Transcriber's Note: Phrases printed in italics in the original version are indicated in this electronic version by _ (underscore). A list of amendments are given at the end of the book.
A Magazine for the Young.
NEW AND ENLARGED SERIES.
CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED.
LONDON, PARIS & NEW YORK.
[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.]
A LITTLE TOO CLEVER.
By the Author of "Pen's Perplexities," "Margaret's Enemy," "Maid Marjory," &c.
CHAPTER XVI.—IN LONDON.
"What is the meaning of this—this gross outrage?" stammered Grandpapa Donaldson, growing very red and angry. "By what right do you molest peaceful travellers? Go on, my dear," he added, addressing Mrs. Donaldson. "You and Effie go on; I will join you directly."
"We will wait for you, father," Mrs. Donaldson said, in a sweet, pensive voice. "What do these gentlemen want?"
"You cannot leave the carriage, madam," one of the men said, placing himself firmly against the door, and drawing a paper from his pocket. "I hold here a warrant for the apprehension of John and Lucy Murdoch, who put up last night at the 'Royal Hotel' at Edinburgh, and engaged a first-class compartment by the Scotch morning express."
"You are making a mistake," Mrs. Donaldson said quietly. "Our name is not Murdoch."
"A mistake you will have to pay dearly for!" the old gentleman cried irascibly. "It is preposterous, perfectly preposterous!"
Elsie stood by, listening with all her ears, quite unable to understand the meaning of this strange scene, any more than that old Mr. Donaldson was evidently very annoyed and angry about it. When the words "John and Lucy Murdoch" fell on her ear, she gave a little start, for Meg's remarks came back to her mind, filling her with curiosity. Fortunately, no one was observing her, and her momentary confusion passed unobserved in the gloom of the carriage. Not for worlds would she have betrayed Meg.
"Effie dear," Mrs. Donaldson said sweetly, "have you the book grandpapa gave you, and my umbrella?"
"Yes, mamma; here they are," Elsie returned, as readily as she could. Never before had it seemed so difficult to bring out the word "mamma" naturally.
It was the answer that Mrs. Donaldson wanted.
"Then we are quite ready," she returned. "Please do not detain us any longer than you are obliged," she said haughtily to the man who held the carriage door; "my little girl is very tired."
"Sorry for that," the stranger said, eyeing Elsie curiously. The officer had been examining the various items of luggage, peering under the seats, taking stock of everything. They seemed a trifle undecided about something, Elsie thought.
When the man had completed his search, he turned to Elsie. "What is your name, my little girl?" he asked kindly, but with his eyes fixed upon her face.
"Effie Donaldson," Elsie replied, not daring for Duncan's sake to speak the truth.
"How long have you known this lady?" he asked.
"It is mamma," Elsie answered, slowly and timidly, "and my Grandpapa Donaldson."
The man said a few words in a low tone to the other, and then turned again to the old gentleman.
"I am sorry to be obliged to detain you," he said, more respectfully than he had hitherto spoken. "My directions are to take into custody a lady and gentleman travelling from Edinburgh in a specially-engaged compartment. The little girl is not mentioned in my warrant, but I regret that she must be included. No doubt you will be able to set it straight. I advise you to come quietly, and then no force will be used."
"Come quietly, indeed! I refuse to come at all!" the old gentleman exclaimed. "You are exceeding your authority, and will get yourself into trouble. Read me your warrant."
Elsie listened silently while the officer read out something about a lady dressed as a widow passing under the name of Thwaites, and a gentleman, calling himself her brother, who had left the "Royal Hotel" that morning, and travelled to London in a specially-engaged carriage. This perplexed Elsie very much, for she remembered what Meg had said of the gentleman she had been told to call Uncle William, "then he passes himself off as her brother, and he's her husband all the time," which seemed strangely like what the man had just read, except for the name Thwaites, which Elsie had never heard.
"Why, it's most absurd!" the old gentleman cried. "The only point of similarity is that of my daughter being a widow. You have not the slightest ground for identifying us with the description you hold."
"Nevertheless, I am compelled to take you before a magistrate, where you can explain to his satisfaction," the officer replied firmly, drawing from his pocket some strange instruments, looking like clumsy bracelets, with heavy chains linking them together.
Mrs. Donaldson uttered a faint scream, and sank back on the carriage seat. The man, without a word, proceeded to clasp them on Mr. Donaldson's wrists, while the old gentleman fumed and stamped about the carriage.
A signal brought up several porters and the guard of the train, who crowded round the door, eager to see the exciting scene.
"Take this child in your arms and keep before me," one of the officials said in peremptory tones to a porter, who lifted Elsie up, and stood in readiness, while the "fairy mother" and Grandpapa Donaldson were assisted to alight.
"That's a queer go!" said the guard, eyeing the old gentleman with a broad stare of astonishment. "It was a gentleman looking quite different that got in the train at Edinburgh."
"Are you quite certain of that?" the officer asked him.
"I'm pretty certain. They, as near as possible, missed the train. I was just starting her when they came flying across the platform. I caught sight of them with the little one between, being jumped almost off her feet. They couldn't have more than got in when we began to move."
"You didn't look into this compartment at any of the places you stopped at, then?" the officer asked.
"I caught sight of the lady and the little girl once as I passed along the train at Carlisle," the man replied. "I don't remember noticing the gentleman, but I fancy he was asleep, with a large silk handkerchief over his head."
"Name and address, please?" the officer said, drawing out a pocket-book, in which he wrote quickly a few lines.
The lady and gentleman were then conducted across the station, one of the officers, who were both dressed quite plainly, walking on either side of them. They attracted very little attention as they passed quickly on, only the people close at hand turning to stare. In less than two minutes they were inside a cab, one officer accompanying them inside, another taking his seat on the box.
After a jolting, uncomfortable drive of some distance, they passed through some gates into a great courtyard, which seemed to be surrounded by a huge dark mass of buildings. Here the officer sprang out and helped them to alight.
Some other men in uniforms came out of a doorway and crowded round the prisoners. The officer who accompanied them gave some directions concerning Elsie, to which she was listening, and trying in vain to understand, when Mrs. Donaldson burst out sobbing, exclaiming wildly, "Will you part me from my child? Anything but that! Do what you will with me, only let my child be with me. She will perish with fright. Father, I implore you, do not let them be so cruel! Effie, my darling, do not leave me!"
Elsie tried to move towards her, but was held firmly by the hands of one of the policemen. She was dreadfully frightened and bewildered, and would have clung to Mrs. Donaldson, had she been allowed, in her dread of facing new and unknown terrors.
But not a chance was given to her. She was quite helpless in the strong grasp that held her firmly, though not harshly. Mrs. Donaldson began to catch her breath quickly, as two men caught hold of her arms and began to lead her along, while the one who had charge of Elsie led her away in another direction. The next moment Elsie heard a piercing scream, and turning her head, saw what, as far as she could make out, appeared to be the resisting, struggling form of the unfortunate "fairy mother" being carried into the hall by two men.
CHAPTER XVII.—IN A STRANGE PLACE.
Elsie was presently delivered into the hands of a woman, who asked her, not unkindly, whether she wanted food. Elsie was much too fatigued and perturbed to think of eating, so the woman told her she must undress herself and go to bed. She was taken to a large bare room where there were other children asleep in small hard beds. One was apportioned to her, and the woman stood by while she undressed.
Elsie wondered very much what sort of place this could be, and why Mrs. Donaldson had not been allowed to take her with her. She puzzled her head over it in vain. Only one thing was clear: that both her companions had been brought here against their will, and were very angry about it.
Perhaps Elsie would have thought more about her own discomfort and loneliness if her mind had been less exercised about Duncan. She wondered what had happened to him after she had been parted from him by that shameful trick of the wicked "fairy mother." How angry and indignant she felt when she thought of it! Had Duncan wanted her? She seemed to see him lying up in that dark, stifling garret, perfectly still, on the dirty, unwholesome bed. She crept up and touched him. He was cold and dead. Then her mother came in, with grannie and Robbie following in slow procession behind. They were dressed in beautiful white robes like angels, and as they passed to the bedside they each in turn looked at her with stern, reproachful eyes. Then her mother lifted Duncan in her arms and carried him away, closing the door after them, and leaving her quite alone. They had seen her, but would have nothing to do with her.
She started up and rubbed her eyes, scarcely able to believe she had not seen those faces. Then she peered timidly round the room, and gradually recollecting all that had taken place, knew that it was a dream.
After an uninviting breakfast of dry bread and water gruel, she was placed in a cab by one of the men who had accompanied them from the station on the previous night.
To Elsie he looked like a gentleman, and not unkind. After some time she ventured to ask timidly where they were going.
"Well," the man said, looking rather perplexed, "it's rather hard to explain; but you're going to see a gentleman who wants to ask you a few questions; and if you don't tell the truth, all I can say is I shouldn't like to stand in your shoes."
At this Elsie was very frightened, for if the gentleman happened to ask her about Mrs. Donaldson, and such things, she dared not tell the truth.
She was anxious to know whether the "fairy mother" would be there; but she was afraid to ask, for if she called her "mamma," perhaps this man might know she was saying something untrue, and if she called her anything else she might get to know it, and send word for Duncan to be turned into the streets. Elsie was terrified beyond measure. She was too frightened to say a word, so she kept quite silent.
At last they arrived at a building where many people and some policemen were standing round the open doors. They passed this entrance, however, and went round to another. Her companion then conducted Elsie through some passages into a great bare, close-smelling hall, where there were a good many people waiting about, and some policemen with their hats off, which made them look much less terrible than they did in the streets, Elsie thought. She was too bewildered and frightened to look about her, and see what the place was like. The gentleman at her side took her hand, and led her forward. She heard some one say, "Bring a chair or a stool, and let her stand on it;" and, looking up, she saw an old gentleman with white hair sitting at a table, at the end of which was another younger gentleman, writing.
The gentleman with the white hair bent over, and spoke to her. "What is your name?" he asked.
Elsie hesitated, looking up with an appealing glance at the officer standing by her side. Then when the question was repeated, she stammered, "Effie Donaldson, please."
