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Janet that this rival of his should be
indifferent to her presence in his home.

"How dared he be there looking at her every
day?" had been the lad's thought, but an hour
before: now it was " how dare he be here, not
caring whether she is there or not?"

"Perhaps he has come to London to arrange
about the marriage settlements," he said,
bitterly. " Or perhaps, indeed, he may even now
be here in the character of Benedick."

"I think not," said Lady Humphrey. "Why
does he not wear a mask, I wonder. It would
suit him. Hist, Pierce! I will tell youhe is
here in the character of an Irish rebel; his true
character. His proper costume would be a
pitch-cap, with a pike on the shoulder."

"Nonsense, mother! I beg your pardon!
But you know you are a little astray on that

"I am not going to harm him by talking,"
said Lady Humphrey. " You need not get
excited, as you did upon another occasion. But
I know why that gentleman is here."

Pierce was silent and uncomfortable. " Why,
then, is he here?" he asked presently, unable
to control his curiosity.

Lady Humphrey shook her head. " I think
it is better to say nothing whatever," she said,
a little mournfully. "His family were old
friends of mine, Piercea truth of which you
once reminded me."

The young man was silent again, glanced at
his mother's face, once, twice, and hung his
head with remorse.

"Forgive me, mother," he said at last. "I
remember that other occasion well. I terribly
misunderstood you on two points. Your
conduct to Hester has delighted me of late. I will
never doubt the goodness of your heart again,
even for a moment, in a passion. If you know
aught against Sir Archie Munro, I will never
ask you to repeat it."

"It is safer not to talk here, at all events,"
Lady Humphrey answered drily, and turned
away her face; perhaps to look through the
crowd after Sir Archie Munro, perhaps to avoid
the glance of her son's honest eyes.

"And now," she said presently, with a
sprightly change of manner, " we will leave the
gloomy subject of treason. We came here to
amuse ourselves, did we not? Let Sir Archie
Munro have a care of himself, while you go and
take Hester about the rooms. And forget your
saucy Janet for a time, if you can, and make
yourself agreeable."

Pierce was fain to do as he was bidden, and
so Red Ridinghood and the cavalier made a
tour of inspection round the brilliant chambers,
whilst the queen of spades returned to her hand,
and was shuffled over and over again with her
companions in a stately dance. That was the
hour in which Pierce Humphrey unexpectedly
found himself telling the story of his love and
his troubles to Hester.

"Who is your saucy Janet, Mr. Pierce?"
asked Hester suddenly, as they pushed through
the crowd together.

Pierce Humphrey blushed. He felt startled,
dismayed, ashamed; and yet on the whole rather
pleasantly excited. His vanity half-hoped half-
feared that Hester would be grieved to hear the
story about Janet.

"Where have you heard? What do you
know of her?" he asked evasively.

"Nothing," answered Hester, simply. " But
I heard Lady Humphrey speak of her just now;
and I thought I should like to know."

Pierce Humphrey sighed, but on the whole
was relieved. There was no jealousy, no bitterness,
in the young girl's tone. She was only at
her old trick of wanting to give help. It was
better so, better that little friendless damsels like
this should have no hearts to get hurt. And it
was pleasant for a man who had vexation on his
mind to find ready-made sympathy at his hand.

"You were always willing to share a fellow's
troubles, little Hester," he said, joyously. " And
I should be glad, indeed, to hear your opinion
of this one." And he plunged into his story,
and told it frankly from beginning to end; how
he loved a merry maiden called Janet, how the
merry maiden had gold and beauty and a temper
of her own; how he had been bound to her by
a bright betrothal ring; but now, woe the day!
he had happened to offend her, when she had
flown across the sea, to bide under the roof of
one supposed to be his rival. And lastly, how
he was wasting for her sake; though he made
efforts to pass the time pretty well.

Hester listened, patiently, attentively; weighing
his difficulty, believing intensely in his pain,
now and again asking a question as he went
along; while they two threaded their way up
and down through the crowd, he flushed,
eloquent, gesticulating, so very much in earnest
that Lady Humphrey catching a glimpse of him
from a distance, grew uneasy. Had she not
gone too far in thus keeping him so constantly
with this Hester, who walked by his side a
pale, absorbed, distraught looking little Red
Ridinghood? Was he making an offer of his
fickle heart, even now, to this dressmaker,
whose work was already cut out for her so many
bitter miles across the sea?

"I do not know much about such matters,"
Hester was saying at the moment, gravely, and
with a business-like air; " but I should think
the young lady must be true."

"God bless you for that, little Hester," said
Pierce Humphrey, squeezing, in the enthusiasm
of his gratitude, the hand that was holding on
by his arm. " But how have you come to such
a happy conclusion?"

"Why, you see," said Hester, earnestly and
deliberately, as if explaining a knotty problem,
"you are strong and brave and good natured,
Mr. Pierce; and you love her a great deal, and
you have told her so. And she had wealth of
her own, and rich lovers; and yet she once
promised to marry you. I should think she must
be fond of you," said Hester, wagging her head
sagely, as if too great a volume of evidence
had been summed up to admit of there being
doubt upon the matter.