Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Lady of the Forest: A Story for Girls

L. T. Meade

  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at



  By L. T. MEADE

  Author of "The Little Princess of Tower Hill," "A Sweet Girl Graduate," "The Palace Beautiful," "Polly," "A World of Girls," etc., etc.

  "Tyde what may betyde, Lovel shall dwell at Avonsyde."






  "Tyde what may betyde Lovel shall dwell at Avonsyde."


  "And then," said Rachel, throwing up her hands and raising hereyebrows--"and then, when they got into the heart of the forest itself,just where the shade was greenest and the trees thickest, they saw thelady coming to meet them. She, too, was all in green, and she came onand on, and----"

  "Hush, Rachel!" exclaimed Kitty; "here comes Aunt Grizel."

  The girls, aged respectively twelve and nine, were seated, one on arustic stile, the other on the grass at her feet; a background ofsplendid forest trees threw their slight and childish figures intostrong relief. Rachel's hat was tossed on the ground and Kitty's parasollay unopened by her side. The sun was sending slanting rays through thetrees, and some of these rays fell on Kitty's bright hair and lit upRachel's dark little gypsy face.

  "Aunt Grizel is coming," said Kitty, and immediately she put on a properand demure expression. Rachel, drawn up short in the midst of a veryexciting narrative, looked slightly defiant and began to whistle in aboyish manner.

  Aunt Griselda was seen approaching down a long straight avenueovershadowed by forest trees of beech and oak; she held her parasol wellup, and her face was further protected from any passing gleams ofsunlight by a large poke-bonnet. She was a slender old lady, with agraceful and dignified appearance. Aunt Griselda would have compelledrespect from any one, and as she approached the two girls they bothstarted to their feet and ran to meet her.

  "Your music-master has been waiting for you for half an hour, Rachel.Kitty, I am going into the forest; you can come with me if you choose."

  Rachel did not attempt to offer any excuse for being late; with anexpressive glance at Kitty she walked off soberly to the house, and theyounger girl, picking up her hat, followed Aunt Griselda, sighingslightly as she did so.

  Kitty was an affectionate child, the kind of child who likes everybody,and she would have tolerated Aunt Griselda--who was not particularlyaffectionate nor particularly sympathetic--if she had not disturbed herjust at the moment when she was listening with breathless interest to awonderful romance.

  Kitty adored fairy tales, and Rachel had a great gift in that direction.She was very fond of prefacing her stories with some such words as thefollowing:

  "Understand now, Kitty, that this fairy story is absolutely true; thefairy was seen by our great-great-grandmother;" or "Our great-uncleJonas declares that he saw that brownie himself as he was going throughthe forest in the dusk;" then Kitty's pretty blue eyes would open wideand she would lose herself in an enchanted world. It was very trying tobe brought back to the ordinary everyday earth by Aunt Griselda, and onthe present occasion the little girl felt unusually annoyed.

  Miss Griselda Lovel, or "Aunt Grizel" as her nieces called her, was ataciturn old lady, and by no means remarked Kitty's silence. There weremany little paths through the forest, and the two soon found themselvesin comparative night. Miss Lovel walked quickly, and Kitty almost pantedas she kept up with her. Her head was so full of Rachel's fairy talethat at last some unexpected words burst from her lips. They werepassing under a splendid forest tree, when Kitty suddenly clutched AuntGrizel's thin hand.

  "Aunt Grizel--is it--is it about here that the lady lives?"

  "What lady, child?" asked Miss Lovel.

  "Oh, you know--the lady of the forest."

  Aunt Grizel dropped Kitty's hand and laughed.

  "What a foolish little girl you are, Kitty! Who has been putting suchnonsense into your head? See, my dear, I will wait for you here; rundown this straight path to the Eyres' cottage, and bring Mrs. Eyre backwith you--I want to speak to her. I have had a letter, my dear, and yourlittle cousin Philip Lovel is coming to Avonsyde to-morrow."

