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THE STRANGE CLAIMANT; OR, TWICE WED. CHAPTER XXVI. COMPANY. 1 TT "AVE been quite looking forward to your coming," thId Agnes, joyously, as she assisted her visitors, and en collecting bonnet, hat, and shawl, stowed them ay» behind the baize screen, in her apology for a furoom. "You may be quite sure ic isn't many ^itors I have in this poor place," It's very clean and nice," said Nelly, as she looked her. "Well, jou know, in London, the higher one gets better; and, though the stairs are tiring, we p" the air a deal better; besides that, I have the tiding to myself, for there's no one lives up here, nd that, you know, is a good deal, when one has to pay for every bit of room one uses." II Yes," said the elder woman, with a sigh, as, in 4nge contrast, there rose the picture of a cottage tofte, whose door opened upon the wind-swept cliffs, here the never-resting waves sent their music upward .ay and night, and the eyes were not freer than the to roam whither they would. I think it must be so different to you," said lafel68' com"1S from country, as you have so .Nelly shook her head. "It's use a good deal," said, and I shall get used, after a time, I sup- it is more for her," ana she pointed to little who, true to instinct had got close to the press "here stood the balsam, and was gazing up with P&rted lips and admiring eyes at the rich blossoms. "Are you so fond of flowers, darling ?" asked Agnes, "lth unwonted tenderness even in her soft voice. c. Oh, yes," the child exclaimed, it is so pretty." You haven't seen any flowers this long while, my said Nelly, as the child, now catching sight of geraniums at the high window, broke into fresh ^'ration. But she'll have some now," said the kindbearted Stress of the room, rising; and, in spite of all the ^treaties of Nelly, that she would not rob herself, she r°ke off a full blossom from the balsam, added to it *8Pray of geranium from the glass on the mantel- •aelf, and gave them to Ida, whose sparkling and eager thanks told how she valued the gift. The little stool from the chimney-corner was set on hearth between the two women, and Ida seated for the time, apparently finding sufficient en- joyment in the mere contemplation of her treasures. You must try and get away from Tyndall's-build- lngs," said Agnes, cheeringly it is a bad place every !Va.y; a nice room at the top of the house would be Just the thing and darling could have a few flowers and a bird, perhaps—eh, dear ?" She stoop d over the child and kissed her; then lifted her to her lap, and putting one arm around her, pressed her closely to her breast. The hardships and trials of the past months had told upon mother and child sadly. The. rosy bloom *he little face was exchanged for deep pallor, and dark eyes looked larger from the falling away of the rounded cheeks. She had grown, though, con- siderably in the time, and was sail for her age, and far tnore slim and slighter, in proportion, than the Senteelest of mothers could have desired. And how do you get on now with the boxes? do you find it any easier ?" Agnes asked. Oh, much better—much," replied Nelly; it was very kind of you to come and show me for it was Just that one thing made it difficult; and when that Iras mastered, the rest came easy." (( "Oh, indeed, it is all easy,"returned the younger and, when they are busy again, I'll come round and you how to manage the ornamenting, that pays twice as well; there's no reason in the world why you shoUld not get the very bt at work of all. Though, in- deed, it pays best working at the place; but that You coul cl not manage ? Ndlv looked at Ida, and shook her head. "So, indeed, you couldn't," said Agnes I'm sure I Wouldn't persuade you." I am so slow," said Nelly, sadly; "it seems past to me how quick those girls work." Bless you, it's just use," said her friend "why, "y the time you've been six months at it you'll be as 1»ick, and twice as clever. Oh they wouldn't have tfied you a second time if you had not pleased them. know what they are: they saw you had a light hand, aQd was tasty, and that practice was all you wanted Never fear but you will do and, though it does pay but poorly, it's better than needlework, and not half 80 bad for the eyes." 1 "I am thankful to have found anything at all to do," said Nelly it was a mercy of Providence, and than ever I could have hoped, a stranger as I You wouldn't mind, would you ?" said Agnes, hesitating a little, in her query. You did tell me a Rood deal that wet evening, when you were so kind as tO give me shelter at your place. I've thought of you e'Yer since, and how, after all, you got to London. If you didn't mind telling me, I should so like to hear