Author of 'A Waif and a Welcome,' 'Troublesome Ursula,' 'Zach and Debby,' 'In Cornwall's Wonderland,' Etc.
ILLUSTRATED BY HELEN JACOBS.
LONDON: SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE Northumberland Avenue, W.C. BRIGHTON: 129, North Street.
"Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home, The field-mouse has gone to her nest; The daisies have shut up their sleepy red eyes, And the birds and the bees are at rest."
Mr. Carlyle, standing outside the nursery door, stayed a moment until the sweet low voice had reached the end of the verse, then, turning the handle very gently, entered the room on tiptoe.
Faith looked up with a smile, but with a warning finger held out, while in a lower and more crooning voice she began the next verse:
"Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home, The glow-worm is lighting her lamp——"
"Oh, dear!" as two round blue eyes looked up at her, full of sleepy wickedness, "She is as wide awake when I began! Baby, you are not a nice little girl and I shan't be able to go on loving you if you don't go to sleep soon."
The blue eyes, wandering from Faith's reproving face, fell on her father, and with a croon of delight a pair of plump dimpled arms was held out pleadingly. "Dad! Dad!" cooed the baby voice coaxingly, and the arms were not held out in vain.
Faith handed over her heavy, lovable burden with a mingled sigh of relief and hopelessness. "This is all wrong, you know, father," with a weary little laugh, "a well brought up baby should be sound asleep by this time—but how is one to make her sleep if she absolutely refuses to?"
Mr. Carlyle looked down at his little daughter snuggling so happily in his arms. "I don't know, dear," he said helplessly. "I suppose we aren't very good nurses. Perhaps we are not stern enough. I am sorry I came in just then, she might have gone off if I hadn't, but I wanted to speak to you particularly; there is a great deal I want to discuss. How is your mother? I haven't been in to see her. I saw that her room was dark, so I thought she was probably asleep."
"I expect she is. She seemed very sleepy when I gave her her cornflour at seven. I haven't been able to go to her since, baby has been so restless."
"Isn't she well?"
"Oh, yes, she is well, but while I was down making the cornflour I had to leave her with Tom and Debby, and they got playing, of course, and excited her so much she can't go to sleep."
"Couldn't Mary have made the cornflour or have looked after baby for the time?"
"No, she was ironing, and she doesn't know yet just how mother likes it."
"Oh! but can't you come down, dear, until this minx is slumbering?"
Faith looked at the grate where a few cinders only lay grey and lifeless at the bottom; then she looked at her father with a mischievous twinkle in her pretty brown eyes. "I can't unless we take baby too," she said. "Of course it is very wrong and a real nurse would faint at such behaviour, but, shall we, daddy? It is cold up here, and lonely—and, oh! I am so hungry and quite hoarse with singing lullabies."
"Poor child! Come downstairs and we will not think about what real nurses would say. This little person is really so sleepy she will hardly realise what has happened."
Faith's eyes sparkled. "We mustn't let Tom and Debby know, or they will be down too. If we go very softly perhaps they won't hear, they were nearly asleep when I looked in at them just now. I hope baby won't give a yell on the stairs."
"I will try to prevent her. Now then, come along."
Baby Joan, as though she understood all about it, and what was expected of her, smiled up at them knowingly, but she did not make a sound, not even when they paused at her mother's bedroom door and looked in.
The firelight shining on the invalid's face showed that she was sleeping peacefully, so they tiptoed away again and reached the hall without having disturbed anyone. In the dining-room the lamp was lighted, but so badly that it smelt horribly; the fire was out and the room was cold and cheerless.
"Oh dear," sighed Faith, "no coal here, either," and dashed away to the kitchen in search of some. "Mary doesn't seem able to remember that fires go out if there is nothing to put on them," she laughed, as she struggled back panting under the weight of a scuttle of coal and an armful of logs. "But we shall be all right soon," she added as she knelt before the grate and began building up a fire. "I do love wood and a pair of bellows, don't you, daddy!" blowing away hard at hot embers. But Mr. Carlyle did not answer her. Instead he asked with rather an anxious note in his voice, "Does Mary find she has too much to do?"
Faith sat back on her heels and eyed the kindling sticks with a well pleased air. "No-o, I don't think so, daddy. There might be too much—if she did it," with a little laugh, "but she says she likes being where there are no other servants, and plenty of life. In her last place there were three or four servants and only an old lady to look after, and Mary says the quietness was awful. Nothing ever happened but the quarrels of the servants amongst themselves."
"I suppose they were so occupied with their quarrels that Mary had not time to learn how to do things—nicely?" Mr. Carlyle's eyes glanced sadly about the untidy room and then at the ill-laid supper table.
Faith looked up at him in mild surprise; it had never occurred to her that there was anything lacking in the care of the house. Her glance followed his and rested on the supper table too.
"Oh, daddy, I believe you have had nothing since dinner. You must be frightfully hungry, I know you must, and the dinner was so badly cooked— oh, poor daddy! Why didn't you come home to tea?"
"I had barely finished my round of calls in time to keep an appointment Dr. Gray had made with me. He wanted," he added more slowly, his face growing grave and troubled, "to talk to me about your mother."
Faith looked up quickly at him, her large eyes full of anxiety, her heart throbbing heavily. Then there was more trouble in store, more anxiety! She had felt it for days in her inmost heart, but had not had the courage to put her fears into words. "Is mother—worse?" her voice faltered and broke.
Mr. Carlyle, gazing, absorbed and troubled, into the fire, did not see her blanched cheeks and the dread that filled her eyes. He had no suspicion of the awful fear which had haunted her every waking moment, and even her dreams, or he would not have kept her in suspense while his thoughts ran on to plans for the future.
"No, dear," he said at last, "no dear, she is not worse, but the doctor says it will be a long time before she is well again—well enough to walk about and take up her old life. For a year, poor dear, she must lie on a sofa, and live the life of an invalid. If she does, he says, she will become her old strong self again in a year or two, but if she——"
"Oh, but she will, of course she will, that will be easy enough." In the intensity of her relief, Faith spoke so gaily that her father looked up at her in surprise, her tone and words sounded almost heartless.
"Easy! It will be a long and trying ordeal for her. Faith—just think of it, a whole year in one room! You don't realise."
"Oh yes I do, daddy, but we will manage beautifully. I will look after the house and the children, and—and see that mother isn't worried at all, and she can read and write, and—and oh, father, father, I am so glad—I don't know what to do!" and without any warning Faith broke down and began to sob.
"Glad!" For a moment Mr. Carlyle looked at his little daughter as though he feared she must be mad instead of glad. She spoke as though his news had come as a relief. Relief from what? Then quite suddenly the truth broke upon him.
"Oh, you poor little woman! What have you been thinking? What have you been fearing, Faith dear—tell me. Did you think——?"
Faith nodded. "Yes—yes—I thought," but she could not put her dread into words.
"You feared we might be going to lose her altogether. Oh, you poor child. My poor little girl. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I couldn't, daddy."
Mr. Carlyle drew her to him. "No wonder my news came to you as a relief," he said softly, "instead of as the shock I feared. Why, Faith, how you are trembling. You look ready to faint too. Look here, I believe you are tired and famished. Come and have some supper. What have we got? Something tempting?"
With either arm encircling a daughter, the vicar turned to survey the supper table, but at sight of it his face fell a little. Neither the food, nor the way in which it was placed before them would have tempted any but the most healthy, even ravenous appetite. Mary, the only maid they could afford to keep, was more willing than able. The china and silver had certainly been washed, but they were smeared and unpolished, the cloth was wrinkled and all askew, the food was dumped down anyhow.
Fortunately for her own comfort, but unfortunately for the good of the house, Faith was not troubled by appearances. Her eyes did not notice details, the details which mean so much, for her home had always been in more or less of a muddle. There were so many of them, Audrey, Faith, Tom, Deborah and baby Joan. Five of them ransacking and romping all over the house, until granny had come and taken Audrey away to live with her.
They had always been in a muddle, but they had always been happy, and they loved their home so dearly that, whatever it was like, it was right in their eyes—excepting, perhaps, in Audrey's. And even if their clothes were shabby—well, shabby clothes were much less of a worry than smart ones; and if their food was plain, and not very daintily served, there was always enough, and there was plenty of fun and laughter as sauce for it.
Mr. Carlyle, who had grown up in a well-ordered home where everything was as neat and well-cared-for as things could be, did realise that there was much that was lacking in his own home; but whatever he may have suffered from the disorder, he never complained. His mother had had means, three good servants, and only one child to make the home untidy; whereas his young wife, who had been brought up in an Orphan School, had never known real home life until her marriage, had only small means, several young babies, and only one ignorant servant to help her.
Audrey and Faith, as they grew out of babyhood, helped to dust the rooms, run errands, and look after the younger children, but they had only the vaguest notions as to how homes should be kept, or meals served, or the hundred and one other little things which make all the difference between a well-kept house and an ill-kept one, and they were quite content with things as they were.
At least Faith was. Audrey often had misgivings that all was not as it should be, and yearned for something more orderly, dainty, and neat; for prettier clothes and prettier manners. And then Granny Carlyle had come on a visit, and had offered to take one of her many grandchildren to live with her—for a time, at any rate. And, to the joy of Audrey, and the relief of the others, she was chosen and they were not; and, with all her few possessions packed in her mother's old portmanteau, she had gone off to enjoy all the things that she considered best worth having—a large comfortable home in a town, new clothes, school, tempting food, daintily cooked meals, and peace and quiet in which she could read and write undisturbed. For though Audrey resembled her father's mother in many ways, she had also inherited her mother's taste for writing and reading. That was four years ago, when Audrey was eleven and Faith ten, and Deborah and Tom five and four respectively. Baby Joan, aged eighteen months, Audrey had not yet seen.
Thoughts of his eldest daughter were uppermost in Mr. Carlyle's mind as he glanced from the unappetising remains of a joint lying on a dish on which it had already appeared twice, to the scrap of dry cheese and the unpolished knife lying beside it.
"I—I am afraid that is all there is, father. Won't it do?" Faith looked at him with troubled eyes. "Shall I tell Mary to cook you some eggs?"
