, when she heard stealthy steps approaching the door, and the next moment it was opened, disclosing to her frightened gaze a dirty-looking man, wearing a red nightcap, and carrying a candle in his hand.
Barbara recoiled a step, for though she had been sure there was some mistake she had not expected anything as bad as this. However, she managed to gasp out, "Madame Belvoir's?" and was intensely relieved to see the fellow shake his head. But he leered at her so horribly that she waited to make no more inquiries, but turned and fled back to the fiacre.
"This is not the right place," she pouted, "and I'm thankful it isn't—there's such a horrid man."
"A man! But she was a widow," Aunt Anne said vaguely; and her niece could not help laughing, for if that were the case there might have been brothers or sons.
But the cabman was getting very impatient, and it was not an easy matter to argue with him, for when they insisted that this could not be 14 Rue St. Sulpice, he merely shook his head and persisted that it was. Then suddenly a light seemed to break upon him, and he asked, "14 Rue St. Sulpice, Courcelles?"
Barbara shook her head violently, and said, "Non, non, Neuilly." Whereupon with much grumbling and torrents of words that, perhaps, it was as well she did not understand, he whipped up his horse, and she had hardly time to scramble into the cab before they swung off.
They were very glad to leave the neighbourhood, for they saw the red nightcap peeping out at the end of the archway, and it seemed as if there were more friends of the same kind in the rear.
"It is most absurd for the man to think we should have been staying here. I think he must be mad."
"Yes," returned Barbara, not knowing what else to say, and they continued to rumble over more cobble stones and down dark roads, till they finally stopped in a dimly-lighted street, which, however, was broad and clean, with fairly large houses on either side.
Barbara got out with some misgivings, wondering what their fate would be this time. She had to ring several times as before; but as there was no dark archway, and the cab was close by, she had not the same fear. When the door opened, she could distinguish nothing at first, but presently espied a little woman, in a white nightcap, holding a candle.
"Dear me!" she thought, "candles and nightcaps seem to be the fashion here;" but aloud, merely asked politely for Madame Belvoir, hoping that she was not speaking to the lady in question. Before the portiere (for it was she) could answer, a bright light shone out at the far end of the passage, and a girl came hurrying down, saying, "Madame Belvoir? Mais oui, entrez, entrez. C'est Mademoiselle Britton, n'est-ce pas?"
Mademoiselle Britton was not a little relieved, and so, I am sure, was her poor aunt, who came hurrying out of the cab, and was so glad to get rid of it that she paid the ten francs the man demanded without a murmur.
The French girl explained in broken English that her mother greatly regretted being absent, having been called away suddenly to an uncle who was ill, but that she and her sister would do their utmost to make Miss Britton comfortable.
By that time they had reached the end of the passage and were led into a comfortable room, where another girl was waiting. Tea was ready for them too, and Barbara thought she had never appreciated it more. She tried to explain the reason of their late arrival, and told some of their adventures; but, although both the French girls listened politely and smiled and nodded, Barbara thought that neither of them understood much of what she said. However, she did not mind that, and presently they led the way upstairs to a room that was a haven of delight to the wanderers. The windows opened on to a garden whence the scent of lilac floated, and the whole room—down to the hearth-brush, which charmed Barbara—was decorated in blue.
With the memory of that other Rue St. Sulpice still fresh in their minds, their present quarters indeed seemed delightful; and Barbara declared she could have fallen upon the necks of both girls and kissed them.
"A quite unnecessary and most impertinent proceeding," Aunt Anne replied curtly. "They will much prefer pounds, shillings, and pence to embraces," and Barbara thought that after all she was probably right.
A NOCTURNAL ADVENTURE.
It was very nice to waken the next morning and find the sunshine streaming in at the windows.
Barbara was ready to be charmed with everything, from the pretty little maid in the mob cap, who carried in the breakfast, to the crisp rolls and coffee. Both of the travellers were quite rested, and eager to begin sight-seeing, and Miss Britton left the choice of place to her niece. The latter diligently scanned the guide-book as she took her breakfast, and kept calling out fresh suggestions every few moments; but, finally, they determined on the Louvre as most worthy of their first visit.
I do not know whether it was the experience of the night before, but Aunt Anne seemed to have a fixed idea that Paris was full of thieves, and before starting out she made the most careful preparations for encountering pickpockets. She sewed some of her money into a little bag inside her dress, put some more into a pocket in her underskirt, and said that Barbara might pay for things in general, as it would teach her the use of French money. She herself kept only a few centimes in a shabby purse in her dress pocket, "to disappoint any thief who took it."
As soon as the fiacre stopped in the court of the Louvre, they were besieged by several disreputable and seedy-looking men wanting to act as guides through the galleries. Partly to get rid of the rest, partly because they thought it might be easier, they engaged the tidiest-looking one who seemed to know most English, and, feeling rather pleased with themselves, entered the first gallery. Of course, Barbara wished to begin by seeing those pictures which she had heard most about; but the guide had a particular way of his own of taking people round, and did not like any interference.
Indeed, he did not even like to let them stay longer than a few seconds at each picture, and kept chattering the whole time, till at last they grew annoyed, and Aunt Anne told him they would do the rest by themselves. But it took some time to get rid of him, and then he went sulkily, complaining that they had not given him enough, though Barbara felt sure he had really got twice as much as was his due.
They enjoyed themselves very much without him, and saw a great deal before lunch-time.
At the end of the meal, when Aunt Anne was going to take out her purse to use the centimes in it for a tip for the waiter, she discovered her preparations had not been in vain, and that the purse really had been stolen. Perhaps, on the whole, she was rather glad, for she turned to Barbara in triumph.
"There now, Barbara," she said, "if I had had my other purse in my pocket, it would have been just the same, and now whoever has it will be properly disappointed!"
