F. BAYFORD HARRISON,
Author of "Brothers in Arms;" "Battlefield Treasure;" "Missy;" &c.
BLACKIE & SON, LIMITED, 49 OLD BAILEY, E.C.
GLASGOW, EDINBURGH, AND DUBLIN.
* * * * *
I. THE LOCK-HOUSE, 7
II. NO. 103, 19
III. JULIET MITCHELL, 32
IV. THE "PRETTY CHURCHYARD," 44
V. ON THE RIVER, 59
VI. MISSING! 73
VII. FOUND! 80
VIII. BETTERING HERSELF, 93
IX. BACK IN LONDON, 108
X. THE ADVENTURE OF THE "TURKEYS PIN," 120
XI. A THOROUGH CHANGE, 135
XII. A WONDERFUL DISCOVERY. 150
* * * * *
The mist of a July morning shrouded the river and its banks. It was a soft thin mist, not at all like a winter fog, and through it, and high above it, the sun was shining, and the larks singing; and Edward Rowles, the lock-keeper, knew well that within an hour or two the brightest sunshine would gladden England's river Thames.
He came out from his house, which was overgrown with honeysuckle and clematis, and he looked up the stream and down the stream, and then at the weir over which the water tumbled and roared; he saw that everything was all right after its night's rest. So he put his hands in his pockets, and went round to the back of the house to see how his peas and beans were conducting themselves. They were flourishing. Next he looked at some poultry in a wired-off space; they seemed very glad to see him, even the little chickens having good appetites, and being ready for their breakfasts.
After this inspection Edward Rowles went indoors again, and looked at his son Philip, who was still asleep in his little camp-bed in the corner of the sitting-room.
"Get up, lad, get up," said the father; "don't be the last."
Philip opened his eyes and rubbed them, and within a few minutes was washing and dressing.
In the meantime Mrs. Rowles was lighting the fire in the kitchen, filling the kettle with water from the well, getting down bread and butter from a shelf, and preparing everything for the morning meal.
Presently there appeared a little girl, Emily by name, who slept in a tiny attic all by herself, and who was very slow in dressing, and generally late in coming down.
"Come, bustle about, Emily," said her mother. "Here, this slice of bread is very dry, so toast it, and then it will be extra nice."
Emily obeyed. Philip got a broom and swept out the kitchen; Mr. Rowles brought in a handful of mustard-and-cress as a relish for bread-and-butter. And soon they were all seated at the table.
"Not a boat in sight," said Mr. Rowles; "nor yet a punt."
"It is early yet," replied his wife; "wait until the first train from London comes in."
"Like enough there will be folks come by it," rejoined Rowles; "they must be precious glad to get out of London this hot day."
"Why must they be glad, father?" asked Philip.
"Because London is awful hot in hot weather; it seems as if it had not got enough air for all the folks to breathe that live in it. Millions of people, Philip. Write down a million on your slate, boy."
Philip brought his slate and pencil and wrote 1,000,000.
"Write it over again, and twice more. Now that seems a good many, eh? Well, there are more people in London than all those millions on your slate. What do you think of that?"
The boy had no idea at all of what a million of people would look like, nor a million of lemon drops, nor a million of anything. He did not even try to gain an idea on the subject.
"Mother," said Emily, "does Aunt Mary live in London? And Albert and Juliet and Florry and Neddy—and—and all the others."
"Yes, poor things! they live in London."
"And they don't like hot days in London?"
"Hot days must be better than cold ones. I say, Rowles," and his wife turned to him and spoke in a gentler tone, "do you know I have been thinking so much lately about Mary and all of them. It is a long time since we had a letter. I wonder if it is all right with them."
"As right as usual, I'll be bound," said Rowles gruffly.
"I've a sort of feeling on me," Mrs. Rowles pursued, "that they are not doing well. The saying is, that no news is good news; but I'm not so sure of that—not always."
"Mary went her own way," said the lock-keeper, "and if it turns out the wrong way it is no business of mine. When a woman marries a fine, stuck-up London printer, who works all night on a morning paper and sleeps half the day, what can you expect? Can you expect good health, or good temper, or good looks from a man who turns night into day and day into night?"
"Children, run and give these crumbs and some barley to the chickens. Now, Rowles, you know very well that I never did join you in your dislike to Thomas Mitchell. Printing was his trade, and there must be morning papers I suppose, and I daresay he'd like to work by day and sleep by night if he could. I think your sister Mary made a mistake when she married a Londoner, after being used to the country where you can draw a breath of fresh air. And I'm afraid that Tom's money can't be any too much for eight children living, and two put away in the cemetery, pretty dears! And I was just thinking to myself that it would seem friendly-like if I was to journey up to London and see how they are getting on. It is less trouble than writing a letter."
"It costs more," said Rowles.
A long, distant whistle was heard.
"There they come!" and Rowles rose from his chair, and took his burly figure out into the garden-plot which lay between the cottage and the lock.
Mrs. Rowles followed him, saying, "There is a train at 10.22; and if I leave the dinner all ready you can boil the potatoes for yourself."
"What do you want to go for, at all? Women are always gadding about, just to show off their bonnets, or to look at other people's. Here they come—two of them!" he added.
For two steam launches, whistling horribly, were coming up, and required that the lock should be opened for them.
Nothing gave Philip and Emily more pleasure than to help their father open the lock-gates. They liked going to school, and they liked playing with their friends, but opening the lock-gates, and then watching them as they closed, was more delightful than any other kind of work or play.
Philip knew that a river on which large boats and barges went to and fro must be kept up by locks, or it would run away so fast that it would become too shallow for any but small boats. Littlebourne lock is built from one bank of the river to an island in it. There are great wooden gates, opened by great wooden handles; but to explain how a lock is made and worked would be difficult, though it is easily understood when examined. Philip and Emily had lived nearly all their lives in Littlebourne lock-house, and they knew more about boating and such matters than old men and women who live all their lives in London.
The two little steamers came into the lock as soon as Rowles, assisted by his children, opened the lower gate. The men on them talked to Rowles while the lock was being filled by the water, which came through the sluices in the upper gate.
Philip listened to this talk; but Emily went up to the other gate. Her father and brother did not notice what she was doing. They came presently and opened the upper gates, talking all the time to the men on the launches. Then they heard cries.
"Look out! take care! keep in!"
Emily's voice sounded shrill and terrified.
"This side! this side!" she was crying wildly; and she jumped about on the bank of the island as if frightened at something in the water.
Rowles ran to the place. The first launch was just coming out of the lock, closely followed by the other. Across the narrow piece of water just outside the lock was a rowing boat. In it was one man. He looked scared, for the nose of his boat was stuck in the bank of the island, and the stern had swung round almost to the opposite bank. The man was standing up with a scull in his hands, poking at the bank near the bows; and at every poke his boat went further across the narrow stream, and was in imminent danger of being cut in two or swamped, or in some way destroyed by the foremost launch.
"Ah, they are at it again!" cried Rowles; "these cockney boatmen, how they do try to drown themselves! Hold hard!" he shouted to the engineer of the launch.
And the engineer of that steamer did try to hold hard, but the man behind him did not see what was the matter, or that anything was the matter, and therefore he kept his engines going, and pressed close behind on the foremost launch.
Fortunately Rowles had in his hand a long pole with which to push small boats in and out of the lock. With this he caught the side of the endangered craft, and would have drawn it into safety, but the occupant of it flourished his scull about in so foolish a manner that he hindered what Rowles was trying to do, and all the time—which was but a couple of minutes—the launches were slowly bearing down upon him.
Philip had seized an oar which was lying by, Emily had caught up a clothes-line; Philip pushed his oar at the man in the boat, Emily threw him the end of her rope. Rowles had at length caught the side of the boat with the hook at the end of his pole, and brought it close to the bank.
The man gave a spring to get out on dry land. Of course his boat went away from him, nearly jerking Rowles into the water. As for the awkward creature himself, he fell on his knees on the plank edging of the bank, and his feet dangled in the stream. The launch went on again, crushing the rudder of the small boat.
It required the help of Rowles and Philip to pull the man up on his feet, and get him to believe that he was safe. He staggered up the bank to the pathway on the top of it, and gasped for breath.
"That—that—was a narrow shave!" said he.
