Read FRANCES KANE’S FORTUNE - CHAPTER VII - NO OTHER WAY of Frances Kane's Fortune , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

Arnold went quickly round to the back of the house.  Although he had been absent for ten years, he still remembered the ways of the old place, and knew where to find the almost empty stables, and the coach-houses which no longer held conveyances.

“This place requires about four thousand pounds a year to keep it up properly,” murmured Arnold to himself, “and from the looks of things I should say these dear good folks had not as many hundreds.  I wonder if Frances will have me ­I wonder if ­” here he paused.

His heart was full of Frances this morning, but it was also full of a strange kind of peace and thanksgiving.  He was not greatly anxious; he had a curious sensation of being rested all over.  The fact was, he had gone through the most hair-breadth escapes, the most thrilling adventures, during the last ten years.  He had escaped alive, at the most fearful odds.  He had known hunger and thirst; he had been many, many times face to face with death.  For more than half the time of his exile things had gone against him, and hard indeed had been his lot; then the tide had slowly turned, and after five more years Philip Arnold had been able to return to his native land, and had felt that it was allowed to him to think with hope of the girl he had always loved.

He was in the same house with Frances now.  She had not yet promised to be his, but he did not feel anxious.  The quiet of the English home, the sweet, old-fashioned peace of the garden, the shade under the trees, the songs of the old-fashioned home birds, the scent of the old-fashioned home flowers, and the bright eyes and gentle voice of the prettiest little English girl he had ever seen, had a mesmerizing effect upon him.  He wanted Frances; Frances was his one and only love; but he felt no particular desire to hurry on matters, or to force an answer from her until she was ready to give it.

He strolled into the stable-yard, where Pete, the under-gardener, message-boy and general factotum, a person whom Watkins, the chief manager, much bullied, was harnessing a shaggy little pony to a very shaky-looking market cart.  The cart wanted painting, the pony grooming, and the harness undoubtedly much mending.

“What are you doing, Pete?” said Arnold.

“This yer is for Miss Frances,” drawled the lad.  “She’s going into Martinstown, and I’m gwine with her to hold the pony.”

“No, you’re not,” said Arnold.  “I can perform that office.  Go and tell her that I’m ready when she is.”

Pete sauntered away, but before he reached the back entrance to the house Frances came out.  She walked slowly, and when she saw Philip her face did not light up.  He was startled, not at an obvious, but an indefinable change in her.  He could not quite tell where it lay, only he suddenly knew that she was quite eight-and-twenty, that there were hard lines round the mouth which at eighteen had been very curved and beautiful.  He wished she would wear the pretty hat she had on last night; he did not think that the one she had on was particularly becoming.  Still, she was his Frances, the girl whose face had always risen before him during the five years of horror through which he had lived, and during the five years of hope which had succeeded them.

He came forward and helped her to get into the little old-fashioned market cart.  Then, as she gathered up the reins, and the pony was moving off, he prepared to vault into the vacant seat by her side.  She laid her hand on it, however, and turned to him a very sad and entreating face.

“I think you had better not, Philip,” she said.  “It will be very hot in Martinstown to-day.  I am obliged to go on a piece of business for my father.  I am going to see Mr. Spens, our lawyer, and I may be with him for some time.  It would be stupid for you to wait outside with the pony.  Pete had better come with me.  Go back to the shade of the garden, Philip.  I hear Fluff now playing her guitar.”

“I am going with you,” said Arnold.  “Forgive me, Frances, but you are talking nonsense.  I came here to be with you, and do you suppose I mind a little extra sunshine?”

“But I am a rather dull companion to-day,” she said, still objecting.  “I am very much obliged to you ­you are very kind, but I really have nothing to talk about.  I am worried about a bit of business of father’s.  It is very good of you, Philip, but I would really rather you did not come into Martinstown.”

“If that is so, of course it makes a difference,” said Arnold.  He looked hurt.  “I won’t bother you,” he said.  “Come back quickly.  I suppose we can have a talk after dinner?”

“Perhaps so; I can’t say.  I am very much worried about a piece of business of my father’s.”

“Pete, take your place behind your mistress,” said Arnold.

He raised his hat, there was a flush on his face as Frances drove down the shady lane.

