Read FRANCES KANE’S FORTUNE - CHAPTER VIII - FOR THE SAKE OF OF THREE HUNDRED A YEAR of Frances Kane's Fortune , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

For nearly another quarter of a mile Frances walked quickly under the friendly elm-trees.  Then she came to some massive and beautifully wrought iron gates, and paused for an instant, pressing her hand to her brow.

“Shall I go on?” said she to herself.  “It means giving up Philip ­it means deliberately crushing a very bright hope.”

She remained quite still for several seconds longer.  Her lips, which were white and tired-looking, moved silently.  She raised her eyes, and looked full into the blue deep of the sky; and then she turned in at one of the gates, and walked up an exquisitely kept carriage drive.

Some ladies in a carriage bowled past her; the ladies bent forward, bowed, and smiled.

“Why, that is Frances Kane,” they said one to another.  “How good of her to call ­and this is one of Aunt Lucilla’s bad days.  If she will consent to see Frances it will do her good.”

Frances walked on.  The avenue was considerably over a mile in length.  Presently she came to smaller gates, which were flung open.  She now found herself walking between velvety greenswards, interspersed with beds filled with all the bright flowers of the season.  Not a leaf was out of place; not an untidy spray was to be seen anywhere; the garden was the perfection of what money and an able gardener could achieve.

The avenue was a winding one, and a sudden bend brought Frances in full view of a large, square, massive-looking house ­a house which contained many rooms, and was evidently of modern date.  Frances mounted the steps which led to the wide front entrance, touched an electric bell, and waited until a footman in livery answered her summons.

“Is Mrs. Passmore at home?”

“I will inquire, madame.  Will you step this way?”

Frances was shown into a cool, beautifully furnished morning-room.

“What name, madame?”

“Miss Kane, from the Firs.  Please tell Mrs. Passmore that I will not detain her long.”

The man bowed, and, closing the door softly after him, withdrew.

Her long walk, and all the excitement she had gone through, made Frances feel faint.  It was past the hour for lunch at the Firs, and she had not eaten much at the early breakfast.  She was not conscious, however, of hunger, but the delicious coolness of the room caused her to close her eyes gratefully ­gave her a queer sensation of sinking away into nothing, and an odd desire, hardly felt before it had vanished, that this might really be the case, and so that she might escape the hard rôle of duty.

The rustling of a silk dress was heard in the passage ­a quick, light step approached ­and a little lady most daintily attired, with a charming frank face, stepped briskly into the room.

“My dear Frances, this is delightful ­how well ­no, though, you are not looking exactly the thing, poor dear.  So you have come to have lunch with me; how very, very nice of you!  The others are all out, and I am quite alone.”

“But I have come to see you on business, Carrie.”

“After luncheon, then, dear.  My head is swimming now, for I have been worrying over Aunt Lucilla’s accounts.  Ah, no, alas! this is not one of her good days.  Come into the next room, Frances ­if you have so little time to spare, you busy, busy creature, you can at least talk while we eat.”

Mrs. Passmore slipped her hand affectionately through Frances’s arm, and led her across the wide hall to another cool and small apartment where covers were already placed for two.

“I am very glad of some lunch, Carrie,” said Frances.  “I left home early this morning.  I am not ashamed to say that I am both tired and hungry.”

“Eat then, my love, eat ­these are lamb cutlets; these pease are not to be compared with what you can produce at the Firs, but still they are eatable.  Have a glass of this cool lemonade.  Oh, yes, we will help ourselves.  You need not wait Smithson.”

The footman withdrew.  Mrs. Passmore flitted about the table, waiting on her guest with a sort of loving tenderness.  Then she seated herself close to Frances, pretended to eat a mouthful or two, and said suddenly: 

“I know you are in trouble.  And yet I thought ­I hoped ­that you would be bringing me good news before long.  Is it true, Frances, that Philip Arnold is really alive after all, and has returned to England?”

“It is perfectly true, Carrie.  At this moment Philip is at the Firs.”

Mrs. Passmore opened her lips ­her bright eyes traveled all over Frances’s face.

“You don’t look well,” she said, after a long pause.  “I am puzzled to account for your not looking well now.”

