A Book for Boys and Girls
Author of 'Carrots,' 'Cuckoo Clock,' 'Tell Me a Story'
Illustrated by Walter Crane
MacMillan and Co., Limited St. Martin's Street, London 1932 First Edition November 1878. Reprinted December 1878 September and December 1882, 1886 1887, 1889, 1892, 1895, 1897, 1899, 1900, 1902, 1904, 1906, 1909, 1911 1918, 1920, 1932
Printed in Great Britain by R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh
OUR 'GRANDMOTHER DEAR,'
A. J. S.
Maison Du Chanoine, October 1878.
CHAPTER I. Making Friends
CHAPTER II. Lost in the Louvre
CHAPTER III. "Where is Sylvia?"
CHAPTER IV. The Six Pinless Brooches
CHAPTER V. Molly's Plan
CHAPTER VI. The Apple-Tree of Stefanos
CHAPTER VII. Grandmother's Grandmother
CHAPTER VIII. Grandmother's Story (Continued)
CHAPTER IX. Ralph's Confidence
CHAPTER X. "That Cad Sawyer"
CHAPTER XI. "That Cad Sawyer"—Part II.
CHAPTER XII. A Christmas Adventure
CHAPTER XIII. A Christmas Adventure—Part II.
CHAPTER XIV. How this Book came to be written
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Sylvia lost in the Louvre
"Whose Drawer is this?"
Under the Apple-Tree
"Zwanzig—Twenty Schelling, that Cup"
In the Coppice
"Good-Bye again, my Boy, and God bless you!"
"I hope it isn't Haunted"
"Good onset bodes good end." SPENSER.
"Well?" said Ralph.
"Well?" said Sylvia.
"Well?" said Molly.
Then they all three stood and looked at each other. Each had his or her own opinion on the subject which was uppermost in their minds, but each was equally reluctant to express it, till that of the others had been got at. So each of the three said "Well?" to the other two, and stood waiting, as if they were playing the old game of "Who speaks first?" It got tiresome, however, after a bit, and Molly, whose patience was the most quickly exhausted, at last threw caution and dignity to the winds.
"Well," she began, but the "well" this time had quite a different tone from the last; "well," she repeated emphatically, "I'm the youngest, and I suppose you'll say I shouldn't give my opinion first, but I just will, for all that. And my opinion is, that she's just as nice as she can be."
"And I think so too," said Sylvia, "Don't you, Ralph?"
"I?" said Ralph loftily, "you forget. I have seen her before."
"Yes, but not to remember," said Sylvia and Molly at once. "You might just as well never have seen her before as far as that goes. But isn't she nice?"
"Ye-es," said Ralph. "I don't think she's bad for a grandmother."
"'For a grandmother!'" cried Molly indignantly. "What do you mean, Ralph? What can be nicer than a nice grandmother?"
"But suppose she wasn't nice? she needn't be, you know. There are grandmothers and grandmothers," persisted Ralph.
"Of course I know that," said Molly. "You don't suppose I thought our grandmother was everybody's grandmother, you silly boy. What I say is she's just like a real grandmother—not like Nora Leslie's, who is always scolding Nora's mother for spoiling her children, and wears such grand, quite young lady dresses, and has black hair," with an accent of profound disgust, "not nice, beautiful, soft, silver hair, like our grandmother's. Now, isn't it true, Sylvia, isn't our grandmother just like a real one?"
Sylvia smiled. "Yes, exactly," she replied. "She would almost do for a fairy godmother, if only she had a stick with a gold knob."
"Only perhaps she'd beat us with it," said Ralph.
"Oh no, not beat us," cried Molly, dancing about. "It would be worse than that. If we were naughty she'd point it at us, and then we'd all three turn into toads, or frogs, or white mice. Oh, just fancy! I am so glad she hasn't got a gold-headed stick."
"Children," said a voice at the door, which made them all jump, though it was such a kind, cheery voice. "Aren't you ready for tea? I'm glad to see you are not very tired, but you must be hungry. Remember that you've travelled a good way to-day."
"Only from London, grandmother dear," said Molly; "that isn't very far."
"And the day after to-morrow you have to travel a long way farther," continued her grandmother. "You must get early to bed, and keep yourselves fresh for all that is before you. Aunty says she is very hungry, so you little people must be so too. Yes, dears, you may run downstairs first, and I'll come quietly after you; I am not so young as I have been, you know."
Molly looked up with some puzzle in her eyes at this.
"Not so young as you have been, grandmother dear?" she repeated.
"Of course not," said Ralph. "And you're not either, Molly. Once you were a baby in long clothes, and, barring the long clothes, I don't know but what——"
"Hush, Ralph. Don't begin teasing her," said Sylvia in a low voice, not lost, however, upon grandmother.
What was lost upon grandmother?
"And what were you all so busy chattering about when I interrupted you just now?" she inquired, when they were all seated round the tea-table, and thanks to the nice cold chicken and ham, and rolls and butter and tea-cakes, and all manner of good things, the children fast "losing their appetites."
Sylvia blushed and looked at Ralph; Ralph grew much interested in the grounds at the bottom of his tea-cup; only Molly, Molly the irrepressible, looked up briskly.
"Oh, nothing," she replied; "at least nothing particular."
"Dear me! how odd that you should all three have been talking at once about anything so uninteresting as nothing particular," said grandmother, in a tone which made them all laugh.
"It wasn't exactly about nothing particular," said Molly: "it was about you, grandmother dear."
"Molly!" said Sylvia reproachfully, but Molly was not so easily to be snubbed.
"We were wishing," she continued, "that you had a gold-headed stick, and then you'd be quite perfect."
It was grandmother's and aunty's turn to laugh now.
"Only," Molly went on, "Ralph said perhaps you'd beat us with it, and I said no, most likely you'd turn us into frogs or mice, you know."
"'Frogs or mice, I know,' but indeed I don't know," said grandmother; "why should I wish to turn my boy and girl children into frogs and mice?"
"If we were naughty, I meant," said Molly. "Oh, Sylvia, you explain—I always say things the wrong way."
"It was I that said you looked like a fairy godmother," said Sylvia, blushing furiously, "and that put it into Molly's head about the frogs and mice."
"But the only fairy godmother I remember that did these wonderful things turned mice into horses to please her god-daughter. Have you not got hold of the wrong end of the story, Molly?" said grandmother.
"The wrong end and beginning and middle too, I should say," observed Ralph.
"Yes, grandmother dear, I always do," said Molly, complacently. "I never remember stories or anything the right way, my head is so funnily made."
"When you can't find your gloves, because you didn't put them away carefully, is it the fault of the shape of the chest of drawers?" inquired grandmother quietly.
"Yes, I suppose so,—at least, no, I mean, of course it isn't," replied Molly, taking heed to her words half-way through, when she saw that they were all laughing at her.
Grandmother smiled, but said no more.
"What a wool-gathering little brain it is," she said to herself.
When she smiled, all the children agreed together afterwards, she looked more like a fairy godmother than ever. She was really a very pretty old lady. Never very tall, with age she had grown smaller, though still upright as a dart; the "November roses" in her cheeks were of their kind as sweet as the June ones that nestled there long ago—ah! so long ago now; and the look in her eyes had a tenderness and depth which can only come from a life of unselfishness, of joy and much sorrow too—a life whose lessons have been well and dutifully learnt, and of which none has been more thoroughly taken home than that of gentle judgment of, and much patience with, others.
While they are all finishing their tea, would you, my boy and girl friends, like to know who they were—these three, Ralph, Sylvia, and Molly, whom I want to tell you about, and whom I hope you will love? When I was a little girl I liked to know exactly about the children in my books, each of whom had his or her distinct place in my affections. I liked to know their names, their ages, all about their homes and their relations most exactly, and more than once I was laughed at for writing out a sort of genealogical tree of some of my little fancy friends' family connections. We need not go quite so far as that, but I will explain to you about these new little friends of yours enough for you to be able to find out the rest for yourselves.
They had never seen their grandmother before, never, that is to say, in the girls' case, and in Ralph's "not to remember her." Ralph was fourteen now, Sylvia thirteen, and Molly about a year and a half younger. More than seven years ago their mother had died, and since then they had been living with their father, whose profession obliged him often to change his home, in various different places. It had been impossible for their grandmother, much as she wished it, to have had them hitherto with her, for, for several years out of the seven, her hands, and those of aunty, too, her only other daughter besides their mother, had been more than filled with other cares. Their grandfather had been ill for many years before his death, and for his sake grandmother and aunty had left the English home they loved so much, and gone to live in the south of France. And after his death, as often happens with people no longer young, and somewhat wearied, grandmother found that the old dream of returning "home," and ending her days with her children and old friends round her, had grown to be but a dream, and, what was more, had lost its charm. She had grown to love her new home, endeared now by so many associations; she had got used to the ways of the people, and felt as if English ways would be strange to her, and as aunty's only idea of happiness was to find it in hers, the mother and daughter had decided to make their home where for nearly fourteen years it had been. They had gone to England this autumn for a few weeks, finally to arrange some matters that had been left unsettled, and while there something happened which made them very glad that they had done so. Mr. Heriott, the children's father, had received an appointment in India, which would take him there for two or three years, and though grandmother and aunty were sorry to think of his going so far away, they were—oh, I can't tell you how delighted! when he agreed to their proposal, that the children's home for the time should be with them. It would be an advantage for the girls' French, said grandmother, and would do Ralph no harm for a year or two, and if his father's absence lasted longer, it could easily be arranged for him to be sent back to England to school, still spending his holidays at Chalet. So all was settled; and grandmother, who had taken a little house at Dover for a few weeks, stayed there quietly, while aunty journeyed away up to the north of England to fetch the children, their father being too busy with preparations for his own departure to be able conveniently to take them to Dover himself. There were some tears shed at parting with "papa," for the children loved him truly, and believed in his love for them, quiet and undemonstrative though his manner was. There were some tears, too, shed at parting with "nurse," who, having conscientiously spoilt them all, was now getting past work, and was to retire to her married daughter's; there were a good many bestowed on the rough coat of Shag, the pony, and the still rougher of Fusser, the Scotch terrier; but after all, children are children, and for my part I should be very sorry for them to be anything else, and the delights of the change and the bustle of the journey soon drowned all melancholy thoughts.