"No, no. What is here will do very well for me, but you—wouldn't you prefer eggs—or——"
"Oh no, thank you, I am so hungry I can eat anything," said Faith cheerfully. "Father, Joan is asleep, can't we tuck her up snugly on the sofa while we are having our supper? She would be certain to wake up if I took her upstairs to her cot."
"Of course she would. If you will make her a nice little nest on the sofa I will pop her into it so gently she will not know she has been moved. There now, wasn't that clever!"
Faith again held up a warning finger, but Joan only stretched her limbs a little in her new nest, and forthwith dropped asleep again.
With a smile of triumph at each other the two nurses turned away to the supper-table, and Mr. Carlyle said grace, and with her deep relief at the news about her mother still glowing in her heart, Faith joined in with a deeper sense of real gratitude than she had known before.
"Daddy," she said presently, "you said you wanted to talk to me. Was it about mother?"
"Yes, dear, and—and other things too. I have been thinking matters over since I left the doctor, and I have come to the conclusion that I must send and have Audrey home."
"Audrey home! Oh, how jolly!" Faith's eyes lighted with pleasure. "That will be lovely. But," with sudden misgiving, "why must she come home, daddy?"
"Well, for one thing, your mother will need companionship—more than you can give her with the children taking up so much of your time. And, for another, it will be a relief to your mother to know that Audrey is here looking after things. We don't want a stranger, and, indeed, I can't afford to have anyone extra in just now. We have had so much illness and such heavy expenses. After four years with your grandmother, Audrey should be quite capable. She always had a sensible head on her shoulders and for certain granny has given her a good training."
"Ye-es," said Faith musingly, "I—I wonder how she will like coming away. I believe she will not like it at all." But Faith kept that last thought to herself.
Old Mrs. Carlyle, or 'Granny Carlyle' it would be politer, perhaps, to call her, lived at Farbridge, which was a whole sixty miles from the little village where her only son was vicar.
Granny Carlyle had been born in Farbridge, married, and spent all her life there, and hoped, so she often declared, to remain there to the end of her days. And there seemed no reason why she should not attain her wish.
Farbridge was a large country-town, with wide streets, good shops, and a park. To Audrey Carlyle, when first she went there, it appeared a splendid place; she felt sure none of the big cities of the world could outdo it, even if they equalled it. The park, with its close-cut grass, its trees and flower-beds, asphalt paths, and green-painted seats, was to her one of the beauty spots of England.
"Oh, it does look lovely," she sighed happily, as she gazed at it. "After the untidy old moor at home, it looks beautiful, granny."
"It is certainly different," agreed granny, with a twinkle in her eyes. Nevertheless she was well pleased. "I am bound to say I am no lover of the depths of the country. When I walk I like to walk in comfort, and to feel that there is no risk of my twisting my ankle in a rabbit-hole, or by tumbling over a tussock." She was glad that Audrey shared her taste, but she was not quite sure that the taste was a good one.
Granny Carlyle's house, 'Parkview,' solid, double-fronted, handsome, stood on the opposite side of the roadway, facing the park. As Audrey sat at meals in the dining-room, she looked across at the prim patches of green grass, intersected by black paths, the whole outlined by gay, trim flower-beds. Two of the patches of green had large trees in the middle, with wooden seats encircling their trunks; on several of the other patches were green seats with backs to them; the backs were all towards 'Parkview,' so that those who rested on them might be able to enjoy the view, for, though the railway-station stood on the opposite side of the road which ran along the lower side of the park, the tree-clad hills rose high beyond that again, and showed over the low roof of the little station, and if the hills happened to be covered with mist, why, there was the park itself to look at.
On that March morning when, just as Audrey and her granny sat down to breakfast, Mr. Carlyle's letter came, the park was quite gay with people, even though it was early, for, after a long spell of wet weather, the sun was shining quite warmly, and everyone was glad to be out of doors again.
Audrey thought it all looked more beautiful than ever that morning. If she could have done just as she liked, she would have gone out there herself, taking a book with her to read. But she knew that her grandmother would not allow that, so she did not let herself dwell on it.
"Isn't it lovely!" she remarked again enthusiastically. She had said exactly the same thing three times already without receiving any reply, but this time she noticed it, and, withdrawing her eyes from the fascinating scene without, looked instead at her granny for an explanation. Apparently there was no reason why Mrs. Carlyle should not have answered. She was only turning over the lumps of sugar in the sugar-basin, trying to find a small one, yet Audrey felt certain that there was something unusual in the air, that something out of the common had happened, and something not very pleasant either. Granny looked grave and troubled, and at the same time annoyed. However, there was nothing for Audrey to do but to go on with her breakfast, for she knew that her grandmother did not like to be questioned, and, after all, it might only be that the laundress had torn a sheet, or that the boot-boy had been rude to the cook. Granny was always greatly upset if people did not do their duty.
It was not until they had nearly finished breakfast that Audrey knew what was really the matter.
"I have had a letter this morning from your father, Audrey."
"Oh," said Audrey, absently, "have you, granny?" She was not deeply interested, and at that moment one of her schoolfellows went by with a new hat on, a light blue one, with a white 'bottle-brush' bobbing about on it, and she found that much more absorbing. "How is mother?" she asked, when the 'bottle-brush' had bobbed out of sight.
"Don't be staring out of window, child, while I am talking to you. I want your undivided attention."
Audrey coloured, and looked not too well pleased, but she only said, "I did not know you wanted me."
"Well, I do. I have some important news for you."
"Yes, granny," with increased interest, for this sounded very thrilling.
"Your father wants you at home."
Mrs. Carlyle, having brooded over the news for more than an hour, did not realise how startling it might be to her grand-daughter to have it blurted out in this abrupt fashion. Audrey's colour faded, leaving her quite white. "Is mother worse?" she gasped. "Granny, please tell me quickly."
Mrs. Carlyle realised the mistake she had made, and roused herself. "Oh, no, dear. Your mother is better—a little, I mean, and she is stronger, but her doctor says she must lead an invalid's life, lie down, and not walk about, or exert herself, for a whole year, and your father says they need you at home. They need your help, and your mother will be glad of your companionship."
The relief from her first dreadful fear was so great that Audrey's spirits rose high. Change is always exciting too, and to feel that one is needed is very pleasant; it makes one feel grown-up and important.
"When am I to go, granny? Soon, I suppose? Am I to keep house?" Audrey's face was very bright as she turned it to her grandmother. "Oh! but I shall have to leave school, shan't I, granny?" Her face fell at that thought, and her granny said to herself, with a little pang of pain, "She is more sorry to leave school than she is to leave me."
"Of course you will have to leave your school," she said tartly. "You could hardly come sixty miles in the morning, and home again at night. You might as well live here for all the company you would be to your mother. Think before you speak, Audrey; it would save you from saying many foolish things."
"Then shan't I go to school?"
"I don't know what arrangements your father will make; he doesn't go into every detail in this letter. Perhaps he will get a governess for you all; perhaps you will have to teach the younger ones."
"Oh!" Audrey did not care for that prospect. She was not fond of children, they made a house untidy and noisy, and required so much attention. All the same, though, it was very nice to be going home as mistress of the house, and companion to her mother. Perhaps her mother would help her with her story-writing. It would be grand if she could write stories and sell them, and earn enough money to buy her own clothes. Granny Carlyle did not approve of her writing, or reading either. Indeed, there was scarcely a book in the house.
Audrey recovered her spirits as she remembered the books and papers at home; they seemed to overflow and spread all over the house.
"I shall have my own bookcase, and keep my own books in it, away from the children," she thought to herself. "I hope I have a bedroom to myself. Oh, I must!" But the little doubt she could not get rid of sobered her again. She thought of her pretty bedroom upstairs, how lovely the comfort and peace of it had seemed to her after the bare ugly room at home, which she had shared with Faith.
"Granny, do you think I shall have a room to myself at home?" she asked anxiously. "I shall hate sharing one with Faith!"
"I daresay Faith will not relish sharing one with you," remarked granny, severely, "if she has to."
"But she is so untidy, and after having had such a nice one all to myself, I shall miss it dreadfully."
"I wonder if you will miss me," exclaimed Granny sharply, and for the first time Audrey thought of her grandmother, and her feelings.
"Why, of course I shall, granny, and everything here. I expect I shall often wish I was back again." But it was not until the last day came, and she sat at breakfast for the last time in the handsome, comfortable dining-room, that she fully realised the pain of parting.
She was looking across to the sun-bathed park, at the children already at play there, and the 'grownups' sitting on the seats gazing at the view, or reading their papers, when the thought came to her that to-morrow, and the next day, and all the days that followed, they would be there, but she would not see them. She would be miles away from that dear peaceful spot, with only a rough country road to look out on, and the desolate-looking moor in the distance. And with the same the shrill whistle of a departing train cut the air, and the melancholy of it, and of the day, and of all that was to happen, poured over Audrey, until the pain seemed almost more than she could bear.
"Oh, granny, I don't want to go away," she cried. "I don't want to go. I can't bear leaving you, and—and everything. I want to stay with you always."
Oddly enough, at the sight of Audrey's sorrow, some of the sadness which had weighed on her granny's heart for days was lifted from it, and, though it was their last day, she felt happier. "Then the child does care, she does feel leaving me, she has some deep affections! I knew she had," thought the lonely old grandmother with a sense of triumph over the doubts which had troubled her. She put out her hand and patted Audrey's. "I am so—" she almost, in her relief, said "I am so glad!" "I would like you to stay, dear, but I feel it is your duty to go, and mine to spare you."
"May I come back, granny, when the year is up?" pleaded Audrey, keeping back her tears by remembering that her eyes would be red for her journey. "It would be lovely to think that this day twelve-months I shall be seeing it all again."
"If your father and mother can spare you, and you still wish to come, I shall be very glad to have you, and your room will be waiting for you."
