E-text prepared by Lionel Sear
DICK AND BROWNIE.
I. THE ESCAPE.
II. A NIGHT SCARE.
III. WHAT THE MORNING BROUGHT.
IV. MISS ROSE.
VI. HULDAH GOES SHOPPING.
VII. A MEETING AND AN ALARM.
VIII. TRACKED DOWN.
IX. TO THE RESCUE.
X. ONE SUMMER'S AFTERNOON.
XI. HULDAH'S NEW HOME.
XII. HAPPY HOURS.
The summer sun blazed down scorchingly on the white road, on the wide stretch of moorland in the distance, and on the little coppice which grew not far from the road.
The only shady spot for miles, it seemed, was that one under the trees in the little coppice, where the caravan stood; but even there the heat was stifling, and the smell of hot blistering varnish mingled with the faint scent of honeysuckle and dog-roses.
Not a sound broke the stillness, for even the birds had been driven to shelter and to silence, and except for the rabbits very few other live things lived about there, to make any sounds. That afternoon there were four other live things in the coppice, but they too were silent, for they were wrapped in deep sleep. The four were a man and a woman, a horse and a dog, and of all the things in that stretch of country they were the most unlovely. The man and the woman were dirty, untidy, red-faced and coarse. Even in their sleep their faces looked cruel and sullen. The old horse standing patiently by, with drooping head and hopeless, patient eyes, looked starved and weak. His poor body was so thin that the bones seemed ready to push through the skin, on which showed the marks of the blows he had received that morning. The fourth creature there was a dog, as thin as the horse, but younger, a lank, yellow, ugly, big-bodied dog, with a clever head, bright, speaking brown eyes, and as keen a nose for scent as any dog ever born possessed.
The brown eyes had been closed for a while in slumber, but presently they opened alertly; a fly had bitten his nose, and the owner of the nose got up to catch the fly. This done, he looked around him. He looked with drooped ears and tail at the sleeping man and woman, with ears a little raised at the old horse, and then with both ears and tail alertly cocked he looked about him eagerly, even anxiously. A second later he was leaping up the steps and into the caravan; but in less than a minute he was out again, leaping over the steps at the other end, and out to the edge of the coppice. What he was in search of was not in the van, or under it, or anywhere near it.
The dog did not whine, or make a sound. He knew better than that. A whine would have brought a heavy boot flying through the air at him, or a stick across his back, or a kick in the ribs, if he were foolish enough to go within reach of a foot. With his long nose to the ground he stepped delicately to the edge of the coppice, then stood still looking about him, his brown eyes full of wistful anxiety.
He looked to the right, he looked to the left, he listened eagerly, then he stepped back to the van again. This time he found something. It was only a clue, but it sent his spirits up again, and with his nose to the ground he came quickly back to the edge of the little wood and beyond it; then, evidently satisfied, he took to his heels and raced away with a joy which almost forced a yelp of triumph from his throat.
The old horse raised his head and looked after the dog wistfully. "If only I were as young and fleet, and able to get away as quietly!" he thought longingly, and sighed a sigh which made his thin sides heave painfully. Then his head drooped again, even more sadly than before, and he closed his eyes patiently once more. He loved the lank yellow dog. Next to little Huldah he loved him better than anything in the world. It hurt him as much or more to hear the stick raining blows on them as it did to feel it on his own poor battered body, for his poor skin was hardened, but his feelings were not.
On each side of the wide road which ran past the coppice and away from it were sunk ditches and high hedges, separating it from a bit of wild moorland, which stretched away on either side as far as eye could see. Here and there in the hedges were gaps, through which a person or an animal could pass from the road to the moor, and back again. To Dick, who did not understand it, this was very bewildering. Ahead of him a black shadow would flit for a moment, dark against the dazzling white road, then it would disappear. It moved so swiftly and so close to the ground, that if it had not been for the scent he might have thought it was some animal dodging about among the ditches and dry grasses. Dick could not know that when it had slipped through a gap in the hedge it became, instead of a shadow, a solid little dingy brown figure.
Dick was puzzled. He was sure that Huldah was on ahead of him somewhere, and he was very sure that he wanted her, but he was not at all sure where she was, or that she wanted him; and there are times in the lives of caravan dogs when they are not wanted, and are made to know it. Dick had learnt that fact, but he wanted Huldah, and he could not help feeling that she wanted him. It was very seldom that she did not.
So he followed along slowly, keeping at a safe distance, his eyes and his senses all on the alert to find out if that shadow ahead of him was really his little mistress, or what it was—and if she would be angry if he ran after her and joined her.
For a mile, for two miles, they went on like this, then the moor ended, and roads and fields and houses came in sight. The black shadow, which was really a little brown girl, stood for a moment under the shelter of the hedge and looked hurriedly about her. "Which'll be the safest way to go?" she gasped to herself, and wished her heart would not thump so hard, for it made her tremble so that she could hardly stand or move. She shaded her eyes with her little sun-burnt hand and looked about her anxiously.
"They'd be certain sure to take the van along the main road," she said to herself; "and anyway somebody might see me, and tell 'im. He's sure to ask everybody if they've seen me." A sob caught in her throat, and tears came very near her eyes. She had often and often thought of running away, but had never before had the courage and the opportunity at the same time, and now that she had got both, and had seized them, she was horribly frightened.
She was not so frightened by the prospect of want and loneliness and uncertainty which lay before her, as she was by the thought of being caught, and taken back again. The risk of capture after this bold step of hers, and what would follow, were so terrible that the mere thought of them made her turn off the high road at a run, and dash into the nearest lane she came to. She had the sense to choose one on the opposite side of the road, lest she should find herself back on the moor again. A moor was so treacherous, there was no shelter, and one never knew when one would be pounced on. There was no shelter either, no food, no house, no safe hiding-place, and of course there was no chance of finding a friend there, who might take pity on her.
The lane she dashed into so blindly was a steep one, it led up, and up, and up, but the hedges were so high she could not see anything beyond them. They shut out all the air too, and the heat was quite stifling, her poor thin little face grew scarlet, the perspiration ran off her brow in heavy drops. She picked up her apron at last, to wipe them away, and then it was she found the bundle of raffia and the two or three baskets she had brought out to sell, when the thought had come to her that she would never go back any more—that here was the chance she had longed for. Now, when she noticed the baskets for the first time, her heart beat faster than ever, for she could well picture the rage there would be, when it was discovered that not only had she run away, but had taken with her two baskets ready for sale!
"They are mine! I made them," she gasped, nervously, "and I left some behind!" but her alarm put fresh energy into her tired feet, and, in spite of the heat and her weariness, she ran, and ran madly, she did not know or care whither, as long as she got lost. Wherever she saw a way, she took it; the more winding it was the better. Anything rather than keep to a straight, direct road that they could trace.
At one moment she thought of hiding away her baskets and raffia, but she was very, very hungry by this time, and with the baskets lay her only chance of being able to buy food, and oh, she needed food badly. She needed it so much that at last, from sheer exhaustion, she had to stop and lie down on the ground to recover herself.
It was then that Huldah first caught sight of Dick. All the way she had gone, he had followed her at a distance, careful never to get too close, cautiously keeping well out of sight, running when she ran, drawing back and half-concealing himself when she slackened her pace, and there was a likelihood of her looking around. Now at last, though, they had come to moorland again, with only a big boulder here and there for shelter, and when Huldah suddenly fell down, exhausted, Dick, in his fright at seeing her lying on the ground motionless, forgot all about hiding away. Everything but concern for his little mistress went out of his head. Huldah, lying flat on the ground with her head resting on her outstretched arm, her face turned away from the pitiless sun, saw nothing. She did not want to see anything; the desolateness of the great bare stretch of land frightened her. She felt terribly frightened, and terribly lonely. Should she die here, she wondered, alone! At the prospect a sob broke from her.
To poor Dick, who had crept up so close that he stood beside her, this was too much. At the sound of her distress he was so overcome, he could no longer keep his feelings under restraint. A bark broke from him, eager, coaxing, half frightened; then, repentant and ashamed, he thrust his hot nose into Huldah's hand, and licked it apologetically.
Weary, dead-beat as she was, Huldah sprang up into a sitting position. "Dick!" she cried, "oh, Dick! How did you come here? Oh, I am so glad, so glad!" and flinging her arms round his long yellow neck she burst into happy tears. Dick was delighted. Instead of being scolded, he was petted, and his little mistress was plainly glad to see him. He was as hungry as she was, and very nearly as tired, but nothing mattered to him now.
"Oh, Dick, how did you come? and, oh, won't they beat us if they catch us! and—and oh, I hope they won't beat poor old Charlie worse than ever, because they are angry. Oh, I do wish Charlie was here too. Poor old Charlie! he will be so lonely."
Dick wagged his tail and looked about him. Perhaps he was thinking that Charlie might have been able to find something to eat in that bare spot, but that it was more than they could. Huldah realised this too, and with a sigh she scrambled on to her aching feet again. She must find somebody to help them—a house and food of some kind.
"You shall lead the way this time, Dick. You are clever, and can scent things out. You'll know which way to go to find houses."
It took Dick a little while to understand that he was expected to run ahead now, not to follow, and indeed it is doubtful if he did understand it, but a rabbit popping up ahead of them at that moment drew him on, and Huldah more slowly followed. It was a very zig-zag way that Dick took them, for he was intent on finding rabbits, not houses, but, fortunately, it led them at last to a house, too.
The sun was going down in a crimson glory, and a mistiness was creeping up over the land on all sides, when, to her great relief, Huldah saw the welcome sight of smoke rising out of chimneys, then other signs of life, and presently came to a farm standing in the middle of a large yard. The yard seemed very full of animals, and where there were no animals there were hay-ricks and corn, and empty upturned carts and waggons.
