Read FRANCES KANE’S FORTUNE - CHAPTER IV - FLUFF of Frances Kane's Fortune , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on

The day on which Ellen Danvers arrived at the Firs was long remembered, all over the place, as the hottest which had been known in that part of the country for many a long year.  It was the first week of July, and the sun blazed fiercely and relentlessly ­not the faintest little zephyr of a breeze stirred the air ­in the middle of the day, the birds altogether ceased singing, and the Firs, lying in its sheltered valley, was hushed into a hot, slumberous quiet, during which not a sound of any sort was audible.

Even the squire preferred a chair in the south parlor, which was never a cool room, and into which the sun poured, to venturing abroad; even he shuddered at the thought of the South Walk to-day.  He was not particularly hot ­he was too old for that ­but the great heat made him feel languid, and presently he closed his eyes and fell into a doze.

Frances, who in the whole course of her busy life never found a moment for occasional dozes, peeped into the room, smiled with satisfaction when she saw him, tripped lightly across the floor to steal a pillow comfortably under his white head, arranged the window-curtains so as to shade his eyes, and then ran upstairs with that swift and wonderfully light movement which was habitual to her.  She had a great deal to do, and she was not a person who was ever much affected by the rise or fall of the temperature.  First of all, she paid a visit to a charming little room over the porch.  It had lattice windows, which opened like doors, and all round the sill, and up the sides, and over the top of the window, monthly roses and jasmine, wistaria and magnolia, climbed.  A thrush had built its nest in the honeysuckle over the porch window, and there was a faint sweet twittering sound heard there now, mingled with the perfume of the roses and jasmine.  The room inside was all white, but daintily relieved here and there with touches of pale blue, in the shape of bows and drapery.  The room was small, but the whole effect was light, cool, pure.  The pretty bed looked like a nest, and the room, with its quaint and lovely window, somewhat resembled a bower.

Frances looked round it with pride, gave one or two finishing touches to the flowers which stood in pale-blue vases on the dressing-table, then turned away with a smile on her lips.  There was another room just beyond, known in the house as the guest-chamber proper.  It was much more stately and cold, and was furnished with very old dark mahogany; but it, too, had a lovely view over the peaceful homestead, and Frances’s eyes brightened as she reflected how she and Ellen would transform the room with heaps of flowers, and make it gay and lovely for a much-honored guest.

She looked at her watch, uttered a hurried exclamation, fled to her own rather insignificant little apartment, and five minutes later ran down-stairs, looking very fresh, and girlish, and pretty, in a white summer dress.  She took an umbrella from the stand in the hall, opened it to protect her head, and walked fast up the winding avenue toward the lodge gates.

“I hear some wheels, Miss Frances,” said Watkins’s old wife, hobbling out of the house.  “Eh, but it is a hot day; we’ll have thunder afore night, I guess.  Eh, Miss Frances, but you do look well, surely.”

“I feel it,” said Frances, with a very bright smile.  “Ah, there’s my little cousin ­poor child! how hot she must be.  Well, Fluff, so here you are, back with your old Fanny again!”

There was a cry ­half of rapture, half of pain ­from a very small person in the lumbering old trap.  The horse was drawn up with a jerk, and a girl, with very little of the woman about her, for she was still all curls, and curves, and child-like roundness, sprung lightly out of the trap, and put her arms round Frances’s neck.

“Oh, Fan, I am glad to see you again!  Here I am back just the same as ever; I haven’t grown a bit, and I’m as much a child as ever.  How is your father?  I was always so fond of him.  Is he as faddy as of old?  That’s right; my mission in life is to knock fads out of people.  Frances dear, why do you look at me in that perplexed way?  Oh, I suppose because I’m in white.  But I couldn’t wear black on a day like this, as it wouldn’t make mother any happier to know that every breath I drew was a torture.  There, we won’t talk of it.  I have a black sash in my pocket; it’s all crumpled, but I’ll tie it on, if you’ll help me.  Frances dear, you never did think, did you, that trouble would come to me? but it did.  Fancy Fluff and trouble spoken of in the same breath; it’s like putting a weight of care on a butterfly; it isn’t fair ­you don’t think it fair, do you, Fan?”

The blue eyes were full of tears; the rosy baby lips pouted sorrowfully.

“We won’t talk of it now, at any rate, darling,” said Frances, stooping and kissing the little creature with much affection.

Ellen brightened instantly.

“Of course we won’t.  It’s delicious coming here; how wise it was of mother to send me!  I shall love being with you more than anything.  Why, Frances, you don’t look a day older than when I saw you last.”

“My father says,” returned Frances, “that I age very quickly.”

“But you don’t, and I’ll tell him so.  Oh, no, he’s not going to say those rude, unpleasant things when I’m by.  How old are you, Fan, really?  I forget.”

“I am twenty-eight, dear.”

“Are you?”

Fluff’s blue eyes opened very wide.

“You don’t look old, at any rate,” she said presently.  “And I should judge from your face you didn’t feel it.”

The ancient cab, which contained Ellen’s boxes and numerous small possessions, trundled slowly down the avenue; the girls followed it arm in arm.  They made a pretty picture ­both faces were bright, both pairs of eyes sparkled, their white dresses touched, and the dark, earnest, and sweet eyes of the one were many times turned with unfeigned admiration to the bewitchingly round and baby face of the other.

“She has the innocent eyes of a child of two,” thought Frances.  “Poor little Fluff!  And yet sorrow has touched even her!”

Then her pleasant thoughts vanished, and she uttered an annoyed exclamation.

“What does Mr. Spens want?  Why should he trouble my father to-day of all days?”

“What is the matter, Frances?”

“That man in the gig,” said Frances.  “Do you see him?  Whenever he comes, there is worry; it is unlucky his appearing just when you come to us, Fluff.  But never mind; why should I worry you?  Let us come into the house.”

At dinner that day Frances incidentally asked her father what Mr. Spens wanted.

“All the accounts are perfectly straight,” she said.  “What did he come about? and he stayed for some time.”

The slow blood rose into the old squire’s face.

“Business,” he said; “a little private matter for my own ear.  I like Spens; he is a capital fellow, a thorough man of business, with no humbug about him.  By the way, Frances, he does not approve of our selling the fruit, and he thinks we ought to make more of the ribbon border.  He says we have only got the common yellow calceolarias ­he does not see a single one of the choicer kinds.”

“Indeed!” said Frances.  She could not help a little icy tone coming into her voice.  “Fluff, won’t you have some cream with your strawberries? ­I did not know, father, that Mr. Spens had anything to say of our garden.”

“Only an opinion, my dear, and kindly meant.  Now, Fluff” ­the squire turned indulgently to his little favorite ­“do you think Frances ought to take unjust prejudices?”

“But she doesn’t,” said Fluff.  “She judges by instinct, and so do I. Instinct told her to dislike Mr. Spens’ back as he sat in his gig, and so do I dislike it.  I hate those round fat backs and short necks like his, and I hate of all things that little self-satisfied air.”

“Oh, you may hate in that kind of way if you like,” said the squire.  “Hatred from a little midget like you is very different from Frances’s sober prejudice.  Besides, she knows Mr. Spens; he has been our excellent man of business for years.  But come, Fluff, I am not going to talk over weighty matters with you.  Have you brought your guitar?  If so, we’ll go into the south parlor and have some music.”