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By a Hair's Breadth. -

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By a Hair's Breadth. By OWEN MASTERS tALL RIGHTS RESERVED.) I. "Ella, my girl," Bachard Layton said, witn a serious shake of the head, you mast make up your mind, one way or another." U=Ie!" Ella paused in her occupation of pon-ring out the coffee, and looked inquiringly ait the old gentlemanâalbeit a swift carmine sprang into her delicately-rounded cheek. You know what I mean. You have received two love-letters this morningâone from Ross, my cashier, and one from Moore, my manager. Both the young fellows have spoken to me, and both axe in love with you, or fancy that they are. Any way. it comes to this. It's not only heartless, but da.nger- ous, to play the fool with two worthy young men. a.nd, besides, you are dislocating my buaiinefs arrangements." ELla resumed her operations with the coffee- pot. and tossed ner head disdainfully. UncLe, I wish you wouldn't give the young men the run of the place. I don't think that I care for either of theim-i-n that way," She blushed vividly again. Richard Dayton regarded his niece frown- i-ttgly. "Then tell them both so in plain Eng- i lish," he said. "A woman ruined my life in the same way, and her own too," he added, g-i *mly. That's the reason I 1ba.ve never mar- ried." He meditated for a minute. While I was ill the two young fellows bad to come to the house to talk business, and they are both neighbours, and eligible in every way. Hric Ross is the son of a banker, and Bryan Mjoore the son of a lawyer. Their fathers both went to school with me. H'm! I don't 'believe that either is dangling after you because you will inherit my money. No; they are too independent and honourable for that. Well, vou'd better put an end to the foolery, that's all!" The old gentleman spoke rather grumpily, and pushed back his chair. He picked up the morning paper, and pretended to read the Market Report"; then looked at his watch, and, rising, walked over to the window. It was a magnificent morning. The illimitable June sky was intensely blue, and already the sunshine was like molten gold.. Eric Ross and Bryan Moore are coming to lunch with us to-day, Ella," Richard Layton remarked. Two o'clock, as usual, ae the factory closes a.t one on Saturdays. After lunch I am going to umpire the Clown Cricketers." He chuckled. "A lot of umpir- ing they want! We hope to raise twenty pounds for the convalescent home. Well, I must be off. Where's my good-bye kiss, Ella?" The girl sprang towards him, and twined her arms round his neck. "I don't like to think that you are angry with me, uncle," she said, tears glittering on her eyelashes. You know why Mr. Rose and Mr. Moore are coming to-day?" "I should say so, since I told them to have the thing settled," he blurted out. Snap- ping and snarling about thedr work, and glar- ing at one another like stage villains! I insisted that they both came together to-day, and faced the music. It doesn't matter which speaks first. You know your own mind. The,-e "-he gave her a hearty kissâ"it's as easy as eating pie!" When Richard Layton was gone. Ella read the two letters with very mixed feelings. She was both angry and amused; her face flamed, and she stamped one foot petulantly. Then her lips trembled, and her eyes softened. Her uncle had turned match-maker, or match-breaker, for the letters were identical, and had been inspired by him. This is the one Ella opened: "Dear Miss Carew.-Eric Ross and I had a little QUarrel this morning. and you were the bone of contention. You know well enough that we are both dying of love for you, and that for nearly a year you have given u? about equal encourageent. The natural result is that Ross and I have reoently had hot words. Unfortunately Mr. Layton overheard our misunderstanding to- day, and insists that the friction between us be ended. You are sole arbiter, and what ever your decision may we have agreed to shake ha.nds and be friends. I love you dearly, and want you to be my wife some day. I shall come to the Grange to-morrow for my answerâyes or no-nd in the mean- time hope that you will give this your cf,a,v'Oura'Ie con sid-eration.-Yoars very sin- cerely. BRYAN MOORE." "It is perfectly absurd," Ella said, pet- tishly, "Such love-letters! I can see uncle dictating the things, and the ninnies pass- ing- them to him for approval. Oh! it is horribly humiliating. Of course, I will say no to both, and put an end to the foolish- ness. They are nice boys-as friends-and a girl must have somebody to do her bidding." She ruminated for a long time, and, Vomau-lik,a, decided to reserve judgment. It would be nothing short of a calamtiy to lose both lovers at once; and since they had sent her duplicate letters, she would serve them in the same way, the only difference being that she would not write at the dictation of any person. Then followed another period of reflection, and at length this letter