And so far all had gone charmingly. Aunty had proved to be all that could be wished of aunty-kind, and grandmother promised more than fairly.
"What would we have done if she had been very tall and stout, and fierce-looking, with spectacles and a hookey nose?" thought Molly, and as the thought struck her, she left off eating, and sat with wide open eyes, staring at her grandmother.
Though grandmother did not in general wear spectacles—only when reading very small print, or busied with some peculiarly fine fancywork—nothing ever seemed to escape her notice.
"Molly, my dear, what are you staring at so? Is my cap crooked?" she said. Molly started.
"Oh no, grandmother dear," she replied. "I was only thinking——" she stopped short, jumped off her seat, and in another moment was round the table with a rush, which would have been sadly trying to most grandmothers and aunties, only fortunately these special ones were not like most!
"What is the matter, dear?" grandmother was beginning to exclaim, when she was stopped by feeling two arms hugging her tightly, and a rather bread-and-buttery little mouth kissing her valorously.
"Nothing's the matter," said Molly, when she stopped her kisses, "it only just came into my head when I was looking at you, how nice you were, you dear little grandmother, and I thought I'd like to kiss you. I don't want you to have a gold-headed stick, but I do want one thing, and then you would be quite perfect. Oh, grandmother dear," she went on, clasping her hands in entreaty, "just tell me this, do you ever tell stories?"
Grandmother shook her head solemnly. "I hope not, my dear child," she said, but Molly detected the fun through the solemnity. She gave a wriggle.
"Now you're laughing at me," she said. "You know I don't mean that kind. I mean do you ever tell real stories—not real, I don't mean, for very often the nicest aren't real, about fairies, you know—but you know the sort of stories I mean. You would look so beautiful telling stories, wouldn't she now, Sylvia?"
"And the stories would be beautiful if I told them—eh, Molly?"
"Yes, I am sure they would be. Will you think of some?"
"We'll see," said grandmother. "Anyway there's no time for stories at present. You have ever so much to think of with all the travelling that is before you. Wait till we get to Chalet, and then we'll see."
"I like your 'we'll see,'" said Molly. "Some people's 'we'll see,' just means, 'I can't be troubled,' or, 'don't bother.' But I think your 'we'll see' sounds nice, grandmother dear."
"I am glad you think so, grand-daughter dear; and now, what about going to bed? It is only seven, but if you are tired?"
"But we are not a bit tired," said Molly.
"We never go to bed till half-past eight, and Ralph at nine," said Sylvia.
The word "bed" had started a new flow of ideas in Molly's brain.
"Grandmother," she said, growing all at once very grave, "that reminds me of one thing I wanted to ask you; do the tops of the beds ever come down now in Paris?"
"'Do the tops of the beds in Paris ever come down?'" repeated grandmother. "My dear child, what do you mean?"
"It was a story she heard," began Sylvia, in explanation.
"About somebody being suffocated in Paris by the top of the bed coming down," continued Ralph.
"It was robbers that wanted to steal his money," added Molly.
Grandmother began to look less mystified. "Oh, that old story!" she said. "But how did you hear it? I remember it when I was a little girl; it really happened to a friend of my grandfather's, and afterwards I came across it in a little book about dogs. 'Fidelity of dogs,' was the name of it, I think. The dog saved the traveller's life by dragging him out of the bed."
"Yes," said aunty, "I remember that book too. It was among your old child's books, mother. A queer little musty brown volume, and I remember how the story frightened me."
"There now!" said Molly triumphantly. "You see it frightened aunty too. So I'm not such a baby after all."
"Yes, you are," said Ralph. "People might be frightened without making such a fuss. Molly declared she would rather not go to Paris at all. That's what I call being babyish—it isn't the feeling frightened that's babyish—for people might feel frightened and still be brave, mightn't they, grandmother?"
"Certainly, my boy. That is what moral courage means."
"Oh!" said Molly, as if a new idea had dawned upon her. "I see. Then it doesn't matter if I am frightened if I don't tell any one."
"Not exactly that," said grandmother. "I would like you all to be strong and sensible, and to have good nerves, which it would take a good deal to startle, as well as to have what certainly is best of all, plenty of moral courage."
"And if Molly is frightened, she certainly couldn't help telling," said Sylvia, laughing. "She does so pinch whoever is next her."
"There was nothing about a dog in the story of the bed we heard," said Molly. "It was in a book that a boy at school lent Ralph. I wouldn't ever be frightened if I had Fusser, I don't think. I do so wish I had asked papa to let him come with us—just in case, you know, of the beds having anything funny about them: it would be so comfortable to have Fusser."
At this they all laughed, and aunty promised that if Molly felt dissatisfied with the appearance of her bed, she would exchange with her. And not long after, Sylvia and Molly began to look so sleepy, in spite of their protestations that the dustman's cart was nowhere near their door, that aunty insisted they must be mistaken, she had heard his warning bell ringing some minutes ago. So the two little sisters came round to say good-night.
"Good night, grandmother dear," said Molly, in a voice which tried hard to be brisk as usual through the sleepiness.
Grandmother laid her hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes. Molly had nice eyes when you looked at them closely: they were honest and candid, though of too pale a blue to show at first sight the expression they really contained. Just now too, they were blinking and winking a little. Still grandmother must have been able to read in them what she wanted, for her face looked satisfied when she withdrew her gaze.
"So I am really to be 'grandmother dear,' to you, my dear funny little girl?" she said.
"Of course, grandmother dear. Really, really I mean," said Molly, laughing at herself. "Do you see it in my eyes?"
"Yes, I think I do. You have nice honest eyes, my little girl."
Molly flushed a little with pleasure. "I thought they were rather ugly. Ralph calls them 'cats',' and 'boiled gooseberries,'" she said. "Anyway Sylvia's are much prettier. She has such nice long eyelashes."
"Sylvia's are very sweet," said grandmother, kissing her in turn, "and we won't make comparisons. Both pairs of eyes will do very well my darlings, if always
'The light within them, Tender is and true.'
Now good night, and God bless my little grand-daughters. Ralph, you'll sit up with me a little longer, won't you?"
"What nice funny things grandmother says, doesn't she, Sylvia?" said Molly, as they were undressing.
"She says nice things," said Sylvia, "I don't know about they're being funny. You call everything funny, Molly."
"Except you when you're going to bed, for then you're very often rather cross," said Molly.
But as she was only in fun, Sylvia took it in good part, and, after kissing each other good night, both little sisters fell asleep without loss of time.
LOST IN THE LOUVRE.
"Oh how I wish that I had lived In the ages that are gone!"
A CHILD'S WISH.
It was—did I say so before? the children's first visit to Paris. They had travelled a good deal, for such small people quite "a very good deal," as Molly used to maintain for the benefit of their less experienced companions. They knew England, "of course," Ralph would say in his lordly, big-boy fashion, Scotland too, and Wales, and they had spent some time in Germany. But they had never been in Paris, and the excitement on finding the journey safely past and themselves really there was very considerable.
"And, Molly," said Sylvia, on their way from the railway station to the hotel where rooms had been engaged for them, "remember you've promised not to awake me in the middle of the night if you begin thinking about the top of the bed coming down."
"And, oh, Sylvia! I wish you hadn't reminded me of it just now," said Molly pathetically, for which all the satisfaction she received was a somewhat curt observation from Sylvia, that she shouldn't be so silly.
For Sylvia, though in reality the kindest of little elder sisters, was sometimes inclined to be "short" with poor Molly. Sylvia was clever and quick, and very "capable," remarkably ready at putting herself, as it were, in the place of another and seeing for the time being, through his or her spectacles. While Molly had not got further than opening wide her eyes, and not unfrequently her mouth too, Sylvia, practical in the way that only people of lively imagination can be so, had taken in the whole case, whatever it might be, and set her ready wits to work as to the best thing to be said or done. And Molly would wonderingly admire, and wish she could manage to "think of things" the way Sylvia did.
They loved each other dearly, these two—but to-night they were tired, and when people, not children only, big people too, very often—are tried, it is only a very little step to being cross and snappish. And when aunty, tired too, and annoyed by the unamiable tones, turned round to beg them to "try to leave off squabbling; it was so thoughtless of them to disturb their grandmother," two or three big tears welled up in Molly's eyes, though it was too dark in the omnibus, which was taking them and their luggage from the station, for any one to see, and she thought to herself what a terrible disappointment it would be if, after all, this delightful, long-talked-of visit to Paris, were to turn out not delightful at all. And through Sylvia's honest little heart there darted a quick sting of pain and regret for her sharpness to Molly. How was it that she could not manage to keep the resolutions so often and so conscientiously made? How was it that she could not succeed in remembering at the time, the very moment at which she was tempted to be snappish and supercilious, her never-really-forgotten motive for peculiar gentleness and patience with her younger sister, the promise she had made, now so many years ago, to the mother Molly could scarcely even remember, to be kind, very kind, and gentle to the little, flaxen-haired, toddling thing, the "baby" whom that dear mother had loved so piteously.
"Eight years ago," said Sylvia to herself. "I was five and Molly only three and a half then. Poor little Molly, how funny she was!"
And a hand crept in under Molly's sleeve, and a whisper reached her ear.
"I don't mean to be cross or to tease you, Molly."
And Molly in a moment was her own queer, happy, muddle-headed little self again.
"Dear Sylvia," she whispered in return, "of course you don't. You never do, and if the top of the bed did come down, I'm sure I'd pull you out first, however sleepy I was. Only of course I know it won't, and it's just my silly way, but when I'm as big as you, Sylvia, I'll get out of it, I'm sure."
"You're as big as me now, you silly girl," said Sylvia laughingly, which was true. Molly was tall and well-grown for her age, while Sylvia was small, so that very often, to Molly's delight, they were taken for twins.
"In my body, but not in my mind," rejoined Molly, with a little sigh. "I wish the growing would go into my mind for a little, though I wouldn't like to be much smaller than you, Sylvia. Perhaps we shouldn't be dressed alike, then."
