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[ALL RIGHTS BBKKRYBJ),] Lawrence Halliford's Trust BY CHRISTIAN LYS, Author of T.%e Fortress of Yadasata," The Hepsworth hliihons," &c. Lawrence HalJiford had returned to town, after some weeks' absence, to find one letter in his box, dropped in there by mistake in- stead of being forwarded with his other cor- respondence. It was a short note dated threp weeks ago from Lilac Cottage, Raysley, stat- ing that the writer's father, who had died iu Australia, had told her to forward the en- closed packet as soon as she was settled in England. "Knowing that you were a friend of father's," the letter 'concluded, "I need hardly say how pleased I iliall be to see you. Yours faithfully, Mildred Stanhope." The reading of the packet enclosed was a long business, and its perusal brought back the past very vividly to Hallifora's mind. John Stanhope had once been his tutor, his adviser aud friend, but he had fallen upon evil days, and had been tempted to forge an- other man's name. No prosecution followed, but Stanhope and hi:) wife and two young children were obliged tn go abroad. The pac- ket, after recalling the past, gave a history of the exile. Mrs. Stanhope had died soon after their arrival in Australia, and Stanhope had only succeeded in providing the bare necessi- ties of life forhimdfand daughters. You were only a youth of fifteen or six- teen when I last saw you," the historv con- cluded, "but I believe you always liked me and pitied me. Weil. Halliford, I swear to you I was innocent of the crime of which I was aecusad. Remember, as you read, that this í3 the statement of a dying man it is the truth. I think it beet that my two girls, Mildred and Flossie, should return to Eng-' land, but they will have little money, and will have to get work. I want you to look after them. I have no other friend in the world but you, and I appoint you their guar- dian. It is a sacred trust," "By Jove! This is a tall order," said Hal- liford with a low whistle. "Why, Mildred must be twenty. A nice kind of guardian I look for a girl of twenty," and he laughed as he surveyed his face in a mirror. Then he became solemn again. "But it is no laugh- ing matter. I shall Imfre to go and interview my wards. I must do that, and give them advice which they probably won't take, and then-well, then I shall have done all I can do." Raysley was in Essex, a small village which soweone had lately discovered was quite a convenient distance from town for those who wanted to live in the country. Several new villa residences had sprung up in the vici- nity, but for the present, at least, the place had not been spoilt. Halliford found Lilac Cottage behind a high hedge, and standing back from a narrow lane. He had made in- quiries at the inn in the village, and been told that a Mrs. Smart lived there. Yes, the man thought that two, young ladies were stay- ing with her just now, but he knew nothing about them. A straight path led from the white gate in the hedge to the creeper-covered porch, and a woman came to the door as Halliford ap- proached, "Does Miss Stanhope live here?" "She is lodging with me At present, but she is out just now. She is certain to be in shortly, it is so near tea time. Will you come in and wait?" He was taken to a room looking on to the garden on the opposite side of the house to the lane, and there Mrs. Smart left him. A French window opened on to a verandah from which a step led down on to the lawn, a lawn that daisies grew in, aad which was not too trim, a Iavai with beds of old- fashioned flowers in it which bloomed as they listed and filled the whole air with frag- rance. The room was simply furnished, but there were evidences of the present tenants about, some books with markers in, a work basket, a writing case with M.S. on it, and a hat by the work basket, evidently in the pro- cess of being retrimmed. There were some photographs, but they were of Mrs. Smart's family and acquaintances; he looked in vain for one of his wards. He had just concluded that the half-trimmed hat looked as if it must be intended to cover a pretty head, when the sound of voices came to him, a man's voice and a woman's. They came to the corner of the verandah; and, 'although they spoke in low tones, Halliford could not help over- hearing what was .5aid. tb would have made his presence known had not tiie first words nTTeatiid his attention. "Mv d-iar Mildred, ym wrote three weeks ago, and have had 110 answer. Your father was not young, this friend of his is perhaps older still, and is very likely dead. At any rate, it 8eenu pretty certain that no help is to be obtained from him." "I shall wait a little hmer," the girl an- swered, and it was a low, sweet voice, the charm of music in it. Perhaps her companion noticed this, for he went on earnestly "And if lie comes, what difference does it make? He might find work for you and Flossie; yes, he might do that, but you were never meant to stand the rough usage of the world, any more than you