Read FRANCES KANE’S FORTUNE - CHAPTER V - FRANCES,YOU ARE CHANGED of Frances Kane's Fortune , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight ­good ­nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen ­excellent!  Oh, how out of breath I am, and how hot it is!  Is that you, Frances?  See, I’ve been skipping just before the south parlor window to amuse the squire for the last hour.  He has gone to sleep now, so I can stop.  Where are you going?  How nice you look!  Gray suits you.  Oh, Frances, what extravagance!  You have retrimmed that pretty shady hat!  But it does look well.  Now where are you off to?”

“I thought I would walk up the road a little way,” said Frances.  Her manner was not quite so calm and assured as usual.  “Our old friend Philip Arnold is coming to-night, you know, and I thought I would like to meet him.”

“May I come with you?  I know I’m in a mess, but what matter?  He’s the man about whom all the fuss is made, isn’t he?”

Frances blushed.

“What do you mean, dear?” she asked.

“Oh, don’t I know?  I heard you giving directions about his room, and didn’t I see you walking round and round the garden for nearly two hours to-day choosing all the sweetest things ­moss roses, and sweetbrier, and sprays of clematis?  Of course there’s a fuss made about him, though nothing is said.  I know what I shall find him ­There, I’m not going to say it ­I would not vex you for worlds, Fan dear.”

Frances smiled.

“I must start now, dear,” she said, “or he will have reached the house before I leave it.  Do you want to come with me, Fluff?  You may if you like.”

“No, I won’t.  I’m ever so tired, and people who are fussed about are dreadfully uninteresting.  Do start for your walk, Frances, or you won’t be in time to welcome your hero.”

Frances started off at once.  She was amused at Fluff’s words.

“It is impossible for the little creature to guess anything,” she said to herself; “that would never do.  Philip should be quite unbiased.  It would be most unfair for him to come here as anything but a perfectly free man.  Ten years ago he said he loved me; but am I the same Frances?  I am older; father says I am old for twenty-eight ­then I was eighteen.  Eighteen is a beautiful age ­a careless and yet a grave age.  Girls are so full of desires then; life stretches before them like a brilliant line of light.  Everything is possible; they are not really at the top of the hill, and they feel so fresh and buoyant that it is a pleasure to climb.  There is a feeling of morning in the air.  At eighteen it is a good thing to be alive.  Now, at eight-and-twenty one has learned to take life hard; a girl is old then, and yet not old enough.  She is apt to be overworried; I used to be, but not since his letter came, and to-night I think I am back at eighteen.  I hope he won’t find me much altered.  I hope this dress suits me.  It would be awful now, when the cup is almost at my lips, if anything dashed it away; but, no!  God has been very good to me, and I will have faith in Him.”

All this time Frances was walking up-hill.  She had now reached the summit of a long incline, and, looking ahead of her, saw a dusty traveler walking quickly with the free-and-easy stride of a man who is accustomed to all kinds of athletic exercises.

“That is Philip,” said Frances.

Her heart beat almost to suffocation; she stood still for a moment, then walked on again more slowly, for her joy made her timid.

The stranger came on.  As he approached he took off his hat, revealing a very tanned face and light short hair; his well-opened eyes were blue; he had a rather drooping mustache, otherwise his face was clean shaven.  If ten years make a difference in a woman, they often effect a greater change in a man.  When Arnold last saw Frances he was twenty-two; he was very slight then, his mustache was little more than visible, and his complexion was too fair.  Now he was bronzed and broadened.  When he came up to Frances and took her hand, she knew that not only she herself, but all her little world, would acknowledge her lover to be a very handsome man.

“Is that really you, Frances?” he began.

His voice was thoroughly manly, and gave the girl who had longed for him for ten years an additional thrill of satisfaction.

“Is that really you?  Let me hold your hand for an instant; Frances you are changed!”

“Older, you mean, Philip.”

She was blushing and trembling ­she could not hide this first emotion.

He looked very steadily into her face, then gently withdrew his hand.

“Age has nothing to do with it,” he said.  “You are changed, and yet there is some of the old Frances left.  In the old days you had a petulant tone when people said things which did not quite suit you; I hope ­I trust ­it has not gone.  I am not perfect, and I don’t like perfection.  Yes, I see it is still there.  Frances, it is good to come back to the old country, and to you.”

“You got my letter, Philip?”

“Of course; I answered it.  Were you not expecting me this evening?”

“Yes:  I came out here on purpose to meet you.  What I should have said, Philip, was to ask you if you agreed to my proposal.”

“And what was that?”

“That we should renew our acquaintance, but for the present both be free.”

Arnold stopped in his walk, and again looked earnestly at the slight girl by his side.  Her whole face was eloquent ­her eyes were bright with suppressed feeling, but her words were measured and cold.  Arnold was not a bad reader of character.  Inwardly he smiled.

“Frances was a pretty girl,” he said to himself; “but I never imagined she would grow into such a beautiful woman.”

Aloud he made a quiet reply.

“We will discuss this matter to-morrow, Frances.  Now tell me about your father.  I was greatly distressed to see by your letter that your mother is dead.”

