Read FRANCES KANE’S FORTUNE - CHAPTER XI - EDGE TOOLS of Frances Kane's Fortune , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

“I have something to say to you, Fluff,” said Frances.

The young girl was standing in her white dress, with her guitar hung in its usual attitude by her side.  She scarcely ever went anywhere without this instrument, and she was fond of striking up the sweetest, wildest songs to its accompaniment at any moment.

Fluff, for all her extreme fairness and babyishness, had not a doll’s face.  The charming eyes could show many emotions, and the curved lips reveal many shades either of love or dislike.  She had not a passionate face; there were neither heights nor depths about little Fluff; but she had a very warm heart, and was both truthful and fearless.

She had been waiting in a sheltered part of the garden for over an hour for Arnold.  He had promised to go down with her to the river ­he was to sketch, and she was to play.  It was intensely hot, even in the shadiest part of the squire’s garden, but by the river there would be coolness and a breeze.  Fluff was sweet-tempered, but she did not like to wait an hour for any man, and she could not help thinking it aggravating of Arnold to go on pacing up and down in the hot sun by the squire’s side.  What could the squire and Arnold have to say to each other?  And why did the taller and younger man rather stoop as he walked?  And why was his step so depressed, so lacking in energy that even Fluff, under her shady tree in the distance, noticed it?

She was standing so when Frances came up to her; now and then her fingers idly touched her guitar, her rosy lips pouted, and her glowing dark-blue eyes were fixed reproachfully on Arnold’s distant figure.

Frances looked pale and fagged; she was not in the becoming white dress which she had worn during the first few days of Arnold’s visit; she was in gray, and the gray was not particularly fresh nor cool in texture.

“Fluff, I want to speak to you,” she said.

And she laid her hand on the girl’s shoulder ­then her eyes followed Fluff’s; she saw Arnold, and her cheeks grew a little whiter than before.

“Fluff misses him already,” she whispered to her heart.  “And he likes her.  They are always together.  Yes, I see plainly that I sha’n’t do Philip any serious injury when I refuse him.”

“What is it, Frances?” said Fluff, turning her rather aggrieved little face full on the new-comer.  “Do you want to say anything to me very badly?  I do call it a shame of Mr. Arnold; he and the squire have chatted together in the South Walk for over an hour.  It’s just too bad, I might have been cooling myself by the river now; I’m frightfully hot.”

“No, you’re not really very hot,” said Frances, in the peculiarly caressing tone she always employed when speaking to her little cousin.  “But I own it is very annoying to have to wait for any one ­more particularly when you are doing nothing.  Just lay your guitar on the grass, Fluff, and let us walk up and down under the shade here.  I have something to say to you, and it will help to pass the time.”

Fluff obeyed at once.

“You don’t look well, Frances,” she said, in her affectionate way, linking her hand through her cousin’s arm.  “I have noticed that you haven’t looked yourself ever since the day you went to Martinstown ­nearly a week ago now.  Now I wonder at that, for the weather has been so perfect, and everything so sweet and nice; and I must say it is a comfort to have a pleasant man like Mr. Arnold in the house.  I have enjoyed myself during the past week, and I greatly wonder you haven’t, Frances.”

“I am glad you have been happy, dear,” said Frances, ignoring the parts of Fluff’s speech which related to herself.  “But it is on that very subject I want now to speak to you.  You like living at the Firs, don’t you, Fluff?”

“Why, of course, Frances.  It was poor mamma’s” ­here the blue eyes brimmed with tears ­“it was darling mother’s wish that I should come here to live with you and the squire.  I never could be so happy anywhere as at the Firs; I never, never want to leave it.”

“But of course you will leave it some day, little Fluff, for in the ordinary course of things you will fall in love and you will marry, and when this happens you will love your new home even better than this.  However, Fluff, we need not discuss the future now, for the present is enough for us.  I wanted to tell you, dear, that it is very probable, almost certain, that I shall have to go away from home.  What is the matter, Fluff?”

“You go away?  Then I suppose that is why you look ill.  Oh, how you have startled me!”

“I am sorry to have to go, Fluff, and I can not tell you the reason.  You must not ask me, for it is a secret.  But the part that concerns you, dear, is that, if I go, I do not see how you can stay on very well at the Firs.”

“Of course I should not dream of staying, Francie.  With you away, and Mr. Arnold gone” ­here she looked hard into Frances’s face ­“it would be dull.  Of course, I am fond of the squire, but I could not do without another companion.  Where are you going, Frances?  Could not I go with you?”

