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OUR SHORT STORY. DARLING LITTLE LULU. I It stood just round the corner from the main road, so snugly screened by a wealth of foliage that I almost passed unnoticed the old and mutilated board that said it was to be let or sold; and it's name was Geraldine Villa. Fred and I were going to be married that day fortnight, and the house to suit us was still to be found, and, as dear Fred was so busy in the City, mamma and I were scouring the neighborhood all day long. And here was the very house, though mamma, apparently, did not think so, for after staring at it through her glasses for several minutes she said, decisively- That is no house for you, Connie." But, mamma, what have you to say against it?" I cried, very disappointedly. Isn't the ex- terior charming enough to please you ?" Oh, yes," admitted mamma. The exterior is pretty enough." And you haven't seen the interior, yet you de- cide against it." li I have not seen the interior, Connie, and I don't wish to see it, either. I have a strong pre- sentiment that the house is an unlucky one. Oh, you may smile some houses are proverbially un- lucky and I believe in presentiments." But, mamma, dear, you haven't to live in the house, and I don't believe in presentiments. We might at least look over the place-it says, 'Apply within to the caretaker'—before we give judgment against it." Saying which I clinched further argument by knocking at the door. An aged woman responded to my summons, and as I walked right in mamma, of course, followed me. In a few minutes I had looked into every room, examined the garden and cellar, and arrived at the conclusion that when the windows had been opened, the floors scrubbed, and the house gener- ally sweetened with Nature's disinfectants, fresh air and water, Geraldine Villa would be the house for which Fred and I had been searching for past months. Then I returned to the naIl, where mamma was still cross-examining the old caretaker. If the drains are all right, then it must be haunted," mamma was declaring. "It's no use your trying to persuade me to the contrary, my good woman. The house is an unlucky one. I have a presentiment to that effect, and all your protestations won't convince me. Of course, your interests coincide with the landlord's, and there- fore, like him, you would tell any fable to serve your end; but you won't convince me, I repeat, that the house is not an unlucky one, and my daughter shall never, with my consent, come here ] to live. And that's my last word! Now let me look at the kitchen." In the kitchen, mamma, with her skirts held high from the floor, scented mice in the larder rats in the china cupboard, and disease in the scullery sink. In the drawing-room she found a damp spot, and discoursed upon it for five minutes without pause. Tired of the monotonous dissertations, I went upstairs again. Here and there, littered upon the floor, lay scraps of dirty paper, wisps of straw used in the last removal, and sundry suchlike marks of a past habitation. I fell to weaving a pleasant picture of the late tenants of Geraldine Villa. The wife, I decided was a tall blonde, thirty years of age, pretty, carelessly pretty, and certainly unmethodical in habit-for here was the lower part of what pur- ported to be a dressmaker's bill, and an extrava- gant one, to boot-and her name was The bill heading was torn away, but as I turned the paper over I saw there was writing on the back. The ink was faded and smeared with dust, and the writing was small and cramped, but I shook and brushed it carefully, and then with some difficulty, I read: "My Darling Little Lulu,—Is this the bill in connection with which your economically-minded mother has so upbraided you ? Nay, then, do not be downcast; for what is a woman who loves not to array herself beyond the dreams of her neigh- bours ? Surely not a woman. Most surely not a pretty woman, and that, above all, my Lulu, art thou. Nay, do not blush little one. Sweet it is to write the truth, when the truth is so sweet; but sweeter still, my own true love, to whisper the truth irto a little pink ear. pink as a coral twig. So meet me to-night as usual, little sweetheart, where the wild roses are dreaming in the moon- light, and until that blissful moment, believe me, your love from childhood's day to now, from now to evermore, FREDERICK MARRIOTT DANEBY." It was a torturing ten minutes I spent pacing to and fro in that little upstairs room, while below, like the distant roar of the storm that raged within my poor, aching brain, could be heard my mother's voice in its never changing monotony of com- plaint. And as 1 pacea tne room, witn the torn dress- maker's bill crushed in my palm, stunned by the shock that seemed to have penetrated to my inner- most consciousness, I saw why Fred Daneby—who had lived in that locality from boyhood, and knew every house and half the occupants by name-had failed to discover Geraldine Villa, though, by the caretaker's admission, it had been long unlet. I saw why Fred had tried to persuade mother and me to leave the locality before he and I were married, and why-it flashed so clearly upon my shock-awakened memory-whenever in our rambles we had approached the road where Geraldine Villa was situated, he would make some excuse for altering the direction of our walk. Despite his voluntary protests that he had never had a sweetheart before, had never loved or cared for a woman until he met me, Fred Daneby had once