That was comforting, but the thought of leaving that pretty, beloved room for a whole year set the tears flowing again. "Oh, I mustn't cry, I mustn't," she said to herself fiercely. "Everybody at the station will see, and everyone in the train, too." But, as her eyes wandered from one to another of the familiar things, the pretty cups and saucers, the silver coffeepot, the funny old tall cosy that granny used, and all the rest of them, the sense of loss and parting again became too much for her, and this time the tears flowed without thought of appearances.
"I think I love things more than people," she said to herself, as she stood in her bedroom putting on her hat and coat; and she stooped and kissed the two old foreign shells on the mantelpiece with a sudden feeling of sympathy. They must have travelled so far from their home, and would never, never go back. She leaned out of the window for the last time, and took a long look at the well-filled garden, and at the flat country beyond, and the river shining in the sunlight.
The sight of the river and the hills brought her some comfort. They had been there so long, and would be there unchanged whenever she came back. "And I am coming! I am coming! I will come!" she cried passionately.
A knock sounded at her door. "Mistress wants to know if you are ready, miss," said Phipps, granny's maid, who had been with her for five-and-twenty years. "The sandwiches and milk are ready for you in the dining-room, Miss Audrey. The train leaves in half an hour."
"I will be down in a minute," said Audrey, in a choked voice. She hoped desperately that Phipps would go away and leave her alone to say her last good-bye to her room. But Phipps showed no such intention.
"I'll fasten up the bag, and bring it down, miss," and she laid hands on the straps and began to secure them in a manner which gave Audrey no hope. "I'm sorry to be doing up luggage for you to go away altogether, Miss Audrey. We shall all miss you," she said kindly. "The house will seem dreadfully dull and empty. I think you had better come down and have something to eat, or the mistress will be worrying. She likes to be at the station in good time."
Audrey hurried out of her room for the last time, without a backward glance, for her heart was too full to talk.
Once out in the sunshine, though, and walking across the park with her grandmother, some of her unhappiness lightened. It was all so familiar, so exactly as it always was, so calm and unchanged, it seemed impossible that she could be going away from it all for more than a very little while. There were several things, too, that could not fail to cheer her. In her rug-strap were two new umbrellas, one for herself and one for Faith. Her own had a white handle, and Faith's a green one. In her trunk was a new coat for Faith, and a present for each and all from granny, while in the new dark-blue hand-bag that she carried was a dark-blue purse, and in the purse were a half-crown for Faith, and a new shilling each for Debby and Tom.
"To do what they like with," said granny, as she popped in the coins, "but granny hopes that they will like to put them in their money-boxes."
On the platform, when they got there, they found Audrey's neat green trunk and portmanteau, with the rug-strap lying on top, and a porter mounting guard over them. Audrey was very proud of her luggage when she travelled, it looked so neat and nice, all green alike, and all with her initials, 'A. M. C.', in white. Granny had bought it all for her when they went for their first annual visit to Torquay. Her old boxes, which she had taken with her from home, had been sent to a Jumble Sale.
They were, after all, so early for the train that the last few moments were rather painfully long and trying for them both. Granny bespoke a corner seat, and ordered a foot-Warmer, and they had walked the whole length of the platform until granny, at last, was weary, and still the train had not come. At last Mrs. Carlyle, in her anxiety to fill up the time, even went to the bookstall and bought some magazines for Audrey to take with her. She did not approve of magazines as a rule. Audrey did, though, and was overjoyed at having them; but while she was trying to get a peep at the contents there came the sound of a shrill whistle, then a rattle and a roar, and the train thundered down on the little station, and drew up.
After that it was all soon ended. A good-bye, a kiss, a promise to write, and a "be sure and let me know how your mother goes on. I shall count on you to send me bulletins frequently, your father is so busy. Good-bye, dear, good-bye—keep away from the door," and the engine, puffing a little louder, and a little louder, moved on its way again. Neither Mrs. Carlyle nor Audrey were sorry when the strain was over. It had to be; the pain lay in that; a few minutes more or less of each other's company was but little pleasure when the life they had enjoyed together was ended.
For a while after the engine steamed out, and the last glimpse of the station was gone from Audrey's sight, she felt utterly miserable, and the tears would have their way. She loved her grandmother very much, and she loved living with her, and, for the moment, at any rate, she was not charmed with the thought of life at home, the noisy children, the plain food, the shabby clothes, and even shabbier house. Tears trickled down her cheeks, and one actually dropped on the new blue bag. "Oh, dear!" exclaimed Audrey, vexedly, "I expect there will always be a mark!"
The engine began to slow down before stopping at the next station.
"Oh, dear," cried Audrey again, "I expect I look an object!" She jumped up and tried to see herself in the strip of looking-glass conveniently placed along the back of the opposite seat. "What a bother it is that one can't cry without getting to look so——" She subsided on to her seat hastily, leaving her thought unfinished, and pulled her hat down over her eyes, turned her back on the platform end of her carriage and gazed fixedly out of the opposite window, for a whole party of people had caught sight of her nice empty carriage, and were making for it.
"There are heaps of room here, mother, and such a nice carriage too!" said a boy's voice eagerly.
Audrey could not help looking round, but she pretended it was to pick up one of her magazines, and, being still afraid that her eyes and nose were red, she continued to pretend to be absorbed in the contents. She was so vexed with the newcomers for invading her carriage that she would not have looked at them—so she told herself—even if her eyes had not been red; but, if she refused to look, she could not refuse to hear, and she soon knew that there were two girls of the party, as well as the boy and his mother; and that their voices were pretty and refined. They were all so happy and jolly, too, that, in spite of her vexation, Audrey could not help growing interested and amused, and, finally, even rather glad of their company. It had certainly been rather melancholy, travelling with nothing but one's sad thoughts for company.
She felt, too, rather than saw, that they in their turn were interested in her, and were inclined to be friendly, and once again she experienced a thrill of satisfaction that she was so well dressed, and that all her belongings were so good and so dainty.
Before very long she grew tired of her self-imposed task of reading. It seemed so silly to be continually holding open the pages and casting her eyes over and over them without taking in a word. It gave one a crick in the neck too, keeping it bent so long, and, after all, the people in the carriage were so much more interesting than the people in the stories. If she could hold her head out of the window a little while and blow away the last signs of weeping, she would be able, she thought, to look about her. She threw aside her magazine, took off her hat, and, lowering her window, thrust her head out. The sun turned her red hair to a golden radiance about her; the wind, catching the heavy locks, blew them out like fluttering red-gold pennons. All the Carlyles had red hair of varying shades and natures. Audrey's was long and heavy, with a pretty wave in it. Faith's was shorter, darker, and curly. Tom's curled tightly over his head, a fiery mat of curls. Deborah's, finest and silkiest of all, hung in soft auburn waves to her waist. Baby Joan's fluffy curls were the colour of newly-spun silk.
Audrey was not thinking of her hair, but of her tear-disfigured face, until, in half turning round from the window, she caught sight of herself in the strip of mirror, and of two large smuts ornamenting her brow and her nose! After that she thought of them, and of how ridiculous she must look, and she glanced quickly with shamed eyes at her companions.
They were looking at her, but there was not the ghost of a laugh on either of their faces; indeed, on one there was gentle concern.
"That cinder is so close to your eye; may I flick it off for you?" asked the taller of the two girls, springing to her feet. "If you had tried to do it yourself you might have sent it into your eye," she explained, when she had done, "and then sometimes they take hours to get out again."
"Thank you very much," said Audrey, gratefully, then suddenly grew so shy that she subsided into her corner without another word. She made a big effort, though, to recover; it seemed so ungracious, so rude, to receive a kindness in so gauche a fashion. She took up some of her magazines. "Would you—would you like to look at these?" she asked, holding them out towards the elder girl, and at the same time colouring with embarrassment and with pleasure.
"Oh, thank you!" the three spoke with one voice. "We would love to, but— have you done with them all for the time?" asked Irene, the elder girl. "Wouldn't you like one for yourself? Daphne and I could look at one together."
Audrey shook her head. "No, thank you. I have looked through them, and I have a book here if I want to read."
"Perhaps you would take some lunch with us instead?" suggested the mother, looking up from her paper with a smile. "Keith, before you begin to devour The Boys' Own, lift up the lunch-basket for me, and I will unpack it. We don't stop again for some time, so we can feel sure of not being disturbed."
Audrey was really not hungry, but more for the pleasure of joining the happy party than because she wanted anything, she accepted the kind offer, and was always afterwards thankful that she did, for it was the jolliest, pleasantest meal she had ever had in her life. Almost before it was begun all stiffness and shyness had vanished, and if Audrey had ever resented her travelling companions coming, she had quite forgotten it.
"I shall be sorry when the journey is over," she said with a sigh, as she lay back weary with laughter. "I never had such a jolly one!"
"Have you far to go?"
"Not so very, very much farther," she said, half ruefully. "I am going to Moor End, but I have to get out at Kingfield, and change."
"Oh, how funny! We get out at Kingfield too, but we are going on to Abbot's Field. That is the same line as yours, isn't it?"
"Yes, Abbot's Field is a station further on."
"What an extraordinary thing! Was ever anything so strange!" Daphne, the younger girl, was overcome with excitement at the coincidence. "I wonder if we shall see you sometimes! We might each walk half-way and meet. Wouldn't it be fun! Are you going to stay long?"
"Oh, yes, for a year, most likely. It is my home."
"Oh!" They all looked puzzled. Most people lived at home always; they did not come on a twelve-months' visit, or speak in quite that tone about their home-coming. But Audrey offered no explanations, and they were too polite to ask for any.
"Oh," said Daphne again. "Well, I don't suppose we shall be at Abbot's Field as long as that. We are going to stay with grandpapa, Mr. Vivian. He lives at 'The Orchard.' Do you know him?"
Audrey shook her head. "I—I don't remember the people round about Moor End—at least, not very well. I have been living with my granny for four years!"
All the laughter and joy had died out of her heart, and from her face. She was visibly embarrassed. She thought of her home, the shabbiness and untidiness of it as it used to be, and she did not expect it to be much better now, even though Faith was four years older, and she felt a shamed shrinking from letting these strangers see it. She had spoken the truth when she said she did not know Mr. Vivian, but she did remember that 'The Orchard' was a large place, and the house one of the finest in the neighbourhood.