"Ay, for them that goes out fooling in a white shirt," said Mr. Rowles.
"It is only my feet that are wet," remarked the stranger, beginning to recover his colour; "and I did not know there was any harm in a white shirt."
"No harm in the shirt if the man who wore it knew what he was about. Why, I've seen them go out in frock-coats and tall hats and kid gloves. I've seen them that did not know bow from stern; and then, when they are drowned, they are quite surprised."
"I don't know much about boating," returned the man; "but my gentleman said he thought I had better practise a bit, because he will want me to row him about of an evening. Well, another time I will keep out of the way of the steam-launches."
"You had better, sir. And put off your coat, and your waistcoat, and your watch and chain, and rig yourself out in a flannel shirt and a straw hat. And, pray, how are you going to get home?"
At this moment Mrs. Rowles came to the door, shading her eyes with her hand, for the sun was now bright and hot, and calling out "Phil—lip! Em—ily! time to be off."
The girl threw down her rope and obeyed her mother's call, but Philip lingered. He could not make out who and what the stranger might be.
That person said, "Perhaps, Mr. Rowles, you would let your boy come with me just to put me in the right way."
"No, no; he is going to school. You be off, Phil, before I look at you again."
So, rather unwillingly, Philip also retreated into the house, from whence he and Emily presently emerged with their books, and disappeared across the fields in the direction of the village, where their company was requested by the schoolmaster and the schoolmistress until four o'clock, with a long interval for dinner and play.
"I would let him go with you if it was not for his schooling," remarked Mr. Rowles; "but he must waste no time if he wants to get the prize. You won't get a prize for rowing. Why, some of them that comes here don't know what you mean by feathering!"
The stranger looked very humble. He was a middle-aged man of ordinary appearance, but extremely neat in his dress. His cloth clothes were all of spotless black, his necktie was black with a small white spot; he showed a good deal of fine shirt-front, and a pair of clean cuffs. Then his hair was carefully cut, and he had trimmed whiskers, but no beard or moustache. His hands were not those of a working-man, nor had they the look of those of a gentleman. Edward Rowles could not make him out.
"I'm sure you are not a boating man," said he.
"Oh, no! oh, dear no! I never rowed a boat before. Though I have been at sea: I have crossed the Channel with Mr. Burnet. But not rowing myself, of course."
"Who's Mr. Burnet?" asked Rowles.
"We are staying at the hotel," replied the stranger; "and what's more, I must be getting back, for he likes his breakfast at a quarter-past ten sharp. Can I get back another way? Can't I go down that river?"
He pointed up the stream which came swirling from the weir.
"No," said Rowles, "you can't go up the weir-stream, any more than you could leap a donkey over a turnpike-gate. Get into your boat, and pull yourself quietly up under the left-hand bank."
"I have no rope to pull it by," said the stranger meekly.
"They come down here," remarked Rowles with infinite contempt, and speaking to the river, "and don't know what you mean by pulling. They think it is the same as towing. If you'd rather tow your boat I will lend you a line, provided that you promise faithfully to return it. It is the missus's clothes-line. And you will keep her close under the bank of the towing-path, and you will pass under all the other lines which you meet. Do you see?"
"Oh, yes, thank you," said the stranger, anxious to be off. "My name is Roberts, with Mr. Burnet at the hotel; and you shall have the rope back again."
"Tie it round the bow thwart, as you have no mast," said Rowles.
Mr. Roberts stared.
"There, stand aside, I'll do it for you. They sit on a thwart and don't know what it is, half of them."
Grumbling and fumbling, Rowles at length got Roberts across the lock-gates and put the line into his hands, telling him to look out for barges and rapids; and then the stranger set off on his return journey, and Rowles went into his house to tell his wife that he thought they were a stupider lot this summer than ever they had been before.
When Mrs. Rowles had put on her best gown and her Sunday bonnet she was as pleasant-looking a woman as one was likely to meet between Littlebourne and London. "Going to town" was rather an event in her life, and one that called for the best gown and bonnet as well as for three-and-fourpence to pay the fare.
"Ned never will go to see his sister," said Mrs. Rowles to herself. "I might as well try to move the lock as try to move him. And now that I have made up my mind to go I had better go, and get it over. Ned thinks that Londoners are too grand to care for their country relations. But I don't think Mary is too grand to give me a welcome. I don't want a fuss made over me, I am sure; and if I run up unexpected she won't be able to make a fuss with the dinner. And when it is six months since you heard from them it is about time for you to go and see them. I am not comfortable in my mind; six months is a long time. Suppose they had gone off to Australia! I really should not wonder!"
It was nearly time to start on her walk to the station.
Rowles looked into the cottage, and his wife explained to him how he was to manage his dinner.
"Ah, peas now!" he said, looking at the green pearls lying in water in a pudding basin. "They don't see such peas as those in London, I can tell you; and you'd be a deal welcomer, Emma, if you were to take them a basketful of green stuff. I suppose Thomas Mitchell has his supper for breakfast when he gets up at night, and begins his day's work at bed-time. He might like peas for breakfast at ten o'clock P.M.; likewise broad beans. Just you wait three minutes. I bear them no ill-will, though I never could approve of a man being an owl."
Within five minutes Rowles came back from his garden with a basket of fresh-smelling vegetables. He gave it to his wife, saying, "You be off, or you'll miss your train. Give them my love when they get up this evening. There's a call for the 'Lock a-hoy!' And here they come, girls in flannels and sailor hats, rowing for their lives, and men lolling on the cushions with fans and parasols."
The husband went to open the gates for one of those water-parties which are to be seen nowhere but on the Thames, and Mrs. Rowles set off to walk to Littlebourne station.
She met with no adventures on her journey; reached Paddington safely, took an omnibus into the city, and then walked to one of the smaller streets on the eastern side of London.
This street was one which began with good, well-kept houses, and dwindled away into small ones out of repair. About the middle of the street Mrs. Rowles stopped, and went up on the door-step of a neat-looking house, every window of which had white curtains and flower-pots. She pulled the bell-handle which was second from the top in a row of handles at the side of the door, and put her basket down to rest herself, summoning up a kindly smile with which to greet her sister-in-law, Mary Mitchell. The air of London was heavy and the sunshine pale to Mrs. Rowles's thinking, and the sky overhead was a very pale blue. There were odd smells about; stale fish and brick-fields seemed to combine, and that strange fusty odour which infects very old clothes. Mrs. Rowles preferred the scent of broad beans and pinks.
It was some time before the door was opened, and then a young woman appeared, holding it just ajar.
"Well, Mary, my dear—oh, I declare, it is not Mary!"
"Would you please to say who you want?" The young woman was not over polite.
"I have come up from the country to see my sister-in-law, Mary Mitchell. I beg your pardon, my dear, if I rang the wrong bell."
"Mrs. Mitchell don't live here," was the short reply.
"Not live here! Whatever do you mean?"
"I mean what I say; are you deaf? Mrs. Mitchell left here near upon six months ago."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Rowles, much astonished; "I never thought of such a thing. Whatever shall I do? And all this green stuff to carry back again."
"Can't you take it to her?" asked the young woman more gently.
"I don't know where she has gone to. Australia most likely."
"Australia, indeed! She has only gone to the other end of the street, No. 103. And when you can't pay your rent, and three weeks running on to four, what can you expect from your landlord?"
The door was closed, and Mrs. Rowles left standing on the step, greatly shocked and agitated. Had the Mitchells been turned out by their landlord for not paying their rent? Had they grown dishonest? Had Mitchell taken to drink? What could it mean?
"No. 103. And this is only 42; the odd numbers are on the other side. I must cross. What a lot of rubbish on the road; and do you think I would let my girl stand out bareheaded like that, gossiping with a lot of idle young chaps?" Thus thinking and moralizing Mrs. Rowles went down the street towards the eastern end of it.
She noticed the change in the houses. Their fronts grew narrower; there was a storey less; the door-steps were not hearth-stoned; the area railings were broken. No white curtains, or but few and soiled ones; hardly a flower; windowpanes filled with brown paper instead of glass; doors standing half open; heaps of cinders and refuse lying at the edge of the pavement; girls almost without frocks nursing dirty, white-faced babies. It seemed a long way to No. 103. No. 99 stood out from its fellows, and marked the point at which the street became narrower, dirtier, noisier than before. Was it possible that Edward Rowles's sister could be living here?