"Do be quiet, Molly, you are such an awful chatterbox," growled Ralph from his corner. "I was just having a nice little nap."
He was far too "grown-up" to own to the eagerness with which, as they went along, he had been furtively peeping out at the window beside him—or to join in Molly's screams of delight at the brilliance of the illumined shop windows, and the interminable perspective of gas lamps growing longer and longer behind them as they rapidly made their way.
A sudden slackening of their speed, a sharp turn, and a rattle over the stones, told of their arrival at their destination. And "Oh!" cried Molly, "I am so glad. Aren't you awfully hungry, Sylvia?"
And grandmother, who, to tell the truth, had been indulging in a peaceful, real little nap—not a sham one like Ralph's—quite woke up at this, and told Molly it was the best sign in the world to be hungry after a journey; she was delighted to find her so good a traveller.
The "dinner-tea" which, out of consideration for the children's home hours, had been ordered for them, turned out delicious. Never had they tasted such butter, such bread, such grilled chicken, and fried potatoes! And to complete Molly's satisfaction the beds proved to have no tops to them at all.
"I told you so," said Ralph majestically, when they had made the tour of the various rooms and settled who was to have which, and though neither Sylvia nor Molly had the slightest recollection of his "telling you so," they were wise enough to say nothing.
"But the little doors in the walls are quite as bad, or worse," Ralph continued mischievously. "There's one at the head of your bed, Molly,"—Molly and Sylvia were to have two little beds in the same room, standing in a sort of alcove—"which I am almost sure opens on to a secret staircase."
Molly gave a little shiver, and looked up appealingly.
"Ralph, you are not to tease her," said aunty. "Remember all your promises to your father."
Ralph looked rather snubbed.
"Let us talk of something pleasant," continued aunty, anxious to change the subject. "What shall we do to-morrow? What shall we go to see first?"
"Yes," said grandmother. "What are your pet wishes, children?"
"Notre Dame," cried Molly.
"The Louvre," said Sylvia.
"Anything you like. I don't care much for sightseeing," said Ralph.
"That's a pity," said aunty drily. "However, as you are the only gentleman of the party, and we are all dependent on you, perhaps it is just as well that you have no special fancies of your own. So to-morrow I propose that we should go a drive in the morning, to give you a general idea of Paris, returning by Notre Dame. In the afternoon I have some calls to make, and a little shopping to do, and you three must not forget to write to your father. Then the next day we can go to the Louvre, as Sylvia wished."
"Thank you, aunty," said Sylvia. "It isn't so much for the pictures I want to go, but I do so want to see the room where poor Henry the Fourth was killed. I am so fond of Henry the Fourth."
Aunty smiled, and Ralph burst out laughing.
"What a queer idea!" he said. "If you are so fond of him, I should think you would rather not see the room where he was killed."
Sylvia grew scarlet, and Molly flew up in her defence.
"You've no business to laugh at Sylvia, Ralph," she cried. "I understand her quite well. And she knows a great deal more history than you do—and about pictures, too. Of course we want to see the pictures, too. There's that beautiful blue and orange one of Murillo's that papa has a little copy of. It's at the Louvre."
"I didn't say it wasn't," retorted Ralph. "It's Sylvia's love of horrors I was laughing at."
"She doesn't love horrors," replied Molly, more and more indignant.
"You needn't talk," said Ralph coolly. "Who was it that took a box of matches in her pocket to Holyrood Palace, and was going to strike one to look for the blood-stains on the floor? It was the only thing you cared to see, and yet you are such a goose—crying out if a butterfly settles on you. I think girls are——"
"Ralph, my boy," said grandmother, seeing that by this time Molly was almost in tears; "whatever you think of girls, you make me, I am sorry to say, think that boys' love of teasing is utterly incomprehensible—and oh, so unmanly!"
The last touch went home.
"I was only in fun, grandmother," said Ralph with unusual meekness; "I didn't mean really to vex Molly."
So peace was restored.
To-morrow turned out fine, deliriously fine.
"Not like England," said Molly superciliously, "where it always rains when you want it to be fine."
They made the most of the beautiful weather, though by no means agreeing with aunty's reminder that even in Paris it did sometimes rain, and the three pairs of eager feet were pretty tired by the time bed-time came.
And oh, what a disappointment the next morning brought!
The children woke to a regular, pouring wet day, no chance of fulfilling the programme laid out, for Sylvia was subject to sore throats, and grandmother would not let her go out in the damp, and there would be no fun in going to the Louvre without her. So, as what can't be cured must be endured, the children had just to make the best of it and amuse themselves in the house in the hopes of sunshine again for to-morrow. These hopes were happily fulfilled.
"A lovely day," said aunty, "all the brighter for yesterday's rain."
"And we may go to the Louvre," exclaimed Sylvia eagerly.
Aunty hesitated and turned, as everybody did when they were at a loss, to grandmother.
"What do you think?" she said. She was reluctant to disappoint the children—Sylvia especially—as they had all been very good the day before, but yet——"It is Saturday, and the Louvre will be so crowded you know, mother."
"But I shall be with you," said Ralph.
"And I!" said grandmother. "Is not a little old lady like me equal to taking care of you all?"
"Will you really come too, dear grandmother?" exclaimed Sylvia and Molly in a breath. "Oh, how nice!"
"I should like to go," said grandmother. "It is ever so many years since I was at the Louvre."
"Do let us go then. Oh, do let us all go," said the little girls. "You know we are leaving on Tuesday, and something might come in the way again on Monday."
So it was settled.
"Remember, children," said grandmother as they were all getting out of the carriage, "remember to keep close together. You have no idea how easily some of you might get lost in the crowd."
"Lost!" repeated Sylvia incredulously.
"LOST!" echoed Molly.
"LOST!" shouted Ralph so loudly that some of their fellow-sight-seers, passing beside them into the palace, turned round to see what was the matter. "How could we possibly get lost here?"
"Very easily," replied aunty calmly. "There is nothing, to people unaccustomed to it, so utterly bewildering as a crowd."
"Not to me," persisted Ralph. "I could thread my way in and out of the people till I found you. The girls might get lost, perhaps."
"Thank you," said Molly; "as it happens, Master Ralph, I think it would be much harder to lose us than you. For one thing we can speak French ever such a great deal better than you."
"And then there are two of us. If one of us was lost, grandmother and aunty could hold out the other one as a pattern, and say, 'I want a match for this,'" said Sylvia laughing, and a little eager to prevent the impending skirmish between Ralph and Molly.
"Hush, children, you really mustn't chatter so," said aunty. "Use your eyes, and let your tongues, poor things, rest for a little."
They got on very happily. Aunty managed to show the children the special picture or pictures each had most wanted to see—including the "beautiful blue and orange" one of Molly's recollection. She nearly screamed with delight when she saw "how like it was to the one in papa's study," but took in good part Ralph's cynical observation that a thing that was copied from another was generally supposed to be "like" the original.
Only Sylvia was a little disappointed when, after looking at the pictures in one of the smaller rooms—a room in no way peculiar or remarkable as differing from the others—they suddenly discovered that they were in the famous "Salle Henri II.," where Henry the Fourth was killed!
"I didn't think it would be like this," said Sylvia lugubriously. "Why do they call it 'Salle Henri II.?' It should be called after Henry the Fourth; and I don't think it should have pictures in, and be just like a common room."
"What would you have it? Hung round with black and tapers burning?" said her aunt.
"I don't know—any way I thought it would have had old tapestry," said Sylvia. "I should like it to have been kept just the way it was then."
"Poor Sylvia!" said grandmother. "But we must hurry on, children. We have not seen the 'Petite Galerie' yet—dear me, how many years it is since I was in it!—and some of the most beautiful pictures are there."
They passed on—grandmother leaning on aunty's arm—the three children close behind, through a room called the "Salle des Sept Cheminees," along a vestibule filled with cases of jewellery, leading again to one of the great staircases. Something in the vestibule attracted grandmother's attention, and she stopped for a moment. Sylvia, not interested in what the others were looking at, turned round and retraced her steps a few paces by the way they had entered the hall. A thought had struck her.
"I'd like just to run back for a moment to Henry the Fourth's Room," she said to herself. "I want to notice the shape of it exactly, and how many windows there are, and then I think I can fancy to myself how it looked then, with the tapestry and all the old-fashioned furniture."
No sooner thought than done. In a moment she was back in the room which had so curiously fascinated her, taking accurate note of its features.
"I shall remember it now," she said to herself, after gazing round her for a minute or two. "Now I must run after grandmother and the others, or they'll be thinking I am lost."
She turned with a little laugh at the idea, and hastened out of the room, through the few groups of people standing or moving about, looking at the pictures—hastened out, expecting in another moment to see the familiar figures. The room into which she made her way was also filled with pictures, as had been the one through which she had entered the "Salle Henri II." She crossed it without misgiving: she had no idea that she had left the Salle Henri II. by the opposite door from that by which she had entered it!
Poor little Sylvia, she did not know that grandmother's warning was actually to be fulfilled. She was "lost in the Louvre!"
"WHERE IS SYLVIA?"
"What called me back? A voice of happy childhood,
"Yet might I not bewail the vision gone, My heart so leapt to that dear loving tone."
Mrs. HEMANS, "An Hour of Romance."
She did not find out her mistake. She passed through the room and entered the vestibule into which it led, quite confident that she would meet the others in an instant. There were several groups standing about this vestibule as there had been in the other, but none composed of the figures she was looking for.
"They must have passed on," said Sylvia to herself; "I wish they hadn't; perhaps they never noticed I wasn't beside them."
Then for the first time a slight feeling of anxiety seized her. She hurried quickly across the ante-room where she was standing, to find herself in another "salle," which was quite unlike any of the others she had seen. Instead of oil-paintings, it was hung round with colourless engravings. Here, too, there were several people standing about, but none whom, even for an instant, Sylvia could have mistaken for her friends.
"How quickly they must have hurried on," she thought, her heart beginning to beat faster. "I do think they might have waited a little. They must have missed me by now."
No use delaying in this room. Sylvia hurried on, finding herself now in that part of the palace devoted to ancient pottery and other antiquities, uninteresting to a child. The rooms through which she passed were much less crowded than those containing pictures. At a glance it was easy to distinguish that those she was in search of were not there. Still she tried to keep up heart.