been engaged to this woman called Lulu, and feared that I might learn of the engagement did I frequent the neighbourhood where she used to reside, where, possibly, she still resided. Mamma," I said, as mother and the caretaker appeared upstairs, "don't pursue your investiga- tions further. It is an unlucky house, I am sure. You were right. I, too, have a presentiment that it is unlucky. Let us go out of it. There is something about it that makes me shiver. Come, mother, dear, there is sunshine and sweet air out- side in here it is dark and poisonous." And false and deceitful," I might have added; but that was for Fred to hear. Fred came home earlier than usual, and, finding I had a headache, proposed a stroll. I acquiesced, and, following the plan I had conceived, led off in the direction of Geraldine Villa. Fred objected, as usual, so soon as he saw whither we were bent, but I clung obstinately to my purpose. I don't like the neighbourhood. It's not healthy, being low and-" At that moment we rounded the corner and stood in front of Geraldine Villa. "But you don't mean that this is the house you've brought me to see!" he added, quickly. A glance at his doleful face banished the last hope that had continued to flicker in my hapless brain, and I hardened my heart. As I had suffered through that day, so should he suffer now. Boldly I knocked upon the door, and walked in to the caretaker's opening. Up the stairs, without a word, I went, and into the upper room where I had happened upon the incriminating dressmaker's bill, while the walls swam around me, and a pain at my side proved how keenly the ordeal was afflicting me. Fred followed me. What do you think of this room?" I asked; and the tremor in my voice frightened me. "Musty," replied Fred. "Stale and close, as indeed it must be, seeing that the house has been unlet since-since I lived here, four years ago." Since you-! I did not know-! You have never told me that you once lived here!" It was long before you came to the nei ghbour hood." is-is that, why you never mentioned it f* Well—no—of course not." Then there was some other reason ?" He must have traced a note of sarcasm in my voice, for he regarded me in a myMified way for some time before he admitted- Yes, Connie, there was another reason." "Possibly," I retorted, producirg the ctress. maker's bill, not unconnected with this. He took the paper from my trembling fingers, and read it slowly, over and over again, apparently, eo long was he before he raised his eyes. All the time I watched him, but his face was im- passive, awesomely impassive, it seemed to me. Then, still without speaking, he walked to the window, and stood there, his back turned upon me. Shivering with cold, despite the warmth of the evening, I watched him, a prey to a thousand emo- tions, mentally stamping upon the desire to run and clasp him in my arms and end his obvious auguish in a word of loving forgiveness. At last he turned round. Connie, I will explain why I had never thought to mention that this was once my home." At sound of his broken voice a dumb cry leapt to my parched lips. Don't! I believe you unheard. I have been cruel, it is I who need forgiveness. Forgive me, Fred—forgive and forget!" But his eyes were upon me and I could not Speak. One does not like to dwell upon melancholy episodes," he added slowly, and his memorie of this house are of the saddest. My mother and only sister died here in the same week-of fever. They left me alone-absolutely alone." Aione!" A sudden revulsion of feeling seized me. Alone!" But what of Lulu-your darling Lulu ?" The words were on my lips but I did not say them yet he must have read them, for he took me gently by the arm and led me down the stairS and out into the unweeded garden at the back. I., At the bottom of the garden he liberated me, and, swishing among the weeds with his stick, found the object of his search. Uprooting a handful of the flowering weed, he exposed to view a wooden cross, soiled and time- eaten, wrenched it from the ground, rubbed it vigorously with his coat sleeve. Read it, dearest," he said. My hands were shaking, I could scarcely hold the piece of wood that, before my helpless eyes, seemed to swim in perplexed circles; but with a great effort I studdied the cross and made out, one by one, the rude, weather-blotted letters deeply cut thereon: To the memory of Lulu. Faithful Tabby and Life-long Playmate." .Elie truth came to me, but I could Hot speak. The torrent of shame gripped my throat. She was the finest cat I ever saw," Fred was saying. My sister-whose pet name was Lulu- and I had played with the old tabby from baby- hood and we could not forget our childishness when we, and the cat, grew older. We used to dress up the old pussy in all sorts of fantastic garbs—hence the dressmaker's bill which my sister made out in proof of the cat's extravagance, and the affectionate note I wrote on the back of the bill to soothe Lulu's wounded feelings. It was an infantile recreation, but it pleased our little minds. "Poor old Lulu!" reminiscently added Fred. Her two mistresses did not long survive her. It's a wretched house this. A house of ill-luck. Let us go away from it, Connie." We went—willingly we went-and, yes, I must add this, when I blamed myself for suspecting him, Fred vowed that it was but natural of me, and that he should not have loved me half so well if I had not, in the circumstances, been a little jealous.




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