It was a lonely-looking place in that evening light, and the melancholy mooing of the cows, the good-night cluckings of the hens, the bleating of the sheep, seemed to add to the desolateness. As Huldah and Dick drew nearer, another and more terrifying sound arose, and that was the barking of dogs. Dogs sprang up from everywhere, or so it seemed to poor little Huldah, and, forgetting the coming night, her hunger and everything else, she fled from the place, shrieking to Dick to follow her.
Fortunately, Dick obeyed. Hunger and tiredness had taken most of his spirit out of him, or he could never have resisted such an opportunity for a fight; the enemy numbered six to one, too, not to speak of the farmer, who was armed with a long whip, and two or three workmen, who were well provided with sticks or pitchforks, and hungry, footsore Dick did not at that moment feel equal to facing them all, and doing himself justice. So, with an impudent flick of his tail he followed Huldah, with the air of one who would not deign to fight mere farm-dogs.
It was a very weary, dejected pair, though, that at last stopped running, and summoned courage to stand and look about them once more; and the fright had so shaken Huldah's courage that when presently she caught sight of more smoking chimneys, and a group of little grey stone houses, and other signs of life not far ahead of them, she felt almost more sorry than glad.
When she came closer, and found the village street full of people, she felt decidedly sorry, and wished wildly that she had gone any other way, and so avoided them.
After the terrible heat of the day, men, women and children had all turned out of their close, stifling cottages, and were sitting or lounging about on doorstep or pavement, enjoying the coolness of the evening air; and, having nothing to do and little to talk about, and not much to look at, they naturally took a great interest in the odd-looking pair which came suddenly into their midst. The dusty, shabby little girl and the lanky yellow dog.
Huldah did not appreciate their interest. She felt ill with nervousness, when she saw all the eyes turned towards her, and, she longed to be out on the moor again,—anywhere, lost, hungry, lonely, tired, rather than under this fire of eyes. She had wanted very much to try to sell one of her baskets, that she might be able to buy some bread, but the staring people daunted her. She felt she could not have stopped and spoken to one of them, or have offered her wares, to have saved her life. It was all she could do to drag her trembling limbs past them, and out of their sight.
The end of the street was reached at last, though the cottages grew more and more scattered, then stopped altogether, and the pair found themselves alone once more. Poor Dick was by this time past doing anything but plod wearily along, his tail down, his ears drooping, his tongue hanging out. Huldah herself was in a half-dazed state, she scarcely knew where she was, or what she was doing. She plodded on and on mechanically, every step becoming harder, every yard a greater tax on her. She had almost given up hope, and decided to lie down under a hedge for the night, when her dim eyes were attracted by a light which suddenly shone out on the darkness, down a little lane on her right.
She paused in her walk, and stood gazing at it longingly. To the exhausted, lonely, frightened child it seemed a beautiful sight. It was like a friendly smile, a kindly welcome reaching out to her in her hopelessness.
"I will go and ask them to help me," she thought, dully. "They won't kill me; perhaps they'll give me a bit of bread for one of my baskets. They won't call the p'lice so late as this."
Dick looked up at her and obediently followed. It was all one to him where he went. He had no hopes and no fears, he was better off than poor Huldah in that respect, but he roused to renewed interest and expectation when his little mistress stopped before a cottage, and walking timidly up the garden, knocked at the front door.
A NIGHT SCARE.
Silence! Seconds passed, to Huldah they seemed endless, her heart, which at first had beat furiously, quieted down until it seemed scarcely to beat at all. Save for the good-night calls of the birds, and the sad mooing of a cow in a field not far away, the silence remained unbroken.
"Perhaps I didn't knock loud enough," thought Huldah, "or whoever's inside may be gone to sleep."
If her plight had been less desperate, she would never have had the courage to knock again, but she felt ill and exhausted and frightened, and something seemed to tell her that here she might find help. So, after waiting a little longer, she screwed up her courage again, and rapped once more, this time more loudly; and this time, at any rate, her knock called forth response. There were sounds of hasty shuffling steps across the floor, and then a voice, old and evidently trembling, called through the door, "Who is there?"
Huldah was puzzled how to answer. If she were to say "me," it would be only foolish, while if she called back, "I am Huldah Bate," her hearer would not know who Huldah Bate was. However, she had to say something, so she called back pleadingly, "I am a little girl, Huldah Bate, and please, ma'am, I'm starving, and—and please open the door. I can't hurt you, I am too little."
It was her voice even more than her words which induced Martha Perry to open her door to the suppliant. It was such a childish voice, and so weak, and pleading, and tired. So the bolts were drawn back, and the door was opened. It was only opened a few inches, but wide enough to let out a stream of light, which brought some comfort and hope to the child's heart and the dog's heart. Huldah stepped forward into the light to show herself.
"You are sure you 'aven't got anybody with you?" asked the woman, with nervous suspicion.
"No, ma'am, no one but Dick."
"Who's Dick?" hastily pushing the door close, in her alarm.
"Dick's my dog. He—he followed me. He's starving, too," and a sob broke from Huldah's throat. "We wouldn't hurt you, ma'am, for anything; we couldn't, we're dead-beat. I haven't had anything to eat since yesterday, and we've come miles and miles. I don't want to come in, ma'am," she pleaded, more and more eagerly, as the door remained rigidly closed, except for about three inches. "If only you'll give us a bit of bread. I haven't got any money, but I'll give you one of my baskets for it. Oh, please, ma'am, don't turn us away!" The tears began to rain down her thin white cheeks. She had borne all that she could bear, and she had not the strength to keep them back any longer.
Dick, who could never bear to see his little mistress crying, pushed himself forward; first he licked Huldah's hand, and then seated himself in front of her, as though to protect her from the ogress who made her cry. Something in the ogress's face, though, told Dick that she was not a real ogress, and he looked up at her with a world of pleading in his big brown eyes, and his long tail waving coaxingly.
"Poor doggie!" exclaimed the ogress. "Poor Dick, are you hungry, too? You do look tired and thin. Yes, you shall come in;" and the narrow stream of light became a wide river, which broke over the pair and surrounding them drew them in, until they found themselves safely landed in the cosiest little kitchen Huldah had ever seen.
It was really a very humble little kitchen, with signs of poverty everywhere, but to Huldah it was a palace. It was spotlessly clean, and as neat as a new pin, and to a child who had spent the greater part of her life in a dirty, untidy caravan, this was a sign of superiority, even of luxury.
To Dick the cleanness and neatness meant nothing, the rag mat before the hearth was the most luxurious thing he had ever seen in the whole of his life, and he stretched his lanky aching body on it with a deep sigh of perfect bliss, and promptly fell asleep.
Huldah and old Mrs. Perry meanwhile stood in the middle of the kitchen surveying each other.
"Sit down, child," said Martha, at last, "you look fit to drop." She spoke brusquely but not unkindly.
"Thank you, ma'am," said Huldah, gratefully, and perched herself, with a long-drawn breath of excitement, on the edge of the hard chair nearest the door.
"Not there. Go and sit in the arm-chair by the fire-place. Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Oh!" gasped Huldah, almost too delighted to be able to find words to answer with. There was more pleasure, though, in her tone than any number of words could have conveyed.
"The kettle is on the boil. I was just going to have a cup myself, before I went to bed."
"Oh, thank you, ma'am!" gasped Huldah, feebly, but again with a world of gratitude in her tone.
"Put down your load for a time, then, and rest your arms." Then, as her eyes fell on the baskets the child had been carrying, "Was it one of those you offered me for a bit of bread?"
"Yes, ma'am," answered Huldah, shyly.
"Well, you meant well, I don't doubt, but those baskets are worth more than a bit of bread. They ought to sell for eighteenpence or two shillings each, I should say."
"Yes, ma'am, Aunt Emma always asks half-a-crown, and then comes down to two shillings or eighteenpence," said Huldah, innocently.
"Who's Aunt Emma?"
Huldah hesitated a moment, somewhat at a loss how to explain. "She isn't my real aunt, though I calls her so. She and Uncle Tom ain't any relation to me really. They're called Smith, and my name is Huldah Bate; but when mother died—"
"Haven't you got any mother?"
"No, ma'am, and father is dead too. He died when I was too little to remember, and mother earned her living by making baskets, and when I was big enough she taught me."
"How long ago did your mother die?" asked Mrs. Perry, more gently.
"Two years, ma'am, and when she died Aunt Emma and Uncle Tom said I was to go and live with them. They said mother had said I was to."
"Um! Did your mother think so much of them, then?"
"No, ma'am. They was always too rough for mother, they drinks a lot, and—and swears terrible, and they'm always fighting."
"I wonder at your mother leaving you to such people to be took care of."
"I don't believe mother ever did," said Huldah, "she never told me so, anyway," and she burst into bitter sobs; "but there wasn't anybody else there, and they told the parish orf'cer that I was their little girl, and then they went away as fast as they could, and took me with them."
"Are they kind to you?"
"They beat me—they're always beating me, or Dick, or Charlie,— Charlie is the old horse that draws the van,—and I'd sooner be beaten myself than see them being knocked about. We don't ever get enough to eat, but that isn't so bad as the beatings."
"Poor child! You both look as if you had never had enough to eat in your lives. Did they make baskets too?"
"No, ma'am, they can't. They make clothes-pegs, and they sell brushes and mats, but my baskets brought them in as much as a pound a week sometimes, and oh!" and she gasped at the thought, "Uncle Tom will be angry, when he finds I don't come back!" and her eyes were full of terror as she thought of his passion.
Mrs. Perry disappeared into the little scullery behind the kitchen, and opened the door of the safe where she kept her scanty store of food. There was very little in it but a ham-bone, a few eggs, a loaf of bread, and a tiny bit of butter. The bone she had, earlier in the day, decided would make her some pea-soup for to-morrow's dinner, but she thought of poor Dick and his hollow sides, and came to the conclusion that her soup would taste just as good without the bone; and Dick, when he really grasped the fact that the whole of the big bone was really meant for him, soon showed her that no ham-bone in the world had ever given more complete satisfaction.