"Ha!" said the old gentleman. "Effie Donaldson, is it? Do you know what an oath is?"
"Yes, sir," Elsie timidly replied.
"Now you must take your oath," he went on, "that you will answer me truly whatever I ask you; and I hope you understand that if you tell a falsehood after that, you will not only be doing a most wicked thing, but that you can be kept in prison for it."
Elsie began to tremble violently at this dreadful warning. She took a swift glance round, to see if Mrs. Donaldson or the old gentleman were anywhere near, but could see nothing of either.
The officer who had accompanied her, and stood by all the time, seemed to understand.
"They are not in court," he said, in a low tone. "Just you speak the truth, and you'll be all right."
He then handed her a Bible, which she was told to kiss; and he said some words which he bade her repeat.
"That is the Bible," the old gentleman at the table said solemnly, "and you have sworn by that sacred Book that you will speak only the truth. Bear in mind what an awful thing it would be to tell a falsehood after that—ten times as wicked as any other falsehood. Now tell me who the lady and gentleman are who were in the train with you."
Elsie trembled violently. She tried to think what to say, but could find no answer. There was Duncan on one side, that terrible warning the gentleman had given her on the other. She tried to say "I do not know," but was so afraid that that too was a falsehood, that the sentence died on her lips.
"Speak up," the gentleman said.
It seemed to Elsie as if ages elapsed while they stood waiting for her answer. She was conscious of nothing but the man standing by her side, and great silence everywhere, which let her hear the rushing sound in her ears and the beating of her heart. At last the magistrate spoke again.
"Tell me, is the lady your own mother?"
Another question—worse than the first.
"You must answer," the magistrate said, sharply; "and quickly too!"
"Oh, I dare not!" burst from poor Elsie's frightened lips. "They will kill Duncan if I do!"
Then in a moment she knew she had said too much. In her fright she had not seen the meaning of her own words.
"Who is Duncan?" the white-haired gentleman asked kindly.
"My brother," Elsie answered, with a big sob.
"Where is he?"
"In Edinburgh; and he's dreadfully ill," Elsie answered, forgetting every other thought in her anxiety for Duncan, and the generally bewildered state of her mind.
"Is he with his mother?"
"Oh, no! he's all alone, unless he's in the hospital. I don't know quite where he is, only they promised he should go to the hospital."
Again Elsie was silent; she could find no answer to that question. The gentleman did not seem angry, but asked another.
"Where is your mother?"
"Which one do you mean, please, sir?" Elsie asked, in a moment of utter bewilderment.
"Then the lady who was with you yesterday is not really your mother?"
"No," Elsie faintly admitted. She could hold out no longer against the questioning, but was feeling very much like you all do when you are playing at "old soldier," and, try as you will, at last the "Yes" or "No" pops out unawares. She, too, was very frightened and confused, which you would not be.
"Come, we are getting on now," the old gentleman said, kindly. "Do not be frightened. Did this lady tell you to call her mamma?"
"Yes, sir, but—I must not tell you anything."
"And she is not your mamma, then, after all?"
"Are you frightened of her?"
"Yes," Elsie exclaimed, with a quick, fearful glance round.
"Now, I promise you that she shall do you no harm, if you tell me the truth. How did you come to be with her? Just tell me how it was."
The old gentleman spoke with great assurance and kindliness, but still Elsie could not cast off the spell of fear Mrs. Donaldson still held over her. She had an almost superstitious belief that the "fairy mother" would find a way to work out her threats. For all she knew, she might even now have sent that message to Edinburgh which was to seal Duncan's fate.
After the very mysterious incident that had happened in the train, for her to know that Elsie had disobeyed without hearing the words she had spoken seemed not only quite possible, but very likely indeed.
The gentleman saw Elsie's hesitation, and spoke sharply again. "If you are obstinate, we shall have to use other methods to make you speak. Have you ever been in prison?"
Elsie's eyes dilated with horror. "Oh, no!" she replied.
"But you are very likely to find yourself there, unless you answer my questions better. Tell me at once where you met this lady?"
"She was in a carriage; we were on the road to Killochrie."
"Stop; how did you come there?"
"We ran away from Sandy Ferguson's cottage."
"Why did you do that? Now, tell me why."
"He was very bad to us, and robbed us of our money and our clothes. Duncan thought he wanted to kill us, so we ran away."
"What business had you in Sandy Ferguson's cottage?"
"He took us in when we hadn't any place to go to. I thought he was kind at first, but he wasn't."
"Then you had run away from somewhere else?"
"Yes," Elsie admitted, with a flushed face and look of shame. "We ran away from home."
"What made you do that?"
Elsie hung her head. How could she tell this gentleman all her suspicions? They seemed all so stupid now.
"We were jealous because mother favoured Robbie so," she faltered, very much ashamed, and conscious that it was one of the most foolish-sounding reasons that could be.
"Well," said the gentleman sharply, "you ran away, and you fell in with Sandy Ferguson, who wanted to kill you, and afterwards with this lady, who taught you to call her 'mamma.' Was she kind to you?"
"At first she was. When she first saw us on the road we were very hungry and tired. She asked us the way, and said she was a fairy, and would come back again. She did come back, and brought beautiful clothes with her, which she gave to us, and she took us in a train to a house where we had beautiful and nice warm beds. Then she told us we were to call her 'mamma' always, and that she was our 'fairy mother.'"
"This is very interesting," said the old gentleman, approvingly. "But what of the gentleman? Was he there?"
"Uncle William? oh yes! He did not say much to us; but we did not like him. He called the driver an idiot, and I was afraid of him."
Here the magistrate asked some questions of the officer standing near Elsie. "Then he did not come in the train with you from Edinburgh?" he presently inquired, turning again to Elsie.
"Oh yes, he did," Elsie replied; "but he somehow changed. Mrs. Donaldson was talking to me, and the one we called 'Uncle William' was sitting right in the other corner. When I looked again he had gone, and there was another one quite old. Mrs. Donaldson said he was my Grandpapa Donaldson."
"Then you thought, I suppose, that you had 'a fairy grandfather' as well as a 'fairy mother'? Tell me, did she undergo any wonderful transformation?"
"Oh no!" Elsie began; but she suddenly recollected the change from the smiling, gaily-dressed, grand lady in the carriage to the sad-looking widow who had brought them the clothes. "Yes, I had forgotten. She did change," Elsie stammered, growing red and confused with fear. "I didn't mean it for a story."
"Go on; tell us what she was like when you first saw her."
"She was dressed gaily, and her bonnet had feathers and flowers. She had bracelets and sparkling earrings, and her hair was frizzed out over her forehead."
"And you mean to say that when next you saw her, that is, when she came back as she promised she would, she was dressed in black, like a widow?"
"Did you not think that strange?"
"Yes, it was all strange; she brought us clothes, the frock and hat that I have on now, and a coat for Duncan."
"How did you know it was the same person?"
"At first I thought it wasn't, but when I looked at her well, I could tell it was, by a funny look she had in her eyes. I am sure it was the same."
"You are sure? very well. Now tell me where she took you? Try to remember the whole journey, from the time you met her on the country road to the time you reached London last night."
"We walked to Killochrie," Elsie replied, "but we did not stay there. We got in a train and went to another place. Then we went in a carriage to a house, where we had some supper and stayed all night. The next morning, after breakfast, we went in another carriage to the train, and we were in that nearly all day. When we got out it was Edinburgh."
"Yes; that is all very nicely told," the old gentleman said approvingly. "Now tell me where you went in Edinburgh."
Elsie could not repress a shudder as she recollected that night in the dreary garret, but in spite of her nervous fear, it seemed a relief to be able to tell all her adventures to some one. In any case, she could not help doing so. She only hoped they would not ask her about Meg.
"Duncan had been very poorly all day," Elsie continued. "It poured with rain the first day we ran away, and he got wet through. We had to lie on the floor of the loft, with a sack under us, in all our wet things. Mrs. Ferguson took away my frock and jacket, and Duncan's coat, to dry, but she never gave them back, so I think Duncan got cold, and he was very frightened and hungry, so it seemed to make him ill. The lady was very angry about it, but she said afterwards that it didn't matter much, and it would do just as well if she were to leave him behind in Edinburgh."
"You are not answering my question," the magistrate reminded her. "Where did you go that night?"
"They took us to a shop—a newspaper shop. It was a very high house, and there were lodgers. We were taken into an attic up at the top, and left by ourselves. In the night Duncan was very bad in his head, and screamed and jumped about, and in the morning I told Mrs. Donaldson that we must go to the hospital, for I was afraid Duncan would die. No one attended to him at all. She said we should, and we got into a carriage; but when I got out, and thought we were going to ask the people to take Duncan in, the other one came up and pushed me into the train before I knew anything about it."
"That is a strange story," the old gentleman remarked, looking searchingly into Elsie's face. He then asked her a great many questions about it, as if he hardly believed what she had told him, but Elsie persisted in her statements.
"Did you hear the name of the man who kept the shop?" he asked.
Elsie thought a moment. "Mrs. Donaldson told Meg to tell Andrew to write, and let us know how Duncan was. I don't know if she meant him."
"Ah! and who was Meg?"
Elsie felt ready to cry with vexation. "She came in the carriage to carry Duncan," she replied quickly. "I think she was a servant."
"Now, can you describe this house into which you were taken?"
Elsie drew quite a breath of relief to think she had escaped so well. "We had to go down a lot of steps before we got to it," she replied, "and I remember there was a flesher next door."
"You mean a butcher, and the house was a very high one, and the man's name, you think, was Andrew. Well, that is very good as far as it goes. Did you pass the Tolbooth in driving to the station?"
"I don't know. I shouldn't have known it if I had."
"Well, well, it seems you cannot tell us much about this house. The servant's name you say was Meg, and she had your brother when you last saw him. Where do you think he is now?"
Elsie explained Mrs. Donaldson's promise, and her threat that he should be turned into the streets to die if she displeased her. There was an audible murmur in the court, which made Elsie conscious for the first time that there were people listening to her. "I know she will do it," Elsie went on, catching her breath rapidly. "She may have done it now."