the rest." "I'm suM I oughtn't to mind telling you any- thing, that have been so kind," said the other; "and, if it's any pleasure, I'll tell you a1! there is to ten." r But we'll have tea first, though," said her young Entertainer, now rising, and setting down the little girl "'lth a fond kiss. The child looked brighter, and the mother's spirits rose as she watched her. There was a cheerful Jittle party around that poor tea-table, in Shuter's Close, that fine spring evening, which a traveller from the country passing through would have pronounced o be suffocating, and unfit for human beings to live in. i,rr'Uch for contrast! "I wish, from my heart," Agnes said, in reply to an observation of her guest, that you could manage to Ret this way. There is a room to let under this, I but she won't hear of children in the house, and I HI afraid it would be a good bit more than you are Paying, But we must hope for the best. Won't the darling have one bit more ?" So, on tea being finished, Agnes set about clearing aWay; then, the hearth being swept, and Ida again in Possession of the stool at the feet of Agnes-upon VIII)BO knees she leaned, her beloved flowers in her lap, now and again looking back and smiling to her mother, ?n the other side—Nelly began the recital of her Journey, from the point to which she had, on a pre- vious occasion, confided its chief particulars to her fcew acquaintance, and described what her feelings ^ere when she first arrived in London. Oh! if I could have dreamed of what a place London was, I believe (said Nelly) I never should have dared to venture. When I saw the crowded greets, and the noiae, and the bustle, and not a face ,ut WAS strange, and stared at one, and the folks Jostling as if they did not care whether they pushed You under foo: "I held Ida tight by the hand, and I felt so s^ildered and lost, that nt last I fairly broke down, and cried as I went on and an, and seemed as if, am°ng all those grand shops and houses, we had no .usiness at all, and that I should have to go back Just the way we had come, or else starve in the Erects." f 'poor thing," sighed Agnes. "It is bad to eel that way, but there's many this very day just the u "I suppose so," said Nelly tis an awful place for forlorn stranger. ^every one seemed to think badly of me Oi''0ttly I "el; .,ured to speak to them. I went into °r shops thit didn't, seem so grand, »rd could bt\> fell me or' any work ? but they looked aniear' ar, as if they fancied I was going to steal, hef so cold, and followed me to the door, my Waart -airly sunk and the second daymylast farthing °ne' aT3(* ik came on to rain, with a cold wind at Urn &tld I sat me down with the dear child in 8 a door-step. I thought surely it was a juag" I ment on me for taking on me to come so far, and, more than all, for risking her. I The shops were all shutting up, and the streets got dark, and there were fewer people about; it was I such a wretched night, and I felt it would be her death, almost, to remain in the streets, for the poor dear had taken a cold, and it want to my heart to hear her hard breathing as she lay in my arms wrapped up in my shawl. God knows I bad done for the best, and yet I felt that night as if He judged me for my impatience, and that His hand was heavy upon me; and I prayed as if it was my last, that, at least, she might be spared. It was a quiet street where I had sat down, and the house seemed empty; at the corner was a big shop with a very bright light, and it did seem some comfort to look at thai, till they began to put up the shutteM, and, at last, there was only one narrow streak of light left-one notices these little things at times, I bad seen a lady pass up and down where I sat several times she was beautifully dressed, for I heard silks rustle as she passed the last time she turned short back, and she stooped down and whis- pered, hurriedly,' Will you do something for me ? I will pay you I said, Yes' in a moment, and, before I could usk what it was, she had pulled a ring off her finger, and said, speaking very fast,' Take it in there quick, before they close; get a sovereign on it, no more; but be quick, for mercy's sake" She pointed to the shop as she spoke. I stood up and took the ring, but I was all in a maze, for I had no idea waat she meant. "'Ami to sell it, ma am ?' I asked her. 