***Transcriber's Notes: The partial phrase—"Child, it shall not be done," consoled the—appears naturally in the original version on page 191 (Chapter VII, section II), and in a printer's error, is inserted between two halves of a hyphenated word on page 204; the latter was omitted. The use of hyphens in words was made consistent throughout. Variant spelling and dialect was faithfully preserved.***
Explorers of the Dawn
NEW BORZOI NOVELS SPRING, 1922
WANDERERS Knut Hamsun
MEN OF AFFAIRS Roland Pertwee
THE FAIR REWARDS Thomas Beer
I WALKED IN ARDEN Jack Crawford
GUEST THE ONE-EYED Gunnar Gunnarsson
THE GARDEN PARTY Katherine Mansfield
THE LONGEST JOURNEY E. M. Forster
THE SOUL OF A CHILD Edwin Bjoerkman
CYTHEREA Joseph Hergesheimer
EXPLORERS OF THE DAWN Mazo de la Roche
THE WHITE KAMI Edward Alden Jewell
Explorers of the Dawn
by Mazo de la Roche With a Foreword by Christopher Morley
New York Alfred A Knopf 1922
Published February, 1922 Second Printing, March, 1922 Third Printing, May, 1922
Set up, electrotyped, and printed by the Vail-Ballou Co., Binghamton, N. Y. Paper supplied by W. F. Etherington & Co., New York, N. Y. Bound by the Plimpton Press, Norwood, Mass.
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
But a short while ago, A. de la R. laughed with me over the adventures of these little fellows. To the memory of that happy laughter I dedicate the book.
M. de la R.
I BURIED TREASURE 15
II THE JILT 52
III EXPLORERS OF THE DAWN 76
IV A MERRY INTERLUDE 99
V FREEDOM 127
VI D'YE KEN JOHN PEEL 160
VII GRANFA 187
VIII NOBLESSE OBLIGE 219
IX THE COBBLER AND HIS WIFE 250
X THE NEW DAY 276
The publisher has asked me to write a note of introduction to this book. Surely it needs none; but it is a pleasant task to write prefaces for other people's books. When one writes a preface to a book of one's own, one naturally grovels, deprecates, and has no opportunity to call the friendly reader's attention to what the author considers the beauties and significances of the work. How agreeable, then, to be able to do this service for another.
Moreover, one hopes that such a service may not be wholly vain. Every book has its own special audience, for whom—very likely unconsciously—it was written: the group of people, far spread over the curve of earth, who will find in that particular book just the sort of magic and wisdom that they seek. And, as every one who has studied the book business knows, books very often tragically miss just the public that was waiting for them. It is such an obscure and nebulous problem, getting the book into the hands of the people to whom it will appeal. One knows that there are thousands of readers for whom that book (whatever it may be) will mean keen pleasure. But how is one to find them and bring the volume to their eyes?
I owe to the "Atlantic Monthly" my own introduction to Miss de la Roche's writing. Several years ago, when I was acting as a modest periscope for a publishing house, I read in the "Atlantic" a fanciful little story by her which seemed to me so delicate and humorous in fancy, so refreshing and happy in expression, that I wrote to the author in the hope of some day luring her to offer a book to the house with which I was connected. We had some pleasant correspondence. Time passed: I fell from the placid ramparts of the publishing business, into the more noisy but not less happy bustle of the newspaper world. But still, though I am not a conscientious correspondent, I managed to keep occasionally in touch with Miss de la Roche. For a while I seemed highly unsuccessful as her ambassador into the high court of publishing. Then, one day, lunching with Mr. Alfred Knopf at a small tavern on Vesey Street (which was subsequently abolished by the New York City Health Department as being unfit to offer what one of the small boys in this book calls "nushment") I happened to tell him about Miss de la Roche's work. I saw his eye, an eye of special clarity and brilliance, widen and darken with that particular emotion exhibited by a publisher who feels what is vulgarly known as a "hunch." He said he would "look into" the matter; and this book is the result.
The phrase "look into" is perhaps appropriate as applied to this book. For it is one of those books where the eye of the attentive reader sees more than a mere sparkling flow of words on a running surface of narrative. Of course this is not one of those books that "everybody must read." It is not likely to become fashionable. But it seems to me so truly charming, so felicitous in subtle touches of humour, so tenderly moved with an under-running current of wistfulness, that surely it will find its own lovers; who will be, perhaps, among those who utter the names of Barrie and Kenneth Grahame with a special sound of voice.
Perhaps, since I myself was one of a family of three boys, the story of Angel, Seraph and John, makes a prejudicial claim upon my affection. I must admit that it is evident the author of the book was never herself a small boy: sometimes their imperfections are a little too perfect, too femininely and romantically conceived, to make me feel one of them. They have not quite the rowdy actuality of Mr. Tarkington's urchins. But the, fact that the whole story is told with a poet's imagination, and viewed through a golden cloud of fancy, gives us countervailing beauties that a strictly naturalistic treatment would miss. Let us not forget that we are in a "Cathedral Town"; and next door is a Bishop. And certainly in the vigorous and great-hearted Mary Ellen we stand solidly on the good earth of human nature "as is."
It is not the intention of the introducer to anticipate the reader's pleasure by selfishly pointing out some of the dainty touches of humour that will arouse the secret applause of the mind. One thing only occurs to be said. The scene of the tale is said to be in England. And yet, to the zealous observer, there will seem to be some flavours that are hardly English. The language of the excellent Mary Ellen, for instance, comes to me with a distinct cisatlantic sound. Nor can I, somehow, visualize a planked back garden in an English Cathedral Town. I am wondering about this, and I conclude that perhaps it is due to the fact that Miss de la Roche lives in Toronto, that delightful city where the virtues of both England and America are said to be subtly and consummately blended. Her story, as simple and refreshing as the tune of an old song, and yet so richly spiced with humour, perhaps presents a blend of qualities and imaginations that we would only find in Canada; for the Canadians, after all, are the true Anglo-Americans. Perhaps they do not like to be called so? But I mean it well: I mean that they combine the good qualities of both sides.
And so one wishes good fortune to this book in its task—which every book must face for itself—of discovering its destined friends. There will be some readers, I think, who will look through it as through an open window, into a land of clear gusty winds and March sunshine and volleying church bells on Sunday mornings, into a land of terrible contradictions, a land whose emigres look back to it tenderly, yet without too poignant regret—the Almost Forgotten Land of childhood.
Chapter I: Buried Treasure
Probably our father would never have chosen Mrs. Handsomebody to be our governess and guardian during the almost two years he spent in South America, had it not seemed the natural thing to hand us over to the admirable woman who had been his own teacher in early boyhood.
Had he not been bewildered by the sudden death of our young mother, he might have recalled scenes between himself and Mrs. Handsomebody that would have made him hesitate to leave three stirring boys under her entire control. Possibly he forgot that he had had his parents, and a doting aunt or two, to pad the angularities of Mrs. Handsomebody's rule, and to say whether or not her limber cane should seek his plumpest and most tender parts.
Then, too, at that period, Mrs. Handsomebody was still unmarried. As Miss Wigmore she had not yet captured and quelled the manly spirit of Mr. Handsomebody. From being a blustering sort of man, he had become, Mary Ellen said, very mild and fearful.
On his demise Mrs. Handsomebody was left in solitary possession of a tall, narrow house, in the shadow of the grey Cathedral in the rather grey and grim old town of Misthorpe. Here, Angel and The Seraph and I were set down one April morning, fresh from the country house, where we had been born; our mother's kisses still warm, one might say, on our round young cheeks.
Unaccustomed to restraint, we were introduced into an atmosphere of drabness and restraint, best typified, perhaps, by the change from our tender, springy country turf, to the dry, blistered planks of Mrs. Handsomebody's back yard. Angel, fiery, candid, inconstant; the careless possessor of a beautiful boys' treble, which was to develop into the incomparable tenor of today—next, myself, a year younger, but equally tall and courageous, in a more dogged way—then, The Seraph, three years my junior, he was just five, following where we led with a blind loyalty, "Stubborn, strong and jolly as a pie."
Truly when I think of us, as we were then, and when I remember how we came like a wild disturbing wind into that solemn house, I am inclined to pity Mrs. Handsomebody.
Even when she sent us to bed in the colossal four-poster, in the middle of the afternoon, we were scarcely downcast, for it was not such a bad playground after all, and by drawing the curtains, we could shut ourselves completely away from the world dominated by petticoats.
Then there was Mary Ellen, with her "followers," always our firm ally, brimming with boisterous good health. Looking back, I am convinced that Mrs. Handsomebody deserves our sympathy.
It was Saturday morning, and we three were in Mrs. Handsomebody's parlour—Angel, and The Seraph, and I.
No sooner had the front door closed upon the tall angular figure of the lady, bearing her market basket, than we shut our books with a snap, ran on tiptoe to the top of the stairs, and, after a moment's breathless listening, cast our young forms on the smooth walnut bannister, and glided gloriously to the bottom.
Regularly on a Saturday morning she went to market, and with equal regularity we cast off the yoke of her restraint, slid down the bannisters, and entered the forbidden precincts of the Parlour.
On other week days the shutters of this grim apartment were kept closed, and an inquisitive eye, applied to the keyhole, could just faintly discern the portrait in crayon of the late Mr. Handsomebody, presiding, like some whiskered ghost, over the revels of the stuffed birds in the glass case below him.
But on a Saturday morning Mary Ellen swept and dusted there. The shutters were thrown open, and the thin-legged piano and the haircloth furniture were furbished up for the morrow. Moreover Mary Ellen liked our company. She had a spooky feeling about the parlour. Mr. Handsomebody gave her the creeps, she said, and once when she had turned her back she had heard one of the stuffed birds twitter. It was a gruesome thought.
When we bounded in on her, Mary Ellen was dragging the broom feebly across the gigantic green and red lilies of the carpet, her bare red arms moving like listless antennae. She could, when she willed, work vigorously and well, but no one knew when a heavy mood might seize her, and render her as useless as was compatible with retaining her situation.
"Och, byes!" she groaned, leaning on her broom. "This Spring weather do be makin' me as wake as a blind kitten! Sure, I feel this mornin' like as if I'd a stone settin' on my stomach, an' me head feels as light as thistledown. I wisht the missus'd fergit to come home an' I could take a day off—but there's no such luck for Mary Ellen!"
She made a few more passes with her broom and then sighed.
"I think I'll soon be lavin' this place," she said.
A vision of the house without the cheering presence of Mary Ellen rose blackly before us. We crowded round her.