They did not return to Neuilly until the evening, where they met the rest of the pension at dinner. Besides two brothers of the Belvoir family, there were a number of French visitors and one English family, to whom Miss Britton and her niece took an immediate dislike. The father, who, they were told, was a solicitor whose health had broken down, was greedy and vulgar, and his son and daughter were pale, frightened-looking creatures, who took no part in the gay conversation which the French kept up.
After dinner, when every one else went into the salon for music, the solicitor and his children retired to their rooms, which Mademoiselle Belvoir and her brothers seemed to resent. The former confided to Barbara, in very quaint English, that they had never had such people in their house before, and Aunt Anne, who overheard the remark, shook her head sagely.
"I would not trust them, Mademoiselle" (Miss Britton was English from the sole of her foot to the tip of her tongue). "They seem unpleasant, and I have a great power for reading faces." At which Mademoiselle Belvoir murmured something about wishing her mother were back.
However, the evening was a pleasant one, though Barbara was so tired that she was hardly an intelligent listener to the music provided, and fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.
She was, therefore, a little surprised when she awoke suddenly two hours later for apparently no reason at all. She had been dreaming about something exciting, and lay trying to remember what it was, when an eerie feeling stole over her, and it seemed as if she heard breathing—which was not her aunt's—close beside her. She did not dare to move for a moment. Then she turned her head very gently, and between the two windows near the recess she was sure she saw a dark figure. The longer she watched the surer she became, and she knew it could not be her aunt, whom she heard breathing quietly in the other bed.
It was certainly a horrible sensation, and all the unpleasant stories she had ever read crowded into her mind. At first she could not think what to do, but at last made up her mind to go across the room to Miss Britton's bed and tell her.
Yawning, and pretending to wake up gradually, though all the time she felt as if she had been lying there for hours, she called out, "Aunt Anne, I can't sleep, so I'm coming into your bed."
Miss Britton awoke at once—she was a light sleeper—and at first I think she imagined her niece was mad.
"If you can't sleep in your own bed," she said, "I'm quite sure you won't sleep in mine, for it's not big enough for two."
But Barbara persisted, and at last her aunt gave way. "Well," she said at last, rather crossly, "be quick if you are coming. I don't want to be kept awake all night."
The truth was, it seemed so horrible to cross the room close to that black figure—as she would have to do—that Barbara lingered a moment, screwing up her courage. It was hard, certainly, to walk slowly across, for she thought she should not run, feeling all the time as if two hands would catch hold of her in the darkness. She was very glad to creep in beside her aunt, and at first could not do anything but lie and listen to that lady's grumblings. Then warning her not to scream, she whispered very softly that there was a man beside the window. Miss Britton took it wonderfully coolly, and after the first start said nothing for a few minutes. Then she remarked in loud, cheerful tones, "Well, child, as you are not sleepy, let us talk about our plans for to-morrow."
They talked a long time, hoping that the man would give it up and go; but still the black figure stood there motionless.
At last Barbara, who could bear it no longer, said "Oh, aunt, since we can't sleep let us put on the light and read up things in the guide-book."
At that moment she heard a rustle behind, and saw the man try to get into the recess; but the trunks were there, and meeting that obstruction, he turned and made a quick dash to the French window, and was out in a moment, whereupon Aunt Anne and Barbara sat up in bed and screamed. Then the girl leaped to the electric light, and her aunt to the bell, and in a few moments the maids and the Misses Belvoir came running in.
"He's gone!" cried Barbara, looking out of the window and feeling quite brave now that so many people had arrived. "He's gone, and it was too dark to see his face."
Aunt Anne, meanwhile, explained, as well as she could, what had happened, and the Misses Belvoir looked so frightened and worried that Barbara felt she must be a dreadful nuisance. But they were very nice and extremely apologetic, declaring that such a thing had never happened before, and that the police should be told in the morning, and their brothers would search the garden at once and sit outside their door all night if Miss Britton liked. But Aunt Anne, who had delightful common-sense, said briskly—
"Nonsense; whoever it was, he will be too frightened to think of coming back to-night, so just go to your beds, and let us get to ours." And she pushed them gently out. They continued to murmur apologies after the door was shut; but Aunt Anne paid not the least heed.
"Now, my dear," she said, turning to Barbara, "I am sure you know that what I said to them is quite true, and that our friend will not return to-night. So be sensible, and go back to bed, and we will talk about it all in the morning."
Of course, Barbara did as she was told, and, though she was sure she would never get to sleep, strange to say, in a very little while she was dreaming peacefully, and did not waken till late next morning.
THE MAN IN BLUE GLASSES.
The nocturnal adventure caused quite an excitement in the house, and very little else was talked of at lunch-time. Aunt Anne had asked Mademoiselle Belvoir if she would rather nothing was said about the affair; but the girl said it was impossible to keep it quiet, as several people had heard the bustle in the night, and were anxious to know all about it. So Miss Britton found that she and her niece were objects of general interest, and they both struggled nobly to describe the adventure intelligibly to the others, though Barbara knew that she got horribly mixed in her French tenses, and was not quite sure whether she understood all the questions the French people put to her. The solicitor annoyed her most—he was so superior.
"Why did you not rush upon the fellow and scream for help?" he said.
"I was far too frightened to do anything of the kind," Barbara answered indignantly. "I would never have dared to fling myself upon a dark figure like that. If I had seen him, I shouldn't have minded so much."
"So you did not see his face?" said the solicitor.
"Of course I didn't," and Barbara spoke rather crossly. "If I had, I should have gone and described him to the police the first thing this morning."
She felt inclined to add that it was a pity he could not inculcate his own children with some of his apparent courage, for they both seemed far more frightened than interested in the story, and the son's eyes looked as if they would jump out of his head. Perhaps the poor youth was scolded for his timidity afterwards, for when Barbara passed their room in going upstairs to get ready to go out, she heard the father speaking in very stern tones, and the boy murmuring piteously, "Oh, father! oh, father!"
