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Aunt Jane's Nieces

Moreover, all the servants sang Beth's praises, from Misery and Phibbs

down to Oscar and Susan. Of course James the gardener favored no one,

as the numerous strangers at Elmhurst kept him in a constant state of

irritation, and his malady seemed even worse than usual. He avoided

everyone but his mistress, and although his work was now often

neglected Miss Merrick made no complaint. James' peculiarities were

well understood and aroused nothing but sympathy.

Louise, however, had played her cards so well that all Beth's friends

were powerless to eject the elder girl from Aunt Jane's esteem. Louise

had not only returned the check to her aunt, but she came often to sit

beside her and cheer her with a budget of new social gossip, and no

one could arrange the pillows so comfortably or stroke the tired head

so gently as Louise. And then, she was observing, and called Aunt

Jane's attention to several ways of curtailing the household

expenditures, which the woman's illness had forced her to neglect.

So Miss Merrick asked Louise to look over the weekly accounts, and in

this way came to depend upon her almost as much as she did upon Lawyer

Watson.

As for Patsy, she made no attempt whatever to conciliate her aunt, who

seldom mentioned her name to the others but always brightened visibly

when the girl came into her presence with her cheery speeches and

merry laughter. She never stayed long, but came and went, like a

streak of sunshine, whenever the fancy seized her; and Silas Watson,

shrewdly looking on, saw a new light in Jane's eyes as she looked

after her wayward, irresponsible niece, and wondered if the bargain

between them, regarding the money, would really hold good.

It was all an incomprehensible problem, this matter of the

inheritance, and although the lawyer expected daily to be asked to

draw up Jane Merrick's will, and had, indeed, prepared several forms,

to be used in case of emergency, no word had yet passed her lips

regarding her intentions.

Kenneth's life, during this period, was one of genuine misery.

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