"Could you eat an egg?"
Huldah stared blankly at her hostess. She could not at first realise that the question was meant for her. "An egg! Me! Oh, yes, ma'am, but I don't want anything so—so good as that." She could have eaten anything, no matter how plain, or poor, or unappetizing. But an egg! One of the greatest luxuries she had ever tasted. "A bit of dry bread will be plenty good enough. Eggs cost a lot, and—and—"
"My hens lay eggs for me in plenty. I don't ever have to buy one," said the old woman, proudly. "I've got some fine hens."
"Do you keep a farm, ma'am?"
Mrs. Perry smiled and sighed. "No, child; a few hens don't make a farm. I had a cow at one time, but all that's left is the house she lived in. Now, draw over to the table and have your supper."
At any other time Huldah would have been shy of eating before a stranger, for in the caravan good manners were only a subject for sneers and laughter, and she remembered enough of her mother's teaching to know how shocking to ordinary eyes Mr. and Mrs. Smith's behaviour would have seemed. To-night, though, she was too ravenously hungry for shyness to have much play. She tried to remember all she could of what her mother had taught her, and got through fairly creditably.
"Now," said Mrs. Perry, when that wonderful, glorious meal was at last ended, "where did you think of going for the night?"
"I don't know," sighed Huldah, wistfully. "I hadn't thought of anywhere perticler. I daresay there's a rick or a hedge we can lay down under. I don't mind where I go, so long as Uncle Tom don't find us."
"Well, I can't give you a bed here. I've only this room and my bedroom, and—and—" Mrs. Perry did not like to explain that she was too nervous, and too doubtful of Huldah's honesty to leave her alone in the kitchen, while she herself went to bed and to sleep. To her mind all gipsies, and all gipsy children, were thieves, and though she was interested in Huldah, and felt very sorry for her, she had, after all, only known her about an hour, and knew nothing of her past history. In her heart she could not as yet believe all her story, or bring herself to trust her.
The child instinctively felt something of this distrust, and it hurt her. Her eyes filled, but she forced back the tears, and spoke out bravely.
"I shall do all right, thank you, ma'am. We'll be going on again, now. I ain't afraid of nothing when I've got Dick with me, and—and thank you, ma'am, for all you've given us; but I wish you'd 'ave one of my baskets, ma'am, please! I can easy make another, and I'd be glad if you would, please, ma'am."
Mrs. Perry felt a prick of conscience, and her heart melted. She could see that the child's feelings were hurt, and that her self-respect made her anxious to pay for all they had received.
"If you wouldn't mind sleeping in the barn in the garden, you and your dog, you're welcome. It's as clean as can be, and there's plenty of nice straw there, to make a comfortable bed for you. You'd be under shelter there, and if so be as your uncle should come this way, he'd never find you there."
Instead of conferring a favour, she found herself almost asking the child to stay, and to Huldah the temptation was too great to be resisted. To be safe from her uncle! She felt she could bear anything, if she could only for a few hours feel quite safe. She was so tired, too, so dead-tired, she did not know, in spite of her brave words, how she could possibly drag her weary body a step further.
A few moments later the front-door had been securely bolted, and Mrs. Perry, lantern in hand, was conducting her two strange visitors out of the back door and down the garden.
"That's the fowls' house," she explained, flashing her lantern over the door of the little building as they passed it, "and here is the barn."
She opened the door, and threw the lantern light all over the wooden shed. It was spotlessly clean, and sweet with the smell of the straw which was scattered about one end of it. There were some bundles and some loose straw lying on the ground. Huldah sank down on one of the bundles with a little cry of relief, while Dick burrowed delightedly in the loose straw.
"You won't be afraid, you think?"
"No, ma'am, thank you, not with Dick," she answered, bravely.
She did not feel quite so brave, though, when the light had gone, and she heard the house-door bolted, and found herself and Dick shut in alone in the dark in that great empty strange place. She did wish that Mrs. Perry had seen fit to leave them the lantern. Rats loved straw, Huldah knew, so did mice, and she was dreadfully afraid of both. The moonlight shone in through the sides of the barn, and Huldah had a feeling that eyes were at all the chinks, watching her.
To try to forget the rats and mice and not to see the eyes, she nestled down in the straw, with one bundle at her head and another at her back, and hoped she would soon fall asleep and forget everything. But though she was so tired, or, perhaps, because she was overtired, sleep when it did come was not sound or pleasant. Every time Dick rustled the straw, she awoke. Every time a bird called or an owl hooted, she started up wide awake. She woke once from a dream of her uncle, with, as she thought, his voice echoing in her ear. Another time she felt certain he was banging at the barn door, trying to get in, to beat her and Dick, and take them both back.
"Oh, I wish it was morning!" she sighed, and sat up on her straw bed, to see if daylight was beginning to dawn yet.
But all was dark still; even the moon had gone. She was just about to lie wearily down again, when a real, not a dream sound, caught her ear. The sound of nailed boots on stones, and stealthy footsteps.
"It really is someone climbing the wall and coming up the garden," she thought to herself, and her mouth and throat grew dry with terror, and her heart beat suffocatingly. "Dick!" she gasped, in a low voice. "Dick, they're coming, they've found us. Listen!"
Dick raised himself on his haunches, with his ears cocked. Huldah was seized with sudden fear that he would growl, and so betray their hiding-place, for her uncle would recognise Dick's growl in a moment. She laid her hand on his collar firmly. "Quiet!" she commanded, firmly, and knew that he would obey. She tried to peer out through the chinks, but it was hard to move without rustling the straw, and all without was black as pitch.
Then suddenly, quite close to her on the other side of the planking, sounded a whisper, and Huldah never knew afterwards whether she was most frightened or relieved—frightened by the nearness of somebody, or relieved that the somebody was not her "uncle."
"Bill, where's the sack?" the voice asked, impatiently.
"I dunno!" answered another voice, sourly. "You had it. I've cut my knee on that there wall; I can feel the blood running down my leg."
"You always manages to do something," was all the sympathy Bill got. "We've got to 'ave the sack, so you'd better find it. How're we to carry the birds without it? In our hats?"
"It's the fowls!" thought Huldah, thrilling with excitement. "They're going to steal the fowls. Oh, they shan't! The lady'll think it's me. Oh, what can I do? How can I tell her? I must stop them, somehow!"
Bill had gone back in search of the sack, and the other thief stood waiting for him. Huldah had time to think, but no plan came to her. She did not know her way, nor where to turn for help; and if she screamed, they would only find her out, and knock her about. They would steal the fowls all the same. A slight movement beside her recalled her thoughts, and sent her spirits up with a bound. "Dick! why, of course Dick would help her!"
Quick as thought she crept to the door, and with one hand on Dick's collar she gently raised the latch with the other. Bill had evidently found the sack, for the thieves were together again; she heard them whispering. One even seemed to be already fumbling with the latch of the fowls' house door.
"Quick, Dick, catch them!" she whispered, excitedly. "Go for them, Dick! bring them down!" With one fierce yelp Dick was out of her grasp and out of her sight.
It had all happened so swiftly that the thieves were bewildered, dazed, and frightened almost beyond power of speech or movement. They had heard nothing, and certainly had expected nothing, yet suddenly, from somewhere quite near by, came a voice, and out of the darkness came a large dog bounding upon them, growling savagely. For a second they were too frightened to move; then, with an oath, they dashed across the garden, making for the wall they had come over. Fast though they went, Dick was after them and on them, and Bob, as well as Bill, knew what it was to feel blood trickling down his leg. Bob yelled, Bill groaned, Dick growled and snarled and barked furiously with excitement. The frightened hens, startled by the hubbub, added their share to the uproar.
In the cottage a curtain was drawn back quickly from a window, and a white frightened face stared out. Huldah caught sight of it, and coming out of the shelter of the barn, raced eagerly along the path to the house.
"It's all right," she cried, panting. "It's all right, ma'am, some fellows come stealing your fowls, but Dick's after them."
Dick was after them, but he could not capture them; he was but a young dog, and the enemy was two to one. A heavy kick sent him rolling over, just as the thieves reached the wall, and before he could pick himself up again they were over it, and making good their escape.
At the sound of Dick's cry Huldah went flying back to the spot whence the sound came. "Oh, Dick, Dick, what have they done!" she cried, terrified.
Dick, though, was not one to make a fuss about anything. Kicks he was well accustomed to. Men, according to his experience, were given to kicking. Limping heavily, but mightily pleased with his fray, he came running up to her. Huldah knelt down in the path beside him, and hugged him to her. "Oh, Dick!" she cried, anxiously, passing her little hand over him to feel for any hurt. "Poor Dick, you are always getting knocked about by somebody!"
But Dick was far less concerned than she was. All that really troubled him was that his enemies had escaped him, and had got off so lightly.
"Huldah! Huldah!" called a frightened voice from the doorway. "Whatever is happening? Oh, do come in, child, and bring Dick. I am terrified to be left alone! Come in, both of you, and shut the door;" and at the sound of her voice Dick gave up his frantic search for his enemies, and limped quickly back. When the lady who gave him the ham-bone called, she must never be kept waiting!
WHAT THE MORNING BROUGHT.
It was a very shaken, tremulous trio which stood and faced each other in the tiny kitchen, after they had locked and bolted the door. Dick trembled with excitement and eagerness only, but Mrs. Perry was really frightened.
"But what of my poor hens!" she gasped, as Huldah poured out the adventures of the night. "Will the thieves come back again? What can I do? There's twelve of them; I can't bring them all indoors, and yet—oh, poor dears, and they so tame, and knowing me so well. I'd sooner see them all dead than in the hands of such men; and they'll be so frightened."