"There is nothing here they would much care about," she said to herself. "If I could get back to the picture rooms I should be sure to find them."
At last, to her delight, after crossing a second vestibule, from which descended a great staircase which she fancied she had seen before, she entered another of the long galleries completely hung with paintings. She bounded forward joyously.
"They're sure to be here," she said.
The room was very crowded. She dared not rush through it as fast as hitherto; it was so crowded that she felt it would be quite possible to overlook a group of even four. More than once she fancied she caught sight of grandmother's small and aunty's taller figure, both dressed in black. Once her heart gave a great throb of delight when she fancied she distinguished through the crowd the cream-coloured felt hat and feathers of Molly, her double. But no—it was a cream-coloured felt hat, but the face below it was not Molly's. Then at last a panic seized the poor little girl. She fairly lost her head, and the tears blinding her so, that had Molly and all of them been close beside her, she could scarcely have perceived them, she ran half frantically through the rooms. Half frantically in reality, but scarcely so to outward appearance. Her habit of self-control, her unconquerable British dislike to being seen in tears, or to making herself conspicuous, prevented her distress being so visible as to attract general attention. Some few people remarked her as she passed—a forlorn little Evangeline—her pretty face now paler, now more flushed than its wont, as alternations of hope and fear succeeded each other, and wondered if she had lost her party or her way. But she had disappeared before there was time to do more than notice her. More than once she was on the point of asking help or advice from the cocked-hat officials at the doors, but she was afraid. In some ways she was very ignorant and childish for her age, notwithstanding her little womanlinesses and almost precocious good sense, and to tell the truth, a vague misty terror was haunting her brain—a terror which she would hardly have confessed to Molly, not for worlds untold to Ralph—that, being in France and not in England, she might somehow be put in prison, were the state of the case known to these same cocked-hat gentlemen! So, when at last one of these dignitaries, who had been noticing her rapid progress down the long gallery "Napoleon III.," stopped her with the civil inquiry, "Had Mademoiselle lost her way? was she seeking some one?" she bit her lips tight and winked her eyes briskly not to cry, as she replied in her best French, "Oh no," she could find her way. And then, as a sudden thought struck her that possibly he had been deputed by grandmother and aunty, who must have missed her by now, to look for her, she glanced up at him again with the inquiry, had he, perhaps, seen a little girl like her? just like her?
"Une petite fille comme Mademoiselle?" replied the man smiling, but not taking in the sense of the question. "No, he had not." How could there be two little demoiselles, "tout-a-fait pareilles?" He shook his head, good-natured but mystified, and Sylvia, getting frightened again, thanked him and sped off anew.
The next doorway—by this time she had unconsciously in her panic and confusion begun actually to retrace her steps round the main court of the palace—brought her again into a room filled with statuary and antiquities. She was getting so tired, so out of breath, that the excitement now deserted her. She sat down on the ledge of one of the great marble vases, in a corner where her little figure was almost hidden from sight, and began to think, as quietly and composedly as she could, what she should do. The tears were slowly creeping up into her eyes again; she let two or three fall, and then resolutely drove the others back.
"What shall I do?" she thought, and joined to her own terrors there was now the certainty of the anxiety and misery the others must, by this time, be suffering on her account. "Oh, poor little Molly," she said to herself. "How dreadfully she will be crying! What shall I do?"
Two or three ideas struck her. Should she go down one of the staircases which every now and then she came upon, and find her way out of the palace, and down in the street try to call a cab to take her back to the hotel? But she had no money with her, and no idea what a cab would cost. And she was frightened of strange cabmen, and by no means sure that she could intelligibly explain the address. Besides this, she could not bear to go home without them all, feeling certain that they would not desert the palace till they had searched every corner for her.
"If I could but be sure of any place they must pass," she said to herself, with her good sense reviving; "it would be the best way to wait there till they come."
She jumped up again. "The door out!" she exclaimed. "They must pass it. Only perhaps," her hopes falling, "there are several doors. The best one to wait at would be the one we came in by, if I could but tell which it was. Let me see—yes, I remember, as we came upstairs, aunty said, 'This is the Grand Escalier.' If I ask for the 'Grand Escalier.'"
Her courage returned. The very next cocked hat she came upon, she asked to direct her to the "Grand Escalier." He sent her straight back through a vestibule she had just left, at the other entrance to which she found herself at the head of the great staircase.
"I am sure this is the one we came up," she thought, as she ran down, and her certainty was confirmed, when, having made her way out through the entrance hall at the foot of the staircase, she caught sight, a few yards off, of an old apple woman's stall in the courtyard.
"I remember that stall quite well," thought Sylvia, and in her delight she felt half inclined to run up to the apple-woman and kiss her. "She looks nice," she said to herself, "and they must pass that way to get to the street we came along. I'll go and stand beside her."
Half timidly the little girl advanced towards the stall. She had stood there a minute or two before its owner noticed her, and turned to ask if mademoiselle wanted an apple.
Sylvia shook her head. She had no money and did not want any apples, but might she stand there to watch for her friends, whom she had lost in the crowd. The old woman, with bright black eyes and shrivelled-up, yellow-red cheeks, not unlike one of her own apples that had been thrown aside as spoilt, turned and looked with kindly curiosity at the little girl.
"Might Mademoiselle wait there? Certainly. But she must not stand," and as she spoke she drew out a little stool, on which Sylvia was only too glad to seat herself, and feeling a little less anxious, she mustered courage to ask the old woman if every one came out at this door.
"To go where?" inquired the old woman, and when Sylvia mentioned the name of the hotel and the street where they were staying, "Ah, yes!" said her informant; "Mademoiselle might be quite satisfied. It was quite sure Madame, her mother, would come out by that entrance."
"Not my mother," said Sylvia. "I have no mother. It is my grandmother."
"The grandmother of Mademoiselle," repeated the old woman with increased interest. "Ah, yes I too had once a grand-daughter."
"Did she die?" said Sylvia.
"Poor angel, yes," replied the apple-seller; "she went to the good God, and no doubt it is better. She was orphan, Mademoiselle, and I was obliged to be out all day, and she would come too. And it is so cold in Paris, the winter. She got a bad bronchitis and she died, and her old grandmother is now alone."
"I am so sorry," said Sylvia. And her thoughts went off to her own grandmother, and Molly, and all of them, with fresh sympathy for the anxiety they must be suffering. She leant back on the wall against which the old woman had placed the stool, feeling very depressed and weary—so weary that she did not feel able to do anything but sit still, which no doubt from every point of view was the best thing she could do, though but for her weariedness she would have felt much inclined to rush off again to look for them, thus decidedly decreasing her chance of finding them.
"Mademoiselle is tired," said the old woman, kindly. "She need not be afraid. The ladies are sure to come out here. I will watch well those who pass. A little demoiselle dressed like Mademoiselle? One could not mistake. Mademoiselle may feel satisfied."
Somehow the commonplace, kindly words did make Sylvia feel less anxious. And she was very tired. Not so much with running about the Louvre; that, in reality, had not occupied more than three quarters of an hour, but with the fright and excitement, and the excitement of a different kind too, that she had had the last few days, poor little Sylvia was really quite tired out.
She laid her head down on the edge of the table on which the apples were spread out, hardly taking in the sense of what the old woman was saying—that in half-an-hour at most Mademoiselle would find her friends, for then the doors would be closed, and every one would be obliged to leave the palace. She felt satisfied that the old woman would be on the look-out for the little party she had described to her, and she thought vaguely that she would ask grandmother to give her a sixpence or a shilling—no, not a sixpence or a shilling,—she was in France, not in England—what should she say? A franc—half a franc—how much was equal to a sixpence or a shilling? She thought it over mistily for a moment or two, and then thought no more about it—she had fallen fast asleep!
But how was this? She had fallen asleep with her head on the apple-woman's stall; when she looked round her again where was she? For a minute or two she did not in the least recognise the room—then it suddenly flashed upon her she was in the Salle Henri II., the room where poor Henry the Fourth was killed! But how changed it was—the pictures were all gone, the walls were hung with the tapestry she had wished she could see there, and the room was but dimly lighted by a lamp hanging from the centre of the roof. Sylvia did not feel in any way surprised at the transformation—but she looked about her with great interest and curiosity. Suddenly a slight feeling of fear came over her, when in one corner she saw the hangings move, and from behind the tapestry a hand, a very long white hand, appear. Whose could it be? Sylvia's fear increased to terror when it suddenly struck her that this must be the night of the 14th of May, the night on which Henry of Navarre was to be killed. She gave a scream of terror, or what she fancied a scream; in reality it was the faintest of muffled sounds, like the tiny squeal of a distressed mouse, which seemed to startle the owner of the hand into quicker measures. He threw back the hangings and came towards Sylvia, addressing her distinctly. The voice was so kind that her courage returned, and she looked up at the new comer. His face was pale and somewhat worn-looking, the eyes were bright and sparkling, and benevolent in expression; his tall figure was curiously dressed in a fashion which yet did not seem quite unfamiliar to the little girl—a sort of doublet or jacket of rich crimson velvet, with lace at the collar and cuffs, short trousers fastened in at the knees, "very like Ralph's knickerbockers," said Sylvia to herself, long pointed-toed shoes, like canoes, and on the head a little cap edged with gold, half coronet, half smoking cap, it seemed to her. Where had she ever seen this old-world figure before? She gazed at him in perplexity.
"Why are you so frightened, Mademoiselle?" said the stranger, and curiously enough his voice sounded very like that of the most amiable of her cocked-hat friends.
"I don't think I am frightened," she said, and though she spoke English and the stranger had addressed her in French, he seemed quite to understand her. "I am only tired, and there was something the matter. I can't remember what it was."
"I know," replied her visitor. "You can't find Molly and the others. Never mind. If you come with me I'll take you to them. I know all the ins and outs of the palace. I have lived here so long, you see."
He held out his hand, but Sylvia hesitated. "Who are you?" she said.
A curious smile flickered over the face before her.
"Don't you know?" he said. "I am surprised at that. I thought you knew me quite well."