"Now, see here," said Angel masterfully, putting his arms about her stout waist. "You know perfectly well that father's coming back from South America soon to make a home for us, and that you are to come and be our cook, and make apple-dumplings, and have all the followers you like."
Now Angel knew whereof he spoke, for Mary Ellen's "followers" were a bone of contention between her and her mistress.
"Aw, Master Angel," she expostulated, "What a tongue ye have in yer head to be sure! Followers, is it? Sure, they're the bane o' me life! Now git out av the way o' the dust, all of yez, or I'll put a tin ear on ye!" And she began to swing her broom vigorously.
We ran to the window and looked out but no sooner had we looked out than we whistled with astonishment at what we saw.
First you must know that on the west of Mrs. Handsomebody's house stood the broad, ivy-clad mansion of the Bishop, grey stone, like the Cathedral; on the east was a dingy white brick house, exactly like Mrs. Handsomebody's. In it lived Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer Pegg and their three servants.
To us they seemed very elegant, if somewhat uninteresting people. Mrs. Mortimer Pegg frequently had carriage callers, and not seldom sallied forth herself in a sedate victoria from the livery stables. But beyond an occasional flutter of excitement when their horses stopped at our very gate, there was little in this prim couple to interest us. So neat and precise were they as they tripped down the street together, that we called them (out of Mrs. Handsomebody's hearing) Mr. and Mrs. "Cribbage" Pegg.
Now, on this morning in mid-spring when we looked out of the window our eyes discovered an object of such compelling interest in the Pegg's front garden that we rubbed them again to make sure that we were broad awake.
Striding up and down the small enclosure was a tall old man wearing a brilliant-hued, flowered dressing-gown, that hung open at the neck, disclosing his long brown throat and hairy chest, and flapping negligently about his heels as he strode.
He had bushy iron-grey hair and moustache, and tufts of curly grey beard grew around his chin and ears. His nose was large and sun-burned; and every now and again he would stop in his caged-animal walk and sniff the air as though he enjoyed it.
I liked the old gentleman from the start.
"Oo-o! See the funny old man!" giggled The Seraph. "Coat like Jacob an' his bwethern!"
Angel and I plied Mary Ellen with questions. Who was he? Did he live with the Peggs? Did she think he was a foreigner? Mary Ellen, supported by her broom, stared out of the window.
"For th' love of Hiven!" she ejaculated. "If that ain't a sight now! Byes, it's Mr. Pegg's own father come home from somewheres in th' Indies. Their cook was tellin' me of the time they have wid him. He's a bit light-headed, y'see, an' has all his meals in his own room—th' quarest dishes iver—an' a starlin' for a pet, mind ye."
At that moment the old gentleman perceived that he was watched, and saluting Mary Ellen gallantly, he called out:
Mary Ellen, covered with confusion, drew back behind the curtain. I was about to make a suitable reply when I saw Mrs. Mortimer Pegg, herself, emerge from her house with a very red face, and resolutely grasp her father-in-law's arm. She spoke to him in a rapid undertone, and, after a moment's hesitation, he followed her meekly into the house.
How I sympathized with him! I knew only too well the humiliation experienced by the helpless male when over-bearing woman drags him ignominiously from his harmless recreation.
A bond of understanding seemed to be established between us at once.
The voice of Mary Ellen broke in on my reverie. She was teasing Angel to sing.
"Aw give us a chune, Master Angel before th' missus gets back! There's a duck. I'll give ye a pocket full of raisins as sure's fate!"
Angel, full of music as a bird, could strum some sort of accompaniment to any song on the piano. It was Mary Ellen's delight on a Saturday morning to pour forth her pent up feelings in one of the popular songs, with Angel to keep her on the tune and thump a chord or two.
It was a risky business. But The Seraph mounted guard at the window while I pressed my nose against the glass case that held the stuffed birds and wondered if any of them had come from South America. "How jolly," I thought, "to be there with father."
Tum-te-tum-te-tum, strummed Angel.
"Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde, And the—band—played—on."
His sweet reedy tones thrilled the April air.
And Mary Ellen's voice, robust as the whistle of a locomotive, bursting with health and spirits, shook the very cobwebs that she had not swept down.
"Casey would waltz with th' strawberry blonde, And—the—band—play—don!"
Generally we had a faithful subordinate in The Seraph. He had a rather sturdy sense of honour. On this spring morning however, I think that the singing of Mary Ellen must have dulled his sensibilities, for, instead of keeping a bright lookout up the street for the dreaded form of Mrs. Handsomebody, he lolled across the window-sill, dangling a piece of string, with the April sunshine warming his rounded back.
And as he dangled the string, Mrs. Handsomebody drew nearer and nearer. She entered the gate—she entered the house—she was in the parlour!!
Angel and Mary Ellen had just given their last triumphant shout, when Mrs. Handsomebody said in a voice of cold fury:
"Mary Ellen, kindly cease that ribald screaming. David (David is Angel's proper name) get up instantly from that piano stool and face me! John, Alexander, face me!"
We did so tremblingly.
"Now," said Mrs. Handsomebody, "you three boys go up to your bedroom—not to the schoolroom, mind—and don't let me hear another sound from you today! You shall get no dinner. At four I will come and discuss your disgraceful conduct with you. Now march!"
She held the door open for us while we filed sheepishly under her arm. Then the door closed behind us with a decisive bang, and poor Mary Ellen was left in the torture-chamber with Mrs. Handsomebody and the stuffed birds.
Angel and I scurried up the stairway. We could hear The Seraph panting as he laboured after us.
Once in the haven of our little room we rolled in a confused heap on the bed, scuffling indiscriminately. It was a favourite punishment with Mrs. Handsomebody, and we had a suspicion that she relished the fact that so much food was saved when we went dinnerless. At any rate, we were not allowed to make up the deficiency at tea-time.
We always passed the hours of our confinement on the bed, for the room was very small and the one window stared blankly at the window of an unused room in the Peggs' house, which blankly returned the stare.
But these were not dull times for us. As Elizabethan actors, striding about their bare stage, conjured up brave pictures of gilded halls or leafy forest glades, so we little fellows made a castle stronghold of our bed; or better still, a gallant frigate that sailed beyond the barren walls into unknown seas of adventure, and anchored at last off some rocky island where treasure lay hid among the hills.
What brave fights with pirates there were, when Angel as Captain, I as mate, with The Seraph for a cabin boy, fought the bloody pirate gangs on those surf-washed shores, and gained the fight, though far out-numbered!
They were not dull times in that small back room, but gay-coloured lawless times, when our fancy was let free, and we fought on empty stomachs, and felt only the wind in our faces, and heard the creak of straining cordage. What if we were on half-rations!
On this particular morning, however, there was something to be disposed of before we got to business. To wit, the rank insubordination of The Seraph. It was not to be dealt with too lightly. Angel sat up with a dishevelled head.
"Get up!" he commanded The Seraph, who obeyed wonderingly.
"Now, my man," continued Angel, with the scowl that had made him dreaded the South Seas over, "have you anything to say for yourself?"
The Seraph hung his head.
"I was on'y danglin' a bit o' stwing," he murmured.
"String"—repeated Angel, the scowl deepening, "dangling a bit of string! You may be dangling yourself at the end of a rope before the sun sets, my hearty! Here we are without any dinner, all along of you. Now see here, you'll go right over into that corner by the window with your face to the wall and stand there all the time John and I play! An'—an' you won't know what we're doing nor where we're going nor anything—so there!"
The Seraph went, weeping bitterly. He hid his face in the dusty lace window curtain. He looked very small. I could not help remembering how father had said we were to take care of him and not make him cry.
Somehow that morning things went ill with the adventure. The savour had gone out of our play. Two were but a paltry company after all. Where was the cabin-boy with his trusty dirk, eager to bleed for the cause? Though we kept our backs rigorously turned to the window, and spoke only in whispers, neither of us could quite forget the presence of that dejected little figure in the faded holland smock.
After a bit The Seraph's whimpering ceased, and what was our surprise to hear the chuckling laugh with which he was wont to signify his pleasure!
We turned to look at him. His face was pressed to the window, and again he giggled rapturously.
"What's up, kid?" we demanded.
"Ole Joseph-an'-his-Bwethern," he sputtered, "winkin' an' wavin' hands wiv me!"
We were at his side like a shot, and there in the hitherto blank window of the Peggs' house stood the old gentleman of the flowered dressing-gown laughing and nodding at The Seraph! When he saw us he made a sign to us to open our window, and at the same instant raised his own.
It took the three of us to accomplish it, for the window moved unreadily, being seldom raised, as Mrs. Handsomebody regarded fresh air much as she regarded a small boy, as something to be kept in its place.
At last the window rose, protesting and creaking, and the next moment we were face to face with our new acquaintance.
"Hello!" he said, in a loud jovial voice.
"Hello!" said we, and stared.
He had a strong, weather-beaten face, and wide-open light eyes, blue and wild as the sea.
"Hello, boy!" he repeated, looking at Angel, "What's your name?"
Now Angel was shy with strangers, so I usually answered questions.
"His name," I replied then, "is David Curzon but mother called him Angel, so we jus' keep on doing it."
"Oh," said the old gentleman. Then he fixed The Seraph with his eye. "What's the bantling's name?"
The Seraph, mightily confused at being called a bantling, giggled inanely, so I replied again.
"His name is Alexander Curzon, but mother called him The Seraph, so we jus' keep on doing it too."
"Um-hm," assented the old gentleman, "and you—what's your name?"
"John," I replied.
"Oh," he said, with an odd little smile, "and what do they keep on calling you?"
"Just John," I answered firmly, "nothing else."
"Who's your father?" came the next question.
"He's David Curzon, senior," I said proudly, "and he's in South America building a railroad an' Mrs. Handsomebody used to be his governess when he was a little boy, so he left us with her, but some day, pretty soon, I think, he's coming back to make a really home for us with rabbits an' puppies an' pigeons an' things."
Our new friend nodded sympathetically. Then, quite suddenly, he asked:
"Where's your mother?"
"She's in Heaven," I answered sadly, "she went there two months ago."
"Yes," broke in The Seraph eagerly, "but she's comin' back some day to make a weally home for us!"
"Shut up!" said Angel gruffly, poking him with his elbow.
"The Seraph's very little," I explained apologetically, "he doesn't understand."
The old gentleman put his hand in the pocket of his dressing-gown.
"Bantling," he said with his droll smile, "do you like peppermint bull's-eyes?"
"Yes," said The Seraph, "I yike them—one for each of us."
Whereupon this extraordinary man began throwing us peppermints as fast as we could catch them. It was surprising how we began to feel at home with him, as though we had known him for years.
