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 XII.—AN UNEXPECTED FRIEND.
For the first time since she had left home, Elsie felt thoroughly frightened and miserable. Even when she had stayed in the crofter's cottage she had not felt worse. For this little attic, right at the top of a tall house full of people, seemed even more dreadful than the bare wretched loft in Sandy Ferguson's hovel. The height of the house, the noises of loud angry voices, banging doors, hurrying footsteps coming and going on the stairs, the continual roar of traffic in the street below, were all things strange and terrifying to the moor-bred Scottish lassie. Besides this, she had begun to realise to the full extent how greatly she had been mistaken in all her ideas when she formed the plan of running away. She had thought it would be a fine adventure, with some little difficulties to encounter, such as would quickly come right, as they did in the books of running-away stories, which she had always believed to be quite true. How could she have known it would happen so differently to them? And above all, who could suppose that Duncan, who was so strong and hearty, should fall ill just at such a time as this?
That was the worst thing about it, and the one that frightened Elsie most. She didn't like the look of Duncan at all. He had been getting worse all day while they were in the train, and now he did not seem to notice anything or anybody. His eyes were closed, and he never spoke a word, but only gave a sort of little moan now and then. He was burning hot too, and he moved his head and his limbs about restlessly, as if they were in pain. Elsie wondered whether he was really very ill, and what ought to be done for him. No one seemed to take any notice or think that he required any attention; and what could she do?
I do think that when children run away from a good kind home and watchful loving guardians, God must be very angry with the hardness of heart and wilful ingratitude that can lead them to do such a wicked thing, and I have no doubt that He purposely let all these difficulties and terrors fall in Elsie's path in order to punish her. Children, even big ones, have little idea of the dreadful dangers there are waiting for them to fall into, or how soon some shocking disaster would happen to them if they had not such careful, kind protectors. I am afraid, too, that people who write books often hide such things, and only tell of the wonderful escapes and marvellous adventures that runaway children encounter, although they know that really and truly the most dreadful things have happened to children who have run away from their homes—things too dreadful for me to tell of. We know that the Gentle Shepherd has a special care for little lambs of His flock, but we can never expect God to take care of us when we have wilfully turned away from Him to follow our own wrongdoing, and refused to turn back. If the lambs will not listen to the voice of the Shepherd, but will stray far away from Him, they are likely to be lost.
Now, He had already spoken to Elsie many times since she had left home. Her conscience, which is really His voice, had told her frequently that she was doing wrong, and that it would end badly; but she had refused to hear. Even now, when she had really begun to wish she were back again, it was because of the discomfort she was suffering, much more than on account of any belief that she had done a very wicked thing. But God is never content with such a grudging, half repentance as that, and so it was that Elsie fell into worse trouble still.
I wish I could describe to you how utterly forlorn and miserable Elsie felt, standing there by poor Duncan's bed, watching him toss about, and not able to do anything for him, or even to call any one to his assistance. I am afraid the little children who are in their own happy homes cannot imagine what it would be like, and I only hope they never may experience anything so dreadful.
Elsie could not tell any one how she felt, for there was no one to listen. She was not a child who had ever cried much; but do what she would, she could not help shedding some very bitter, angry tears now.
Presently Duncan lifted his heavy eyelids, and asked for some water. Elsie jumped up and began searching in the room; but there was neither basin nor jug, and such a simple thing as a drop of water was not to be had.
She told Duncan there wasn't any; but he did not seem to understand, and kept on asking for it. Elsie, in her indignant anger, beat furiously at the door to attract some one's attention, but in vain. No one came near.
It drove her almost mad to hear the child moaning and groaning, and calling out incessantly for water in a peevish, whining voice. Where was Mrs. Donaldson? and why had she left them in this cruel way, without food or even a drop of water, although she knew that Duncan was ill?
After a long time, Elsie heard some one coming up to the attic; the door opened, and the girl who had brought them upstairs put her unkempt head in at the door.
"Just to have a look at you," she said, with a broad grin upon her face, which was a very stupid-looking one, and frightfully begrimed. "I sleep up here, just next to you."
"Will you get us a little water?" Elsie cried.
"Why, yes!" said the girl, good-naturedly. "There's a pitcher full out here. I'll bring it in."
She came in, bringing it with her, and then went up to the bedside, where Duncan lay tossing and moaning. "Is it for him to drink?" she asked. "I'll go fetch a mug." And she sped away, bringing back an old gallipot, which she filled, and held to the child's lips.
"But he is just bad," she said, looking at him. "Ain't he hot? He's got the fever! Is that the reason you was brought here?"
"I'm sure I don't know," Elsie replied, wondering how much she dared say to this girl, and with a recollection of the "fairy mother's" threats.
"Do you know where mamma is?" she asked, cautiously.
The girl burst out laughing. "You needn't come that here," she said. "We know her and him well enough, both of them. They wasn't always such grand folk, I can tell you. Why, Lucy Murdoch is as well known down Stony Close as ever I am. Her mother lived next to mine, and does to this day, and holds her head so high, on account of her daughter, that she'd like to pass mother in the street if she dared. If you belong to her, it's news to me, and I've known her all my life." All this was said with the quaint expressions and broad northern dialect that Elsie very well understood, although none but a Scottish lassie would do so.
"I don't think you like her much," Elsie said.
The girl made a wry grimace. "I like any one so long as they don't do me no harm," she replied evasively. "She wouldn't stand at that, either, if she had the mind. How did you get with her?"
Elsie pondered a moment, and then decided she would tell this girl everything, and trust to her being a friend.
"She found us on a road by the mountains, oh! ever so far away from here; and she seemed so kind, and brought us clothes, and took us to a nice house to sleep, and brought us in the train all this way," Elsie said.
"H'm," the girl said, looking rather puzzled. "Well, she'd got her reasons," she added presently. "I don't know what they might be, but it wasn't done for any good to you. What did they bring you here for?"
"I don't know," Elsie replied.
"You see, master's in all their secrets. He's one with them, and does a lot of business with them. To tell you the truth—which you needn't let out, unless you want to have your head smashed—he's master's brother, only he goes under another name. Now, what did he tell you his name was?"
"I was told to call him Uncle 'William,'" Elsie replied, "and the lady 'Mamma.'"
The girl laughed to herself heartily—a sort of suppressed chuckle, which could scarcely have been heard outside the door. "Well, that's a queer dodge! I suppose she made out that she was his sister; and she was dressed like a widow, and he's her husband all the time, which I know very well. She passes, then, as a widow with two children, does she?"
"I suppose so," Elsie replied, scarcely understanding what the girl was talking about.
"She's deep, she is," the girl continued; "and lots of money always, hasn't she? rings too, and bracelets, and all sorts of things."
"She had at first all those things, and I've seen a lot of money in her purse."
"Well, would you think she once lived in Stony Close along of us, and was only a poor girl like me, though always a dashing one, with a handsome face of her own?" the girl asked. "They think I'm so stupid, but I ain't quite so stupid as I look. I don't forget. I wasn't as old as you are when Lucy Murdoch was married, but I remember it. What were you doing on that road when she found you?" she asked suddenly.
"We had run away from home," Elsie replied falteringly, for at the thought of home she felt ready to cry.
"My goodness! you can't be the two children what was lost off a moor somewhere up Deeside."
"How did you know it?" Elsie cried eagerly. "Has mother been here?"
"Oh, no! It's posted up at the police station," the girl replied. "They always have all such things up there: a description of you, and everything. Your mother goes and tells the police, and they has it printed, and sends it about everywhere. Lucy Murdoch is after the reward, I'll be bound!"
All this was quite unintelligible to Elsie, who knew nothing of rewards or police regulations. Only one thing she learnt, and that was that they were being sought for, and she hoped some one would find them. A slight misgiving crossed her mind as to whether the police could take her to prison for having run away; but this did not trouble her very much, for she felt sure that Mrs. MacDougall would never let any bad thing befall them, and no one else could have told the police to search.
"I suppose I should just get it if I was found in here," the girl said presently. "You won't go telling, I suppose; for if they thought I knew too much, they'd——" the sentence ended with a grimace and expressive shrug of the shoulders.
Again the girl held the jar to Duncan's parched lips. "I dursn't stay," she said, kindly; "but if you knock at this wall I shall hear, and I'll come if you want me. We're up at the top, so there's no one to pry down the stairs. He do seem real bad, poor little chap! but maybe he'll be better in the morning."
With these words she departed, locking the door after her; and Elsie somehow felt that, in spite of her rough looks and miserable appearance, she had found a friend.
CHAPTER XIII.—A DREADFUL NIGHT.