"They're all safe enough, ma'am," said Huldah, consolingly. "The thieves didn't as much as open the door before Dick was on them, and they won't be coming back here again in a hurry; they'll never feel sure but what Dick's under the wall waiting for them."
Mrs. Perry bent down, and patted Dick's head gratefully. It was the first time she had actually touched him. "Good dog," she said, warmly. "Oh, you good doggie, to protect a strange old woman and her belongings!" and Dick was overcome with pride and gratitude for her condescension.
"Oh, I am glad it has all ended so well," she exclaimed, with a deep sigh of thankfulness. "What with the shouting and the barking and confusion, I couldn't make out anything, or hear what you said, and I thought for certain they'd got away with the poor things;" and she patted Dick's head again, to his great delight and Huldah's. "I must sit down, I am that shaken," and she crept over to a chair and dropped into it wearily, "and I am sure you must be too, child. I wish the fire hadn't gone out; it seems chilly now, for all 'twas such a hot day,—at least, I am chilly."
"Let me light up the fire for you?" asked Huldah, eagerly. "You do look cold, ma'am. Shall I make you a cup of tea, or get you some milk or something?"
The scene they had just passed through seemed to have broken down some barrier, and drawn them as close together as though they had known each other a long time.
Martha Perry hesitated a moment, though not now because she distrusted Huldah. She was thinking, ought she to afford it?" Yes, child," she answered, at last. "I don't believe I could sleep if I went to bed as I am, I feel all unstrung and chilled." Then her mind went back to the thought which troubled her most—"I wonder if the fowls will be really all right," she mused, anxiously.
"Oh yes, ma'am." Huldah had no doubts on that point. "Those fellows would be afraid to come back. Dick did give them a scare, springing out of the dark on them like that, and they're too hurt about the legs to want to walk any further than they can help, yet awhile!"
"Oh yes, of course," in accents of great relief, "I'd forgotten. They wouldn't want to come and face Dick again, and they wouldn't know but what he was mine, and always living here."
A bright idea came to Huldah. "Would you like me to let Dick out into the garden again. He'd see that nobody came into it. Nobody wouldn't dare touch anything with him there, I know!"
The suggestion evidently pleased Mrs. Perry, and relieved her greatly. "Now that would be a comfort," she said, gratefully. "I'd feel ever so safe then. On a warm night like this he can't hurt, can he?"
Huldah laughed. "Dick doesn't know what 'tis to sleep in," she said. "The most he ever had was a sack thrown down under the van, unless when Charlie was put in a stable, and they'd let Dick go in too, but Uncle Tom liked best to have him about, to guard the van."
All the time she was talking she was laying in the fire quickly and deftly. Mrs. Perry watched her interestedly. She felt the comfort of having someone cheerful to speak to; and when she remembered that but for this little stray waif she would have been alone now, and her hen-house robbed, her heart was very full of gratitude.
"Miss Rosamund will blame me when she hears about it," she said, presently. "She was always telling me I ought to have a strong lock on the hen-house door. She said it was tempting folk to be dishonest,—not to have anything but just the latch, and me known to keep good fowls always. 'Twas Miss Rose that gave them to me," she explained. "I mean, she gave me a sitting of her prize eggs, and every one hatched out."
"Oh my!" exclaimed Huldah, who had filled the kettle, and was now waiting for it to boil. She was immensely interested in all she saw and heard, and there seemed so much to see and hear in this new life into which she had suddenly found her way. "Is Miss Rose a—a lady?" She only put the question in the hope of leading Mrs. Perry on to talk more.
"A lady! I should think she was, indeed! One of the best that ever lived! 'Twould be a good thing for this world if there were more like her."
Huldah listened intently. She wondered if she should ever see this wonderful Miss Rose, and find out what it was that made Mrs. Perry speak so warmly about her. She thought it must be fine to be thought much of by anybody so superior as Mrs. Perry.
"I think you are the kindest lady in the world," she said, impulsively, looking up at her hostess with shy, grateful eyes. "Would Miss Rose have taken me and Dick in, if we had come to her house like we did to yours?"
"That she would!" declared Mrs. Perry, emphatically, "and 'twas the thought of what she would do that made me do it."
"I'd love to see Miss Rose," said Huldah, eagerly. "I wonder if I ever shall!" but the kettle boiled at that moment, and Mrs. Perry's mind was taken up with the making of the tea.
While they sat on each side of the hearth, drinking their tea and eating their crusts of bread, she wished Miss Rose could know about this little waif, who seemed really not a bad little waif, but honest and very thoughtful and kind. She wanted her advice as to what to do about her. Already her feelings towards the child had changed so much that she did not like to think of sending her away in the morning, to wander on alone again, with no home, no money or food, and no protection but Dick.
Dick might be killed, or stolen, and then the poor little soul would be alone in the world. Huldah looked up eagerly at her hostess more than once, but, though she was longing to ask some more questions, she did not like to interrupt her while she gazed with such grave, thoughtful eyes into the fire.
At last Mrs. Perry roused herself from her thoughts, with a tired sigh, and brought her eyes back to Huldah again. "Have a bit more bread," she urged, kindly, seeing that the little brown hand was empty. "You must be hungry."
Huldah was always hungry, but she was not accustomed to any notice being taken of the fact. "No, thank you, ma'am," she said, politely. She had already guessed that her kind protector was very poor, and she knew well what a difference every slice made to a loaf, so she said, "No, thank you, ma'am," though she could really have eaten the whole of the nice brown crusty top. But she was more interested in Miss Rose than in her own appetite.
"Does Miss Rose live near here?" she asked.
Mrs. Perry smiled. "Why, how funny!" she exclaimed. "I was thinking of Miss Rose too. Yes; she lives at the vicarage, and that's a little way further on in the main road. If you hadn't turned down this lane, you'd have come to it about half-a-mile further on. I wonder you didn't see the church tower as you came along."
"It was too dark," said Huldah. "Oh, I was glad when I saw your light shine out," she added, impetuously. "I didn't know what to do or where to go, and we were so tired! I very nearly lay down under the hedge, 'cause I felt as if I couldn't drag another step."
"It'd have been better for you if you hadn't seen it, but had gone on till you came to the vicarage."
"I don't think so," said Huldah, emphatically. "P'raps the servants would have driven us off,—anyway, they couldn't have been kinder than you was—"
"It wouldn't have been better for me if you'd gone on," added Mrs. Perry, gratefully. "I shouldn't have had any hens now, if it hadn't been for you, and I'd have been scared to death. I think I will go up to bed now," she added presently, in a weary voice. "I had thought I wouldn't go back again, but I am that tired."
"You do look tired," rejoined Huldah, sympathetically. Her own little body was aching all over, and she was so weary she could gladly have lain down anywhere and slept, but it never occurred to her to mention the fact. "Dick'll mind the garden, so don't you worry about that."
"Can you sleep on the sofa, do you think?"
"Oh yes, ma'am!" cried Huldah, rapturously, gazing at the hard black horse-hair covered thing as though it were the most luxurious couch in the world.
"I'll give you my big shawl, to wrap yourself up in, and you can use that cushion there for a pillow."
"Thank you, ma'am; but I think," she added, anxiously, "I'll run out first, and see that Dick's all right. You can bolt the door after me while I'm out."
Martha Perry did not do that, though. She stood there with the open door in her hand, and watched almost affectionately the little brown figure run down the garden path, and disappear in the gloom.
"Put Dick in the barn to sleep," she called after Huldah. "He'll be nice and comfortable there;" but Dick, wise dog, was already there, snugly curled up in the straw, and as happy as a dog could be. The hens, too, had settled down to sleep again in their house, and all was safe, so Huldah ran back again contentedly; and Martha Perry welcomed her as gladly as though they were old friends, and when she shut the door and bolted themselves in, it was with a sigh of relief that she had this little companion.
A few minutes later the old woman was stretched out comfortably in her bed, and the child was rolled up snugly on the hard sofa, and silence once more fell on cottage and garden, broken only by an occasional sleepy cluck, cluck of the hens, as they moved on their perches, or a whimper from Dick, as in his dreams he lived over again his rout of the enemy.
Huldah did not dream of thieves, or hens, or anything else. She just slept, and slept, a heavy, dreamless sleep, unconscious of everything. The hard sofa galled her poor, thin, aching body, the round hard pillow gave her a crick in the neck, but neither of them could make themselves felt through the sleep which held her fast in merciful unconsciousness.
It was broad daylight, and the sun had been shining for a long time when at last she woke with a start, and sprang up, wondering where she was, and what had happened. Then by degrees recollection came back to her, and she began to wonder what she could do. The old clock in the corner pointed to seven, but there was no sound of movement in the house. Huldah was afraid to get up and move about, lest Mrs. Perry should suspect her of being at some wickedness; and she was not sorry to lie still, for her limbs ached, and she felt very, very tired, so she stretched herself out on her hard couch, and gave herself up to studying the little kitchen, and all that was in it.
It was very wonderful, she thought, and very lovely. There were some dark green wooden chairs, and an arm-chair, and a little round table, scrubbed to spotless whiteness. Above her head, on a window-ledge stood some geraniums in full bloom, and on a row of shelves let into the wall stood a large Bible, with a crochet mat over it, and some other books, some vases and ornaments, and a box covered with shells. The only other things to see were the grandfather's clock in the corner, some well-polished bright things on the mantel-piece, a pair of brass candlesticks, a couple of tea-caddies, and a pair of snuffers on a tray.
There were some pictures on the wall, and an almanac. One picture showed two beautiful horses ploughing a field, a white horse and a brown one, the other was of the same two horses going slowly home, at the end of the day's work. The sight of the white horse brought Charlie to Huldah's mind, and filled her eyes with tears.
"Oh, if only Charlie was here too!" she thought, "and if only he looked like that horse there!"