The comely, well-clad woman from Littlebourne looked into the entry of No. 103. She saw a narrow passage, without floorcloth or carpet; a narrow, dirty staircase led up to the rooms above. From the front room on the ground floor came the whirring sound of a sewing-machine; it might perhaps be Mary Mitchell at work.
Mrs. Rowles knocked on the door of the room.
"Please, does Mrs. Mitchell live here?"
"Top floor, back," replied the voice, and the whirr was resumed.
Picking her way, for the stairs were thick with mud from dirty boots and with droppings from pails, beer-cans, and milk-jugs, Mrs. Rowles went up the first flight. In the front room a woman's voice was scolding in strong language; in the back room a baby was wailing piteously. On the next floor one door stood open, revealing a bare room, with filthy and torn wall-paper, with paint brown from finger-marks, with cupboard-doors off their hinges, and the grate thick with rust. The visitor shuddered. Through the next half-open door she saw linen, more brown than white, hanging from lines stretched across, and steaming as it dried in the room, which was that of five persons, eating, living, and sleeping in it.
Mrs. Rowles felt a little faint; she thought that so many stairs were very trying. From this point there was nothing in the way of hand-rail; so she kept close to the wall as she carried her basket up still higher.
At the door of the back room she knocked.
There was a sort of scuffling noise inside, and a few moments passed before it was opened.
The sisters-in-law looked at each other in amazement. Rosy Emma Rowles, in her blue gown and straw bonnet with red roses, with her stout alpaca umbrella and her strong basket packed tight with vegetables, was an unaccustomed vision at No. 103; while the pale, thin, ragged, miserable Mary Mitchell was an appalling representative of her former self.
"Is it you, Emma Rowles? However did you get here?"
"I came by the train from Littlebourne," said Mrs. Rowles simply. "May I come in?"
"Oh, you may come in if you care to," was the bitter reply.
Mrs. Rowles looked round her as she entered, and was so much shocked at what she saw that for a few moments she could not speak.
In the middle of the room was a square table, on which lay a mass of thick black silk and rich trimmings, which even Emma Rowles's country eyes could see were being put together to form a very handsome mantle suitable for some rich lady. A steel thimble, a pair of large scissors, a reel of cotton and another of silk lay beside the materials. In strong contrast to this beautiful and expensive stuff was the sight which saddened the further corner of the small room. Close under the sloping, blackened ceiling was a mattress laid on the floor, and on it a wan, haggard man, whom Mrs. Rowles supposed to be Thomas Mitchell, though she hardly recognized him. There was also another mattress on the floor. The blankets were few, but well-worn counterpanes covered the beds. A little washstand with broken crockery, a kettle, some jam-pots, and some medicine bottles were about all the rest of the furniture. All that she saw told Mrs. Rowles very plainly that her relations had fallen into deep poverty.
"Why, Tom," she began, "I'm afraid you are ill."
"Been ill these two months," he replied in a weak voice.
"Sit down," said Mrs. Mitchell, pushing the best chair to her sister-in-law, and standing by the table to resume her work.
"We did not know Tom was ill," said Mrs. Rowles.
"I daresay not," answered Mrs. Mitchell.
"I would have come sooner to see him if I had known."
"Oh, it is no use to bother one's relations when one falls into misfortunes. It is the rich folks who are welcome, not the poor ones."
"I hope you will make me welcome," said Mrs. Rowles, "though I am not rich."
"Well, you are richer than we are," remarked Mrs. Mitchell, softening a little, "and you are welcome; I can't say more. But I daresay if you had known what a place you were coming to you would have thought twice about it. Six months we have had of it. First there were the changes made at the printing-office, and then the men struck work, and there was soon very little to live on; for it's when the strike allowance doesn't come in so fast that the pinch comes."
Mrs. Rowles looked round to see where the children could be hiding. Not a child's garment was to be seen, nor a toy.
"Where are the children?" she asked, half fearing to hear that they were all dead.
"Albert has got a little place in the printing-office. He was took on when Tom was laid up with rheumatic fever. Juliet is gone to the kitchen to try if she can get a drop of soup or something. They only make it for sick people now the hot weather has set in. Florry and Tommy and Willie and Neddy are all at school, because the school-board officer came round about them the other day. But it is the church school as they go to, where they ain't kept up to it quite so sharp. They will be in presently."
"And the baby?"
"Oh, the baby is out with Amy. He's that fractious with his teeth that Thomas can hardly put up with him in the house."
Mrs. Rowles was now taking out the good things from her basket. She produced a piece of bacon, some beans, about a peck of peas, a home-made dripping cake, and some new-laid eggs.
"Edward packed it with his own hands," she explained. "He hoped you would not be too proud to accept a few bits of things from the country."
"Proud? Me proud?" and Mrs. Mitchell burst into tears.
"We are too hungry to be proud," said the sick man, with more interest in his tone. "They do smell good. They remind me of the country."
After rubbing her eyes Mrs. Rowles looked about for a saucepan, and, having found an old one in the cupboard, began to fill it with the bacon and the broad beans. "We killed a pig in the spring," she said; "and Rowles is a rare one to keep his garden stuff going."
Little was said while Mrs. Rowles cooked, and Mrs. Mitchell sewed, and Thomas sniffed the reviving green odour of the fresh vegetables. This quiet was presently interrupted by the sound of someone coming up the stairs.
Mrs. Mitchell listened. "That is Juliet. There! I expected it!"
And a crash was heard, and a cry, and they knew that something unpleasant had happened.
"There never was such a child!" said the mother; while the father moaned out, "Oh, dear!"
Mrs. Rowles went out on the landing at the top of the stairs, and saw a girl of about thirteen sitting crouched on the lower half of the double flight, beside her the broken remains of a jug, and some soup lying in a pool, which she was trying to scrape up with her fingers, sucking them after each attempt.
"Is that you, Juliet?" said her aunt.
"Yes. I've spilt the soup and broke the jug."
"Oh, Juliet, how could you?"
"The jug had got no handle; that's why I came to drop it. And the soup was only a teeny drop, so it's no great loss. And the bannisters was all broke away for lighting the fires, and that's how I came to fall over; and I might have broke my leg and been took to the hospital, and I should have had plenty of grub there."
The child said this in a surly tone, as if all that had happened had been an injury to her—even her escape from breaking her leg—and to no one else.
"Well, come up," said Mrs. Rowles, who would hardly have been so calm had the soup and the jug been her own; "come up and see what there is for dinner here."
"I don't care," said Juliet, as she left the remains of the spoilt articles where they lay, and came up to the room. She was a strange-looking child, with brows knitted above her deep-set eyes, with a dark, pale skin, and dark untidy hair.
"Ah, you've been at it again!" cried Mrs. Mitchell. "Well, it was my own fault to send you for it. You are the stupidest and awkwardest girl I ever come across."
"Then, why did you send me?" retorted Juliet. "I didn't want to go, I'm sure."
"Hush, Juliet," interposed her father; "you must not speak so to your mother. Here is your aunt come from Littlebourne, and brought in the most splendid dinner."
"I don't want no dinner," said Juliet.
"Oh," said Mrs. Rowles very gently, "I thought you would help me dish it up."
"I'm that stupid and awkward," said the girl, "that I should spill it and spoil it for you. If they'd let me go to a place I might learn to do better."
"Who would take her?" Mrs. Mitchell appealed to her sister; "and she ought to help her own people before wanting to go out among strangers."
"Yes, of course," replied Mrs. Rowles. "Everything is like charity, and begins at home."
By this time the unwonted prospect of a really hearty dinner began to soften the stern Juliet, and her brows unknitted themselves, showing that her eyes would be pretty if they wore a pleasant expression. It seemed to Mrs. Rowles that life had latterly been too hard and sad for this girl, just beginning to grow out of the easy ignorance of childhood which takes everything as it comes; and a little plan began to form itself in the good woman's mind for improving Juliet's disposition and habits.
Before the dinner was ready there was a loud noise of feet tramping upstairs. They were the feet of five more young Mitchells; and Amy's footsteps were very heavy, for she carried the baby. Albert, who was in the printing-office, did not come home to dinner.