"You may rest easy about that," the magistrate said, kindly. "She is in a place where she can do nothing of the kind."
But Elsie was only half re-assured. The next moment, however, she had a new alarm in the question, "Did you ever hear the name of Lucy Murdoch?"
"Yes," Elsie faltered, very unwillingly.
The old gentleman looked at her suspiciously.
"Where did you hear it?" he inquired.
"In the house at Edinburgh."
"Well now, who did you hear speak of Lucy Murdoch?"
"Meg begged me not to tell, and I said I wouldn't," Elsie replied, in much distress. "Meg was very kind to Duncan."
"Ah well! you need not answer that question," the old gentleman said, with a smile. "Tell me your own proper name, and where your own mother lives?"
"Elsie McDougall. We lived on Dunster Moor," Elsie replied, with a conscious blush. "She made me call myself Effie Donaldson."
"A lovely place, too," the old gentleman said. "And you ran away? I hope you like it. Do you know that children who have run away have before now disappeared, and never been heard of again?"
Elsie only cast down her eyes in frightened silence.
"And what became of them, do you suppose?" he went on sternly. "Perhaps they were killed, perhaps they died of fright, and hunger, and misery. I should not like to say; only I know they never returned any more to their homes."
The stern words were too much for Elsie. The sense of her own loneliness and danger, her separation from Duncan, and the misfortunes she had led him into, came over her with overwhelming force, and she wept bitterly.
"It is fortunate for you that you have fallen into the hands of the law," the old gentleman added, more kindly. "You will be safe, and will by-and-by be allowed to go back to your mother. That will do."
She was then conducted out of the court by the officer who had brought her there, put into a cab, and driven back to the great court-yard, where she was once more delivered over to the charge of the woman. She spent the rest of the day in a dismal, ugly room, with a number of girls, who were rough and disagreeable and ill-tempered, and could not possibly have been more wretched. Her experience had made her distrustful of every one, so that she was dreadfully afraid of what might happen as the consequence of all she had betrayed. She was distracted, too, about Duncan, and altogether could find but meagre comfort in the promise that by-and-by she should be allowed to go back home again.
CHAPTER XVIII.—HOME FROM MARKET.
"Ye seem to be doing right well to-day, judging by your face," exclaimed the hearty voice of Farmer Jarrett, as he encountered Mrs. McDougall in the market-place.
"Yes, I'm thankful to say it," Mrs. McDougall replied. "I was just about to go and buy a thing or two. Ye're no waiting for me, are you?"
"No, not that," the farmer returned. "I've a bit of business myself to be looking after. But we'd best be on our road before long. The sky doesna look so very well."
Mrs. McDougall packed up her baskets one in the other, and stowed them away in the cart. She had sold everything but a few bundles of beans, and was well content. So she trudged off to buy some yarn and some homespun tweed where she could get the most for her money.
When she returned, she found the horse harnessed, and Farmer Jarrett seated in his cart. She jumped up with a word or two of apology, and they started on their homeward way.
"I've been a bit extravagant," she said presently. "I've bought a book for Elsie's birthday next month, and a pretty silk tie."
"The wee bit lassie'll be just wild with delight," the farmer said, kindly.
"She's getting a big lassie, and she's over-proud of her appearance," Mrs. McDougall said, not without a touch of pride. "It does no good to encourage vanity, but I wouldn't have her always longing for pretty things, so she shall just wear this tie to the kirk on the Sabbath Day. Her grannie would just give in to the bairn, and let her gang her own way altogether."
"The old are apt to be foolish with their grandchildren," the farmer replied. "Yet your mother was a strict woman, and a good mother."
"That's a true word," Mrs. McDougall replied.
"And the poor old wifie must be just contented and happy, spending her last days with you and the bairns. With Nannie dead, and Dugald in a far land, she might have come to want. You've had your troubles, but you're not without a recompense. The brave and industrious find many a blessing."
For to a Scottish woman few things would seem more dreadful than for her mother to come to want—the tie of relationship is so strong and sacred.
Talking in this sober fashion, the farmer and his neighbour jogged on until they reached the skirts of the moor, soon after six o'clock.
"We've escaped the rain," said the farmer; "but to all appearance, it won't hold off much longer."
Presently Mrs. McDougall alighted, and with a few words of thanks, turned up the pathway leading to her own cottage. To her surprise, she found grannie and Robbie standing at the gate, peering along the road.
"Am I late?" she exclaimed. "You weren't thinking I was lost, were you?"
"It's the bairns we were looking for," quavered the old woman. "They're not home from school yet, an' there's no milk for your supper, for I would no trust Robbie alone."
"Of course not," Mrs. McDougall said, hastily; "but they should ha' been home long ago. They would not loiter on the way all this time, surely."
"That's what I've been thinking," the old woman returned. "Could any harm come to them?"
"Of course it could. Ye need not doubt that," said Mrs. McDougall. "I must go right away, and see after them; but I am just tired, and that's the truth."
"You'll sit down, Meg, and have a bit o' something first," the old woman said anxiously, hovering round in speechless sympathy.
"No, no; I'll just go at once," Mrs. McDougall returned, setting down her baskets.
She tramped off quickly along the dusty road in the direction of Dunster. Presently some great drops of rain began to fall, and in a few minutes it came down in a perfect torrent. Still she trudged on, her heart filled with dim foreboding fears. Such a thing had never happened before. It would soon be getting dark. Could it be possible they had kept the children at school as a punishment? If so, it was shameful to leave them to come along that lonely road at such an hour, and she would not use mild words in telling them so.
At last she arrived at the school-house. It was closed and dark. She knocked at the mistress's cottage, and then learnt, to her horror and dismay, that the children had never been to school at all that day.
The poor creature stood for a moment in utter bewilderment.
What was the next thing to be done? Ah! that was a difficulty indeed.
It was not far to the village. She would go there, and inquire of her few acquaintances if they could help her. So she turned away and started off again in the rain, quite forgetting now that she was tired, and hungry, and wet.
It was dark by the time she reached the village shop. Her friend who kept it had not seen the children since yesterday, when she gave them a piece of pudding. There was nothing for it but to tramp home, in the hope that they had returned.
But only disappointment awaited her. They were not there. Then she went up into their little rooms, and found that they had worn their best clothes, and had taken all their pennies out of their money-boxes. For the first time then the dreadful suspicion entered her head that they had run away.
But for what purpose? That was what she could not make out. The only thing that occurred to her was that they might have wanted to go and see the market, and spend their money—that they had walked there, and perhaps—who could tell?—lost their way.
The more she thought of it, the more she felt sure that this could be the only solution to the mystery.
It was a certain amount of comfort to have some definite idea to go to work upon, but even then there were so many possibilities of danger that the poor woman shuddered as she thought of it.
Well, there was nothing to be done but to start off again. It was now quite dark, and pouring with rain. Mrs. McDougall was already very wet, but she never gave it a thought. She walked briskly along the road leading in the opposite direction from the one to Dunster. Every now and then she stopped and listened intently, peering among the trees that skirted the road or across the expanse of moor. She only met one person, an old woman, trudging along in the rain, and at last she had arrived at the town she had left only a few hours before, which lay ten miles distant from her own cottage.
Only to find fresh disappointment. No one could give her the least information. They had not been seen in the place, so far as she could learn, and so there was nothing to be done but to tramp back again all that weary ten miles.
Yes, one thing. It seemed a dreadful step, but it must be done. She was face to face with the fact that the children were lost, and the chance of finding them that night was now small indeed. With a few inquiries she found her way to the police-station, and there she told her story—told it with a grim soberness on her face that might have passed for unconcern with those stupid people, who think that what they cannot read has no existence.
"They'll be found, never fear," said a kindly policeman. "To-morrow morning the description will be telegraphed to every town in the country. There'll be posters out everywhere, and they can't fail to be found by some one."
"To-morrow morning! And what about to-night?" Mrs. McDougall asked.
"Nothing can be done to-night! it's nearly eleven now," the man replied. "You just go home, and don't worry. They're safe somewhere, I'll be bound—perhaps nearer at hand than you have any idea of."
It was true enough: there was nothing further to be done—nothing but to tramp back with that heavy load of care and the dread of terrors too great to put into words.
So she took her way home again. It was long past midnight when she reached the cottage. Grannie was waiting up, crooning to herself over the fire. On the table lay the book and the tie bought for Elsie's birthday.
Mrs. McDougall took them up hastily, and put them out of sight. "Go to bed, mother," she said; "they'll be home to-morrow."
"I'm glad o' that; it's all well, then," she said, quite unsuspiciously. "You're upset, Meg. It's been a shock to you."
"I'm tired. I'll get a bit of supper and rest a bit," Mrs. McDougall returned. Her eyes were red and ringed, and had a look in them worse than the look of tears.
The old woman went off to bed, and Mrs. McDougall sat down by the fire, though not to eat. All night she sat listening, and many a time she got up and walked out to the gate, peering through the darkness, in the fancy that she had caught some sound.
Still the rain poured down, the night dragged on, and the children were, as we know, far enough away.
CHAPTER XIX.—MRS. FERGUSON IS BAFFLED.
When Robbie awoke next morning at his usual early hour, and saw no sign of his mother in the room, he thought he must have overslept himself, so he jumped up quickly, and dressed.
He ran downstairs into the kitchen, and found Mrs. McDougall seated before the empty grate.
She turned her head quickly as Robbie entered. In a moment the child saw that something dreadful was the matter. Never in all his life had he seen his mother look like that.
The child glanced at her wonderingly, then came close to her, with the quick sympathy which is so sweet.
"Mother," he said, "is it Elsie and Duncan? Haven't you found them yet?"
"No, Robbie," Mrs. McDougall replied. "They're just lost, and that's all about it."
Robbie could not understand how it could be, but he saw that his mother was in great trouble, and he did not like to ask any questions.
"This will not do," Mrs. McDougall said, with a heavy sigh, as she rose resolutely from her chair, and began bustling about. "You shouldn't ha' got up yet, Robbie. It's over early for you."