There was indeed all the difference in the world between the well-fed, well-groomed horse in the picture, with his erect head, his bright eyes and glossy coat, and poor old Charlie, with his bones showing distinctly through his rough, neglected coat, his drooping head and sad eyes!
Huldah looked and looked again at the pictures; she thought they were perfectly beautiful; but by-and-by she began to fidget a little. She was tired of lying quiet, and the silence and stillness worried her. She slid off the sofa, and sat on the edge of it, wondering if she might move, if she might go and see Dick, or clean up the grate and light the fire.
Presently there was a whine at the back door. Dick had come in search of her. She stood up and quietly made a step or two towards the scullery and the back door, wondering if she would be taking a great liberty to let him in. She did long to. And then, while she stood hesitating she heard a voice calling weakly down the stairs, "Little girl—Huldah, are you there?"
Huldah, greatly relieved, sprang to the foot of the stairs. She was glad to have the silence broken at last. "Yes ma'am. It was only Dick whining to come in."
"Let him in, then come up to me, will you?"
Ordering Dick to stay below, Huldah mounted the stairs, full of awe. She had not been allowed up them before. She thought the little winding white staircase was wonderful, and oh, how clean it all was!
At the top was a landing about a yard square, and an open door. Through the doorway she saw an old-fashioned bed with pretty flowered frills and curtains, and lying on the bed was Mrs. Perry.
"Come in, child," she said, feebly. "I've been calling to you for ever so long, but I couldn't make you hear. I expect you were very tired, and slept heavy."
"I've been awake for a good bit," said Huldah, "but I didn't like to move about till you come. I wish I'd heard you. Did you want me?"
"Yes, I'm feeling very bad. I think I must have got a chill last night, or else the fright upset me."
"Oh, I am sorry," cried Huldah, with genuine feeling. Mrs. Perry really did look very white and ill, and Huldah felt quite alarmed. "Can I get you something? What can I do? Shall I light the fire?" she asked, eagerly.
"Yes, if you will, I'd be very much obliged. I'd like a cup of tea, as hot as I can drink it, and," pointing to some flannel lying on the bed, "if you could make that very hot, and bring it up to me, I'd be glad. Perhaps heat'll ease the pain a bit."
"I'll be as quick as I can," said Huldah, eagerly, turning to hurry downstairs. "Is there anything else?"
"Oh my, yes! there's the fowls; they'll be wanting their breakfast. It's all put ready for them in a pan in the scullery, if you'll give it to them. Don't let them out into the garden."
"I'll see to that," said Huldah, cheerfully.
"Then when they're out eating their food, go into the house, and see if there's any eggs in the nests."
"Yes, ma'am, and please may I borrow the loan of the bucket, to have a wash? I'm feeling all dusty and dirty."
Mrs. Perry smiled, in spite of her pain. "Yes, of course. You'll find a basin and soap, and a rough towel in the scullery, too. I'm glad you reminded me."
Huldah slipped down the stairs as blithe as a bird. This was keeping house in real earnest, and she loved it. She set to work to light the fire and tidy the stove first, then she went and fed the hens, and came back triumphantly, carrying three large eggs. When she had shown these to Mrs. Perry, and discussed their size and beauty—and surely there never had been such eggs found before—she went down and had her wash, and oh, how she did enjoy it! She wished she had a clean frock or apron to put on, too. But when she remembered all she had got, she felt ashamed of herself, for even thinking of wanting anything more.
In the scullery was a sweeping-brush, and the sight of it tempted her to sweep up the kitchen. She opened the door wide, to let in the sunshine and fresh air and the sweet scent of flowers, and then she went sweeping away, not only the doorstep, but the tiled path down the garden to the gate. For the moment she had forgotten her fear of being discovered. All here seemed so different, so safe and peaceful, and far away from her old unhappy life.
The sun was shining radiantly, drying up the dew on the flowers, and making the red-tiled path glow warmly; it seemed to fill the garden, the cottage, and all Huldah's world with cheerfulness. By the time she had finished sweeping, the kettle was singing, so Huldah got the teapot and warmed it. She even warmed the cup and saucer too, in her anxiety that Mrs. Perry should have her tea as hot as possible. Then she cut a slice of bread as neatly as she could and toasted it.
Dick was lying out in the sun, gnawing at the remains of his ham-bone, as happy as a dog could be. Huldah glanced out at him every now and then while she was toasting the bread, and tried to realise that they were the same two who only yesterday morning were thrashed so unmercifully—she, for giving Dick some bread and butter, and Dick for eating it, after which had followed that dreadful scene when her uncle Tom had kicked poor old helpless Charlie so cruelly, partly because the poor old horse moved slowly, but chiefly because he knew that it would hurt Huldah more than any beating or starving of herself could.
It hurt her so greatly that she felt she could not bear it any longer, and then and there made up her mind to run away. Half of Charlie's kicks and blows were given him, she knew, because they hurt and angered her. Perhaps, she thought, if she were gone life would become easier for him. So she went,—and that was only yesterday, and the only pang of feeling or remorse that she felt for what she had done was the loss of Charlie.
"Do you think you could find your way to the vicarage?"
Huldah had given Mrs. Perry her breakfast, and taken her own, and now had gone up again to remove the cup and plate, and ask what more she could do. She was longing to make herself useful, that she might show how grateful she was for all that had been done for her.
"Yes, I'm sure I could," she answered, readily.
"Miss Rose said she'd come to me any time I wanted her, and I feel I want her now, but I don't know how to let her know, unless you will go for me."
"I'll go," said Huldah, eagerly. "I'd like to." Then, with sudden recollection of her uncle and aunt, her heart sank. "I—I don't suppose I'd meet uncle that way, but—but there'd be the chance of that, any way I went," she added, trying to be brave and sensible.
Mrs. Perry looked anxious too. "I don't s'pose he could have got so far by this time, even if he came this way. You see, he'd have to keep to the road with the van, and you cut across country."
"Oh, it's sure to be all right," said Huldah, more bravely, determined not to be afraid. "I won't take Dick, though, if you'll keep him, ma'am. If I did see them coming, I could hide behind a hedge or somewhere, but Dick, he's racing everywhere, and I'd never be able to hide him too."
"Would they recognise him—so far from where they lost him?"
"Oh yes, ma'am, and he'd know them and Charlie, and he'd be sure to run up to speak to Charlie."
"Very well; you leave Dick here with me. I'll be glad to have him for company while you're gone; you'd better start before the day gets any hotter. Tell Miss Rose, that if she can spare the time, and it isn't very inconvenient I'd be very much obliged if she could come to see me to-day. You'll remember, won't you?"
"Yes, ma'am, I'll tell her you'm bad in bed."
"I wish," began Mrs. Perry, then hesitated, her eyes glancing over the shabby little maiden standing by her bedside. "I wish you weren't quite so—I wish you were a little tidier."
Huldah flushed under her glance. "My face and hands is clean," she said, shyly, "and I'll put the sweeping-brush over my hair—"
Mrs. Perry smiled, in spite of herself. "No, don't do that, child; take and use that one over there by the looking-glass; but 'twas your frock I was thinking about, and your apron is too ragged and dirty to see a lady in. I don't suppose you could wear one of mine—it'd be too long, wouldn't it?"
"I'm 'fraid it would, ma'am, but I'll try, if you like."
"There's one there on the chair by the door; hold it up against you, and let me see how it looks."
Huldah took the apron shyly, and held it round her waist. It hung far below her frock, and reached the top of her foot, but it hid her shabby old frock, and certainly gave her a cleaner look.
"P'raps if I tied it round under my arms it would look better," she suggested. She was very anxious to be a credit to her new friend, and she was even more anxious not to shock Miss Rose, at first sight, by her disreputable appearance.
"Yes, that will do," agreed Mrs. Perry, approvingly, and Huldah, quite unconscious of the funny figure she cut, started off in high spirits.
"Go to the top of the lane till you reach the high road, then turn to your right, and keep straight on till you come to the church and the vicarage. Go to the back door and knock gently, and ask to see Miss Rose. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am. Can I do anything more for you before I go?"
"No, thank you. Keep in the shade as much as you can; it is going to be dreadfully hot again, I b'lieve."
In the lane, in spite of the shade, the heat was already stifling, the high hedges seemed to shut it in, and to keep out the air. Huldah, hurrying along over the rough ground, felt her face growing scarlet, and her breath coming quick. She was almost glad to get out on the high road, for though the glare of the sun was blinding, and there was no shade, it was less stifling there; but it was not the discomfort that she minded so much, her great desire was to look her best when she had to face Miss Rose. So she walked on the grass by the road-side, to keep her from getting dusty, and every now and then her hands went up to her cheeks, to feel if they were very, very hot; and indeed, between nervousness, and the heat, her cheeks were very, very scarlet by the time she reached the vicarage, and had found the back door.
Obedient to her orders, she knocked gently, so gently that for a time no one heard her, and she was about to knock for the third time, when a lady came round from the front of the house and caught sight of her.
She was a young lady, tall and thin and pretty, with such shining golden hair that it made Huldah wink to look at it gleaming in the sunshine.
"Can't you make anyone hear? I expect cook is busy; you must knock more loudly." She smiled kindly as she spoke, and her eyes were so gentle and pretty that Huldah scarcely heard what she was saying, for looking at them. "It must be Miss Rose herself," she thought to herself.
"Please, ma'am, I—I wanted to see Miss Rose," she stammered out at last. "Please, ma'am, are you—"
"I am Miss Rose Carew, yes. How did you know my name? You don't live anywhere hereabouts, do you?"
"No, miss." Huldah was almost glad her cheeks were so hot already, for she felt herself blushing at this question. "No, ma'am, I—I don't live anywhere. I'm come from Mrs. Perry, in Woodend Lane. She's ill in bed, and if it wouldn't be putting you out very much, please would you come and see her, miss? She'd be very much obliged, I was to say."