Miss Britton was in a hurry to get out; but, as often happens, it proved a case of "more haste, less speed," for they had just got into the street when Barbara remembered she had left her purse behind, and had to run back for it.
What was her astonishment on opening the bedroom door to see the solicitor's son standing near the window. She had come upstairs very softly, and he had not heard her till she was in the room; then he turned round suddenly, and sprang back with a face filled with terror.
"What are you doing here?" she exclaimed in astonishment, and at first he could not answer for fright.
"I—I—came to look at the place where the man was last night," he gasped at last, "and to see how he could get out of the window."
"Well, I think your curiosity has run away with your politeness," Barbara said. "You might have seen from the garden that the balcony is quite close enough to the tree for any one to get out easily. Is there anything else you would like to examine?"
She need hardly have asked, for he had hurried round to the door before she had half finished speaking, and, only murmuring, "I'm sorry," fled precipitately. She was really rather sorry for him; he looked so abjectly miserable. Nevertheless, she took the precaution of locking the door and putting the key under the mat. She went downstairs more slowly than she had come up, for the boy's visit had made her feel rather queer.
The way he shrank back into the window when she came in had reminded her so much of the manner in which the black figure had acted in the night, and she felt there was something uncanny about the whole thing. However, she made up her mind to say nothing to her aunt just then in case of spoiling her afternoon's pleasure, but she was quite determined to make some rather pointed remarks to the solicitor that evening when no one else was listening, and see how he took them.
Unfortunately, however, she had no opportunity of doing so, for when they went down to dinner, none of the solicitor's family were visible, and Mademoiselle Belvoir remarked that they had all gone out to the theatre, and would not be back till late. The remarks, Barbara supposed, must be postponed till the morrow; but, alas! she never had a chance of making them, for early on the morrow the whole house learned that the solicitor, with his son and daughter, had gone, with apparently no intention of returning.
Mademoiselle Belvoir and her brother had waited up till long after the time they should have returned, and then the brother had hurried to the prefecture to report the matter. He had been growing very suspicious of late, as the solicitor had not paid anything for three weeks: "Waiting for his cheque-book, which had been mislaid," he had said. But the suspicions had been acted on too late, and his mother was cheated out of ever so much money. Every one was highly indignant, and Miss Britton and her niece really felt very grieved that they should have been British subjects who had behaved so badly.
Aunt Anne said she almost felt as if she ought to pay for them and save the honour of their country, but Barbara thought that would be too quixotic. At first Mademoiselle Belvoir thought there might be something inside the man's trunks that would repay them a little for the money lost; but, on being opened, there proved to be nothing but a few old clothes, and Mademoiselle and her brothers remembered that the boy had often gone out carrying parcels, which they used to laugh at.
When all this was being discussed, Barbara thought she might as well tell about finding the boy in her room, and she mentioned her suspicions that he and the nocturnal visitor were one and the same person, and found to her surprise that the Belvoirs had thought the same. Poor things! Barbara was heartily sorry for them, for it was an unpleasant occurrence to happen in a pension, and might make a difference to them in future, apart from the fact that they could hear nothing of the lost money, nor yet of the runaways.
Barbara felt that hitherto her adventures in France had been quite like a story-book, and knew that when her brother Donald heard of them he would be making all kind of wonderful plans for the discovery of the miscreants.
"He would fancy himself an amateur detective at once," she said to her aunt. Whereupon that lady returned grimly she would gladly become a detective for the time being if she thought there was any chance of finding the wretches, but that such people usually hid their tracks too well. Nevertheless, Barbara noticed that she eyed her fellow-men with great suspicion, and one day she persisted in pursuing a stout gentleman with blue glasses, whom she declared was the solicitor in disguise, till he noticed them and began to be nervously agitated.
"I'm sure it isn't he, aunt," Barbara whispered, after they had followed him successfully from Notre Dame to St. Etienne, and from there to Napoleon's Tomb. "He speaks French—I heard him. Besides, he is too stout for the solicitor."
"He may be padded," Aunt Anne said wisely. "People of that kind can do anything. There is something in his walk that assures me it is he, and I must see him without his spectacles."
Barbara followed rather unwillingly, though she could not help thinking with amusement how the family would laugh when she wrote and described her aunt in the role of a detective. She was not to be very successful, however, for, as they were sauntering after him down one of the galleries of the Museum, the blue-spectacled gentleman suddenly turned round, and in a torrent of French asked to what pleasure he owed Madame's close interest, which, if continued, would cause him to call up a gendarme. "If you think to steal from me, I am far too well prepared for that," he concluded.
"Steal!" Aunt Anne echoed indignantly. "We are certainly not thieves, sir, whatever you may be." Barbara was thankful that apparently his knowledge of English was so slight that he did not understand the remark. It was not without difficulty that she prevailed upon her aunt to pass on and cease the wordy argument, which, she pointed out, was not of much good, as neither understood the other's language sufficiently well to answer to the point.
"We shall have all the visitors in the Museum round us soon," she urged, with an apprehensive glance at the people who were curiously drawing near, "and shall perhaps be turned out for making a disturbance."
"Then I should go at once to the English ambassador," Aunt Anne said with dignity. "But, as I have now seen his eyes and am assured he is not the man we want, we can pass on," and with a stately bow, and the remark that if he annoyed her in future she would feel compelled to complain, she moved away, Barbara following, crimson with mingled amusement and vexation.
GOOD-BYE TO PARIS.
The days in Paris flew past far too quickly for Barbara, who enjoyed everything to the full.
As she came to know her aunt better, and got accustomed to her dry manner and rather exact ways, she found her to be a really good companion, not altogether lacking in humour, and having untiring energy in sight-seeing and a keen sympathy with Barbara's delight in what was new.
