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Bain't his horses real darlings?" before
Jessie's voice was heard--

"Why, whatever are you two doing here?"

The two girls both giggled, and each pushed the other to make her tell,
and Florence laughed out--

"Oh, 'twas Amy wanted to see Mr. Wingfield pass by."

"No, 'twasn't. 'Twas you," said Amy.

"I don't see why you should get into a corner about it," said Jessie,
rather gravely. "I've just met him straight upon the road, horses and
all."

"O yes, _you_!" said Florence.

"Well, why not me?"

"O, you know, you'll soon be an old maid like your sister."

Jessie had not grown so wise as not to be nettled at this silly
impertinent speech, but she was much more vexed to see that Florence was
teaching Amy her own follies--Amy, who had always seemed like a pure
little innocent wild rose-bud in its modest green leaves. So she
answered, rather shortly--

"If you mean that I don't want to be right down ridiculous, I hope I am
an old maid."

This seemed to be very funny, for Florence went off in fits of laughing,
and kept shouldering Amy to make her see the joke, but Amy had by this
time grown ashamed and frightened and only answered, "Don't."

So the three girls went in together, and no one took any special notice
of Amy's hot face and uncomfortable gestures. It was the first time
since she had been a very little child that she had shrunk from her
aunts' eyes, or feared that they should ask her questions; and the
sense that she had been undeserving of the trust they placed in her made
her very ill at ease, though the silly girl did not do the only thing
that would have set her right again, and made her safer for the future.

Jessie meanwhile had forgotten the little vexation. She had something to
brighten her up in Miss Needwood's little note.

It was written on pink paper, edged with blue, as if nothing could be
too good for Jessie; and it said no words could tell how glad she was,
and what a comfort it was to have this real work to do. "It is really
like a ray of hope in the darkness," said poor Bessie, in her little
thin weak writing, with a very hard steel pen.

But that note warmed up Jessie's heart, although her finger was getting
severely ploughed up with the stitching she had been doing to save her
mother's eyes.

"There was not to be an inch of machine work," Mrs. Robson had said, and
the Hollises were people who fulfilled all they undertook.

But Jessie's hour at home had helped and freshened her mother, who
looked much less worn and worried than she had done the day before.
Jessie felt she had done well to send away the handkerchiefs, and lessen
the burthen Grace had taken upon the family.




CHAPTER VIII.

AMY'S VISITS.


NOBODY could say any great harm of Florence Cray, or she would not have
been bound to Miss Lee.

But she was one of those silly, vulgar-minded girls who think life is
nothing without continually chattering either to young men or about
them. She was in no hurry to be married, for then she knew she must give
up all her lively pastime with the lads around her. Not that she
frequented the bar, or had anything to do with the customers--her mother
kept her carefully from that; but she had plenty of acquaintance, and to
her mind nothing else was so amusing. She was not pretty, and knew it
well enough, but she was very good-natured, and free from jealousy, and
next to diverting herself with some youth, she liked nothing so well as
teasing other girls about them.

She considered Amy Lee quite old enough and pretty enough to have a
young man, and to begin to have some fun, and she thought all the care
taken of the girl by her father and aunts only so much stupid old fidget
and jealousy, which it was fun to baffle and elude. Thus she was a very
dangerous companion for Amy, perhaps more so than a really worse person,
who would have been more shocking and startling to Amy's sense of
modesty and propriety. It was such a new sensation altogether to be
always popping about and peeping to admire the handsome stranger and his
fine horses, and then to whisk giggling out of the way, in terror lest
they had been seen.

It was more amusing than sitting by a fretful boy, trying to make him
read and say hymns, and though conscience was half awake, it was easily
satisfied. And then there was the pleasure of being told that she was
admired--though Amy would not have liked it as well if she had guessed
that Florence used to amuse herself on the other hand by telling Mr.
Wingfield how a certain young lady admired him, and teasing him by
declaring that, "Oh no! she could not tell him who, she should be
nameless. Did he like best fair or dark?"

So time went on, and the needlework with it. Grace Hollis's whole brain
seemed to be turning into thread and cotton, for she was able to think
of nothing else except what she should do with the money, when she got
it; but she did not scold Jessie, as she had been inclined to do at
first, for giving up the handkerchiefs, for she had begun to find that
without her sister's help there would have been no chance of finishing,
without overworking her mother, and neglecting the business of the shop.

