’Yes, it is I, Ursie dear! Oh, you darling bear, what a time you have been!’ Two strong arms pulled me down in the usual fashion, and a hot cheek was pressed lovingly against mine.
‘Oh, Jill, Jill, what does this mean?’ I exclaimed, in utter amazement; but for a long time Jill only laughed and hugged me, and there was no getting an answer to my question.
‘I RAN AWAY, THEN!’
‘Now, Jill,’ I demanded, at last, taking her by the shoulders, ’I insist on knowing what this means.’ And when I spoke in that tone Jill always obeyed me at once.
So she shook her untidy mane, and looked at me with eyes that were brimful of fun and naughtiness.
’Very well, Ursie dear, if you will know, you shall; but first sit down in that cosy-looking chair, and I will put my elbows in your lap, in the dear old fashion, and then we can talk nicely. What a snug little room this is! it looked just delicious when I came in, and Mrs. Barton made me such a nice cup of tea, and then I went upstairs to look at your bedroom, and there was a beautiful fire there, and Mrs. Barton says you always have one: so you are not so poor and miserable, after all.’
’I am not at all poor, thank you; and I work so hard that I think I deserve to be warm and comfortable. And when people live alone, a fire is a nice, cheerful companion. But this is not answering my question, Jocelyn.’
Now Jill hated me to call her Jocelyn, so she made a face at me, and said, in rather a grumpy voice, ‘Well, I ran away, then!’
‘Ran away from Hyde Park Gate! Were you mad, Jill?’
’Oh dear, no,—not from Hyde Park Gate. Did you not get my letter? Oh, I remember, I forgot to post it: it is in my blotting-case now. Then you did not know that Sara has scarlatina?’
‘No, indeed; but I am very sorry to hear it.’
’Oh, she is nearly well now; but no one knows how she caught it. There was a terrible fuss when Dr. Armstrong pronounced it scarlatina. Mamma made father take lodgings at Brighton at once, and Fraeulein and I were packed off there at a minute’s notice. You can fancy what my life has been for the last ten days, mewed up in a dull, ugly parlour with that old cat.’
’My poor, dear Jill! But why did you not write to me, and I would have come over at once?’
’So I did write, twice, and I do believe that horrid creature never posted my letters,—I daresay they are in her pocket now,—and I could not get out by myself until to-day. Now just think, Ursula, what sort of a Christmas Day I was likely to have; and then you never came to me, and I got desperate; so when Fraeulein said she had one of her headaches,’ and here Jill made a comical grimace, ’I just made up my mind to take French leave, and spend Christmas Day with you, and here I am; and scold me if you dare, and I will hug you to death.’ And, indeed, Jill’s powerful young arms were quite capable of fulfilling her threat.