was approved and written: "Dear Mr. Moore,-I understand that you and Mr. Ross are coming to the Grange to lunch to-day, and that you will afterwards accompany my uncle to the Clown Cricket Match. I have, therefore, decided to write a little letter to both of you, but I ask you to keep the contents secret, one from the other. As regards the honour you have done me, I must reserve my decision until this day week, but I will say that if Mr. Ross did not aspire to my hand and heart, I should aeoept you unhesitatingly. Yours sincerely, "ELLA CAREW." She slipped both letters into envelopes, and addressed them, laughing gleefully the while. After all, it was only tit for tat! II. I Richard Layton arrived home shortly after one o'clock and marched into the library. He generally brought from the office a few of the most important letters, to thoroughly digest before committing anything to paper. Ten minutes passed, and he began to whistle cheerily. There were no more business cares for that day, and Ella understood the signal, but she was feeling the reverse of happy. He had placed her in a ridiculous position, and she told him so. "The boys will be here at two, remember," he said, warningly. I oan't meet themâI won't. I haven't had time to think about it; my mind is in a state of complete chaos." He looked puzzled and amazed. Then there is something in it," he thought, staring at his niece from under his heavy brows; then aloud: "I was bound to take some steps. This nonsense has been going on for a, twelvemonth, and it makes matters uncomfortable for me. I hoped that you would give them both the cut direct, because I don't want to lose you for many a year." He trumpeted bis nose. "It seems :o me that I'm cutting the ground from nnder my own feet. Bash the fellows, I'll discharge 'em! Now, which is it, my pet? You can't have them both." He was bothered and anxious, and passed his big right arm round the girl's waist. I don't know." Ella answered, her voice trembling. "They have both been so kind and devoted to me that I hate to give either of them pain." "Goodness me!" he exclaimed. helplessly. "You must have some preference, little girl? Why, the young men are totally unwise one another. Bryan Moore is big and rough and dark; while Eric Rcss is slight, fair, and handsome as a picture." "That is just it, uncle." Ella faltered. "H'm!" said Richard Layton. "This comes of an old fool's interference"; then he I frowned and equaled his jam. "1 wish now that I'd got rid erf the pair of them. Moore has discharged two old hands without just cause, and Ross can't baianoe his books for the life of him-and all for love of you! Say the word, and they shall seek fresh pastures." "Ohânoâno! I've written a letter to both, and told them that I oan't give an answer for a week. You must give them the letters, uncle, and while you are at the cricket mat-ch I a.m going to weigh the matter very care- fully in my mind." Yes," Richard Layton said, dou-btfully. Plag-ue take the fellows! Are these the letters? All right. Now give me a kiss. This I Saturday half-holiday is completely spoilt! Hello, what's wrong?" he added, as a servant man approached. "Two of the workmen wish to see you. sir. Eli Jones and Job Ma-rah." His master shook his head. "I can't see them. Mr. Mor4re discharged them, and I never interfere. Tell them that; but if They like to apologise, and promise to mend their ways, I'll-I'll do my best with the manager." I The servant vanished, but A-as soon back again. "They both swore horribly, sir, and said tha.t somebody mast look out for trouble." "Oh I Then my sympathy's gone." "Job Marsh is a bad lot. sir, excuse me, and he's got Jones under his thumb." But Rienarrd Layton never encouraged gossip or tittle-tattle, and dismissed the man siummarily. "I suppose MooTe knew what he was doing;" he reflected; "but he refused to give me a solid reason." "I'm going to my own room now, uncle," Ella interposed. She was looking from the window. "Those men are talking to Bryan Moore in the drive You will be home to tea?" Yes, little one," he answered, tenderly. "All the fun of this day is wiped out!" Casting backward a fond !o'>k. Ella fled, just as Bryan Moore stalked into the hall. ¡ He was a bag fellow, with a. homely, honest face and a pair of fearless grey eyes. There were times, tco, wen he could be merry enough; but he was now very ill at ease. "Come on, Moo-re." Richard Layton eaid, genially. Boss hasn't t-arri-ed up yet, and you won't see Ella for a week. Here's a note for you." Brya.n'sfaA:e paled, and his hands trembled; then he read the letter, and seemed relieved. "That's all right." he said, breathing hard. "Here comcs Ross. I'll go into the next room while he endures the operation!" He choked back a lump in his throat, adding: "I can't stay hetre, Mr. Layton, to see him smile; I've got some business to do, and I'll go and do it." (TO BE CONCLUDED TO-MORROW.)

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