  * * * * *

  Avonsyde was one of the oldest places in the country; it was notparticularly large, nor were its owners remarkable for wealth, orprowess, or deeds of daring, neither were the men of the house speciallyclever. It was indeed darkly hinted at that the largest portion ofbrains was as a rule bestowed upon the female side of the house. But onthe score of antiquity no country seat could at all approach Avonsyde.It was a delightful old place, homelike and bright; there were one ortwo acres of flower-garden not too tidily kept, and abounding in allkinds of old-fashioned and sweet-smelling flowers; the house had a broadfrontage, its windows were small, and it possessed all the charmingirregularities of a family dwelling-place which has been added to pieceby piece. At one end was a tower, gray and hoary with the weight ofcenturies; at the further end were modern wings with largereception-rooms, and even some attempts at modern luxury and modernornamentation. There were two avenues to the place: one the celebratedstraight avenue, which must have been cut at some long-ago perioddirectly out of the neighboring forest, for the trees which arched itover were giant forest oaks and beeches. This avenue was the pride ofthe place, and shown as a matter of course to all visitors. The otheravenue, and the one most in use, was winding and straggling; it ledstraight up to the old-fashioned stone porch which guarded the entrance,and enshrined in the most protective and cozy manner the principal doorsto the house.

  Avonsyde had belonged to the Lovels for eight hundred years. They werenot a rich family and they had undergone many misfortunes; the propertynow belonged to the younger branch; for a couple of hundred years ago avery irate and fiery Squire Lovel had disinherited his eldest son andhad bestowed all his fair lands and the old place upon a younger son.From that moment matters had not gone well with the family; the youngerson who inherited the property which should have been his brother's madean unfortunate marriage, had sickly children, many of whom died, and notbeing himself either too strong-minded or in any sense overwise, hadsustained severe money losses, and for the first time within the memoryof man some of the Avonsyde lands had to be sold.

  From the date of the disinheritance of the elder branch the family neverregained either their wealth or prestige; generation after generationthe Lovels dwindled in strength and became less and less able to copewith their sturdier neighbors. The last squire of Avonsyde had onesickly son and two daughters; the son married, but died before hisfather, leaving no son to i
nherit the old place. This son had also, inthe family's estimation, married beneath him, and during the squire'slifetime his daughters were afraid even to mention the names of twobonny little lasses who were pining away their babyhood and early youthin poky London lodgings, and who would have been all the better for thefresh breezes which blew so genially round Avonsyde. After the death ofhis son Squire Lovel became very morose and disagreeable. He pretendednot to grieve for his son, but he also lost all interest in life. One byone the old pleasures in which he used to delight were given up, hishealth gave way rapidly, and at last the end drew near.

  There came a day when Squire Lovel felt so ill that he sent first of allfor the family doctor and then for the family solicitor. He occupied thedoctor's attention for about ten minutes, but he was closeted with thelawyer for two or three hours. At the end of that time he sent for hisdaughters and made some strong statements to them.

  "Grizel," he said, addressing the elder Miss Lovel, "Dr. Maddon has justinformed me that I am not long for this world."

  "Dr. Maddon is fond of exaggerating matters," said Miss Grizel in avoice which she meant to be soothing; "neither Katharine nor I think youvery ill, father, and--and----"

  The squire raised his eyebrows impatiently.

  "We won't discuss the question of whether Maddon is a wise man or asilly one, Griselda," he said. "I know myself that I am ill. I am notonly ill, I am weak, and arguing with regard to a foregone conclusion iswearisome. I have much to talk to you and Katharine about, so will yousit down quietly and listen to me?"

  Miss Griselda was a cold-mannered and perhaps cold-natured woman. MissKatharine, on the contrary, was extremely tender-hearted; she lookedappealingly at her old father's withered face; but she had always beensubmissive, and she now followed her elder sister's lead and sat downquietly on the nearest chair.

  "We will certainly not worry you with needless words, father," said MissGriselda gently. "You have doubtless many directions to give us aboutthe property; your instructions shall of course be carried out to thebest of my ability. Katharine, too, although she is not thestrongest-minded of mortals, will no doubt, from a sense of filialaffection, also respect your wishes."