He had travelled all over the world it seemed, and he brought many curious things to the window to show us. One of these was a starling whose wicker cage he placed on the sill where the sunlight fell.
He had got it, he said, from one of the crew of a trading vessel off the coast of Java. The sailor had brought it all the way from Devon for company, and, he added—"the brute had put out both its eyes so that it would learn to talk more readily, so now, you see, the poor little fellow is quite blind."
"Blind—blind—blind!" echoed the starling briskly, "blind—blind—blind!"
He took it from its cage on his finger. It hopped up his arm till it reached his cheek, where it began to peck at his whiskers, crying all the while in its shrill, lonely tones,—"Blind, blind, blind!"
We three were entranced; and an idea that was swiftly forming in my mind struggled for expression.
If this wonderful old man had, as he said, sailed the seas from Land's End to Ceylon, was it not possible that he had seen, even fought with, real pirates? Might he not have followed hot on the trail of hidden treasure? My cheeks burned as I tried to put the question.
"Did you—" I began, "did you—"
"Well?" he encouraged. "Did I what, John?"
"Oh, did you," I burst out, "ever see a pirate ship, an' pirates—real ones?"
His face lit up.
"Surely," he replied casually, "many an one."
"P'raps—" ventured Angel, with an excited laugh, "p'raps you're one yourself!"
The old gentleman searched our eager faces with his wide-open, sea blue eyes, then he looked cautiously into the room behind him, and, apparently satisfied that no one could overhear, he put his hand to the side of his mouth, and said in a loud hoarse whisper—
"That I am. Pirate as ever was!"
I think you could have knocked me down with a feather. I know my knees shook and the room reeled. The Seraph was the first to recover, piping cheerfully—
"I yike piwates!"
"Yes," repeated the old gentleman, reflectively, "pirate as ever was. The things I've seen and done would fill the biggest book you ever saw, and it'd make your hair stand on end to read it—what with fights, and murders, and hangings, and storms, and shipwreck, and the hunt for gold! Many a sweet schooner or frigate I've sunk, or taken for myself; and there isn't a port on the South Seas where women don't hush their children crying with the fear of Captain Pegg."
Then he added hastily, as though he feared he had gone too far:
"But I'm a changed man, mark you—a reformed man. If things suit me pretty well here I don't think I shall break out again. It is just that you chaps seem so sympathetic makes me tell you all this; but you must swear never to breathe a word of it, for no one knows but you. My son and daughter-in-law think I'm an archaeologist. It'd be an awful shock to them to find that I'm a pirate."
We swore the blackest secrecy, and were about to ply him with a hundred questions, when we saw a maid carrying a large tray enter the room behind him.
Captain Pegg, as I must now call him, gave us a gesture of warning and began to lower his window. A pleasant aroma of roast beef came across the alley. The next instant the flowered dressing-gown had disappeared and the window opposite stared blankly as before.
Angel blew a deep breath. "Did you notice," he said, "how different he got once he had told us he was a pirate—wilder and rougher, and used more sailor words?"
"However did you guess it first?" I asked admiringly.
"I think I know a pirate when I see one," he returned loftily. "But, oh I say, wouldn't Mrs. Handsomebody be waxy if she knew?"
"An' wouldn't Mary Ellen be scared stiff if she knew?"
"An' won't we have fun? Hurray!"
We rolled in ecstasy on the much-enduring bed.
We talked excitedly of the possibilities of such a wonderful and dangerous friendship. And as it turned out, none of our imaginings equalled what really happened.
The afternoon passed quickly. As the hands of our alarm clock neared the hour of four we obliterated the traces of our sojourn on the bed as well as we could, and, when Mrs. Handsomebody entered, she found us sitting in a row on the three cane-bottomed chairs, on which we hung our clothes at night.
The scolding she gave us was even longer and more humiliating to our manhood than usual. She shook her hard white finger near our faces and said that for very little she would write to our father and complain of our actions.
"Now," she said, in conclusion, "give your faces and hands a thorough washing and comb your hair, which is disgraceful; then come quietly down to tea." The door closed behind her.
"What beats me," said Angel, lathering his hands, "is why that wart on her chin wiggles so when she jaws us! I can't keep my eyes off it."
"It wiggles," piped The Seraph, as he dragged a brush over his curls, "'cos it's nervous, an' I wiggle when she scolds too, 'cos I'm nervous."
"Don't you worry, old man," Angel responded, gaily, "we'll take care of you."
We were in fine spirits despite our scolding. Indeed, we almost pitied Mrs. Handsomebody for her ignorance of the wonders amongst which she had her being.
Here she was, fussing over some stuffed birds in a glass case, when a live starling, who could talk, had perched near her very window sill! She spent hours in conversation with her Unitarian minister, while a real pirate lived next door.
It was pitiful, and yet it was very funny. We found it hard to go quietly down to tea with such thoughts in our minds, and after five hours in our bedroom.
The next day was Sunday.
As we sat at dinner with Mrs. Handsomebody after morning service, we were scarcely conscious of the large, white dumplings that bulged before us, with a delicious sticky sweet sauce, trickling down their dropsical sides. We plied our spoons with languid interest around their outer edges, as calves nibble around a straw stack. Our vagrant minds scoured the Spanish Main with Captain Pegg.
Suddenly The Seraph spoke in that cock-sure way of his.
"There's a piwate at Peggs."
Mrs. Handsomebody looked at him sharply.
"What's that?" she demanded. At the same instant Angel and I kicked him under cover of the table.
"What did you say?" repeated Mrs. Handsomebody sternly.
"Funny ole gennelman at the Cwibbage Peggs," replied The Seraph with his mouth full.
Mrs. Handsomebody greatly respected Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer Pegg, and this play of words on the name incensed her.
"Am I to understand Alexander," she gobbled, "that you are making game of the Mortimer Peggs?"
"Yes," giggled the wretched Seraph, "it's a cwibbage game. You play it wiv Peggs."
"Leave the table instantly!" ordered Mrs. Handsomebody. "You are becoming unbearable."
The Seraph cast one anguished look at his dumpling and burst into tears. We could hear his wails growing ever fainter as he plodded up the stairs.
"Mary Ellen, remove that dumpling!" commanded Mrs. Handsomebody.
Angel and I began to eat very fast. There was a short silence; then Mrs. Handsomebody said didactically:
"The elder Mr. Pegg is a much travelled gentleman, and one of the most noted archaeologists of the day. A trifle eccentric in his manner perhaps but a deep thinker. David, can you tell me what an archaeologist is?"
"Something you pretend you are," said Angel, "and you ain't."
"Nonsense!" snapped Mrs. Handsomebody. "Look it up in your Johnson's when you go upstairs, and let me know the result. I will excuse you now."
We found The Seraph lounging in a chair in the schoolroom.
"Too bad about the dumpling, old boy," I said consolingly.
"Oh, not too bad," he replied. "Mary Ellen fetched it up the backstairs to me. I'm vewy full."
That afternoon we saw Captain Pegg go for a walk with his son and daughter-in-law. He looked quite altered in a long grey coat and tall hat. Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer Pegg seemed proud to walk with him.
The following day was warm and sunny. When lessons were over we rushed to our bedroom window and to our joy we found that the window opposite was wide open, the wicker cage on the sill with the starling inside swelling up and preening himself in the sunshine, while just beyond sat Captain Pegg smoking a long pipe.
He seemed delighted to see us.
"Avast, my hearties!" he cried. "It's glorious sailing weather, but I've just been lying at anchor here, on the chance of sighting you. It does my heart good, y'see, to talk with some of my own kind, and leave off pretending to be an archaeologist—to stretch my mental legs, as it were. Well—have you taken your bearings this morning?"
"Captain Pegg," I broke out with my heart tripping against my blouse, "you said something the other day about buried treasure. Did you really find some? And would you mind telling us how you set about it?"
"Yes," he replied meditatively, "many a sack of treasure trove I've unearthed—but the most curious find of all, I got without searching and without blood being spilt. I was lying quiet those days, about forty years ago, off the north of the Orkney islands. Well, one morning I took a fancy to explore some of the outlying rocks and little islands dotted here and there. So I started off in a yawl with four seamen to row me; and not seeing much but barren rocks and stunted shrubs about, I bent over the stern and stared into the sea. It was as clear as crystal.
"As we were passing through a narrow channel between two rock islands, I bade the men rest on their oars, for something strange below had arrested my attention. I now could see plainly, in the green depths, a Spanish galleon, standing upright, held as in a vice, by the grip of the two great rocks. She must have gone down with all hands, when the greater part of the Spanish Armada was wrecked on the shores of Britain.
"'Shiver my timbers, lads,' I cried. 'Here'll be treasure in earnest! Back to the ship for our diving suits—booty for everyone, and plum duff for dinner!'
"Well, to make a long story short, I, and four of the trustiest of the crew, put on our diving suits, and soon we were walking the slippery decks once trodden by Spanish grandees and soldiers, and the scene of many a bloody fight I'll be bound. Their skeletons lay about the deck, wrapped in sea-tangle, and from every crevice of the galleon, tall, red, and green, and yellow, and purple weeds had sprung, that waved and shivered with the motion of the sea. Her decks were strewn with shells and sand, and in and out of her rotted ribs frightened fish darted at our approach. It was a gruesome sight.
"Three weeks we worked, carrying the treasure to our own ship, and I began to feel as much at home under water as above it. At last we set sail without mishap, and every man on board had his share and some of them gave up pirating and settled down as inn-keepers and tradesmen."
As the sound of his deep voice ceased, we three were silent also, gazing longingly into his eyes that were so like the sea.
Then—"Captain Pegg," said Angel, in a still, small voice, "I don't—s'pose—you'd know of any hidden treasure hereabouts? We'd most awfully like to find some. It'd be a jolly thing to write and tell father!"
A droll smile flickered over the bronzed features of Captain Pegg. He brought down his fist on the window-sill.
"Well, if you aren't chaps after my own heart!" he cried. "Treasure about here? I was just coming to that—and a most curious happening it is! There was a cabin-boy—name of Jenks—a lad that I trusted and loved like my own son, who stole the greater part of my share of the treasure, and, though I scoured the globe for him—" the Captain's eyes rolled fiercely—"I found neither trace of him nor the treasure, till two years ago. It was in Madagascar that I received a message from a dying man, confessing that, shaken by remorse, he had brought what was left of the plunder and buried it in Mrs. Handsomebody's back yard!"
"Mrs. Handsomebody's back yard!" We chanted the words in utter amazement.