Though the plates and knives and forks were all out of order, and though an old newspaper acted as tablecloth, yet the meal was thoroughly enjoyed; even Mitchell ate some of the beans, with a boiled egg, and said that they put new life into him. Mrs. Rowles's own appetite was satisfied with a slice of cake and the brightening faces around her.
Mrs. Mitchell gave a contemptuous glance at the mantle hanging on a nail in the wall, and took the baby on her knee and danced him about; and the little fellow burst into a chuckling laugh, and Thomas echoed it with a fainter and feebler one.
At that precise moment there was a knock on the door. A voice said "May I come in?" and a little elderly lady put her head into the room.
"It is Miss Sutton. Come in, miss," said Mary Mitchell.
The lady who came in was, in Mrs. Rowles's eyes, exactly like a mouse. Her eyes were bright, her nose was sharp, and her clothing was all of a soft grayish-brown. And she was as quick and brisk as one of those pretty little animals, at which silly people often think they are frightened.
"Nearly two o'clock, Mrs. Mitchell. Now, if you can get the children off to school, I have something important to say to you, and only ten minutes to say it in. Bustle away, my dears," she said to the children.
After a little clamouring they all went off except Juliet and the baby.
"Don't you go, Juliet," said Mrs. Rowles; "I want to speak to you presently, before I go home."
"Then, Juliet," said her mother, "do you think you could carry baby safely downstairs, and sit on the door-step with him until Miss Sutton goes away?"
"I shall be sure to bump his head against the wall; I always do," was Juliet's sulky reply.
"Oh, you must try not to do so," put in Miss Sutton.
"And you might put his head on the side away from the wall," said Mrs. Rowles cheerfully.
"I might," returned Juliet in a doubtful voice; "but that would be on the wrong arm."
"The wrong arm will be the right arm this time;" and Mrs. Rowles laid the baby on Juliet's bony right arm, and both children arrived safely on the door-step within three minutes.
"Now," said Miss Sutton, "who may this good woman be?"
"My brother's wife from Littlebourne, miss; and she brought us a real good dinner, and we are all truly thankful. Amen."
"You come to a poor part of London," said Miss Sutton; "and I am not going to say but that the poverty is deserved, part of it, at all events. There was Thomas Mitchell, aged twenty-three, getting good wages as a journeyman printer. There was Mary Rowles, parlour-maid at the West-end, costing her mistress at the rate of fifty pounds a year, aged twenty-one. Because they could keep themselves comfortably they thought they could keep ten children on Thomas's wages. So they got married, and found they could not do it, not even when the ten was reduced to eight. Because a gentleman can keep himself comfortably on a hundred and fifty pounds a year, does he try to keep a wife and ten children on it?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am," said Mrs. Rowles, thinking that she ought to say something, and yet not knowing what to say.
"Oh, no, no," murmured Mary Mitchell.
"Of course not," pursued Miss Sutton. "He says, 'What I have is only enough to keep myself, so I had better not marry.' Do you know why I have not married?"
"No, miss," replied Mrs. Mitchell, getting to work again on the mantle.
"Because the man I liked had not enough to keep a wife and family; he looked before he leaped. He never leaped at all; he never even proposed to me point-blank, but it came round to me through a friend. But you working-people, you never look, and you always leap, and when you have got your ten children and nothing to feed them on, then you think that the gentlefolks who would not marry because they had not enough to keep families on, are to stint and starve themselves to keep your families. Does that seem fair?"
Mrs. Mitchell stitched away; the others did not reply.
Miss Sutton went on: "If I had ten children, or even two children, I could not afford to give you what I do." Here she put down a half-crown on the table. "Now, listen to a plan I have in my head. You know, Mrs. Mitchell, what we West-end ladies have to pay for our mantles, even the plainest and simplest we can get; two guineas and a half, and upwards to any price you like to name. You also know what you receive for making them."
"Yes, miss, I do;" and Mrs. Mitchell shook her head.
"How much is it?"
"I get ninepence; some of the women only get sevenpence halfpenny."
Mrs. Rowles could not believe her ears.
"Well, say ninepence. Now, I and some of my friends are going to buy the materials, and pay you for the work just the difference between the cost of materials and the price we should pay in a shop. Do you see?"
"Yes, miss, I see; but it won't do," and Mrs. Mitchell shook her head again.
"Because ladies like to go to a shop and see hundreds of different mantles, and choose the one they like best."
"We shall have dozens of paper patterns to choose from, and the cutting-out will be done by a friend of mine who is very clever at it. I shall begin by ordering my winter mantle at once. I shall give about eight shillings a yard for the stuff; three yards makes twenty-four shillings; then some braid or something of the sort, say six yards at two shillings; that is twelve; twenty-four and twelve are thirty-six; a few buttons and sundries, say five shillings; thirty-six and five are forty-one. I shall give you seven shillings for the work, and I shall have a handsome mantle for two pounds eight shillings. Better than ninepence, and finding your own cotton and sewing-silk. Eh?"
"Yes, Miss Sutton; it is very kind of you. But it won't do. There are too many of us women; and you ladies, you all like to go shopping."
"You see," said Miss Sutton, turning to Mrs. Rowles, "what we want to do is to get rid of the middleman. We are going to try if we can persuade the great shop-keepers to come face to face with the people who actually do the work. I don't know how we shall succeed, but we will make an effort, and we will keep 'pegging away' until we get something done. And, one word more, Mrs. Mitchell; do not bring Juliet up to the slop-work trade. Get her a situation. When your husband is strong again and goes to work, then set the girl up with some decent clothes, and we will find her a little place."
"She wants a little place," said Mrs. Mitchell; "but there's no place hereabouts. Our clergyman says he has nine thousand people in his parish, all so poor that his own house is the only one where there is a servant kept."
"You don't say so!" cried Mrs. Rowles, unable to keep longer silence. "Why, with us there are laundresses that keep servants! and many little places for girls—minding babies and such like."
"Ah, in the country," said Miss Sutton; "I daresay. Oh, this dreadful, ravenous London; it eats up men, women, and children! Well, I must go on to another house. Good-bye, good-bye."
As the lady went away Mrs. Rowles asked, "Where does she come from?"
"She lives in a street near Hyde Park. She and many other ladies, and gentlemen too, have districts in the East-end, because there are no ladies and gentlemen here who could be district visitors; there are only poor people here."
Emma Rowles thought deeply for a few minutes, while Mary Mitchell stitched away.
Thomas Mitchell had raised himself up, and was saying, "I shall soon be much better. I feel I am going to be strong again. Emma Rowles has given me quite a turn."
"Don't say that, Tom; it is rude," whispered his wife.
"I mean a turn for the better, a turn for the better."
"I wish, oh, I wish," Mrs. Rowles burst out, "how I wish I could turn you all out into the country! Fresh air, fresh water, room to move about! Where the rain makes the trees clean, instead of making the streets dirty, like it does here. Though we have mud up to your eyes in the country too; but then it is sweet, wholesome mud. Ah! what is that?"
A noise of confused voices rose from the street, and Mrs. Mitchell ran to the window. But these attics were not the whole size of the house, and the window was set so far back that she could not see the pavement on her own side of the street.
"It is that Juliet again, I'll be bound! There never was such a girl for getting into scrapes! She seems to have no heart, no spirit, for doing better."
With a hopeless sigh Mrs. Mitchell went back to the mantle.
Her sister could not take things so easily. She was not used to the incessant cries and outcries, quarrels, accidents, and miseries of a great city. Mrs. Rowles ran swiftly down the sloppy stairs to the open door, there she found Juliet leaning against the railings, while the baby lay sprawling on the step.
"Whatever is the matter?" asked Mrs. Rowles, breathless with fear.
"Nothing," was Juliet's reply.
"But I heard loud voices."
"That was only when Miss Sutton walked on baby."
"Poor little fellow! How did that happen?"
"Oh, I don't know; he just slipped off my lap at the very moment that she was coming out. He's not hurt."
Mrs. Rowles picked up the baby to make sure that he was not injured, and found no mark or bruise.
"But his spine might be hurt, or his brain, without there being any outside mark. I am afraid you are very careless."
"Yes, I am. I don't care about nothing."
"Now, that's not at all pretty of you, Juliet."