Perhaps Miss Britton, too, was gaining more pleasure from the trip than she had expected, for up till now she had seen her niece only as one a little sobered by responsibility and the constraint of her own presence. Whatever the cause, it was certain that during the past fortnight Miss Britton had felt the days of her youth nearer her than for some time, and it was with mutual regret that they reached the last day of their stay in Paris.
They were sitting together on the balcony, with the bees very busy in the lilac-bush near them, and the doves murmuring to each other at the end of the garden. Barbara was reading a guide-book on Brittany, and Miss Britton, with her knitting in her hands, was listening to bits the girl read aloud, and watching a little frown grow between the eyebrows. It was curious how the frown between the dark brows reminded her of her dead brother; and after a moment she laid down her knitting.
"You may think it a little unkind, Barbara," she began, "that I am not coming with you to see what kind of place it is to which you are going, but I think it is good for a girl to learn to be independent and self-reliant. I made careful inquiries, and the people seem to be very good at teaching French—they used to live in Paris—and they are quite respectable. Of course, you may not find everything just as you like it, and if it is really unpleasant, you can write me, and I shall arrange for you to return here. But Paris would be more distracting for you to live in, and in a week or two far too hot to be pleasant.
"Besides, I should like you really to study the language, so that you may profit by your stay in France, as well as enjoy it. If I stayed with you you would never talk French all the time." She stopped a moment, and took a stitch or two in her knitting, then added in a tone quite different from her usual quick, precise way, "Your father was a splendidly straight, strong man—in body and mind. Try to be like him in every way. He would have wished his eldest daughter to be sensible and courageous."
Barbara flushed with pleasure at the praise of her father. She had never heard her aunt mention him before, and she leaned forward eagerly, "Thank you, Aunt Anne—I want to be like him."
She would gladly have kissed her, but the family habit of reserve was strong upon her.
"Let me see," continued her aunt, "can you ride?"
"I used to ride Topsy—the Shetland, you know—long ago, but father sold him."
Her eyes followed her aunt's across the garden and the end of the street, to the distant glimpse of the Bois de Boulogne, where riders passed at frequent intervals, and her eyes glowed. "Doesn't it look jolly?" she said. "I used to love it."
Aunt Anne nodded.
"I used to ride in my youth, and your father rode beautifully before he was married, and when he could afford to keep a horse. He would like you to have done so too, I think. If there is any place where you can learn in St. Servan, you may. It will be a good change from your studies."
"Oh, aunt!" and this time reserve was thrown to the winds, and Barbara most heartily embraced her. "Oh, how perfectly splendid of you! It has always been my dream to ride properly, but I never, never thought it would come true."
"Dreams do not often," Miss Britton returned, with a scarcely audible sigh; then she gathered up her soft white wool. "There is the first bell, child, and we have not changed for dinner. Come, be quick."
The next morning a heavily-laden cab passed from the Rue St. Sulpice through the gates into the city. Miss Britton, finding that a friend of the Belvoirs was going almost the whole way to St. Servan, had arranged for Barbara to go under her care. But it was with very regretful eyes that the girl watched the train, bearing her aunt away, leave the station, and she was rather a silent traveller when, later in the morning, she was herself en route for St. Servan.
Not so her companion, however, a most talkative personage, who was hardly quiet five minutes consecutively. She poured forth all sorts of confidences about her family and friends, and seemed quite satisfied if Barbara merely nodded and murmured, "Comme c'est interessant!" though she did not understand nearly all her companion said. The latter pointed out places of interest in passing, and finally, with an effusive good-bye, got out at the station before St. Servan.
As the train neared its destination, Barbara looked anxiously to see what the town was like, and her disappointment was great at the first glimpse of the place. When the family had looked up the Encyclopaedia for a description of St. Servan, it seemed to be that of a small, old-fashioned place, and Barbara had pictured it little more than a village with a picturesque beach. Instead of that, she saw many houses, some tall chimneys, and quays with ships lying alongside. It would have cheered her had she known that the station was really a considerable distance from the town, and in the ugliest part of it; but that she did not find out till later.
Outside the station were many vociferous cab-drivers offering to take her anywhere she liked, and, choosing the one whose horse seemed best cared for, she inquired if he knew where the house of Mademoiselle Loire, Rue Calvados, was. Grinning broadly he bade her step in, and presently they were rolling and bumping along rough cobble-stoned streets. Barbara had further imagined, from the description of the house that Mademoiselle Loire had sent them, that it was a villa standing by itself, and was rather surprised when the fiacre, after climbing a very steep street, stopped at a door and deposited herself and her trunks before it. Almost before she rang the bell she heard hurried steps, and the door was opened by some one whom she imagined might be the housekeeper.
"Is Mademoiselle Loire in?" she inquired of the thin and severe-looking woman with hair parted tightly in the middle.
"I am Mademoiselle Loire," she replied stiffly in French, "and you, I suppose, are Miss Britton! I am sorry there was no one at the station to meet you, but we did not expect you so soon."
"Did you not get my post-card?" Barbara asked.
"I could not possibly do that," Mademoiselle Loire returned reprovingly; "it was posted in Paris far too late for that. However, perhaps you will now come into the salon," and Barbara followed meekly into a room looking out upon the garden, and very full of all kinds of things. She had hardly got in before she heard a bustle on the stairs, which was followed by the entrance of Mademoiselle Therese Loire. Her face was not so long nor her hair so tightly drawn back as her sister's, and she came forward with a rush, smiling broadly, but, somehow, Barbara felt she would like the prim sister better.
After asking many questions about the journey they took her to her room, and Barbara's heart sank a little. The house seemed dark and cold after that in Neuilly, and her bedroom was paved with red brick, as was the custom in those parts in old houses.