Miss Carew's quick sympathy was aroused at once.
"Mrs. Perry ill. Oh, I am so sorry! What has caused it, I wonder? I hope she hasn't been out in the hot sun. I warned her not to."
"No, miss; 'twas last night that upset her, I think. Some fellows came and tried to steal her fowls, and she was reg'larly frightened she was, and I reckon she caught cold standing at the door in her nightdress."
"Some men came stealing her fowls! Oh, how wicked!" Miss Rose's cheeks flushed with indignation, and her soft eyes sparkled with anger. "Did they take them all?"
"No, miss, they didn't get any. Dick frightened the thieves off, just as they were going to open the door, and he bit their legs too. I'll be bound they're lame enough to-day!" and Huldah chuckled aloud at the thought, forgetting her shyness, and everything else but the thieves.
Miss Carew gazed at her, frankly puzzled. Who was Dick? and who was this funny little maid with the brown skin, brown hair, golden brown eyes, the shabby brown frock, and battered old hat?
"Are you a young relative of Mrs. Perry?" she asked, gently.
Huldah blushed again, and the laughter died out of her eyes. "No, miss; I aint nobody's relative, I haven't got nobody but Dick."
"Is Dick your brother?"
"No, miss, he's only a dog; but he's ever such a good dog," eagerly. "He's so clever, there's nothing he can't do. He's at home with Mrs. Perry now, to keep her company while I'm gone, 'cause she's nervous after last night."
"I see," said Miss Carew, thoughtfully. "I am very glad she has Dick to take care of her. Tell her I will come to see her this morning, will you? and wait a moment, I must give you something for Dick, as a reward for his care last night."
Miss Rose opened the door near which they had been standing, and disclosed a large wide, slate-paved passage, with large, cool-looking slate slabs on each side. After the glare and heat outside, the slates looked cool and restful to the eye. At the other end of the passage a door stood open, and through it Huldah could see a big bright kitchen, with a snowy table standing in the middle of the blue slate floor, and a window beyond, festooned with green creepers and roses.
"Dinah, I want something nice for a brave dog," said Miss Rose. "Have you got a bone with something on it?"
Dinah produced a leg of mutton bone and some cold pudding. Huldah's eyes gleamed, as she thought of Dick's delight. Two bones in two days! He had never before known such a wonderful time. Miss Rose added two large dog biscuits. "Those will come in for his supper," she said.
Huldah took the parcel with a joy she did not attempt to conceal. In her pleasure she lost her shyness. "Oh, miss!" she exclaimed, "I wish you could be there to see Dick when he knows the bone is for him!"
"I wish I could, but don't keep him waiting, poor doggie!"
It was not until she put out her hand to take the parcel for Dick that Huldah remembered the basket which she had brought with her to sell, and which she had been holding all this time. Now, though, when she did remember it, she could not bring herself to offer it for sale. Indeed, she longed to give it to pretty, kind Miss Rose.
Miss Rose, though, settled the matter for her. "What a sweetly pretty basket!" she exclaimed. She had noticed it in Huldah's hands, and been attracted by its prettiness. "It is too dainty to put that clumsy parcel into. Isn't it a new one?"
"Yes, miss; I—I made it," stammered Huldah, shyly.
"Did you really? What a clever little girl! Do you make them to sell?" She had begun to understand the situation.
"Yes, miss; but I—I—"
"Will you make one for me? I should very much like to have one; I am always needing baskets. What do they cost?"
"This size is—eighteenpence," said Huldah, hesitatingly. It suddenly seemed to her that it was a great deal of money to ask for it. "You can have this one if you like, miss. It is new; I—I brought it out to—to sell, if I could. I do want to get some money to give to Mrs. Perry—she's been so good to Dick and me, and—and I hadn't got anything to give her." Then, mistaking the cause of Miss Carew's thoughtful silence, she added, nervously, "But perhaps you'd rather have a new one made on purpose for you, miss. This one is quite clean, but—"
"Yes, yes, I'd like to have this one; I'd rather have this one, child. I was only thinking." Then, as she put the money for it into Huldah's hand, she asked gently, "Will you tell me your story, dear, presently, when I come to see Mrs. Perry? I should so like to know it. Then I shall be better able to understand, and perhaps I could help, or do something. I must not keep you now, or Mrs. Perry may begin to worry about you."
"Yes, miss; I think I ought to go back now, and—and thank you, miss, very much." Huldah was so excited she scarcely knew how to get her words out. A great sense of relief and happiness filled her heart. If Miss Rose would help her, she felt sure she would be safe and happy; and Dick too.
She almost danced back over the sunny road, in spite of the scorching sun. Her heart was lighter, she had eighteenpence in her hand to give to Mrs. Perry, and she had a feast for Dick. Life seemed beautiful, and happy, and hopeful. Could it have been only yesterday morning that she was in that dreadful caravan, bruised, hungry, miserable, and desperate to escape? It seemed impossible!
Suddenly, around the bend of the road ahead of her, appeared the head and shoulders of a white horse,—and instantly all her world changed. Her heart almost stood still with fright; then, with a low cry of despair, she scrambled over the hedge and into a field on the other side of it. "If I'd had Dick, I couldn't have done it!" she panted, as she scuttled along under the hedge, bending low, almost like an animal. At the corner of the field she paused. "If I can get over this hedge, I shall be in the lane," she thought; but the sound of wheels made her crouch low again; the horse was just passing. Fascinated, yet terrified, Huldah peeped through the hedge, and saw— a quiet old farm-horse drawing a hay-cart, and the driver sound asleep on the shafts! Oh, how her heart thrilled with relief at the sight! If she had known what prayer was, she would have offered up a thanksgiving then. As it was, she scrambled out over the hedge and into the lane in a somewhat sobered mood. The thought of what might have been, made her heart beat fast and her limbs tremble, and her new life seemed more than ever beautiful.
Miss Carew meanwhile had stood watching Huldah flitting like a little dark shadow along the road. "What an odd little brown thing she is!" she thought to herself, half-amused, half-sad. "I ain't nobody's relative, I haven't got nobody but Dick! She seemed so cheerful about it, too, it makes one feel that she did not mind the want. I wonder—but I must go and hear more about the strange pair who seem to have dropped out of the clouds to act as good fairies to poor Martha Perry."
When, about an hour later, Miss Carew reached the little cottage in Woodend Lane, she found Huldah washing the floor of the little kitchen, Dick lying in the garden gnawing his bone, and Martha Perry lying in bed with eighteenpence on the table beside her, and a bunch of flowers in a jug. Huldah had taken off Mrs. Perry's apron, for that was far too clean and precious to be worn for such work, whereas her old dress could not possibly be made shabbier.
When she saw Miss Carew standing on the doorstep, she looked up with a bright smile of welcome. "Please to walk in, miss," she said, shyly. She had hoped to have had the kitchen washed and made quite neat before the visitor arrived, but nothing could lessen her pleasure at seeing Miss Rose.
Without her white apron she looked browner than ever, and Miss Rose felt as she looked at her a great desire to dress her in pretty, clean, dainty things, a blue, or pink, or green cotton frock, with big white apron and white collar. She said nothing, though, but, stepping delicately over the clean floor, made her way up the stairs alone to visit the invalid.
Huldah had washed the kitchen and the tiled path to the gate, and shaken the mats, and dusted the chairs and mantelpiece, and was sitting down to rest her hot and weary little body, before Miss Rose came down again. When she heard the footsteps on the stairs she started up at once.
"Huldah, you are a veritable little brownie," said Miss Rose, "not only in appearance, but in everything."
Huldah smiled, but looked puzzled; then she put her hands up to her cheeks. "My hands is brown," she laughed, "but my face feels like fire."
"You should not work so hard while the heat is so great. In spite of your red cheeks, you are a real brownie. Do you know what a brownie is?"
"No, miss," said Huldah, with a shake of her head. "I haven't ever been anything but a gipsy—a basket-seller, I mean."
"Well, basket-sellers can be brownies too, especially when they come in to help and protect poor, helpless old people, and sell their baskets to give the money to those who need it. Have you ever heard of fairies, Huldah?"
Huldah shook her head again, with a puzzled look in her eyes. "No, miss."
"Well, fairies and piskies and brownies were supposed to be very little people who lived underground, or in flowers and shells, or in rocks and mines, by day, and only came out at night. Some of them only danced and played and enjoyed themselves, but others, the piskies and brownies, loved to come at night and help the sad and ill and poor, and those who were good and kind. They would come when folks were asleep, and tidy their kitchen for them, or chop their wood, and spin their flax. Sometimes, for the very poor, they would bake a batch of bread or cakes, and have all ready for them; and when the poor people came down in the morning, cold and weak and hungry, wondering how they would manage to get any food to eat, they would find the kitchen clean, wood and coal to make a fire, and food in the larder. Sometimes, too, there would be a piece of money at the bottom of a cup. Can't you imagine how people would bless and love those dear little industrious brownies?"
"Oh yes!" gasped Huldah, "and how I'd love to be able to do things like that!"
"I think you are one, dear, only you don't vanish by day, and you don't work secretly."
Huldah flushed with joy. Never in her sad, hard life had she felt so happy.
"I hope, though, that you are not like the little people in one respect,—they were so very easily offended. Such a little thing would rouse their anger, and when they were angry they did not mind hurting those who had offended them, or even injuring them very greatly."
"Oh!" cried Huldah, looking disappointed.
"Now, little brownie, before I go I want you to trust me, and to be quite frank and open, and not be afraid, for I want to be your friend. I want you to tell me all about yourself and your past life, and where you came from, and why you and Dick are quite alone in the world. Will you? I want to help you, and do what is best for both of you, but until I know all I can do nothing."