"Are you?" said Sylvia—"yes, I am sure you must be one of the pictures in the long gallery. I remember looking at you this afternoon. How did you get down?"
"No," said the stranger, "Mademoiselle is not quite right. How could there be two 'tout a fait pareils'?" and again his voice sounded exactly like that of the cocked-hat who would not understand when she had asked him if he had seen Molly. Yet she still felt sure he was mistaken, he must be the picture she remembered.
"It is very queer," she said. "If you are not the picture, who are you then?"
"I pass my time," said the figure, somewhat irrelevantly, "between this room, where I was killed and the 'Salle des Caryatides,' where I was married. On the whole I prefer this room."
"Are you—can you be—Henry the Fourth?" exclaimed Sylvia. "Oh! poor Henry the Fourth, I am so afraid of them coming to kill you again. Come, let us run quick to the old apple-woman, she will take care of you till we find grandmother."
She in turn held out her hand. The king took it and held it a moment in his, and a sad, very sad smile overspread his face.
"Alas!" he said, "I cannot leave the palace. I have no little grand-daughter like Mademoiselle. I am alone, always alone. Farewell, my little demoiselle. Les voila qui viennent."
The last words he seemed to speak right into her ears, so clear and loud they sounded. Sylvia started—opened her eyes—no, there was no king to be seen, only the apple-woman, who had been gently shaking her awake, and who now stood pointing out to her a little group of four people hurrying towards them, of whom the foremost, hurrying the fastest of all, was a fair-haired little girl with a cream-coloured felt hat and feathers, who, sobbing, threw herself into Sylvia's arms, and hugged and hugged as if she never would let go.
"Oh, Sylvia, oh, my darling!" she cried. "I thought you were lost for always. Oh, I have been so frightened—oh, we have all been so frightened. I thought perhaps they had taken you away to one of the places where the tops of the beds come down, or to that other place on the river, the Morgue, where they drown people, only I didn't say so, not to frighten poor grandmother worse. Oh, grandmother dear, aren't you glad she's found?"
Sylvia was crying too by this time, and the old apple-woman was wiping her eyes with a corner of her apron. You may be sure grandmother gave her a present, I rather think it was of a five-franc piece, which was very extravagant of grandmother, wasn't it?
They had been of course hunting for Sylvia, as people always do for anything that is lost, from a little girl to a button-hook, before they find it, in every place but the right one. I think it was grandmother's bright idea at last to make their way to the entrance and wait there. There had been quite a commotion among the cocked-hats who had not seen Sylvia, only unfortunately they had not managed to communicate with the cocked-hats who had seen her, and they had shown the greatest zeal in trying to "match" the little girl in the cream-coloured hat, held out to them as a pattern by the brisk old lady in black, who spoke such beautiful French, that they "demanded themselves" seriously if the somewhat eccentric behaviour of the party could be explained, as all eccentricities should of course always be explained, by the fact of their being English! Aunty's distress had been great, and she had not "kept her head" as well as grandmother, whose energies had a happy knack of always rising to the occasion.
"What will Walter think of us," said aunty piteously, referring to the children's father, "if we begin by losing one of them?" And she unmercifully snubbed Ralph's not unreasonable suggestion of "detectives;" he had always heard the French police system was so excellent.
Ralph had been as unhappy as any of them, especially as grandmother had strenuously forbidden his attempting to mend matters by "threading his way in and out," and getting lost himself in the process. And yet when they were all comfortably at the hotel again, their troubles forgotten, and Sylvia had time to relate her remarkable dream, he teased her unmercifully the whole evening about her description of the personal appearance of Henry the Fourth. He was, according to Ralph, neither tall nor pale, and he certainly could not have had long thin hands, nor did people—kings, that is to say, at that date—wear lace ruffles or pointed shoes. Had Molly not known, for a fact, that all their lesson books were unget-at-ably packed up, she would certainly have suspected Ralph of a sly peep at Mrs. Markham, just on purpose "to set Sylvia down." But failing this weapon, her defence of Sylvia was, it must be confessed, somewhat illogical.
She didn't care, she declared, whether Henry the Fourth was big or little, or how he was dressed. It was very clever of Sylvia to dream such a nice dream about real history things, and Ralph couldn't dream such a dream if he tried ever so hard.
Boys are aggravating creatures, are they not?
THE SIX PINLESS BROOCHES.
"They have no school, no governess, and do just what they please, No little worries vex the birds that live up in the trees."
THE DISCONTENTED STARLINGS.
Not many days after this thrilling adventure of Sylvia's, the little party of travellers reached their destination, grandmother's pretty house at Chalet. They were of course delighted to be there, everything was so bright, and fresh, and comfortable, and grandmother herself was glad to be again settled down at what to her now represented home. But yet, at the bottom of their hearts, the children were a little sorry that the travelling was over. True, Molly declared that, though their passage across the Channel had really been a very good one as these dreadful experiences go, nothing would ever induce her to repeat the experiment; whatever came of it, there was no help for it, live and die in France, at least on this side of the water, she must.
"I am never going to marry, you know," she observed to Sylvia, "so for that it doesn't matter, as of course I couldn't marry a Frenchman. But you will come over to see me sometimes and bring your children, and when I get very old, as I shall have no one to be kind to me you see, I daresay I shall get some one to let me be their concierge like the old woman in our lodge. I shall be very poor of course, but anything is better than crossing the sea again."
It sounded very melancholy. Sylvia's mind misgave her that perhaps she should offer to stay with Molly "for always" on this side of the channel, but she did not feel quite sure about it. And the odd thing was that of them all Molly had most relished the travelling, and was most eager to set off again. She liked the fuss and bustle of it, she said; she liked the feeling of not being obliged to do any special thing at any special hour, for regularity and method were sore crosses to Molly.
"It is so nice," she said, "to feel when we get up in the morning that we shall be out of one bustle into another all day, and nobody to say 'You will be late for your music,' or, 'Have you finished your geography, Molly?'"
"Well," said Sylvia, "I am sure you haven't much of that kind of thing just now, Molly. We have far less lessons than we had at home. It is almost like holidays."
This was quite true. It had been settled between grandmother and their father that for the first two or three months the children should not have many lessons. They had been working pretty hard for a year or two with a very good, but rather strict, governess, and Sylvia, at no time exceedingly strong, had begun to look a little fagged.
"They will have plenty to use their brains upon at first," said their father. "The novelty of everything, the different manners and customs, and the complete change of life, all that will be enough to occupy and interest them, and I don't want to overwork them. Let them run wild for a little."
It sounded very reasonable, but grandmother had her doubts about it all the same. "Running wild" in her experience had never tended to making little people happier or more contented.
"They are always better and more able to enjoy play-time when they feel that they have done some work well and thoroughly," she said to aunty. "However, we must wait a little. If I am not much mistaken, the children themselves will be the first to tire of being too much at their own disposal."
For a few weeks it seemed as if Mr. Heriott had been right. The children were so interested and amused by all they saw that it really seemed as if there would not be room in their minds for anything else. Every time they went out a walk they returned, Molly especially, in raptures with some new marvel. The bullocks who drew the carts, soft-eyed, clumsy creatures, looking, she declared, so "sweet and patient;" the endless varieties of "sisters," with the wonderful diversity of caps; the chatter, and bustle, and clatter on the market-days; the queer, quaint figures that passed their gates on horse and pony back, jogging along with their butter and cheese and eggs from the mountain farms—all and everything was interesting and marvellous and entertaining to the last degree.
"I don't know how other children find time to do lessons here," she said to Sylvia one day. "It is quite difficult to remember just practising and French, and think what lots of other lessons we did at home, and we seemed to have much more time."
"Yes," said Sylvia, "and do you know, Molly, I think I liked it better. Just now at the end of the day I never feel as if I had done anything nicely and settledly, and I think Ralph feels so too. He is going to school regularly next month, every day. I wish we were too."
"I don't," said Molly, "and it will be very horrid of you, Sylvia, if you go putting anything like that into grandmother's head. There now, she is calling us, and I am not nearly ready. Where are my gloves? Oh, I cannot find them."
"What did you do with them yesterday when you came in?" said Sylvia. "You ran down to the lodge to see the soldiers passing; don't you remember, just when you had half taken off your things?"
"Oh yes, and I believe I left them in my other jacket pocket. Yes, here they are. There is grandmother calling again. Do run, Sylvia, and tell her I'm just coming."
Molly was going out alone with grandmother to-day, and having known all the morning at what time she was to be ready, there was no excuse for her tardiness.
"My dear child," said grandmother, who, tired of waiting, just then made her appearance in their room, "what have you been doing? And you don't look half dressed now. See, your collar is tumbling off. I must really tell Marcelline never to let you go out without looking you all over."
"It wasn't Marcelline's fault, grandmother dear," said Molly. "I'm so sorry. I dressed in such a hurry."
"And why in such a hurry?" asked grandmother. "This is not a day on which you have any lessons."
"No-o," began Molly; but a new thought struck grandmother. "Oh, by the by, children, where are your letters for your father? I told you I should take them to the post myself, you remember, as I wasn't sure how many stamps to put on for Cairo."
Sylvia looked at Molly, Molly looked at Sylvia. Neither dared look at grandmother. Both grew very red. At last,
"I am so sorry, grandmother dear."
"I am so sorry, dear grandmother."
"We are both so sorry; we quite forgot we were to write them this morning."
Grandmother looked at them both with a somewhat curious expression.
"You both forgot?" she said. "Have you so much to do, my dear little girls, that you haven't room in your minds to remember even this one thing?"
"No, grandmother, it isn't that. I should have remembered," said Sylvia in a low voice.
"I don't know, grandmother dear," replied Molly, briskly. "My mind does seem very full. I don't know how it is, I'm sure."
Grandmother quietly opened a drawer in a chest of drawers near to which she was standing. It was very neat. The different articles it contained were arranged in little heaps; there were a good many things in it—gloves, scarfs, handkerchiefs, ribbons, collars, but there seemed plenty of room for all.
"Whose drawer is this?" she asked.
"Mine," said Sylvia.
"Sylvia's," answered Molly in the same breath, but growing very red as she saw grandmother's hand and eyes turning in the direction of the neighbour drawer to the one she had opened.