“She died eight years ago, Philip.  I am accustomed to the world without her now; at first it was a terrible place to me.  Here we are, in the old avenue again.  Do you remember it?  Let us get under the shade of the elms.  Oh, Fluff, you quite startled me!”

Fluff, all in white ­she was never seen in any other dress, unless an occasional black ribbon was introduced for the sake of propriety ­came panting up the avenue.  Her face was flushed, her lips parted, her words came out fast and eagerly: 

“Quick, Frances, quick!  The squire is ill; I tried to awake him, and I couldn’t.  Oh, he looks so dreadful!”

“Take care of Philip, and I will go to him,” said Frances.  “Don’t be frightened, Fluff; my father often sleeps heavily.  Philip, let me introduce my little cousin, Ellen Danvers.  Now, Nelly, be on your best behavior, for Philip is an old friend, and a person of importance.”

“But we had better come back to the house with you, Frances,” said Arnold.  “Your father may be really ill.  Miss ­Miss Danvers seems alarmed.”

“But I am not,” said Frances, smiling first at Philip and then at her little cousin.  “Fluff ­we call this child Fluff as a pet name ­does not know my father as I do.  He often sleeps heavily, and when he does his face gets red, and he looks strange.  I know what to do with him.  Please don’t come in, either of you, for half an hour.  Supper will be ready then.”

She turned away, walking rapidly, and a bend in the avenue soon hid her from view.

Little Ellen had not yet quite recovered her breath.  She stood holding her hand to her side, and slightly panting.

“You seem frightened,” said Arnold, kindly.

“It is not that,” she replied.  Her breath came quicker, almost in gasps.  Suddenly she burst into tears.  “It’s all so dreadful,” she said.

“What do you mean?” said Arnold.

To his knowledge he had never seen a girl cry in his life.  He had come across very few girls while in Australia.  One or two women he had met, but they were not particularly worthy specimens of their sex; he had not admired them, and had long ago come to the conclusion that the only perfect, sweet, and fair girl in existence was Frances Kane.  When he saw Fluff’s tears he discovered that he was mistaken ­other women were sweet and gracious, other girls were lovable.

“Do tell me what is the matter,” he said, in a tone of deep sympathy; for these fast-flowing tears alarmed him.

“I’m not fit for trouble,” said Fluff.  “I’m afraid of trouble, that’s it.  I’m really like the butterflies ­I die if there’s a cloud.  It is not long since I lost my mother, and ­now, now ­I know the squire is much more ill than Frances thinks.  Oh, I know it!  What shall I do if the squire really gets very ill ­if he ­he dies?  Oh, I’m so awfully afraid of death!”

Her cheeks paled visibly, her large, wide-open blue eyes dilated; she was acting no part ­her terror and distress were real.  A kind of instinct told Arnold what to say to her.

“You are standing under these great shady trees,” he said.  “Come out into the sunshine.  You are young and apprehensive.  Frances is much more likely to know the truth about Squire Kane than you are.  She is not alarmed; you must not be, unless there is really cause.  Now is not this better?  What a lovely rose!  Do you know, I have not seen this old-fashioned kind of cabbage rose for over ten years!”

“Then I will pick one for you,” said Fluff.

She took out a scrap of cambric, dried her eyes like magic, and began to flit about the garden, humming a light air under her breath.  Her dress was of an old-fashioned sort of book-muslin ­it was made full and billowy; her figure was round and yet lithe, her hair was a mass of frizzy soft rings, and when the dimples played in her cheeks, and the laughter came back to her intensely blue eyes, Arnold could not help saying ­and there was admiration in his voice and gaze: 

“What fairy godmother named you so appropriately?”

“What do you mean?  My name is Ellen.”

“Frances called you Fluff; Thistledown would be as admirably appropriate.”

While he spoke Fluff was handing him a rose.  He took it, and placed it in his button-hole.  He was not very skillful in arranging it, and she stood on tiptoe to help him.  Just then Frances came out of the house.  The sun was shining full on the pair; Fluff was laughing, Arnold was making a complimentary speech.  Frances did not know why a shadow seemed to fall between her and the sunshine which surrounded them.  She walked slowly across the grass to meet them.  Her light dress was a little long, and it trailed after her.  She had put a bunch of Scotch roses into her belt.  Her step grew slower and heavier as she walked across the smoothly kept lawn, but her voice was just as calm and clear as usual as she said gently: 

“Supper is quite ready.  You must be so tired and hungry, Philip.”

“Not at all,” he said, leaving Fluff and coming up to her side.  “This garden rests me.  To be back here again is perfectly delightful.  To appreciate an English garden and English life, and ­and English ladies ­here his eyes fell for a brief moment on Fluff ­one most have lived for ten years in the backwoods of Australia.  How is your father, Frances?  I trust Miss Danvers had no real cause for alarm?”

“Oh, no; Ellen is a fanciful little creature.  He did sleep rather heavily.  I think it was the heat; but he is all right now, and waiting to welcome you in the supper-room.  Won’t you let me show you the way to your room?  You would like to wash your hands before eating.”

Frances and Arnold walked slowly in the direction of the house.  Fluff had left them; she was engaged in an eager game of play with an overgrown and unwieldly pup and a Persian kitten.  Arnold had observed with some surprise that she had forgotten even to inquire for Mr. Kane.