could put up with receiving charity. Why not come to me, Mil- dred? I am not rich, but. I can give you com- fort. You know how I love you, I have told you so often, and I thought you really liked me. "I do like you; yes, I think I can say that, hut I am sure I do not love you—not as a wife should love her husband." "That will come. Mildred, believe me it will, Only be content to be wise now, and marry me" as a from drudgery and poverty. I will wait for the coming of love." "I might be fempfed if I thought it would ever come," she answered. "But I do not believe it ever would. You have been awfully good to us, but one cannot command one's love." "Wben will you answer me certainly?" asked the man. "Give me another- month." "Why, Mildred, whyt" "1 will answer you now if you like." "No," Ut. said quickly. HI will wait. You will lei me come for a walk with you to-mor- row as usual; I am not to be deprived of that, am Yf wÙn,1 may earne, but you mustn't think I mean anything. I don't- yet." Halliford heard the man's retrcatu:~ foot- steps on the gravel path, and then the girl came in /through the window. bite gave a Utile cry as he turwed towards her. 1 am not a trespasser, he said with a stnile. "I entered in a legitimate meaner by the front door, and gave my name to, Mrs. Smart. I am Lawrence Halliford." Yon—1>ut sorely you are Kailter young for the post. I am inclined to agree with you but tell me, do you know in; wiMti J stand to you? Did your J father tell you what he bad asked me to do in his letter?" "No; he only said that you would be cer- tain to advise us well, that you were an old friend of his. I .liojuaifc you would be an older man; a man of my father's age." "Well, you must mentally turn <:> my hair grey, add a few wrinkles to my face, and give me an elderly stoop in the shoulders, be- cause I have an old man's part to play. I am the guardian of you and your sister, and I believe I hold the post until you each reach the age of twenty-three, but we can verify that later." She smiled and then she laughed, and Hal- liford laughed, too; her amusement was in- fectious. She was exceedingly pretty, brown- eyed, with nut-brown hair, and a complexion tinted with the sun's kisses. She was tall, quick and graceful in her movements, and both her voice and laughter were musical. "We will start fair, at any rate," said Halliford. "So I will confess at once that I overheard your conversation just now." "That was Frank Jackson. He travelled with us from Australia, nu. iits been ;vv kind." "And now looks for his reward. We shall have to talk about him, but first you DL'Ir'¡ tell me all about your father and your life in Australia" Here Mrs. Smart eamo in with the tea, and. whilst she was arranging it a girl's voice sounded through the house. "Mill,ie. Where are you? I've got it. Start next Monday. TIiL-ty pounds a year!" The girl rushed into the room nnd stopped short. She was two years younger than her siscr, jolly-loo!'i?>j r:Uhor than pretty, and was very excited just now. "This is Mr. ■ Lawrence Halliford, Flossie, our guardian. "Our "h t y "For the next five years or thereabout.1; you are under my control," said Halliford, with a humourous twist in his face. Mildred shortly explained the position. "But isn't it absurd?" said Flossie. "Why. you are quite young. thirty-five at the out. side. You're not old enough to be my guar- ¡ dian." I "Thirty-three to be precise," was the an- swer. And what is it you are going to start next Monday?" "I am going to Lady Grove as secretary and companion and all that kind of tiling. She was awfully nice, Millie; said she n. membered my mother a little." "Remembered your mother!" said Halli ford. "Mother lived near Raysley," said Mil dred. "I believe her marriage with fat he was not liked indeed, I think she ran away from home and got married." I "Ah, I believe she did," said Halliford. "You won't begin by stopping my going to Lady Grove, will 11 you, Mr. Guardian, because you know we literally have no money, and must do something unless, of course, you are going to keep us in luxury until we get married and live happily ever afterwards." "We shall have to talk about that too,' said Halliford. During tea he explained how it was that ho had not come before, and afterwards he lis- tened to the story of their lives in the Colony. It was evident to him that they knew little of their father's past history, certainly no. thing about the forgery which had driven him from England. They had come to Rays- ley because their, father had suggested it. I but with the exception of Lady Grove'* I casual remembrance of their mother, no one in the neighbourhood had taken any notice of the girls. There was money enough for present needs, Halliford discovered, and the first interview ended with his promise to think over the whole business carefully and to come down again hi a week's time. Alone Tn his chambers Lawrence Halliford did a great deal of thinking, smoking pipe after pipe in the process, but he got idUe further than constantly