'No, no!' she said, quite hoarse with haste, pledge it in yaur own name, quick! Stay, get five-and-twenty to pay yourself—give me the child, quick •' Still I was all abroad, but I said no more, for I saw she was in some trouble, and I thought the shop folks would understand; but I wouldn't let my darling again out of my sight, so I carried her in my arms, and the poor lamb went where she had never been, nor I neither, till then-inside of a pawn- broker's." Ah 1 it was all new to you," said Agnes, who had now lifted Ida to her knee, and was making up the flowers into a bouquet, with some strips :of satin —the child's eyes glistening with delight, her little hand resting lovingly on the girl's shoulder. Indeed it was," Nelly went on but I went in as brave as could be, and showed the man in the shop the ring. He took it, and just asked, 'How much ?' and dropped some stuff from a bottle on to it, and then gave me the money but, just as he was counting it, he looked up at me, sharp-like, and asked was it my own ? I said a lady had sent me, and he said no more. only gave me the money, and the bit of card- the ticket-I know now what it is called. He was in a great hurry, and the door was shut after me the moment I came out. I took the money to the lady—she was standing in the dark, just as I had left her, and she quite snatched at the money, in her eagerness, but she only took the pound, and bade me keep the rest for myself. I thanked her, and just as she was hurrying: off, I made bold to ask her did she knew where 11 could get a decent place to sleep in ? for I had seen enough since I came to Ljndon to make me m re on my guard. She pointed down a street, and gave me some direction, all in a hurry, and then she was off in a moment. I tried to' find the place, but could not, and at last I ventured to ask at a coffee-shop, and I found a j bed, and so we got chelter once more." j How providential! said Agnes. Yes, indeed," returned the other, « and it was the means, too, of helping me further, for, you see I had had about me all the while something that I could have made money of, and this just set me thinking, and next day I took the old ring I had sewn up in my dress and kt-pt safe through all, and I got some money in the same way—pledged it, as they call it. I never could have made up my mind to part with that ring outright, unless, indeed, for her sake, but I found out, by this, that I could get money for it, and yet not lose my ring; and, indeed, I was truly thank- ful for the help. She stopped short, for a loud voice broke upon their conversation, and, the door being flung open with a rude hand, Agnes beheld her father totter into the raom, followed by Mrs. Grejous, with flashing eyes, and cap-strings streaming on the breeze, occasioned by her own brisk evolutions. At sight of Agnes the aged man began to utter in- coherent complaints of the stairs, mingled with infor- mation on the subject of the birds, and finally, at sight of the visitors, to whimper and murmur like a child that has been dispossessed of its rights. But the landlady's voice, at its highest pitch, made it heard above all. So, madam, you're a pretty article to set yourself up in a decent woman's house she cried, advancing into the room, and fixing her eyes on Agnes Chaunce, who sat pale and motionless. Aren't you ashamed to look me in the face ? a good-for-nothing, deceitful huzzy, to come a-palming yourself off, with your fair speaking words and quiat ways, on a quiet, respectable house like mine- aren't you ashamed, I say ? A nice one, you, to have that hinnocent child on your lap." Nelly had started forward and had clasped little Ida in her arms ere the words were well uttered. You, indeed, that must have a quiet and a airy room,' forsooth "-the enraged: female minced the words with a scornful affectation of superiority—" quiet, indeed! as if any room weren't good enough, and too good, for a wench that why, ml\'am, would you believe it—for I make no doubt she's himposed on you likewise—that gal there, as has dared to hodeupy this room of mine nigh on eight months this blessed week—she has been a mother, ma'am, for all hinnocent as she looks, and as great a Hush! oh, pray, pray," cried Agnes, interrupting her with tears do not say such dreadful things; think of the child." The hild, indeed I wonder you have the face to look the child in the face, or her mother either, which, ma'am, as I take it, you're a respectable female, and rib mind to associate with uuch as is no better than she should be, not to say worse [ But I abstain from sullying my pen with such lan- j guage as, in her virtuous wrath, Mrs. Grejous gave vent to making the most and worst by reiteration of the facts she had learned, aided by a vivid imagina- tion. Agnes grew whiter, and the tears poured over i her cheeks for the minute, she seemed to have lost the power ef speech; as for Nelly, she stood aghast, still holding Ida to her sido, You do cot turn from me, dear Mra. Franklen ? faltered the sobbing girl; you do not believe all thai cruel things <• Belize cried the enraged Grejous; believe! when