"You won't send us back to Uncle Tom, will you miss?" she cried, her face paling, her eyes wide with fear. "I'll tell you everything,— I—I want to, but if you send us back to Uncle Tom, he'll pretty nigh beat us to death, me and Dick, I know he will!" And at the mere thought of it she broke down and sobbed so violently that it was long before Miss Rose could soothe her, or calm the trembling of the half-starved, bruised little body.
She herself was shocked by the terror with which the mere thought of returning to her uncle and aunt filled the child; and her heart ached as she realised what she must have endured to bring her to such a state, for it was plain to see that Huldah was naturally a spirited, brave little creature.
In her own mind, Miss Carew determined then and there that such persons were not fit guardians for any child, and never with her consent should Huldah be sent back to be again at their mercy. Her life would be one of greater suffering even than before. She shuddered at the thought of the blows and abuse and hunger which would be her lot. The hunger for love and kindness, too, which, now she had had a glimpse of both, would be even greater than her hunger for food, and even less likely to be gratified. No—oh no!—Huldah should never face such a fate, as long as she could help her. She would seek the protection of the law first, she decided; but, in the meantime, until the law was necessary, she herself would do her best to make her life happy and useful and good. So much was due to the child.
Everyone whose life was happy, and full of love and peace and comfort, owed some share of her blessings to those who had none,—and surely here was one to whom a large share was owing.
The confession had been made, the story told, and, to her unspeakable joy and relief, Huldah had not been sent to Uncle Tom or to the workhouse. The latter fate she had dreaded even more than the former, for if she had been sent to the workhouse she certainly would have had to part with Dick; whereas, if she had gone back to the caravan, she would have had both him and Charlie, and she would rather endure hunger and beatings than lose Dick.
She had, though, escaped both fates, and life for the time seemed to Huldah almost too beautiful to be anything but a dream, for it had been arranged that both she and Dick were to stay on for the present with Martha Perry in the cottage. Since the night of the attempted robbery Mrs. Perry had been very ailing and nervous. She could not bear Dick to leave the house, when once twilight began to fall, and she would not have stayed there at all at night without him. She had grown to rely on the lanky yellow creature as though he had been a man. No harm, she felt, could come to her or her hens, as long as Dick was about the house or garden.
She needed company and help too, so Huldah was to stay on, to keep the cottage tidy, and run the errands, and be at hand, in case Mrs. Perry was ill again.
A tiny room, which was scarcely more than a cupboard or a 'lean-to' jutting out over the scullery, was transformed into a bedroom for Huldah. A little iron bed was sent down from the vicarage, and sheets and blankets, a chair, and even a little square looking-glass to hang on the wall. Huldah was in a perfect turmoil of glad excitement. She thought her room perfectly beautiful, and from the little window she could look right over the back garden, and away to a great stretch of country beyond.
"I don't know what to do for a chest of drawers for you," said Mrs. Perry, thoughtfully; "you ought to have something to put your clothes in." But Huldah pooh-poohed the idea.
"Oh, I shan't want anything," she said, cheerfully; "you see I haven't got any clothes."
"Ah, but wait," said Mrs. Perry, knowingly, then stopped abruptly, and said no more. Huldah did not understand. "If I can sell some baskets, I'll be able to get an apron or two," she said, gravely. "I'd like fine to have some, but I could keep them on my chair."
Mrs. Perry smiled. "A box would be better. If I could get you a nice big box, that would do for the time, wouldn't it?"
"Oh yes, that would do grand," agreed Huldah, readily, "but don't you worry about it, ma'am. I've got to make my baskets first and sell them, and then I'll have the aprons to make; there won't be any need to worry till I've got them," she added, in her old-fashioned thoughtful way. "Wouldn't it be lovely, ma'am," she added, a moment later, "to have a new frock, a whole real new one?" It took a moment for such a possibility to even enter her head. "A blue one," she added, revelling in it, now it had come, "and a blue hat, too! Oh my!" She looked at Mrs. Perry with clasped hands and eyes full of rapture. "I've never had a new frock or hat, not in all my life. I suppose some people do?"
"Yes, some do," agreed Mrs. Perry, gravely. Then a bright smile passed over her face, and her eyes lighted up almost as eagerly as Huldah's had, a moment before. Miss Carew's pony-cart had come jingling down the lane, and had drawn up before the garden gate.
Huldah sprang forward gladly to open the door, but Mrs. Perry was at it first. "I will go," she said, hastily, "I understand Miss Rose wants me."
Huldah, puzzled and disappointed, did not move another step. Through the open door she saw the dear fat pony, and longed to pat him; she saw Miss Rose smiling and talking, and longed to be there to receive one of her smiles. She saw her too lifting boxes and bundles out of the pony-cart, and piling them in Mrs. Perry's arms.
"Why can't I go out and help?" she asked herself. Everyone was out there, even Dick, and she felt forlorn and left out. Then she saw Miss Carew fasten the pony to the railings by his strap, and, picking up the last of the boxes, follow Mrs. Perry up the garden.
"Good morning, brownie," she said, brightly, and her voice and smile drove the "left out" feeling from Huldah's heart in a moment.
"I am trying to pretend to be a good fairy to-day, but I am too big and clumsy for the part."
Huldah gazed wonderingly, not understanding.
"I wanted you to have some new clothes, brownie, so I waved my wand,—and here they are."
"New—clothes!" gasped Huldah, "for me!" She looked round, and caught sight of Mrs. Perry's face, wreathed in glad smiles. "But I never have any, miss, I was telling Mrs. Perry so as you drove up. Old ones is plenty good enough for me. I should be afraid to wear new ones, for fear of spoiling them."
"Then you must learn to, little brownie. Oh, you have lots to learn yet. There's only one thing I am sorry for, you won't be a brownie any longer, nor yet a fairy dressed in green"; and with the same she whisked the cover off the big box she had been carrying, and there lay neatly folded three little plain print frocks, one lavender, one pink, and one blue.
Huldah cried aloud in sheer amazement. She had never seen anything so pretty in her life. Underneath the frocks were some plain holland aprons. Huldah began to fear it was all a beautiful dream, from which she would awaken presently.
"Open that other box, please, Mrs. Perry," said Miss Rose, briskly; and in that one was a neat sun-hat, with a black ribbon bow on it, and beneath the hat were two little pink cotton petticoats, some calico garments, some stockings and handkerchiefs.
Huldah by that time was in such a state of excitement, she could no longer exclaim, she could hardly breathe, and when the last of the parcels was opened, and disclosed a pair of good boots and a pair of slippers, the tears which had gradually been welling up in her eyes fell over, and with a sob she threw her arms round Mrs. Perry and buried her face on her breast.
"Oh, it's too much, it's too much, I can't take it all! I can't do anything for anybody, and I can't pay for nothing. I haven't got any money, and you mustn't give me such a lot—"
"Huldah, dear," said Miss Rose, softly, laying a gentle hand on the little girl's shaking shoulders, "You have what is better than money. You have a kind, willing heart, and a wise little head, and these are of more value than money, for no money can buy them, but you have given them both to us all this time, asking no return. And you know, dear, brownies are always repaid in this way. You can soon pay for these things, by taking care of Mrs. Perry, doing all you can to help her, and making her happy and comfortable. Then, with your basket-making you will be able to earn enough to clothe yourself in the future, and perhaps help others as well. So don't cry, child, but turn round and smile, and let us see how nice you look in one of your new frocks."
Huldah swung round eagerly, her cheeks flushed, her eyes sparkling with happiness. "Oh yes, yes, so I can. I'll be able to help by-and-by! Oh, Miss Rose, you are so kind to me, I don't hardly know what to say, it seems as if it can't be real, its all too beautiful."
"It isn't too beautiful, brownie. Life can be as beautiful as any dream, even more so. It all depends upon ourselves, and what we make it for each other."
"Oh, I will try to make it beautiful for those who are so good to me," thought Huldah, with almost passionate determination, as she arrayed herself in some of her new clothes; and her heart beat fast and her spirits rose, as she dreamed beautiful dreams of her coming life.
All this had happened the day before, and now Huldah stood in the garden in her blue print frock and holland apron, her hair well brushed and shining, her face full of sober gladness. On the line hung the old brown frock, which had been washed and spread out to dry.
"Life can be as beautiful as any dream, even more beautiful. It all depends upon ourselves, and what we make of it for each other." As she stood looking away from the garden to the quiet sunny stretch of country beyond, the words echoed and re-echoed through her brain, "What we make of it for each other."
"Why, of course," she thought to herself, "the world is just the same, the sun and the breeze, the earth and the sky, just the same as they were when I was living with Uncle Tom and Aunt Emma. 'Tis Miss Rose and Mrs. Perry who have made it all seem so beautiful. Just fancy two people making such a difference. I wish, oh, I wish I could make something seem beautiful to somebody, just as they have for me."
The busy hens had ceased their scratching, to gaze wonderingly at the little blue figure standing so still in the path near them. Dick sat in front of her, and stared up at her with perplexed, uneasy eyes. It was unlike his little mistress to be dressed as she was, and to be so quiet. A little whimper of distress broke from him, he could bear the silence no longer. The sound roused Huldah from her reverie. "Why, Dick, what's the matter?" she cried, throwing her arm round him, and kissing the top of his head. "Why, there's nothing to fret about now, it's all lovely. You and me have got a home, and we've got work to do, and oh, Dick, we've got to do a lot, to make up for all that's been done for us; and we'll do it, won't we, old man! We'll never mind what we do, as long as it's to help somebody."
Dick wriggled and wagged his tail in joyful assent, and barked loudly, to show how much he appreciated the arrangement.
Mrs. Perry came to the door, looking down the garden, to see if they were there. "Huldah," she called, "Huldah! I want you to go into the village to get some tea; we have run out, and we want some sugar, too."
