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TWENTY SHORT STORIES.

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[COPYRIGHT.] TWENTY SHORT STORIES. 14. TsE PRIVATE' SECRETARY, ji Y EVELYN SHARP. PART 1. It was on a cheerless day, at that season of the year when the only signs of vegetation to be seen in the fields are decayed turnip-tops, and heaps of faded couch grass, that two men were speeding towards the Eastern counties in a smoking carriage as fast as the five o'clock express from Liverpool Street could carry them. One of them evidently the younger, was talking incessantly as though he had no cares of his own and had never felt it incumbent upon him to shoulder those of other people gratuitously. His face was a small, round, shrewd-looking one, and it surmounted an undersized, unphysical body, which he had been ill-judged enough to accentuate by wearing a long, loose overcoat, reaching to his feet. Tenez, mon ami," he cried, as he began to realise slowly that his conversation was falling on unappreciative ears, "what have you to complain of after all ? You've lots of money—" So have all the beastly shopkeepers in Totten- ham Court Road," growled his companion from the other end of the carriage. ft And your name is in all the papers, en fin— "I might be a fashionable swindler for that." "And you are enjoying the glory of having explored where no white man has gone before and you were smart enough to do it in Africa, which is all the rage j ust now, and society is at your feet. What more can you want ?" "More? Good heavens, Alphonse, there's lots more," said the other grimly. You've left out the mothers who always want to know if you have met their youngest sons who went out to the Cape last year, and who offer you their eldest daughters in the same breath. And you take the eldest daughters into dinner, and they put you down as a fraud, because you never killed a lion, and always had lots to eat. I wish I had never come to England "And I wish I were in your shoes, that's all," rejoined Alphonse, "give me your opportunities, and see what I'd make of them-" "Done wioh you," suddenly exclaimed the elder man, throwing away his ha if-smoked cigar, and sitting upright. "Alphonse, my boy, I've got an idea." "Bon Don't lose it then, will you?" These people, the Crookleys, have never seen me since I was a boy and we are the same colour- ing, you and 1. Why shouldn't we exchange identities just for the furtnight we are there, eh? Do you twig ? A keen look crept into the small eyes of his com- panion. Impossible We should be found out; people staying in the house or something. You're a public character now, Wilde," he answered, and seemed to dismiss the idea with a laugh. Not the least possibility of discovery. Listen to me. The Crookleys are not like ordinary people. Old Crookley is an eccentric anti- quarian, who has so far cut himself off from the outer world that he not only lives in this out- landish place, which is ten miles from a town or a station, but he won't even allow a newspaper to be brought into the house, nor a visitor to be asked to lunch. Our invitation was a perfectly abnormal event. He only asked me out of respect to a fancied obligation he owes my dead father, and he allowed me to bring you, because I said I could not travel without my secretary. So it would be as safe as tombs, and I could enjoy the luxury of being a nobody for fourteen days. Shall we try it ? I really mean it, Alphonse." Je commence d'avoir des yeux. But has he no family, your old curmudgeon ? His wife is dead-" That's good. Et puis ? I believe there are some daughters, but don't let that excite you. They have never moved out of the place since their birth, and they have been brought up on antiquities. So they won't be lively. And if they are like the father, their looks won't redeem them." Sons?" There are none, fortunately." It is hardly necessary to reproduce any more of the conversation between the two travellers. It is enough to say that when the train at last deposited them at their destination, a sleepy mar- ket town in Suffolk, Alphonse Marston had assumed the name of Arthur Wilde fer a season, and the great African explorer, who had recently taken London by storm, had consented to slip into the shoes of his own half-French secretary and friend. "And are yon, too, interested in the folk-lore of the Aryan nations, Miss Crookley ?" Oh yes, indeed, Mr. Marston, it is my favourite study although I find the jewellery of the Roman matrons almost as fascinating," answered the young- est Miss Crookley, with her eyes fixed demurely on her soup pla-e. "Ah yea, to be sure, yes," said the supposed Alphonse, hastily, "that's the kind of stuff they put into ri-useuma where nobody goes, isn't it? Doesn't the jew l:el'Y in the shops down Bond Street hold any attraction for you, too ? He caught a glimpse of her eyes then, but they were hastily lowered again, and the same absurdly precise childish tone :mswered him"back I have never been to a museum, and I did not know they