"I am so sorry, grandmother dear," she exclaimed; "I wish you wouldn't look at mine to-day. I was going to put it tidy, but I hadn't time."
It was too late. Grandmother had already opened the drawer. Ah, dear! what a revelation! Gloves, handkerchiefs, scarfs, ribbons, collars; collars ribbons, scarfs, handkerchiefs, gloves, in a sort of pot-pourri all together, or as if waiting to be beaten up into some wonderful new kind of pudding! Molly grew redder and redder.
"Dear me!" said grandmother. "This is your drawer, I suppose, Molly. How is it it is so much smaller than Sylvia's?"
"It isn't, grandmother dear," said Molly, rather surprised at the turn of the conversation. "It is just the same size exactly."
"Then how is it you have so many more things to keep in it than Sylvia?"
"I haven't, grandmother dear," said Molly. "We have just exactly the same of everything."
"And yet yours looks crowded to the last degree—far too full—and in hers there seems plenty of room for everything."
"Because, grandmother dear," said Molly, opening wide her eyes, "hers is neat and mine isn't."
"Ah," said grandmother. "See what comes of order. Suppose you try a little of it with that mind of yours, Molly, which you say seems always too full. Do you know I strongly suspect that if everything in it were very neatly arranged, you would find a very great deal of room in it; you would be surprised to find how little, not how much, it contains."
"Would I, grandmother dear?" said Molly, looking rather mystified. "I don't quite understand."
"Think about it a little, and then I fancy you will understand," said grandmother. "But we really must go now, or I shall be too late for what I wanted to do. There is that collar of yours loose again, Molly. A little brooch would be the proper thing to fasten it with. You have several."
Poor Molly—her unlucky star was in the ascendant this afternoon surely! She grew very red again, as she answered confusedly,
"Yes, grandmother dear."
"Well then, quick, my dear. Put on the brooch with the bit of coral in the middle, like the one that Sylvia has on now."
"Please, grandmother dear, that one's pin's broken."
"The pin's broken! Ah, well, we'll take it to have it mended then. Where is it, my dear? Give it to me."
Molly opened the unlucky drawer, and after a minute or two's fumbling extracted from its depths a little brooch which she handed to grandmother. Grandmother looked at it.
"This is not the one, Molly. This is the one Aunty sent you on your last birthday, with the little turquoises round it."
Molly turned quickly.
"Oh yes. It isn't the coral one. It must be in the drawer."
Another rummage brought forth the coral one.
"But the turquoise one has no pin either!"
"No, grandmother dear. It broke last week."
"Then it too must go to be mended," said grandmother with decision. "See, here is another one that will do for to-day."
She, in turn, drew forth another brooch. A little silver one this time, in the shape of a bird flying. But as she was handing it to Molly, "Why, this one also has no pin!" she exclaimed.
"No, grandmother dear. I broke it the day before yesterday."
Grandmother laid the three brooches down in a row.
"How many brooches in all have you, Molly?" she said.
"Six, grandmother dear. They are just the same as Sylvia has. We have each six."
"And where are the three others?"
Molly opened a little box that stood on the top of the chest of drawers.
"They're here," she said, and so they were, poor things. A little mosaic brooch set in silver, a mother-of-pearl with steel border, and a tortoise-shell one in the shape of a crescent; these made up her possessions.
"I meant," she added naively, "I meant to have put them all in this box as I broke them, but I left the coral one, and the turquoise one, and the bird in the drawer by mistake."
"As you broke them?" repeated grandmother. "How many are broken then?"
"All," said Molly. "I mean the pins are."
It was quite true. There lay the six brooches—brooches indeed no longer—for not a pin was there to boast of among them!
"Six pinless brooches!" said grandmother drily, taking them up one after another. "Six pinless brooches—the property of one careless little girl. Little girls are changed from the days when I was young! I shall take these six brooches to be mended at once, Molly, but what I shall do with them when they are mended I cannot as yet say."
She put them all in the little box from which three of them had been taken, and with it in her hand went quietly out of the room. Molly, by this time almost in tears, remained behind for a moment to whisper to Sylvia,
"Is grandmother dreadfully angry, do you think, Sylvia? I am so frightened, I wish I wasn't going out with her."
"Then you should not have been so horribly careless. I never knew any one so careless," said Sylvia, in rather a Job's comforter tone of voice. "Of course you must tell grandmother how sorry you are, and how ashamed of yourself, and ask her to forgive you."
"Grandmother dear," said Molly, her irrepressible spirits rising again when she found herself out in the pleasant fresh air, sitting opposite grandmother in the carriage, bowling along so smoothly—grandmother having made no further allusion to the unfortunate brooches—"Grandmother dear, I am so sorry and so ashamed of myself. Will you please forgive me?"
"And what then, my dear?" said grandmother.
"I will try to be careful; indeed I will. I will tell you how it is I break them so, grandmother dear. I am always in such a hurry, and brooches are so provoking sometimes. They won't go in, and I give them a push, and then they just squock across in a moment."
"They just what?" said grandmother.
"Squock across, grandmother dear," said Molly serenely. "It's a word of my own. I have a good many words of my own like that. But I won't say them if you'd rather not. I've got a plan in my head—it's just come there—of teaching myself to be more careful with brooches, so please, grandmother dear, do try me again when the brooches are mended. Of course I'll pay them out of my own money."
"Well, we'll see," said grandmother, as the carriage stopped at the jeweller's shop where the poor brooches were to be doctored.
During the next two days there was a decided improvement in Molly. She spent a great part of them in putting her drawers and other possessions in order, and was actually discovered in a quiet corner mending a pair of gloves. She was not once late for breakfast or dinner, and, notwithstanding the want of the brooches, her collars retained their position with unusual docility. All these symptoms were not lost on grandmother, and to Molly's great satisfaction, on the evening of the third day she slipped into her hand a little box which had just been left at the door.
"The brooches, Molly," said grandmother. "They have cost just three francs. I think I may trust you with them, may I not?"
"Oh yes, grandmother dear. I'm sure you may," said Molly, radiant. "And do you know my drawers are just beautiful. I wish you could see them."
"Never fear, my dear. I shall be sure to take a look at them some day soon. Shall I pay them an unexpected visit—eh, Molly?"
"If you like," replied the little girl complacently. "I've quite left off being careless and untidy; it's so much nicer to be careful and neat. Good-night, grandmother dear, and thank you so much for teaching me so nicely."
"Good-night, grand-daughter dear. But remember, my little Molly, that Rome was not built in a day."
"Of course not—how could a big town be built in a day? Grandmother dear, what funny things you do say," said Molly, opening wide her eyes.
"The better to make you think, my dear," said grandmother, in a gruff voice that made Molly jump.
"Oh dear! how you do frighten me when you speak like that, grandmother dear," she said in such a piteous tone that they all burst out laughing at her.
"My poor little girl, it is a shame to tease you," said grandmother, drawing her towards her. "To speak plainly, my dear, what I want you to remember is this: Faults are not cured, any more than big towns are built, in a day."
"No, I know they are not. I'm not forgetting that. I've been making a lot of plans for making myself remember about being careful," said Molly, nodding her head sagaciously. "You'll see, grandmother dear."
And off to bed she went.
The children went out early the next morning for a long walk in the country. It was nearly luncheon time when they returned, and they were met in the hall by aunty, who told them to run upstairs and take off their things quickly, as a friend of their grandmother's had come to spend the day with her.
"And make yourselves neat, my dears," she said. "Miss Wren is a particular old lady."
Sylvia was down in the drawing-room in five minutes, hair brushed, hands washed, collar straight. She went up to Miss Wren to be introduced to her, and then sat down in a corner by the window with a book. Miss Wren was very deaf, and her deafness had the effect, as she could not in the least hear her own voice, of making her shout out her observations in a very loud tone, sometimes rather embarrassing for those to whom they were addressed, or, still worse, for those concerning whom they were made.
"Nice little girl," she remarked to grandmother, "very nice, pretty-behaved little girl. Rather like poor Mary, is she not? Not so pretty! Dear me, what a pretty girl Mary was the first winter you were here, twelve, no, let me see, fourteen years ago! Never could think what made her take a fancy to that solemn-looking husband of hers."
Grandmother laid her hand warningly on Miss Wren's arm, and glanced in Sylvia's direction, and greatly to her relief just then, there came a diversion in the shape of Molly. Grandmother happened to be asked a question at this moment by a servant who just came into the room, and had therefore turned aside for an instant as Molly came up to speak to Miss Wren. Her attention was quickly caught again, however, by the old lady's remarks, delivered as usual in a very loud voice.
"How do you do, my dear? And what is your name? Dear me, is this a new fashion? Laura," to aunty, who was writing a note at the side-table and had not noticed Molly's entrance, "Laura, my dear, I wonder your mother allows the child to wear so much jewellery. In my young days such a thing was never heard of."
Aunty got up from her writing at this, and grandmother turned round quickly. What could Miss Wren be talking about? Was her sight, as well as her hearing, failing her? Was grandmother's own sight, hitherto quite to be depended upon, playing her some queer trick? There stood Molly, serene as usual, with—it took grandmother quite a little while to count them—one, two, three, yes, six brooches fastened on to the front of her dress! All the six invalid brooches, just restored to health, that is to say pins, were there in their glory. The turquoise one in the middle, the coral and the tortoise-shell ones at each side of it, the three others, the silver bird, the mosaic and the mother-of-pearl arranged in a half-moon below them, in the front of the child's dress. They were placed with the greatest neatness and precision; it must have cost Molly both time and trouble to put each in the right spot.
Grandmother stared, aunty stared, Miss Wren looked at Molly curiously.
"Odd little girl," she remarked, in what she honestly believed to be a perfectly inaudible whisper, to grandmother. "She is not so nice as the other, not so like poor Mary. But I wonder, my dear, I really do wonder at your allowing her to wear so much jewellery. In our young days——"
For once in her life grandmother was almost rude to Miss Wren. She interrupted her reminiscences of "our young days" by turning sharply to Molly.
