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good many voices cried, "He does!" For
it was the year when you were all away, and
rather low I was about it, I can tell you.

"Oh!" said Old Cheeseman. "But it's
solitary here in the holiday time. He had
better come to us."

So I went to their delightful house, and
was as happy as I could possibly be. They
understood how to conduct themselves towards
boys, they do. When they take a boy to the
play, for instance, they do take him. They
don't go in after it's begun, or come out before
it's over. They know how to bring a boy up,
too. Look at their own! Though he is very
little as yet, what a capital boy he is! Why,
my next favourite to Mrs. Cheeseman, and Old
Cheeseman, is young Cheeseman.

So, now I have told you all I know about
Old Cheeseman. And it's not much after all,
I am afraid. Is it?


I HAVE never told you my secret, my dear
nieces. However, this Christmas, which may
be the last to an old woman, I will give the
whole story; for though it is a strange story,
and a sad one, it is true; and what sin there
was in it I trust I may have expiated by my
tears and my repentance. Perhaps the last
expiation of all this is painful confession.

We were very young at the time, Lucy and
I, and the neighbours said we were pretty.
So we were, I believe, though entirely different;
for Lucy was quiet, and fair, and I was
full of life and spirits; wild beyond any power
of control, and reckless. I was the elder by
two years; but more fit to be in leading strings
myself than to guide or govern my sister.
But she was so good, so quiet, and so wise,
that she needed no one's guidance; for if
advice was to be given, it was she who gave it,
not I; and I never knew her judgment or
perception fail. She was the darling of the
house. My mother had died soon after Lucy
was born. A picture in the dining-room of
her, in spite of all the difference of dress, was
exactly like Lucy; and, as Lucy was now
seventeen and my mother had been only eighteen
when it was taken, there was no discrepancy
of years.

One Allhallow's eve a party of usall
young girls, not one of us twenty years of age
were trying our fortunes round the drawing-
room fire; throwing nuts into the bright
blaze, to hear if mythic "He's" loved any of
us, and in what proportion; or pouring hot
lead into water, to find cradles and rings,
or purses and coffins; or breaking the whites
of eggs into tumblers half full of water, and
then drawing up the white into pictures of the
futurethe prettiest experiment of all. I
remember Lucy could only make a recumbent
figure of her's, like a marble monument in
miniature; and I, a maze of masks and sculls
and things that looked like dancing apes or
imps, and vapoury lines that did not require
much imagination to fashion into ghosts or
spirits; for they were clearly human in the
outline, but thin and vapoury. And we all
laughed a great deal, and teased one another,
and were as full of fun and mischief, and
innocence and thoughtlessness, as a nest of
young birds.

There was a certain room at the other end
of our rambling old manor-house, which was
said to be haunted, and which my father had
therefore discontinued as a dwelling-room, so
that we children might not be frightened by
foolish servants; and he had made it into a
lumber-placea kind of ground-floor granary
where no one had any business. Well, it
was proposed that one of us should go into
this room alone, lock the door, stand before a
glass, pare and eat an apple very deliberately,
looking fixedly in the glass all the time; and
then, if the mind never once wandered, the
future husband would be clearly shown in the
glass. As I was always the foolhardy girl of
every party, and was, moreover, very desirous
of seeing that apocryphal individual, my
future husband (whose non-appearance I used
to wonder at and bewail in secret,) I was glad
enough to make the trial, nothwithstanding
the entreaties of some of the more timid. Lucy,
above all, clung to me, and besought me
earnestly not to goat last, almost with tears.
But my pride of courage, and my curiosity,
and a certain nameless feeling of attraction,
were too strong for me. I laughed Lucy and
her abettors into silence; uttered half a dozen
bravadoes; and taking up a bed-room candle,
passed through the long silent passages, to
the cold, dark, deserted roommy heart beating
with excitement, my foolish head dizzy
with hope and faith. The church-clock chimed
a quarter past twelve as I opened the door.

It was an awful night. The windows shook,
as if every instant they would burst in with
some strong man's hand on the bars, and his
shoulder against the frames; and the trees
howled and shrieked, as if each branch were
sentient and in pain. The ivy beat against
the window, sometimes with fury, and
sometimes with the leaves slowly scraping against
the glass, and drawing out long shrill sounds,
like spirits crying to each other. In the room
itself it was worse. Rats had made it their
refuge for many years, and they rushed
behind the wainscot and down inside the
walls, bringing with them showers of lime and dust,
which rattled like chains, or sounded like
men's feet hurrying to and fro; and every
now and then a cry broke through the room,
one could not tell from where or from what,
but a cry, distinct and human; heavy blows
seemed to be struck on the floor, which cracked
like parting ice beneath my feet, and loud
knockings shook the walls. Yet in this tumult
I was not afraid, I reasoned on each new
sound very calmlyand said, "Those are
rats," or "those are leaves," and "birds in
the chimney," or "owls in the ivy," as each
new howl or scream struck my ear. And I

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