The dining-room—smelling somewhat of damp—was a long, low room leading straight into the garden, and the whole effect was rather depressing. At supper-time, Barbara was made acquainted with the rest of the household, which consisted of an adopted niece—a plump girl of about seventeen, with very red cheeks and a very small waist—and two boys about twelve, who were boarding with the Loires so that they might go to the Lycee in the town. After supper, Mademoiselle Therese explained that they usually went for a walk with the widower and his children who lived next door.
"Poor things!" she said, "they knew nobody when they came to the town, and a widower in France is so shut off from companionship that we thought we must be kind to them. They have not a woman in the house except a charer, who comes in the first thing in the morning."
Barbara, with a chuckle over the "charer," went to put on her hat, and on coming into the dining-room again, found the widower and his sons already there. Something in the shape of the back of the elder man seemed familiar to her, and on his turning round to greet her, she recognised her little friend of the train on their first arrival in France. The recognition was mutual, and before she had time to speak he rushed forward and poured forth a torrent of French, while Mademoiselle Therese clamoured for an explanation, which he finally gave her.
At last he had to stop for want of breath, and Barbara had time to look at his sons—boys of twelve and sixteen—who seemed a great care to him. All the three, father and sons, wore cloaks with hoods to them, which they called capucines, and as there was very little difference in their heights, they made rather a quaint trio. Barbara was glad to see him again, however, for it seemed to bring her aunt nearer.
It amused her considerably to notice how Mademoiselle Therese flew from one party to another, during the whole of the walk, evidently feeling that she was the chaperon of each individual. She started out beside the widower, but soon interrupted his conversation by dashing off to give a word of warning to the boys, and what was supposed to be a word of encouragement to Barbara, who was walking with Marie, the niece, and the widower's eldest son.
It did not make much difference to them, for Jean and Marie seemed to have plenty to say; and after addressing a few careless remarks to Barbara, to which, perhaps, she did not pay much attention, the latter heard her say to her companion, "Bah! there is nothing to be made of her; let us continue;" and she was glad they left her alone that first evening, for she was not in the mood for talking.
 Public school.
THE REVOLT OF TWO.
The days that followed were not as pleasant to Barbara as those she had spent in Paris, for though St. Malo, just across the river, fascinated her, she did not care much for St. Servant, and the people did not prove congenial to her—especially Mademoiselle Therese. Though she seemed to be a clever teacher, Barbara could never be sure that she was speaking the truth, and in writing home she described her as "rather a humbug."
"Most English people," she told Barbara shortly after her arrival, "pronounce French badly because their mouths are shaped differently from ours, but yours, Miss Britton, is just right, therefore your accent is already wonderfully good."
The girl laughed; the family had never been in the habit of flattering one another, and she did not appreciate it as much as Mademoiselle Therese had meant she should. Indeed, Barbara wished that the lady would be less suave to her and more uniform in temper towards the rest of the household, who sometimes, she shrewdly surmised, suffered considerably from the younger sister's irascibility.
She had just been in St. Servan ten days, when she had an example of what she described in a letter home as a "stage quarrel" between the Mademoiselles Loire. It began at second dejeuner over some trivial point in the education of Marie, about whom they were very apt to be jealous. Their voices gradually rose higher and higher, the remarks made being anything but complimentary, till finally Mademoiselle Loire leaped from her seat, saying she would not stay there to be insulted, and darted upstairs. Her sister promptly followed, continuing her argument as she went, but arriving too late at the study door, which was bolted on the inside by the fugitive.
After various fruitless attempts to make herself heard, Mademoiselle Therese returned to the dining-room, and after a few words of politeness to Barbara, began once more on the subject of dispute, this time with Marie, her niece. Apparently the latter took a leaf out of her aunt's book, for after speaking noisily for a few minutes, she said she would not be insulted either, and followed her upstairs. Thereupon Mademoiselle Therese's anger knew no bounds, and finding that Marie had taken refuge beside her aunt in the study, she began to beat a lively tattoo upon the door.
The two boys, full of curiosity, followed to see what was going on, so Barbara was left in solitary grandeur, with the ruins of an omelette before her, and she, "having hunger," went on stolidly with her meal. She was, in truth, a little disgusted with the whole affair, and was not sorry to escape to her room before Mademoiselle Therese returned. They were making such a noise below that it was useless to attempt to do any work, and she was just thinking of going out for a walk, when her door burst open and in rushed Mademoiselle Loire, dragging Marie with her.
"Keep her with you," she panted; "she says she will kill my sister. Keep her with you while I go down and argue with Therese."
Barbara looked sharply at the girl, and it seemed to her that though she kept murmuring, "I'll kill her I—I'll kill her!" half her anger was merely assumed, and that there was no necessity for alarm.
"How can they be so silly and theatrical?" she muttered. Then, glancing round the room to see if there were anything she could give her, she noticed a bottle of Eno's Fruit Salts, and her eyes twinkled. It was not exactly the same thing as sal volatile, of course, but at any rate it would keep the girl quiet, so, pouring out a large glassful, she bade Marie drink it. The latter obeyed meekly, and for some time was reduced to silence by want of breath.
"I shall certainly throw myself into the sea," she gasped at last.
"Well, you will certainly be more foolish than I thought you were, if you do," Barbara returned calmly. "Indeed, I can't think what all this fuss is about."
Marie stared. "Why, it's to show Aunt Therese that she must not tyrannise over us like that," she said. "I told her I was going to throw myself into the sea, and as she believes it, it is almost the same thing."
Barbara shrugged her shoulders.
"A very comfortable way of doing things in cold weather," she remarked; "but I want a little quiet now, and I think you had better have some too."
The French girl, somewhat overawed by the other's coolness, relapsed into silence, and when the sounds downstairs seemed quieter Barbara got up, and said she was going out for a walk. She found on descending, however, that the "argument" had only been transferred to mademoiselle's workroom, where a very funny sight met her eyes when she looked in.