"I thought it was late," Robbie said. "Mother," he added eagerly, "might I—oh! might I run and fetch the milk for you? Oh, do just let me go!"
"Dear me! no, child," Mrs. McDougall replied. "You'd be lost too."
"Should I?" Robbie said, very crestfallen. "Can't I do nothing, mother?"
"Yes; you shall feed the hens. You know how to do that, don't you, Robbie? I'll just get the food ready for them."
Robbie was delighted. He longed to be useful.
Mrs. McDougall bustled about, and got the breakfast—porridge without milk—set everything in order, then went up to see to her mother, just as if nothing had happened. She was not the woman to sit idly nursing her troubles.
As soon as she had partaken of a little food, she prepared to depart once more on her anxious errand, with many an injunction to Robbie not to go outside the gate, and to keep a watch, in case Elsie and Duncan might return, but be afraid to enter.
At the police-station there was no news. Bills were being printed, she was informed, and would be widely distributed before the day was out. Any information they received should be sent to her.
She waited for more than an hour in order to see the bill. It was some sort of consolation to her to see the great black letters, and read the description of the children in black and white.
"This cannot fail to find them," the officer told her. "Every police office in the country will be furnished with this description. The children can't have got very far away. Some of our men must come across them."
"Far enough away to have got beyond our reach," Mrs. McDougall said, dubiously. "And who knows but they may have fallen into bad hands, or got stuck in some bog in the blackness of the night?" she added, with a shudder.
"They'd keep fast enough to the road," the man said, re-assuringly.
"I'd rather ten times over that they should be lying dead in the woods or on a mountain side than that they should fall into the hands of wicked men and women!" Mrs. McDougall said fervently. "The mercies of God are a deal more tender than those of men. I could thank God with all my heart to know that He had them safe."
"There are bad enough folk about," the policeman assented, "but your children are over young to get led astray."
"I pray the Almighty that He'll grant them a merciful death rather than they should fall into bad hands," Mrs. McDougall said, wearily, as she rose to go. "Better for them to die of cold than to be murdered by violence, or made to lie and steal."
"You're taking an over gloomy view of the matter, good wife," the man said, cheerfully; "and perhaps you'll be getting them back safe and sound before nightfall."
But that was not to be. The description of the children was, truly enough, sent to every town or village that could boast a police-station, and was eagerly discussed that very nightfall in many a remote cottage. Had the children wandered farther, to even the first village on their road, they must have been found, but they were safely hidden from the outer world in the least suspected place of any—the miserable hovel of one of those wretched tillers of the land, too poor to deserve the name of farmer, with which some parts of Scotland abound. The man was listless, and apathetic with hunger and poverty, a miserable, degraded creature, who would have sacrificed anything or anybody for the sake of the few pounds that would pay his rent or sow his tiny bit of unproductive land.
He was the very last sort of person to hear rumours of the lost children. On that day when he and his wretched beast had toiled the distance of twenty miles to fetch a load of fish refuse from the nearest fishing village in order to enrich his bit of barren land, the bills about the children were not yet distributed. Even had they been, he was little likely to have heard about them, for he was too dull and dejected to talk with his neighbours. When he met them on the road, the idea of giving them a lift would not have penetrated his mind had not Elsie herself requested it. Yet the man was no worse than his fellows, and had an element of unselfish kindness in him, which was shown by his giving them the old sack to sit upon. Under happier auspices he would probably have been a very decent sort of person, but the hopeless hardship of his existence had gradually wiped out every ambition and hope, till at last he had sunk into something scarcely better than an animal.
And, children, let me tell you that there are plenty of us, now bright and gentle and happy, who in Sandy Ferguson's place would have been no better than he; and I wonder whether we always remember that God judges every one, even His little ones, according to the opportunities they have had?
Sandy had no thought of injuring the children any more than of assisting them; but his wife, who was cleverer, and had therefore become cunning and shrewish under the sordid cares of her life, saw directly that she might gain something by keeping them.
She had taken away their clothes, partly because it angered her to see these ungrateful runaway children warmly clothed while her own were shivering in their rags, but far more with the idea of preventing their escape. Their friends would come after them, and it would be her own fault if she didn't see some of their money, she told herself. Five of her children had died from illness, caused by want and cold and misery; it was little wonder that she had grown grasping and cruel.
Yet she, too, meant them no harm. She was anxious enough to get rid of them, for the miserable food that she gave them had to be stolen from their own portions. She looked out eagerly for passers-by, in the hope that the children's friends would overtake them, yet jealously kept her secret, for fear that others might outwit her and reap the reward.
On that day when she had been occupied in listening to a long account of a neighbour's affairs, and had, as she supposed, got the children doubly safe, by virtue of the watch she had set over them as well as the safe custody of their clothes, she had been startled by hearing from this very neighbour an account of how two children had been lost off the moor, and a reward offered for them. She kept her countenance admirably, and pretended to be most astonished and interested, but she sat on thorns, fearing Sandy would betray her. The neighbours stayed long, having much to talk of, and when at last they departed, Mrs. Ferguson went on cleaning, satisfied that the children were safe, since they were all together, and Sandy with them.
By-and-by Sandy came in, and stood staring hopelessly. Then he began to scratch his head, and looked altogether so stupid that Mrs. Ferguson administered him a good shaking, and demanded of him what he meant by it.
"Where be the bairns?" Sandy asked, in his rough Gaelic.
Then Mrs. Ferguson flew out, and when she could see none of them her wrath knew no bounds. Young Sandy and Jamie, her two boys, were discovered under the cart, and when dragged out and cuffed, declared that Elsie and Duncan had beaten them, and then run as fast as they could down the road; that they had called as loudly as they could, but were unable to make any one hear; and plenty more tales, that their mother knew were made up to shield themselves.
Having called them every bad name she could think of, and dealt them some stinging blows, she flew along the road to seek them. The road wound about pretty much, and as they were nowhere in sight, she concluded they must have gone by it. She came back furiously angry and disappointed, and continued her search till nightfall in the immediate neighbourhood of the croft, but without success. Sandy and Jamie were not to be envied that night.
Thus it happened that the police were quite baffled in their endeavours to find the children, and after they had fallen into Mrs. Donaldson's hands the description given was not accurate.
(To be continued.)
THE SONG OF A LITTLE BIRD.
Though I'm but a small bird, I may often be heard These evenings in dreary November, And my sisters and cousins Come listening by dozens, To songs they can learn and remember.
No nightingale I, Yet when light's in the sky It seems to go through me and through me Till I'm overflowing With music, scarce knowing What wonder is happening to me.
Oh, Spring-time is sweet, When loving birds meet, But Autumn's the season for singing, When all the dear swallows Come out from the hollows, And over the ocean are winging.
We stay where we are, While they voyage afar, But the parting leaves us tender-hearted, And we sing the more clearly Of those we love dearly When scores of our friends have departed.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE DYKES OF HOLLAND.
Of all the wonderful countries in the world, and there are many, I do not think there is any one half so wonderful as Holland. We have a saying here that "God made the country, but man made the town," but in Holland it is said "God made the world, but man made Holland," and "God made the sea, but man made the shore."
Ages ago Holland was a wild desolate place in the midst of seas and lakes, with here and there a forest of trees. The first people to settle here were some German tribes, and a hard time they had of it. First of all they had to build strong dykes or embankments round the place in which they were going to encamp, so as to keep out the sea and the waters of the rivers, which wandered where they would, without proper channels; and after that they built rude huts and hovels for themselves. Sometimes they would be able to hold their own for a long time, but it often happened that there would be storms and high tides, and then their settlements would be swept away. Then they moved off somewhere else, living in the meantime as best they could on fish and game and sea-birds' eggs.
At length many of these tribes joined together to see if they could not find some place where they would be more protected, and where they might unite in building great dykes which should be able to resist the seas and the wandering rivers. So they first entrenched themselves; then they spread out farther afield and enclosed larger tracts of land; then they built dykes big enough to protect whole provinces, and at last they made a great sea-wall or embankment round the whole land.
But why was all this labour necessary? you will ask. Well, it was because the country lies so low that the waters could sweep over it; and even to-day, although there are beautiful towns and cities in Holland, with hundreds and thousands of people, and thousands upon thousands of cattle, the land is lower than the sea; the cities are built upon piles driven into the sand; the river-beds are higher than the tops of the houses, and at any moment, if the dykes were to burst, or the rivers to overflow, the whole country with all its inhabitants might be swept away. It has been well said that "Holland is a conquest made by man over the sea. It is an artificial country. The Hollanders made it. It exists because the Hollanders preserve it. It will vanish whenever the Hollanders shall abandon it."
The dykes or embankments have been made in this way: first of all secure and massive foundations had to be laid, the ground being compressed to make it very solid. Then walls, or dykes, were reared of earth, sand, and mud, so tightly compressed as to be quite impervious to water. The whole was bound with twigs of willows interwoven with wonderful care, and the spaces filled with clay so as to make them almost as hard as stone.
Then the dykes were planted with trees, which throw out a network of roots, and help to hold the whole structure firmly together. On the dykes there are over 9,000 windmills always at work, pumping up water to keep the land dry; and there are in the whole country nearly 1,150 miles of canals, for diverting the waters, a good many of their bottoms being higher than the land they drain.
Every dyke in the land is under constant inspection, and every three years the network of willow-twigs is renewed. It is one of the strangest sensations in the world to stand at the foot of one of these outer dykes at high tide and hear the angry breakers of the sea dashing against the other side of the wall, at a height of 16 ft. or 18 ft. above your head.
From the beginning of their history until the present time the Hollanders have had to fight the waters, and they will have to do so as long as their country exists. There are two great sources of danger—the sea and the rivers; and either left neglected would very soon lead to hopeless ruin. There is therefore a great institution, or society, in the country, called the Waterstaat, for watching and controlling the water. Everybody in the land is obliged to obey its commands. If any one see the water threatening to pour in, he must at once give the alarm, and all the people of the district, and of all the districts round about, must be summoned by the ringing of the alarm-bells, and by the booming of cannon, and then old and young, rich and poor, soldiers and public servants, must all set to work together and fight the common foe.