She hoped, she hoped, oh, so fervently, that they would never come over to Moor End to look her up; that they would not ask her her name, or where she lived. If they knew her father was the vicar, they would be coming over to hear him preach, and then she would not be able to avoid introducing them, and then they would see and know all!
A shade of embarrassment hung over the rest of the journey. Audrey was uncomfortable. She was ashamed and nervous, and troubled at her own lack of frankness. She was also, fortunately, ashamed of being ashamed, but she had yet to learn how to rise above herself; to know what are the things she should feel shame for.
It was almost a relief to her when at last the train drew up at Kingfield, and they all had to change carriages; for no one could help feeling that little shade of embarrassment. And she was even more glad when the porter, who looked after her luggage for her, put her into a carriage apart from the Vivians, for now she felt she could escape the necessity of introducing to them whoever might be at the station to meet her at Moor End. Indeed, it was just possible that they might not see if anyone met her.
Yet, when the feeling of relief entered her heart, all other joy went out of it, for she did love her father, she did love them all, and it hurt her to feel ashamed. She liked her new friends too, so much, and wanted them to like her. Tears rose in her eyes as the truth came home to her that she was being false to those who loved her, and to those who had been so kind to her—and all for what?
She did not answer the question, but stood up and stared out of the window, that those within the carriage might not see her face. And so Mr. Carlyle, Deborah and Tom saw her as the train drew up, and her father's heart rejoiced at her—as he thought—anxiety to catch the first glimpse of them after their long separation.
"Has it been a very long and dreary journey, dear?" he asked, as he put his arm round her shoulders and kissed her. "Did you have company, or have you had to come all the way alone?"
"I had very nice company, part of the way," she answered, and blushed hotly, as, glancing out under the brim of her hat, she caught sight of Keith Vivian and Irene hanging out of their window looking at her. "Perhaps I had better get a porter and see about my luggage," she added hastily. It was very tiresome that they should have to wait on the platform until the train went out, before they were allowed to cross the line by the footway. But it always was so on the down platform of the little Moor End station.
To Tom and Debby one of their greatest treats was to stand and see the engine puff in and puff out on its way again. Audrey grew quite cross with the eager and shabby little pair who would stand so prominently forward, and stare so hard. With a hoot and a puff and a snort the engine moved slowly on, and the Vivians' carriage drew nearer. Daphne was at the window now, as well as Irene and Keith, their hands waving wildly in farewell greeting.
"Good-bye! Good-bye!" they called out, as cheerfully as though they had not noticed the cloud which had fallen on the end of their happy journey. "Perhaps we shall see you——" the rattle drowned the end of their greeting, and saved Audrey the necessity of replying.
"Oh! oh! Audrey, you pushed right in front of me. I couldn't see a thing, and your elbow bumped me in the eye!"
Audrey stepped back quickly; she blushed and looked embarrassed. She had not meant to bump her little sister in the eye, but she had meant to get in front of her and hide from view her shabby frock and patched boots. She had done it deliberately.
"I am very sorry, Debby, if I hurt you," she said stiffly, "but you do make a fuss about a trifle!"
"Debby doesn't," contradicted Tom, fierce in his favourite sister's defence, "Debby has more pluck than—than——"
"Tom, boy, come here," interposed Mr. Carlyle quietly. "You and Debby can carry this rug-strap between you, can't you?"
"Were those your travelling-companions?" he asked interestedly turning to Audrey as the little pair, their indignation forgotten, trotted homewards proudly with their burden.
"Yes," answered Audrey briefly. She said no more, she felt she could not, but she knew that the shadow which had fallen on her own pleasure, had fallen also on others.
Between Moor End vicarage and the road stretched a long narrow strip of garden, at least, a strip of ill-kept grass and some shabby bushes. A wall divided the garden from the road, a wall so low that garden, house, and all, were exposed to the view of every passer-by. The strip of grass was the children's play place, for the garden behind the house was divided up into beds of carrots, cabbages, turnips, potatoes and all manner of other things, so that there was no room left for a good game.
Not only was there no room, but old Job Toms, who came once or twice a week to 'do' the vegetable garden, threatened such dire punishment to anyone who made a footmark on one of his beloved beds, that the children were almost afraid to step inside the gate.
However, the front garden made up for it, there were no beds there—at least none to worry about. There had been two down by the gate at one time, but there was nothing in them now, and the children were allowed to do just as they liked there. They had the added joy too of seeing everyone who passed along the road and everyone who came to the house.
Deborah and Tom had been playing there when their father called them to know if they would like to go with him to the station; and their toys were lying about just as they had left them when they flew away to wash their hands and brush their hair.
Audrey glancing over the wall, eager for a first sight of her home after all the long time she had been absent from it, saw an old pair of kitchen bellows, numberless scraps of paper, a broken battledore, a shabby straw hat, and three grubby, battered dolls perched up against an old tub, which had once contained flowers, but had long since ceased to do so.
The sight would have jarred on most, but to eyes accustomed to the primness of Granny Carlyle's house it was ugly and unsightly in the extreme. To Audrey, tired, irritable, already depressed, the sight was as jarring as it possibly could be. "Was this really home? Was this the sort of thing she would have to endure for twelve long, weary months?" A great gloom weighed upon her. She walked in without a word, her heart full to bursting.
The look of the house was not more cheering than the garden. In three of the four bedroom windows facing her, the low blinds sagged in the middle and fell away from the sides. In the fourth window alone were the curtains clean and neat, this was the room which was being got ready for Audrey. Over the top of the low blind Faith's head suddenly appeared, and Faith's face beamed out a welcome.
"There is your sister," said Mr. Carlyle, more cheerfully than he had spoken since they left the station. "I expect she is putting finishing touches to your room. Come down," he called up to the open window, but Faith was already coming over the stairs with a rush.
"You have come!" she cried excitedly, hopping over two pairs of shoes and a rattle which strewed the hall floor, "the train must have been very punctual. I was hurrying to clear another shelf in my cupboard for Audrey."
Audrey's heart sank even lower. Then she was expected to share a room with Faith. "Couldn't I—need I disturb—couldn't I have another room," she stammered. "It—it seems too bad to turn you out."
"Oh, you aren't turning me out," laughed Faith. "We have the old nursery for our room, it is so nice and large; there is heaps of room too for Joan's cot to stand beside my bed. I have cleared two shelves in the wardrobe by tipping everything out on to my bed. I must find somewhere to put it all before I go to bed, or I shall have to sleep on the floor—but we shall both settle down in time. Come and see mother, Audrey, she is longing to see you."
"How is she," asked Audrey, as they mounted the stairs together. "Is she really very ill?"
"No—not what you would call very ill. She was last year, and she will never be really well again unless she rests for a whole year."
"It's an awfully long time, isn't it?" said Audrey dejectedly. "When does it count from? From when she was so ill, or—or from when father wrote for me to come home?" She was already calculating in how many weeks time she would be able to get away, and back to Farbridge and granny.
Faith looked at her sister, her soft brown eyes full of mild surprise.
"Oh, I don't know. I don't suppose Dr. Gray can tell to a few weeks, or even months. A lot depends on how quiet she keeps. He said that perhaps by next spring or summer she would be quite well again, and able to go about."
"Oh!" Audrey's face fell, but before she could say anything more, Faith opened a door and in another moment Audrey was in her mother's arms.
"Oh, my dear, my dear, I am so glad to see you. I hardly realised what a great big daughter I possessed. How you have grown, Audrey, and how nice you look, darling. You are going to be tall, like your father, and you have his features." Audrey's face brightened, fond as she was of her mother, it was her father she wished to resemble. Faith had her mother's short tip-tilted nose and big brown eyes, and Audrey had many times envied her the latter, but if she herself had her father's straight nose and aristocratic features, she felt she would not grudge Faith her pretty eyes. Faith was short too—as her mother was—a soft, sweet dumpling of a girl. Audrey admired tall people.
She glanced about her mother's room interestedly and with a happier face. Here, at any rate, all was comfortable and orderly. The litter that lay about was the litter of books and papers, which was what Audrey liked. Perhaps things would not, after all, be as bad as at first they seemed.
"I expect, dear, you would like to take off your hat and coat and have some tea. You must be tired and hungry." Mrs. Carlyle loosened her arm from round her daughter, but reluctantly. "Well," she said, looking after her as she left the room with Faith; "you have your father's features, but you have my mane, I see. Shocking, isn't it, to have six red-headed people in one house!"
"Six red-headed tempers too," laughed Faith, "no five—you haven't a temper, mummy. Come along, Audrey." She hurried along the narrow corridor and opened a door at the other end, "There—that is our room— won't it be jolly? I am sorry it is so untidy now, but it will be lovely when we have settled in, won't it?"
Audrey glanced about her, speechless, "How—how small and—and old-fashioned the room looks," she said at last. "At granny's they are so high, and they look so light and bright. Where am I to put all my things? You see I have rather a lot of clothes."
"Have you?" said Faith wistfully, "well it's lucky that I haven't. I will give you another drawer in my chest of drawers. Now I must run down to baby. Mary is cooking, and there is only Debby to look after her. Will you come down when you are ready? It will soon be tea-time, and I want you to see baby. Oh, Audrey, she is such a darling. You'll be sure to love her. Doesn't it seem odd that you have never seen her—your very own sister!"
"Yes," said Audrey, but without eagerness. "I wish though that she had been a boy. We were too many girls before."
Faith went downstairs with a shadow on her bright spirits. Why was it that nothing seemed quite right? Perhaps she had expected too much. Somehow she had a feeling that Audrey was not pleased with anything, nor comfortable. She could give her another drawer or two and more room in the cupboard, but she could not change the long, low rooms to high, light ones, nor her baby sister into a brother.
"And I don't want to!" she cried as she met the young person in question crawling along the hall to meet her.
"Fay! Fay! Fay!" cried Joan joyfully, and chuckled with delight at sight of her.
Faith caught her up in her arms and hugged her. "Oh, Joan, you darling— but what about your clean pinny that I had put on on purpose to make you look nice when your new big sister saw you for the first time?"