“What you think is not going to happen, Carrie.  Philip is not likely to make a long visit.  He came yesterday; he may go again to-morrow or next day.  We won’t talk of it.  Oh, yes, of course it is nice to think he is alive and well.  Carrie, does your aunt Lucilla still want a companion?”

Mrs. Passmore jumped from her seat ­her eyes lighted up; she laid her two dimpled, heavily ringed hands on Frances’s shoulders.

“My dear, you can’t mean it!  You can’t surely mean that you would come?  You know what you are to auntie; you can do anything with her.  Why, you would save her, Frances; you would save us all.”

“I do think of accepting the post, if you will give it to me,” said Frances.

“Give it to you? you darling!  As if we have not been praying and longing for this for the last two years!”

“But, Carrie, I warn you that I only come because necessity presses me ­and ­and ­I must make conditions ­I must make extravagant demands.”

“Anything, dearest.  Is it a salary?  Name anything you fancy.  You know Aunt Lucilla is rolling in money.  Indeed, we all have more than we know what to do with.  Money can’t buy everything, Frances.  Ah, yes, I have proved that over and over again; but if it can buy you, it will for once have done us a good turn.  What do you want, dear?  Don’t be afraid to name your price ­a hundred a year?  You shall have it with pleasure.”

“Carrie, I know what you will think of me, but if I am never frank again I must be now.  I don’t come here to oblige you, or because I have a real, deep, anxious desire to help your aunt.  I come ­I come alone because of a pressing necessity; there is no other way out of it that I can see, therefore my demand must be extravagant.  If I take the post of companion to your aunt Lucilla, I shall want three hundred pounds a year.”

Mrs. Passmore slightly started, and for the briefest instant a frown of disappointment and annoyance knit her pretty brows.  Then she glanced again at the worn face of the girl who sat opposite to her; the steadfast eyes looked down, the long, thin, beautifully cut fingers trembled as Frances played idly with her fork and spoon.

“No one could call Frances Kane mercenary,” she said to herself.  “Poor dear, she has some trouble upon her.  Certainly her demand is exorbitant; never before since the world was known did a companion receive such a salary.  Still, where would one find a second Frances?”

“So be it, dear,” she said, aloud.  “I admit that your terms are high, but in some ways your services are beyond purchase.  No one ever did or ever will suit Aunt Lucilla as you do.  Now, when will you come?”

“I am not quite sure yet, Carrie, that I can come at all.  If I do it will probably be in a week from now.  Yes, to-morrow week; if I come at all I will come then; and I will let you know certainly on this day week.”

“My dear, you are a great puzzle to me; why can’t you make up your mind now?”

“My own mind is made up, Carrie, absolutely and fully, but others have really to decide for me.  I think the chances are that I shall have my way.  Carrie dear, you are very good; I wish I could thank you more.”

“No, don’t thank me.  When you come you will give as much as you get.  Your post won’t be a sinecure.”

“Sinécures never fell in my way,” said Frances.  “May I see your aunt for a few minutes to-day?”

“Certainly, love ­you know her room.  You will find her very poorly and fractious this afternoon.  Will you tell her that you are coming to live with her, Frances?”

“No; that would be cruel, for I may not be able to come, after all.  Still, I think I shall spend some time in doing my utmost to help you and yours, Carrie.”

“God bless you, dear!  Now run up to auntie.  You will find me in the summer-house whenever you like to come down.  I hope you will spend the afternoon with me, Frances, and have tea; I can send you home in the evening.”

“You are very kind, Carrie, but I must not stay.  I will say good-bye to you now, for I must go back to Martinstown for a few minutes early this afternoon.  Good-bye, thank you.  You are evidently a very real friend in need.”

Frances kissed Mrs. Passmore, and then ran lightly up the broad and richly carpeted stairs.  Her footsteps made no sound on the thick Axminster.  She flitted past down a long gallery hung with portraits, presently stopped before a baize door, paused for a second, then opened it swiftly and went in.

She found herself in an anteroom, darkened and rendered cool with soft green silk drapery.  The anteroom led to a large room beyond.  She tapped at the door of the inside room, and an austere-looking woman dressed as a nurse opened it immediately.  Her face lighted up when she saw Frances.

“Miss Kane, you’re just the person of all others my mistress would like to see.  Walk in, miss, please.  Can you stay for half an hour?  If so, I’ll leave you.”