"Just that," affirmed Captain Pegg solemnly. "Jenks found out that I owned the house next door but he dared not bury the treasure there because the yard was smoothly sodded, and would show up any disturbance; while Mrs. Handsomebody's yard, being covered with planks, was just the thing. So he simply raised one of the planks, dug a hole, and deposited the sack containing the last of the treasure, and wrote me his confession. And there you are!"
He smiled benignly on us. I longed to hug him.
The March wind swooped and whistled down the alley, and the starling gave little sharp twittering noises and cocked his head.
"When, oh when—" we burst out—"tonight? May we search for it tonight, Captain Pegg?"
He reflected. "No-o. Not tonight. Jenks, you see, sent me a plan of the yard with a cross to mark where the treasure lies, and I'll have to hunt it up so as not to waste our time turning up the whole yard. But tomorrow night—yes, tomorrow at midnight we'll start the search!"
At dinner that day the rice pudding had the flavor of ambrosia. By nightfall preparations were already on foot.
Firstly the shovel had been smuggled from the coal cellar and secreted in a corner of the yard behind the ash barrel together with an iron crowbar to use as a lever and an empty sack to aid in the removal of the treasure.
I scarcely slept that night, and when I did my mind was filled with wild imaginings. The next morning we were heedless scholars indeed, and at dinner I ate so little that Mrs. Handsomebody was moved to remark jocularly that somebody not a thousand miles away was shaping for a bilious bout.
At four o'clock Captain Pegg appeared at his window looking the picture of cheerful confidence. He said it warmed his heart to be at his old profession again, and indeed I never saw a merrier twinkle in any one's eyes. He had found the plan of the yard sent by Jenks and he had no doubt that we should soon be in possession of the Spanish treasure.
"But there's one thing, my lads;" he said solemnly, "I make no claim whatever to any share in this booty. Let that be understood. Anything we find is to be yours entirely. If I were to take any such goods into my son's house, his wife would get suspicious, uncomfortable questions would be asked, and it'd be all up with this archaeologist business."
"Couldn't you hide it under your bed?" I suggested.
"Oh, she'd be sure to find it," he replied sadly. "She's into everything. And even if they didn't locate it till I am dead, they'd feel disgraced to think their father had been a pirate. You'll have to take it."
We agreed, therefore, to ease him of the responsibility of his strangely gotten gain. We then parted with the understanding that we were to meet him in the passage between the two houses promptly at midnight, and that in the meantime we were to preserve a calm and commonplace demeanour.
With the addition of four crullers and a slab of cold bread pudding filched from the pantry, our preparations were now complete.
We were well disciplined little animals; we always went to bed without a murmur, but on this night we literally flew there. The Seraph ended his prayers with—"and for this piwate tweasure make us twuly thankful. Amen."
The next moment we had dived under the bed clothes and snuggled there in wild expectancy.
From half past seven to twelve is a long stretch. The Seraph slept peacefully. Angel or I rose every little while and struck a match to look at the clock. At nine we were so hungry that we ate all four crullers. At eleven we ate the slab of cold bread pudding. After that we talked less, and I think Angel dozed, but I lay staring in the direction of the window, watching for the brightness which would signify that Captain Pegg was astir and had lighted his gas.
At last it came—a pale and trembling messenger, that showed our little room to me in a new aspect—one of mystery and grotesque shadows.
I was on my feet in an instant. I shook Angel's shoulder.
"Up with you!" I whispered, hoarsely. "The hour has come!"
I knew that drastic measures must be taken with The Seraph, so I just grasped him under the armpits and stood him on his feet without a word. He wobbled for a space, digging his knuckles in his eyes.
The hands of the clock pointed to ten minutes to twelve.
Angel and I hastily pulled on our trousers; and he, who liked to dress the part, stuck a knife in his belt, and twisted a scarlet silk handkerchief (borrowed from Mary Ellen) round his head. His dark eyes glistened under its folds.
The Seraph and I went unadorned, save that he girt his trusty sword about his stout middle and I carried a toy bayonet.
Down the inky-black stairs we crept, scarcely breathing. The lower hall seemed cavernous. I could smell the old carpets and the haircloth covering of the chairs. We sidled down the back hall among goloshes, umbrellas, and Turk's Head dusters. The back door had a key like that of a gaol.
Angel tried it with both hands, but though it grated horribly, it stuck. Then I had a try, and could not resist a triumphant click of the tongue when it turned, for Angel was a vain fellow and took a rise out of being the elder.
And when the moonlight shone upon us in the yard!—oh, the delicious freedom of it! We hopped for joy.
In the passage we awaited our leader. Between the roofs we could see the low half-moon, hanging like a tilted bird's nest in the dark blue sky, while a group of stars fluttered near it like young birds. The Cathedral clock sounded the hour of midnight.
Soon we heard the stealthy steps of Captain Pegg, and we gasped as we saw him, for in place of his flowered dressing-gown, he wore breeches and top boots, a loose shirt with a blue neckerchief knotted at the throat, and, gleaming at his side, a cutlass.
He smiled broadly when he saw us.
"Well, if you aren't armed—every man-jack of you—even to the bantling!" he cried. "Capital!"
"My sword, she's weal," said The Seraph with dignity. "Sometimes I fight giants."
Captain Pegg then shook hands with each of us in turn, and we thrilled at being treated as equals by such a man.
"And now to work!" he said heartily. "Here is the plan of the yard as sent by Jenks."
We could see it plainly by the moonlight, all neatly drawn out, even to the ash barrel and the clothes dryer, and there, on the fifth plank from the end was a cross in red ink, and beside it the magic word—Treasure!
Captain Pegg inserted the crowbar in a wide crack between the fourth and fifth boards, then we all pressed our full weight upon it with a "Yo heave ho, my hearties!" from our chief.
The board flew up and we flew down, sprawling on the ground. Somehow the Captain, versed in such matters, kept his feet, though he staggered a bit.
Then, in an instant, we were pulling wildly at the plank to dislodge it. This we accomplished after much effort, and a dark, dank recess was disclosed.
Captain Pegg dropped to his knees and with his hand explored cautiously under the planks. His face fell.
"Shiver my timbers if I can find it!" he muttered.
"Let me try!" I cried eagerly.
Both Angel and I thrust our hands in also and fumbled among the moist lumps of earth. I felt an earth-worm writhe away.
Captain Pegg now lighted a match and held it in the aperture. It cast a glow upon our tense faces.
"Hold it closer!" implored Angel. "This way—right here—don't you see?"
At the same moment we both had seen the heavy metal ring that projected, ever so little, above the surface of the earth. We grasped it simultaneously and pulled. Captain Pegg lighted another match. It was heavy—oh, so heavy!—but we got it out—a fair-sized leather bag bound with thongs. To one of these was attached the ring we had first caught sight of.
Now, kneeling as we were, we stared up in Captain Pegg's face. His wide, blue eyes had somehow got a different look.
"Little boys," he said gently, "open it!"
There in the moonlight, we unloosed the fastenings of the bag and turned its contents out upon the bare boards. The treasure lay disclosed then, a glimmering heap, as though, out of the dank earth, we had digged a patch of moonshine.
We squatted on the boards around it, our heads touching, our wondering eyes filled with the magic of it.
"It is the treasure," murmured Angel, in an awe-struck voice, "real treasure-trove. Will you tell us, Captain Pegg, what all these things are?"
Captain Pegg, squatting like the rest of us, ran his hands meditatively through the strange collection.
"Why, strike me purple," he growled, "if that scamp Jenks hasn't kept most of the gold coins and left us only the silver! But here's three golden doubloons, all right, one apiece for ye! And here's ducats and silver florins, and pieces of eight—and some I can't name till I get the daylight on them. It's a pretty bit of treasure all told; and see here—" he held up two old Spanish watches, just the thing for gentlemen adventurers.
We boys were now delving into the treasure on our own account, and brought to light a brace of antiquated pistols, an old silver flagon, a compass, a wonderful set of chess men carved from ivory, and some curious shells, that delighted The Seraph. And other quaint things there were that we handled reverently, and coins of different countries, square and round, and some with holes bored through.
We were so intent upon our discovery that none of us heard the approaching footsteps till they were fair upon us. Then, with a start, we turned, and saw to our horror Mrs. Handsomebody and Mary Ellen, with her hair in curl-papers, and, close behind them, Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer Pegg, scantily attired, the gentleman carrying a revolver.
"David! John! Alexander!" gobbled Mrs. Handsomebody.
"Now what d'ye think of that!" came from Mary Ellen.
"Father! Have you gone quite mad?" cried Mrs. Pegg.
And—"Oh, I say Governor—" stammered the gentleman with the revolver.
Captain Pegg rose to his feet with dignity.
"These young gentlemen," he said, simply, "have with my help been able to locate some buried treasure, stolen from me years ago by a man named Jenks, and hidden here since two decades. I hereby renounce all claim to it in favour of my three brave friends!"
Mr. Pegg was bent over the treasure.
"Now, look here, sir," he said, rather sharply, "some of this seems to be quite valuable stuff—"
"I know the value of it to a penny," replied his father, with equal asperity, "and I intend it shall belong solely and wholly to these boys."
"Whatever are you rigged up like that for?" demanded his daughter-in-law.
"As gentlemen of spirit," replied Captain Pegg, patiently, "we chose to dress the part. We do what we can to keep a little glamour and gaiety in the world. Some folk—" he looked at Mrs. Handsomebody—"would like to discipline it all away."
"I think," said our governess, "that, considering it is my back yard, I have some claim to—"
"None at all, Madam—none at all!" interrupted Captain Pegg. "By all the rules of treasure-hunting, the finder keeps the treasure."
Mrs. Handsomebody was silenced. She did not wish to quarrel with the Peggs.
Mrs. Pegg moved closer to her.
"Mrs. Handsomebody," she said, winking her white eyelashes very fast, "I really do not think that you should allow your pupils to accept this—er—treasure. My father-in-law has become very eccentric of late, and I am positive that he himself buried these things very recently. Only day before yesterday, I saw that set of ivory chessmen on his writing table."
"Hold your tongue, Sophia!" shouted Captain Pegg loudly.
Mr. Mortimer Pegg looked warningly at his wife.
"All right, Governor! Don't you worry," he said taking his father's arm. "It shall be just as you say; but one thing is certain, you'll take your death of cold if you stay out in this night air." As he spoke, he turned up the collar of his coat.
Captain Pegg shook hands grandly with Angel and me, then he lifted The Seraph in his arms and kissed him.
"Good-night, bantling," he said, softly. "Sleep tight!"
He turned then to his son. "Mort," said he, "I haven't kissed a little boy like that since you were just so high."