The pangs of hunger which Elsie was feeling pretty sharply were nothing compared to the pain of mind she was enduring; for although she was the child of poor people, and had lived all her life in a cottage, with plain fare and plenty to do, she had been accustomed to perfect cleanliness, and a good deal of simple comfort.
After a while she undressed herself, and crept into the not too clean bed with a feeling of disgust. It was so different from the coarse cotton sheets—bleached white as snow, and smelling sweet of the fresh, pure air—that covered her own little bed. The room, too, was hot, close, and stifling.
Still this was nothing to the fear she felt for Duncan, lying so ill and wretched in this miserable attic, without mother, or granny, or any one to see after him.
The candle burnt out, and they were left alone in the dark. There was no chance of sleeping, for Duncan tossed and plunged about, trying to find some cool resting-place for his fevered limbs. The moments dragged slowly away—so slowly that poor Elsie thought the dreadful night would never go.
About the middle of the night Duncan began to mutter rapidly to himself. He spoke so quickly and incoherently that Elsie could not make out what he was saying. She jumped out of bed, and felt about for the water, thinking he was asking for it. He drank some eagerly, and then went on chattering again.
Suddenly he raised himself up in the bed, and caught hold of Elsie, clinging to her with a grasp that made her utter a cry of pain. "He's killing me! he's got a knife! Mother, he's got me!" he shrieked out; then with a dreadful cry he fell back on the bed, catching his breath in great spasmodic sobs that shook the bed.
"It's all right, darling!" Elsie cried, her teeth chattering with fear, so that she could hardly speak. "There's no one but me—Elsie."
Presently he went on talking to himself again.
Elsie put her head close to listen, but could only catch a word here and there. "So cold—so tired—do let us go home, Elsie—can't walk—hurts me, it hurts me!" he kept on repeating over and over again, his voice rising almost to a scream of terror sometimes, then sinking into a moan of pain.
Suddenly he jumped up again and screamed, "They are lions, Elsie! they are not sheep. Lions and tigers and wolves! Run, Elsie, run, faster! Come, come, come!" He caught hold of her, and bounded off the bed, dragging her with him on to the bare hard boards, where he pulled and tore at her with such a strength that Elsie could not free herself from him for many minutes. When she did, he flew across the room, coming with a terrible crash against the wall, and sinking in a heap on the floor.
Elsie groped her way after him to pick him up, but she could not move him. He lay there like a weight of lead. She knocked furiously at the wall.
Presently the door opened, and the girl came in. "I can't think what's the matter with Duncan," Elsie cried, in an agonised voice. "He's been going on dreadfully. I think he keeps on having nightmares. He says there are lions and tigers, and men with knives, and now he's jumped out of bed and hurt himself. Oh! whatever shall I do with him?"
The girl struck a match and bent over the child; then she went and fetched a scrap of candle from her own garret. She lifted him up carefully, and put him back on the bed, then took water, and poured it on his face. Elsie stood by quite helpless, watching her. After a long time he began to make a little moaning noise, but his eyes did not open, and he lay perfectly still.
"Has he hurt himself much?" Elsie asked.
"I don't know, but I think it's more the fever than the hurt," the girl replied. "Poor little lad! he ought to be with his mother. He wants a lot o' care and nursing."
"Is he very ill?" Elsie asked.
"I should just say he was. I had the fever when I was a bit bigger than you, and my head wandered. They said I chattered and screamed, and had to be held down in the bed. I should have died for certain if I hadn't been taken to the hospital, for I was awful bad; and so's he. Can't you see he is?"
Elsie began to cry and to tremble. "They must take him to the hospital," she cried. "They shall! I'll make them! If only Duncan was back home now, I wouldn't mind anything."
"You was a stupid to run away if you'd got a good home," the girl said. "Catch Meg running away from any one who was good to her! They think her an idiot, but she's not quite so stupid as that."
Elsie was beginning to think very much the same thing. Her trouble had completely driven from her mind the high hopes of future grandeur with which she had started. They scarcely even came into her head, and when they did for a moment pass through her brain, everything seemed so altered, that there was little comfort or attraction in the thought.
If she had known, she told herself again and again, she never would have done it. To-night she could not help admitting to herself that she would give anything to be back in her old home, with Duncan hearty and well, and all the old grievances about Robbie, and the fetching and carrying, and what not, into the bargain. How trifling and insignificant they seemed in comparison with her present troubles!
Suppose he should die for want of attention and comfort! That dreadful "fairy mother," as she called herself, would do very little for him. She did not care. She had pretended to be kind, and sweet, and good when any one was near at hand to see her, but when they had been alone in the train she had taken no notice of Duncan, except to scold him, and tell him he was shamming. This new mother was a poor substitute for the old one, who had nursed any of them day and night when they had been ill, with gentle, untiring care, although she was strict, and would, have them do all sorts of things that Elsie did not like when they were strong and well.
The girl Meg stayed with them for some time longer; but Duncan seemed to lie so quietly, that after a while she said she would go back, if Elsie didn't feel so timid now. The little fellow seemed better, and she did not think he would make any more disturbance that night. The poor creature was tired out with a hard day's work, and could ill spare her rest. She was ignorant, too, and did not know that this quiet that had fallen upon the child was not the healthful peace leading to recovery, but only the exhaustion after the terrible frenzy the poor little disordered brain had passed through.
Still it was a merciful peace, for Elsie's fears grew fainter as he lay there so quietly, and at last she fell asleep, thinking that he too was sleeping.
She was awakened by Meg's presence. There was a glimmering of light in the room, but so little of it that she was astonished to find how late it was—past seven o'clock.
"I don't so very well like the look o' the bairn," she said, surveying him carefully. "It strikes me you won't find it an easy matter to get him dressed. Here, Duncan, are you ready for something to eat now?" she cried, bending over him, and raising her voice.
But the child did not answer. He lay there as motionless as though he had been carved out of stone, scarcely moving an eyelid at the sound of Meg's words.
Elsie jumped up, and began dressing herself quickly.
"I'll go myself and tell them how ill he is," she said, "and ask them to send him to the hospital where they cured you, and I'll go with him."
Meg said nothing, but she knew very well that this last, at any rate, was quite out of the question.
"You'd better go straight down into the shop if you want to speak to the master," she said, as she left the room.
Elsie found her way down the long flights of dark stairs as soon as she was dressed. She pushed open the door leading into the shop, and went in boldly. The man who had received them the night before was busily sorting over heaps of papers, but no one else was near. Elsie went up to him.
"Donald's ill; he's got the fever, and he must go to the hospital," she said, in a voice of decision.
"Ha!" said the man, not looking up from his work. "I thought he didn't seem quite the thing. Your mother'll be round by-and-by, and then you can tell her about it."
It was not said unkindly, but the complete indifference angered Elsie, who was burning with impatience for something to be done very quickly.
"She's not my mother," Elsie said, sharply, "and she is not kind to Duncan. We can't wait; we must go to the hospital directly. Meg'll show me the way, and then I'll tell the people how bad he is."
"What does Meg know about it?" the man asked, looking into Elsie's face with a searching glance.
Elsie was sharp enough. "He was very bad in the night, thinking there were bad men and beasts in the room after him, and he jumped out of bed and hurt himself. When I banged the wall, Meg came, and picked him up and put him into bed. She said he'd got the fever like she had when she went to the hospital."
The man called out, "Meg, come you here!"
CHAPTER XIV.—A FAIRY TRICK.
The girl came shuffling along with a look of mingled stupidity and terror on her face. It was scarcely the same one that had bent over the fevered child.
"This girl called you in the night. What did she want you for? Now tell me at once," he said, in a stern voice.
Meg looked all round her in a blank, stupid sort of way, letting her eyes travel over Elsie's face in their wandering.
"What did she say?" the man asked, sharply.
Elsie was in dreadful fear. She had not dared to look at Meg, and let her know that she had said nothing that could harm her.
And so she waited, with a rapidly-beating heart.
"She called me to pick up the boy. He'd fallen on the floor, and he was wandering in his head like. She asked me who'd look after him, and I said he'd have to go to a hospital—leastways, that was where they took me when I was bad. She asked me a lot o' questions, she did: what sort of a place this was, and where her mother had gone. I did say there was lodgers in the house," she said, beginning to whimper like a terrified child.
"Stop that, you dolt!" the man cried. "Her mother'll be round presently, and you'd better not let her know you've been interfering. You were told to keep the door locked until the morning, and yet you walk in in the night."