Indeed, as it was, when the last week came there was so much still to be
done that she was obliged to ask Miss Needwood to come and help, which
she was very glad to do, when she had finished the handkerchiefs most
delicately and beautifully.

Jessie gave all the time she could. She was glad to have something to
think about, for Miss Manners was from home, so there were no readings
before the Sundays; and her sharp eyes could not help seeing that there
was something underhand going on between Amy and Florence--where she did
not know whether to interfere or not.

She had seen Amy and Florence come hastily round the corner of the lane,
which had a stile into a large shady path field at the back of Mrs.
Smithers's cottage, and Mr. Wingfield hovering about. It did not look
well--and indeed what she would have thought nothing of in such a girl
as Florence was a very different thing in Amy. Then stories that she
disliked were afloat about the man. He was said to be teaching the young
men at the Manners Arms new gambling games, and to be putting them up to
bet on race-horses; and once she heard a very unpleasant laugh about
very good, closely-kept girls being as ready to carry on as other folk.

Once when she asked Amy after little Edwin Smithers, the answer was
rather cross. "Oh! just as usual. He is the most tiresome fractious
child I ever saw!"

"Children are often like that when they are going to be worse," said
Jessie.

"Well," returned Amy, "I've always heard that children are most fretty
and fussy when they are getting better."

"Then I hope he is better."

"O dear yes, of course he is, or he would not be here now," said Amy,
impatiently, and getting very red.

"How does he get on with his reading?"

"There never was such a one for questions as you, Jessie!" cried Amy,
getting quite cross.

And as Jessie knew curiosity to be her failing, and was really trying to
break herself of it, she was silenced.

No doubt Amy was angered because her conscience was very far from being
easy, though she never failed to pop into the Smithers's cottage every
day, sometimes to bring the little dainties her aunts provided,
sometimes to say a few words and begin a lesson with Edwin; but her
heart was not in it, the boy would seldom attend, and often turned away
his face and said "No," or began to cry; whereupon Amy told him he was
very naughty, and marched off, excusing herself by the fact that the
girl Polly was generally in the house, and seemed to be attending to him
much better than she used to do.

No wonder Amy was in a hurry, for Florence was waiting for her outside;
and by and by not only Florence.

It began one windy day when Amy's sunshade flew out of her hand. She ran
after it, as it went dancing along on its spokes over the village green,
jumping up just as she neared it, and whisking off just as if it had
been alive, or like one of those gay butterflies and birds in allegories
that lure the little pilgrims out of the narrow path. Alas! it was only
too much like such a deluder.

For some one came round the corner, caught the wild sunshade, and
restored it to the owner. She was tittering and breathless, she blushed
all over, and never raised her eyes while Mr. Wingfield hoped, in
elegant language, that she had not fatigued herself, and paid a
flattering compliment to the lovely colour with which exercise had
suffused her complexion. This made her giggle and blush all the more.
She did not know whether she liked it or not, poor silly child!

She often "wished he would not;" she was in a dreadful fright whenever
it happened, and yet the day seemed flat and tiresome and not worth
having when he had not joined her and Florence, and walked down the path
below Hornbeam Wood, behind Mrs. Smithers's cottage, with them.

He never said or did anything to startle her. He saw she was a modest,
well-behaved girl, and he knew how to treat such a one. He talked
chiefly about the preparations for the wedding, or made the two simple
country girls stare by wonderful stories of the horses he had ridden and
driven, or by descriptions of the parks and the theatre. Now and then
he was complimentary, but Florence told Amy much more of his admiration
than she ever heard herself. As to letting her father or aunts know of
the acquaintance, Amy was half afraid, half ashamed. One day she heard a
talk between her father and Mr. Nowell, the gardener at the Hall, who
was vexed about an under gardener.

"I shall have to speak to the Squire about him, I am afraid," said Mr.
Nowell; "he don't do his work with half a heart, and instead of spending
his evenings at the club, or at cricket--wholesome and hearty like--he
is always down at Cray's."

"I hear," said Mr. Lee, "the club was never so badly attended."

"They say it is all along of that there smart groom, Wingfield, as they
call him, who is all for gambling games, and putting up our young lads
to betting tricks and the like."

"Ay, ay," said Mr.



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