Benjamin Farjeon.

Miser Farebrother: A Novel (vol. 1 of 3)



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It was not the only surprise; there was another, even more subtly sweet to Ph?be. This was the appearance of Fred Cornwall, who, finding no bell at the gates by which he could announce his arrival, walked boldly through, and suddenly presented himself. They were all outside the house, awaiting Mrs. Pamflett's summons to tea.

"Why," exclaimed the arch-conspirator Fanny, calling astonishment into her features, "if there isn't Mr. Cornwall coming up the walk! Who would have thought it? and how ever did he find us out?"

Ph?be turned toward the young man, blushing, and with a palpitating heart.

"I hope you will pardon the liberty I have taken," said he; "but as it is your birthday I thought I might venture."

"How did you know?" asked Ph?be, her hand in his.

"A little bird told me," was his reply. "How do you do, Aunt Leth? How do you do, Miss Fanny?"

He exchanged pleasant words of greeting with his friends and looked very handsome, and by no means ill at ease, though an uninvited guest. Well dressed, well mannered, a gentleman every inch of him.

At the door of the house, unseen by anyone of the happy group, Mrs. Pamflett appeared. She saw the meeting, and noted Ph?be's blushing face. She partly closed the door, and, retreating a step, stood there, watching and debating within herself.

Fred Cornwall held in his hand a bunch of flowers, very choice specimens, loosely tied, and arranged with charming grace. Not in the shape of a regulation bouquet, but infinitely more beautiful in their apparently careless form. He offered them to Ph?be, and she accepted them. Mrs. Pamflett set her thin white lips close.

Then the young gentleman presented, as birthday gifts, the presents he had bought for Ph?be on his Continental trip, accompanying them with heart-felt wishes. Ph?be, trembling, thrilling, was in the seventh heaven of joy.

When, however, she recovered her self-possession, she felt herself in a difficulty. Would her father be angry? Aunt Leth, seeing the light shadow on her face, moved aside with her.

"You are thinking of your father, Ph?be?" she said.

"Yes, aunt."

"You would like Mr. Cornwall to stop to tea?" Enlightened by Fanny's confession in the early part of the day, she regarded Mr. Cornwall and her niece as lovers, and her sympathies were already enlisted on their side.

"Yes, aunt," replied Ph?be. "But it is a little awkward, is it not? What shall I do?"

"Go and ask your father," said Aunt Leth. "Say that Mr. Cornwall is a friend of ours, and that you have often met him at our house. Go at once; Mr. Cornwall need not know; I will keep him engaged while you are away."

Ph?be nodded, and started for the house. Mrs. Pamflett, seeing her coming, beat a retreat, not desiring to meet the young girl just at that moment.

"Father," said Ph?be, "I am in a difficulty. I hope you will not mind."

"Not at all," said Miser Farebrother. She had never heard him speak in a voice so kind and gentle.

"A friend of Aunt Leth's has just arrived, and has brought me these." She showed him the flowers and the presents, and he pretended to take interest in them.

"He has been on the Continent, father; and he purchased presents for all of us."

"Very generous, very generous," said Miser Farebrother. "Did you invite him here?"

"No, father; I would not have dared without asking your consent. I can't make out how he found his way here, and how he knew it was my birthday. I did not tell him."

"Perhaps your aunt did."

"I think not, father."

"What is your difficulty, Ph?be?"

"I should like to ask him to stop to tea, if you have no objection."

"You may ask him," said Miser Farebrother. He had a direct motive in giving his consent so readily. The nature of his late reflections had inspired an interest in all Ph?be's acquaintances, and he wished to see this friend of her aunt's.

"Oh, father, how can I thank you?"

"By obeying me, Ph?be."

"Yes, father; I will."

"I hope you will keep your word. What is the name of this new friend?"

"Not new, father – old."

"New to me. What is his name?"

"Mr. Cornwall. He is a gentleman, father."

"Young?"

"Yes, father."

"What is he besides being a gentleman?"

"He is a barrister."

"A lawyer? Ah! A clever one?"

"They say so, father."

"Ah! Is he a great friend of your aunt's?"

"A very great friend, father. They think the world of him."

He nodded, and dismissed her, and then gave himself up again to contemplation of the incident in connection with what had preceded it. He, as well as Mrs. Pamflett, had noted his daughter's blushes, her eagerness, her excitement of delight, and he placed his own construction upon her manner. It seemed to him as if he had been drawn into some game which it was vitally necessary he should win. It was strange how things appeared to fit in with one another! He had been thinking of lawyers, and here was one in his house, an unmistakable intruder, with flowers and presents for Ph?be, the daughter of rich Miser Farebrother. A clever lawyer too, and a great friend of the Lethbridges, whom he hated from the bottom of his heart. Bold schemers they, and a bold ally this Mr. Cornwall, to presume to come, uninvited, to his house, regarding him, its owner, as a person of no importance, whose wishes it was unnecessary to consult! What had passed between this unwelcome guest and Ph?be? How far had they gone? and what was being hidden from him? He did not doubt now that the presence of the Lethbridges in Parksides on his daughter's birthday was part of a cunning plot, in which their lawyer friend was a principal actor. "They are all in a league against me," he thought; "but I shall be equal with them. If Ph?be disobeys me, she must take the consequences. I will wring a promise from her to-night before I go to bed."

"Mr. Cornwall," said Ph?be, when she rejoined her friends in the open, "will you stop and have a cup of tea with us."

"Would it be possible," he said, turning with smiles to Fanny, "for me to refuse?"

"How should I know?" said Fanny, tossing her head.

"It will be a great pleasure to me," said Fred Cornwall to Ph?be. "I almost feared that I should be looked upon as an intruder."

"Of course you did," said Fanny, making a face at him behind her cousin's back; "that is why you came."

"We can all go back to London together," said Aunt Leth.

"Yes," said Fanny, "and you can make love to me in the train."

"You must not mind her, Mr. Cornwall," said Aunt Leth; "her high spirits sometimes run away with her."

"I wish some nice young gentleman would," whispered Fanny to Ph?be. "Why doesn't a fairy godmother take me in hand?"

"Aunt," said Ph?be, aside, to Mrs. Lethbridge, "I think I was never quite so happy as I am to-day. You have no idea how kind papa has been to me."

Aunt Leth pressed Ph?be's arm affectionately, and at that moment Mrs. Pamflett appeared and said that tea was ready. She had delayed it till the last minute in the hope that Jeremiah would arrive, and she was vexed and disappointed at his absence. Outwardly, however, she was all graciousness, and she took especial pains to put on her most amiable manners.

"No girl ever had a more beautiful birthday," thought Ph?be, as they all trooped into the house.

END OF VOL. I

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