"She made such a noise banging and kicking, I thought she'd wake up the other people," Meg said, casting a scowling glance at Elsie, which Elsie quite believed was put on to deceive her master, just in the same way as Meg had, she supposed, put on an appearance of terror, under which she had hidden all that was really important most cleverly.
Meg was then allowed to make good her retreat, and Elsie was taken by the man into a little room, where a tin coffee-pot and a loaf and butter were put ready.
She was glad to eat heartily, for she was famishing with hunger. She devoured as hastily as she could several thick slices of bread-and-butter, and then asked what she had better take to Duncan, since no one seemed to be troubling their heads about him.
"A drop of hot coffee," the man said, unconcernedly. "If he can't eat bread-and-butter he don't want anything."
"He didn't have a bit scarcely all yesterday, and he'd had next to nothing for three days before that," Elsie said indignantly. "Perhaps he'd eat some bread and milk if I could get it for him. I'd soon do it if I might go in the kitchen."
At this moment a customer began to rap on the counter, and the master of the shop hastily jumped up and went away. Elsie stood waiting impatiently, but as he did not return, she took up the milk-jug, and emptied its contents, about a table-spoonful of bluey-white milk, into the cup she had used.
Duncan was still lying motionless, with closed eyes, when she re-entered the attic. He took no notice when she spoke, so she lifted his head up, and put the cup to his lips. With great difficulty she succeeded in making him swallow a few drops at a time. The raging thirst that had consumed him in the night had passed away. He had got beyond that. While she was still holding his head on her arm, the door opened, and Mrs. Donaldson, as she had told Elsie to call her, put her head inside.
"They tell me Donald is very ill this morning," she said, in her sweetest tones. "Poor little fellow! what is the matter with him?"
"Meg says it's the fever, like she had when she was little," Elsie answered.
"Fever!" Mrs. Donaldson echoed in alarm. "Tell me quickly, is he red all over?"
"Oh no! he's quite white, except just a patch on his cheeks," Elsie replied.
"How dare that stupid idiot frighten me like that?" Mrs. Donaldson cried, angrily. "He's got no fever, only a feverish cold through being out on that moor too long."
"He was wet through, and had to sleep in his wet things. He hadn't anything dry except that canvas jacket Mrs. Ferguson gave him," Elsie cried, remorsefully. "I was wet too, but my things seemed to dry quicker. Do you think that's what made him ill?"
"Of course it is," Mrs. Donaldson replied. "And there's no one here to see to him, poor child! He wants a good hot bath, and wrapping up in blankets, but we can't get it here, nor at an hotel."
"Meg says they'd take care of him at the hospital," Elsie eagerly interposed. "Please let us go there."
"You can't go," Mrs. Donaldson began; but Elsie interrupted her. "I must go," she said, promptly. "I can't leave Duncan. I wouldn't do that for anybody. It's through me that he's ill, and I won't go away from him."
"Then you wouldn't like to come to London with me?" Mrs. Donaldson said, in her most fascinating manner.
"Not without Donald, thank you, ma'am," Elsie replied at once.
"I thought you wanted to find your father," Mrs. Donaldson said, kindly; "and Donald should come as soon as he is well. For the matter of that, I would come myself, or send Uncle William to fetch him."
"I couldn't go without him," Elsie doggedly persisted.
Then Mrs. Donaldson grew impatient; her voice was no longer sweet and persuasive. "I will do nothing more for you," she said, angrily. "You can give me back the things I brought you, and I will leave you to die of hunger and cold, as you would have done before this but for me. Get that child's things on, and you shall go at once to the hospital, and see what they will do for you."
Elsie did not mind at all about the ungraciousness of the consent, so long as she had won her purpose.
The prospect of getting to London even was nothing in comparison to the hope of seeing Duncan nursed and tended back to health. She would cheerfully have given up the frock and hat that had so pleased her; but this, it seemed, was only a threat, for Mrs. Donaldson said no more about it, but went away, and sent Meg to help put on Duncan's things.
"He ain't fit to be dressed, and that's the truth," Meg said compassionately, as she used her utmost exertions to put the poor child's clothes on without hurting him. "They'd better have rolled him in a shawl."
"He'll be all right when we get there," Elsie said, with a sigh of relief. "I hope it won't be far. Do you think they're sure to cure him, Meg?"
"If it's to be done, they'll do it," Meg returned, confidently.
At last the poor little fellow was dressed, and Meg, taking him up in her strong arms, carried him downstairs, Elsie following. They found Mrs. Donaldson talking rapidly to the man in the shop. Both stopped short when Meg and Elsie entered, and Mrs. Donaldson beckoned Meg to follow her into the room behind, where she talked for some minutes in low tones to the girl, who presently propped Duncan up in a chair, and called Elsie to hold him there while she went and fetched her hat and tidied herself up.
Soon after a fly drove up to the door, into which, by Mrs. Donaldson's directions, Meg carried Duncan, Mrs. Donaldson and Elsie following. The next minute they drove off, but slowly, on Duncan's account.
As they went along Mrs. Donaldson gave Meg many directions. "You must say the child is homeless," she said kindly, "and wait till you have heard what the doctor says. I dare not take him in myself; I cannot spare the time. If they will not let Effie stay, take her back with you, and let her go every day to see him. Be sure to tell Andrew to write and let me know how he gets on."
All these things Meg promised, and Elsie began to think that, after all, she had thought too badly of the "fairy mother." Perhaps Meg had herself made up the tale she had told about Lucy Murdoch, and was not to be trusted. When once they were in the hospital, Elsie had made up her mind that she would tell the people there the whole truth, and beg them to write to Mrs. MacDougall. Perhaps she would come to Edinburgh and fetch them home. That would be the end of all their troubles. How glad she would be to come to the end of them, even though it meant going back to the old quiet hum-drum life. After all, Duncan had been really the wiser when he wanted her to write to their father instead of going to find him. She wished now she had done it.
While she was thinking of all this the carriage stopped in a busy street. "Effie and I will go first," Mrs. Donaldson said to Meg. "I will just speak to the man, and when Effie comes to you, get out and carry Donald into the hospital."
"You will ask them to let me in, won't you?" Elsie asked, earnestly.
"I will ask, but I don't know whether they will," Mrs. Donaldson replied, kindly. "Follow me, Effie."
Mrs. Donaldson went quickly down a narrow covered way, which Elsie, supposed led to the hospital. She had no idea what sort of a place it was, and everything here was bewilderingly new and strange to her. Meg had told her that there was a great bare room, where people waited their turn. Into such a room they seemed to have passed. There were several people running about, the friends, Elsie supposed, of those who were ill. "They are just going to shut the doors. Look how every one is running!" Mrs. Donaldson hurriedly exclaimed. "We shall be too late. Come, Effie."
She took Elsie's hand, and ran hastily across the great room. In a moment, before Elsie knew what was being done, a gentleman had seized her other hand, dragged her across a short space among a heap of people, thrust her into a carriage just as a whistle sounded, the door was banged to, and the train—for Elsie knew directly that she was in one—began to move off. She flew to the door directly they released their hold of her, but immediately two strong arms forced her back and a soft gloved hand was held over her mouth.
"That was a near shave," the gentleman said when they had passed out of the station.
"And would have been worse than useless if I had not engaged a carriage to ourselves," Mrs. Donaldson replied, setting herself back comfortably. "Now, my dear, you may scream or knock at the door as much as you like," she said smilingly; "not a soul will hear you. To-night you will be in London!"
CHAPTER XV.—A MYSTERIOUS MATTER.
Elsie was beside herself with rage. She had not naturally a very even temper, but never in her life had she felt in such a passion. Directly her two companions loosed their hold upon her she jumped up, and struck the door of the carriage, screaming loudly, "Let me out! let me out!" She caught hold of the wooden framework, and shook it till it rattled again, while Mrs. Donaldson, well knowing it was locked, sat calmly smiling at her impotent wrath.
Then the child turned furiously upon her tormentors. Her passion knew no bounds; she felt as if she could have torn that wicked "fairy mother" to pieces. It was such a fit of passionate rage as blinds reason and takes away the power of thinking—such a mad, ungovernable fury as would have led an older stronger person to some desperate deed.
Elsie caught hold of Mrs. Donaldson's arm, and screamed at her. "You bad, wicked thing! let me out! I'll kick you! I'll bite you if you don't! Let me go to Duncan, I tell you, you wicked creature! I'll get out of the window!" and Elsie flew at it, and began tugging away at the strap.
The gentleman took her up in his arms and flung her down on the seat, where Elsie lay screaming and sobbing, and beating the cushions with her hands, grinding her teeth, and flinging herself about like a mad thing.