"Don't want it to be pretty."
"And it's not kind and nice."
"Don't want to be kind and nice."
"And I am afraid people will not love you if you go on like this."
"Don't want people to love me."
Mrs. Rowles knew not how to soften this hard heart. "Juliet, don't you want to help your sick father and your hard-working mother, and all your hungry little brothers and sisters?"
"No, I don't. I want to go away from them. I want to have mutton-chops and rice puddings like we used to have when there was not so many of us; and merino frocks, and new boots with elastic sides; and the Crystal Palace."
"Oh, you would like to leave home?"
"Yes, I would. They worrit me, and I worrit them."
"Oh, poor child, poor child!"
The kind-hearted Emma Rowles made curious little noises with her tongue and her teeth, and toiled again up the staircase with baby in her arms, and Juliet silently following as she went. Mrs. Rowles framed short, unworded prayers for guidance at this present crisis; and when she stood again in her sister-in-law's room her resolve was taken.
She put the baby into his father's arms.
"There, Thomas, I do hope you will get about soon. Do you think your trade is a healthy one? My Ned, he always says that it is bad to work by night, and bad to sleep by day, says he."
"Emma Rowles," was Mitchell's sharp rejoinder, "does your Ned ever read a newspaper?"
"Yes, most every day. Them passing through the lock often give him a Standard or a Telegraph."
"Then he'd better not find fault with the printers. If the public would be content with evening papers, we printers might keep better hours."
"There now!" said Mrs. Rowles, venturing on a short laugh "Do you know, I never thought of when the morning papers get printed."
"There's a many as thoughtless as you, and more so."
Mitchell laughed scornfully. His wife also laughed a very little, and baby chuckled as if he too thought his aunt's ignorance of the world very amusing; but none of these laughs moved Juliet even to smile.
Then Emma Rowles began to tie her bonnet-strings, and to pull her mantle on her shoulders.
"I will take back the empty basket, please," she said. "And, Thomas,—Mary,—I want you to let me take something else."
"There's not much you can take," said Thomas.
"Will you lend me one of your children?"
"Oh, not my precious, precious baby-boy!" cried Mary, throwing aside the mantle. "He's the only baby we've got now!"
"No, not baby; I should be rather afraid of him. But one of the others."
"Well—" and Mrs. Mitchell hesitated.
"Take me," said Juliet, in a low, hard voice. "I'm that stupid and awkward and careless that I'm no good to anybody. And I don't want to learn, and I don't want to be good. All I want is mutton-chops and puddings, and new boots."
Her sullen little face stared at her aunt with a look of stolid indifference on it. Was it possible that poverty had pinched her child's heart so hard as to have pinched all softness and sweetness out of it?
Mrs. Rowles's heart was full of softness and sweetness.
"May I take Juliet home with me? I can't promise mutton-chops, but there will be beans and bacon. And boots perhaps we can manage."
"I don't like parting with any of them. Though, to be sure, Florry can mind baby; or even little Amy can. Juliet, my child, shall I let you go?" and Mrs. Mitchell clasped the girl in her arms, and tears streamed down the mother's face, while Juliet stood as stony and unmoved as ever.
"She's got no clothes for going on a visit," said Mitchell.
"She can have some of my girl's; they are just of a size."
"All right, then, Emma. You're a good sister, you are. Not one of my people has come forward like this. They are all so high and mighty and so well-to-do in the world, they can't turn their eyes down so low as me and mine. But you've give me a turn for the better, Emma Rowles. You'll see I'll be at work on Monday night, if not sooner."
Juliet being lent to her, Mrs. Rowles felt that she might now proceed on her homeward journey, which would occupy some three hours. So, after affectionate farewells she set off, her basket hanging on one arm and her niece hanging on the other; and they clambered into omnibuses, rushed over crossings and under horses' heads, ran full tilt against old gentlemen, and caught themselves on the hooks and buttons of old ladies, in a way which Juliet alone would never have done. But Mrs. Rowles, being unused to London, was more fussy and hurried than any Londoner could ever find time to be.
THE "PRETTY CHURCHYARD."
IT was late in the day when the aunt and niece seated themselves in the train for Littlebourne. Mrs. Rowles counted up her money, and then counted up the time.
"It will be eight o'clock before we get home," she remarked; "it will be getting dark and near your bed-time."
"I don't care," said Juliet; "I don't want to go to bed."
"Oh, no; but I shall be tired and sleepy. Juliet, have you ever been in the country?"
"But you said you liked the Crystal Palace."
"No, I didn't," was Juliet's polite reply.
"I beg your pardon, my dear, I thought you did."
"I said," explained Juliet, slightly abashed by her aunt's courteous manner—"I said I wanted to go to the Crystal Palace. Father said once that he would take us on a bank holiday, but then we got poor, and so he never kept his word. We always have been poor, we never had mutton-chops but only three times; and now we are poorer than we used to be, and we don't even get rice puddings."
"Well, I'll try and give you rice puddings, and suet ones too."
"Oh, I don't care," said the child relapsing into her usual manner; "I don't want your puddings."
The carriage soon filled with other passengers, and there came over Mrs. Rowles a slight sensation of shame when she saw how they glanced at Juliet in her patched frock and untidy hat. And the neat country-woman felt that to walk with this London child through the village of Littlebourne, where every creature, down to the cows and cats and dogs, all knew the lock-keeper's wife, would be a great trial of courage.
It was only now that Mrs. Rowles realized the condition of many of the working-class (so called, for harder work is done by heads than by hands) in the great city, who yet are not what is known as "poor." The Mitchell family had drifted away from the Rowles family. A letter now and then passed between them, but Rowles had held such a prejudice against Mitchell's employment that really no intercourse had taken place between the two families. Mrs. Rowles had been drawn, she knew not how, but by some sort of instinct, to visit her brother-in-law this day; and she had further been impelled to offer Juliet a trip to the country. But now she almost regretted it.
Juliet sat opposite her aunt, looking out blankly at the houses as the train passed through the western suburbs. After a while she stood up at the window. Fields and trees were beginning to be more frequent than at first. Soon the houses became rare, and the fields continuous.
Juliet's lips were muttering something which Mrs. Rowles could not hear in the noise made by the train.
She leaned forward to the child. "What do you say?"
"Pretty churchyard!" said Juliet.
"What do you say?"
"Pretty churchyard' pretty churchyard!"
"Whatever do you mean, my child!"
"I mean, this churchyard is bigger and prettier than the churchyards in London, where I used to play when I was little."
Mrs. Rowles's eyes filled with tears. She understood now that Juliet had only known trees and flowers by seeing them in the churchyards of London, disused for the dead, and turned into gardens—grim enough—for the living. And so to the child's mind green grass and waving boughs seemed to be always disused churchyards. Such sad ignorance would seem impossible, if we did not know it to be a fact.
"But, Juliet, these are fields. Grass grows in them for the cows and sheep to eat, and corn to make us bread, and flowers to make us happy and to make us good."
Juliet did not reply. She gazed out at the landscape through which they were passing, and which was growing every moment more soft and lovely as the sky grew mellower and the shadows longer. She almost doubted her aunt's words. And yet this would be a very big churchyard; and certainly there were cows and sheep in sight, and there were red and white and yellow flowers growing beside the line. So she said nothing, but thought that she would wait and find out things for herself.
At Littlebourne station Mrs. Rowles and Juliet alighted. The ticket-collector looked hard at Juliet, and the cabman outside the gate said, "Got a little un boarded out, Mrs. Rowles?"
Mrs. Rowles shook her head and walked on. She bethought herself of a means by which to avoid most of her neighbours' eyes. She would go round the field way, and not through the village. It was a much prettier walk, but rather longer.
"Are you tired, Juliet?" she asked kindly.
"Of course I am."
"Well, we shall soon be home now."
"It don't matter," said the child; "I'm 'most always tired."
They went through some pasture-fields where cows lay about quiet and happy, and through corn-fields where green wheat and barley rustled in the evening breeze.
"You're right," muttered Juliet; "it ain't all churchyard, 'cause they don't have cows and green flowers in churchyards."
"Do you like the country, my dear?"
"I don't know yet. I ain't seen any shops, nor any mutton-chops."