The poor little widower, whom apparently the two sisters had fetched to arbitrate between them, stood looking fearfully embarrassed in the middle of the room, turning apologetically from one to the other. He never got any further than the first few words, however, as they brought a torrent of explanation from both his hearers, each giving him dozens of reasons why the other was wrong.
Marie, who watched for a moment or two, could not help joining in; and Barbara, very tired of it all, left them to fight it out by themselves, and went away by the winding streets to the look-out station, where she sat down and watched the sun shining on the beautiful old walls of St. Malo. She had only been once in that town with Mademoiselle Therese, but the ramparts and the old houses had fascinated her, and if she had been allowed, she would have crossed the little moving bridge daily.
When she returned, the house seemed quiet again, for which she was very thankful, and, mounting to her room, she prepared the French lesson which was usually given her at that time.
But when Mademoiselle Therese came up, she spent most of the time in bewailing the ingratitude of one's fellow mortals, especially near relations, and wondering if Marie were really going to drown herself, and when her sister would unlock her door and come out of the room.
Supper was rather a doleful meal, and immediately after it mademoiselle went to look for her niece, who had not returned. Barbara laughed a little scornfully at her fears, and even when she came back with the news that Marie was not concealed next door, as she had thought, refused to believe that the girl was not hiding somewhere else.
"But where could she be except next door?" mademoiselle questioned; "and when I went to ask, Monsieur Dubois was seated with his sons having supper, and no signs of the truant. He had seen or heard nothing of her, he said."
Barbara wondered which had been deceived, and whether the widower himself was deceived or deceiver, but, giving up the attempt to decide the question, retired to bed, advising mademoiselle to do the same, feeling some curiosity, but no anxiety, as to Marie's fate. She had not been in bed very long when she heard some one move stealthily downstairs and enter the dining-room. Mademoiselle Therese, she knew, had locked all the doors and gone to her bedroom, which was in the front of the house, and she immediately guessed that it must be something to do with Marie.
"The plot thickens," she said to herself, stealing to the window, which looked out upon the garden. There, to her amazement, she saw Mademoiselle Loire emerging laboriously from the dining-room window. She saw her in the moonlight creep down the garden towards the wall at the end, but what happened after that she could only guess at, as the trees cast a shadow which hid the lady from view.
"The lady or the tiger?" she said, laughing, as she peered into the shades of the trees, and about five minutes later was rewarded by seeing two figures hurry back and enter the house by the same way that Mademoiselle Loire had got out.
"Marie!" she thought triumphantly, wondering in what part of the garden she had been hidden, as there was no gate in the direction from which she had come. She lay awake for a little while, meditating on the vagaries of the family she had fallen into, and then fell so soundly asleep that she was surprised to find it broad daylight when she awoke, and to see Marie sitting on the end of her bed, smiling beamingly upon her.
"So you're back?" Barbara inquired with a yawn. "I hope you didn't find it too cold in the garden last night."
"You saw us, then?" giggled Marie. "But you don't know where I came from, do you? Nor does Aunt Therese. I'll tell you now; such an exciting time I've had—just like a story-book heroine."
"Penny novelette heroine," murmured Barbara, but her visitor was too full of her adventure to notice the remark.
"As you know, I told Aunt Therese I should drown myself," she began complacently; "but, of course, such was not my intention."
"Of course not," interpolated Barbara drily.
"Instead, I confided my plan to Aunt Marie, then slipped out into the street, and thence to our friends next door."
"The widower's?" exclaimed the English girl in surprise.
"The very same. I explained to him my project for giving my aunt a wholesome lesson; and he, with true chivalry, invited me to sup with them—he saw I was spent with hunger."
Barbara, looking at the plump, rosy face of her companion, which had assumed a tragic air, stifled a laugh, and the girl continued.
"I spent a pleasant time, and was just finishing my repast when the bell rang. 'My aunt!' I cried. 'Hide me from her wrath, Monsieur.' 'The coal-cellar,' he replied, after a moment's stern thought. In one second I had disappeared—I was no more—and when my aunt entered she found him at supper with his sons. When she had gone I returned, and we spent the evening cheerfully in mutual congratulation. At nightfall, when we considered all was secure, Aunt Marie came into the garden, placed a ladder against the wall, and I passed from one garden into the other and regained our room securely. I think Aunt Therese suspected nothing—Monsieur Dubois is such a beautiful deceiver."
"Well, I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself," Barbara said hotly. "Apart from the meanness and deceitfulness of it all, you have behaved most childishly, and I shall always think less of Monsieur Dubois for his untruthfulness."
"Untruthfulness!" Marie returned in an offended tone. "He acted most chivalrously; but you English have such barbarous ideas about chivalry."
For a moment Barbara felt tempted to get up and shake the girl, then came to the conclusion that it would be waste of time and energy to argue with an individual whose ideas were so hopelessly dissimilar to her own.
"I'm going to get up now," she said shortly. "I'll be glad if you would go."
"But don't you want to know what we are going to do now?" queried Marie, a little astonished that her companion should not show more interest in such an exciting adventure. "Our campaign has only begun. We will make Aunt Therese capitulate before we have done. After all, she is the younger. We intend to stay in our rooms without descending until she promises to ask pardon for her insults, and say no more of the matter; and we will go out nightly to get air—carefully avoiding meeting her—and will buy ourselves sausages and chocolate, and so live until she sees how wrong she has been."
She ended with great pride, feeling that at length she must have made an impression on this prosaic English girl, and was much disconcerted when Barbara broke into laughter, crying, "Oh, you goose; how can you be so silly!"
Marie rose with hurt dignity. "You have no feeling for romance," she said. "Your horizon is most commonplace." Then, struck by a sudden fear, she added, "But you surely will not be unpleasant enough to tell Aunt Therese what I have confided to you? I trusted you."
