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[ALL BIGHTS RESERVED.] THE MAID OF THE MANOR. By GEORGE R. SIMS. Date, December 16th; time, four o'clock in the afternoon and darkness settling over the quaint little market town of Stoke Pommeroy. The snow which had fallen heavily the pre- vious day was still lying a hard white crust upon the roadway, and had only been par- tially cleared away in front of the shops of the long street, which wound its way along for nearly half a mile. Stoke Pommeroy was ths,t one long street, and that one long street w is Stoke Pommeroy. The open country lay around it, with here and there little groups of houses, and a quarter of a mile away, hidden from the vulgar gaze in a thick pinewood, was the Manor House, which had been the coun- try seat of the Thorndales for centuries. When Hugh Thorndale, the only son, came to the family estates by the death of his father he was eight-and-thirty, the Member for the county, and the husband of a young and beautiful wife to whom he was devotedly attached. He paesed the greater part of the year in London, where he had a handsome house in one of the fashionable squares, or in travelling with "his lady" abroad. All Stoke Pommeroy was the property of the Thorndales. It had come to them by the marriage of a Thorndale with a wealthy heiress in the days of Charles II., and ever since then a Thorndale had been Lord of the Manor. No Thorndale had ever allowed an acre of the family property to pass into a stranger's hands, and Hugh Thorndale in- herited a fortune which, before the days of American millionaires, would have been con- sidered princely. It was a year after he came into the family property that a little daughter was born to him. For weeks after that hie idolised young wife lay between life and death, and there was not a man or woman in the little Buck- inghamshire town whose heart did not go out to the Squire in his trouble. But youth triumphed, and six months later the Squire brought his wife ani" aby girl to the Manor House, and they we' received by the tenantry with great rejoiciriMs. After that the Thorndales divided their time more equally between the country and London, and the Manor House saw more of them than it had ever done before. No other son or daughter was born to the Squire, and Sylvia Thorndale grew up and won all hearts by her merry ways and gentle kindness. Sylvia, as she grew in years and grace, be- came the idol of the people, and in their love for her they forgot that the day must come when the long line of the Thorndales would end, for the Squire had no male relatives of his name, and his only child, this beautiful girl of twenty, was already a promised wife. That was the thought that came to the vicar as, at four o'clock on December 16th, making his way home along the High-street, he saw Sylvia dash past in the high dog-cart that was a familiar sight in Stoke Pommeroy. He knew that the Squire was ill, and his friend the doctor had told him in confidence that he was a little uneasy about his patient. The Squire was not an old man. He was only fifty-nine, but there were symptoms which the doctor did not like. He had thought it his duty to call in a London specialist in consultation, and after the great man's visit the Squire himself had begun to take a gloomy view of his prospects of complete re- covery. His health had 'begun to break two years previously, when Mrs. Thorndale died in Rome from a fever which she contracted in Naples. Sylvia and the Squire came back to th." Manor House in deep mourning, bringing with them the wife and mother to be laid in the vault of the Thorndales, and from this time the Squire had lived at the Manor House, shutting himself away from his old friends. Sylvia had mourned her mother deeply; but gradually her youth and spirits had asserted themselves, and though she devoted herself to her father, and sought in every way to banish the gloom which had settled on him, she gradually returned to her usual way of life, and was out and about among the people and in the homes of the humbler tenants, taking keen interest in all that concerned them. The lights of Sylvia's high dog-cart flashed through the quiet High-street, and suddenly became fixed lights in front of an old- fashioned red-brick house which was the resi- dence of old Lawyer Transom, the Squire's confidant and man of business. The Transoms had been the Thorndales' lawyers, father and son, for generations. The groom jumped down and stood at the horse's head while Sylvia alighted. You'd better get up and keep the mare moving," she said to the groom. If Mr. Transom's not in I shall wait for him." But Lawyer Transom was at home, and Sylvia was ushered into his private office at once. "Miss Thorndale," exclaimed the lawyer, anxiously, I hope-I hope you have not come with bad news. I am afraid the Squire is worse." Sylvia's face was very grave, and the