kept antiquities in Bond Street. Isn't Bond Street a dreadfully dissipated place ? I have never been P. way from home, you know," she added with a deep tigh. No? l'lmt is a great pity." he said fervently, and wondered if she would talk this sort of bosh for a whole fortnight. He looked across the table to see how his friend was getting on. The real Alphonse was discoursing brilliantly on some dis- trict of the world that Arthur concluded was meant to be Africa. The eldest daughter, a slender sweet-looking girl, who had none of the affected airs of her sister, Joan, if she also had none of her coy prettiness, was listening with a gravity which shewed that she was used to playing the part of patient listener in her own home; and Arthur blushed with trepidation at some of the wild asser- tions, the fellow was asking her to believe. "Lions ? Why I have lain in my bullock-waggon in the moonlight, and watched the lions walk down tne road, sniffing at the rug that covered me as they passed And such moonlight as it is too; you do not know what moonlight is in England." "What an instructive fact," murmured Joan thoughtfully, I had no idea they had a different moon out in Africa now, how can that be managed I wonder ?" It is the same moon, but they keep it cleaner," explained Arthur. Oh. So you are an explorer too ? How improv- ing it ought to be to have two explorers staying in the house at once Did you hear that, Catherine? Mr. Marston is an explorer too, as well as a French scholar. I hope I shall be able to restrain myself from asking him too many questions while he is here. You will rebuke me if I do, Mr. Marston," and she lifted two blue eyes to his face with a look which was almost vacant in its simplicity. "Joan, dear, please don't," said her sister in a pained tone, though there seemed no immediate cause for her rebuke. "He an explorer? exclaimed Alphonse. Oh no, you are mistaken, Miss Joan, I assure you. He never.set foot in Africa in his life. Frenchmen never travel far from their boulevards, you know, and he is a Frenchman to the core, in spite of his English father and his English education. Isn't it so, mon ami I suppose it is, yes," answered Arthur humbly, feeling there were slight drawbacks to the 2-dle he had adopted. Then if you are not an explorer, why did you assume a knowledge of a country you had never visited ? I call that presumptuous, Mr. Marston," said Joan in a reproachful tone, and she addressed the rest of her remarks to Alphonse. Talking about the first Britannia struck by Hadrian, Mr. Marston," said old Mr. Crookley, looking up from the book in which he had been btiried,since the beginning of dinner, "there is a curious fact mentioned here in connection with it that might possibly interest you, seeing that you "em to know something of that branch of numis- matic art." No one had even mentioned the first Britannia ,¡f,J'!ICJ:t by Hadrian, and Arthur was not aware of Having given the slightest proof of a knowledge of bat as Mr. Crookley's method of introducing wabjjset was apparently well-known to his aad as Aiphonse was riveting the atten- 'i- tion of both of them at that moment by a thri, I account of how he had lived on two ounces of por- ridge a day, made out of sour meal, for three months, the ex-African explorer submitted to his fate, and assented in monosyllables to a mass of information he had never intended to provoke. "It's been the most beastly evening Ive ever spent," he said to Alphonse, when they parted for the night. You're never satisfied," answered his quondam secretary, who had been enjoying himself mightily. "Of course you're not playing first fiddle, but you'll get over that; I have had to, ma foi. What do you say to the old man ? Conceited old bore. And the youngest girl is a prig, and the eldest one alarms me, she is so painfully honest." „ Ah, true. Mais, ce sont des femmes et j'y fais mon bonheur. We must wake them up, they are too terribly primitive for words. That's enough to ruin any woman, from an entertaining point of view, bien entendu. By the way, how could you promise to help that little one with her French ? You'll betray the whole game if you are so rash." "I was fairly let in," said Arthur gloomily, "and how could you invent all that trash about South Africa ? Any encyclopedia would bring you up if they were to look it. up." "But they won't, it's not in their line. I per- ceive they have put the wrong bags in our rooms so we must exchange contents." Arthur Wilde could hardly believe his ears when he awoke early next morning to the sound of laughter under his window, pure, girlish, careless laughter, that would make any man's pulse beat faster and inspire him with an ardent wish to dis- cover the uvaker of it. Could there be another daughter who had not appeared the night betore ? "Kate, Kate," cried a mocking, mirthful voice which seemed to have a ring of something familiar in it, Oh Kate, come out, such a glorious morning as it is too! I have been riding Skip all round the fields, and they are white with