Here she looked up at me, with horror at the grandeur of the sum, and not knowing what I could think of it. But I kept my eyes from her. ‘Ten pounds!’ I said in my deepest voice, on purpose to have it out in comfort, when she should be frightened; ‘what can you want with ten pounds, child?’

‘That is my concern, said Lorna, plucking up her spirit at this: ‘when a lady asks for a loan, no gentleman pries into the cause of her asking it.’

‘That may be as may be,’ I answered in a judicial manner; ‘ten pounds, or twenty, you shall have. But I must know the purport.’

‘Then that you never shall know, John. I am very sorry for asking you. It is not of the smallest consequence. Oh, dear, no.’ Herewith she was running away.

‘Oh, dear, yes,’ I replied; ‘it is of very great consequence; and I understand the whole of it. You want to give that stupid Annie, who has lost you a hundred thousand pounds, and who is going to be married before us, dear—God only can tell why, being my younger sister—you want to give her a wedding present. And you shall do it, darling; because it is so good of you. Don’t you know your title, love? How humble you are with us humble folk. You are Lady Lorna something, so far as I can make out yet: and you ought not even to speak to us. You will go away and disdain us.’

‘If you please, talk not like that, John. I will have nothing to do with it, if it comes between you and me, John.’

‘You cannot help yourself,’ said I. And then she vowed that she could and would. And rank and birth were banished from between our lips in no time.

‘What can I get her good enough? I am sure I do not know,’ she asked: ‘she has been so kind and good to me, and she is such a darling. How I shall miss her, to be sure! By the bye, you seem to think, John, that I shall be rich some day.’

‘Of course you will. As rich as the French King who keeps ours. Would the Lord Chancellor trouble himself about you, if you were poor?’

‘Then if I am rich, perhaps you would lend me twenty pounds, dear John. Ten pounds would be very mean for a wealthy person to give her.’

To this I agreed, upon condition that I should make the purchase myself, whatever it might be. For nothing could be easier than to cheat Lorna about the cost, until time should come for her paying me. And this was better than to cheat her for the benefit of our family. For this end, and for many others, I set off to Dulverton, bearing more commissions, more messages, and more questions than a man of thrice my memory might carry so far as the corner where the sawpit is. And to make things worse, one girl or other would keep on running up to me, or even after me (when started) with something or other she had just thought of, which she could not possibly do without, and which I must be sure to remember, as the most important of the whole.

To my dear mother, who had partly outlived the exceeding value of trifles, the most important matter seemed to ensure Uncle Reuben’s countenance and presence at the marriage. And if I succeeded in this, I might well forget all the maidens’ trumpery. This she would have been wiser to tell me when they were out of hearing; for I left her to fight her own battle with them; and laughing at her predicament, promised to do the best I could for all, so far as my wits would go.

Uncle Reuben was not at home, but Ruth, who received me very kindly, although without any expressions of joy, was sure of his return in the afternoon, and persuaded me to wait for him. And by the time that I had finished all I could recollect of my orders, even with paper to help me, the old gentleman rode into the yard, and was more surprised than pleased to see me. But if he was surprised, I was more

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