Mr. Pegg laughed and shivered, and they went off quite amiably, arm in arm, Mrs. Pegg following, muttering to herself.
Mrs. Handsomebody looked disparagingly at the treasure. "Mary Ellen," she ordered, "help the children to gather up that rubbish, and come in at once. Such an hour it is!"
Mary Ellen, with many exclamations, assisted in the removal of the treasure to our bedroom. Mrs. Handsomebody, after seeing it deposited there, and us safely under the bed-clothes, herself extinguished the gas.
"I shall write to your father," she said, severely, "and tell him the whole circumstance. Then we shall see what is to be done with you, and with the treasure."
With this veiled threat she left us. We snuggled our little bodies together. We were cold.
"I'll write to father myself, tomorrow, an' 'splain everything," I announced.
"D' you know," mused Angel, "I b'lieve I'll be a pirate, 'stead of a civil engineer like father. I b'lieve there's more in it."
"I'll be an engineer just the same," said I.
"I fink," murmured The Seraph, sleepily, "I fink I'll jus' be a bishop, an' go to bed at pwoper times an' have poached eggs for tea."
Chapter II: The Jilt
The day after the finding of the Treasure, Mary Ellen told us that she had seen Captain Pegg drive away from his son's house in a closed cab, before we had emerged from the four-poster. There had been a quarrel, the servants had told her, and in spite of all his son and daughter-in-law could do, the peppery Captain had left them, refusing to divulge the name of his destination.
"And they do say," Mary Ellen declared, "that he's no more fit to be wanderin' about the world alone than a babe unborn."
We smiled at the ignorance of women-servants, and speculated much on the Captain's probable new adventure. We were confident that he would return one day, loaded with fresh booty, and full of tales of the sea.
In the meantime, there was the Bishop. His house, as I have said stood between us and the Cathedral. It was a benign house, like a sleepy mastiff, and seemed to tolerate with lazy indifference the presence of its two narrow, high-backed neighbours, which with their cold, unblinking windows, looked like sinister, half-fed cats.
We had not been long at Mrs. Handsomebody's before we made friends with Bishop Torrance. As he walked in his deep, green garden, one morning, we three watched him enviously over the brick wall, that separated us. We were balanced precariously on a board, laid across the ash barrel, and The Seraph, losing his balance, fell headlong into a bed of clove pinks, almost at the Bishop's feet.
When his yells had subsided and explanations asked, and given, Angel and I were lifted over the wall, and shaken hands with, and given the freedom of the garden. We were introduced to the Bishop's niece, Margery, who was his sole companion, though we regarded, as one of the family, the Fountain Boy who blew cool jets of water through a shell, and turned his laughing face always upward toward the spires of the Cathedral.
Thus a quaint friendship sprang up, and, though the Bishop had not the dash, and boldness of Captain Pegg, he was an understanding and high-hearted playfellow.
I think The Seraph was his favourite. Even then, the dignified elegance of the Bishop's life appealed to that infant's love of the comfortable, and it tickled the Bishop immensely to have him pace solemnly up and down the garden, at his side, hands clasped behind his back, helping, as he believed, to "pwepare" the Bishop's sermon.
All three of us were permitted by Mrs. Handsomebody to join the Cathedral choir.
Thus we had a feeling of proprietorship in the Bishop and his garden, and his niece, Margery, and the Fountain Boy. Hence what was our astonishment and chagrin to see one morning, from our schoolroom window, a chit of a girl, smaller than myself, strutting up and down the Bishop's garden, pushing a doll's perambulator. She had fluffy golden hair about her shoulders, and her skirts gave a rhythmic swing as she turned the corners. Now and then she would stop in her walk, remove the covering from the doll, do some idiotic thing to it, and replace the cover with elaborate care.
We stared fascinated. Then Angel blew out his lips in disgust, and said—
"Ain't girls the most sickenin' things?"
"There she goes again, messing with the doll's quilt," I agreed.
"Le's fwow somefing at her!" suggested The Seraph.
"Yes, and get into a row with the Bishop," answered Angel. "But I don't see myself going over there to play again. She's spoiled everything."
"I s'pose she's a spoiled child," said The Seraph, dreamily. "Wonder where her muvver is."
"I say," said Angel, "let's rap on the pane, and then when she looks up, we'll all stick our tongues out at her. That'll scare her all right!"
When her wondering blue eyes were raised to our window, what they saw was three white disks pressed against the glass, with a flattened pink tongue protruding from each. We glared to see the effect of this outrage upon her. But the dauntless little creature never quailed. Worse than that, she put her fingers to her lips and blew three kisses at us—one apiece.
We were staggered. We withdrew our reddened faces hastily and stared at each other. We were aghast. Almost we had been kissed by a girl!
"Let's draw the blind!" said Angel. "She shan't see us! Then we can peek through the crack and watch her."
But no sooner was the blind pulled down than we heard our governess coming and flew to our seats.
"Boys!" she gobbled, stopping in the doorway, "what does this mean? The boy who pulled down that blind stand up!"
Angel rose. "The light hurt my eyes," he lied feebly, "I aren't very well."
"Ridiculous!" snapped Mrs. Handsomebody, running up the blind with precision, "this room at its brightest is dim. Your eyes are keen enough for mischief, sir. Now we shall proceed with our arithmetic."
We floundered through the Tables, but my mind still wandered in the Bishop's garden. Resentment and curiosity struggled for mastery within me. In my mind's eye I saw her covering and uncovering the doll. Why did she do it? What did it feel like to push that "pram"? Would she drink tea from the Indian Tree cups and be allowed to strum on the piano? Oh, I wished she hadn't come! And yet—anyway, I was glad I was a boy.
As Fate had it, Angel and The Seraph had to have their hair trimmed that afternoon. My own straight blond crop grew but slowly so I was free for an hour to follow my own devices. Those led me to climb to the roof of our scullery and from there mount the high brick wall.
From this vantage point I scanned the surrounding country for signs of the interloper. There she was! There she was!
Down on her knees at the fountain's brink, her curls almost touching the water, she was sailing boats made of hollyhock petals. The doll's perambulator stood near by.
Noiselessly I crept along the wall till I reached the cherry tree that stood in the corner. Reaching its friendly branches, I let myself down, hand over hand, till, at last, I dropped lightly on the soft turf.
I sauntered then to her side, and gazed at her moodily. If she saw me she gave no sign.
In spite of myself I grew interested in the way she manipulated those boat petals. Evidently there was some system in her game but it was new to me.
"That little black seed on this boat is Jason," she said at last, without looking up, "and these little white seeds are his comrades. They're searching for The Golden Fleece. My hair is the Fleece. Come and play!"
Mutely I squatted beside her, and our two faces peered at each other in the mirror of the pool.
She gave a funny eager little laugh.
"Oh," she cried, "we match beautifully, don't we? Your hair is yellow and my hair is yellow, my eyes are blue and your eyes are blue."
"My eyes are grey, like father's," I objected.
"No, they're blue like mine. We match beautifully. Let's play something else." Before I could prevent her, she had swept Jason and his crew away, and, snatching the doll from the perambulator, had set it on the fountain's edge between us.
"This is Dorothea," she announced, "isn't she sweet? I'm her mother. You should be the father, and Dorothea should want to paddle her toes in the fountain. Now you hold her—so."
Before I was aware of it I was made to grasp the puppet by the waist, while her mistress began to rearrange the pillows in the "pram."
I glanced fearfully at our schoolroom window, lest I should be discovered in so unmanly a posture. It seemed that we were quite alone and unobserved.
A drowsy pleasure stole over my senses. The humming of the bees in the Canterbury Bells became a chant as of sirens. Dorothea's silly pink feet dangled in the pool. Surreptitiously I slipped my hand under water and felt them. They were getting spongy and seemed likely to come off. Truly there were compensations for such slavery.
My companion returned and sat down with her slim body close to mine.
"What is your name?" she cooed.
"Oh. Mine is Jane. You may call me Jenny. I'm visiting Aunt Margery. The Bishop is my great-uncle. What are your brothers' names?"
"Angel and The Seraph. They don't like girls." Instantly I wondered why I had said that. Did I like girls? Not much. But I didn't want Angel interfering in this. He had better keep away.
"My father is a judge. He sends bad men to prison."
"My father"—I was very proud of him—"is a civil engineer. He's in South America building a railroad, so that's why we live with Mrs. Handsomebody. But some day he's coming back to make a home for us. When I grow up I shall be an engineer too, and build bridges over canyons."
"What's canyons? Hold Dorothea tighter."
I explained canyons at length.
"P'raps I'll take you with me," I added weakly.
She clapped her hands rapturously.
"Oh, what fun!" she gurgled. "I can keep house and hang my washing 'cross the canyon to dry!"
Frankly I did not relish the thought of my canyon's being thus desecrated. I determined never to allow her to do any such thing, but, at the moment I was willing to indulge her fancy.
"Yes," she prattled on, "I'll wheel Dorothea up and down the bridge and watch you work."
Now there was some sense in that. What man does not enjoy being admired while he does things? In fact Jane had hit upon a great elemental truth when she suggested this. From that moment I was hers.
Laying Dorothea, toes up, on the grass I proceeded to lead Jane into the most cherished realms of my fancy. Together we sailed those "perilous seas in faery lands forlorn," dabbling our hands in the fountain, while the golden August sunshine kissed our necks.
I said not a word of this at tea. I munched my bread and butter in a sort of haze, scarcely conscious of the subdued conversation led by Mrs. Handsomebody, until I heard her say,
"A little great-niece of Bishop Torrance is visiting next door. You are therefore invited to take tea with her tomorrow afternoon. I trust you will conduct yourselves with decency at table, and remember that a frail little girl is not to be played with as a headlong boy."
I felt that she couldn't tell me anything about frail little girls, but I kept my knowledge to myself. The Seraph said—
"Was you ever a fwail little gel, Mrs. Handsomebody?" Our governess fixed him with her eye.
"I was a most decorous and obedient little girl, Alexander, and asked no impertinent questions of my elders."
"Was Mary Ellen a fwail little gel?" persisted The Seraph.
"No," snapped Mrs. Handsomebody, "judging from her characteristics as a servant, I should say that she was a very riotous, rude little girl. Now drink your milk."
"I yike wiotous wude people," said The Seraph with his face in the tumbler; the milk trickled down his chin.
"Leave the table, Alexander," commanded Mrs. Handsomebody, "your conduct is quite inexcusable." The Seraph departed, weeping.
All that evening I thought about Jane. I had no heart for a pillow fight. At night I dreamed of her, and saw her weekly washing, suspended from a line, fluttering in the wind that raced along my canyon.
