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Aunt Jane's Nieces

Then

an old man came slowly around the corner of the house. His bare

head was quite bald. He wore a short canvas apron and carried

pruning-shears in one hand. Without a word of greeting to his mistress

or scarce a glance at her half recumbent form, he mounted the steps of

the piazza and assisted Phibbs to lift the chair to the ground.

"How are the roses coming on, James?"

"Poorly, Miss," he answered, and turning his back returned to his work

around the corner. If he was surly, Miss Jane seemed not to mind it.

Her glance even softened a moment as she followed his retreating form.

But now she was revelling amongst the flowers, which she seemed to

love passionately. Phibbs wheeled her slowly along the narrow paths

between the beds, and she stopped frequently to fondle a blossom or

pull away a dead leaf or twig from a bush. The roses were magnificent,

in spite of the old gardener's croaking, and the sun was warm and

grateful and the hum of the bees musical and sweet.

"It's hard to die and leave all this, Phibbs," said the old woman, a

catch in her voice. "But it's got to be done."

"Not for a while yet, I hope, Miss Jane."

"It won't be long, Phibbs. But I must try to live until my nieces

come, and I can decide which of them is most worthy to care for the

old place when I am gone."

"Yes, Miss."

"I've heard from two of them, already. They jumped at the bait I held

out quickly enough; but that's only natural. And the letters are very

sensible ones, too. Elizabeth DeGraf says she will be glad to come,

and thanks me for inviting her. Louise Merrick is glad to come, also,

but hopes I am deceived about my health and that she will make me more

than one visit after we become friends. A very proper feeling; but I'm

not deceived, Phibbs. My end's in plain sight."

"Yes, Miss Jane."

"And somebody's got to have my money and dear Elmhurst when I'm

through with them. Who will it be, Phibbs?"

"I'm sure I don't know, Miss."

"Nor do I. The money's mine, and I can do what I please with it; and

I'm under no obligation to anyone.

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