boar frost, and all the beech leaves are coming down with little craeks and shivers, and no one is about, not even an African explorer, or a grumpy old French secretary. Kate, Kate, do you hear ? Come out, there was the noise of a window-sash being softly opened a little way off, and Catharine s voice sounded in the crisp morning air. Child child will you never grow old ? Bare feet, and loose hair, and no saddle. And you promised me last night not to play any more pranks for-for a fortnight. And you will catch your death in this frost." "But, Kate," pleaded the merry voice, grown plaintive, I am going to have my breakfast before they are down so that I needn't mention antiquities till lunch time, and I am sure you would have been tempted to play him tricks if you had sat next to him, and he had glared at you, and never smiled all the time. But oh! the iewellery of the Roman matrons, and the folk-lore of the Aryan nations!" and the peal of laughter broke out again. There, go along, Joan. No, I am not coming out at this unearthly hour, and you will wake the whole house up if you stay there." There was a clatter of a horse's hoofs down the drive, and the window was closed again. The great African explorer lay awake, and wondered how he could have been so deceived. And she had thought him grumpy The post brought him a good many letters that morning, which were finally transferred from Alphonse's plate to his own pocket; and the two men spent most of the hours before lunch time in answering them in the library. The temporary resumption of his own character during this operation restored some of Arthur's self-respect, which had received so rude a shock in the early hours of the morning, and he walked into the dining-room when the second gong sounded, with a swiftly-made resolve to have his revenge on his little tormentor. "Is your sister not well to-day?" he asked "Catharine with a sudden sensation of disappoint- ment at the sight of the empty chair next his own. Oh yes, thank you. She generally stays out all da,y when it is fine like this," said Catharine, hastily. "Have you been for a walk this morning?" No-yes, I don't quite know. But I suppose she takes her books with liec ? She is such a student, is she not ?" he continued, curiously. don't know—at least—did you say fish, Mr. Marston?" So the subject was dropped again. The only glimpses he was destined to have of her that day were from his window. He was dressing for dinner in the evening, when her voice again sounded from the path below, rather subdued in tone, and without any accompanying laughter. "Oh, Joan, darling, how tired you look," said her sister's voice from the lawn, "why did you stay out so late ? Don: be cross, Kate I couldn't help it, it was such a lovely day. I have been all over the hills and—isn't it different when the sun goes in? Oh, need I come in to dinner ? I should so like to go to bed, and I don't want to meet those men a bit. I hate people who go and explore a place you know nothing whatever about, and then tell you things you are not in a position to contradict." The elder girl with cautious intent seemed to be endeavouring to silence her, though ineffectually, for Joan began again in a scarcely subdued key- "I don't care who hears me. They shouldn't come spoiling everything. Nobody wanted them. He's just as bad as the other, with his great serious face and his stupid questions. Why should we all be supposed to be soaked in antiquities just because papa hates everything that isn't two thousand years old? He should have had more sense. I should like to tire him out with a day on the hills, it would do him lots of good." The stacre of his toilet did not allow Arthur to make his presence known by announcing from the window that nothing would please him better than p to be punished in this manner; and Catharine evidently believed. so little in the efficacy of the prescription, as evinced in its effect on Joan, that she carried her off at this point to her room and he saw no more of her than a bedraggled, dust stained, little figure, under a battered straw hat. "Did ever maiden have such varying moods?" he asked himself, wonderingly and as Alphonse was not there to tell him that Joans were a com- mon occurrence in the civilised world, he continued his speculations on her remarkably original character, undisturbed. It was on the following morning, when he had left Alphonse in the library to finish off some letters, that he met her alone for the first time. There was a wood at the back of the house, and he came suddenly upon her among the trees lying on the loose sandy soil with her ear to the ground. She jumped up impatiently as he uttered an exclamation of surprise, and knitted her brows at him. "You've spoilt it, and they won't come out now," she said in a disappointed tone. Who are they,' please ? My rabbits, of course; they all know me, and they come when I call them, if there is no one about. There are lots of rabbits here, and papa won't allow anyone to shoot them, so they are quite tame