But Joan only caught Faith's curls in her two plump little hands, and drew her face down until she could rub her own soft baby face against it.
A few minutes later Audrey came out of her room, she had made herself as tidy as she could without hot water to wash with, or a brush or comb. Her own were not unpacked, and Faith's were nowhere to be seen. As she descended the stairs a strong smell of cooking poured up to meet her. "Sausages," she thought to herself, "what a funny time of day to have them." She was so hungry though, she could forgive the appearance of such a dish at such an hour.
In the dining-room Tom and Debby were trundling a small tin train across the table from side to side, trying to avoid collisions with forks and spoons and cups and saucers, et cetera, by moving such things away. Faith was playing on the hearthrug with Joan. "Look, Audrey," she cried as her eldest sister entered, "this is baby! isn't she a darling!"
Audrey looked down at the sweet little upturned face, at the big, velvety, violet eyes fixed so earnestly on herself. "Oh, you are a darling," she cried impulsively. "Will you come to me, Joan dear?" But Joan was shy at first and shrank back against Faith, though her eyes still scanned Audrey's face with interest. A moment later there was a crash against the door followed by a rattle of plates and dishes, diverting everyone's attention. Audrey swung round with a cry of alarm. She was not accustomed yet to the ways of the household.
"It is only Mary bringing in the dishes and things," remarked Faith placidly, "she always bumps the door with her tray." Audrey wondered what granny would say if any one so treated the doors at 'Parkview.' She wondered too, when she saw her, what granny would think of Mary; round-faced, untidy, good-tempered Mary, with her crumpled apron, torn dress and untidy head. Audrey did not know then how patient, willing and hard-working Mary was. She only saw an untidy head with hair and cap falling over one ear, a red face and smutty hands, and wondered how her father, who followed her into the room could look at her and not send her away to make herself neat, or give her notice on the spot.
Granny would not allow her to come into the room looking so untidy, and oh! what would Phipps think of her?
She did not know then that poor Mary did more hard work in one day than prim Phipps did in four; did it willingly too, and for far less reward.
"Tea's ready, miss," Mary announced loudly. "Master Tom, you'll have to pick up your toys now; and look at the litter you've made the table in! Miss Faith, shall I hold baby while you have your tea? I'll rompsy with her a bit, and that'll tire her out and make her sleepy."
"Oh, thank you, Mary, she will love that." Faith handed her precious burthen over to the grimy, willing hands without a vestige of the shudder which ran up and down Audrey's spine at the sight of them.
"Oh! oh! sausages for tea! sausages for tea!" Debby and Tom pausing in their entrancing game realised for the first time the unusual luxury spread before them. "Sausages and jam too! That's 'cause Audrey has come. Faith, may we have some too? Are we always going to have sausages for tea now? Oh, I am glad Audrey's come home. Don't you love sausages, Audrey?"
Debby looked up at her sister with eager, happy eyes.
"Yes—rather—I mean yes, I do." Audrey was glancing about her for a table-napkin. Mr. Carlyle saw and understood.
"Faith, dear. Audrey would like a table-napkin. Can you get her one?"
"Never mind," said Audrey, "it really doesn't matter." But Faith had already flown. When she came back again it was with a troubled face and a very ragged piece of damask in her hand.
"I know we have some better ones somewhere," she said, "but I can't think where they have got to. I can't find anything but this."
"Oh, don't bother," pleaded Audrey, embarrassed by the trouble she was causing.
Mr. Carlyle sighed softly, but not so that Faith could hear. "I think we shall have to put you in charge of the linen-cupboard," he said, smiling down at his elder daughter, and Audrey's face brightened. She loved granny's nice neat linen cupboard, with its neat piles of towels and pillow-cases, sheets and tablecloths all in such beautiful order.
She picked up her knife and fork to begin her meal, trying not to see that the knife had not been cleaned, but when she felt the handle of her fork sticky in her clasp her patience gave out, she could not eat with dirty messy things, and she would not. With a face like a thunder-cloud she laid down both again, "I don't think I will have any, thank you," she said huskily. "I—I——" She was so thoroughly put out she could scarcely speak, for she really was very hungry and she really wanted her tea.
Her father, with a very concerned face, laid down his own knife and fork and looked at her anxiously. "Perhaps it was not a very wise choice to have made for you after a journey," he said, "would you rather have some cold meat, dear?"
"No, thank you, it is very nice, but—but——"
"You would rather have some bread and butter."
She would not at all prefer bread and butter, at that moment she felt she hated it, she was so hungry and longed for the savoury sausage and potato. It was not the food she objected to but what she had to eat it with. After the fuss, though, about the table-napkin she had not the courage to speak out. So she sat and ate bread and jam sulkily, and almost choked over her tea and refused to smile at anyone or at anything that was said.
In her heart she wondered how she could ever endure the hopeless muddle, the dirt and untidiness, for fifty-two long weeks. "Three hundred and sixty-five days of it!" she thought angrily, "and I haven't lived through one yet! Oh, I must write to granny and beg her to let me come back to her again. They must manage without me here, I simply cannot bear it."
Again a shadow fell on the happiness of all. Mr. Carlyle, looking at his eldest daughter's downcast face, wondered if he had done right by her; not so much in having her home now, as in ever letting her go away. Was she going to be the comfort to her mother, and the help to the younger ones that he had hoped she would, after her four years of training; or had the years simply taught her to be selfish, and to love luxury?
Faith, too, felt unusually depressed. She was accustomed to feeling tired in body, but to-night she felt tired in spirit also. Debby and Tom, instead of rejoicing that they had a big sister to make home happier, felt as though they had a stranger amongst them, who disapproved of everything.
In her heart of hearts Audrey knew it too. She felt that she was being disagreeable, that so far she had given no one cause to be glad that she had come home; and, once her first anger had subsided, the feeling added greatly to her sadness. She longed to be able to get away by herself for a while; but in that busy house she knew there was but little chance of solitude.
"I must have a room to myself, I must! I must!" she thought desperately, "if it is only an attic. Somewhere where I can put my books and desk." Suddenly she remembered that the house had attics, some of which were not used—at least, two were unused when she lived at home. Her heart gave a great leap of excitement. If one were still empty, could not she have it? She felt she could put up with everything else, if she might but have one place of her very own.
She longed to ask about it at once, and set her mind at rest, but second thoughts showed her that it would be too selfish, too ungracious to be inquiring about a room for herself on the very first evening of her home-coming, especially after the nursery—an extra large room—had been given up to them that they might be happy and comfortable.
She would wait a day or two, she decided, and then make the suggestion to Faith. Faith would agree, she was sure, if she thought it would give pleasure. She was always so easy-going and good-tempered; so ready to fall in with any plan for making others happy.
Audrey's spirits brightened, and the brightness showed in her face. Her father, watching her anxiously, saw that the cloud had lifted, and thought that perhaps after all it might only have come from over-tiredness, and a very natural sorrow at leaving her grandmother and her home of four years.
"I have taken your boxes upstairs," he said, laying his hand caressingly on her shoulder, "you will be able to unpack after tea if you like."
Audrey looked up at him with the brightest look he had yet seen on her face.
"Oh, thank you, father, so much, I will go up and unpack at once, if I may, there are presents in my big box for everyone."
Audrey had already unpacked a book for her father, a soft down cushion for her mother, and a pretty pinafore for Baby Joan.
"This is for—oh no, this is a pair of shoes for Debby—oh Debby, Debby, how dare you!" Audrey's face and voice and manner changed in a flash from sweet graciousness to hot anger. "Just look at the mess you have made, and your heel is on the brim of my best hat. Oh, how clumsy you are!"
Deborah was sitting right in the middle of Audrey's bed, and Tom on Faith's. Faith herself sat on the floor, gazing entranced at her sister's pretty belongings. In one hand she held a smart new patent leather shoe, in the other a pretty bedroom slipper. "What is Debby doing?" she asked absently. "Oh, Audrey, you have three—no, four pairs of house shoes! How——"
But Audrey was not in the mood to listen to a recital of her own blessings. "Deborah couldn't sit on a chair, or the floor, but must actually clamber on to my bed, with her boots on too! Just look at the mess she has made my white quilt in! It—it looks as though it had been slept on by—by a muddy dog."
Faith, roused by the wrath in her sister's voice, put aside the shoes, and looked up. "Debby," she said reprovingly, "you shouldn't. You know Audrey wants the bed to put her things on. Why couldn't you sit on the floor beside me?"
"I couldn't see all the things when I was down so low," explained Deborah, in an aggrieved voice.
"I have a good mind not to give you your presents at all," stormed Audrey. "I am sure granny wouldn't wish me to, if she knew how naughty you were."
"I don't want your old presents, you can keep them yourself," retorted Debby hotly, scrambling off the bed hurriedly, and dragging off a collection of gloves and laces with her. Her face was red and angry too, but tears were very near the surface.
Faith held out her arm, "Come and sit beside me, dear, and we will put on your new shoes, to see if they fit."
"I don't care if they fit or not, I don't want them! I wouldn't wear them if they did. Audrey had better keep them for herself—disagreeable old thing," and Debby, mortified and indignant, marched out of the room, banging the door behind her.
Faith's face grew troubled. The child had been so happy a moment before. "She did not know," she murmured apologetically. "She didn't know she was doing wrong, they always sit on my bed. Tom, you had better come off, my quilt is a clean one too."
In the silence that followed, Audrey grew uncomfortable. They had all been so excited and happy a moment before, and now the room was full of gloom. No one took any further interest in her box and what it contained. She knew that she had been only right and Debby very naughty, that children with dusty boots should not sit in the middle of clean white quilts; but perhaps she could have spoken more gently. The children did not know they were doing wrong.
Tom swung himself off the bed, and marched towards the door. Audrey looked at his stormy face nervously. "This is for you," she said, holding a tempting-looking parcel towards him.
For a moment he hesitated, evidently unwilling to accept it from her, but his better instincts prevailed. "Thank you," he said, but coldly, and laying it down without looking at it, he turned to Faith. "I am going to look for Debby," he said, and went out of the room.