Notwithstanding all the constant vigilance there are terrible stories told in Holland of inundations. It is recorded that during thirteen centuries there has been one great inundation, besides smaller ones, every seven years. When that great flood came, in the end of the thirteenth century, which formed the Zuyder Zee, 80,000 persons were drowned; in 1421, in one night 72 villages and 100,000 persons were swept away, and even so recently as the year 1855, there was a great inundation which invaded the provinces of Gueldres and Utrecht, and covered a great part of North Brabant.
Most of these catastrophes occurred from the sudden rising of the waters and the bursting of the dams; but it is not from these causes only that the safety of the country is threatened. If you go into the Museum at Leyden you will see some pieces of wood full of little tiny holes. These once formed part of piles and sluice-gates, and they are very memorable to the Dutch people, for they call to mind a terrible danger which befell them once, and might do so again at any time. A ship returning from the tropics brought with it, it is supposed, some tiny little shell-fish, the Teredo navalis. These increased and multiplied with marvellous rapidity, and swarmed the waters. One day every inhabitant of the land was seized with terror, for it was found that these little creatures had nearly eaten away the sluice-gates of the dykes, and had it not been that night and day an immense body of men worked with the energy of those who were trying to save the lives of themselves and their wives and their little ones, the sea, their great enemy, would have been let loose upon them. "A worm," says the historian, "had made Holland tremble."
Once the dykes were cut and the country flooded purposely. It was when Leyden was holding out against the Spaniards, led by Valdez. For four months the people had been besieged, and at last provisions had failed. But when Valdez summoned them to surrender, Vanderdoes, the burgomaster, replied "that when provisions utterly failed, then they would devour their left hands, reserving their right hands to defend their liberty." One day, when the people were reduced almost to their last extremity, a carrier pigeon was seen flying into the beleaguered city, and it brought the joyful news that the Prince of Orange was coming to their deliverance, having cut the dykes and flooded the country in order that his flotilla of 200 boats laden with provision might reach them. But the water did not rise high enough, the flotilla got stranded, and the poor starving people could see the supplies in the distance, but could not get at them, and it seemed so hard to die of starvation with plenty of food in sight. At last relief came in an unexpected way: the wind arose and a violent storm drove in the flood through the broken dykes, and onward it poured with increasing volume and power, sweeping away the cruel Spaniards, and bearing the flotilla to the very gates of the city. It is no wonder that in commemoration of this almost miraculous deliverance on the 3rd October, 1574, the citizens hold an annual festival.
There is a story told all over Holland—and it has been retold in almost all languages—of a boy, the son of a dykeman, who once saved the country, but whose name, strange to say, has not been preserved. He was only a little fellow eight years old, but like every child in that country, he knew of the danger in which he lived, and how at any time if he should see any sign of water coming in through an embankment, or a sluice-gate, where it ought not, it was his bounden duty immediately to give the alarm. One day he asked his father's permission to go to a village not far off to carry a little present to a blind man who lived there, and who had often talked very kindly to him. He did not stay long at the village, for his father had bidden him to hurry home, but being only a very little boy he walked on and on, thinking of the words the blind man had spoken to him, and of a hundred other things, and paying very little heed to the way in which he was going. After a long time he found that he had taken a wrong road, and was in a desolate part of the country close up by the dykes. It was in the month of October, and night was just coming on, so he climbed up the embankment to try and see the nearest way he could take to reach his home. As he was descending he passed by one of the great flood-gates of the dyke. Pausing for just a moment before making a scamper off towards home, he heard a sound which filled him with dismay—it was the sound of water falling and trickling over stones. He knew it was his duty to find out where it was, and very soon he saw a hole in the wood-work through which the water was coming pretty freely. Examining it more carefully he saw that the pressure was threatening to open up a wide crack in the gate; and, child as he was, he knew that if it were not stopped that little stream would soon become a cascade, a great sheet of water, a torrent, and then a terrible inundation which would end in desolation and death. So the little fellow did not hesitate. He determined to try and prevent the mischief. Reaching up to the hole he placed his finger in it, but soon he found that the wood was rotten, and that the small hole would soon become larger. So he took off his jacket and, tearing off a sleeve, he inserted part of this in the hole, and for a time it resisted the water. But not for long. He found that the pressure was not strong and even enough, and that there was nothing for it but to tear away the edges of the decaying wood and then to put his arm, encased in the other sleeve of the jacket, into the hole. To his delight he found that it exactly fitted and effectually stayed the water. Meanwhile the night was growing darker and he was far from home. But the brave little man would not leave his post. He called at the top of his voice, but there was no one to answer, and his only hope was that some of the dykemen going their rounds might hear his voice and come to his relief. But no one came. Hours passed away and still he was alone, and still the water was resisted. He was in terrible pain, however, for in that chill October night the water was very cold, and his hand and arm and shoulder were so benumbed that he knew not how he could endure it. Then he thought that if he did not persevere the waters would come in and drown perhaps his father and his mother and the neighbours, and he knew not how many others besides, and so he determined, however great the pain might be, to bear it, God helping him. Very long and very terrible were those dark hours of the night, and the poor child cried bitterly with the pain and the terror, but he did not remove his arm!
At last, in the early morning, he heard what seemed to be the sound of footsteps, and raising his voice to its highest pitch he soon had the joy of seeing that some one was approaching. It was a clergyman who had been spending the night by the bedside of a dying man, and was returning home with the first gleams of the morning. He was horrified to see a little child, pale, jacketless, shivering, with eyes swollen with tears, and a face contorted with pain.
"Why are you here, my boy? What are you doing?" he asked anxiously.
"I am holding back the sea!" said the little hero.
And it was literally true—that child's arm had held back the enemy that would have come in with a flood, carrying death and terrible destruction.
"WHISTLING FOR IT."
The "it" was his supper. Dinner had been a movable feast that day, tea indefinitely postponed, and Patch was beginning to fear that supper also was fading away beyond his grasp.
"And I may go on whistling till that flute bursts itself before I get a halfpenny," he remarked to himself in a tone of intense injury, eyeing the "flute" (which was really a penny whistle) anxiously as he rubbed it on his wet sleeve with a view to improving the notes. "All this day and not a——"
"I say, Patch," broke in a mournful voice from behind, "couldn't you lend me twopence just till to-morrow? It's to get some supper; I haven't sold a single box since morning."
"Supper!" echoed Patch, turning sharply on his supplicant. "Do you think I'd be blowing away here if I didn't want a supper myself? You'd better go on to the bank and ask them."
"I've asked everybody, and it's no use," was the weary answer.
"Well it's no use here either, Mike; if I get any I'll want it myself."
Mike listlessly wandered on a few steps farther up the dingy road, and then collapsed, a mere bundle of rags, under the shadow of a doorway.
"You'll not get much of a supper sitting there," commented Patch, setting off himself in quest of a more appreciative audience.
At the corner of the next street was a big hospital, and Patch betook himself thither. He had received stray coppers occasionally from the visitors who came and went through the ponderous iron gates, and what had been once might be again. Fortune was going to favour him at last, he thought, for coming down the steps was a gentle-faced old lady in a curiously-shaped bonnet and grey gown. Patch realised that it was a case of "whistling for it" now, and no mistake; so he put on his most dejected expression and piped out "The Last Rose of Summer" with truly startling emphasis.
Unhappily there chanced to be a shaggy-haired dog waiting outside the gate whose taste for music had evidently not been cultivated. At the very first notes he raised his head with a long howl of disgust that spoilt the effect entirely. It was trying, for Patch saw his prospects vanishing into thin air unless his rival could be promptly silenced; so slipping cautiously behind, he dealt the animal as vigorous a kick as the dilapidated state of his shoe would permit.
"Oh, thee should not have done that! the poor creature meant no harm," cried the lady reproachfully, hastening down the steps to console the sufferer; and Patch discovered, with confusion, that the dog belonged to her. Truly it had been an unfortunate day.
"He looked like a poor dog; I didn't know it was yours," he stammered out. "It's the first chance I've had to-day, and he was spoiling the music."
The old lady looked gravely down at his pinched face and ragged figure.
"Thee looks ill."
"It's enough to make a fellow ill—hungry like this all day long."
He looked as if he were speaking sorrowful truth. The old lady opened her bag—"There is sixpence for thee to get some food with," she said kindly, "and try and remember another time, friend, that if thee art poor thyself there is the greater reason why thee should'st feel for others who are poor likewise."
Patch looked from the coin to her face, almost too much astonished to be grateful. Donations to him usually consisted of pence or halfpence flung into the gutter, or carelessly dropped on the roadway. That a lady—and a very beautiful old lady she seemed to him, in spite of the old-fashioned dress and speech—should stand to talk to him in a civil, pleasant voice was something new indeed, especially after that unfortunate blunder about her dog.
"We are none of us so poor that we cannot help each other in some little way," she went on gently, perhaps mistaking the cause of his silence.
"There ain't anybody poorer than me," Patch answered; and his appearance certainly justified the statement. "Much I could help other folk!"
"Try and find out; it only needs a word sometimes. Good-night, friend, do not stay here longer than thee can help in thy wet clothes."
Patch received all the injunctions respectfully for the sake of the sixpence, and proceeded to carry out the first of them straightway. As quickly as his battered shoes would allow he was out of sight on his way to a certain well-known cook-shop. There, in all the assurance of conscious wealth, he planted his elbows on the window-ledge and critically surveyed the contents. Great joints of meat, slabs of suet pudding, dotted here and there with currants, one—but that was a very superior compound—with raisins, cakes and pies in abundance.
A mingled odour of coffee and tea floated through the open door; and Patch, sniffing up the delightful fragrance, went through a rapid mental calculation of the glorious possibilities within his reach.
"Coffee twopence, a fine big cup too, bread and sausage twopence, and a lump of the currant pudding to wind up; something like a supper that."