I had it all from the very best authority! when I know where the child lies buried and the place where she lodged and if my first floor was to hear of it, as I harboured such, would be giving me warning? But you'll darken my doors not another hour, madam; so off you go this blessed night, as fast as you please." The door was slammed to after the retreating form of the virtuous widow; and Agnes advanced to lead her father to his old seat, which Nelly had vacated. Bursting from her mother's restraining hand, the child met her half way, threw her tiny arms around the sobbing girl, and pulled her down till she met the face drench&d in tears, and covered it with kisses of I childish pity. Don't cry," she said, earnestly; don't please cry -mother!" and she made an attempt to pull Agnes to Nelly, who had still held aloof. Don't let her cry, mother; she's good, mother. Please don't cry 'cause that big woman scold you please don't, dear; dear, don't cry." In her earnest sympathy Ida was mingling her tears with those of the poor penitent, which flowed beyond restraint, as, stooping, she smothered the sweet child with kisses. The mother's tenderness conquered the prejudice of the woman, and the next moment her hand, too, was on the bowed head, and she kindly exhorted Agnes to hold up and tell her the worst. The poor girl shook her head. "Ob," she cried, "it is bad, very bad, but not so dreadful as she said and oh, God knows how I have repented, how I have tried, how I have worked!" She cast her eyes around the bare and comfortless room, an hysterical convulsion shook her slight form, and she fell fainting on the arm of Nelly, little Ida still holding to her hands in tearful sorrow. CHAPTER XXVII. A YOUTHFUL CHAMPION. FORn& few minutes after the disappearance of the un- compromising landlady the utmost confusion reigned in the little room which had so lately been the scene of such peaceful and neighbourly hospitality. Nelly, in whom even her own ill-fortune had hardly moved by the stanch adhesion of her own child to their new-found friend, suffered her own kind nature to have way, and, approaihing Agnes, she said, Oould you make shift to do with us for a. bit, just till you can find a place ?" Tbe young woman looked at her, as if doubting whether she heard aright. It was, alas! si > wholly strange to find one of her own sex offering succour or tendering pity. Do," urged Nelly, for tenderness begets more, so rapidly in the heart that encourages it—"do, and I'll help make you as comfortable as lean you know what it is, and of course we couldn't all stay there together, for any time but just till you look about a bit; come, now, let Us set about arranffing it at Onlde." J Agnes Ohaunce took the hand ot the other, and pressed it earnestly to her lips. Thank you, thank you, bless vou, for your kind offer, but ic m*y get you into ill-will with the peopte at your place. She is set against ii_e down-stairs, I can see, and they can be so spiteful I wish I'd told you, Mrs. Franklen, I wish I had; you'll per- haps be sorry you have served me when You know Never mind, never mind," interrupted Nelly, and the words of good Dame Tibbetts just then recurred to her mind you're in trouble, aud that's enough, and you've been very kind to us-now, will you come ?" "I don't know what else we can do," said Agnes, looking appealingly at her father, who, much dis- composed at her distress, was making many futile at- tempts at consolation so, if you really will be so good as to be troubled with us, just for the night, we will come, and thank you." Sbe ,dded, sadly, "It won't take me long to pack up all I have." So it was settled Nelly should return home, to make such preparations as might be for her un- expected gueats, and Ida, having been prevailed upon, solely with the assurance of her new friend reicin-ng her shortly, and having seen her tears dried, de- parted with her mother, leaving Agnes to make her arrangements with all haste for obeying the uncere- monious warning she had received, in which she got a new impetus, by a second visit from Mrs. Grejous. with an admonition that she wanted the room," and a hope, indignantly expressed, that she "did not expect her to be reference for her." No," Agnes meekly answered. When all the chattels were piled upon the truck, and the old man, trembling and muttering, had just accomplished the descent of those stairs which would never annoy him any more, in rushed Tom, at more than his usual random speed, mor." plentifully be- spattered with printer's ink than was even his wont, and suddenly brought to a standstill by the unex- pected symptoms of removal that met his eye as he entered. iou going away! he exclaimed, bluntly, ss he came to a