  "I am glad the new poultry-yard is complete," here half-sobbed MissKatharine, "and that valuable new breed of birds arrived yesterday; andI--I----"

  "Try to stop talking, both of you," suddenly exclaimed the squire. "I amdying, and Avonsyde is without an heir. Griselda, will you oblige me bygoing down to the library and bringing up out of the book-case marked Dthat old diary of my great-grandfather's, in which are entered theparticulars of the quarrel?"

  Miss Katharine looked in an awe-struck and startled way at her sister.Miss Griselda rose at once and, with a bunch of keys in her hand, wentdownstairs.

  The moment she had left the room Miss Katharine got up timidly and, witha certain pathos, stooped down and kissed the old man's swollen hand.

  The little action was done so simply and naturally that the fierce oldface relaxed, and for an instant the wrinkled hand touched MissKatharine's gray head.

  "Yes, Kitty, I know you love me; but I hate the feminine weakness oftears. Ah, Kitty, you were a fair enough looking maid once, but time hasfaded and changed you; you are younger than Grizel, but you have wornfar worse."

  Miss Katharine did not say a word, but hastily resumed her seat; andwhen Miss Lovel returned with the vellum-bound diary, she had not anidea that her younger sister had ever moved.

  Sitting down by her father, she opened the musty old volume and readaloud certain passages which, written in fierce heat at the time,disclosed a painful family scene. Angry words, bitter recriminations,the sense of injustice on one side, the thirst for revenge on the other,were faithfully portrayed by the dead-and-gone chronicler.

  The squire's lips moved in unspoken accompaniment to the words which hisdaughter read aloud, and Miss Katharine bent eagerly forward in ordernot to lose a syllable.

  "I am dying, and there is no male heir to Avonsyde," said the squire atlast. "Griselda and Katharine, I wish to state here distinctly that mygreat-great-grandfather made a mistake when he turned the boy Rupertfrom the old place. Valentine should have refused to inherit; it isdoubtless because of Valentine's weakness and his father's spirit ofrevenge that I die to-day without male issue to inherit Avonsyde."

  "Heaping recriminations on the dead won't help matters now," said MissGriselda in a sententious voice. As she spoke she closed the diary,clasped it and locked it, and Miss Katharine, starting to her feet,said:

  "There are the children in London, your grandchildren, father, and ournearest of kin."

  The squire favored his younger daughter with a withering look, and evenMiss Griselda started at what were very bold words.

  "Those children," said the squire--"girls, both of them, sickly, weakly,with Valentine's miserable pink-and-white delicacy and their low bornmother's vulgarity; I said I would never see them, and I surely do notwish to hear about them now. Griselda, there is now one plain andmanifest duty before you--I lay it as my dying charge on you andKatharine. I leave the search which you are to institute as your missionin life. While you both live Avonsyde is yours, but you must search theworld over if necessary for Rupert Lovel's descendants; and when youdiscover them you are to elect a bonny stalwart boy of the house as yourheir. No matter whether he is eldest or youngest, whether he is in ahigh position or a low position in the social scale, provided he is alineal descendant of the Rupert Lovel who was disinherited in 1684, andprovided also he is strong and upright and well-featured, with muscleand backbone and manliness in him, you are to appoint him your heir, andyou are to bequeath to him the old house, and the old lands, and all themoney you can save by simple and abstemious living. I have written itdown in my will, and you are tied firmly, both of you, and cannot departfrom my instructions; but I wished to talk over matters with you, forKatharine there is slow to take in a thing, and you, Grizel, areprejudiced and rancorous in your temper, and I wish you both clearly tounderstand that the law binds you to search for my heir, and this, ifyou want to inherit a shilling from me during your lifetime, you mustdo. Remember, however, and bear ever strongly in mind, that if, when youfind the family, the elder son is weakly and the younger son is strong,it is to the sturdy boy that the property is to go; and hark you yetagain, Griselda and Katharine, that the property is not to go to thefather if he is alive, but to the young boy, and the boy is to beeducated to take up his rightful position. A strong lad, a manly andstalwart lad, mind you; for Avonsyde has almost ceased to exist, owingto sickly and effeminate heirs, since the time when mygreat-great-grandfather quarreled with his son, Rupert Lovel, and gavethe old place to that weakly stripling Valentine. I am a descendant ofValentine myself, but, 'pon my word, I rue the day."