“I have offended him,” she said to herself; “I suppose I meant to.  I don’t see how I can have anything to say to him now; he can’t marry a beggar; and, besides, I must somehow or other support my father.  Yes, it’s at an end ­the brightest of dreams.  The cup was almost at my lips, and I did not think God would allow it to be dashed away so quickly.  I must manage somehow to make Philip cease to care for me, but I think I am the most miserable woman in the world.”

Frances never forgot that long, hot drive into Martinstown.  She reached the lawyer’s house at a little before noon, and the heat was then so great that when she found herself in his office she nearly fainted.

“You look really ill, Miss Kane,” said the man of business, inwardly commenting under his breath on how very rapidly Frances was ageing.  “Oh, you have come from your father; yes, I was afraid that letter would be a blow to him; still, I see no way out of it ­I really don’t!”

“I have never liked you much, Mr. Spens,” said Frances Kane.  “I have mistrusted you, and been afraid of you; but I will reverse all my former opinions ­all ­now, if you will only tell me the exact truth with regard to my father’s affairs.”

The lawyer smiled and bowed.

“Thank you for your candor,” he remarked.  “In such a case as yours the plain truth is best, although it is hardly palatable.  Your father is an absolutely ruined man.  He can not possibly repay the six thousand pounds which he has borrowed.  He obtained the money from my client by mortgaging the Firs to him.  Now my client’s distinct instructions are to sell, and realize what we can.  The property has gone much to seed.  I doubt if we shall get back what was borrowed; at any rate, land, house, furniture, all must go.”

“Thank you ­you have indeed spoken plainly,” said Frances.  “One question more:  when must you sell?”

“In three months from now.  Let me see; this is July.  The sale will take place early in October.”

Frances had been sitting.  She now rose to her feet.

“And there is really no way out of it?” she said, lingering for a moment.

“None; unless your father can refund the six thousand pounds.”

“He told me, Mr. Spens, that if the Firs is sold he will certainly die.  He is an old man, and feeble now.  I am almost sure that he speaks the truth when he says such a blow will kill him.”

“Ah! painful, very,” said the lawyer.  “These untoward misfortunes generally accompany rash speculation.  Still, I fear ­I greatly fear ­that this apprehension, if likely to be realized, will not affect my client’s resolution.”

“Would it,” said Frances, “would it be possible to induce your client to defer the sale till after my father’s death?  Indeed ­indeed ­indeed, I speak the truth when I say I do not think he will have long to wait for his money.  Could he be induced to wait, Mr. Spens, if the matter were put to him very forcibly?”

“I am sure he could not be induced, Miss Kane; unless, indeed, you could manage to pay the interest at five per cent. on his six thousand pounds.  That is, three hundred a year.”

“And then?” Frances’s dark eyes brightened.

“I would ask him the question; but such a thing is surely impossible.”

“May I have a week to think it over?  I will come to you with my decision this day week.”

“Well, well, I say nothing one way or another.  You can’t do impossibilities, Miss Kane.  But a week’s delay affects no one, and I need not go on drawing up the particulars of sale until I hear from you again.”

Frances bowed, and left the office without even shaking hands with Mr. Spens.

“She’s a proud woman,” said the lawyer to himself, as he watched her driving away.  “She looks well, too, when her eyes flash, and she puts on that haughty air.  Odd that she should be so fond of that cantankerous old father.  I wonder if the report is true which I heard of an Australian lover turning up for her.  Well, there are worse-looking women than Frances Kane.  I thought her very much aged when she first came into the office, but when she told me that she didn’t much like me, she looked handsome and young enough.”

Instead of driving home, Frances turned the pony’s head in the direction of a long shady road which led into a westerly direction away from Martinstown.  She drove rapidly for about half an hour under the trees.  Then she turned to the silent Pete.

“Pete, you can go back now to the Firs, and please tell your master and Miss Danvers that I shall not be home until late this evening.  See, I will send this note to the squire.”

She tore a piece of paper out of her pocket-book, and scribbled a few lines hastily.

     “Dear father‚ ­I have seen Mr. Spens.  Don’t despair.  I am
     doing my best for you. 
                         Frances I shall be back before nightfall‚” said Frances‚ giving the note to the lad.  “Drive home quickly‚ Pete.  See that Bob has a feed of oats‚ and a groom-down after his journey.  I shall be home at latest by nightfall.”