"Molly," she said, "go up to your room at once and take off that nonsense. What is the meaning of it? Do you intend to make a joke of what you should be so ashamed of, your own carelessness?"
Molly stared up in blank surprise and distress.
"Grandmother dear," she said confusedly. "It was my plan. It was to make me careful."
Grandmother felt much annoyed, and Molly's self-defence vexed her more.
"Go up to your room," she repeated. "You have vexed me very much. Either you intend to make a joke of what I hoped would have been a lesson to you for all your life, or else, Molly, it is as if you had not all your wits. Go up to your room at once."
Molly said no more. Never before had grandmother and aunty looked at her "like that." She turned and ran out of the room and up to her own, and throwing herself down on the bed burst into tears.
"I thought it was such a good plan," she sobbed. "I wanted to please grandmother. And I do believe she thinks I meant to mock her. Oh dear! oh dear! oh dear!"
Downstairs the luncheon bell rang, and they all seated themselves at table, but no Molly appeared.
"Shall I run up and tell her to come down?" suggested Sylvia, but "no," said grandmother, "it is better not."
But grandmother's heart was sore.
"I shall be so sorry if there is anything of sulkiness or resentfulness in Molly," she said to herself. "What could the child have had in her head?"
"... Such a plague every morning with buckling shoes, gartering, and combing."
THE TWIN RIVALS.
Soon after luncheon Miss Wren took her departure. Nothing more was said about Molly before her, but on leaving she patted Sylvia approvingly on the back.
"Nice little girl," she said. "Your grandmother must bring you to see me some day. And your sister may come, too, if she leaves her brooches at home. Young people in my young days——"
Aunty saw that Sylvia was growing very red, and looking as if she were on the point of saying something; Molly's queer behaviour had made her nervous: it would never do for Sylvia, too, to shock Miss Wren's notion of the proprieties by bursting out with some speech in Molly's defence. So aunty interrupted the old lady by some remark about her shawl not being thick enough for the drive, which quite distracted her attention.
As soon as she had gone, grandmother sent Sylvia upstairs to look for Molly. Sylvia came back looking rather alarmed. No Molly was there. Where could she be? Grandmother began to feel a little uneasy.
"She is nowhere in the house," said Sylvia. "Marcelline says she saw her go out about half-an-hour ago. She is very fond of the little wood up the road, grandmother: shall I go and look for her there?"
Grandmother glanced round. "Ralph," she said. "Oh, I forgot, he will not be home till four;" for Ralph had begun going to school every day. "Laura," she went on, to aunty, "put on your hat and go with Sylvia to find the poor child."
Sylvia's face brightened at this. "Then you are not so vexed with Molly now, grandmother," she said. "I know it seemed like mocking you, but I am sure she didn't mean it that way."
"What did she mean, then, do you think?" said grandmother.
"I don't quite know," said Sylvia. "It was a plan of her own, but it wasn't anything naughty or rude, I am sure."
Aunty and Sylvia went off to the little wood, as the children called it—in reality a very small plantation of young trees, where any one could be easily perceived, especially now when the leaves were few and far between. No, there was no Molly there. Hurriedly, aunty and Sylvia retraced their steps.
"Let us go round by the lodge," said aunty—they had left the house by the back gate—"and see if old Marie knows anything of where she is."
As they came near to the lodge they saw old Marie coming to meet them.
"Is Mademoiselle looking for the little demoiselle?" she said with a smile. "Yes, she is in my kitchen—she has been there for half-an-hour. Poor little lady, she was in trouble, and I tried to console her. But the dear ladies have not been anxious about her? Ah yes! But how sorry I am! I knew it not, or I would have run up to tell Marcelline where she was."
"Never mind, Marie," said aunty. "If we had known she was with you, we should have been quite satisfied. Run in, Sylvia, and tell Molly to come back to the house to speak to your grandmother."
Sylvia was starting forward, but Marie touched her arm.
"A moment, Mademoiselle Sylvie," she said,—Sylvia liked to be called "Mademoiselle Sylvie," it sounded so pretty—"a moment. The little sister has fallen asleep. She was sitting by the fire, and she had been crying so hard, poor darling. Better not wake her all at once."
She led the way into the cottage, and they followed her. There, as she had said, was Molly, fast asleep, half lying, half sitting, by the rough open fireplace, her head on a little wooden stool on which Marie had placed a cushion, her long fair hair falling over her face and shoulders—little sobs from time to time interrupting her soft, regular breathing.
Sylvia's eyes filled with tears.
"Poor Molly," she whispered to aunty, "she must have been crying so. And do you know, aunty, when Molly does cry and gets really unhappy, it is dreadful. She seems so careless, you know, but once she does care, she cares more than any one I know. And look, aunty." She pointed to a little parcel on the floor at Molly's side. A parcel very much done up with string, and an unnecessary amount of sealing-wax, and fastened to the parcel a little note addressed to "dear grandmother."
"Shall I run with it to grandmother?" said Sylvia: and aunty nodding permission, off she set. She had not far to go. Coming down the garden-path she met grandmother, anxiously looking for news of Molly.
"She's in old Marie's kitchen," said Sylvia, breathlessly, "and she's fallen fast asleep. She'd been crying so, old Marie said. And she had been writing this note for you, grandmother, and doing up this parcel."
Without speaking, grandmother broke the very splotchy-looking red seal and read the note.
"My dear, dear grandmother," it began, "Please do forgive me. I send you all my brooches. I don't deserve to keep them for vexing you so. Only I didn't, oh, indeed, I didn't mean to mock you, dear grandmother. It is that that I can't bear, that you should think so. It was a plan I had made to teach me to be careful, only I know it was silly—I am always thinking of silly things, but oh, believe me, I would not make a joke of your teaching me to be good.—Your own dearest
"Poor little soul," said grandmother. "I wish I had not been so hasty with her. It will be a lesson to me;" and noticing that at this Sylvia looked up in surprise, she added, "Does it seem strange to you my little Sylvia, that an old woman like me should talk of having lessons? It is true all the same—and I hope, do you know, dear?—I hope that up to the very last of my life I shall have lessons to learn. Or rather I should say that I shall be able to learn them. That the lessons are there to be learnt, always and everywhere, we can never doubt."
"But," said Sylvia, and then she hesitated.
"But what, dear?"
"I can't quite say what I mean," said Sylvia. "But it is something like this—I thought the difference between big people and children was that the big people had learnt their lessons, and that was why they could help us with ours. I know what kind of lessons you mean—not book ones—but being kind and good and all things like that."
"Yes," said grandmother, "but to these lessons there is no limit. The better we have learnt the early ones, the more clearly we see those still before us, like climbing up mountains and seeing the peaks still rising in front. And knowing and remembering the difficulties we had long ago when we first began climbing, we can help and advise the little ones who in their turn are at the outset of the journey. Only sometimes, as I did with poor Molly this morning, we forget, we old people who have come such a long way, how hard the first climbing is, and how easily tired and discouraged the little tender feet get."
Grandmother gave a little sigh.
"Dear grandmother," said Sylvia, "I am sure you don't forget. But those people who haven't learnt when they were little, they can't teach others, grandmother, when they don't know themselves?"
"Ah, no," said grandmother. "And it is not many who have the power or the determination to learn to-day the lessons they neglected yesterday. We all feel that, Sylvia, all of us. Only in another way we may get good out of that too, by warning those who have still plenty of time for all. But let us see if Molly is awake yet."
No, she was still fast asleep. But when grandmother stooped over her and gently raised her head, which had slipped half off the stool, Molly opened her eyes, and gazed up at grandmother in bewilderment. For a moment or two she could not remember where she was; then it gradually came back to her.
"Grandmother, will you forgive me?" she said. "I wrote a note, where is it?"—she looked about for it on the floor.
"I have got it, Molly," said grandmother. "Forgive you, dear? of course I will if there is anything to forgive. But tell me now what was in your mind, Molly? What was the 'plan'?"
"I thought," said Molly, sitting up and shaking her hair out of her eyes, "I thought, grandmother dear, that it would teach me to be careful and neat and not hurried in dressing if I wore all my brooches every day for a good while—a month perhaps. For you know it is very difficult to put brooches in quite straight and neat, not to break the pins. It has always been such a trouble to me not to stick them in, in a hurry, any how, and that was how I broke so many. But I'll do just as you like about them. I'll leave off wearing them at all if you would rather."
She looked up in grandmother's face, her own looking so white, now that the flush of sleep had faded from it, and her poor eyelids so swollen, that grandmother's heart was quite touched.
"My poor little Molly," she said. "I don't think that will be necessary. I am sure you will try to be careful. But the next time you make a plan for teaching yourself any good habit, talk it over with me first, will you, dear?"
Molly threw her arms round grandmother's neck and hugged her, and old Marie looked quite pleased to see that all was sunshine again.
Just as they were leaving the cottage she came forward with a basketful of lovely apples.
"They came only this morning, Madame," she said to grandmother. "Might she send them up to the house? The little young ladies would find them good."
"Thank you, Marie," she said. "Are they the apples? oh, yes, of course. I see they are. Is there a good crop this year?"
"Ah, yes, they seem always good now. The storms are past, it seems to me, Madame, both for me and my tree. But a few years now and they will be indeed all over for me. 'Tis to-morrow my fete day, Madame; that was why they sent the apples. They are very good to remember the old woman—my grand-nephews—I shall to-morrow be seventy-five, Madame."
"Seventy-five!" repeated grandmother. "Ah, well, Marie, I am not so very far behind you, though it seems as if I were growing younger lately—does it not?—with my little girls and my boy beside me. You must come up to see us to-morrow that we may give you our good wishes. Thank you for the beautiful apples. Some day you must tell the children the history of your apple-tree, Marie."
Marie's old face got quite red with pleasure. "Ah, but Madame is too kind," she said. "A stupid old woman like me to be asked to tell her little stories—but we shall see—some day, perhaps. So that the apples taste good, old Marie will be pleased indeed."
"What is the story of Marie's apple-tree, grandmother?" said Sylvia, as they walked back to the house.
"She must tell you herself," said grandmother. "She will be coming up to-morrow morning to see us, as it is her birthday, and you must ask her about it. Poor old Marie."
"Has she been a long time with you, grandmother dear?" said Molly.