Huldah turned and ran quickly into the house. She was quite ready to go, but in her heart of hearts she always shrank a little from going into the village; the people stared at her so, and asked all manner of questions, which she found it difficult to answer.
A little girl and a dog cannot arrive in a village as though they had dropped out of the sky, without, of course, people wanting to know who they are, and where they come from, and why they came, and with whom they lived before, and with whom they are staying now, and how long they are going to stay.
Mrs. Perry had adopted Huldah as her niece, but a number of people in the village did not really believe she was so, and, having very little to do or think about, they were anxious to find out, and Huldah, when she did go amongst them, found it very trying.
Dick did not find it trying, though, he loved a walk, no matter in what direction it lay, and questions and curiosity did not trouble him at all. He looked wistfully from Huldah to Mrs. Perry, begging with his eyes that he might be allowed to go too.
"Yes, take him," said Mrs. Perry; "it is only three o'clock, and you'll be back by four. I don't mind being alone in broad daylight like this." So Huldah, not a little pleased with her appearance in her pretty blue frock and new hat, started off, basket in hand, and Dick, very proud and pleased, trotted off beside her.
It was not until she drew near the village that she began to wonder what the people would think of the change in her appearance, and a great shyness seized her, and reluctance to go on and meet their looks of surprise, and their open remarks. The feeling grew and grew with every step she took, until she had begun to wonder if she could ever bring herself to face them, when suddenly her mind was lifted off her fears by the extraordinary behaviour of Dick.
Growling savagely, his hair rising stiffly along his back, he was walking more and more slowly, and drawing in closer and closer to Huldah, as his habit was when he felt he must protect her.
"Why, Dick," she cried, puzzled and half-alarmed, "what is it old man? whatever is the matter?" Then, her eyes following the direction of his, she saw, standing by a gate deep-set in the hedge, two young men. To her they seemed harmless enough, just two ordinary-looking strangers, and if it had not been for Dick's behaviour, she would have passed them by without a thought. But evidently they were not harmless in Dick's eyes, for his growls and snarls grew louder and more forbidding the nearer he approached.
The men looked surprised and frightened, and, like most frightened people, they lost their tempers. "Hold in your dog, can't you?" cried one. "You've no right to keep a brute like that."
At the sound of the man's voice Huldah felt a shock of surprise, and Dick's anger increased alarmingly. Where had she heard that voice before? She was sure it sounded familiar.
Without replying, she laid her hand on Dick's collar, and held him close to her.
The other man grew more threatening. "I'll go to the p'lice, and tell 'em you've got a savage dog that ought to be shot, 'cause he isn't safe!" he shouted out, furious with anger and fear.
"He isn't savage, he's good-tempered," Huldah burst forth, at last. "He won't hurt anybody unless they was up to no good, and—and deserved it." She was very near the verge of tears, but she felt she must not break down then.
"Call him good-tempered, do you? We wasn't doing anything but just standing here, and he come along ready to fly at our throats!"
Huldah could not deny the man's statement, nor could she explain. The men certainly seemed to be doing no harm, and Dick's behaviour was very extraordinary. All she could do was to clutch his collar with all her strength, and hurry away as fast as she could go. All thoughts of the village people's looks and remarks were gone from her mind now. She was shaking with nervousness and excitement and fears for Dick, and could think of nothing else.
How she did her errands she never knew, for the scare had driven almost everything else out of her head, her one idea being to hurry home as quickly as possible, and get herself and Dick into safety. The men were strangers to her, and she hoped they would never find out where she and Dick lived.
All the way back until she got past the gateway she still clutched Dick by the collar, much to his surprise and annoyance, for there was much to interest him on a walk like that, and he had quite forgotten his anger and the strangers who had aroused it.
When they had got safely past the dreaded gateway, Huldah's fears calmed down a little.
The men had departed, and all the road ahead of them looked empty.
"You may run now, Dickie," she said, with a sigh of relief, "and don't go getting into any more rows, for I can't bear it."
Dick, with a joyous flick of his tail and a bark of delight, bounded forward delightedly, and Huldah, free at last to attend to other things, looked over her parcels anxiously, to see if she had forgotten anything, for she had really only had half her wits about her when she was in the shop.
"Tea, sugar, box of matches—" A sharp yell made her look up quickly, her heart seeming to stand still with terror. It was Dick's voice, and Dick was in the middle of the road rolling about and crying out sharply, in evident pain.
"Dick! Dick! Come here, what has happened? Oh, Dick!" she called frantically, as she flew to his side; but before she could reach him a big stone came whizzing from the hedge, and another sharp cry of pain showed that poor Dick had been struck again.
"Oh, Dick, Dick dear! what have they done to you?" she cried, dropping on her knees in the dust beside him. The dog tried to struggle to his feet, but could not; every movement caused him to yelp with pain. He looked up at her imploringly, and licked her hand, as she put her arm under him to raise him, and the pain and helplessness in his loving eyes made her tears overflow. What was she to do? He was too big and heavy for her to carry all the way home. She looked about her helplessly, but there was no one in sight, or likely to be at that time of the day; only those two cowards hiding behind the hedge; for it had not taken Huldah long to guess who Dick's assailants were.
From time to time Dick gave a little whimper, and Huldah lifted his head upon her lap; but she was almost afraid to touch him, lest she should cause him more pain. How long, she wondered miserably, would it be before help came? Would those cowards throw more stones? It was horrible to stay there alone with that cowardly heartless pair hidden behind the hedge, and the feeling that at any moment more stones might be hurled at Dick. To protect him she placed herself between him and the hedge.
At last, at long last, when she had begun to wonder anxiously if night would fall and still find her there; and to think how frightened Mrs. Perry must be getting already, the sound of wheels struck on her ears, and it seemed to her the most welcome sound she had ever heard in her life.
The cowards heard it too, apparently, for "Come on, Bill," called a low voice, in the direction of the hedge. Huldah gave a great start of surprise. Where had she heard that voice and those very words before? Why, of course, it was all plain now. That first night at the cottage, the barn, the fowl-robbers!—it all came back to her with a rush. No wonder Dick had been angry when he saw them again,— and she, in her stupidity, had blamed him for showing temper. Dear clever, wise, brave Dick! He, too, recognised the voice now, and growled again with all his former spirit. Huldah's indignation rose beyond control. "Oh, you cowards!" she called out in a shrill angry voice, "I know you now. You came robbing a hen-roost, and the dog drove you off. You ran away from him, but he bit your legs. No wonder he growled when he saw you again. He knew what you were. I wish now I hadn't held him in. I wish I'd let him go at you, then p'raps it would have been you lying in the road howling, not him. Oh, you thieves and cowards!"
Her voice rang out clear and loud, but how much the men heard no one will ever know. Probably they did not stay to hear much, for the last thing they wanted was to meet people, or to run any risk of being seen.
The wheels drew nearer, then the vicarage pony-carriage came round the bend. For one moment Miss Carew stared bewildered at the group in the middle of the road, the little blue-clad girl, the yellow dog, and the basket of groceries all on the ground in the dust together; then she saw that something was wrong, and sprang out quickly to their assistance.
"Why, brownie! What has happened?" she cried, alarmed. "Dick, oh, poor old doggie, whatever have you been doing?"
Well she might ask, for poor Dick was covered with dust. He had a lump on his head, and a cut on his shoulder, and he could not help whining, as he made another effort to rise to greet her.
Then, amidst sobs and tears Huldah told her story, and Dick meanwhile looked up at her, a little protecting whimper escaping him from time to time. Now that the strain was over, and relief had come, Huldah broke down completely for a time. She was trembling in every limb, and was white to the lips. Miss Rose saw that the best thing for them both was to get them home as quickly as possible.
Half lifting Huldah, she helped her into the carriage. Then she put Dick in across her lap, and her basket at her feet, and finally got in herself.
"Now then," she said, cheeringly, "we shall soon be home, and Dick shall have his bruises bathed and his poor leg bound up. Don't cry any more, brownie, or you will frighten Mrs. Perry, and we mustn't do that on any account, must we? Dick is going to be very brave—he always is—and you are going to be as plucky as Dick. See there, he is better already," as the invalid gave a bark of excitement, at the sight of some sparrows in the road.
Huldah smiled, then laughed. If Dick was all right, nothing else seemed to matter. Dick turned his head and smiled up at her, to assure her he was better; and so, on the whole, it was quite a cheerful little party which drew up a few moments later before Mrs. Perry's gate.
HULDAH GOES SHOPPING.
Though she made light of it to Mrs. Perry, the fright she had received kept Huldah in a very nervous state for many a day to come. She lived always in a constant dread of some harm coming to poor Dick, and she was never really easy if he was out of her sight. By day, her eyes were here, there, and everywhere, fearful that somewhere those two dreaded figures might be lurking about, waiting to attack or steal her Dick; and at night she lay awake hour after hour, thinking she heard sounds in the house or the garden. Half-a-dozen times she would get out of her bed, shaking with nervousness, yet unable to lie still, and peer out, to see if they really were getting over the garden wall or not, and always she longed for the night to be over. She felt safer when she was up and about, with Dick under her eye.
Miss Carew grew quite troubled about her—about them both, in fact, for Huldah's nervousness, though she tried to keep it to herself, could scarcely be concealed from Mrs. Perry.
Something must be done to distract the child's mind, she felt,—but what? And then, as though to solve the difficulty for her, came an order for half a dozen of Huldah's pretty baskets.
No other cure she could have found would have been half so good. Huldah's spirits went up to a pitch of delight such as she had never known before. She was full of gratitude and of eagerness to begin, and if Miss Rose had not been able to drive her in to Belmouth that very day to buy the raffia, there was, as Miss Rose said, no knowing what might have happened.
Huldah liked the work, and she had done so little lately that the thought of going back to it was a pleasure in itself, but best of all was the thought of what she would do with the money when she got it. That thought kept her in one thrill of joy.