"No," Barbara said, a little unwillingly, "I won't tell her; but I wish you had left me out of the matter entirely, for I certainly cannot lie to her." And with that Marie had to be content.
A WILD DRIVE.
The uncomfortable "campaign," as Marie had called it, continued for some days, and Barbara was in the unpleasant condition of having both parties confide in her. At the end of that time, however, it seemed as if the dainties that sustained the two upstairs began to pall upon them, as housekeeping evidently did on Mademoiselle Therese, and Barbara saw signs of a truce.
This was doubtless hastened by the news that an old family friend was coming with his wife and daughter on the next Sunday afternoon, and, as Mademoiselle Therese explained, they must keep up appearances. He was a lawyer who lived at Dol, and from the preparations that were made, Barbara saw that they thought a great deal of him, for there was such baking and cooking as had never been since her arrival. The salad even was adorned with rose leaves, and looked charming, while the Mesdemoiselles Loire clothed themselves in their best garments.
They all sat in state in the drawing-room as the hour for the arrival of the visitors approached, trying to look as if they had never heard of soufflet or mayonnaise salad, and Barbara, who had been called upon to taste each of the dishes in turn and give an opinion on their worth, almost felt as if she never wished to hear of such things again. About twelve o'clock a fiacre stopped at the door, and a few minutes later the visitors were announced—father, mother, and daughter.
Barbara was agreeably surprised—as indeed she often was by the Loires' friends—to find that they were so nice. The mother and daughter were both very fashionably dressed, but simple and frank, the father, however, being most attractive to Barbara. He was clever and amusing, and contradicted Mademoiselle Therese in such an audacious way, that had it been any one else, she would have retired to her bedroom offended for a week. The visit passed most successfully, Mademoiselle Loire's cooking being quite as much appreciated as she had expected, and when the visitors said good-bye, Barbara left the sisters congratulating themselves on their success.
A few days later the final word was added to the truce between the sisters by Mademoiselle Therese proposing that she should stay at home and look after the house, while her sister took Barbara and Marie for a visit to Cancale, whose beauties, Mademoiselle Therese assured Barbara, had a world-wide renown.
But the elder sister, though obviously pleased by the suggestion, thought she would rather "Therese" went, while she stayed in St. Servan and paid a few calls that she was desirous of making.
After much discussion it was so determined, and the following day Mademoiselle Therese, with the two girls, set off after lunch by the train. The ride was a pleasant one, and the magnificent view of the Bay of Cancale with the Mont St. Michel in the distance delighted Barbara's heart. She much preferred the quaint little fishing village, La Houle, nestling at the foot of the cliffs, to the more fashionable quarter of the town; but Mademoiselle Therese, who was bent on "seeing the fashions of the visitors," led the way with energy to the hotel half way up the cliff. It was certainly gay enough there, and the Frenchwoman explained to her pupil "that if one noticed the costumes at seaside resorts it often saved buying fashion-books."
They sat on the terrace, mademoiselle and Marie dividing their attention between a stout lady, in a gorgeous toilet of purple trimmed with blue, and oysters, which, the Frenchwoman assured Barbara, were "one of the beauties of the place." But the latter contented herself with tea, wondering idly, as she drank it, why the beverage so often tasted of stewed hay. After their refreshment they strolled round the town, and then sat upon the promenade, watching the sun travel slowly down the sky towards the sea-line.
Suddenly mademoiselle remembered the time, and, looking at her watch, declared they had but a few minutes in which to get to the train, and that they must run if they wished to catch it. Off they started, mademoiselle panting in the rear, calling upon the girls to wait, and gasping out that it would be of no use to arrive without her. They were extremely glad on arriving at the terminus to see that they had still a minute or two to spare.
"We are in time for the train?" mademoiselle asked of a gendarme standing near the station house.
The man stared at her.
"Certainly, madame," he said at last; "but would it not be as well to come here in the morning?"
"In the morning!" she echoed. "You foolish fellow! We want to go by this train—it should be here now—it leaves at 7.30."
"Ah!" the man said, and he seemed to understand. "I fear you have lost that train by several days; it went last Sunday."
"What!" screamed mademoiselle. "How dare you mock me! I will report you."
"That must be as madame wishes," returned the man with horrible calmness; "but the train madame wishes to get only runs on Sundays, and, therefore, she must wait several days for the next. If any other train will do, there is one in the morning at 9.30."
Barbara wanted to laugh, but consideration—or fear—of Mademoiselle Therese—kept her quiet, and they stood gazing at one another in sorrowful silence. A ten-mile walk at 7.30 in the evening, unless with very choice companions, is not an unmitigated pleasure, especially when one has been walking during the day. However, there was nothing for it but to walk, as a conveyance, if obtainable, would have been too expensive for Mademoiselle Therese's economical ideas.
They declared at first that it was a lovely evening, and began to cheer their way by sprightly conversation, but a mile or two of dusty highroad told upon them, and silence fell with the darkness. It was a particularly hot evening too, and great heat, as every one knows, frequently tends to irritation, so perhaps their silence was judicious. Mademoiselle Therese kept murmuring at intervals that it really was most annoying, as her sister would have been expecting them much earlier, and would be so vexed. Perhaps visions of a second retirement, which no "family friend" would come to relieve, floated before her eyes.
More than half the distance had been covered when they heard the sound of wheels behind them.
"A carriage!" cried mademoiselle, roused to sudden energy, "they must give us a lift," and drawing up by the side of the road, they waited anxiously to know their fate. It was fairly dark by this time, and they could not distinguish things clearly, but they saw a big horse, with a light, open cart behind. When mademoiselle first began to speak, the driver took not the least notice, but after going a few yards, pursued by her with praiseworthy diligence and surprising vigour, he pulled up and pointed to the seat behind, the place beside him being already filled by a trunk.