They let her go on as she would for a time. After a while the gentleman bent over her, and, catching hold of her wrists with the firm grasp of his powerful hands, made her sit upright. "Listen," he said, putting his head close to her face, and looking so ugly and evil that Elsie felt as if she could have struck him; "we have had enough of this. If you are wise you will behave properly, then no harm will come to you. If you make a disturbance, you will bring down upon yourself a fate that you will not like."
It was not so much the words themselves as the menacing way they were hissed in the child's ear that made them so terrible.
But Elsie was not then thinking of herself, and no threat against her took any hold upon her mind. She returned him a sulky glance of defiance, which made him scowl.
Then Mrs. Donaldson came and sat on the other side of Elsie, and began speaking.
"So long as you do what we bid you, your brother is safe," she said, in a voice of quiet decision. "He is quite at our mercy, and will be well cared for, if you are good. Any naughtiness on your part will only injure him. The moment you misbehave he will be turned into the streets, to find his way home as best he can. He will be brought to you in a week if you have not been the cause of his being lost in the meantime."
"I don't believe you," Elsie said sulkily; "you are too far from Duncan to hurt him."
Mrs. Donaldson smiled. "You can do just as you like," she said. "I only warn you. Duncan is in the hands of my people. I can send them a message all the way from London in five minutes, and before you know anything about it they will have done with Duncan whatever I tell them. You forget that I am the 'fairy mother.'"
Then flashed through Elsie's mind something she had heard her mother and granny talking about, which granny would not believe. It was about a wire which took messages all over the world as quickly as you could write them. Her mother had tried to explain it, but granny declared it sounded like some wicked thing done by evil spirits, and she wasn't going to believe it. Elsie was inclined to feel very much like poor old granny, who thought the world was turning topsy-turvy since her young days. But although she could not understand it, Elsie had a dim uneasy feeling that there was too much likelihood of Mrs. Donaldson's words being true ones for her to disregard them.
She could think of nothing else now but Duncan. If any one hurt him, whatever should she do? If only they gave her Duncan back again it seemed as if no trouble would be great.
Mrs. Donaldson's words had brought Elsie to a more reasoning frame of mind. "I will do everything, if you promise me you will fetch Duncan or take me back to him," she said eagerly. "You will take care of him, won't you?" she cried entreatingly. "Promise me nothing bad shall happen to him. You will send a message about what they are to do to him, won't you? but oh! I do wish you would let me go back to him before a week. He will be so frightened and lonely, and perhaps he will call me like he did in the night when he was frightened; and he's never been with strange folk before. He's real timid, too, when people are bad to him, and dursn't say a word, only he's scared like all the time." Elsie could not help crying at the thought of poor Duncan's terror in Sandy Ferguson's cottage, and the way he had hidden it till they were away out of hearing.
Mrs. Donaldson turned away her head uneasily. Something in Elsie's love for her brother had touched a tender chord. It reminded her of a little brother she had loved, and who had died. She had been a different creature in those days, and perhaps for a moment she wished that she were a child again, with the innocent love for her little brother to draw her away from a bad, wicked life. Perhaps the recollection of him made her think for a moment of the life beyond the grave, in which he was peacefully living, but which could only be a terror for her.
But an angry glance from her companion dispelled the passing softness. "You shall both be safe so long as you obey me," she said. "Duncan, I will tell you now, is safe in the hospital. At a word from me Meg will fetch him away. At present he is well tended, with kind doctors and nurses to give him everything he wants, and he will soon be well, for it is only a bad cold he has taken."
Elsie sank back with a sigh of relief. She pictured poor little Duncan lying on a soft white bed, with kind people bending over him, as Mrs. MacDougall had done when she was sick. It brought a great feeling of peace to her mind. She would do anything they wished her, to be sure that Duncan was safe. The only thing that troubled her now was whether Mrs. Donaldson had spoken truly; for children are quick to find out who may be trusted, and Elsie had no faith in either of these two people.
Elsie believed herself that Meg would take Duncan if it depended at all upon her, for although her behaviour had been strange, Elsie could not forget her kindness in the night, when there had been no one near. Nothing would ever make Elsie think that it was not true and genuine. It was, indeed, her faith in Meg's goodness that was her one consolation. She clung to that much more than to all Mrs. Donaldson's statements.
Presently the train stopped. "Uncle William" came, and sat very close to Elsie on one side, Mrs. Donaldson on the other, and each took one of her hands with an appearance of great affection. Elsie sat perfectly still. She had no intention of making any more disturbance. If Duncan's safety depended on her being quiet, no mouse should be more quiet than she was.
Mrs. Donaldson seemed pleased. "I see you are a sensible little girl," she said. "Now, you must mind what I tell you. Remember, I shall not tell you when I send the message, but directly you are troublesome it will go. I may not tell you till the week is gone; but you may feel quite sure that it will not be sent unless you disobey or are naughty. Do you quite understand?"
Elsie replied that she did, and Mrs. Donaldson continued—
"Do not mention Duncan again, not even to me when I am quite alone. He is always Donald."
"I will not forget," Elsie replied.
"And you will have no Uncle William when you get to London. This gentleman is your Grandpapa Donaldson. Now, I have seen that you are clever enough when you choose. Do not forget."
The train had again started on its way, and was rushing along at a tremendous rate, being an express. Mrs. Donaldson had got Elsie's hand in hers, and had kept the child's attention fixed upon herself. The gentleman was now seated in another corner. When Elsie next turned her head towards him, he had utterly changed. In the place of a dark-looking man with a small moustache was an elderly gentleman, with a face quite bare, except for some small grey whiskers and a bald head. He was lounging back most unconcernedly in the carriage, looking through his spectacles at the objects so swiftly flying past them.
Elsie uttered an exclamation of wonder. "A real fairy has been at work, you see, Effie," Mrs. Donaldson said laughingly.
"Hey, what, my dear?" the old gentleman said, bending over as if a little deaf. "Did you speak?"
"Effie wants to know where her uncle William has gone," Mrs. Donaldson shouted.
"Uncle William? what, has she got an uncle William, Mary? Who is he? Here Effie, my dear, will you have a bun?"
Elsie went over to him in a state of the most complete bewilderment, and took from him the tempting bun that he held out to her. As she did so she had a good look at him. Certainly it was not the same person who had called himself Uncle William.
His face was quite changed. In place of the black hair was a small fringe of iron grey locks. This man was years older. His very coat was a different colour.
"Won't you give grandpapa a kiss for that nice bun?" the old gentleman said in a quavering old voice. Elsie went timidly, and gave him a small hasty kiss on the cheek.
He caught hold of her, and made her do it over again. "What, you puss!" he cried, "are you frightened of grandpapa, who gives you all the nice things? Dip your hand in my bag, and take out what you like."
He opened a small black valise, and disclosed delicious fruits and cake. Elsie drew forth a large mellow pear. "If Duncan could have it," she thought as she bit a juicy mouthful.
"Do you like grandpapa better than Uncle William?" Mrs. Donaldson whispered in her ear.
"I do not know," Elsie answered; "but I couldn't dislike him any more," she added, with a little shudder.
Mrs. Donaldson laughed most good-humouredly. "Then you must like him better," she said, "and that is a good thing. Grandpapas are always kind, you know. Go and talk to yours, but you must speak loud, because he is getting a little deaf."
Elsie obeyed. The old gentleman looked round, and smiled. It was a very gracious smile, but somehow not one that Elsie liked. "That's right, come and talk to grandpapa," he said. "Can you read nicely? Here is a pretty book with pictures, out of a fairy pocket grandpapa keeps for his children." As he spoke he drew out a book in most brilliant binding of scarlet and gold. It was full of pictures, and altogether charming. Elsie grew more and more bewildered.
What had become of that dreadful man who had hissed his threats in her ear? He had quite vanished; there was no doubt about that. No one could be more different than this mild old man, who kept on saying kind things in his cracked voice. Elsie, watching him very narrowly, thought she saw something that reminded her of the Uncle William who had so mysteriously disappeared, and wondered whether this might be really his father. Yet that did not make his presence there any the less mysterious.
One effect this incident had on Elsie's mind was to make her stand more than ever in awe of her strange companions. She could not get rid of a half belief that they could do really whatever they liked with both her and Duncan. Although she had not any real faith in their goodness, she had certainly a great dread of their strange power.