Poor hungry Patch! as he lifted his arms from the ledge a sudden recollection of Mike under the dark archway came back to his mind. He wished it had not obtruded itself just then; he had quite enough trouble to get food for himself without looking after other people, and yet something made him hesitate on the threshold and presently go back to his old position, elbows on the window-ledge, while he solemnly debated the matter in his own mind.
It was a subject he had never considered before in all his solitary selfish life; kindly words or deeds had not been his portion, and the gentle-faced woman who had given him a sixpence instead of a scolding was a new feature in his experience.
The debate ended in his walking soberly away from the bright visions in the window to the humbler shop he usually favoured with his custom, and there laying out the precious sixpence in bread and cold meat. He took his purchase, the bread under his arm, the meat in a piece of newspaper, and carried the feast to the doorway where Mike still sat crouching in the chilly darkness.
"Wake up, Mike; see here what I've got. There's some for you as well; sit up and begin."
Mike lifted his head from his arm in utter amazement. "You ain't joking about it?" and then—he was but a little fellow, and hunger is hard to bear—at the sight of the provisions Patch was laying out on the newspaper wrapper, he began to cry for very gladness.
"Stop that!" ordered his host, peremptorily. "It's damp enough without you beginning. Eat away, there's plenty of it."
"Did they trust you at the shop?" queried Mike when the banquet was well in progress. "You said you'd no money."
"Did they ever trust you at the shop when you'd no money?" demanded Patch, scornfully. "I paid for it, that's all you need bother yourself about."
"It isn't that," explained his guest, hastily; "you never had anything to spare before, and I was wondering how you afforded to give me such a lot now."
Patch wondered too; then he crumpled up the paper table-cloth, and flung it into the gutter. "I never wanted to give anything away before," he remarked; "but perhaps—if you couldn't get it anywhere else—I might give you a bit another time."
And presently in the dark a dirty hand stretched out and timidly stroked his sleeve.
Patch went home down the wet streets with his flute. He looked poor and ragged as ever, but he had at least taken the first step upward that night in finding out the possibility even for him of helping another.
LITTLE TOILERS OF THE NIGHT.
"Do we work at night! yes, I b'lieve yer; and afore daylight too, leastways, as soon as ever there's light enough to see by. Not always we don't, but when the old man comes back, an' says we must do a spell of peggin' there ain't no time hardly to get our vittles, except perhaps a tater, or a bit o' bread and bacon; but that's ever so much better than it used to be when poor mother was alive, and she and me and Aunt Ann and Ben used to work the dolls and windmills, an' the fly-ketchers, an' the flyin' birds."
She was a tall thin girl, with a flat dirty face, that would have been pale, if it had not been burnt to a yellowish brown with the sun, till it was only a shade lighter than the old battered straw hat that had let a wisp or two of yellow hair through a great slit in the back just above the brim. She wore a tattered cotton frock that had nearly all the pattern washed out, which must have been a long time before, because it was so stained and worn, so thin that it would bear no more washing.
The girl was trudging along in a pair of broken boots, two sizes too large for her, and trying to keep pace with a dark-haired sharp-eyed little woman, wrapped in a frayed shawl, and with a bonnet that looked as though it had been picked up from a dust-bin, as perhaps it had, and while the woman carried half a dozen long sticks, such as are used to prop up the lines upon which clothes are hung to dry, the girl held in one hand a bundle of the wooden pegs with which laundresses fastened the clothes to the lines, and in the other hand a coil of the line itself.
All these things together could not have been worth much, but it would be a hard day's work to cut the pegs, and a still harder day's work to the girl and the woman to sell them all. A good many miles of streets would have to be walked over, a good many area doors knocked at, a number of cross people, or people who were afraid of having something stolen, would shut those doors in their faces, and perhaps when they had trudged back again to Stratford, a long, long way on the other side of Whitechapel, they would only have earned a shilling or two, and would have eaten nothing but a bit of bread, unless somebody were kind enough to give them some food on purpose to get rid of them, when they stood whining and saying, "Buy a clothes-line, buy clothes-pegs, please to buy a clothes-prop," over and over again.
"They takes us for thieves, I s'pose," said the woman, "and I don't know that it's to be wondered at, for they reckon us all one with gipsies, and though our people ain't really gipsies, you know, they're not unlike 'em, and often we live much the same, and it can't be denied that there's them amongst us as would lay their hands on anything they see about; but none of my people would take what don't belong to 'em either from a passage or behind a door or a street stall—no, not if we was ever so badly off we wouldn't, would we, 'Liza?"
"I should think not, aunt," said the ragged girl. "Neither you nor poor mother nor father ever taught us that. It was hard enough, sometimes, as hard as it was yesterday, and is likely to be to-day, and there wasn't nothing to look forward to, except when I went out once or twice with father, or when he came home after a pretty good day, and we had something for supper, and then we often had to sit up at night to look over all the old clothes and the rags and bottles that he'd got in change for the dolls or the win'mills, and now we get more of the country in summer-time, and I ain't left off goin' to the Sunday-school, have I aunt?"
"No," said the woman, looking down and speaking in a low voice; "I shouldn't leave that off if I was you, and I often wish you could get to be in some place of service with a family, or do something better than live in this rough sort of a way. I a'most wish I'd never took you away after your mother died; but your father went away and little Ben was gone to sea, and I couldn't leave a little one like you to work night after night and day after day at the match-box-making along with other children, but with nobody to look after you." Here the poor woman held down her face, and I thought I saw a tear drop on to the back of the brown grimy hand that leaned upon the bundle of clothes-props. "But it's no good now," she said, rising from the bench where we were sitting. "What must be done to-day is to sell these props and pegs, and to-morrow, if Uncle Dick comes back, and has been pretty fortunate with the cart, we shall get our eggs and bacon, and our beef stew again, 'Liza, and most likely shall have a week or two in Epping Forest, with enough to eat, at all events."
"Stop a minute," said I; "perhaps I might find you a customer for your props and pegs, and I want to hear about the doll-making and the windmills."
The woman and the girl sat down again. It was on a bench upon an open space of ground known as Hackney Downs (a few miles out of London), a great bare-looking waste, where nearly all the grass has been worn off, and there's not much to look at; but where a fine air blows, and where there are a few benches for people to sit upon.
"Well, you see, sir, 'Liza had better tell you about the doll-making," said the woman, "becos she begun to speak of it: not that they was what you'd call dolls, but only a sort of rough flat shape, of a head an' body cut out of match-wood, with eyes and mouth painted for a face, and bits of cotton print, or more often wall-paper, pasted on for a dress, and another bit for a cap; they was for poor people's children, don't you see, as could only afford a ha'penny or a farthing."
"And what about the windmills and the birds?"
"Well, don't you see, sir," says 'Liza—"the windmills was made of just the same bits of flat match-wood, that father brought home and cut into thin strips like. The windmills was like the spokes of a wheel joined together, with folded bits o' wall-paper, and fastened with a round French nail to the end of a stick, so as when the wind took 'em, they used to go round and round. The flying birds was this way—the wheel was a little sort of a hoop, with two wooden spokes to fasten it to the stick, and all the other spokes was made of strings with bits of feathers tied on to 'em, so that when the wind took it they looked like birds flying; as to the fly-ketchers, they was round and square bits o' coloured wall-papers and tissue—put together in strings till they looked like a sort of big Chinese lantern, to entice the flies to settle on 'em. You must have seen such things, sir; but then ours was common ones, of course, to sell for a penny, or a bottle or two, or some old rags."
"Oh, that was it, eh?"
"Yes. You see father'd bring home the wood, and Aunt Ann would cut it out to the shape—wouldn't you, aunt?—and poor mother'd cut out the paper or the cotton print for the dolls clothes, or the windmills, and I'd stick 'em on, or nail 'em on, and any of us 'ud paint the eyes an' mouth, even little Ben could do that. We used to live over beyond Bethnal Green, in a place called Twig Folly, and there was plenty of us children that used to work at lucifer match-box making about that part. When father took to the dolls and mills he bought his own wood and bits of wall-paper and that; but we worked night and day very often, so as to get a lot ready for him, when he used to go out with a barrow and all the dolls stuck up, and the mills going round, and the birds fluttering, and take 'em through the streets, for miles, selling them for ha'pennies, or givin' one for an old wine-bottle or a bundle o' rags, or old metal and such like. When he had money to spare, he'd buy old clothes, and then when he came home, we used to look through 'em to see which was to go with the rags, and which we could sell to the second-hand dealer. I don't work no harder now than I did then."
"What do you do now, then?"
"Well, you see, when poor mother died, and Ben was put aboard a ship to be taught the sea, father—he—he—went away and aunt went back where she'd been once before, to her brother-in-law's—which belongs to the gipsies,—not the real gipsies, that lives in tents, and goes about all over the country, but the London gipsies like, that lives down Stratford and Plaistow way. It's at Stratford that we lives, and there we cut these pegs out of the wood that Uncle Dick brings home; and he brings the props too, and buys the line. There's four of us gals, and when we ain't cuttin' the wood for the pegs we're basket-makin' or straw-plaitin'; but there's times when we go out a good bit, one or the other of us, I mean me and aunt and Uncle Dick's children, because he's got a share in a cart—one o' them big sort of carawans that's all hung round with baskets and mats, and cane-work and brooms and brushes and cradles—and it's a rare change too, to go along with it, though the walkin' makes your feet sore. But it's more change still when we go nearer to Epping Forest in summer-time, and live out there in the country in a covered wan and a tent or two, and learn to plait baskets out of osiers, and to cane chairs, and to make straw plait and all manner o' things, and only cut clothes-pegs at odd times. We don't work much at night then, but we're often up pretty early in the morning, I can tell you; but at Stratford—it's a close bad-smellin' sort of a little place is our lane, and we're pretty often hard at it by candle-light, or else lamplight, making up baskets and clothes-pegs and things ready for the trade in the summer. One thing is that when Uncle Dick makes a good week he don't stint us in food, and, as poor mother used to say, beggars mustn't be choosers, and I haven't got nobody to be good to me but Aunt Ann."