"Twelve or thirteen years, soon after we first came here. She was in great trouble then, poor thing; but she will tell you all about it. She is getting old, you see, and old people are always fond of talking, they say—like your poor old grandmother—eh, Molly?"
"Grandmother," said Molly, flying at her and hugging her, for by this time they were in the drawing-room again, and Molly's spirits had quite revived.
The apples turned out very good indeed. Even Ralph, who, since he had been in France, had grown so exceedingly "John Bull," that he could hardly be persuaded to praise anything not English, condescended to commend them.
"No wonder they're good," said Molly, as she handed him his second one, "they're fairy apples I'm sure," and she nodded her head mysteriously.
"Fairy rubbish," said Ralph, taking a good bite of the apple's rosy cheek.
"Well, they're something like that, any way," persisted Molly. "Grandmother said so."
"I said so! My dear! I think your ears have deceived you."
"Well, grandmother dear, I know you didn't exactly say so, but what you said made me think so," explained Molly.
"Not quite the same thing," said grandmother. "You shall hear to-morrow all there is to tell—a very simple little story. How did you get on at school, to-day, Ralph?"
"Oh, right enough," said Ralph. "Some of the fellows are nice enough. But some of them are awful cads. There's one—he's about thirteen, a year or so younger than I—his name's Prosper something or other—I actually met him out of school in the street, carrying a bundle of wood! A boy that sits next me in the class!" he added, with considerable disgust.
"Is he a poor boy?" asked Sylvia.
"No—at least not what you'd call a poor boy. None of them are that. But he got precious red, I can tell you, when he saw me—just like a cad."
"Is he a naughty boy? Does he not do his lessons well?" asked grandmother.
"Oh I daresay he does; he is not an ill-natured fellow. It was only so like a cad to go carrying wood about like that," said Ralph.
"Ralph," said grandmother suddenly. "You never saw your uncle Jack, of course; has your father ever told you about him?"
Ralph's face lighted up. "Uncle Jack who was killed in the Crimea?" he said, lowering his voice a little. "Yes, papa has told me how brave he was."
"Brave, and gentle, and good," said grandmother, softly. "Some day, Ralph, I will read you a little adventure of his. He wrote it out to please me not long before his death. I meant to have sent it to one of the magazines for boys, but somehow I have never done so."
"What is it about, grandmother? What is it called?" asked the children all together, Molly adding, ecstatically clasping her hands. "If you tell us stories, grandmother, it'll be perfect."
"What is the little story about?" repeated grandmother. "I can hardly tell you what it is about, without telling the whole. The name of it—the name your uncle gave to it, was 'That Cad Sawyer.'"
Ralph said nothing, but somehow he had a consciousness that grandmother did not agree with him that carrying a bundle of wood through the streets proved that "a fellow" must certainly be a cad.
THE APPLE-TREE OF STEFANOS.
"And age recounts the feats of youth."
"I was the only daughter among nine children," began old Marie, when the girls and Ralph had made her sit down in their own parlour, and they had all drunk her "good health and many happy returns" in raspberry vinegar and water, and then teased her till she consented to tell them her story. "That is to say, my little young ladies and young Monsieur, I had eight brothers. Not all my own brothers: my father had married twice, you see. And always when the babies came they wanted a little girl, for in the family of my grandfather too, there were but three boys, my father and his two brothers, and never a sister. And so one can imagine how I was feted when I came, and of all none was so pleased as the old 'bon papa,' my father's father. He was already very old: in our family we have been prudent and not married boy and girl, as so many do now, and wish often they could undo it again. Before he had married he had saved and laid by, and for his sons there was something for each when they too started in life. For my father there was the cottage and the little farm at Stefanos."
"Where is Stefanos, Marie?" interrupted Ralph.
"Not so far, my little Monsieur; nine kilometers perhaps from Chalet."
"Nine kilometres; between five and six miles? We must have passed it when we were driving," said Ralph.
"Without doubt," replied Marie. "Well, as I was saying, my father had the paternal house at Stefanos for his when he married, and my uncles went to the towns and did for themselves with their portions. And the bon papa came, of course, to live with us. He was a kind old man—I remember him well—and he must have had need of patience in a household of eight noisy boys. They were the talk of the country, such fine men, and I, when I came, was such a tiny little thing, you would hardly believe there could be a child so small! And yet there was great joy. 'We have a girl at last,' they all cried, and as for the bon papa he knew not what to do for pleasure.
"I shall have a little grand-daughter to lead me about when my sight is gone, I shall live the longer for this gift of thine,' he said to my mother, whom he was very fond of. She was a good daughter-in-law to him. She shall be called 'Marie, shall she not? The first girl, and so long looked for. And, Eulalie,' he told my mother, 'this day, the day of her birth, I shall plant an apple-tree, a seedling of the best stock, a 'reinette,' in the best corner of the orchard, and it shall be her tree. They shall grow together, and to both we will give the best care, and as the one prospers the other will prosper, and when trouble comes to the one, the other will droop and fade till again the storms have passed away. The tree shall be called 'le pommier de la petite.'"
"My mother smiled; she thought it the fancy of the old man, but she was pleased he should so occupy himself with the little baby girl. And he did as he said: that very day he planted the apple-tree in the sunniest corner of the orchard. And he gave it the best of his care; it was watered in dry weather, the earth about its roots was kept loose, and enriched with careful manuring; no grass or weeds were allowed to cling about it, never was an apple-tree better tended."
Marie paused. "It is not always those that get the most care that do the best in this world," she said, with a sigh. "There was my Louis, our eldest, I thought nothing of the others compared with him! and he ran away to sea and nearly broke my heart."
"Did he ever come back again?" asked the children. Old Marie shook her head.
"Never," she said. "But I got a letter that he had got the cure somewhere in the Amerique du sud—I know not where, I have not learnt all about the geography like these little young ladies—to write for him, before he died of the yellow fever. And he asked me to forgive him all the sorrows he had caused me: it was a good letter, and it consoled me much. That was a long time ago; my Louis would have been in the fifties by now, and my other children were obedient. The good God sends us comfort."
"And about the apple-tree, tell us more, Marie," said Molly. "Did it do well?"
"Indeed yes. Mademoiselle can judge, are not the apples good? Ah, yes, it did well, it grew and it grew, and the first walk I could take with the hand of the bon papa was to the apple-tree. And the first words I could say were 'Mi pommier a Malie.' Before many years there were apples, not so fine at the first, of course, but every year they grew finer and finer, and always they were for me. What we did not eat were sold, and the money given to me to keep for the Carnival, when the bon papa would take me to the town to see the sights."
"And did you grow finer and finer too, Marie?" said Sylvia.
"I grew strong and tall, Mademoiselle," she said. "As for more than that it is not for me to say. But they all thought so, the father and mother and the eight brothers, and the bon papa, of course, most of all. And so you see, Mademoiselle, the end was I got spoilt."
"But the apple-tree didn't?"
"No, the apple-tree did its work well. Only I was forgetting to tell you there came a bad year. Everything was bad—the cows died, the harvest was poor, the fruit failed. To the last, the bon papa hoped that 'le pommier de la petite' would do well, though nothing else did, but it was not so. There was a good show of blossom, but when it came to the apples, every one was blighted. And the strange thing was, my little young ladies and little Monsieur, that that was the year the small-pox came—ah, it was a dreadful year!—and we all caught it."
"All?" exclaimed Sylvia.
"Yes, indeed, Mademoiselle—all the seven, that is to say, that were at home. I cannot remember it well—I was myself too ill, but we all had it. I was the worst, and they thought I would die. It was not the disease itself, but the weakness after that nearly killed me. And the poor bon papa would shake his head and say he might have known what was coming, by the apple-tree. And my mother would console him—she, poor thing, who so much needed consoling herself—by saying, 'Come, now, bon papa, the apple-tree lives still, and doubtless by next year it will again be covered with beautiful fruit. Let us hope well that our little one will also recover.' And little by little I began to mend—the mother's words came true—by the spring time I was as well as ever again, and the six brothers too. All of us recovered; we were strong, you see, very strong. And after that I grew so fast—soon I seemed quite a young woman."
"And did the small-pox not spoil your beauty, Marie?" inquired Sylvia with some little hesitation. It was impossible to tell from the old woman's face now whether the terrible visitor had left its traces or not; she was so brown and weather worn—her skin so dried and wrinkled—only the eyes were still fine, dark, bright and keen, yet with the soft far-away look too, so beautiful in an old face.
"No, Mademoiselle," Marie replied naively, "that was the curious part of it. There were some, my neighbour Didier for one, the son of the farmer Larreya——"
"Why, Marie, that's your name," interrupted Molly. "'Marie Larreya,'—I wrote it down the other day because I thought it such a funny name when grandmother told it me."
"Well, well, Molly," said Sylvia, "there are often many people of the same name in a neighbourhood. Do let Marie tell her own story."
"As I was saying," continued Marie, "many people said I had got prettier with being ill. I can't tell if it was true, but I was thankful not to be marked: you see the illness itself was not so bad with me as the weakness after. But I got quite well again, and that was the summer I was sixteen. My eldest brother was married that summer,—he was one of the two sons of my father's first marriage and he had been away for already some time from the paternal house. He married a young girl from Chalet; and ah, but we danced well at the marriage! I danced most of all the girls—there was my old friend Didier who wanted every dance, and glad enough I would have been to dance with him—so tall and straight he was—but for some new friends I made that day. They were the cousins of my brother's young wife—two of them from Chalet, one a maid in a family from Paris, and with them there came a young man who was a servant in the same family. They were pleasant, good-natured girls, and for the young man, there was no harm in him; but their talk quite turned my silly head. They talked of Chalet and how grandly the ladies there were dressed, and still more of Paris—the two who knew it—till I felt quite ashamed of being only a country girl, and the fete-day costume I had put on in the morning so proudly, I wished I could tear off and dress like my new friends. And when Didier came again to ask me to dance, I pushed him away and told him he tired me asking me so often. Poor Didier! I remember so well how he looked—as if he could not understand me—like our great sheep-dog, that would stare up with his soft sad eyes if ever I spoke roughly to him!