The journey was a long one, with few stoppages. The train flew on at a frightful pace through the hill country, where from the windows could be seen the bare bleak peaks of Cumberland, varied with nearer slopes of soft green grass and verdant valleys. On, on through the great grimy towns of the manufacturing counties; on and on through dark tunnels, swinging round curves, over rivers, skirting woods, still rushing on, with an occasional shriek and scream, as of relentless fury; still on and on, long after the day had closed and the stars had begun to twinkle in the sky, till at last the great goal of London was reached.
There is now a gathering together of parcels and packages. The old gentleman, Grandpapa Donaldson, sets them down on the seat, and fumbles at the door. "Why doesn't that idiot unlock it?" he mutters, in a tone that brings strangely to mind the adventure on the lonely road where she first saw the "fairy mother."
"Don't be impatient, father," Mrs. Donaldson exclaims in a wavering voice; and Elsie, looking up at her, sees that her face is pale and her lips tightly set.
She draws a long black veil over her face as she stands waiting. Presently a porter comes. The door is opened. Two men spring into the carriage, and close the door after them.
"The game is up! you are my prisoners!" falls in dreadful tones on poor Elsie's frightened ears.
(To be continued.)
HOW TO MAKE PRETTY PICTURE-FRAMES.
"Your room looks so pretty, Nellie," sighed my cousin Bella; "you should just see mine at home; it's as bare as a barrack."
"Why don't you improve it, then?" was my practical rejoinder.
"Why, it costs such a lot," answered Bella.
"My decorations are very inexpensive, I assure you," said I. "Now these frames, for instance——"
"Oh, they are sweet! they are really," interrupted my cousin.
"Cost next to nothing," I continued. "Shall we make a pair for you to take home? That would be something to start with, at any rate."
Bella was delighted at the idea, which we forthwith carried out; and now for the benefit of little folk, who may like to know how to make something pretty for their rooms, at a small cost, I will proceed to relate what these said frames were made of, and how we made them.
First of all, we got a good stock of materials, such as small fir-cones, oak-balls, tiny pieces of bark, beech-nuts, bits of silvery lichen stolen from the trunks of trees, the little crinkly black cones of the alder, in fact everything of the kind that we could pick up in our rambles about the lanes and woods.
Bella called our gleanings, "the harvest of a roving eye;" and children who live in the country will have no difficulty in gathering in such a harvest, as will suffice for the making of dozens of frames. Of course, autumn is the best time to get them.
The next thing was to decide upon the pictures, for it is always better to make your frame to fit your picture, than to be obliged to hunt for a picture the right size for your frame. Christmas-cards do very nicely; those with a light ground look the best, as the frames are dark. I happened to have two of those fancy heads that are seen in picture-shop windows nowadays (cabinet size).
For these, I first cut out a paper pattern of the frame, an oval about 8-1/2 inches long, and 6-3/4 inches broad; then I drew a line inside the oval, about 1-3/4 inches from the edge, and cut the middle out. When I had succeeded to my satisfaction in making a correct pattern, I laid it on a sheet of thin millboard, traced the outline inside and outside the oval with a pencil, and cut it out. Of course, when once you have the pattern in cardboard, it is very easy to cut any number of frames, but it is always a little difficult to get a perfect oval just the exact size for your picture.
My cousin and I then bound both edges with strips of old black stuff, about an inch wide, cut on the cross. I then rushed for the glue-pot, and let me here remark that very strong glue is an absolute necessity, or the cones will continually drop off.
We began to stick on the cones, &c., as fast as we could, while the glue was hot, and for this part of the work I can give no special directions.
All that is wanted is a little taste and dexterity, for of course you must try to avoid making your frames look stiff. Begin at the top of the frame, and make it higher and more imposing than the sides; put first a fir-cone, and then a couple of beech-nuts, and then an oak-ball, or a piece of lichen, and so on.
Cones which are too large and heavy for these small frames are very useful to pull to pieces, to stop gaps with, for no bare places should be left; and the black alder-cones are capital little fellows to stick in here and there, for you will nearly always pick them up two or three together on a tiny sort of black branch, which will fit in nicely between the other cones. With anything round like oak-apples, it is a good plan to slice off a piece and to glue the flat side to the cardboard.
When we had finished sticking on the cones, we left the frames to get dry and firm, and the following day we finished them; and this is the way it should be done.
Put the frame on an old cushion, or something soft, cone side downwards. If you decide to have a glass over your picture, you must get a piece beforehand at a glazier's, about the same size as the picture. Rub if bright with a leather, put a small dab of glue in each corner, and place it in the frame.
But before you do this, you should slip a narrow strip of ribbon through a small ring—like those which umbrellas are fastened with—and glue the ends on to the millboard, in the centre.
This is, of course, to hang your picture up by.
Now put your picture face downwards on to the glass, and be careful to see that you have it straight. Then glue a small strip of paper across each corner to keep it in position.
The last thing to be done is to gum a piece of paper all over the back; and this makes a neat finish to your frame. You must leave it for a few hours to get thoroughly well stuck, and then it is quite ready to be hung up.
HIS FIRST SKETCH.
Beneath a cottage window, Upon a summer day, Two little ones are whiling The sunny hours away.
A portrait of his sister The boy draws on the wall; The little maid remonstrates, She likes it not at all.
At first she sits there pouting— A tear is in her eye; But peals of merry laughter Burst from her by-and-by.
What cares the budding artist? He plies his brush with zest; He is in downright earnest, Though she is but in jest.
Art-fire is in his spirit, For Nature lit the flame; The first step he has taken Upon the road to fame.
In childhood's early morning, Ere opened yet the flower, Within his soul is dawning The future artist's power!
ASTLEY H. BALDWIN.
SOME FAMOUS RAILWAY TRAINS AND THEIR STORY.
By Henry Frith.
III.—THE "FLYING SCOTCHMAN."
"One minute, sir; just let my mate brush up the dust a bit, and sprinkle a drop o' water on the foot-plate, and we'll be all right and comfortable."
So said an engine-driver on one occasion to the writer, and we are reminded of it when we step up to the "eight-foot" engine which is to carry us from King's Cross Station to York. To pull the fastest train in Great Britain, or indeed in the world, for one hundred and eighty-eight miles, at more than forty-eight miles an hour, is first-rate running. "Scotchmen" run also from the Midland Station at St. Pancras, and from Euston, but the quickest one is that on the Great Northern, and it is also the most punctual.
Now, what do you say to a journey of one hundred and five miles, to Grantham? We will leave King's Cross, if you please, at ten in the morning—a nice comfortable time. We have had our breakfast, and the engine has had its meal of coal and plenty of water. It will want something, for it will travel fast.
Here we are puffing up the incline, between the walls, and through the little tunnels which abound near London, on our way to Barnet. We could tell tales of Barnet, had we time. We could give you a long—perhaps much too long—description of the place near which the Yorkists and Lancastrians contended on that fatal fifth of April, when the Great Warwick was slain and Edward made king.
But our engine-driver does not care for history much. He would rather tell us of his terrible winter journey a few years ago (in 1880), when he had to keep time, and did keep time, through snow and wind, the bitter blast making icicles on the engine out of steam, and hanging inches long from the carriage roofs.
Now our "Flying Scotchman" runs through Peterborough—the Proud, as it was once called, when its monastery flourished, and where is now the splendid cathedral on which the Ironsides of Cromwell laid such hard hands. Shame upon them who destroyed the beautiful chapter-house and cloisters! Perhaps you do not associate your history at your school with the actual places you see, young readers, but a little time bestowed upon the history of the places you pass in a holiday trip will very greatly assist you in gaining a good knowledge of the past.
Look at Peterborough. Here lies Queen Katherine, and here lay Mary, Queen of Scots, for a while, till James buried her in Westminster; and Scarlett, the sexton, who buried both queens, lies in the nave. But we cannot pause at Peterborough, though we should like to do so, for our iron steed is steaming along, and our driver is thinking of the ice and snow which he had to contend against. The Midland line runs overhead near here, and after a rapid run we pull up at Grantham.
During our stay we hear a little tale from our "fireman," who remembers on one of his trips an engine getting loose in front of the up express, and how he and another man got on a fresh engine, and ran after it on the other line. Oh, what a chase they had after the runaway! and at last they caught it in time to prevent a serious accident. It was a brave, but rash act, to set off after a "mad" engine, which had run away, no one knew how, out of the siding on to the main line.
From Grantham to Doncaster the railway opens up so many memories. We pass Newark, near which the ruins of the old castle may be seen. King John died here; Cardinal Wolsey lodged here, and James I. also stayed within its walls; the whole place teems with memories of Charles and his Parliamentary foes. We pass on near Sherwood Forest, where Robin Hood and his merry men lived, and fought, and stole the king's deer; and then past Doncaster, where the engines and carriages of the Great Northern Railway, which ends near here, are made and repaired.