“I wish you could, darling.  I will tell you where I am going to-morrow or next day.  It is possible that I may not go, but it is almost certain that I shall.”

“Oh, I trust, I hope, I pray that you will not go.”

“Don’t do that, Fluff, for that, too, means a great trouble.  Oh, yes, a great trouble and desolation.  Now, dear, I really must talk to you about your own affairs.  Leave me out of the question for a few moments, pet.  I must find out what you would like to do, and where you would like to go.  If I go away I shall have little or no time to make arrangements for you, so I must speak to you now.  Have you any friends who would take you in until you would hear from your father, Fluff?”

“I have no special friends.  There are the Harewoods, but they are silly and flirty, and I don’t care for them.  They talk about dress ­you should hear how they go on ­and they always repeat the silly things the men they meet say to them.  No, I won’t go to the Harewoods.  I think if I must leave you, Frances, I had better go to my old school-mistress, Mrs. Hopkins.  She would be always glad to have me.”

“That is a good thought, dear.  I will write to her to-day just as a precautionary measure.  Ah, and here comes Philip.  Philip, you have tried the patience of this little girl very sadly.”

In reply to Frances’ speech Arnold slightly raised his hat; his face looked drawn and worried; his eyes avoided Frances’s, but turned with a sense of refreshment to where Fluff stood looking cool and sweet, and with a world of tender emotion on her sensitive little face.

“A thousand apologies,” he said.  “The squire kept me.  Shall I carry your guitar?  No, I won’t sketch, thanks; but if you will let me lie on my back in the long grass by the river, and if you will sing me a song or two, I shall be grateful ever after.”

“Then I will write to Mrs. Hopkins, Fluff,” said Frances.  And as the two got over a stile which led down a sloping meadow to the river, she turned away.  Arnold had neither looked at her nor addressed her again.

“My father has been saying something to him,” thought Frances.  And she was right.

The squire was not a man to take up an idea lightly and then drop it.  He distinctly desired, come what might, that his daughter should not marry Arnold; he came to the sage conclusion that the best way to prevent such a catastrophe was to see Arnold safely married to some one else.  The squire had no particular delicacy of feeling to prevent his alluding to topics which might be avoided by more sensitive men.  He contrived to see Arnold alone, and then, rudely, for he did not care to mince his words, used expressions the reverse of truthful, which led Arnold, whose faith was already wavering in the balance, to feel almost certain that Frances never had cared for him, and never would do so.  He then spoke of Fluff, praising her enthusiastically, and without stint, saying how lucky he considered the man who won not only a beautiful, but a wealthy bride, and directly suggested to Arnold that he should go in for her.

“She likes you now,” said the squire; “bless her little heart, she’d like any one who was kind to her.  She’s just the pleasantest companion any man could have ­a perfect dear all round.  To tell the truth, Arnold, even though she is my daughter, I think you are well rid of Frances.”

“I’m ashamed to hear you say so, sir.  If what you tell me is true, your daughter has scarcely behaved kindly to me; but, notwithstanding that, I consider Frances quite the noblest woman I know.”

“Pshaw!” said the squire.  “You agree with Fluff ­she’s always praising her, too.  Of course, I have nothing to say against my daughter ­she’s my own uprearing, so it would ill beseem me to run her down.  But for a wife, give me a fresh little soft roundabout, like Fluff yonder.”

Arnold bit his lip.

“You have spoken frankly to me, and I thank you,” he said.  “If I am so unfortunate as not to win Miss Kane’s regard, there is little use in my prolonging my visit here; but I have yet to hear her decision from her own lips.  If you will allow me, I will leave you now, squire, for I promised Miss Danvers to spend some of this afternoon with her by the river.”

“With Fluff?  Little puss ­very good ­very good ­Ah!

     ‘The time I’ve spent in wooing’

never wasted, my boy ­never wasted.  I wish you all success from the bottom of my heart.”

“Insufferable old idiot!” growled Arnold, under his breath.

But he was thoroughly hurt and annoyed, and when he saw Frances, could not bring himself even to say a word to her.

The squire went back to the house to enjoy his afternoon nap, and to reflect comfortably on the delicious fact that he had done himself a good turn.

“There is no use playing with edge tools,” he murmured.  “Frances means well, but she confessed to me she loved him.  What more likely, then, that she would accept him, and, notwithstanding her good resolutions, leave her poor old father in the lurch?  If Frances accepts Arnold, it will be ruin to me, and it simply must be prevented at all hazards.”