"Well, you shall see them all by and by. Now we are going through a farmyard, where you will see cocks and hens, and perhaps some little pigs."
But before they had time to look for either pigs or poultry they heard a succession of alternate fierce growls and short shrieks, and both Mrs. Rowles and Juliet stopped short.
The growls seemed to be those of a big dog, and the shrieks those of a little girl. Both sounds came from an inner yard of the farm, through which there was a public right of way. Something in the shrieks made Mrs. Rowles's cheek turn pale, and something in the growls made Juliet's face flush red.
"Oh, dear!" cried Mrs. Rowles, "it is some child in danger!"
"It is some horrid cruel dog!" said Juliet.
The aunt went cautiously through the gate into the inner yard, and the niece rushed through it boldly. What they saw was indeed alarming.
Little Emily Rowles was in a corner of the wall, shut in there on one side by a great high kennel, and on the other side by the huge mastiff who belonged to the kennel. He lay on the ground, his head on his paws, and his eyes fixed on the child; and whenever she made the slightest movement he growled in the fiercest manner. No wonder she uttered cries of dread and despair.
Before Mrs. Rowles could think what was best to do, Juliet had done it.
Fearless, because she did not understand the danger, Juliet rushed at the dog, seized him by his collar, and with all her strength pulled him away from the corner. He was so astonished at finding himself thus handled that all his fierceness, half of which was pretended, died out of him, and he looked up wildly at the new-comer, and forgot the other girl whom he had been bullying with such pleasure.
Emily had leaped into her mother's arms, and was sobbing with excitement and relief.
"My child! my darling! how did it happen? How came you to get caught by that brute? How came you to be here at all?"
Emily was still unable to reply. Her mother carried her to a bench at the other side of the yard, and soothed her until she was calm again.
But Juliet stood beside the dog; he was ashamed of himself, and he bowed to a will stronger than his own. He felt that she was not afraid of him, and he was afraid of her. Not that he had had any intention of really hurting Emily; but it had seemed to him great fun, after doing nothing all day but doze in the shade, to keep a child in custody, and hear her cries for help.
"What made you come here, Emily?" said Mrs. Rowles again.
"Oh, father said Philip and I might come and meet you. And we did not know which way you would come, so Philip went by the road and I came by the fields."
"But how did you get over by the dog's kennel?"
"Oh, he was inside it, and I thought he was asleep. So I just went up to look in at him, and he bounced out and shut me into the corner; and he growled horribly, and would not let me come out."
"Poor child! And all the folks in the hay-field, I suppose, and not a creature within call. I've often told you, Emily, not to go near strange dogs."
"Yes, mother, I know. It was my own fault."
"And if I had not happened to come this way—"
"I must have stayed there till the folks came from the hay-field. I should have pretty near died of fright. Mother, who is that little girl?"
Then Mrs. Rowles remembered her niece.
Juliet had remained within a few paces of the dog, and stood like a statue, looking straight before her, as if she did not wish to see Mrs. Rowles and Emily. Her face was pale now, her mouth set, and her brows knitted with their most sullen expression. Her aspect was anything but attractive.
"Come here, Juliet, my dear," her aunt called out. "Let me thank you and kiss you."
Juliet did not stir.
"I want to thank you and—" Emily, clasped in her mother's arms, could not bring herself to add "kiss you."
"I don't want no thanks and no kisses," said the London child.
"Oh, but you have been so brave and good."
"I'm not a screaming coward like her," said Juliet; "that's all. Are we going to stay here all night?"
Emily whispered to her mother, "Who is she?"
"Your poor cousin from London. You must be very kind to her, poor girl; she is so disagreeable."
Emily looked with a sort of awe at her sullen cousin.
Then Mrs. Rowles set her own child on the ground, and went and put her hand on Juliet's shoulder, saying, "Emily wants to thank you for being so brave. You have a spirit of your own!"
Juliet coloured as if angry at being praised, and said, "It ain't no use to have a spirit when you are stupid and awkward. I tore my sleeve with pulling at that dog."
"Oh, that is nothing; that can be mended. Now we must be getting home, or father will wonder where we are."
They went through the gate at the further side of the farm, and came out into fields. In one of these, but at a little distance, they saw the farmer and all his men and maids busily turning over the hay that it might be well dried by the early sun next morning. Juliet asked no questions, though she was surprised at every step by strange country customs; and it did not cross the minds of Mrs. Rowles and Emily to explain what they themselves knew so well. Indeed, Emily was still trembling from the fright she had undergone, and Mrs. Rowles's thoughts were fully occupied.
They came to a stile over which they climbed, Juliet so awkwardly that she slipped into a ditch among sting-nettles.
"Oh, the horrid things!" she exclaimed; "they've bitten me!"
"It is only nettles," said her aunt; "you've got stung."
"I see the marks of their teeth," persisted Juliet, rubbing the little spots made by the nettles.
Emily would have laughed at her cousin, but that she felt too much depressed by her own adventure.
And then they were on the towing-path, and the great river, all glowing with the reflected gold and red of the sunset sky, was gliding past them on its peaceful way.
"There!" said Mrs. Rowles, "do you know what that is, Juliet?"
"Yes, it is the Thames,"
"No, it ain't; not my Thames."
"Yes, my dear; though you do contradict me, it is the Thames for all that."
"I know the Thames well enough," said Juliet; "it is twice as broad as this. And it is all inky-like; and it has wharves and smoky chimneys and steamboats and masts all over it. This ain't no Thames; I know bettor than that."
"Oh, but, cousin Juliet," Emily put in, "the Thames is young here, and it is old at London. Some day you will get old, and once on a time mother was a little girl like you."
Still unconvinced the London child made no rejoinder.
Mrs. Rowles began to cross to the lock-house by the planks of the lock.
"Come carefully, Juliet, you are not used to this."
Juliet marched across the narrow bridge with firm foot and steady eye. Emily followed nervously.
On the island they found Mr. Rowles; and Philip, who, not meeting his mother on the road from the station, had hurried home again. He and his father stared at Juliet.
"Well, I never!" cried Mr. Rowles. "Whom have we here?"
"Oh, Ned," said his wife soothingly, "it is your own little niece, Juliet Mitchell. I thought you'd like to have her here a bit, seeing as they are none too well off, and she's never been in the real country at all till now."
Rowles whistled doubtfully. He stood there in his shirt sleeves, with his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, and his black straw hat pushed back on his head. His eyes were fixed on his niece's face with a gaze of inquiry, and a sort of dislike seemed to grow up in his heart and in hers.
"Oh, very well," he said, at length. "Where's your box?"
Juliet did not know what he meant.
"Where's your box—your luggage?"
"Haven't got any," said Juliet.
"Then where's your Sunday frock?"
"Haven't got one," said Juliet; "it's at the pawn-shop."
Rowles whistled more fiercely.
"I say, Emma, I'll be bound you found that fellow Mitchell in bed—now, didn't you?"
"Yes, Ned, I did; because—"
"I knew it. And I never knew any good come of lying in bed by day and sitting up at night to do your work, or pretend to do it."
"But that is his business, Ned."
"Then it is a bad business, say I."
"And people must have morning papers. Besides, Thomas is ill."
"And likely to be ill, I should say, sleeping by day and working by night."
Mrs. Rowles drew her husband aside to tell him quietly the condition in which she had found his sister. He was softened by the sad story, but persisted in thinking that all Mitchell's misfortunes arose from the fact that he worked by night and slept by day. "It is going against nature," he said. "Why, the sun shows you what you ought to do. You don't catch the sun staying up after daylight or going down in the morning."
"But the moon and stars are up by night," said Mrs. Rowles laughing.
"The moon's a she; and as for the stars, they are little uns, and children are always contrary."
Mr. Rowles grew good-tempered over his own wit, and at length allowed that Thomas Mitchell's mode of life was a necessary evil, but an evil all the same. Then he said that he had not had any idea that the Mitchells were badly off; he had only been to see them twice since their marriage, when they had appeared to be comfortable. And he had always supposed that money was to be had in London almost for the asking. In fact, he was one of the old-fashioned sort, and never troubled himself about London ways; and he did not think his sister's affairs any concern of his. But if Mary was so badly off, and it was a help to her to get Juliet out of the way, why Juliet might stay as long as she liked. One mouth more would not make much difference. He could not say fairer than that, could he?