Doncaster was a very important place in olden times, and a whole volume of adventures might be written concerning the personages who visited it.
While we are talking, the "Flying Scotchman," the quickest of all the Scotch trains, goes tearing along to York. We have heard of Dick Turpin's celebrated ride to York on his bonnie "Black Bess," but we have a finer horse—a green-painted steed—to ride on. In the "good old times" which we read about so much it took four days to get to York, sleeping on the road; now our trains run the distance in less than four hours! Coaching is very pleasant as an amusement, but for business we must have our Iron Horse.
We can lunch at York. Our train waits for no one, but if we like we can eat our sandwich on the platform, and look over old York city, with its dear old Minster, its river, its red-roofed houses; and if we close our eyes for a few minutes, our mental vision will show us many stirring scenes here.
We can imagine the Scots hovering around old York, assisted by the Britons, attacking the gouty Emperor Severus, who afterwards built one of the great walls across Britain to supplement Hadrian's rampart from the Solway to the "Wall's End"—a name now "familiar in our mouths as household" coals. Do you remember what the old worn-out Roman Emperor said at York when he was dying? He looked at the urn of gold in which his ashes were to be carried to Rome, and remarked, "Thou shalt soon hold what the world could scarcely contain!" Then we can see the end of the great Roses' Wars, the heads on the grim spikes of the city gates, while a long procession of kings and queens files out from the cathedral doors, on whose site a church has stood ever since Easter, 627 A.D.
If we had only time to sit and recall all the grand events which have happened in York Minster, we should have to wait for the next "Flying Scotchman," and perhaps for the next after that.
"Any more going on?" "Yes, we are." "Quick, please; all right." The train can't wait while we dream about the past; and have we not Darlington in front of us? Ah! there we must stop a little. Here are the cradles of all the "Flying Scotchmen," "Wild Irishmen," "Dutchmen," "Zulus"; of the four hundred expresses of England, and the thousands of other trains, fast and slow, which traverse the United Kingdom and the world. Yes, Darlington was the nursery of the locomotive railway-engine, and Mr. Pease the head nurse who taught it to run on the Stockton and Darlington line in 1825. To the Darlington Quaker family Stephenson's success was due, and the success of Stephenson's locomotive was owing to Hadley—William Hadley—who has been rightly called the "Father of the Modern Locomotive."
We are now on the North-Eastern line, which ends at Berwick-on-Tweed—for the true Great Northern, though its carriages run over the whole route, does not work the traffic all the way. The North-Eastern hurries us along towards Newcastle-on-Tyne, over Robert Stephenson's high-level bridge, and then over the North British line at Edinburgh.
What do we see from this breezy elevation? "Oh, earth, what changes hast thou seen!" What does a writer say of this? "The mountain stream beneath us, once a broad shallow, now affords depth for the heaviest ships. Away on the northern bank the Roman wall lies hid, its arrowy route just marked by a burial heave of the turf. Before us stands the massive keep, with sturdy Norman walls—the trains of the North-Eastern are scrunching on the curve within a yard of it. Stephenson's engine looks down on Elizabethan gables;" and so on. Near Newcastle—at Wylam and Killingworth—the first locomotive engines were born which changed the country and revolutionised travelling.
The warders at Berwick no longer look out from the castle walls to descry the glitter of Southern spears. The bell-tower from which the alarm was sounded is now silent—the only bell heard within the precincts of the castle being that of the railway porter, announcing the arrival and departure of trains. The Scotch express passes along the bridge, and speeds southward on the wings of steam. But no alarm spreads across the Border now.
We shall cross the Tweed presently, and pass through the country of the Moss-troopers and the territories of the Lords Marchers, the scene of so many conflicts and fatal raids. We first cross the Coquet, "the stream of streams," the poet calls it:—
"There's mony a sawmon lies in Tweed, An' mony a trout in Till; But Coquet—Coquet aye for me, If I may have my will!"
We get a view of the Cheviots; and Tweed-mouth passed, we cross the "Royal Border Bridge," and run into Berwick.
What a record of battle has Berwick! In these peaceful times at home we can hardly picture the old walls on which we walk manned with armoured soldiery, and King John within his house, a burning torch in his hand, setting fire to the town, or hanging up the people by the feet till they told where their money-bags were hidden. In those days and in Edward's time, the "Flying Scotchmen" were Highlanders who were dispersed by the English king. Wallace avenged the slaughter, and seized Berwick; Robert Bruce and Douglas climbed into the town with their trusty men. Half Wallace's body was sent here as a trophy, and the Countess of Buchan was hung out from the walls in a cage!
Beacons again burn in the bell-tower, and Edward and Bruce again engage, and Berwick was only finally deprived of its warlike appearance when James the First united England and Scotland. These are some of the tales the old stones tell us as we pause in Berwick, which within our own memory was so specially mentioned in all forms of national prayer and thanksgiving, as being a kind of neutral ground upon the Border.
Now puffing through Dunbar, past the Field of Preston-pans, and through a district ever memorable in the history of Scotland, we reach the modern Athens "Auld Reekie"—Edinburgh the Beautiful—where the "Flying Scotchman" folds his wings and "flies" no more. His work is done this journey!
A FORAGING EXPEDITION IN SOUTH AMERICA.
By the Author of "How the Owls of the Pampas treated their Friends," &c.
On the branch of a gigantic tree in one of the South American forests a young ant was reposing; he had been working hard all day, being a brisk, spirited fellow, and so he was rather tired, and he lazily watched an old relation of his own, who was slowly climbing the trunk towards him, his fine white polished head glancing against the bark.
"Well, Long-legs," cried the young cousin, as his elder approached, "where are you going at this late hour? I should have fancied that you would have been asleep after all the trouble you had in marching to-day."
"My dear Shiny-pate," said the old warrior, as he settled in a little crevice and stretched out his tired limbs, while he rolled up a tiny, tiny blade of grass for a would-be cigar, "I am the bearer of news."
"Why, what is the matter?" cried Shiny-pate anxiously, jumping up so suddenly that he hit his poor little head sharply against a projecting knob.
"Silly goose! nothing is the matter," answered his friend, "only you are a little grander than you thought you were: you are promoted to be an officer—a lieutenant, in fact; so now you can assist me on our marches."
"Oh! Long-legs, is it really true?" exclaimed the young ant. "Am I to be an officer, to march the men about, to lead them to glory?" and he tried to shout "hurrah," but did not know how, so he only executed a little war-dance on the branch of the tree, while his old friend looked on, smiling grimly.
"Now I hope you will distinguish yourself, my child," said he paternally, when Shiny-pate was tired of skipping about. "You will very soon have an opportunity of showing your valour, for to-morrow we are to undertake a dangerous expedition to a distant country, and your courage will be tried."
So saying, he began creeping down the tree, disregarding the entreaties of his young companion, to stay a little longer and tell him where they were going. "No, no," he muttered; "that will be time enough to-morrow; go to sleep and be strong."
Very good advice, certainly; but when children are put to bed before the sun has set in the long summer evening, while the birds are still singing, and the bats have not begun to come out, and they feel desperately inclined to play a little longer, I am afraid they don't relish it much.
However, Shiny-pate was a good, sensible little creature, and he went off very meekly, but he awoke early in the morning, ready for the fray.
"Breakfast first," said he to himself; but no: the older officers said they had to fight first, and eat afterwards; so they soon began to arrange their marching order.
A column of ants, at least a hundred yards in length, but not very wide, was soon formed; each leader had charge of twenty workers. The officers were not expected to march in the main line, but to walk outside their company, and keep it in order; and great was our hero's pride and delight when he surveyed his own particular men, and thought what an example of bravery he would set them.
At last all were ready, and the army moved off in beautiful order. The officers ran up and down the ranks, inspecting everything, their white helmets glistening in the sun, and as Shiny-pate's position was well to the front, he had great opportunities.
After they had proceeded for some time with great gravity and care, they came to a tree from which hung a couple of nests belonging to the large wasps of the country, and after a moment's discussion it was decided that the ants should mount and rifle them as a first move, so the obedient soldiers hastened on, and Shiny-pate, who knew nothing of the enterprise, joyfully waved his sword at the head of his troops. How astonished, how disgusted he was, when he felt the first wasp-sting he had ever experienced!
He almost fell from the nest with amazement, but he would not give in—"No, never, die first!" he thought, so he rushed on, and was among the foremost to enter the cells where the young pupae were carefully walled in, and tearing them from their cosy cradles, the ants proceeded to devour them.
