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“Probable Sons” | Amy Le Feuvre

An Unwelcome Legacy

“Children! They are a nuisance to everyone—my abomination, as you know, Jack. Why on earth they cannot be kept out of sight altogether till they reach a sensible age is what puzzles me! And I suppose if anything could make the matter worse, it is that this is a girl.”

The tone of disgust with which the last word was uttered brought a laugh from Sir Edward Wentworth’s companion, who replied, as he took his cigar from his mouth and gazed critically into the worried, perplexed face of his host, “My dear fellow, she is not of an age yet to trouble you much. Wait till she gets a bit older. When her education is finished, and she takes possession of you and your house, will be the time for you to look to us for pity!”

“Look here, Sir Edward,” said a bright-looking youth from the other side of the room, “I’ll give you a bit of advice. Send the child straight off to school. Is she coming today? Good. Then pack her off tomorrow, and keep her there as long as is needful. Then I will go down and inspect her, and if she grows up to be a moderately decent-looking girl, I will do you a good turn by taking her off your hands. She will have a nice little fortune, you informed us, and if you will give her something in addition, out of gratitude to me for relieving you of all responsibility concerning her, upon my word I think I should not do badly!”

But Sir Edward was not in a mood to joke. He looked gloomily around upon his friends as they gathered around the smoking-room fire after a hard day’s shooting, and remarked, “I know what is before me. I have seen it in my sister’s family, and have heard something of all her toils and troubles. How thankful I was when she and hers were translated to Australia, and the sea came between us! It is first the nurses, who run off with one’s butler, make love to the keepers, and bring all kinds of followers about the house, who sometimes make off with one’s plate. Then it’s the governesses, who come and have a try at the guests, or most likely in my case they would set their affections on me, and get the reins of government entirely into their hands. If it is school, then there is a mass of correspondence about the child’s health and training; and, in addition, I shall have all the ladies in the neighborhood coming to mother the child and tell me how to train it. It is a bad lookout for me, I can tell you, and not one of you would care to be in my shoes.”

“What is the trouble, Ned?” asked a newcomer, opening the door and glancing at the amused faces of those surrounding Sir Edward, all of whom seemed to be keenly enjoying their host’s perplexity.

“He has received a legacy today, that is all,” was the response. “He has had an orphan niece and nurse sent to him from some remote place in the Highlands. Come, give us your case again, old fellow, for the benefit of your cousin.”

Sir Edward, a grave, abstracted-looking man, with an iron-grey moustache and dark, piercing eyes, looked up with a desponding shake of the head. He repeated, slowly and emphatically, “A widowed sister of mine died last year, and left her little girl in the charge of an old school friend, who has now taken a husband to herself and discarded the child, calmly sending me the following letter:


Doubtless you will remember that your sister’s great desire on her death-bed was that you should receive her little one and bring her up under your own eye, being her natural guardian and nearest relative. Hearing, however, from you that you did not at that time feel equal to the responsibility, I came forward and volunteered to take her for a short while till you had made arrangements to receive her. I have been expecting to hear from you for some time, and as I have promised my future husband to fix the day for our marriage some time early next month, I thought I could not do better than send the child with her nurse to you without delay. She will reach you the day after you receive this letter. Perhaps you will kindly send me word of her safe arrival.

Yours truly,

“Now, Lovell, what do you think of that? And sure enough, this afternoon, while we were out, the child and nurse appeared, and are in the house at this present moment. Don’t you think it a hard case for such a confirmed bachelor as I am?”

“I do indeed,” was the hearty reply. “But I think you will find a way out of it, Ned. Take a wife unto yourself, and she will relieve you of all responsibility.”

There was a general laugh at this, but in the midst of it the door slowly opened, and the subject of all this discussion appeared on the threshold, a fragile little figure, with long, golden-brown hair, and a pair of dark brown eyes that looked calmly and searchingly in front of her. Clad in white, with her dimpled hands crossed in front of her, she stood there for a moment in silence, then spoke.

“Where is my Uncle Edward?”

“Here,” replied Sir Edward, as he looked helplessly round, first at his friends and then at his small niece.

The child stepped up to him with perfect composure, and held out her little hand, which her uncle took, undergoing all the while a severe scrutiny from the pair of dark eyes fixed upon him. There was dead silence in the room. Sir Edward’s companions were delighting in the scene, and his great discomfiture only heightened their enjoyment.

“Well,” he said at length, rather feebly, “I think you know the look of me now, don’t you? Where is your nurse? Ought you not to be in your bed? This is not the place for little girls, you know.”

“I was thinking you would kiss me,” and the child’s lips began to quiver, while a pink flush rose to her cheeks, and she glanced wistfully round, in the hope of seeing some sympathetic face near her.

But Sir Edward could not bring himself to do this. Laying his hand on the curly head raised to his, he patted it as he might his dog, and said, “There, there! Now you have introduced yourself to me, you can run away. What is your name? Millicent, isn’t it?”

“Milly is my name. And are all these gentlemen my uncles too?”

The tone of doubtful inquiry was too much for the little company, and Milly’s question was answered by a shout of laughter.

Again the child’s face flushed, and then a grey-haired man stepped forward.

“Come, Wentworth, this is a severe ordeal for such a mite. I have grandchildren of my own, so am not so scared as you. Now, little one, is that better?”

And in an instant the child was lifted by him and placed upon his knee as he took a seat by the fire.

Milly heaved a short sigh.

“I like this,” she said, looking up at him confidingly. “Does Uncle Edward really want me to go to bed? Nurse said it wasn’t time yet. Nurse wanted her supper, so she sent me in here while she had it.”

“The reign of the nurse has begun,” said Sir Edward. “Well, it may be a very fine joke to all you fellows, but if I don’t make my authority felt at once, it will be all up with me. Lovell, be so good as to ring that bell.”

Sir Edward’s voice was irate when his old butler appeared.

“Ford, take this child to her nurse, and tell her that she is never to appear in my presence again unless sent for. Now, Millicent, go at once.”

The child slid down from her seat, but though evidently puzzled at the quick, sharp words, she seemed to have no fear, for, going up to her uncle, she slipped her little hand into his.

“Are you angry, uncle? What does ‘presence’ mean? Will you say, ‘Good-night; God bless you,’ to me?”

With the baby fingers clinging to his, what could Sir Edward say?

“Good night; good night, child! Now go.”

“Say, ‘God bless you!’ ” persisted the little one, and it was not till her uncle muttered the desired words that she relinquished her hold and followed the butler sedately out of the room.