“Yes, Jennings.  I am sorry Mrs. Carnegie is so ill to-day.”

Then she stepped across the carpeted floor, the door was closed behind her, and she found herself in the presence of a tall thin woman, who was lying full length on a sofa by the open window.  Never was there a more peevish face than the invalid wore.  Her brows were slightly drawn together, her lips had fretful curves; the pallor of great pain, of intense nervous suffering, dwelt on her brow.  Frances went softly up to her.

“How do you do, Mrs. Carnegie?” she said, in her gentle voice.

The sound was so low and sweet that the invalid did not even start.  A smile like magic chased the furrows from her face.

“Sit down, Frances, there’s a dear child,” she said.  “Now, I have been wishing for you more than for any one.  I’m at my very worst to-day, dear.  My poor back is so bad ­oh, the nerves, dear child, the nerves!  I really feel that I can not speak a civil word to any one, and Jennings is so awkward, painfully awkward ­her very step jars me; and why will she wear those stiff-starched caps and aprons?  But there, few understand those unfortunates who are martyrs to nerves.”

“You have too much light on your eyes,” said Frances.  She lowered the blind about an inch or two.

“Now tell me, have you been down-stairs to-day?”

“How can you ask me, my love, when I can’t even crawl?  Besides, I assure you, dear, dearest one” ­here Mrs. Carnegie took Frances’s hand and kissed it ­“that they dislike having me.  Freda and Alicia quite show their dislike in their manner.  Carrie tries to smile and look friendly, but she is nothing better than a hypocrite.  I can read through them all.  They are only civil to me; they only put up with their poor old aunt because I am rich, and they enjoy my comfortable house.  Ah! they none of them know what nerves are ­the rack, the tear, to the poor system, that overstrained nerves can give.  My darling, you understand, you pity me.”

“I am always very sorry for you, Mrs. Carnegie, but I think when you are better you ought to exert yourself a little more, and you must not encourage morbid thoughts.  Now shall I tell you what I did with that last five-pound note you gave me?”

“Ah, yes, love, that will be interesting.  It is nice to feel that even such a useless thing as money can make some people happy.  Is it really, seriously the case, Frances, that there are any creatures so destitute in the world as not to know where to find a five-pound note?”

“There are thousands and thousands who don’t even know where to find a shilling,” replied Frances.

Mrs. Carnegie’s faded blue eyes lighted up.

“How interesting!” she said.  “Why, it must make existence quite keen.  Fancy being anxious about a shilling!  I wish something would make life keen for me; but my nerves are in such a state that really everything that does not thrill me with torture, palls.”

“I will tell you about the people who have to find their shillings,” responded Frances.

She talked with animation for about a quarter of an hour, then kissed the nervous sufferer, and went away.

Half an hour’s brisk walking brought her back to Martinstown.  She reached the lawyer’s house, and was fortunate in finding him within.

“Will you tell your client, Mr. Spens, that if he will hold over the sale of the Firs until after my father’s death, I will engage to let him have five per cent. on his money?  I have to-day accepted the post of companion to Mrs. Carnegie, of Arden.  For this I am to have a salary of three hundred pounds a year.”

“Bless me!” said the lawyer.  “Such a sacrifice!  Why! that woman can’t keep even a servant about her.  A heartless, selfish hypochondriac! even her nieces will scarcely stay in the house with her.  I think she would get you cheap at a thousand a year, Miss Kane; but you must be joking.”

“I am in earnest,” responded Frances.  “Please don’t make it harder for me, Mr. Spens.  I know what I am undertaking.  Will you please tell your client that I can pay him his interest?  If he refuses to accept it, I am as I was before; if he consents, I go to Arden.  You will do me a great favor by letting me know his decision as soon as possible.”

The lawyer bowed.

“I will do so,” he said.  Then he added, “I hope you will forgive me, Miss Kane, for saying that I think you are a very brave and unselfish woman, but I don’t believe even you will stand Mrs. Carnegie for long.”

“I think you are mistaken,” responded Frances, gently.  “I do it for the sake of three hundred pounds a year, to save the Firs for my father during his lifetime.”

The lawyer thought he had seldom seen anything sadder than Frances’ smile.  It quite haunted him as he wrote to his client, urging him to accept her terms.