However, though the nests were large, and the grubs many in number, there were not half or quarter enough for the army. More and more ants came trooping up the tree, trying to squeeze into the places where there was no room for them, and mournfully calling out that they also were very hungry. So as soon as the pasteboard domicile was empty, the little creatures descended from their elevation, and again pursued their line of march, this time without any incident occurring until they saw in the distance the figure of a man.
Now most of the ants had never seen a human being before, but what did that matter? Their ardour rose, their eyes sparkled, their long slender limbs raced over the ground, and soon the person who had been silly enough to stand and watch the advancing host was covered with the nimble insects, who quickly ran up into his coat-pockets, down his neck, and, in fact, wherever there was any aperture, inserting their sharp fangs, and injecting their poison, until he yelled with fear and pain. He had not been very long in the country, and did not understand the habits of the creatures, so at first he remained in his absurd position, capering about, and trying to brush off the ants. But as he found that their numbers so increased every moment, he began to get really alarmed, lest he should soon be "eaten up alive," and so he ran away very ignominiously, being pursued for some distance by the host of insects; but as soon as he had outrun them, the difficult task of trying to detach those already fastened to his person began. The fierce little insects preferred being pulled to pieces to letting go their hold, and their hooked mandibles remained securely fixed in poor John Lester's skin long after their bodies had been torn off.
Fortunately for himself, Shiny-pate was not included in the number who lost their lives. When the onslaught began, Long-legs commanded him to keep his detachment quiet, as their services were not required; so the steady little ant obeyed orders, and though he stood on tip-toe with impatience, and trembled with excitement, he kept out of the fray.
"Now it is all over—march!" cried Long-legs authoritatively, as John's flying coat-tails disappeared round a tree.
"Shall we not wait for the others?" inquired a young officer very politely, saluting his commander with the back of his tiny foot in true military style.
"None of them will ever return," replied the colonel sternly. "Do your duty, and obey orders."
So the army again started off, and after a long and dusty march the pioneers came in sight of a pretty little cottage; but I must relate who the inhabitants were before I go any farther.
The house belonged to an Irish gentleman of the name of Wolfe, who, after emigrating to South America, and building a house for his family, a few months before this story opens, brought out his wife, four children, and their old and faithful servant, called John Lester, to keep him company, and help him in the new life he had chosen for himself.
Mrs. Wolfe was rather an inexperienced young lady, and the manners and customs of the place and people, particularly those of the coloured servant, Chunga, astonished her immensely. The white lady had a great horror of creeping things of all kinds; she could hardly bear to get into her bath, for she sometimes found a centipede, as long as her hand, drowned in it.
At night, when the lamp was lighted, cockchafers and insects of all kinds buzzed and flew round it, until their wings were singed; then they danced hornpipes on the table over Mrs. Wolfe's work or writing, falling most likely into the ink-bottle first, and then spinning about with their long legs, smearing everything with which they came in contact, till she used to run away and implore her husband to "kill them all and have done with it." The children thought it was rather fun, except when a scorpion stung them. They had a play about the lizards, which were pretty and harmless, and they used to count how many different kinds of beetles were killed each night.
Sometimes the baby screamed when a particularly large spider walked across its face; but these little trials had to be borne.
On the morning of this memorable day, as Mrs. Wolfe was employed in some household duties, Chunga rushed into the verandah, joyfully crying—
"Oh, missie! oh, missie! de birds are come!"
"What birds?" inquired her mistress in amazement, wondering what new object was going to be exhibited to her, but almost expecting to see a creature with three legs, or two heads.
"De pittas, missie; de ant-thrushes, you call them," said the black woman, gleefully. "Now missie's house will be clean; massa is away, all de tings will be turned out," and as she spoke, she seized her mistress's dress, and, gently drawing her to the open door, directed her attention to several dark-coloured, short-tailed birds which were hopping from tree to tree in the neighbourhood.
"I don't see anything extraordinary about them," said Mrs. Wolfe, in a disappointed tone; "they are only small ugly birds."
"But look dere, missie," persisted Chunga, pointing towards the forest, from the dark shades of which Shiny-pate and his battalions were emerging.
"Why, it is an army of ants!" cried the Irish lady. "How curious! how pretty!"
"Dey is coming here," remarked Chunga carelessly, as she watched the procession.
"Here!" echoed Mrs. Wolf in horror; "what for? What shall we do? They will eat all the things in my store-room, they will bite my children!" and she flew to the nursery as she spoke.
But the advancing host moved steadily along, the officers gave orders to enter the house, and our young hero, though quite a novice in the work, was one of the first to creep through a slit in the walls.
"Now," cried Long-legs, "first kill the cockroaches and other small game. Come on; don't be afraid."
So the warriors dashed into the principal room, mounted the rafters, and began a fierce battle. The sleepy cockroaches, fat and heavy from good living, sprawled about, but made a very poor fight. Shiny-pate and two or three of his men would seize one of the kicking old fellows, and either push him or pull him to the edge of the rafters, whence he would fall with a dull thud on the floor, when he was generally too much stunned to make any more resistance, but even if he did he was soon overpowered, bitten, and dragged out of the house.
When the rafters were cleared, our hero was running swiftly across the floor, when a choky voice called him, and he saw his old friend's head protruding from an aperture in a large wooden chest.
"Come here! come here!" cried Long-legs. "There are loads of them inside, and I want help."
"Loads of what?" inquired Shiny-pate, rather incredulously.
"Of all kinds of food," replied the colonel; "but unfortunately it is very hard to get at them; they are hidden among the folds of some white stuff that almost suffocates me."
Shiny-pate at once proceeded to crawl into the chest, but fortunately Chunga, who knew the habits of the little insects, had been going round the house opening every press and box, and now she flung aside the cover of the great linen-chest, and in darted the little marauders, and speedily drew forth hundreds of the hideous cockroaches.
But soon all the small game was cleared off, and yet the attacking party cried for more, and cast hungry eyes at Mrs. Wolfe and the children, who had been skipping about on the floor, trying not to stand on anything, for foraging ants are not to be trifled with; and Chunga said, solemnly—
"If missie kills any ants, they kill her."
So the fear of touching any of them had greatly impeded the lady's movements; she had to step gently on the points of her toes whenever she saw a clear space. She had to rescue her baby from the cradle, and her other children from different parts of the house; and then each child, as it was carried away, began to cry for some particular toy that had been left behind, so that getting them safe and sound into the garden was a work of time. However, at last they were all seated round their mother, only dreadfully hungry, and longing for their breakfast, while the house remained in undisturbed possession of the ants.
At last, even Chunga thought it wise to beat a retreat, so she came gliding gently out, bringing the welcome news that she had seen several ants carrying off an immense scorpion, which "must have been de one dat stung massa, and made him so ill a few days before;" and that the ants were now attacking the rats and mice.
"Rats and mice!" screamed all the children in delight. "Will they kill the horrible things?"
"The rats that fought poor Kitty," pursued George, for this had been a sore trouble to the children. Mrs. Wolfe had brought a fine handsome tortoise-shell cat from Ireland with her, thinking how delightful it would be to have her house quite free from vermin, only, unfortunately, they were so very numerous that poor "Lady Catherine," as the children named their pussy, though she did her best at first, could not by any possibility keep their numbers in check, and she now lived a miserable life, being afraid of moving from her master's protection, and growing daily thinner and weaker from the combined influences of fear, and being unable to perform her usual duties; and as the children loved her dearly, and treated her like one of themselves, they all set up a howl of dismay when their darling's name was mentioned to them.
It was answered by a fearful burst of caterwauling from the interior of the house. The shrieks and yells were really terrific, and the whole party, regardless of their enemies inside, rushed back again to the door, and peeping in, beheld a sight which was almost ludicrous.
There was a shelf near one of the children's beds at a great height from the floor, and to this Lady Catherine (the cat) had mounted, but now she was surrounded, and her retreat completely cut off. There were ants to right of her, ants to left of her, and ants in front of her; and as the little creatures, led on by Shiny-pate the valorous, attacked her with determined precision, the cat, with every hair bristling up on her body, stood with glaring eyes, lifting first one foot and then another to escape her tormentors. Sometimes she stood on her hind legs and frantically tore the insects from her coat, but she wanted courage enough to make the very high jump from the shelf to the floor.
Mrs. Wolfe and the children were so distressed at the sight, that kind-hearted Chunga offered to try and save their favourite, and she crept cautiously into the house, trying to avoid standing on the ants with her bare feet. Lady Catherine's screams redoubled when she saw a friend approaching, but she did not treat the black woman very kindly, for as soon as she stood under the shelf the cat made one frantic leap to her shoulders, and inserting her sharp claws, held on tenaciously.