The wanderers scrambled in joyfully, greatly pleased with their good luck, and it was not until they were in their places, and near the man, that they discovered he had been drinking freely and was not as clear-headed as he might have been. If there had been time they would all have got out again, but he whipped up so quickly that there was no chance. He continued to whip up, moreover, till they were going at a most break-neck speed.
Mademoiselle, clinging madly to the side of the cart, begged him in the midst of her gasps and exclamations to let them descend; but the more she begged and the more desperate she became, the better pleased he seemed, and it really looked as if they might all be thrown into the ditch. Then mademoiselle, who was always rather nervous about driving, broke into shrill screams, with Marie joining in at intervals—Gilpin's flight was nothing to it—and the cart jolted and swayed so that calm expostulation was impossible.
A lesson in rough-riding to a beginner could not have proved a more disjointing experience, and the man, chuckling over the loudly-expressed fear of his companions, drove on. Fortunately, there were not many turns, and the road was fairly wide all the way; but once Barbara felt the hedge brush her face, and Marie's handkerchief, which she had been using to mop up her tears, was borne away a few minutes later by the bushes on the opposite side of the road.
The only thing that could be said in favour of the drive was that they covered the ground with great speed, and the thought occurred to Barbara that it would be by no means pleasant to enter the streets of St. Servan with their present driver and two screaming women, as, apart from other considerations, they might meet the policeman, and the encounter would be unpleasant.
She told mademoiselle and Marie that if they did not want to be killed or locked up in the prefecture, they must jump off the back of the cart while going up the hill outside the town. The horse, after its wild career, would calm down on the incline, besides which, a fall in the road would be preferable to being thrown through a shop window.
It took very forcible language to make Mademoiselle Therese face present terror rather than await the future; but, when the horse really did slow down to a walk, and the two girls had reached the ground in safety, she made a mighty effort, and floundered out in a heap upon the road, making so much noise that Barbara was afraid the man would realise they were gone, and insist upon their getting in again.
But he whipped up at that moment, and the noise of the cart drowned the dolorous complaints. The girls soothed their companion by assuring her that in ten minutes they would be home, when, most assuredly, her sister's heart would be moved to pity by their sorry plight and the tale of their adventures.
Just as they arrived at their own door they met Mademoiselle Loire hurrying up, and her sister, thinking she was coming to look for them, and not knowing the reception she might get, fell upon her neck, pouring forth with incoherent sobs and explanations the tale of their woes.
Mademoiselle Loire was most sympathetic and unreproachful, and, having dried her sister's tears, led her into the house, where the whole party sat down to cake and cider, under the influence of which Mademoiselle Therese quite recovered, and retold their adventures, Barbara realising for the first time, as she listened, what heroines they had been!
Their screaming advance along the highroad became a journey, where they sat grimly, with set teeth, listening to the curses of a madman, and bowing their heads to escape having them cut off repeatedly by the branches of trees.
Their ignominious exit from the cart on the hill became a desperate leap into the darkness, when the vehicle was advancing at full gallop; and when Barbara finally rose to say good-night, she felt as if they had all been princesses in a fairy-tale, in which, alas! there had been no prince.
She learned two things on the morrow—not counting the conviction that riding at a gallop in a cart made one desperately stiff. The first was from Marie, who told her that Mademoiselle Loire's forbearance with their late return, and her intense sympathy with their adventures, probably arose from the fact that she had just been returning from her own expedition when she met the wanderers, and had been filled with very similar fears concerning her reception as those which had filled her sister's heart.
The other fact, which Barbara read aloud to Mademoiselle Therese from the newspaper, was that Jean Malet had been apprehended for furious driving at a late hour the previous night, and would have to pay a heavy fine.
"How he had come safely through the streets at such speed," said the journalist, "was a miracle. Fortunately, there was no one in the cart but himself."
"Fortunately, indeed, there was not," remarked Barbara, folding up the paper.
MONT ST. MICHEL.
The following day Barbara was taken to a confirmation service at a Roman Catholic church in the town, for one of Marie's younger brothers was coming from the country to be confirmed. Barbara watched the service curiously, feeling rather as if she were in a dream. The bishop entered the church with much pomp, adorned in wonderful lace and embroidered vestments. His progress up the aisle was slow, for there were many mothers and sisters with little children, whom they presented to him for his blessing, and he patiently stopped beside each, giving them his ring to kiss.
He was waited on by the clergy of the church and some from the country round, and these latter amused Barbara not a little, for they carried their rochets in newspapers, or in shabby brown bags, which they left in corners of the seats, while they slipped on their rochets in full view of every one. Then the boys, accompanied by their godfathers, the girls by their godmothers, filed slowly up to the bishop, who blessed each in turn. On leaving him they passed in front of two priests, the first attended by a boy bearing a basket of cotton-wool pellets dipped in oil, the second by a boy with a basket of towels.
The first priest rubbed the forehead of each child with oil, and the next one dried it. After which they went singing to their places.
The ceremony was a very long one, and Barbara was not very sorry when it was over. She grew weary before the close, and was glad when they made their way home, accompanied by Marie's father—the Loires' half-brother—and the little boy. The former was a farmer in the country, and Barbara thought he was much pleasanter to look upon than either his daughter or sisters.
Mademoiselle Loire had provided him at lunch with his favourite dish—shrimps—and Barbara could hardly eat anything herself, being completely fascinated with watching him. He had helped himself pretty liberally, and, to her amazement, began to eat them with lightning speed. He bent fairly low over his plate, resting an elbow on each side, and, putting in the whole shrimp with his left hand, almost immediately seemed to take out the head and tail with the other, working with machine-like regularity. It was an accomplishment that Barbara was sure would bring him in a lot of money at a show, and she began to picture to herself a large advertisement, "Instantaneous Shrimp-eater," and the products that might arise therefrom.