with me. But they won't come out now." Shall I go away ? be asked, penitently. "Oh, it wouldn't be any good, so you might as well stay now you've come. But you mustn't shoot anything while you're here. I know you brought your gun, I saw it in the hall." No, I didn't," he said, eagerly, it was my friend's," which was true. It had your name on it, Mr. Marston," she said, eyeing him keenly. He remembered, and stumbled over his answer. I "Oh a.h, yes, I was forgetting. But I'll promise you not to shoot anything." Tells stories," was her mental note. She had sunk down listlessly on some faggots, and he leaned against a tree and looked down at her. Do you mind smoking? he asked her. She opened her eyes. I never tried. What are you thinking of You mistake me. Of course I meant, do you mind if I have a cigarette ? Of course I don't. What a ridiculous question to ask Why should I mind ? And she laughed. Upon my word, I don't know why you should, in the open air. But it is a customary question to ask a lady." y He lighted his cigarette, and sh tified a yawn. Where is Mr. Wilde ? she ask abruptly. In the house, finishing some latteml* H I thought you were his secretary t" So I am, but there are some things he will do himself. Quite unnecessary, of COUMe, bait Wilde is full of odd cranks as perhaps you've DOtMed." He felt he deserved some satqfactioll lot havt none of the tctat. She was putting him down as meanly jealous in her mind. But surely he is your friend? You ought to support him through thick and thin." Her voice sounded centemputous. Is that how you treat your friends ? I don't Lk. now. I never had a friend, except Kate. I think I would kill anyone who treated her badly." He caught a glimpse of her clenched fists and her flashing eyes, and believed her. I was not casting any aspersion upon Wilde," he went on, but he has his faults like everyone else. What does that matter ? You have no right to drag them up. You have not been all over Africa, and shot eight lions, and lots of buffaloes, and elephants, and—and—leopards, have you ? "No," he answered truthfully, and realised with a feeling of horror that Alphonse had not wasted his time. Is that what Wilde has done ? "It's only a very little part of what he has done," she answered, dreamily, oh, it is splendid to he an explorer like that. If I were a man, I would not rest until I had done what he has done, and more too I think he is a grand charac- ter. He is what I have always imagined a man should be. And then a man like you presumes to run him down behind his back I would have more manliness than to be jealous of a great man, even if I hadn't the wits to be a great man my- self." This was seri ms. What had Alphonse been doing ? "When did he tell you all this?" he asked, cautiously. "Last night, in the conservatory, after dinner. I think I never had such a happy evening before. I will never say anything against African explorers again 1 was a foolish child before, and Mr. Wilde with his great life experience, and his magnificent character, has made me a woman. Ah why am I telling you all this ? I forgot you were there. But you must never say a word against him again. I won't tolerate it." So she had not gone to bed after all, and that was where Alphonse had been all the evening. He was begiiiiiin4 to doubt the simplicity of this country-bred damsel. I assure you I had no intention of depreciating Wilde, we are immense chums, he and 1. I am glad he has interested you so much. Now tell me, Miss Joan, do you find African explorations as thrilling as Roman antiquities ? He had merely meant to make a mild joke to change the conversation. But she sprang to her feet with red cheeks, and confronted him angrily. "Now you are laughing at me. How can you? No one has ever laughed at me before. I know I was a silly child the first night you came, I-I offer you my apologies for it. Is not that enough ?" Certainly, she was unsophisticated. In a really distressed tone he was trying to justify himself in her eyes, when she turned and vanished down a side path. He lost his way in attempting to follow her, and came in late to lunch; and he sought out Alphonse when that meal was over, in anything but a placid frame of mind. Que penses tu ? cried the volatile Frenchman with a burst of laughter, I shall not break her heart, I promise you. But she is a woman, and I am a man and there is nothing else to do, pour passer le temps. What will you ?" It may mean nothing to you, but it is a serious matter to that child, and I am responsible for you, Alphonse, while we are here; although our posi- tions are ostensibly reversed. We have neither of us any right to make love to a woman under an assumed name. Now, do you understand?" "Perfectly, my dear friend I entreat you not to be alarmed. It shall go no further, on my honour. At the end of the fortnight, only ten days more, nous verrons." "What a cursed arrangement it is," muttered Arthur, and there the matter dropped. ( To be concluded).

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