It was now Chunga's turn to scream, which she did in good earnest; and as she found she could not detach the cat, she fled from the house with her burden clinging tightly to her copper-coloured shoulders, and ran almost into the arms of John Lester, who was returning home. He was quick enough to see what had happened, so, snatching up an old broom with one hand he seized Lady Catherine with the other, and gave her such a sweeping as she had never experienced before, and which, indeed, she strongly objected to; but her cries were disregarded, and she was soon free from the insects, and the children joyfully clutched hold of her.
But meantime Shiny-pate had been carried off in a coil of Chunga's hair, whence he had crept from the cat's fur, and very uncomfortable he felt. He knew that his single arm could never overcome the Indian woman; he was deserted by his troops, and he had no one to direct him. He thought he had better try to alight from his precarious position, and endeavour to rejoin his men; but when he moved, Chunga—whose nerves were a little upset—cried, "Oh! Massa John, brush me too, brush me;" and began tearing her hair down to make ready for the performance. But just at that moment another insect dropped from the tree above her down on her arm, and administered such an electric shock that a thrill ran up to her shoulder, her hands fell, and Shiny-pate, seizing his opportunity, ran swiftly down her back and rushed towards the house, where the scene of confusion was but little abated.
The ants had by this time slain every living thing which had occupied the dwelling, and dragged them into the long grass outside; and the soldiers, after their hard fighting, were endeavouring to satisfy their hunger. This, however, the officers objected to, for they knew by experience what would happen; the pittas had not accompanied them on their march for nothing. The ugly black birds had their eyes wide open, and knew what they were about; they had been waiting and watching all this time, hopping about on the neighbouring trees, and now at last their turn came. The ants gorged with their prey could not escape: down pounced the pittas, and they certainly made the most of their opportunity. The hardened veterans, the most agile warriors, were gobbled up in a moment, and the officers in despair ran here and there, seeing the carnage, but being quite unable to prevent it.
At last, by the time Mrs. Wolfe and her family ventured back to their clean and well-swept house, Shiny-pate by frantic exertions had managed to collect his own troop—he had only lost two of his twenty soldiers.
So our little insects again set out. They were dreadfully tired, and they lagged behind, though their leader longed to overtake some of the advance-guard, which had already gone on. Poor little fellow! his first day's fighting had certainly been an arduous one, and it was not over yet; his exertions to keep his men in order were wonderful. But after marching some distance the ants saw before them a little stream of water, running merrily along, but presenting a serious barrier to their progress.
Shiny-pate at first thought the water might not extend far, and led his company along the bank; but as he found to his dismay that the stream grew wider instead of narrower, his fertile little brain began to devise a plan, and soon he had hit upon a very ingenious one. He selected a shrub with a long branch, which extended across part of the stream, and having marched his men to the very extremity of this bough he caught hold of it with his fore-legs and hung down, ordering one of the soldiers to creep down his body and hang on to the end of it; another followed and clung to the second ant, and so on. By this means the living chain of insects, when long enough, was wafted by the wind to the other bank of the stream, where the foremost ant caught a firm hold, and the brave Shiny-pate then swung off his bough, and followed by all the others crept carefully across their companions' bodies, until the foremost ant, who had been holding on all this time by his hind legs, being relieved from the weight of his comrades, was able to twirl round and obtain a safer footing.
The danger was surmounted, and the officer now inspected his little troop with triumph; indeed, he spoke a few encouraging words which actually caused his soldiers to salute in a body, as they could not cheer, and cry with one voice that they were not afraid to go anywhere with him.
This was, of course, very gratifying to such a young officer, and our hero was beginning to thank his enthusiastic followers when a slight noise attracted his attention, and he suddenly remembered that the time for vigilance was not over: for in the tree above them he beheld a little ant-eater slowly uncoiling itself before beginning its nightly excursion.
Shiny-pate saw its long slimy tongue being uncoiled like a piece of ribbon when the animal yawned; and well he knew that any ant who was unfortunate enough to touch that sticky object would never return to tell the tale; he therefore instantly determined on flight.
So our hero ordered a stampede, but he kept last of all the party, ready to sacrifice himself for the general good if need be; and after a little time his exertions were rewarded, for he happily overtook the main body of ants under the guidance of old Long-legs, and the worthy veteran was so pleased at seeing his young companion safe that he actually fell on his neck and hugged him; and there is no saying what might have happened next if two twinkling lights had not appeared in the distance. They were only fire-flies that an Indian had tied to his feet in order to illumine his path, but the sight made the friends restrain their transports until they reached home.
Then, after all their labours and adventures, they gave themselves up to enjoyment. Long-legs, Shiny-pate, and other distinguished officers who had done their duty for their home and relations, were chaired by their admiring soldiers and carried round the nest, while the fire-flies lit up the triumphal march, and the beetles sang in chorus.
We leave Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe enjoying for the first time a house cleared of both reptiles and insects, and Lady Catherine purring her delight at being relieved from her enemies. No doubt, if she could have given us the benefit of her thoughts, she would have joined the bipeds in saying—
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody good."
OUR SUNDAY AFTERNOONS.
THE DREAM OF PILATE'S WIFE.
It was early morning, not yet seven o'clock. Yet Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, was astir. For the Paschal Feast of the Jews was fast approaching, and having heard rumours of strange things going on amongst them, he anticipated some serious disturbance. He was, therefore, in no pleasant humour, and his dark brow was contracted, his teeth were firmly set, and in his stern and somewhat fierce eyes was a look of mingled anger, scorn, and disgust.
How weary he was of these perpetual riots! How he despised the conquered Jews and their pretensions of religion, while their actions were mean and vile. They professed a sanctity superior to that of any nation upon earth. And yet he knew that every day they indulged in flagrant sins, and were influenced by motives that others would scorn to yield to. Oh! if he dared but show them what he thought of them and their hollow professions. But he must restrain his feelings. Several times already, in his impatience of their ways, he had given vent to his wrath in actions that, he knew too well, would not bear the examination of his master, the emperor of Rome.
The Roman emperors, bad as some of them were, liked to know that all their provinces were well governed, that the people had no just cause of complaint; and that their customs, religions, and prejudices were respected. And they would punish severely any governor who, by misrule, brought dishonour on the name of Rome.
Pilate knew that he had wilfully trampled upon the religious prejudices of the Jews, and that when they had risen up against him he had massacred them by the thousand. He remembered how he had once brought some Roman eagles from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where no heathen ensign could be suffered; how he had also placed there some gilt votive shields, dedicated to the Emperor Tiberius; and how, to bring water from the pools of Solomon into the city, he had taken money from the sacred treasury. He remembered, too, how, when the Jews had rebelled against these proceedings, he had sent disguised soldiers amongst them, to stab them with daggers concealed beneath their garments; how he had once massacred 3,000 of them, and how at another festal season, 20,000 dead bodies had strewed the courts of the Temple. And up before his mind there came also the recollection of how, at one of their feasts, he had killed some Galileans, and mingled their blood with that of their sacrifices upon the altar; and how he had also attacked the Samaritans, as they worshipped upon Mount Gerizim.
Yes, he had given the Jews just cause of complaint; and if he vexed them further, they might report him to Rome, and have him banished or put to death. So he would have to be careful how he treated them for the future.
The knowledge of this in nowise calmed his perturbed spirit. And as he wondered how, in case of another riot, he should manage to curb his wrathful and impatient disgust, he paced uneasily the Hall of Judgment.
This was an apartment in a splendid edifice—which was known as the fortress of Antonia—in which he resided when at Jerusalem, an old palace of Herod the Great. Its floors were of agate and lazuli. The ceilings of its gilded roofs were of cedar painted with vermilion. The bema, on which he sat to administer justice, was probably the golden throne of Archelaus. In front of the Hall of Judgment was a costly pavement of variously coloured marble, called by the Jews Gabbatha. Yet amid all this splendour he was but ill at ease.
And now suddenly the Roman procurator stopped and listened. Hooting and yelling, there were the wild cries of a dreaded mob, as he had anticipated. Yes, it was even so. They had begun early enough, those Jews. What could it be all about?
Nearer and nearer came the ominous sounds. He went to the door of his apartment, and looked out. There, coming across the bridge that spanned the Tyropeon Valley, was an infuriated crowd, venting their spleen upon some poor victim, whom they were evidently bringing to him. His arms were fast bound to His side. A rope was round His neck. And they were dragging Him along, as if He were some wild beast that they had caught in the act of making ravages amongst them.