"What dreadful tempers!" Audrey, mortified by Tom's snub, grew angry again. "They ought to be sent away to school, to a very strict school. They would be taught, then, how to behave themselves!"
"They aren't really bad," pleaded Faith wistfully. "I think they were hurt, you see Debby didn't know she was naughty, and—and they hardly know you yet. They would not mind so much if they did."
"Well, I think their tempers are dreadful, and their manners too." In her annoyance Audrey could not help speaking out the hard thoughts that were in her heart.
"All red-haired people have hot tempers, they say," quoted Faith quietly, "I know I have."
"Oh, well, I am glad I haven't."
"You! oh!" Faith glanced up at her sister with a comical little smile, but she said no more.
"This is yours," said Audrey glumly, dragging a large parcel from her box. "It is a blue coat like mine. Granny thought you might want one."
"Want one! I should think I did!" Faith sprang to her feet in a tumult of excitement. "Oh, Audrey, I haven't had a new coat for three years, and mine is so shabby and so small for me. How kind of granny to send me such a beautiful present. I wish she was here now. I do so want to thank her!"
Audrey stared at her sister, wide-eyed with astonishment. Not had a new coat for three years! Why, that was nearly as long as she herself had been away, and she had had one every winter and summer. Poor Faith! no wonder she looked so shabby. It was not entirely from her own carelessness then.
But Faith, blissfully unconscious of the thoughts passing through her sister's mind, had torn off the wrapper from the parcel, and was already slipping her arm into her new treasure. "Doesn't it look nice," she cried, pirouetting before the glass. "I must go and show it to mother and father, and the children," and she danced away to her mother's room, and even to the kitchen to show Mary.
Audrey remained where she was, gazing thoughtfully down into her trunk. She suddenly felt ashamed that she should possess so much, while Faith, who worked so hard, possessed so little. She thought of all the dresses lying in her box at that moment, the soft grey cashmere, the dark blue serge, the green tweed, the new blue muslin, and the cotton ones, white, blue, and green.
"I wish my dresses would fit Faith. I would give her one—unless she has enough already—and I don't suppose she has." She was still standing in the same spot, and still thinking, when Faith danced into the room again.
"Oh, Audrey, they all think it beautiful, and daddy says he hopes I will be able to have a new hat this summer." Then catching sight of her sister's grave face. "How are you getting on? Can you find room for all your things? You can have all my pegs but one—one will be enough for me."
"Haven't you many frocks?" asked Audrey. She spoke a little gruffly, but it was from shyness, and the thought of what she was about to do.
"I have this one," said Faith cheerfully, "this is my best—and an old one I wear in the mornings. I was to have had a new one, but the roof had to be mended, and it cost an awful lot. I wish this skirt was blue instead of brown, it would look so nice with my new blue coat, wouldn't it?"
"I have a blue skirt that you can have. I have two, a blue serge and a blue cloth. You shall have the blue cloth, it is rather short for me, so it ought to do nicely for you."
Faith could hardly believe her ears. "Oh, Audrey!" she gasped, "do you really mean it; but why should you give up your things? You may want them, and I don't mind being shabbier than you are. I don't really. You see the eldest is always the best-dressed."
"But I mind," cried Audrey. "I can't go about nicely dressed, and you in—in rags almost."
She did not mean to speak ungraciously, she did not mean exactly what her words conveyed, she was embarrassed by Faith's overwhelming gratitude, and her exaggerated idea of her—Audrey's—generosity. Something made her feel mean and petty. "You can wear your own blouses with it, so there will be no trouble about the fit."
"I shall be able to have a new blouse soon," said Faith blithely. "I am saving up to get some muslin. Miss Babbs has got some new in. Oh, it is so pretty, and only sixpence a yard. It will only take three yards, and when I have got it, Miss Babbs says she will cut it out for me, and help me make it. Isn't it kind of her! I have a shilling towards it."
"Oh!" Audrey made a dart at the bed where her bag, and a host of other things, lay in the utmost confusion. "I had quite forgotten," she said, diving in the bag for her purse, "granny sent half-a-crown to you, and a shilling each to Debby and Tom."
Faith's eyes grew rounder than ever. "I never knew such a lovely day as this. Why, it is like a very nice birthday!" she cried, overwhelmed with happiness. "Oh, Audrey, I can get my muslin now, and—and perhaps I can make my blouse by Sunday! Will you come to Miss Babbs' with me to-morrow to choose it?"
Miss Babbs' shop was of the useful kind so often met with in villages. The kind of shop where you seem able to buy everything that is needed, and many that are pretty, such as the blouse muslin on which Faith had set her heart. She was so afraid that it would be gone before she could get some of it, that she rushed off as soon as breakfast was over, carrying the greater part of her family with her.
"I would have liked that white one with the blue spots," she said, eyeing that particular roll wistfully, "but it would always be needing washing."
"Why don't you have this," suggested Audrey, pointing to a dark blue with a spot on it of the same colour, "with little white cuffs and a collar; it would look awfully well with your blue coat and skirt."
"Oh, so it would," cried Faith eagerly, "please give me three yards of that, Miss Babbs. What good taste you have, Audrey! Other people always choose prettier things for me than I should choose for myself."
Deborah pulled at her sleeve anxiously. "Fay—Fay, I want to get something for mother," she whispered in a tone that could be heard all over the shop, "and I want to get something for daddy, and Joan, and Mary."
"Oh!" said Faith, and forgot all about her own purchases. "You must get something for yourself too, darling."
"I don't want anything—look Fay! wouldn't Mary like a pair of those?" Her eyes were riveted on a boxful of cotton gloves, bright yellow, black, and white, marked fourpence three-farthings.
"She'd love a pair," said Faith with conviction. "She would like a yellow pair to wear with her new brown frock." She wished it was as easy to find something for all the others.
"Joan would like a ball, and mother—oh, why not get mother some oranges. She is so fond of fruit."
Debby was gazing enraptured at a shelf of china with a view on each piece. "Oh, Fay, I would like to give daddy a cup and saucer, may I?"
"Of course, darling, if you have money enough; he would like it ever so much." But the cups and saucers cost eightpence, and Debby's means would not run to that.
Tom came to her rescue, "I know, we will get it for daddy between us, that'll be fourpence each, you shall give him the cup if you like, Deb."
"No, I shan't," said Debby decisively, "we'll give half a cup and half a saucer each. Let me see, fourpence and fourpence three-farthings is nearly ninepence, a penny for Joan's ball, that only leaves twopence-farthing for mummy. Do you think she will feel hurt?" turning a grave face to Faith.
"Hurt! of course not!"
"I know," shouted Tom, "I'll save on Mary. I'll get her two sticks of peppermint rock, she loves it—then I'll be able to get a mug for mother, then if you give her oranges, and father doesn't have anything but his cup and saucer, that'll be about fair."
"I know what we'll do," said Debby, after long and deep thinking. "We'll put our things together, shall we, Tom? and not say which is from which."
Coming out of the shop nearly an hour later, with their arms full of parcels, they ran almost into the arms of a tall grey-haired gentleman. Debby gave a shout of delight. "Dr. Gray, oh, Dr. Gray," she cried excitedly, "I've spent a whole shilling, but look what a lot of things I've got." In her efforts to try and hug them and him too, she dropped some of them.
"I see you have bought a ball for someone," he laughed, rescuing it from the gutter. "Is that for me?"
"For you!" Debby chuckled hilariously at first, then her face grew suddenly serious. She had not bought anything for this lifelong friend, and she felt mean. "Would you like one," she asked anxiously, "'cause you shall have it, if you would!"
"Bless the child!" cried the doctor, picking her up unceremoniously and kissing her. "I haven't time for play. You give it to the lucky person you bought it for."
"Very well. When I want a game and have time, I will come up and play with Joan. What else have you got there?"
"Oranges for mother—oranges and a ball aren't easy to carry together, and I've got gloves for Mary, and a cup for daddy—at least, we have, me and Tom."
"My eye! you have been making Miss Babbs' fortune this morning! Where is the cup? In the crown of your hat?"
"No, forchinately Faith is carrying that, or it would have been broken."
"That is fortunate indeed." At the mention of Faith, the doctor turned to the elder sisters. "Ah, Miss Audrey," he cried, clasping her hand warmly, "it is nice to see you home again! I began to think you had deserted us for good. But you have come back at last to look after them all! Well they needed an elder sister's help; it was time you came."
Audrey smiled and blushed prettily. "I want to be useful," she said, and genuinely meant it. "When I have been here a little while I shall know better what I can do."
She mistook the doctor's meaning. She did not realise that he meant that her mother needed companionship and care; and Faith some help with the heavy burden which weighed down her young shoulders. She thought he referred to the house and the garden, and the muddle which reigned in both. And she walked home with her head held high. People should soon see that she, at any rate, knew how things should be done.
"Debby," she said sharply, as they passed through the garden on their way home. "When you have taken in your parcels do come out and pick up that old hat, and those dreadful old dolls, and carry them all up to your own room. They make the garden look dreadfully untidy."
Debby stood still in the path, her oranges dropping one by one, unheeded, through the bottom of the bag. Those dreadful old dolls! She could scarcely believe her ears. Her precious babies, her Dorothy, and Gladys and Dinah Isabella, called 'dreadful old dolls.' The colour mounted in her cheeks, and the tears in her eyes.
"They are not old!" she cried indignantly, "and they are not—not dreadful—they are lovely, they are darlings, and they have got to stay out of doors, they have been ill."
"Rubbish!" snapped Audrey irritably. "You don't care in the least how untidy you make the place look. I wonder you aren't ashamed for anyone to come here." She did not see, nor would she have cared if she had seen, the quivering of Debby's lips, the hurt feeling in her eyes.
Faith was torn two ways; full of pity for her little sister she yet felt she must uphold the authority of the eldest one. "Debby dear," she said, "your old hat, at any rate, oughtn't to be lying here, and just think how horrid it will be if slugs and snails get into it. It is time your dolls came in and had a bath, isn't it? They have been out all night. Tom, pick up that paper, will you, dear? You know daddy dislikes to see paper lying about."
