while she nestled in shelter of my arm, and seemed to enjoy the escapade with all the thoughtless abandon of a girl. Why she went off into frequent fits of quiet laughter I did not quite understand, for my whispers were decidedly more tender than witty, but I fancied it hysterical, and, having made up my mind that some touching romance was soon to he revealed to me, I prepared myself for it, by playing my part with spirit, finding something very agreeable in my new rôle of devoted husband.
The remarks of our neighbors amused us immensely: for, the old lady, on waking, evidently took us for an English couple on a honeymoon trip, and confided her opinion of the "mad English" to the young man, who knit his brows and mused moodily.
To our great satisfaction, both of our companions quitted us at midnight; and the moment the door closed behind them, the girl tore off her vail, threw herself on the sent opposite me, and laughed till the tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Now, mademoiselle, I demand an explanation," I said, seriously, when her merriment subsided.
"You shall have it; but first tell me what do I look like?" and she turned her face toward me with a wicked smile, that puzzled me more than her words.
"Like a very charming young lady who has run away from school or pension, either to escape from a lover or to meet one."
My faith! but that is a compliment to my skill," muttered the girl, as if to herself; then aloud, and solberly, though her eyes still danced with irrepressible mirth: "Monsieur is right in one thing. I have run away from school, but not to meet or fly a lover. Ah, no; I go to find my mother. She is ill; they concealed it from me; I ran away, and would have walked from Lyons to Nice if old Justine had not helped me."
"And this young man—why did you dread him!" I asked, eagerly.
"He is one of the teachers. He goes to find and reclaim me; but, thanks to my disguise, and your kindness, he has not discovered me."
"But why should he reclaim you! Surely, if your mother is ill, you have a right to visit her, and she would desire it."
"Ah, it is a sad story! I can only tell you that we are poor. I am too young yet to help my mother. Two rich aunts placed me in a fine school, and support me till I am eighteen, on condition that my mother does not see me. They hate her, and I would have rejected their charity, but for the thought that soon I can earn my bread and support her. She wished me to go, and I obeyed, though it broke my heart. I study hard. I suffer many trials. I make no complaint; but I hope and wait, and when the time comes I fly to her, and never leave her any more.
What had come to the girl? The words poured from her lips with impetuous force; her eyes flashed; her face glowed; her voice was possessed with strange eloquence, by turns tender, defiant, proud, and pathetic. She clinched her hands, and dashed her little hat at her feet with a vehement gesture when speaking of her aunts. Her eyes shone through indignant tears when alluding to her trials; and, as she said, brokenly, "I fly to her, and never leave her any more," she opened her arms as if to embrace and hold her mother fast.
It moved me strangely: for, instead of a shallow, coquettish school-girl, I found a passionate, resolute creature, ready to do and dare anything for the mother she loved. I resolved to see the end of this adventure, and wished my sister had a child as fond and faithful to comfort and sustain her; but her only son had died a baby, and she was alone, for I had deserted her.
"Have you no friends but these cruel aunts?" I asked, compassionately.
"No, not one. My father is dead, my mother poor and ill, and I am powerless to help her," she answered, with a sob.
"Not quite; remember I am a friend."
As I spoke I offered my hand; but, to my intense surprise, the girl struck it away from her with a passionate motion, saying, almost fiercely:
"No; it is too late—too late! You should have come before."
"My poor child, calm yourself. I am indeed a friend; believe it, and let me help you. I can sympathize with your distress, for I, too, go to Nice to find one dear to me. My poor sister, whom I have neglected many years; but now I go to ask pardon, and to serve her with all my heart. Come, then, let us comfort one another, and go hopefully to meet those who love and long for us."
Still another surprise; for, with a face as sweetly penitent as it had been sternly proud before, this strange girl caught my hand in hers, kissed it warmly, and whispered, gratefully:
"I often dreamed of a friend like this, but never thought to find him so. God bless you, my—" She paused there, hid her face an instant, then looked up without a shadow in her eyes, saying more quietly, and with a smile I could not understand:
"What shall I give you to prove my thanks for your kindness to me?"
"When we part, you shall give me an English good-by."
"A kiss on the lips! Fie! monsieur will not demand that of me," cried the girl, whose changeful face was gay again.
"And why not, since I am old enough to be called your father."
"Ah, that displeased you! Well, you had your revenge: rest content with that, mon mari," laughed the girl, retreating to a corner with a rebellious air.
"I shall claim my reward when we part; so resign yourself, mademoiselle. By-the-way, what name has my little friend?"
"I will tell you when I pay my debt. Now let me sleep. I am tired, and so are you. Good-night, Monsieur George Vane." and, leaving me to wonder how she had learned my name, the tormenting creature barricaded herself with cloaks and bags, and seemed to sleep tranquilly.
Tired with the long night, I soon dropped off into a doze, which must have been a long one; for, when I woke, I found myself in the dark.
"Where the deuce are we?" I exclaimed; for the lamp was out, and no sign of dawn visible, though I had seen a ruddy streak when I last looked out.
"In the long tunnel near Nice," answered a voice from the gloom.
"Ah, mademoiselle is awake! Is she not afraid that I may demand payment now?"
"Wait till the light comes, and if you deserve it then, you shall have it," and I heard the little gipsy laughing in her corner. The next minute a spark glowed opposite me; the odor of my choice cigarettes filled the air, and the crackle of a bon-bon was heard.
Before I could make up my mind how to punish these freaks, we shot out of the tunnel, and I sat petrified with amazement, for there, opposite me, lounged, not my pretty blonde school-girl, but a handsome black-haired, mischievous lad, in the costume of a pupil of a French military academy: with his little cap rakishly askew, his blue coat buttoned smartly to the chin, his well-booted feet on the beside him, and his small hands daintily gloved, this young rascal lay staring at me with such a world of fun in his fine eyes, that I tingled all over with a shock of surprise which almost took my breath away.
"Have a light, uncle"" was the cool remark that broke the long silence.
"Where is the girl?" was all I could say, with a dazed expression.
There, sir," pointing to the bag, with a smile that made me feel as if I was not yet awake, so like the girl's was it.
"And who the devil are you?" I cried, getting angry all at once.
Standing as straight as an arrow, the boy answered, with a military salute:
"George Vane Vandeleur, at your service, uncle."
"My sister has no children; her boy died years ago, you young villain."
"He tried to, but they wouldn't let him. I'm sorry to contradict you, sir; but I'm your sister's son, and that will prove it."
Much bewildered, I took the letter be handed me, and found it impossible to doubt the boy's word. It was from my sister to her son, telling him that she had written to me, that I had