old lawyer had at once imagined the worst. He had not stopped to think that in the event of a crisis Sylvia would have remained by her father's side and a servant would have been sent to fetch him. The Squire is not worse, Mr. Transom," she said. I have come to consult you on my own business." My dear young lady, why didn't you send for me? I would have come to you at once." "I thought it best to come to you. It is about Mr. Franklyn." The old lawyer looked curiously at Sylvia over his glasses. He knew, of course, that she wm engaged to Mr. Guy Franklyn, the eldest son of Sir George Franklyn, a large landowner whose estate was near that of the Thorndales. He knew the engagement was the result of a genuine attachment, and that the Squire had given his consent to it. He supposed that something might have trans- pired which had caused a temporary estrange- ment. My dear young lady," he said, you can, of course, speak to me in the most perfect confidence." I am sure of that, and this is a matter which I could only discuss with someone like yourself absolutely in the Squire's confidence. Let me tell you, in order that you may speak your mind fully when you have heard my story, that the Squire knows that I have come to you. He agrees that I shall tell you every- thing, and that you shall decide what I ought to do." "I quite understand that you have come to consult me with your father's consent," re- plied the lawyer, speaking slowly. "I did not say with my father's consent," replied Sylvia, I said with the Squire's con- sent. Squire Thorndale is not my father." Old Lawyer Transom sank back in hie chair and stared vacantly at Sylvia. If she had told him that there was no such person as Squire Thorndale in existence, and that Stoke Pommeroy was a purely imaginary locality, he would not have been more thun- derstruck than he was by that astounding statement. "My dear young lady," he gasped, as soon as he had recovered the power of speech, "you do not know what you are saying." "The Squire himself is my informant. He told me two hours ago what I have come to tell you -tow." "The Squire is ill—he is suffering from some temporary hallucination. You should have sent for the doctor at once. Have you done so?" "No; I have come to you. The Squire has been wanting to tell me this for some time- ever since Mrs. Thorndale's death." "Ah, ce your mother's death-" I sa Mrs. Thorndale's death, not my I mother's death. Mrs. Thorndale was not my I mother." I Lawyer Transom half rose from his chair :n alarm. He was convinced now that it was Sylvia who had suddenly gone mad. He won- dered what he ought to do. "Mrs. Thorndale," continued Sylvia, "never knew the truth. She died believing that I was her daughter." Mr. Transom grasped the arms of his chair nervously. There was no longer any doubt as to Sylvia's mind being affected. The idea of a mother who had never been separated from her child since it was born being mis- taken as to her relationship to that child was not one that a sane person could entertain for a moment. I s,ee that you do not believe me," said Sylvia; "but you must. The Squire has shewn me the document my real mother ¡ signed when she gave me up to him for ever." "Do you mean to say," exclaimed the old lawyer, with a look of blank amazement oa his face, that the Squire adopted you and gave you to Mrs. Thorndale, and that she did not know that you were not her own child?" "Yes. The Squire has told me everything, shewn me everything, proved everything. You know that I have only just become engaged to Mr. Franklyn. It was while discussing my engagement and the future with regard to r,he estates that the Squire suddenly took my hands and looked earnestly in my face. Sylvia,' he said, I have wanted to tell you something ever since my wife died. I was a coward not to tell you before Guy Franklyn asked me for your hand—I must tell you now.' "And he told vou-" The truth—the whole truth. When a bahv daughter was born to him in London his wife had a fever which affected her reason. She was mad for many days. The bafoy was taken from her, and it d died. The doctor who at- tended her was a great friend of the Squire's; he told him the truth. Your wife may re- cover her reason,' he said, 'if she gets through the fever, but there is one great fear —she will ask for her baby and she will have to be told that it is dead. In the condition she is in now, and will be for some time even if she recovers, the shock of learning that her baby is dead will be terrible. I fear that it may kill her.' "The Squire, beside himself with grief, believing his wife's life to be at stake, urged the doctor to help him, to tell him some way in which the knowledge of her baby's death might be kept from the unhappy mother. There is only one way,' said the doctor. 