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Aunt Jane's Nieces

"

The boy looked at him in surprise.

"She owns Elmhurst, and has mortgages on a dozen farms around here,

and property in New York, and thousands of dollars in the bank," he

said. "Aunt Jane's rich."

"Aunt Jane?" echoed the man, quickly. "What's your name, lad?"

"Kenneth Forbes."

A shake of the head.

"Don't recollect any Forbeses in the family."

"She isn't really my aunt," said the boy, "and she doesn't treat me

as an aunt, either; but she's my guardian, and I've always called her

Aunt, rather than say Miss Merrick."

"She's never married, has she?"

"No. She was engaged to my Uncle Tom, who owned Elmhurst. He was

killed in a railway accident, and then it was found he'd left her all

he had."

"I see."

"So, when my parents died, Aunt Jane took me for Uncle Tom's sake, and

keeps me out of charity."

"I see." Quite soberly, this time.

The boy slid off the mare and walked beside the little man, holding

the bridle over his arm. They did not speak again for some moments.

Finally the stranger asked:

"Are Jane's sisters living--Julia and Violet?"

"I don't know. But there are two of her nieces at Elmhurst."

"Ha! Who are they?"

"Girls," with bitterness. "I haven't seen them."

The stranger whistled.

"Don't like girls, I take it?"

"No; I hate them."

Another long pause. Then the boy suddenly turned questioner.

"You know Aunt--Miss Merrick, sir?"

"I used to, when we were both younger."

"Any relation, sir?"

"Just a brother, that's all."

Kenneth stopped short, and the mare stopped, and the little man, with

a whimsical smile at the boy's astonishment, also stopped.

"I didn't know she had a brother, sir--that is, living."

"She had two; but Will's dead, years ago, I'm told. I'm the other."

"John Merrick?"

"That's me. I went west a long time ago; before you were born, I

guess. We don't get much news on the coast, so I sort of lost track of

the folks back east, and I reckon they lost track of me, for the same

reason."

"You were the tinsmith?"

"The same. Bad pennies always return, they say.

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