stating to iiinui ii that Mildred Stanhope was the prettiest gid he had ever seen, aud tlwi- he felt: confident. that he would never like Mr Jackson. At the end of a week he packed a bag and went down to the inn at Raysley. He was per- suaded that he really wanted a few days' rest, and here was the opportunity of combin- ing business with pleasure. It was astonishing how quickly the fact of his being their duly appointed guardian did away with any reserve in the girls' treatment of him. He could almost imagine that he had actually readied the benevolent stage of wrinkles and white hair. Even Mr. Jackson, who was very little his junior, seemed to look to him for advice. He was also staying at the village inn, and Halliford saw a good deal of him. "I hope, Mr. Halliford, I shall have your support with regard to Mildred," Jackson said one evening. I should not attempt to influence her one way or the other. When she has made up her mind, I shall only have to decide whether the man she wants to marry is a fit and proper person to have the care of her." "I think I can satisfy you on that score," and Jackson gave a sketch of his history, to which Halliford listened with considerable in- terest. It prompted him to test the depth of Frank Jackson's affection. "Do you know much about Mr. Stanhope, about his past I mean?" he asked. "That he committed forgery ? Yes, I know that; it makes no difference in my feelings towards Mildred. I don't think she knows." "I believe not. Mr. Stanhope declared he was innocent." "Yet I suppose there is no doubt of his guilt," said Jackson. "He made the statement in ki» last letter to me. The solemn word of a dying man cannot fail to be impressive," Halliford re- turned. He was almost aorry that the slur on the father's name did not make some diffe- rence in Jackson's feeling towards thedaugll- ter. Flossie Stanhope had commenced her duties as secretary, and Lawrence Halliford called upo. Lady Grove. He explained that it was his duty as her guardian. Many other duties, too, seemed to fall upon him at this time, little business matters relating to her father's affairs he told Mildred, and he was constantly at Raysley, even after his few days' holiday had come to an end. The month which Mildred had demanded for consideration of her answer to Frank Jackson came to an end, and unable to decide for herself she declared that her guardian must decide for her. Halliford was sitting in a wicker clmir on the verandah, and Mildred stood nt the open window. He had only returned to Eaysley last night and had walked over to the cottage early this morn- ing. "He is coming this afternoon for my answer," slid said. "What shall I say?" "You have no money, and he offers you ex- emption from a life of toil." "Yes, I know." "Do you love him?" "No. that is I don't think ao, but what am _& I to do? I believe he honestly loves me. and perhaps I should be doing right !o marry him. It is a diffictilt lo, I -]I' "At any rate you arc not in lose with any- one ehe f" "No." She spoke quite firmly, and Halli- ford lit another cigarette from the stump of the old one. "I have never quite understood why Jack- son took the trouble to hunt you up in Aus- tralia," he said. "He knew of father from some friends of his," Mildred answered. "He arrived the day after father died, and he was awfully good and helpful." "Very nice of him." "Well, it really was. We were strangers, and he did a great deal for us. Then as he was coming home he looked after us. He asked me to marry him on the way home." "And has been asking at intervals ever since," said Halliford. "I wonder why." "Because—well, because he is in love with me. Is that so strange? I suppose you hive never been in love and do not understand?" He looked at her with a smile, but he saw there was the glint of tears in her eyes., "You think 1 am too wrinkled and old for love," he said. "I am going to tell you some- thing, Mildred, which under different circum- stances I do not think I should hare told you. Your father left, England under a cloud. He was said to have forged a man's name for a considerable sum of money." "Father did that? You say father did that?" "He was in great difficulties at the time, and it was proved conclusively that he was guilty." "Ah, I see, you were the only one who did not believe the lie!" she exclaimed. "That is why father knew you would good to us." "I pitied him." Halliford answered, "but a3 a fact I thought him guilty." "You, too!" and Mildred began to sob. She had learnt to cling to this strong young guardian of hers and now he had failed her. "That is part of the story," Halliford went on. "In your father's letter which you sent to me he declared that he was innocent, he made the solemn stsdement when death was upon him, and it had weight with me, Mil- dred. I wondered what I could do to prove his statement, and curiously your friend Jack- son gave me an idea. He told me about, theof; people who had known your father, when he explained why he had called upon you in Australia. I