'You must find some poor woman who will give up her own baby. It must be given to your wife when she asks for her own. There will then be some hope of her regaining her health and her reason. When she is well and strong again and able to bear it you can tell ¡ her the truth.' "A woman was found who consented to part with her baby. That woman was my mother. I am the child the Squire's wife was induced to believe was her own. When she asked for her baby I was given to her. She loved me as her own; she believed me to be her own; and the Squire could never find it in his heart to tell her the terrible truth. This is what I have learnt this afternoon, Mr. Transom. I have eeen my poor mother's signature to the deed in which she gave up all claim to me for ever. Knowing that I am not Sylvia Thorndale, but the daughter of a poor woman who parted with me for money, I have no right to let Mr. Franklyn make me his wife in ignorance of the truth." Lawyer Transom listened to Sylvia's story, and he understood. To him it was a terrible revelation, but he no longer had any doubt- as to the facts Sylvia had put before him. The Squire knows you came to tell me this?" he said, his voice betraying his agita- tion. "I had better see him at once. Shall I come back with you now? Yes, it will be better. But you have net told me what you would advise with regard to Mr. Franklyn. Will it be right for me to tell him everything, or should he be asked to see the Squire?" "That is as you wish. The matter is one solely for you to decide." "Then I will tell Mr. Franklyn myself. I will send a groom with a message to him directly we get back, asking him to come to the Manor House this evening. You will stay, won't you? He can see you with my father after I have told him, if he wishes to." Ten minutes later the lights of Sylvia's dog- cart flashed again through the long street of Stoke Pommeroy, and the few people who were about noticed that Lawyer Transom was seated by her side. London, December 20th, and four o'clock in the afternoon. Sylvia Thorndale stood at the window of a sitting-room in an old- fashioned family hotel in U Dover-street watch- ing the forms that flitted by dimly in the lamplight. In an easy-chair an elderly lady was sitting cosily by the blazing fire. Mrs. Transom had accompanied her husband and Sylvia to Lon- don to act as Sylvia's chaperon. Sylvia turned from the window with a little sigh of impatience. "I do wish they'd come," she said; "it is getting late, and I am anxious to ki-.ic)w--all." "My dear," said the old lady, "my hus- band telegraphed that he and ,Mr. Franklyn would be here by half-past four. I have never known my husband late for a business ap- pointment, though I confess he has not al- ways been punctual when he had arranged to meet me anywhere." Sylvia had told her story herself to Guy Franklyn, and t'ie young man had been as astonished as the old lawyer. But he had assured Sylvia that he loved her, and did not hold her more responsible for her parentage than any other human being had a right to be held. He had seen the Squire and Mr. Transom, and having satisfied himself that the facts were as Sylvia put them he 1, 1[1 assured his fiancee that he bad not the ^ghtest inten- tion of allowing her to marry tsayone else. Further, after consulting his father, he had come to the Manor House the following morn- ing, and told Sylvia that as she ixfd made up her mind to go to London with Mr. and Mrs. Transom in order to find out if possible the present circumstances of the Robert and Lilian Deane who had signed the document which gave Sylvia Deane an infant into the custody of Hugh Thorndale, he would gladly make one of the party and assist in the search with the best private inquiry agent that could be obtained. They had arrived in London on December 18th, and had been steadily pursuing their inquiries, with the result that on the after- noon of the 20th, Mr. Transom, who started out at ten in the morning to meet Mr. Frank- lyn and the private detective who was work- ing with him, had sent a telegram to the z, hotel with this brief message on it: Found —with you at 4.30." It wanted a few minutes to the half-hour when the waiter knocked at the sitting-room door and ushered in the lawyer and Guy Franklyn. Sylvia sprang up and went eagerly towards them. "Well," she said, "you have found them—you have found my father and mother? "Not your father," replied the lawyer, looking at Sylvia, anxiously, to see how she took the news, but your mother—yes— and—your sister." "A sister," murmured Sylvia—"I have a sister? Oh, tell me, tell me-ar,e they very poor?" Guy Franklyn came to Sylvia and took her hands in his. "Yes, dear," lie said, gently, they are very, very poor, but you will not-how shall I put it, Sylvia?