"There, don't take on that way," says the woman, rather roughly, though I can see another tear in her eye. "We've all got somebody to look after, and you was left to me, so up you get, 'Liza, and let's thank you kindly, sir, for—I don't like to take money for nothink, sir, and—perhaps, if you was livin' near here and had the washin' done at home, you'd like me to take home a prop or two, and half-a-dozen pegs, sir."
A GAME FOR LONG EVENINGS.
Those who learn drawing will find the game of "Positions" a particularly pleasant pastime for the long evenings. Any number can play the game—the more the merrier. All the players seat themselves round the table, and each one must be supplied with small pieces of white paper, about two inches square, and a pencil—or, better still, a pen and ink. All the players, except one, then silently resolve on some position in life which it is possible for them to fill, and each makes some sign of their "Position" by sketching a little picture of some article connected with their proposed trade or business on one of the blank pieces of paper. The name of each sketcher should be written on his paper. Five minutes are allowed for the sketching, the time being kept by the player who has not selected a "Position." All the illustrated papers are then passed in order round the table, so that each may view the others' pictures; but no one is supposed to criticise them aloud. Lastly they are handed to the "Guesser" (who, up to this point, has taken no active part in the game, except to time the five minutes), and he ranges them in order before him according to the order in which the players are seated at the table. He looks at them attentively and then proceeds to guess from the pictures what are the intended "Positions" of each person. Supposing that there were three players, and each one drew a sketch, say of a house, a pear, and a crown respectively. The Guesser looking at them would have no difficulty in pronouncing (1) landlord, (2) greengrocer, (3) king. If she fail to guess any of the "Positions," the first person at whom he or she stopped is chosen Guesser for the next time; if there has been no failure, the player on the right hand of the Guesser takes the privilege. The principal object of this game is for each player to try who can make the best sketch in five minutes, and the next object is to puzzle the Guesser.
THE RIVAL KINGS.
(A FABLE IN FOUR SITUATIONS.)
"I have only one ambition in this world," said King Albus, addressing the feathered members of his household, "only one ambition."
"And what is that?" said the oldest and the fattest hen, sidling up to him.
"My ambition is," replied the king, strutting about the yard, and looking as haughty and as full of fight as only a Spanish cock can, "to see my detested rival over the fence yonder humbled in the dust."
"You've often said that," remarked the old hen.
"Yes," continued the king, "I mean to do it, too; and his lifeless body shall float down the mill-stream as helpless as a ball of worsted. I have said, and I will do."
"Well, dear," the hen said; "don't forget that King Crevecoeur is a powerful big bird."
"King Crevecoeur! Creve cur I call him. Deprive him of his diphthong, when speaking of him to me, madam, please."
"Well, diphthong, or not diphthong," sang the old hen, picking up a small pebble, and swallowing it, "he is big, and he wears a pair of frightfully long spurs."
"And what a charming plume he has on his head!" cried a young hen; "he looks quite soldierly. Belongs to the dragoons, I suppose."
"Hold your tongue," exclaimed the king; "and go about your business. Plume, indeed! spurs forsooth! The plume, madam, is an airy nothing; the spurs have neither strength nor substance. Now, look at me," this proud king went on, as he flew up on top of an old hurdle, "behold me well. Am I not as white as the driven snow? Is not my comb as red and rosy as crimson daisies, or the sunset's glow at dewy eve?" "Cock-a-doodle—doodle—do—o! Did ever you hear such a crow as that before?"
"Never," said the old hen.
"Except——" said the young one.
The king looked at her, and she was silent. But just at that moment came a voice from the other side of the old fence, that fairly startled every hen in King Albus's household. Shrill, defiant, terrible!
"Cock-a-doodle—roaro—ro—o!" went the voice.
"That is he!" cried the king. "That is more of his audacity! It is unbearable. I will stand it no longer. I will instantly give him battle. Farewell, and if for ever—still for ever, fare-ye-well."
"Stay with us, stay with us, stay—stay—stay," cried all the hens in cackling chorus.
"Never," cried the king; "while Creve cur lives! Cock-a-doodle—do! Death or victory!"
He sprang over the fence as he spoke.
The king had crossed the Rubicon. There was no going back with honour now. He was fairly over the fence, and in the domains of the rival king.
King Albus bent his wattles to the ground, and gazed at his rival with one eye. His rival's back was turned towards him, and he took not the slightest notice of the king.
"I wonder if he'll fight!" said the king to himself. "For my part I hope he won't, for I don't feel half so full of courage on this side of the fence as I did on the other. I daren't go back, though. How the young hens would giggle if I did, and how the old ones would cackle! No!"
All this time King Albus never moved; he still held his wattles close to the ground, and still looked at his rival with one eye, only sometimes he turned his head and looked with the other.
"He is pretending not to see me," he continued.
"He is afraid. I'll wager my wattles he's afraid. But—what?—do my eyes deceive me? No, he really has two lovely pure—white hens lying beside him. That seals his fate. If any one in the world ought to have white hens as companions, it is myself, because I am pure white. So he must die."
Now, although King Crevecoeur's back was turned to his rival, he could see him with the side of his eye, and besides, his two hens told him what the silly old Spaniard was doing.
"He's afraid to come on, I think," said one.
"Don't be too hard on him," said the other.
"A deal depends," replied Crevecoeur, shaking his head. "I have never insulted him; I can't help being bigger and handsomer and richer than he is; he has no right to go on envying me as he does. He deserves to be punished. He is mean, that is what he is. Stop, I'll give him a little encouragement—Cock-a-doodle-do-o!"
"It needed but that," cried King Albus.
He advanced speedily as he spoke, along by the side of the mill lead.
"Run away, my dears," said the Creve to his two hens, "the battle is about to commence."
One hen went; the other declared she would stand by him as long as she lived.
Now, it was a very remarkable thing, but no sooner had King Albus got close up behind King Creve, and was just about to strike the blow, that might or might not have both begun and ended the fight, than all his courage at once oozed out at his toes, and he really didn't feel he had pluck enough to raise his foot to strike, or even to keep his tail erect.
"I feel very faint," he said to himself, "I think I'll just take a run home and have a few crumbs of food, and then come back again."
He turned as he spoke and began to move off.
"Cock-a-doodle-do-o-o!" roared the cock with the plumes.
Now, this was more than the meanest-spirited cock that ever crowed could stand.
He raised his tail again, wheeled suddenly round and faced his foe. The other cock or king also wheeled round, and so with ruffles raised and wings half spread, and with fire flashing from their eyes, the two confronted each other.
But courage now deserted the heart of the white hen, and she fled.
"Cray—cray—cray," she screamed; "there'll be bloodshed, cray—cray—cray!"
"Have you made your will?" cried the white king, fiercely. "Are you prepared for a watery grave?"
"As to my will," replied the dark king, "there'll be plenty of time to think about that when you're dead. As to the watery grave, I'm quite ready for it, as soon as I meet any one who has the strength and courage to send me there. It won't be you."
"You may imagine yourself dead already," roared the white king. "Your body will go floating down the mill-stream, and there won't be a feather of you left together an hour after this—the frogs and fish will eat you."
"Fish and frogs!" cried King Creve, "fiddlesticks! Come on and fight if you dare. I'll give you leave to strike the first blow."
Then the white cock grew very sentimental.
"I don't really want to kill you," he said; "it seems a pity."
"Can nought but blood our feud atone, Are there no means?" "No, stranger, none!"
"Now just look here," said the dark king. "What are you talking about? If you mean to fight—fight. If you don't mean to fight—go over the fence again."
"But I want to have something to say to you," cried King Albus.
"Well then, out with it. I'm not going to stand here palavering all day, with my feathers up like a ruffed grouse. I'm catching cold, I am. I'll go to work to warm myself presently, and it will be a bad thing for you when I do."
"What d'ye mean by being bigger than me, then?" said the white cock.
"Oh! that's your grievance, is it?"
"Yes, and what d'ye mean by crowing louder every morning, and wearing that silly old plume on top o' your poll, and those stupid long spurs on your heels, eh?"
"Ye-s—What d'ye mean by having more oats to eat than me? And more hens to walk about and sing to ye, eh?"
"Oh! You envious silly old thing, you," cried King Creve. "Go home at once, and learn to live a better life, do."
"Not till I've killed King Cur."
SITUATION FOURTH AND LAST.
Whack! Whack! Whack!
They were at it now spur and bill. The sound of the blows went echoing all over the farmyards where they lived. Whack! Whack! Whack! Dear me, how the feathers flew!
"My brave!" cried the fat old hen, "I never thought there was so much courage in him before!"
"Wait a bit," cried the saucy young one. "Plumes will give him a lesson presently."
"Plumes won't," shrieked the other.
"Plumes will" roared the young one. And lo! and behold those two hens got fighting behind the fence—so foolish of them—and thus there were two battles raging at one and the same time.
Now sometimes, right is might, but in this case right and might were both on the same side. For King Albus had no business to be so envious and jealous of his neighbour, simply because he was better than he; and he was certainly very wrong to invade his territory. If he had only stayed at home, and been content with his own surroundings, he might have lived and been happy for many a long day.
To do the white king justice, however, he fought well. Though a coward at heart, now that he found himself really engaged, he knew that to give in would mean being trodden to death under the feet of his foe. So he fought on and on.
Both shortly paused for breath, and the white king began turning over the gravel with his bill, as if looking for a grub or two. This was merely a pretence, in order to gain time, and the dark king knew that well enough.
"Don't be silly," he said, tantalisingly, "grubs don't grow in the gravel. I don't believe you could swallow a grub if you had one. Go home now, and come back again when your poor old head is healed."
"I'll heal you!" roared King Albus, "I'll grub you!"
Then the battle re-commenced with re-doubled fury.
But it did not last much longer. The dark king watched his chance, and bringing all his strength to bear on one blow, sent his adversary sprawling and roaring for mercy right into the mill-stream.
Then he jumped nimbly on top of him and crowed.
His weight sank his foe, he gave a gasp or two, then away he floated still and quiet enough, while the dark king jumped on shore, and coolly began to re-arrange his ruffled plumage, his two hens soon returning to admire him.