sudden halt in front of Agnes, who stood by her father's side, with her basket in her hand, and ready equipped for starting. Agnes answered in the affirmative. What for ?" said the impetuous boy; my mother been in her tantrums ? and I was a-going to show him my birds and all: what a shame! Oh, don't mind, tbant you," expostulated Agnes; "I'm glad, though, I've seen you, because you've done me many a kindness, and I wanted to thank you." Bother!" interrupted Tom, his face reddening, and indignation getting the better of a certain shy- ness which would else have been too much for him on such an occasion but, I say, where are you going all of a sudden ? You was friends enough when I left, you and mother, and you must have fell out since what is it ? Nevermind, Tom," said Agnes, there's no fall- ing out, only Mrs. (jrejous gave us warning; don't you mind, I am going to a friend's." Tom you Tom!" screamed the voice of Mrs. Grejous at this juncture; come along here, I want you!" No answer from Tom, but he looked at the loaded truck on which the man was endeavouring, in vain, to find room for the flowers in their cumbersome receptacles. "Look here!—Tom's favourite adjuration—"I shall carry something for you, you're loaded!" Oh, no, indeed Agnes began. But I will, else I'll lead the old man, else I'H shove the truck: I will help!" "But pray, Tom, you know Mrs. Gfeious won't like it!" Torn! are you coming to your tea this moment ? called Mrs. Grejous from the foot of the stairs; at the last, she did not feel, perhaps, wholly equal to facing the foe she had so uncompromisingly routed. Tom flew down the kitchen stairs at two bounds. Look here, mother, what's Miss Ohaunce a-going away all in a hurry for, and what's she been crying about ?" t Never you mind—how should I know what she'' been crying Sor? do her good, I daresay; she had need. Now, where are you off to ? Tom had meanwhile washed his face and hands, and assumed his cap with every sign of discarding his long-suffering tea. I'm a-going to help 'em move," said Tom, taking care to possess himself of the door beforehand. He thenceforward became a very host in himself, showed them the shortest cut to Tyndall'a-buildings unloaded the truck, carried in the chairs and the press bedstead, and the et ceteras, of Agnes's house- hold goods, and deposited them in the passage, whence Nelly and Agnes quickly transferred them to the now over-crowded little back parlour. Ida bad run forward to welcome her poor friend encountering Tom in the paseage, she and the bright eyed boy exchanged mutual glances of questioning wonder. Finally, Tom made over the flowering shrubs to the custody of their mistresp, and she, with many thank?, took leave of her unexpected and hearty champion. In the scanty accommodation of the room at Tyn- dall's-buildings, it was not possible that all could sleep that night, and Agnes could by no means be induced to take the repose her hostess would deny herself. Little Ida and the old man-quite as much the child-were already fast asleep and the two women agreed, with little difficulty, to keep their watch by the fire together. This new affliction gave her ac- quaintance a fresh interest in Nelly's eyes; and Agnes, on her part, felt she owed it to her kind hostess to keep her no longer in ignorance of her own history. It was not much to tell, though the little was bitter enough in the recital. The listener gathered more from Agnes's silence I than her words, that the father of the letter had filled 1 but poorly the part of a parent to her. Her mother died when she was quite a child, and her father had married soon after an idle, disreputable, and disor- 1 derly slattern, who, though she contrived to keep in ( with her husband by ministering to his vices, led all 1 depending on her a Bad life, and to the poor child I became a very tyrant; the more that her own chil- J dren died, one after the other, when young. r Years passed on as the girl grew up; her father heeding her no more than if she was a servant in the t house—her days more and more painful and lonely. 1 It was little to be wondered at that, anxious to escape j a life so wearisome, she hearkened to the fair words of a young man who occasionally came to her father's on matters connected with his trade. Agnes was af' fectienate by nature, and had found no outlet for her feelings; she was gentle, and easily persuaded by I these in whom she felt an interest; she missed the 1 tenderness of home, and eagerly accepted that which so fairly promised its perfection. < It was the old story—she loved the man, she < judged his heart after her own, and dreamed not of deceit—trusted—as she felt she herself could be trusted, and was lost! (7b be continued.)