  "Your directions shall be obeyed to the letter," said Miss Griselda; butMiss Katharine interrupted her.

  "And we--we have only a life-interest in the property, father?" sheinquired in a quavering voice.

  The old squire looked up into his younger daughter's face and laughed.

  "Why, what more would you want, Kitty? No longer young nor fair and withno thought of marrying--what is money to you after your death?"

  "I was thinking of the orphan children in London," continued MissKatharine, with increasing firmness of manner and increasing tremblingof voice. "They are very poor, and--and--they are Valentine's children,and--and--you have never seen them, father."

  "And never mean to," snapped the squire. "Griselda, I believe I have nowgiven implicit directions. Katharine, don't be silly. I don't mean tosee those children and I won't be worried about them."

  At this moment the door behind the squire, which was very thick and madeof solid oak, worn nearly black with age, was opened softly, and a clearvoice exclaimed:

  "Why, what a funny room! Do come in, Kitty. Oh, what a beautiful room,and what a funny, queer old man!"

  Miss Griselda and Miss Katharine both turned round abruptly. MissGriselda made a step toward
the door to shut it against some unexpectedand unwelcome intruder. The old man muttered:

  "That is a child's voice--one of the village urchins, no doubt."

  But before Miss Griselda could reach the door--in short, before any ofthe little party assembled in the dying squire's bedroom could doanything but utter disjointed exclamations, a child, holding a youngerchild by the hand, marched boldly and with the air of one perfectly athome into the chamber.

  "What a very nice room, and what funny ladies, and oh! what a queer,cross old man! Don't be frightened, Kitty, we'll walk right through.There's a door at the other end--maybe we'll find grandfather in the roombeyond the door at that end."

  The squire's lower jaw quite dropped as the radiant little creaturescame in and filled the room with an unlooked-for light and beauty. Theywere dressed picturesquely, and no one for an instant could mistake themfor the village children. The eldest child might have been seven; shewas tall and broad, with large limbs, a head crowned with a great wealthof tangly, fuzzy, nut-brown hair, eyes deeply set, very dark in color, arichly tinted dark little face, and an expression of animation whichshowed in the dancing eyes, in the dancing limbs, in the smiling,dimpled, confident mouth; her proud little head was well thrown back;her attitude was totally devoid of fear. The younger child was fair witha pink-and-white complexion, a quantity of golden, sunny hair, and eyesas blue as the sky; she could not have been more than four years old,and was round-limbed and dimpled like a baby.

  "Who are you, my dears?" said Miss Katharine when she could speak. MissKatharine was quite trembling, and she could not help smiling at thelovely little pair. Squire Lovel and Miss Grizel were still frowning,but Miss Katharine's voice was very gentle.

  "Who are you, my dear little children?" she repeated, gaining courageand letting an affectionate inflection steal into her voice.

  "I'm Kitty," said the younger child, putting her finger to her lip andlooking askance at the elder girl, "and she--she's Rachel."

  "You had better let me tell it, Kitty," interrupted Rachel. "Please, weare going through the house--we want to see everything. Kitty doesn'twant to as badly as me, but she always does what I tell her. We aregoing straight on into the next room, for we want to find grandfather.I'm Rachel Lovel and this is Kitty Lovel. Our papa used to live herewhen he was a little boy, and we want to find grandfather, please. Oh,what a cross old man that is sitting in the chair!"

  While Rachel was making her innocent and confident speech, MissKatharine's face turned deadly pale; she was afraid even to glance ather father and sister. The poor lady felt nearly paralyzed, and wasdimly wondering how she could get such audacious intruders out of theroom.

  Rachel having finished her speech remained silent for a quarter of aminute; then taking Kitty's hand she said:

  "Come along, Kit, we may find grandfather in the other room. We'll gothrough the door at that end, and perhaps we'll come to grandfather atlast."