I strained toward the hour when I should meet her at tea. I had never felt like this before. True, I had once conceived a violent fancy for a fat young woman in the pastry shop, but she had been replaced by a thin young woman who did not appeal to me, and the episode was forgotten.
But, oh, this bitter-sweetness of my love for Jane! My despair when I found that she was to sit next Angel at tea, till I discovered that, seated opposite, I could stare at her, and admire how she nibbled her almond cake and sipped tea from an apple-green cup.
After tea we played musical chairs, in the library, with Margery at the piano. First marched The Seraph with his brown curls bobbing; and after him, the stout Bishop in his gaiters; next Angel; then Jane on tiptoes; and lastly myself in squeaky new boots.
Seraph and the Bishop were soon out of it. They were invariably beaten in our games, though afterward they always seemed to think they had won. So Angel, Jane, and I were left, prancing around two solemn carved chairs. The music ceased with a crash. Jane leaped to one chair while Angel and I fell simultaneously upon the other. We both clung to it desperately, but he dislodged me, inch by inch, and I, furious at being balked in my pursuit of Jane, struck him twice in the ribs, then ran into the dim hall and hid myself.
There Jane found me, and there her tender lips kissed my hot cheek, and she squeezed me in her arms. For a moment we did not speak, then she whispered—
"I wish you had got the chair, John. I love you best of all."
That night I hung about the kitchen while Mary Ellen was setting bread to rise. The time had come when I must speak to some fellow creature of this tremendous new element that had come into my life. I watched Mary Ellen's stout red arms as she manipulated the dough, in much perplexity. The kitchen was hot, the kettle sang, it seemed a moment for confidence, yet words were hard to find.
At last I got out desperately:
"Mary Ellen, what is love like?"
"Love is it, Masther John? What do the likes o' me know about love thin?" She smiled broadly, as she dexterously shifted the puffy white mass.
"Oh, you know," I persisted, "'cos you've been in it, often. You've had lots of 'followers' now, Mary Ellen, haven't you?"
"Well, thin, if ye must know, I'll tell ye point blunt to kape out av it. It's an awful thing whin it gits the best av ye."
"But what's it feel like?" I probed.
Mary Ellen wiped the flour off each red finger in turn, and gazed into the flame of the lamp.
"It's like this," she said solemnly, "ye burns in yer insides till ye feel like ye had a furnace blazin' there. Thin whin it seems ye must bust wid the flarin' av it, ye suddintly turns cowld as ice, an' yer sowl do shrivil up wid fear. An' thin, at last, ye fergit all about it till the nixt wan happens along. Och—I haven't had a sphell fer months! This is an awful dull place. I think I'll be quittin' it soon."
"Oh, no, no, Mary Ellen!" I cried, alarmed, "you mustn't leave us! When Jane and I get married you can come and live with us." I blushed furiously.
"And who might Jane be?" demanded Mary Ellen, suspiciously.
"She's the Bishop's great-niece," I explained proudly. "I love her terribly, Mary Ellen. It hurts in here." I pressed my hand on my stomach.
"Well, well." She shook her head commiseratingly. "I'm sorry fer ye, Masther John—sthartin' off like this at your age. Here's the spoon I stirred the cake wid—have a lick o' that. It'll mebbe help ye."
I licked pensively at the big wooden spoon, and felt strangely soothed. My admiration for Mary Ellen increased.
As I slowly climbed the stairs for bed, visions of Jane hovered in the darkness above me—airy rainbows, with Jane's laughing face peering between the bars of pink and gold. I had never known a little girl before, and Jane embodied all things frail and exquisite.
When I entered our room Angel was sitting on the side of the bed, pulling his shirt over his head. The Seraph already slept in his place next the wall.
I stood before Angel with folded arms.
"Hm," he muttered crossly, "you've been lickin' batter! It's on the end of your nose. Why didn't you get me something?"
"There was nothing but dough," I explained, "and one batter spoon. And—and—I say, Angel—"
"Well?" asked my elder tersely.
"I—I'm in love something awful. It hurts. It's like this—" I hurried on—"You feel like you'd a furnace blazing in you, an' then you turn cold jus' as if you'd shrivel up, but you never, never, forget, an'—It's made a 'normous difference in my life, Angel—"
I got no further. Angel had thrown himself backward on the bed and, kicking his bare legs in the air, broke into peals of delighted laughter.
"It's that yellow-faced little Jenny!" he gurgled, "Oh, holy smoke!"
His brutal mirth was short-lived. Mrs. Handsomebody appeared in the doorway, her face genuinely shocked at the sight that met her austere eyes.
At this hour—such actions—was her house to be turned into Bedlam?—such indecent display of limbs—she was sick with shame for Angel—would discuss his conduct further, with him, tomorrow.
She waited while I undressed and stood over us while we said our prayers at the side of the bed, at last extinguishing the light with a final admonition to be silent.
I was bitterly disappointed in Angel. It was the first time he had failed me utterly. I put my arms around the sleeping Seraph and cried myself to sleep.
We were awakened by the sonorous music of the Cathedral chimes. It was Sunday. That meant stiff white Eton collars, and texts gabbled between mouthfuls of porridge; and, later, our three small bodies arrayed in short surplices, and the long service in the Cathedral. The Seraph was the very smallest boy in the choir. I think he was only tolerated there through Margery's intervention, because it would have broken his loyal little heart to be separated from Angel and me. He was highly ornamental too, as he collected the choir offertory in a little velvet bag, his tiny surplice jauntily bobbing, and the back of his neck, as an old lady once said, was more touching than the sermon.
Angel had a voice like a flute.
Beyond the tall choir stalls I could catch fleeting glimpses of Jane's little face beneath her daisied hat, looking on the same prayer-book with Margery. I swelled my chest beneath my surplice and chanted my very loudest in the hope that Jane might hear me. "O ye Showers and Dew, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever."
Her dreamy blue eyes peered over the edge of the book, the daisies on her hat nodded; she smiled; I smiled ecstatically back at her; and so two childish hearts stemmed the flood of praise that rose above the old grey pillars.
At dinner, over his bread pudding, The Seraph murmured in a throaty voice—"When you is in love, first you burns yike a furnace, an' en you shwivel up wiv the cold. It's a vewy bad fing to be in love."
I threw Angel a bitter look. This was his doing. So, contemptuously, had he treated my confidence, made as man to man. To tell the irresponsible Seraph of all people!
"What's that, Alexander?" questioned Mrs. Handsomebody, sharply.
"It's love," replied The Seraph, meekly, "you catch it off a girl. John's got it."
Mrs. Handsomebody sank back in her chair with a groan.
"Alexander," she said it solemnly, "I tremble for your future. You are not the boy your father was. I tremble for you."
"John," she continued, turning to me, "you will come into the parlour with me. I wish to have a talk with you. David and Alexander, you may amuse yourselves with one of my bound volumes of 'The Quiver.'"
I followed her with burning cheeks into the stiff apartment where not only her eye was riveted upon me, but every glittering eye of every stuffed bird, to say nothing of the pale fixed gaze of Mr. Handsomebody.
Needless to recall the lecture I received, the probing into my reluctant heart, the admonition which I could not heed for my fearful watching of that hard grey face.
But, at last, it was over. I slipped into the hall, closing the door softly behind me, and listened. Silence abounded. On tiptoe I made my way to the kitchen. It was clean and empty. I noiselessly opened the back door. On the doorstep sat The Seraph busily engaged with a caterpillar.
"Where's Angel?" I demanded curtly.
"I fink," breathed The Seraph, stroking the caterpillar the wrong way, and then looking at his fingers, "I fink that he's witin' to father to tell on you. So there!"
I waited to hear no more. Casting my care behind me I sped lightly along the passage between the houses, crossed the Bishop's lawn, and sought Jane in the garden.
There I stood a moment, dazzled, by the golden August sunshine, the iridescent spray of the fountain, and the brilliant colours of the hollyhocks beside the wall.
I saw Jane there, and my heart swelled with disappointment and rage—for she was not alone!
Too late I repented my confidence to Angel; I might have known that he would never let the grass grow under his feet till he had tasted this new excitement. Well, he had not let the grass grow.
Jane, I remember, had on a pale blue sash, and a fluffy white frock, beneath the frills of which, her slender black silk legs moved airily. By her side sauntered the traitorous Angel, his head bent toward her tenderly, and, most sickening of all, pushing before him, with an air of proprietorship, the perambulator containing the doll, Dorothea. Jane was simpering up at him in a way she had never looked at me.
I saw at a glance that all was over, yet I was not to be cast aside thus lightly. I strode across the garden, and, pushing myself between them, I laid my hand masterfully on the handle of the "pram," beside Angel's. Neither of them uttered a word. So the three of us walked for a space in tense silence.
Then, suddenly, Angel began to hammer my hand with his fist.
"You let go of that!" he snarled. "Ge—tout of here!"
"I won't!" I roared tragically. "She said I was the fa-ather of it!"
"She did not!" yelled Angel. "I'm the father!"
Jenny glanced fearfully at the windows of the Bishop's house. All was silent there. Then, with a scornful little kick at me, she said—"Go 'way, you nasty boy! I don't want you. I only like Angel."
There was nothing more to be said. I hung my head, and, with a sob in my throat, turned away. I could hear them whispering behind me.
Before I reached our own yard Angel came running after me.
"Tell you what I'll do, John," he said, as he came abreast, "tell you what I'll do—I'll fight you for her. Like knights of old, you know. We could go down to the coal cellar, and have a reg'lar tourney. It'd be bully fun. We could have pokers for lances. Say, will you?"
I was not in a fighting mood, but I had never refused a challenge, and, somehow, the thought of bloodshed eased my pain a little. So, half-reluctantly, I followed him, as he eagerly led the way to the coal cellar.
Even on this August day it was cold down there. Long cobwebs trailed, spectre-like from the beams, and a faint squeaking of young mice could be heard in the walls.
We searched among the debris of years for suitable weapons. Finally, brandishing pokers, and with two rusty boiler lids for shields, we faced each other, uttering our respective battle cries in muffled tones. Angel had put a battered coal scuttle over his head for a helmet; and, through a break in it, I could see his dark eyes gleaming threateningly.
With ring of shield we clashed together. I delivered—and received—stunning blows. Dust, long undisturbed, rose, and blinded us.
How many a gallant fray has been broken up by a screaming woman! Now Mary Ellen, true to the perversity of her sex, rushed in to separate us.