followed up the idea and have been working at it ev-er since." "And you have found--?" "That he was innocent, yes. I have seen the confession of the guilty man." "The coward' Oh, the coward to let an innocent man suffer." "This other man is dead too, Mildred." She was silent for some minutes looking vacantly across the sunlit garden. "Did Frank Jackson know why father left England?" she asked presently. J "Jl told me he did." "And that he was really innocent?" "He said nothing about fhat." "Eut he did know it. You believe he did." "I am inclined to b'.dieve that he K""W somethi-ig more, Mildred. The man who committed the forgery ultimately inherited a fortune, and before this he had bitterly re- pentod his crime. He did all in his power to make restitution. Through a firm tors he advertised for your father, bu: 1 > no purpose. At !iis df,,i.tli lie ](,t (-O""fes- si -n. and a large sum of money m trust for I your father or his li-ir- In fact, von n:id 'j Flossie are very rich girls, rich enough to be an attraction to any man." "And Frank Jackson knew 11 this." "How ho found it out I do not know, but I believe his knowledge brought him to Aus- tralia.. I should iie-jf.ion him very closely be- fore you consent to marry him." "What a good guardian you are!"slir- impulsively, seizing both his hands and hold- ing them in hers for a moment. Then she-ran into the house and did not come back to him again. again. JTalliford left the cottage, but he did not return to th jlm. He walked across country for miles m>:< king of Mildred, wondering what she would say to Frank Jackson. He had no doubt himself that Jackson knew everything, that he had gone out to Australia on purpose to win Mildred or her sister, and fortune had played into his hands. He found them in trouble, and he had helped them and looked after them 011 the way home, had sought to make himself necessary to them, and would no donbt have kept his secret until Mildred was safely his wife. Yet hp might really love her, and he might succeed in per- suading Mildred to marry him. "At least I have acted the part of guardian only," Halliford said to himself. "She can- not guess how I long to play another part in her life." Late in the afternoon he returned to the cottage, and crossing the garden walked to- wards the verandah. The interview must be over long ago, he thought, but he was mis- taken. As he reached the verandah Jackson was speaking in an angry tone: "Lawrence Halliford has told you all this for his own ends. Are you so blind that you cannot see he is after your fortune? Are you fool enough to believe him when he makes love to you?" "Mr. Halliford is my guardian, nothing more." "You love him. I can see it in your eyes." Then they both turned sharply, hearing footsteps on the verandah. "Eavesdropping into the bargain!" Jack- son exclaimed when he saw Halliford at the window. "Hardly that. I heard nothing but your opinion of me." "I can put that into plainer words if you like." "I shouldn't trouble if I were you," was the answer. "I might be tempted in my turn to give an honest man's opinion of your con- duet. Better leave things as they are." With a muttered curse, and a short con- temptuous laugh, Jackson picked up his hat and went out. Mildred did not move, and Halliford went and stood in front of her, looking into her eves to see if he could read the secret Jack- son professed to find there. "Has he gone for good, Mildred?" Yes." "You did not answer his last accusation," he said quietly, and then be suddenly took < both her "hands. H Mildred, do you believe what he said about me?" "No." I have never made love to you, little girl, but I have often been tempted to do so. I should have done, if it hadn't been for Jack- son and now I wish I had, before we knew all about this money. Does my hair look very white to-day? Are the wrinkles very apparent? Come, look at me, look into my eyes, and tell me what is written there. You won't. Then I will do the telling. I love you, Mildred. Somehow .1 fancy your father would have given you to me more willingly than he would have done to most men. Ie law letter he said you were a sacred trust; and that you always shall be, dear, if JOlt will give yourself to me. I think 1 loved yve the moment you came in at the window them, the other day, and I saw my ward for the first time." "Did you, Lawrence?" "Yes, my darling. And you?" His anst were round her now, and she made Ra struggle to get free. "I think that was the moment I decided that I could never marry Frank JacUoa. but this morning you were horrid, yow wouldn't help me a bit." 'I asked you whether "Whether I loved anyone else," she *a £ £ r holding his arm tightly round her. "01 course, I said no, and if it wasn't quite tromi. what else could I say? You hadn't asked um to love you then." The door opened suddenly, and Ftoswi*, came in. j "Oh, I'm so sorry I—well, I always csni: you were an absurd guardian; but you'D. awful jolly as a brother, Lawrence."





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