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Grandmother Dear Part 25

"But it was not Mr. Turner. In his place she found herself face to face with a very different person--a young man, of seven or eight and twenty, perhaps, tall and dark--dark-haired and dark-eyed that is to say--grave and quiet in appearance, but with a twinkle in his eyes that told of no lack of humour.

"'I must apologise for calling in this way, Miss Berkeley,' he said at once, 'but I could not help coming myself to tell how _very_ sorry I am about the fright my dog gave you last night at the Grange. I have just heard of it from Mr. Turner.'

"'Your dog?' repeated Mary, raising her pretty blue eyes to his face in bewilderment.

"'Yes,' he said, 'he ran off to the Grange--his old home, you know--oh, I beg your pardon! I am forgetting to tell you that I am Walter H----,--in the night, and must have tried to find his way into my room in the way he used to do. I always left the door unlatched for him.'

"Instead of replying, Mary turned round and flew straight off into the room where I was.

"'Oh, Laura,' she exclaimed, 'it _was_ a dog; Mr. Walter H---- has just come to tell us. Are you not delighted? Now we can fix for the Grange at once, and it will all be right. Come quick, and hear about it.'

"I jumped up, and, without even waiting to smooth my hair, hurried back into the sitting-room with Mary. Our visitor, very much amused at our excitement, explained the whole, and sent downstairs for 'Captain,' a magnificent retriever, who, on being told to beg our pardon, looked up with his dear pathetic brown eyes in Mary's face in a way that won her heart at once. His master, it appeared, had been staying at East Hornham the last two nights with an old friend, the clergyman there. Both nights, on going to bed late, he had missed 'Captain,' whose usual habit was to sleep on a mat at his door. The first night he was afraid the dog was lost, but to his relief he reappeared again early the next morning; the second night, also, his master happening to be out late at Mr. Turner's, with whom he had a good deal of business to settle, the dog had set off again on his own account to his former quarters, with probably some misty idea in his doggy brain that it was the proper thing to do.

"'But how did you find out where he had been?' said I.

"'I went out early this morning, feeling rather anxious about 'Captain,''

said our visitor; 'and I met him coming along the road leading from the Grange. Where he had spent the night after failing to get into his old home I cannot tell; he must have sheltered somewhere to get out of the snow and the cold. Later this morning I walked on to the Grange, and, hearing from Ruth Atkins of your fright and her own, I put 'two and two together,' and I think the result quite explains the noises you heard.'

"'Quite,' we both said; 'and we thank you so much for coming to tell us.'

"'It was certainly the very least I could do,' he said; 'and I thank you very much for forgiving poor old Captain.'

"So we left East Hornham with lightened hearts, and, as our new friend was travelling some distance in our direction, he helped us to accomplish our journey much better than we could have managed it alone. And after all we _did_ get back to our parents on Christmas day, though not on Christmas eve."

Aunty stopped.

"Then you did take the Grange, aunty?" said the children.

Aunty nodded her head.

"And you never heard any more noises?"

"Never," said aunty. "It was the pleasantest of old houses; and oh, we were sorry to leave it, weren't we, mother?"

"Why did you leave it, grandmother dear?" said Molly.

"When your grandfather's health obliged him to spend the winters abroad; then we came here," said grandmother.

"Oh yes," said Molly, adding after a little pause, "I _would_ like to see that house."

Aunty smiled. "Few things are more probable than that you will do so,"

she said, "provided you can make up your mind to cross the sea again."

"Why? how do you mean, aunty?" said Molly, astonished, and Ralph and Sylvia listened with eagerness to aunty's reply.

"Because," said aunty,--then she looked across to grandmother. "Won't you explain to them, mother?" she said.

"Because, my darlings, that dear old house will be your home--your happy home, I trust, some day," said grandmother.

"Is my father thinking of buying it?" asked Ralph, pricking up his ears.

"No, my boy, but some day it will be his. It is your uncle's now, but he is _much_ older than your father, and has no children, so you see it will come to your father some day--sooner than we have thought, perhaps, for your uncle is too delicate to live in England, and talks of giving it up to your father."

"But _still_ I don't understand," said Ralph, looking puzzled. "Did my _uncle_ buy it?"

"No, no. Did you never hear of old Alderwood Grange?"

"Alderwood," said Ralph. "Of _course_, but we never speak of it as 'The Grange,' you know, and I have never seen it. It has always been let since I can remember. I never even heard it described. Papa does not seem to care to speak of it."

"No, dear," said aunty. "The happiest part of his life began there, and you know how all the light seemed to go out of his life when your mother died. It was there he--Captain's master--got to know her, the 'Mary' of my little adventure. You understand it all now? He was a great deal in the neighbourhood--at the little town I called East Hornham--the summer we first came to Alderwood. And there they were married; and there, in the peaceful old church-yard, your dear mother is buried."

The children listened with sobered little faces. "Poor papa!" they said.

"But some day," said grandmother, "some day I hope, when you three are older, that Alderwood will again be a happy home for your father. It is what your mother would have wished, I know."

"Well then, you and aunty must come to live with us there. You must.

Promise now, grandmother dear," said Molly.

Grandmother smiled, but shook her head gently.

"Grandmother will be a _very_ old woman by then, my darling," she said, "and perhaps----"

Molly pressed her little fat hand over grandmother's mouth.

"I know what you're going to say, but you're _not_ to say it," she said.

"And _every_ night, grandmother dear, I ask in my prayers for you to live to be a hundred."

Grandmother smiled again.

"Do you, my darling?" she said. "But remember, whatever we _ask_, God knows best what to _answer_."

CHAPTER XIV.

HOW THIS BOOK CAME TO BE WRITTEN.

"Ring out ye merry, merry bells, Your loudest, sweetest chime; Tell all the world, both rich and poor, 'Tis happy Christmas time."

"Grandmother," said Ralph, at breakfast on what Molly called "the morning of Christmas Eve," "I was going to ask you, only the story last night put it out of my head, if I might ask Prosper to spend to-morrow with us. His uncle and aunt are going away somewhere, and he will be quite alone.

Besides he and I have made a plan about taking the shawl to the old woman quite early in the morning. You don't know _how_ pleased he was when I told him you had got it for her, grandmother--just as pleased as if he had bought it for her with his own money."

"Then he is a really unselfish boy," said grandmother. "Certainly you may ask him. I had thought of it too, but somehow it went out of my head.

And, as well as the shawl, I shall have something to send to Prosper's old friend. She must have a good dinner for once."

"That'll be awfully jolly," said Ralph. Sylvia and Molly listened with approval, for of course they had heard all about the mystery of Ralph's wood-carrying long ago.

Chapter end

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