"Oh, losh! I never seen the beat o' ye!" she cried. "Ye've scairt me out av a year's growth! Sure the missus'll put a tin ear on ye, if she catches ye in the cellar in yer collars an' all!" Imperiously she disarmed us, and, without ceremony, we were hustled up the dark stairs to the kitchen sink.
"It was a tournament, Mary Ellen, about a lady," I explained, with as much dignity as I could muster, "you shouldn't have interrupted."
"There ain't a lady livin' that's worth messin' up yer clane clothes for," said Mary Ellen, sternly. "Lord! To see the cinders in yer hair, an' the soot in yer ears—it does bate all—" As she talked, she scrubbed us vehemently with a washcloth.
"Ouch!" moaned Angel, "oh, Mary El-len, you're hurting me! That's my so-ore spot, eeeoow!"
"Well, Master Angel," said Mary Ellen, "I don't want to hurt ye, but it do make me heart-sick to see ye bashin' aitch other wid pokers for the sake av a bit girl that's not worth a tinker's curse to ye! Now thin—here's a piece of cowld puddin' to each av ye—sit on the durestep where the missus won't see ye, an' git outside av it."
In a chastened mood we sat outside the back door and ate our pudding. It was cold, clammy, very sweet, and deliciously satisfying.
To our right the wall excluded any glimpse of the Bishop's garden, and beyond loomed the Cathedral, with two grey pigeons circling about its spire.
I yearned to know what was going on beyond the wall. I could not help fancying that Jane, touched by remorse, was weeping by the fountain for me, and me only. Angel spoke.
"I say—" he hunched his shoulders mischievously—"let's go 'round and see what she's doin' all alone, eh?"
I leaped to the proposal. I had an insatiable desire to hear her speak once more, if it were only to taunt me.
We made the passage stealthily; all the world seemed drowsing on that hazy Sunday afternoon. The blinds in the Bishop's study were drawn. Little did he guess the life his great-niece led!
The grass was like moist velvet beneath our feet. A pair of sparrows were quarrelling over their bath at the fountain rim. We heard a low murmur of voices. A glint of Jane's white frock could be seen behind a guelder rose near the fountain. We crept up behind and peered through the foliage.
There on a garden bench sat Jane, and there, clasped in her slim white arms was—The Seraph! The wretched Dorothea lay, face downward, on the grass at their feet.
We strained our ears to hear what was being said. Jane spoke in that silvery voice of hers:
"Say some more drefful things, Seraph. I jus' love to hear you."
There was a moment's silence; then, The Seraph said in his blandest tone, the one word—
Jane gave a tiny, ecstatic shriek.
"Oh, go on!" she begged, "say more."
"Blood," repeated The Seraph, firmly, "Hot blood—told blood—wed blood—thick blood—thin blood—bad blood."
Again Jane squealed in fearful pleasure.
"Go on," she urged. "Worser."
Thus encouraged, The Seraph rapped out, without more ado, "Tiger blood—ephelant blood—caterpillar blood—ole witch blood"—then, after a pause, that the horror of it might sink deep in—"Baby blood!"
Angel and I gave each other a look of enlightenment. It was gore then, that this delicately nurtured young person craved, good red gore, and plenty of it! Well—enough—we were free. Wait! What was she saying?
"I hate those other boys, Seraph, darling. Let's jus' you and me play together always. And you should be Dorothea's father, and Dorothea should want to paddle in the—"
Away! Away! With sardonic laughter, we sped along the pebbled drive, nor stopped until we reached our own domain.
Then in the planked back yard, we sat on our steps, with a volume of "The Quiver" on our knees, in case Mrs. Handsomebody should invade our privacy, and played a rollicking game of pirates. And when any of the fair sex fell into our hands we were none too gentle with them.
"Chuck 'em overboard, lieutenant!" was Captain Angel's way of dealing with the case.
Just as the Cathedral clock struck five, The Seraph swaggered up. He stopped before us, hands deep in pockets.
"Well," said Angel, eyeing him resentfully, "you'll make a nice bishop, you will, usin' the language we heard a bit ago!"
"Maybe I shan't have time to be a bishop, after all," replied The Seraph, condescendingly. "You see I'm goin' to mawy Jane. It'll keep me vewy busy."
Chapter III: Explorers of the Dawn
Fast on the winged heels of Love came our discovery of the Dawn. Of course we had known all along that there was a sunrise—a mechanical sort of affair that started things going like clockwork. But Dawn was a bird of another feather.
If we had had our parents with us they would have, in all likelihood, unfolded the mystery of it in some bedtime visit; but Mrs. Handsomebody, if she ever thought about the Dawn at all, probably looked on it with suspicion, and some disfavour, as a weak, feeble thing—a nebulous period fit neither for honest folk nor cutthroats.
So it came about that we heard of it from our good friend the Bishop. Mrs. Handsomebody had given a grudging permission for us to take tea with him. In hot weather her voice and eyes always seemed frostier than usual. The closely shut windows and drawn blinds made the house a prison, and the glare of the planked back yard was even more intolerable. Therefore, when Rawlins, the Bishop's butler, told us that we were to have tea in the garden, it was hard for us to remember Mrs. Handsomebody's injunction to walk sedately and to bear in mind that our host was a bishop.
But, as we crossed the cool lawn, our spirits, which had drooped all day, like flags at half-mast, rose, and fluttered in the summer breeze, and we could not resist a caper or two as we approached the tea-table.
The Bishop did not even see us. His fine grave face was buried in a book he had on his knees, and his gaitered legs were bent so that he toed in.
When we drew up before him, Angel and I in stiff Eton collars and The Seraph fresh as a daisy, in a clean white sailor blouse, he raised his eyes and gave us a vague smile, and a wave of the hand toward three low wicker chairs. We were not a bit abashed by this reception, for we knew the Bishop's ways, and it was joy enough that we were safe in his garden staring up at the blue sky through flickering leaves, and listening to the splash of the little fountain that lived in the middle of the cool grass plot.
Surely, I thought, there never was such another garden—never another with such a rosy red brick wall, half-hidden by hollyhocks and larkspur—such springy, tender grass—such a great guardian Cathedral, that towered above and threw its deep beneficent shade! Here the timorous Cathedral pigeons strutted unafraid, and dipped their heads to drink of the fountain, raising them Heavenward, as they swallowed—thanking God, so the Bishop said, for its refreshment.
It was hard to believe that next door, beyond the wall, lay Mrs. Handsomebody's planked back yard. Yet even at that moment I could see the tall, narrow house, and fancied that a blind moved as Mrs. Handsomebody peered down into the Bishop's garden to see how we behaved.
Rawlins brought a tray and set it on the wicker table beside the Bishop's elbow. We discovered a silver muffin dish, a plate of cakes, and a glass pot of honey, to say nothing of the tea.
Still the Bishop kept his gaze buried in his book, marking his progress with a blade of grass. Rawlins stole away without speaking and we three were left alone to stare in mute desire at the tea things. A bee was buzzing noisily about the honey jar. It was The Seraph who spoke at last, his hands clasped across his stomach.
"Bishop," he said, politely, but firmly. "I would yike a little nushment."
"Bless me!" cried the Bishop. "Wherever are my manners?" And he closed the book sharply on the grass blade, and dropped it under the table. "John, will you pour tea for us?"
We finished the muffins and cake, all talking with our mouths full, in the most sociable and sensible way; and, after the honey pot was almost empty, we made the bee a prisoner in it, so that, like that Duke of Clarence, who was drowned in a butt of Malmsey, he got enough of what he liked at last.
I think it was Angel who put the question that was to lead to so much that was exciting and mysterious.
He said, leaning against the Bishop's shoulder: "What do you think is the most beautiful thing in the world, Bishop?"
Our friend had The Seraph between his knees, and was gazing at the back of his head. "Well," he replied, "since you ask me seriously, I should say this little curl on The Seraph's nape."
The Seraph felt for it.
"I yike it," he said, "but I yike my wart better."
"Good gracious," exclaimed the Bishop. "Don't tell me you've a wart!"
"Yes, a weal one," chuckled The Seraph. "It's little, but it's gwowing. I fink some day it'll be as big as the one on Mrs. Handsomebody's chin. It can wiggle."
"You don't say so!" said the Bishop, rather hastily. "And where do you suppose you got it?"
The Seraph smiled mischievously. "I fink I got it off a toad we had. He was an awful dear ole toad, but he died, 'cos we—"
"Oh, I say, don't bother about the old toad, Seraph!" put in Angel hastily, feeling, as I did, that the manner of the toad's demise was best left to conjecture. "We want to hear about the most beautiful thing in the world. Please tell it, Bishop!"
"Well—since you corner me," said the Bishop, his eyes on the larkspur, "I should say it is the wing of that pale blue butterfly, hovering above those deep blue flowers."
Angel's face fell. "Oh, I didn't mean a little thing like that," he said. "I meant a 'normous, wonderful thing. Something that you couldn't ever forget."
"Well—if you will have it," said the Bishop, "come close and I'll whisper." Instantly three heads hedged him in, and he said in a sonorous undertone—"It's the Dawn."
"The Dawn!" We three repeated the magic words on the same note of secrecy. "But what is it like? How can we get to it? Is it like the sunset?"
"I won't explain a bit of it," he replied. "You've got to seek it out for yourselves. It's a pity, though, you can't see it first in the country."
"Must we get up in the dark?"
"Yes. I think your tallest attic window faces the east. You must steal up there while it's still grey daylight. Have the windows open so that you can hear and smell, as well as see it. But I'm afraid the dear Seraph's too little."
"Not me," asserted The Seraph, stoutly. "I'm stwong as two ephelants."
"You mustn't be frightened when you hear its wings," said the Bishop, "nor be abashed at the splendour of it, for it was designed for just such little fellows as you. You will come and tell me then what happens, won't you? I shall probably never waken early enough to see it again."...
Though we played games after this, and the Bishop made a very satisfactory lion prowling about in a jungle of wicker chairs and table legs, we none of us quite lost sight of the adventure in store for us. Somewhere in the back of our heads lurked the thought of the Dawn with its suggestion of splendid mystery.
We were no sooner at home again than we set about discussing ways and means.
"The chief thing," said Angel, "is to waken about four. We have no alarm clock, so I s'pose we'll just have to take turns in keeping watch all night. The hall clock strikes, so we can watch hour about."
"I'll take first watch!" put in The Seraph, eagerly.
"You'll take just what's given to you, and no questions, young man," said Angel, out of the side of his mouth, and The Seraph subsided, crushed.
Came bedtime at last, and the three of us in the big four-poster; the door shut upon the world of Mrs. Handsomebody, and the windows firmly barred against burglars and night air.