"I forgot," said Tom, "we were playing shops when daddy called out and asked if we would like to go to the station."
"But that was yesterday," said Audrey coldly, "I saw it lying there when I came, it looked dreadful, it caught my eye at once. There has been plenty of time to pick it up since, and you should have done it."
The look of sullen rebellion came again to Tom's face. "Daddy didn't tell me to, or Faith. I suppose Audrey thinks she can boss us as much as she likes," he whispered angrily to Debby, "'cause she is the eldest. I wish she had stayed at granny's for ever and ever."
Faith walked on at her sister's side, looking grave and troubled. From time to time she glanced with anxious eyes at Audrey's face. She could see that she was annoyed, and irritated.
"I—I expect we seem rather untidy to you, after granny's," she remarked at last. She spoke apologetically, yet she was longing for a word of understanding sympathy. "With mother's illness, and—and little children, and no nurse to look after them, it has been so difficult to keep it all nice."
But Audrey only gave a snort of contempt. She had no sympathy to offer. "Nice!" she said sarcastically; "from the look of the place I shouldn't have thought anyone had tried. It is more like a pigsty than anything else. And the children haven't any manners at all," she added, quite losing sight of her own, and longing only to hurt someone.
Audrey had been at home two weeks, but, she wrote to her granny, "it seems like two months, and such long ones. Mother seems to be going on very well, but nothing else does. Everything else seems all wrong. The house is so shabby and untidy, and no one seems to try to keep it neat. I am always telling them about it, and then they turn round and say I am nagging. Oh, granny, I shall be so glad when next year comes, and I can come back to you. I miss you dreadfully."
What she really missed was her comfort, and the little luxuries her grandmother had surrounded her with as a matter of course. "I am going to try to have a room to myself, I simply can't bear things as they are. With love, your affectionate grandchild, Audrey."
Having sealed and directed her letter, Audrey rose, crept softly out of the bedroom, and up the steep stairs to the attics. She really was going to see about getting one for herself. If the empty one was at all suitable she was going straight to her mother to ask if she might have it. If it was not suitable! She did not let her mind dwell on such a possibility, it would be too dreadful to bear—after all the hopes she had built up.
She had shared the room with Faith and Joan for a fortnight, and she simply could not stand it any longer. The children seemed to forget that it was not their nursery still, and spent half their time there. She had never been able to put out her writing-case and work-basket, or her books and ornaments, for there was no room. Nor would she have done so if there had been, for the children would have been always handling them, and spoiling them all.
And now, even while she was writing, Debby had upset the water-jug all over the floor, and Joan had danced all over the beds; and really it was more than Audrey could endure any longer.
"I can't be expected to," she said to herself, as she mounted the attic stairs, "anything would be better than that muddle."
The attic on the extreme left was a box-room, she knew, and the one in the middle was the servant's room, so she opened the third door. The box-room faced the east; the servant's room looked out over the front garden and the road; the third one—Audrey's—looked out to the west, and down over the village and the church, to where the hill wound up and up to the heather-clad moor.
As she opened the door the room felt close and musty, but a flood of sunshine poured in through the closed window, to welcome her. "Oh, how jolly! I must have this! I must! I must! I could make a splendid room of it."
She went over and threw up the window wide, then faced about and examined the place more closely. "There is heaps of room, and I am sure I could make it ever so nice. The bed could stand there, and the chest of drawers facing the window, and—oh, I could have a real writing table by the window. I could do real work if I had this all nice and quiet to myself, with my things about—and this view to look out at! I shall go and ask mother this very minute!" and with cheeks pink with excitement she tore down the bare stairs and along the corridor as though she was afraid she would lose her chance if she waited a moment.
But at her mother's door she found her father standing, talking to Dr. Gray. The doctor looked round at her with a little frown on his brow, and put up his finger for silence. "Your mother is trying to sleep," he said rather sharply. "She had a bad night. Will you try and keep the house as quiet as possible, Miss Audrey, please?"
Audrey's face clouded. She was disappointed at not being able to put her request to her mother, and she was annoyed at being reproved. Audrey never could endure reproof.
"I will try," she answered glumly; "but it is almost impossible to get quiet here. The children are so noisy, and they never do what they are told."
Mr. Carlyle sighed. Dr. Gray's eyebrows lifted a little. "They are very imitative," he said. "If you explain to them how necessary it is, for their mother's sake, and set them the example, I will answer for it that they will be good."
But Audrey only tossed her head, and retired to her bedroom.
Presently, after what seemed a long time, Faith came up, carrying Joan, asleep in her arms. She looked tired and hot. "She has dropped off at last," she panted, "I am going to put her in her cot. I think it is the warm weather that makes her so restless. She hasn't slept for hours."
Audrey did not reply. She sat on the chair beside her bed, and watched her sister lay the sleeping child carefully on her pillow, without disturbing her; then draw the blanket carefully over her.
That done to her satisfaction, Faith flung herself on her own bed with a sigh of content. "Oh!" she sighed, "how lovely it is to lie down. I am so tired, and my head aches so—and my feet."
The warm days had come in suddenly; though it was only April they seemed to have stepped from winter right into summer, and everyone felt it.
Audrey looked at her sister with disapproving eyes. "A nice sight your bed will be, when you get off it, and look at mine. Joan did that. With that great slop on the floor, too, the room isn't fit to look at."
"I should think this heat would soon dry up anything," said Faith placidly, "no floor could stay wet long, even if one wanted it to." She turned over, and stretched her aching limbs contentedly. "If my bed is untidy, I must tidy it again—that is all. I am so dead tired I must lie down somewhere. Where have you been? In with mother?"
"No. I was here part of the time, trying to write to granny, and—and then I went up to the attics. Faith, I do want to have that west attic for my very own. It would make a jolly bedroom. I am going to ask mother if I may. I should think she would let me when she knows how much I want it."
"Do you?" Faith opened her tired eyes, and looked at her sister wistfully. "You don't care for being here with me?"
Audrey looked somewhat embarrassed. "It—it isn't that—but I do want a room to myself, where—where the children won't be always bursting in and banging the place about. You see, I have been accustomed to having my own room, and my things about, all the time I was with granny. It—it seems senseless, too, doesn't it? for three of us to sleep in one room, and leave that one up there standing empty."
"But Joan only sleeps here because mother mustn't be disturbed at night."
"I know, but she makes three sleeping here. Do you think mother and father would mind my having the attic?"
"Oh, no—not if you want it so much. It makes more work for the servant to have another room to clean, and one so high up too."
"Oh, I will keep it clean, and—and all that sort of thing. I wonder when mother will be awake? I want to go and ask her."
"I don't know. Not for a long while yet, I hope, for Dr. Gray gave her a sleeping draught. But you need not bother mother about it, ask father, it will be just the same. He is in his study."
Audrey was on her feet in a moment. "Shall I? Do you think he will understand as well as mother would? You see, I really need a quiet place where I can work in peace. Do you think father would let me have the attic?"
"Oh, yes, father will let you have it." Faith turned her head on her pillow with a weary sigh. "Audrey, will you draw down the blind? My head is simply splitting."
"All right. I will go down to father this very minute, then I must see about getting it cleaned out, and—oh, I wonder if I could possibly get it ready to sleep there to-night!"
"To-night!" In spite of her pain, Faith opened her eyes wide with surprise. "But there is no furniture there, no—no anything. What a hurry you are in, Audrey." She felt a little hurt, and the hurt sounded in her voice; but Audrey did not hear, she was already on her way to the study.
Faith got off the bed, drew down the blind herself, then clambered on to her bed again; but there was no pleasure in the rest now. She was conscious all the time that she was crushing the pillows and the quilt and spoiling the look of everything. "I wish I had a rug and a cushion, that I could lie on the floor. It seems wrong to be lying here." However, as she was there, she thought she might as well stay, and presently she dozed, until Audrey's return woke her.
"Father says I may have the attic," she announced bluntly, but she was not as exuberant about it as Faith had expected her to be. Without saying anything more, she went to a drawer and took out a large apron.
"Are you going to begin at once?" asked Faith, sitting erect in her excitement.
"I may as well. What is the use of waiting?"
"I was only thinking of the heat—and the noise. We shall have to be so awfully careful not to disturb mother. What did daddy say, Audrey?"
"Oh," he said: "'Yes, certainly,'" a pause.
"Was that all?"
"No, he—he seemed to think I was going to take Debby with me—as you had Joan; but I might as well stay here as do that! Better, in fact. If Debby thought the attic was as much hers as mine, I should have no peace in my life. I should never be able to keep her out."
Faith got slowly off the bed. "I don't suppose Debby would care to go, either," she said quietly. "I will have her in here with me. There will be plenty of room, and I shall be able to keep an eye on her."
"Yes—that's a capital idea," Audrey's face brightened. "She will love being here with you and Joan. Now I am going down to get a brush and some dusters. I shall first of all sweep out the attic. I am going to have it as nice and clean and pretty as ever I can get it."
"I will come and help you," said Faith with as much energy as she could muster. She was very hot and tired still, and her head ached as badly as ever.
When Mary heard what Audrey wanted the brushes for, she came too, to lend a hand. She even washed the floor, to take up any loose dust, and "make it sweet," as she said. "It dries as fast as I wash it," she added, "it is that hot up here to-day, and such a breeze blows in." Good-tempered Mary also cleaned the window, and put up a pair of holland curtains—the best that could be found.
"They will do for the time," said Audrey, somewhat scornfully. "I shall make myself a pretty pair as soon as I can, and embroider roses on them. I think I will write to granny, and ask her to send me the materials. Granny has some sweet ones. She cuts out great sprays of flowers from cretonne, and applique's them on to Bolton sheeting. You have no idea how sweet they look."
"I wish we had some for the drawing-room," sighed Faith, "the curtains there are too shabby for words."
Debby and Joan had drifted up by this time, and were allowed to help, and Joan sat on the floor contentedly playing with the hammer. When she had put up the curtains, Mary helped Faith to unscrew the bed and carry it up, and screw it together again, the mattress she carried in her strong arms as easily as though it were Joan; while Tom and Deborah staggered up with the pillows, sheets, and blankets.