Mrs. Rowles was quite content with the fairness of his speech; and she went into the house, brought out from her cupboard some odds and ends for supper, and then lighted the lamp and called in her husband and the children.
"Suppose you say grace, Juliet," said Mr. Rowles. He quite expected to find that she did not know what he meant.
But she spoke the right words clearly and reverently.
When they had nearly finished their supper, Rowles suddenly turned to Juliet, saying, "Your father has his supper along of your breakfast, don't he?"
"Yes," replied Juliet, "when we have a breakfast."
"Don't you always have a breakfast?"
"Most days, when mother has got on with her work."
Rowles turned away.
A cry of "Lock-man! Hie! Lock-man!" sounded on the calm evening air.
Rowles went out, and his voice was heard in conversation with that of another man; then the lifting up of the sluices broke the stillness, and the creaking of the lock-gate as it opened. After that Rowles came in again, laughing scornfully.
"It was the chap that slipped into the water this morning. He is a persevering chap, to be sure. He says he is determined to learn to row, and to swim, and to punt, and to fish. And he went down this afternoon, and now he's gone up, and he is dead-beat already; and how he'll get home he can't tell for the life of him. Why, he knows just as much about boating as Juliet there. I'd like to see him and her double sculling. They'd just be a pair, they would."
Juliet listened to everything but said little, and when she was ordered off to bed she silently followed Emily up to the attic, where Mrs. Rowles had already contrived to make a second little bed on the floor.
After she was in bed Juliet listened for a long while to the roar of the weir, wondering at what she thought must be distant thunder. Then the occasional twitter of a bird, or the soft lowing of a cow, or the splash of a fish leaping in the river, disturbed her from her thoughts and startled her. And once, when all was very dark and very silent, she heard the regular pulse of oars, and the clanking of chains, and the creaking of wood, and subdued voices; and she imagined robbers. But all became quiet again; and at last, at last, her ideas grew confused, and she fell asleep.
ON THE RIVER
HOW wonderful the country seemed to the London child! Everything was strange and beautiful. And though Juliet would not confess how surprised she felt, yet by little looks and words her aunt and cousins knew that she was taking in fresh ideas every minute.
They asked her how she slept. She replied that she could not sleep well because it was so dreadfully quiet; if it had not been for the noise of the "buses" a long way off, and those folks that came home late and creaked their door, she would not have been able to go to sleep at all. "My ears was all stretched like," said Juliet, "and wanted something to work on."
When they told how the distant buses was the roar of the weir, and the late-comers a party of gentlemen managing the lock for themselves, she tried to appear as if she quite understood, but she did not succeed.
"Some of them stay out late and let themselves through at 2 A.M., and some of them get up early and let themselves through at 3 A.M., but it is none of my business to get out of bed for pleasure-boats." Thus said Mr. Rowles.
"Who are they?" asked Juliet.
"Oh, the folks on the river. You'll see plenty of them if you stay here long enough."
Juliet was not much the wiser; she had heard of mermaids, and thought at first that the folks on the river must be of that race of beings. But she waited to see.
Then Mrs. Rowles said that Juliet must make herself useful, and might begin by fetching some water from the well.
Juliet did not know what a well might be; but she took up a jug and went out to the riverside. There was a boat pulled up to the bank on the side of the island away from the towing-path, and as all she thought about was the fact that she was to bring water, she climbed into the boat, over the thwarts, and up to the stern. As she crept along she saw in the shadowed water at the side of the boat a vast number of little fish playing together, and, like any other child, she wanted to catch some of them. She dipped the jug down among them, as she supposed, but alas! instead of winning the minnows she lost the jug! The handle grew slippery when wet, and away it went out of her hand, falling with a crash on a big stone, and lying in fragments on the gravel beneath the water.
Juliet was in consternation. "I say, what a scolding I shall get! Even mother used to scold a little sometimes when I smashed so much crockery. And Aunt Emma—and that dreadful cross Uncle Rowles—!"
The child gasped for breath, but returned indoors where her aunt was putting away the remains of the breakfast.
"Why, Juliet, child, you look scared. Have you fetched the water?"
"No, aunt; 'cause I've broke the jug."
"Broke the jug! What jug?"
"The jug I took to get the water in. As soon as ever I put it in the river it just slipped away and went into pieces."
"Dear, dear! Which jug was it?"
"It was a yellow one with blue flowers on it."
"Oh, that one!" and Mrs. Rowles's face cleared. "If it was only that old one with the broken spout and the cracked handle I really don't care a bit."
"I am always so unlucky with crockery," said Juliet. "I've broke enough in my time to pave Cheapside—jugs and cups and basins."
"Oh, child!" said her aunt, shocked at the exaggeration.
"That's what the people in our house used to say every time I broke anything. I'm always unlucky."
"Well, never mind; this time you've been very clever. That yellow jug was horrid ugly, and being shabby at the spout and the handle, I often wished it would get itself broken instead of the pretty new ones. I'm quite glad you've broken it; I think you were very clever to break that one."
So said the kind aunt, hoping to soothe Juliet's sorrow for her awkwardness and carelessness. This sort of praise was quite new to the child. To be praised instead of reproved for her stupidity, to be met with smiles rather than sighs, was something so uncommon that Juliet almost believed that she really had done a clever and useful deed. After a few minutes she quite believed it, and held up her head, taking credit for her breakage which was so clever and so amusing.
Then Mrs. Rowles called Emily and bade her take Juliet to the well and show her how to draw a bucket of water. A loud scream was heard, and Mrs. Rowles's heart almost ceased beating, so fearful was she that one of the children had fallen into the well. She ran out to the back of the house, and saw the two girls standing together with consternation on their faces. It appeared that Juliet had insisted on lowering the bucket by the windlass, and that, by some awkward mischance, she had let it fall off the hook, and there it lay at the bottom of the well, and there seemed to be no means of getting it back again.
This time Mrs. Rowles could not find any consolation for Juliet on the subject of her stupidity.
"I always do let things drop," said the child, keeping back tears of vexation. "Once I let baby drop, and once I let a loaf drop in the mud that the scavengers had swept to the side of the road. I'm too stupid and awkward for the country. I'd better go back to London where it does not show so much among such a many more awkward people."
Mrs. Rowles put aside all Juliet's remarks, and Emily was anxious to know what kind of things "scavengers" might be, and when Mr. Rowles could be spared from the lock he brought a punting pole, and after a good deal of trouble fished up the bucket. He called Juliet a little idiot; and Philip remarked that girls never could do anything, especially London ones, who are always so conceited and stuck-up.
Poor Juliet felt very unhappy. There was no use in trying to do better; all her relations were joined together against her. Her father and mother had sent her away because she was so stupid, and now her uncle and aunt did not want her. Well, she did not care. She did not ask them to have her on a visit; they must put up with her ways if they chose to have her.
"Juliet," said Mrs. Rowles, "do you know what radishes are?"
"Then will you pull some from the lot that are growing near the pig-sty? I like the white ones best."
Juliet made no answer, but marched out into the garden and presently returned with a bunch of turnips.
"Oh, my dear child, but those are not radishes! You did not find those near the pig-sty."
"I am afraid you did not attend to what I said. I am sorry you have pulled these. Your uncle will be vexed."
"I don't care," said Juliet; "you should not send me on your errands."
These unkind words made Mrs. Rowles feel very sad. Grown people often make children unhappy, and children make grown people unhappy very, very often.
It was quite certain that this sullen girl who would not take the trouble to do better, caused a great deal of annoyance to her relations. But they did not intend to get tired of her until they had given her every chance of correcting some of her faults. On the Sunday they dressed her in some of Emily's good clothes, and they were glad to see that she looked nice in them. She went to church in the morning with her aunt; Philip and Emily were with the Sunday-schools. In the evening Mr. Rowles was able to go to church, having engaged a young man to look after the lock for a couple of hours.
Philip thought himself capable of managing locks and boats and punts and everything else. When they came back from church that evening he, with the two girls, got into the old boat from which Juliet had dropped the poor yellow jug.
"Give us a row, Phil," said Emily.
"All right, here goes'" he replied, and he untied the boat from the post to which she was fastened, and took up the sculls and off they went.