Angel announced: "First watch for me! You go right to sleep, John, and I'll wake you when the clock strikes ten. Then you'll feel nice and fresh for your watch."
But I wasn't at all sleepy and we lay in the dusk and talked till the familiar harsh voice of the hall clock rasped out nine o'clock.
"You go to sleep, please John," whispered Angel in a drowsy voice, "and I'll watch till ten."
I felt drowsy too, so I put my arm about the slumbering Seraph and soon fell fast asleep.
It seemed to me but a moment when Angel roused me. I know I had barely settled down to an enjoyable dream in which I was the only customer in an ice-cream parlour, where there were seven waitresses, each one obsequiously proffering a different flavour.
"Second watch on deck!" whispered Angel, hoarsely—"and look lively!"
"But I'd only just put my spoon in the strawberry ice," I moaned. "Can't be ten minutes yet."
"Oh, I say," complained Angel, "don't you s'pose I know when the old clock strikes ten? You've been sleepin' like a drunken pirate and no mistake. Must be near eleven by now."
"I'll just see for myself," I declared. "I'll go and look at the schoolroom clock." And I began to scramble over him.
"You will not then—" muttered Angel, clutching me. "I shan't let you!"
"You won't, eh? If it's really ten you needn't care, need you!"
"Course it's ten—It's nearer eleven, but you're going to do what I say."
At that we came to grips and fought and floundered till the bed rocked, and the poor little Seraph clung to his pillow as a shipwrecked sailor to a raft in a stormy sea. Exhaustion alone made us stop for breath; still we clung desperately to each other, our small bodies pressed hotly together, Angel's nose flattened against my ear. The Seraph snuggled up to us. "Just you wait"—breathed Angel—his hands tightened on me, then relaxed—his legs twitched—"Strawberry or pineapple, sir?" came the dulcet tones of the waitress. I was in my ice-cream parlour again! Seven flavours were laid before me. I fell to, for I was hot and thirsty.
I was disturbed by The Seraph, singing his morning song. It was a tuneless drone, yet not unmusical. Always the first to open his eyes in the morning, he began his day with a sort of Saga of his exploits of the day before, usually meaningless to us but fraught with colour from his own peculiar sphere. At last he laughed outright—a Jovian laugh—at some remembered prank—and I rubbed my eyes and came to full consciousness. The sun was slanting through the shutters. Where, oh where, was the Dawn?
I turned to look at Angel. He was staring at the slanting beam and swearing softly, as he well knew how.
"We'll simply have to try again"—I said. "But however are we going to put in today?"
The problem solved itself as all problems will and the day passed, following the usual landmarks of porridge, arithmetic, spelling, scoldings, mutton, a walk with our governess, bread and butter, prayers, and the (for once, longed for!) bed.
That night we decided to lie awake together; passing the time with stories, and speculation about the mystery so soon to be explored by us. I told the first story, a long-drawn adventure of shipwreck, mutiny and coral Caves, with a fair sprinkling of skeletons to keep us broad awake.
"It was a first-rate tale," sighed Angel, contentedly, when I had done, "an' you told it awfully well, John. If you like you may just tell another 'stead o' me. Or The Seraph can tell one. Go ahead, Seraph, and make up the best story you know how."
The Seraph, important, but sleepy, climbed over me, so that he might be in the middle, and then began, in a husky little voice:
"Once upon a time there was fwee bwothers, all vwey nice, but the youngest was the bwavest an' stwongest of the fwee. He was as stwong as two bulls, an' he'd kill a dwagon before bweakfast, an' never be cocky about it—"
Angel and I groaned in unison. We could not tolerate this sort of self-adulation from our junior. "Don't be such a little beast"—we admonished, and covered his head with a pillow. The Seraph was wont to accept such discipline, at our hands, philosophically, with no unseemly outcries or struggles; as a matter of fact, when we uncovered his head, we could tell by his even, reposeful breathing that he was fast asleep. It was too dark to see his face, but I could imagine his complacent smile.
The night sped quickly after that. There was some desultory talk; then Angel, too, slept; I resolved to keep the watch alone. I heard the sound of footsteps in the street below, echoing, with a lonely sound; the rattle of a loose shutter in a sudden gust of wind; then, dead silence, followed after an interval by the scampering, and angry squeak of mice in the wall....
The mice disturbed me again. There was a shattering of loose plaster; and suddenly opening my eyes, I saw the ghost of grey daylight stealing underneath the blind. The time had come!
Silently the three of us stole up the uncarpeted attic stair. It was unknown territory to us, having been forbidden from the first by Mrs. Handsomebody, and all we had ever seen from the hall below was a cramped passage, guarded by three closed doors. Time and time again we had been tempted to explore it, but there was a sinister aloofness about it that had hitherto repelled us. Now, however, it had become but a pathway to the Dawn, and, as we clutched the bannisters, we imagined ourselves three pilgrims fearfully climbing toward light and beauty.
Angel stood first at the top. Gently he tried two doors in succession, which were locked. The third gave, harshly—it seemed to me, grudgingly.
The Seraph and I pressed close behind Angel, glad of the warm contact of each other's bodies.
In the large attic room, the air was stifling, and the sloping roof, from which dim cobwebs were draped, seemed to press toward the dark shapes of discarded furniture as though to guard some fearful secret. It took all our courage to grope our way to the low casement, and it was a struggle to dislodge the rusty bolt, and press the window out on its unused hinges. It creaked so loudly that we held our breath for a moment, but we drew it again with a sharp sensation of relief, as thirsty young animals drink, for fresh night air, sweet, stinging to the nostrils, had surged in upon us, sweeping away fear, and loneliness, and the hot depression of the attic room.
Mrs. Handsomebody's house was tall, and we could look down upon many roofs and chimneys. They huddled together in the soft grey light as though waiting for some great happening which they expected, but did not understand. They wore an air of expectancy and humility. Little low-roofed out-houses pressed close to high walls for shelter, and a frosty white skylight stared up-ward fearfully.
"Is this the Dawn?" came from The Seraph, in a tiny voice.
"Only the beginning of it," I whispered back. "There's two stars left over from the night—see! that big blue one in the east, and the little white one just above the cobbler's chimney."
"Will they be afwaid of the Dawn, when it comes?"
"Rather. I shouldn't be surprised if the big fellow bolted right across the sky, and the little one will p'raps fall down the cobbler's chimney into his work-room."
The Seraph was enchanted. "Then the cobbler'll sew him wight up in the sole of a shoe, an' the boy who wears the shoe will twinkle when he wuns, won't he? Oh, it's coming now! I hear it. I'm afwaid."
"That's not the Dawn," said Angel, "that's the night flying away."
It was true that there came to us then a rushing sound, as of strong wings; our hair was lifted from our hot foreheads; and the casement rattled on its hinges.
This wind, that came from the wings of night, was sharp with the fragrance of heather and the sea. One fancied how it would surge through the dim aisles of cathedral-like forests, ruffling the plumage of drowsy birds, stirring the surface of some dark pool, where the trout still slept, and making sibilant music among the drooping reeds.
The sky had now become delicately luminous, and a streak of saffron showed above the farthest roofs; a flock of little clouds huddled together above this, like timorous sheep at graze. The white star hung just above the cobbler's chimney, dangerously near, it seemed to us, who watched.
There were only two of us at the window now, for Angel had stolen away to explore every corner of the new environment, as was his custom. I could hear the soft opening and shutting of bureau drawers, and once, a grunting and straining, as of one engaged in severe manual labour.
A low whistle drew me to his side.
"What's up?" I demanded.
"Got this little old trunk open at last," he muttered, "full of women's junk. Funny stuff. Look."
Our heads touched as we bent curiously over the contents. It was a dingy and insignificant box on the outside, but it was lined with a gaily coloured paper, on which nosegays of spring flowers bent beneath the weight of silver butterflies, and sad-eyed cockatoos. The trays were full, as Angel had said, of women's things; delicate, ruffly frocks of pink and lilac; and undergarments edged with yellowing lace. A sweet scent rose from them, as of some gentle presence that strove to reach the light and air once more. A pair of little white kid slippers looked as though they longed to twinkle in and out beneath a soft silk skirt. Angel's mischievous brown hands dived among the light folds, discovering opera glasses,—(treasures to be secured if possible, against some future South Sea expedition), an inlaid box of old-fashioned trinkets, a coral necklace, gold-tasselled earrings, and a brooch of tortured locks of hair.
Angel's eyes were dancing above a gauze fan held coquettishly against his mouth of an impudent boy, but I gave no heed to him; I was busy with a velvet work-box that promised a solution of the mystery—for hidden away with thimble and scissors as one would secrete a treasure, was a fat little book, "The Mysteries of Udolpho." Some one had drawn on the fly leaf, very beautifully, I thought, a ribbed sea-shell, and on it had printed the words, "Lucy from Charles;" and on a scroll beneath the shell, in microscopic characters—"Bide the Time!"
My brother was looking over my shoulder now. We were filled with conjecture.
"Lucy," said Angel, "owned all this stuff, and Charles was her lover, of course. But who was she? Mrs. Handsomebody never had a daughter, I know, and if she had she'd never have allowed her to wear these things. Look how she jaws when Mary Ellen spends her wage on finery. I'll bet Lucy was a beauty. And she's dead too, you can bet, and Charles was her lover, and likely he's dead too. 'Bide the time,' eh? You see they're waitin' around yet—somewheres. Isn't it queer?"
The Seraph's voice came from the window in a sort of chant:
"The little white star has fallen down the cobbler's chimney!
"It has fallen down, and the cobbler is sewing it into a shoe!
"A milkman is wunning down the stweet!
"Tell you what," whispered Angel, "I'll show you what Lucy was like—just a little. I'll make a picture of her."
The space between two tall chests of drawers formed a sort of alcove in which stood a pier glass, whose tarnished frame was draped in white net. Before it Angel drew (without much caution) a high-backed chair, and on it he began his picture.
Over the seat and almost touching the floor, he draped a frilled petticoat, and against the back of the chair (with a foundation of formidable stays for support) he hung a garment, which, even then, he seemed to know for a camisole. Over all he laid a charming lilac silk gown, and under the hem in the most natural attitude peeped the little party slippers. A small lace and velvet bonnet with streamers was hung at the apex of the creation, and in her lap (for the time has come to use the feminine pronoun) he spread the gauzy fan. He hung over her tenderly, as an artist over his subject—each fold must be in place—the empty sleeves curved just so—one fancied a rounded chin beneath the velvet streamers, so artfully was it adjusted. Her reflection in the pier glass was superb!