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HOME > Classical Novels > Aunt Jane's Nieces29 > CHAPTER XII. UNCLE JOHN GETS ACQUAINTED.
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 Beth went out to find Louise, and discovered her standing1 near the stables, where a boy was rubbing down the sides of a sorrel mare2 with wisps of straw.  
"Something has happened," she said to Louise in a troubled voice.
"A man has arrived who says he is Aunt Jane's brother."
"Impossible! Have you seen him?"
"No; he says he's Aunt Jane's brother John."
"Oh; I know. The peddler, or tinker, or something or other who disappeared years ago. But it doesn't matter."
"It may matter a good deal," said practical Beth. "Aunt Jane may leave him her money."
"Why, he's older than she is. I've heard mother say he was the eldest3 of the family. Aunt Jane wont4 leave her money to an old man, you may be sure."
Beth felt a little reassured5 at this, and stood for a moment beside Louise watching the boy. Presently Oscar came to him, and after touching6 his hat respectfully took the mare and led her into the stable. The boy turned away, with his hands in his pockets, and strolled up a path, unaware7 that the two dreaded8 girls had been observing him.
"I wonder who that is," said Beth.
"We'll find out," returned Louise. "I took him for a stable boy, at first. But Oscar seemed to treat him as a superior."
She walked into the stable, followed by her cousin, and found the groom9 tying the mare.
"Who was the young man?" she asked.
"Which young man, Miss?"
"The one who has just arrived with the horse."
"Oh; that's Master Kenneth, Miss," answered Oscar, with a grin.
"Where did he come from?"
"Master Kenneth? Why, he lives here."
"At the house?"
"Yes, Miss."
"Who is he?"
"Master Tom's nephew—he as used to own Elmhurst, you know."
"Mr. Thomas Bradley?"
"The same, Miss."
"Ah. How long has Master Kenneth lived here?"
"A good many years. I can't just remember how long."
"Thank you, Oscar."
The girls walked away, and when they were alone Louise remarked:
"Here is a more surprising discovery than Uncle John, Beth. The boy has a better right than any of us to inherit Elmhurst."
"Then why did Aunt Jane send for us?"
"It's a mystery, dear. Let us try to solve it."
"Come; we'll ask the housekeeper10," said Beth. "I'm sure old Misery11 will tell us all we want to know."
So they returned to the house and, with little difficulty, found the old housekeeper.
"Master Kenneth?" she exclaimed. "Why, he's just Master Tom's nephew, that's all."
"Is this his home?" asked Beth.
"All the home he's got, my dear. His father and mother are both dead, and Miss Jane took him to care for just because she thought Master Tom would 'a' liked it."
"Is she fond of him?" enquired12 Louise.
"Fond of the boy? Why, Miss Jane just hates him, for a fact. She won't even see him, or have him near her. So he keeps to his little room in the left wing, and eats and sleeps there."
"It's strange," remarked Beth, thoughtfully. "Isn't he a nice boy?"
"We're all very fond of Master Kenneth," replied the housekeeper, simply. "But I'll admit he's a queer lad, and has a bad temper. It may be due to his lack of bringin' up, you know; for he just runs wild, and old Mr. Chase, who comes from the village to tutor him, is a poor lot, and lets the boy do as he pleases. For that reason he won't study, and he won't work, and I'm sure I don't know whatever will become of him, when Miss Jane dies."
"Thank you," said Beth, much relieved, and the girls walked away with lighter13 hearts.
"There's no danger in that quarter, after all," said Louise, gaily14.
"The boy is a mere15 hanger-on. You see, Aunt Jane's old sweetheart,
Thomas Bradley, left everything to her when he died, and she can do as
she likes with it."
After luncheon16, which they ate alone and unattended save by the maid Susan, who was old Misery's daughter, the girls walked away to the rose arbor17, where Beth declared they could read or sew quite undisturbed.
But sitting upon the bench they found a little old man, his legs extended, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, and a look of calm meditation18 upon his round and placid19 face. Between his teeth was a black brier pipe, which he puffed20 lazily.
Beth was for drawing back, but Louise took her arm and drew her forward.
"Isn't this Uncle John?" she asked.
The little man turned his eyes upon them, withdrew his hands from his pockets and his pipe from his mouth, and then bowed profoundly.
"If you are my nieces, then I am Uncle John," he said, affably. "Sit down, my dears, and let us get acquainted."
Louise smiled, and her rapid survey took in the man's crumpled21 and somewhat soiled shirt-front, the frayed22 black necktie that seemed to have done years of faithful service, and the thick and dusty cow-hide boots. His clothing was old and much worn, and the thought crossed her mind that Oscar the groom was far neater in appearance than this newly-found relative.
Beth merely noticed that Uncle John was neither dignified23 nor imposing24 in appearance. She sat down beside him—leaving a wide space between them—with a feeling of disappointment that he was "like all the rest of the Merricks."
"You have just arrived, we hear," remarked Louise.
"Yes. Walked up from the station this forenoon," said Uncle John.
"Come to see Jane, you know, but hadn't any idea I'd find two nieces.
Hadn't any idea I possessed25 two nieces, to be honest about it."
"I believe you have three," said Louise, in an, amused tone.
"Three? Who's the other?"
"Why, Patricia Doyle."
"Doyle? Doyle? Don't remember the name."
"I believe your sister Violet married a man named Doyle."
"So she did. Captain Doyle—or Major Doyle—or some such fellow. But what is your name?"
"I am Louise Merrick, your brother Will's daughter."
"Oh! And you?" turning to Beth.
"My mother was Julia Merrick," said Beth, not very graciously. "She married Professor DeGraf. I am Elizabeth DeGraf."
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