—you will not be ashamed of them." "I would never have been that" ex- claimed the girl, a slight flush comii ;uto her cheeks. "I know that my mothi. must have been terribly poor to part with me; but whatever you might have had to tell me, I should have felt sorrow for her—not shame." "We have eeen them in their home," said the lawver; "vour mother, since her widow- hood, has earned her living by honest worK, but work paid for with a price that barely keeps body and soul together." My poor mother!" cried Sylvia, the tears starting to her eyes. And while she has suffered like this I have had all that wealth could give me And my sister? Is eighteen," said Framklyn, "and as—as pretty as you are, Sylvia, and she has been working, too, to keep the little home together. She is gentle, Sylvia, and refined and artistic. She paints Christmas cards and birthday cards now, but she has only lately been able to get that kind of work." "She is an artist, then, my sist,er? said Sylvia, eagerly. Yes— it is an inherited gift. Your father yas an artist—and a gentleman." For her lover's sake the words were wel- come to Sylvia, and the flush deepened on her f-he?fc. nd he is dead?" Yes, dear; he died five years after you we?'e taken from your parents." But why—why did they give me up- have vou learnt that? Yes, from your mother," said Mr. Tran- som. Your father had been ill and unable to follow his profession for two years. They had parted with nearly everything they possessed. Your mother's health broke down when you were born; the doctor who attended her told her that you must be taken from her-that with her you would die. Your father was helpless. They were in desperate straits; there was nothing but the workhouse for ,p them. And then the Squire's doctor, mak- ing inquiries among his colleagues, heard of the case, and went to see your mother and her baby-you. He told your mother that you would have a home and tender care, and that you would be provided for for life. To save you—to save her husband—she gave you up." "My poor mother!" There were tears in Sylvia's voice, and for a moment she was silent. Then she turned to Mr. Transom. Have you told my—my mother that the child she parted with for ever is eager to see her—that I want to go to her at once? Yes. It is some distance from here. They are living in a little street in the Borough. When shall we go? "Now—now!" exclaimed Sylvia. "You I will come with me, won't you, Guy?" she said, eagerly, to her lover. "You will take me to the place—and then—you will let me see my mother and sister alone? "Yes, dear. I have seen them, you know, and I told your mother, Sylvia, that her daughter was my promised wife." An hour later, Sylvia, neatly and plainly dressed, stopped in front of a little house in a quiet side street in the Borough. The door stood open and the passage seemed very dark. "Come, Sylvia," said Guy, "I'll go with you up the stairs. It is on the first floor." On the first floor he knocked gently at a door. Then he smiled at Sylvia, and went softly down the stairs to wait in the street. And Sylvia went into the little room with trembling lips, and the tears she could not check were in her eyes. There was gossip among the good folks of Stoke Pommeroy as they came from church on Christmas morning; and the gossip was of good news. Everybody said it was certain that the Squire was getting well again, for there were guests at the Manor House for Christmas. Miss Sylvia had been up to London and brought dotvn some of her friends. There was a middle-aged lady with soft grey hair and a pale face—a Mrs. Deane— and her daughter, a pretty girl of eighteen, who was for all the world like Miss Sylvia, only not so tall, and without Miss Sylvia's bright colour and merry eyes, and they were going to stay at the Manor House to keep the Squire company. The servants at the Manor House declared that it was the best thing possible for the Squire to have company about him again. He had quite taken to Miss Sylvia's friends, and seemed t,en years younger. The servants had spoken the truth. The secret that had preyed upon Hugh Thorn- dale's mind after his wife's death had been told to those whom it most concern.ed, and the Squire had begun once more to feel the zest of life. He had agreed with Guy Franklyn that Sylvia need have no feeling of shame about her parents. Her father had been a man of gentle blood and an artist who had failed because the blessing of health was denied him, and Mrs. Deane was a refined and gentle woman, who had endured, as many a ruined gentlewoman has to do, the long tor- ture of adversity with brave and enduing courage. At the Manor House that Christmas even- ing, when the Squire had gone to his own room, Sylvia and her mother and sister sat by the great log fire in the dining-hall. As they talked together of the happy future, the voices of the village singers without filled .he night with the joy and hope of the, old Eng- lish Christmastid,e carols. And with thit joy and hope in their hearts, the mother > and daughter so strangely united looked forward to the years to be. [THE END.]


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