  Kitty heaved a little sigh of relief, and the two were preparing toscamper past the deep embrasure of the mullioned window, when a sternvoice startled the little adventurers, and arresting them in theirflight, caused them to wheel swiftly round.

  "Come here," said Squire Lovel.

  He had never spoken more sternly; but the mites had not a bit of fear.They marched up to him boldly, and Kitty laid her dimpled baby finger,with a look of inquiry, on his swollen old hand:

  "What a funny fat hand!"

  "What did you say you called yourself?" said the squire, liftingRachel's chin and peering into her dark face. "Griselda and Katharine,I'll thank you not to stand staring and gaping. What did you callyourself? What name did you say belonged to you, child? I'm hard ofhearing; tell me again."

  "I'm Rachel Valentine Lovel," repeated the child in a confident tone. "Iwas called after my mamma and after father--father's in heaven, and itmakes my mother cry to say Valentine, so I'm Rachel; and this isKitty--her real name is Katharine--Katharine Lovel. We have come in adog-cart, and mother is downstairs, and we want to see all the house,and particularly the tower, and we want to see grandfather, and we wanta bunch of grapes each."

  All the time Rachel was speaking the squire kept regarding her more andmore fiercely. When she said "My mother is downstairs," he even gave hera little push away. Rachel was not at all appalled; she knit her ownblack brows and tried to imitate him.

  "I never saw such a cross old man; did you, Kitty? Please, old man, letus go now. We want to find grandfather."

  "Perhaps it's a pain him got," said Kitty, stroking the swollen handtenderly. "Mother says when I's got a pain I can't help looking cross."

  The fierce old eyes turned slowly from one lovely little speaker to theother; then the squire raised his head and spoke abruptly.

  "Griselda and Katharine, come here. Have the goodness to tell me whothis child resembles," pointing as he spoke to Rachel. "Look at herwell, study her attentively, and don't both answer at once."

  There was not the slightest fear of Miss Katharine interrupting MissGriselda on this occasion. She only favored dark-eyed little Rachel witha passing glance; but her eyes, full of tears, rested long on the fairlittle baby face of Kitty.

  "This child in all particulars resembles the portrait of our great-uncleRupert," said Miss Griselda, nodding at Rachel as she did so. "The sameeyes, the same lift of the eyebrows, and the same mouth."

  "And this one," continued the squire, turning his head and pointing toKitty--"this one, Griselda? Katharine, you need not speak."

  "This one," continued Miss Griselda, "has the weakness and effeminatebeauty of my dead brother Valentine."

  "Kitty isn't weak," interrupted Rachel; "she's as strong as possible.She only had croup once, and she never takes cold, and she only was illfor a little because she was very hungry. Please, old man, stop staringso hard and let us go now. We want to find our grandfather."

  But instead of letting Rachel go Squire Lovel stretched out his hand anddrew her close to him.

  "Sturdy limbs, dark face, breadth of figure," he muttered, "and you aremy grandchild--the image of Rupert; yes, the image of Rupert Lovel. Iwish to God, child, you were a boy!"

  "Your grandchild!" repeated Rachel. "Are you my grandfather? Kitty,Kitty, is this our grandfather?"

  "Him's pain is better," said Kitty. "I see a little laugh 'ginning tocome round his mouth. Him's not cross. Let us kiss our grandfader,Rachel."

  Up went two rosy, dimpled pairs of lips to the withered old cheeks, andtwo lovely little pairs of arms were twined round Squire Lovel's neck.

  "We have found our grandfather," said Rachel. "Now let's go downstairsat once and bring mother up to see him."

  "No, no, stop that!" said the squire, suddenly disentangling himselffrom the pretty embrace. "Griselda and Katharine, this scene is too muchfor me. I should not be agitated--those children should not intrude onme. Take care of them--take particular care of the one who is likeRupert. Take her away now; take them both away; and, hark you, do notlet the mother near me. I'll have nothing to say to the mother; she isnothing to me. Take the children out of the room and come back to mepresently, both of you."