When, though, it came to carrying up the chest of drawers, they all had to give a hand. It was so clumsy, and slipped through their hands so persistently that more than once they all sat down suddenly on the stairs with the chest on top of them. By that time they had all begun to giggle, and that made matters worse, for it took away all the strength they had. Audrey's new room was growing quite ship-shape, but every other duty in the house was at a standstill, everything else was forgotten, and time was lost count of.
"Audrey! Faith! Mary! Where are you all? Do you know that it is half-past one?"
Mr. Carlyle's voice broke in on their laughter so peremptorily and unexpectedly, that Audrey and Faith above, and Mary below, lost their hold of the clumsy bit of furniture, and let it slip backwards.
"Is dinner nearly—I say, girls, do be careful. If that thing were to fall on Mary it might injure her seriously—and what should we do without her?" With a strong grasp he seized and raised their cumbersome load, while Mary, red, embarrassed, laughing, dishevelled, struggled out from underneath. She was not really hurt, but she was dismayed at the thought of the time, and the work which lay neglected.
"Half-past one!" she gasped, "and I've got all the dinner to get." Faith had already flown downstairs.
"And I have to be at the Cemetery at half-past two," said Mr. Carlyle gravely, but not unkindly. Mary was only seventeen, and, after all, young things did enjoy anything out of the routine, he knew. But such a lack of all sense of responsibility was serious, especially in a house where there was an invalid, and young children.
"And what about your mistress's lunch?" he asked, when they had succeeded in getting the chest of drawers safely into the attic. Mary, overcome with remorse, flew down to the kitchen without a word.
Mr. Carlyle turned to Audrey. "Had you forgotten your mother?" he asked in a voice full of reproach.
Audrey coloured with shame. "I—I—yes, I had, father. I didn't know it was so late—the time flew so.
"It does, when we are occupied with anything that pleases us. But it was your duty to know how the time was going. You reminded me to-day that you were the eldest, and that, therefore, certain privileges were due to you. You must remember, dear, that with certain privileges, certain responsibilities are yours too."
"I am very sorry, father. When I—when I am settled in—I will try to see to things better."
"That's right. I hope the having a room of your very own will not prove a temptation to you to shirk your duty; that your privileges will not block your view of your duties. Come down now, and help Mary, in return for all the help she has given you."
"Yes, father. I will as soon as I have washed my hands."
It took her so long though to find soap and nailbrush, and a towel, and a brush and comb, that when, at last, she did get down to the kitchen she found Faith just leaving it with a cup of hot beef tea on a tray, and a plate of stewed fruit and custard. Joan sat on the floor, this time happy with the bellows, while Mary chopped cold potatoes as fast as she could in the frying-pan over the gas ring.
"If I can only get something ready for the master to have, I don't mind," she gasped, pausing for a moment. "There is plenty of cold beef, that is one comfort, and some stewed fruit; but I did mean to have had a hot dinner, and have kept the cold meat for supper."
"Never mind, that will be all right. It is lucky we had it." Audrey's ideas as to what was suitable for dinner, and what should only be had for suppers, had undergone a sharp and swift change. She resented a little Mary's tone of proprietorship, but she decided that it would be wiser to await another opportunity to tell Mary that it was for her, Audrey, to arrange what they should have for this meal and that.
She took up a magazine which was lying on the table. "There doesn't seem to be anything for me to do," she said, contentedly dropping into a chair. She was very glad, for she was very tired. "Oh, dear! how my legs ache. I feel as though I don't want to do a thing more to-day."
Mary looked at Audrey once or twice with disapproval, as she sat lazily turning over the pages. She hardly liked to say what was in her mind, for she was a little in awe of her master's eldest daughter, who seemed to know so much better than anyone else how things should be done, and to have been accustomed to everything so much grander than they were at the Vicarage.
Loyalty to Faith, though, gave her courage. Faith, so good-tempered and willing, at the beck and call of everyone. If Audrey was tired, so were they all—and with working for her, too—and Faith was feeling quite sick with the pain in her head.
"There is the cloth to lay, miss," she said, reluctantly. "I haven't been able to do that yet. Miss Faith said she would, but she is feeling so bad——"
"Oh, isn't the cloth laid!" in a disappointed voice, "then I suppose," reluctantly, "I had better do it. Where do you keep it, Mary, and where shall I find the glasses, and the table napkins, and the silver?"
Mary stopped and showed her, running back between whiles to attend to the potatoes. Audrey laid the cloth, and turned to the plate-basket. "I suppose I ought to polish each fork and spoon as I lay it," she thought, ruefully, "it all looks smeary; but, I can't bother. I am too tired to-day. The things shouldn't be put away smeary," she added crossly, "it is only leaving the work for someone else to do."
When she had finished laying the silver, she went out to the kitchen again and collected the glasses. Every one had the smeary look that glasses have if they have been wiped with a damp, and not too clean, cloth.
At the sight of them she exclaimed with impatience: "Oh, bother the things!" she cried irritably, "I can't stay to wipe them all, I am tired out." She was putting them on the table when her father came into the room. "That is right, dear, I am glad you are showing Mary how things should be done. She is very young, and has had no proper training. Example is everything with Mary, she is very imitative; but poor little Faith has had too much on her hands to be able to attend to the daintinesses of life."
Audrey coloured, but not, as her father thought, with pleasure.
"Example!" That was what Dr. Gray had said. How tiresome it was of people to keep on about example, and how difficult it made life! It was so much more difficult to do things oneself, than to tell people how they should be done.
In a gust of impatient anger she caught up the glasses again. "I wish I could teach Mary to wash tumblers properly," she said crossly, "and silver. There is not one thing fit to use——"
"Well, can't you? If you showed her the way once or twice I am sure she would learn. She is very anxious to improve herself."
The hot words on Audrey's lips died away, but not the anger in her heart, as she dashed out to the kitchen again. "I want some hot water," she demanded peremptorily, "every tumbler needs washing, Mary," she said sharply, "there isn't one fit to use."
Mary's face fell. "There isn't any hot water, miss, the fire has gone clean out."
"Then it's the only thing that is clean," said Audrey rudely.
Mary's eyes flashed. "Serves me right for not tending to my own work, and leaving others to tend to theirs," she retorted. She was tired, hot, and thoroughly put out by the upset of the morning, and while she was doing all she knew to make up for her fault, out came Audrey nagging at her. "Another time I'll know better than start moving furniture and washing floors late in the morning, when I ought to be getting my dinner forward."
"That didn't prevent your washing the glasses properly last night, did it?" snapped Audrey. "If you did things properly once, they wouldn't need doing a second time."
Mary lost her temper entirely. "It is easy for them to talk as don't do anything," she muttered sullenly; "it's them that work that knows——"
Fortunately Faith came into the kitchen at that moment, bringing word that someone had knocked twice at the front door, and Mary departed hurriedly. But though her coming checked any further hot words, it could not drive away the recollection of what Mary had said.
"It's easy for them to talk as don't do anything." Was that what Mary thought of her? Did others think the same? Was that the character she had earned? The words rang in her ears, the mortification bit deep. It was hateful to be so spoken to by a little ignorant country servant; but the sharpest sting lay in the knowledge that Mary was right. No one knew, and Audrey would not have liked anyone to know how she loathed doing the things that she blamed others for not doing.
"What is the matter?" asked Faith, "can't you find something you want?"
"The glasses aren't clean, and there is no hot water to wash them with. I suppose it is my fault for taking Mary away to help with my room. I didn't think—I didn't know——"
"Oh, that's all right," said Faith cheerfully, "wash them in cold water. Here, give them to me, and I will do it."
But Audrey's eyes had been opened, and for the time, at any rate, she saw some things very clearly. "No," she said promptly, "if you can wash them in cold water, I can. You sit down and rest, and talk to me. You must be dead tired," and Faith obeyed, wondering.
That night Audrey, in a state of great delight, slept in her new room. It was very warm certainly, so close up under the roof, but it was as clean and neat as a new pin—all the untidiness was left behind in Faith's room. Audrey never gave a thought to the muddle and discomfort there. When she closed her door behind her for the night her heart was full of nothing but pleasure and pride in her new possession. She went to the open window, and looked out on the moonlit world below, on the pretty cottages, the old church nestling at the foot of the hill, at the wide, white road, winding up and up in the misty distance until she could not see where it ended. For the first time the beauty of the spot where her home stood, and the love of it, entered her heart.
"If only—if only," she thought, "if we were not so poor, and could have pretty things; if only it was more beautiful, more dainty, I could love it very much."
But, as yet, she had not the eyes to see, nor the heart to feel that her home possessed beauties beyond all others—the most precious beauties of all—love, sympathy, cheerfulness under poverty, patience with each other's faults, and, above all others, a great unselfishness.
Nor was it yet brought home to her that those smaller beauties that it lacked, the daintiness, neatness, the order that she so yearned for, it rested with her to supply.
Perhaps, after all, Audrey's move to the attic was a good one. She herself was certainly happier, and the others were happier too, for to feel that someone is always discontented and miserable, is very depressing, and to know that someone is finding fault with everything one does, is apt to make one irritable and faultfinding too.
In her new room Audrey found a great interest. She did all she could to make it pretty—it was the only part of the house that she did try to make pretty. On her writing-table she had always a vase of fresh flowers, and another on her dressing-table, and a jar of tall ferns in the grate. All that was easy enough to manage, but she found it rather a trial to have to make her own bed every day, and keep her room swept and dusted.
Living with her granny, where everything was done for her, and the housework went on with the regularity of machinery, and without any share in it, or interest in it, on Audrey's part, she had grown up with a knowledge only of how things should look when done, but without the faintest idea of how to do them, or of the trouble it cost to make things nice, and keep them so. It had never occurred to her that to keep furniture brightly polished, and brass and silver too, windows gleaming, and window curtains spotless, meant constant care on somebody's part, and hard work too. She was beginning, though, to learn the value now of many things that she had taken for granted before.