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CHAPTER I.

The Mysterious Stranger.

Great excitement prevailed in the usually dull little Kentish village of Brambleton, owing to the arrival of a mysterious lady who took two rooms in a pretty cottage appropriately named “Rosebud Cottage." You could not find an ugly building in the whole of Brambleton. The village street which led up to the beautiful old Aint Church was specially picturesque with its old-fashioned Inn, and cottages built when appearance

not sacrificed to economy. Just above the Church stood

was

the Rectory, which the present Rector, Mr. Graham, had occupied for over thirty years. Tradition said that at one time the village had been very lively, when the Courtenays, who owned nearly all Brambleton, lived at the Manor House, which was generally filled with visitors. But the fate of one Dorothy Courtenay, usually spoken of in the village as the Little Brown Lady, because her ghost always appeared dressed in that colour, had brought a upon the place which cast a gloom over the whole village. The estate had then been divided up among various people, while the beautiful old Manor House and the grounds in which it stood, had changed hands over and over again, because no one cared to live there on account of the Courtenay Curse, which caused the place to be terribly haunted. Even in the present day, though peace had at last been restored to the unquiet spirits, it was generally believed that the Little Brown Lady yearly

curse

yearly visited the scenes of her earthly wanderings on the last night of the dying year. It was said that the tap-tap of her high-heeled shoes and the rustle of her brown taffeta dress were then certain to be heard, though she was rarely seen now-a-days. Visitors to the church were shown the Courtenay family vault, and their chapel on the south side of the chancel. The walls of the latter had many tablets, some with queer and very elaborate epitaphs. One tablet which was only sixty years old, always attracted special attention. Carved in relief upon the marble was a stem of Virgin lilies, the bloom at the top was represented as snapped off and falling to the

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her body was placed in the family vault were added below. There was a space of many years between the two events. This tablet had been put up in the church by the present owner of Brambleton Manor, when she, by Christian burial, brought peace and quiet to the soul of the Little Brown Lady! But I must tell you later on the story of poor Dorothy Courtenay and return now to Rosebud Cottage. There was so little change in the humdrum life of the quiet little village of to-day, that the element of mystery which shrouded

new

was

the arrival

delicious to the younger ladies at the Rectory. Marjory, the youngest, a girl of 18, was most inquisitive. One day she came in from a walk highly delighted, having seen the arrival. What is she like?" asked Molly eagerly. “Tall and pretty,” replied Marjory, “but she looks very ill and terribly sad. She is decidedly a lady, though poorly dressed, and has only brought very little luggage with her. I saw the name on one of her trunks-Fortescue!”

There were five motherless girls at the Rectory.

Margaret, the eldest had taken her mother's place when only 18, the others being respectively 14, 12, 9,

All except Marjory, the spoilt baby of the family, had readily admitted her authority, but she, wild and indepen

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