"I told you," cried the young hen, "that Plumes would kill him."
"Ah! well," said the fat old hen, "such things will happen, you know. It can't be helped. It's a pity, of course. But he was always rather haughty and overbearing, and envious too; and if there is one feeling more distasteful to me than another it is Envy."
LITTLE MARGARET'S KITCHEN, AND WHAT SHE DID IN IT.—XI.
By Phillis Browne, Author of "A Year's Cookery," "What Girls can Do," &c.
"How clear and bright the fire is, Mary," said Margaret, when she came into the kitchen, and found Mary already busy setting plates and dishes to warm, rubbing the gridiron, and placing everything in readiness for the lesson in Cookery.
"Yes, Miss Margaret, it is bright, and I made it so," said Mary, with pride in her voice. "Mistress said we were to learn to broil to-day, so I came here in good time, cleared away the dust, put on some coal, and swept up the hearth; and now how hot and clear the fire is; exactly the fire for broiling, I know."
"You seem to know all about it before you are taught, Mary."
"I am not so clever as that comes to, miss. But I know that for broiling you need a bright hot fire without blaze, and that you need to have everything quite ready before you begin to cook at all, because when you have once made a start you cannot leave the broil to attend to anything; so I thought it was as well to be prepared before-hand."
"Why are you rubbing the gridiron so hard then? Was it not cleaned the last time it was used?"
"Of course it was cleaned; but aunt says that no matter how clean a gridiron looks, we should always give it an extra rub before using it, 'for safety,' and that then we should make it hot over the fire, and afterwards rub the bars with mutton-fat to grease them, and keep the meat from sticking to the bars. But here comes mistress."
"You appear to be cooking without my help to-day," said Mrs. Herbert, smiling, as she looked round and saw what had been done.
"No, ma'am. I have finished all I know," said Mary.
"Then let me tell you a little more. Broiling is a very convenient way of cooking meat, because it is very quick, and it makes meat very tasty and very wholesome. I should like you to understand it, therefore. It is only suitable, however, for small things, such as chops, and steaks, and kidneys, and fish. To-day we will broil a steak."
"The gridiron is greased ready, ma'am," interrupted Mary.
"Quite right. I am glad to see it, Mary. This should always be done. But now notice. This steak, though I call it small, is still cut fairly thick—it is nearly an inch thick. If it were cut in a thin slice, to broil it would make it hard and dry, and we wish it to be brown and well cooked on the outside, and tender and juicy inside. I wonder if you recollect what I said when we first began these lessons in Cookery about making a case on the outside of the meat to keep the goodness inside?"
"I recollect it quite well," said Mary.
"So do I," said Margaret. "We put the leg of mutton into boiling water for five minutes to cook the albumen on the outside of the meat, which is like white of egg, to form a sort of case; and when the case was formed we drew the meat back and let it simmer till it was gently cooked all through."
"Excellent, Margaret. I think my small pupils do me great credit. As in boiling meat we put the meat into boiling water, to harden the albumen, so in broiling meat we put the meat near a fierce heat to harden the albumen; and we turn the meat quickly so that the albumen may be hardened on one side as well as the other. Now you know what we have to do. Shall we begin?"
"Yes, please," answered the little girls, both together.
"You are quite ready? Because when once we have begun to broil we must not try to attend to anything else till we have finished."
"We are quite ready," replied the children.
"Then, Mary, as you have done so much in preparing for us, you begin. Put the steak on the hot greased gridiron—never mind the flare which comes almost at once; it will not hurt us at this stage. If later it gets unmanageable we will sprinkle a little salt on the fire, and that will keep it down.
"May I turn it, mother?" said Margaret.
"Yes, dear. Stop, stop, though; what are you about, child? Surely you are not going to put a fork into the lean part of the steak."
"I was, though, mother. How shall I take hold of it if I do not?"
"With the steak-tongs. Or if they are not at hand, use a spoon and the flat side of a knife. But on no account stick a fork into the lean. We are taking ever so much care to keep the juices in, and if you stick a fork in you let them out most abundantly. It would not be so mischievous to stick the fork into the fat, but to stick it into the lean! Oh, Margaret!"
"I am very sorry, mother, I will never do it again."
"Never do it, dear, no matter how you are cooking the meat, that is, of course, unless you wish to get the goodness out; that will alter the state of the case altogether."
"Is it time to turn the steak again, mother?"
"Yes, dear. Turn it quickly, because by so doing you make both sides brown, and that keeps in the juice. It is very curious how people who are clever in Cookery differ about whether or not meat which is being broiled should be turned. I say most decidedly, turn it frequently. First make one side brown as quickly as you can, then the other, and after that turn it every two minutes."
"You have to keep on watching it, though," said Margaret.
"Of course you have. I told you so at the beginning."
"It begins to smell very deliciously," said Mary.
"So it does, Mary. I think broiling is one of the most perfect ways of cooking, though it is so simple and easily managed, and so quick also."
"Is it quick, mother? How long does it take? A quarter of an hour to the pound?"
"No, dear, you cannot count the time in that way, it is not safe. You must learn to know by the look and the touch of the meat whether it is done or not. This steak takes about twelve minutes you will find, but then Mary had taken care to have the fire clear and fierce, and the steak was cut evenly. Press the meat with the flat blade of a knife to find whether it is done. You will, after trying once or twice, know how it feels when it is sufficiently cooked. It should be nearly black outside and the inside should be red all the way through. There should not be a blue line of raw meat in the middle—that is quite wrong.
"I don't like red underdone meat," said Margaret. "I cannot eat it."
"A broiled steak is not red because it is under-dressed; it is red because it is full of gravy. Now our steak is done, I think. Press it with the knife that you may know how it feels."
The little girls pressed it, and looked very wise.
"The plates have been warming for such a long time, that I cannot take hold of them," said Mary.
"That is as they should be. They ought to be very hot indeed for a broil."
"Mother, how many more lessons in Cookery have we?"
"Only one, dear. Your holidays are almost over."
"May we choose what we will make next time, mother?"
"I am rather afraid to promise for fear you should choose something unlikely—a wedding-cake for instance."
"We were going to choose a wedding-cake, mother."
"I would rather you dismissed it from your thoughts, my little daughter. A wedding-cake costs a good deal to begin with; it is not particularly wholesome food. I could not let you eat more than an inch or two, for fear you should be ill. Think of something else."
"Very well, mother. We will think it thoroughly over; and if we choose something reasonable, and not unwholesome, may we make what we wish, just to finish up well?"
"Yes, that I will readily agree to," said Mrs. Herbert, and the children went away contented.
(To be continued.)
LEGENDS OF THE FLOWERS.
Where hollyhocks lift their blossoms gay, And dahlias show their velvet dyes, The Sunflower in its flaming pride With them in gorgeous beauty vies.
Proudly it turns towards the sun, And lifts aloft its golden shield, As in the day when first its bloom To wondering Spaniards was revealed.
For, when the Spaniards found Peru, A marvel there they did behold, The fields with Sunflowers covered o'er Seemed like a living sheet of gold.
No wonder that Peruvian priests, Who worshipped the Sun-god, should take The Sunflower for their chosen flower, And hold it sacred for his sake.
Each holy priestess of the Sun A glittering golden breast-plate wore, Fashioned to semblance of the flower, That also in her hand she bore.
And though in lands far from Peru A home the Sunflower bright hath found, It worships still the sun, as when The Spaniards trod Peruvian ground.
THEIR ROAD TO FORTUNE.
THE STORY OF TWO BROTHERS.
By the Author of "The Heir of Elmdale," &c. &c.
CHAPTER XIII.—MR. GREGORY'S OPINION.
"What do you generally have for your luncheon?" Mr. Murray said, as he led the way to the dining-room. "Something good, I've no doubt. Now, just you tell me what it is."
"Well, sir, a Bath bun and a glass of milk," Bertie replied, looking vainly round the enormous table in search of his favourite dainty.
"Then I'm afraid you must manage with a cutlet to-day," Mr. Murray said, with one of his peculiar smiles, "or some cold roast beef, or ham and chicken," glancing from one to another of the dishes that adorned the table. "Really, boy, I'm afraid we have not such a thing as a Bath bun in the house, or within a quarter of a mile of us; but a glass of milk I dare say James can find you, unless you would prefer some claret and water."
"No, thank you, sir; but plain water will do very well," Bertie replied, feeling a little confused.
"Do you never drink wine of any kind at your Uncle Gregory's?"
"No, sir; papa made Eddie and I promise we would never even taste it till we grew to be men, and we never have. He said that then we would like it so little that we would not care if we never tasted it a second time."
"He was quite right, boy. And now tell me why you refused my invitation. Were you afraid of offending your uncle?"
"What, then?" Mr. Murray said, looking stern. "Tell me just the truth."
"I don't think my cousins wanted us to go; I felt that they wouldn't have been kind to us; and I am sure Aunt Gregory would have been displeased. I did not think we should have been happy, sir, I'm sure Eddie would have been miserable after what he said."
"What did Eddie say?" Mr. Murray asked.
"If you please, sir, I'd rather not tell you: he wouldn't like it," Bertie replied, looking quite troubled at the turn the conversation was taking.
"But I want to know, and I must know; tell me this moment what Eddie said. Am I not your father's old friend? Go on, boy."
Mr. Murray looked so angry, and his eyes flashed so under his shaggy knitted brows, that Bertie was quite frightened.
"Eddie said he did not like being poor or seeing people who knew him when he was rich; and he's so clever and so proud; and he would be so miserable if the boys treated him as they do me. So I thought if I came back to town they wouldn't go without me," Bertie said hurriedly. "And now, sir, please may I go back? Uncle will be so angry; he says all office time belongs to him, and any one who wastes a moment of it, or is late, or leaves before the clock strikes, is a thief!" Bertie's voice fell to an awed whisper, and his ruddy cheeks grew quite pale at the bare idea of being thought dishonest, and yet he knew that Mr. Gregory would not spare him a bit more than any one else; and it was half-past two, and Bertie was due back at one o'clock.