It was a lovely summer evening. Mr. and Mrs. Rowles stood on the bank of their island and watched the young voyagers. Philip was quite used to boating and they had no fears. He hardly needed to pull at all, the stream took them down so quickly. Juliet's ill-humour gave way when all around was so delightful. She saw the clear, rippling water, and the deep green shade under the trees, and the withies waving their tops, and forget-me-nots lying in blue patches under the bank; and larks were trilling overhead, and wagtails dabbling on the shelving gravel tow-path.
"Oh!" she said sighing, "it is beautiful!"
They were now coming up the stream again, and keeping out of the current under the bank of an island. There were some swans lying among the withies and rushes.
"What are those great white birds?" asked Juliet.
"Don't you know swans when you see them?" was Philip's retort.
"No; I don't know almost nothing."
"Well, then, I can tell you that a blow from a swan's wing will break a man's leg, and a peck from a swan's bill would knock out both your eyes. Hie! Swish!"
And Philip pulled the boat as close as he could to the swans, who instantly grew very angry, and stretched out their long necks, hissing loudly, and flapped their great wings on the water.
Emily gave a shriek, and threw herself to the further side of the boat, in terror lest the swans should strike her or peck at her. Her sudden movement sent the boat deep into the water on her side, and Juliet thought they would be upset. But she was not so frightened as to lose her wits. She did not like the swans, but the danger of being drowned was greater than that of being pecked; and to keep the boat steady she leaned over on the side of the birds, while Philip, also alarmed, gave a few strong strokes, and placed them beyond further peril.
"Emily," he said, "how could you be so stupid? Don't you know that you must always sit still in a boat?"
"Yes," she answered, half crying; "but you frightened me so about the swans."
"Girls never can take a bit of fun. And if Juliet had not leaned the other way so as to balance you, we might all have been in the water, and the swans would have got you, and you might never have seen Littlebourne Eyot again."
At this Emily cried outright.
Juliet asked Philip what he meant by an eyot. He told her that an island in the Thames is called an eyot or ait; and he also said that she had more sense than most girls, and if she liked he would teach her how to row, which some women can do almost as well as men.
"I should think I could do it without being taught," said Juliet.
"No, you could not. You would catch crabs, and you would feather in the air, and you would run into the banks, and go aground on the shallows, and be carried over the weirs."
"I should not care," said Juliet. "I could eat the crabs, and make a pillow of the feathers; I am not afraid."
"You have a good deal of pluck for a girl," said Philip; "but don't you get playing with boats, or you will come to grief."
"I sha'n't ask your leave," said Juliet.
"I sha'n't give it," replied Philip with a rough laugh.
And Juliet spoke no more, but knitted her brows fiercely.
When the children landed at the lock, and told of the adventure with the swans, Mrs. Rowles was profuse with praise of Juliet's presence of mind. In fact she was almost too profuse, and wishing to encourage her niece ran the risk of making her conceited. Juliet's brows grew smooth, her eyes brightened, her head rose higher.
"Oh, well," she said aside to Emily, "it is not so difficult to manage a boat if you have your wits about you. When people give way and lose their wits, then it is dangerous, if you like."
Which remarks seemed to Emily extremely sensible, but to Philip, who overheard them, extremely foolish.
During the next week Mrs. Rowles felt that Juliet was improving in temper and conduct; praise was doing the child good she thought. She did not know that it was also doing her harm.
One day a letter and a parcel came for Juliet. The letter was from her mother, full of good news. Mr. Mitchell had gone to work again; she had herself made a summer mantle for one of Miss Sutton's friends, and had been paid four and sixpence for it. Albert had got a rise of a shilling a-week; and baby's cheeks were getting to have quite a colour. Mrs. Mitchell was sure that Juliet was very good and very happy, and making herself useful to her aunt and uncle. And when they could spare her to come back to London she must get a little place, and earn her own living like a woman. If Mrs. Mitchell had any fresh troubles since Juliet left home, she did not mention them in her letter.
Then the parcel—ah! that came from Miss Sutton and some of her friends at the West-end. It contained nice articles of clothing. A pair of strong boots, two pink cotton pinafores, some few other things, and a clean, large-print prayerbook. Juliet's face grew so happy over her letter and her presents that, to Mrs. Rowles surprise, it became quite pretty. This was the first time that she had perceived how the girl's ill-tempered countenance spoilt her really good features.
"Is she like her father or her mother?" Mr. Rowles inquired of his wife. "But there! she can't be like her father—a pasty-faced, drowsy fellow, always sleeping in the daytime, and never getting a bit of sunshine to freshen him up. Not like some of them, camping out and doing their cooking in the open air, and getting burnt as black as gipsies. There they are—at it again!"
And he went out to the lock.
There were two boats waiting to go down. The people in one of them were quite unknown to Rowles, but in the second was that middle-aged man who was so determined to learn to row.
"How are you getting on, sir?" asked Rowles. "Easier work now, ain't it?"
The man seemed unwilling to reply. He had an oar, and with him was a youth in a suit of flannels pulling the other oar, while on the seat sat an elderly gentleman steering.
"Did you find it very hard at first?" said the lad to his colleague.
"Yes, I did, Mr. Leonard; and I don't find it any too easy now."
The old gentleman laughed. "Well, Roberts, take it coolly going down stream, and reserve your energies for coming up. I say, lock-keeper, I am told that you let lodgings; have you any rooms vacant?"
"My missus has two rooms, sir," replied Rowles, as he leaned on the great white wooden handle while the lock was emptying through the sluices of the lower gates. "There is a gentleman who generally comes in August, being an upper-class lawyer and can't leave his work till the best of the summer is over, just like printers who lie in bed all day and work all night."
"Don't say a word against printers," said the old gentleman laughing. "That won't do, will it Leonard?"
"No, father," the youth replied.
"So, as I was saying," Rowles went on, "he comes here every August and September, and letters come by the bushel with Q.C. on them; and young Walker—the postman, you know—would just as soon he staid in London. But before August and after September Mrs. Rowles has a tidy little sitting-room and bed-room, if so be as you know anyone would be likely to take them."
"I was only thinking," said the gentleman, "that the hotel is rather too expensive—"
By this time the boat had floated near to the lower gates.
"Hold her up! hold her up!" cried Rowles, "or I can't open the gates. Not you, sir," he added to the stranger who was sculling the other boat; "but you, I mean, Mr. Robert."
For Rowles had caught the name of the servant who was so persevering on the river.
"All right," returned Roberts; "give Mr. Burnet the ticket, please."
Rowles stooped down and gave the old gentleman the ticket for the lock, and then the two boats passed out into the open stream. The lock-keeper went indoors to ask if dinner was ready.
"Quite ready," was Mrs. Rowles's cheerful reply. "Call the children in, will you, Ned?"
He went out by the backdoor into the garden, and saw how the sky was clouding up from the south-west. "Rain coming; bring on the scarlet-runners and the marrows. Phil-lip! Emil-ly! Jule-liet! Come in to dinner."
Then Philip appeared, hot and tired from digging; and Emily came with some needlework at which she had been stitching in the intervals of watching her brother. The holidays had begun, and they were thoroughly enjoyed by these children.
"And where is Juliet?"
"I don't know," answered Emily.
"Well, you must bring her in. Mother says dinner is quite ready."
"I think she must be in our bed-room," and Emily went upstairs to seek her cousin, and to wash her own dusty little hands.
But Juliet was not in the attic.
"Then she must have gone into the lodgers' rooms," said Mrs. Rowles.
But there was no sign of her in those shut-up rooms; no sign of her anywhere in the house, nor in the garden, nor on the eyot at all, nor on the towing-path as far as could be seen.
"What can have become of her?"
"Well, well," said Mr. Rowles, "never mind; we must eat our dinners without her. She would not miss her share of this cabbage if she knew how tasty and juicy it is."
Mrs. Rowles sat down very unwillingly. If the child was not on the island where could she be? It was very strange.
"She has no idea of time," Mr. Rowles went on, between mouthfuls of the cabbage. "I'm not going to blame her for that; she only takes after her father, who does not know day from night."
They had a dull meal, being more anxious about Juliet than they cared to confess to each other. They thought she might have gone up the towing-path, or down the towing-path, or by the road towards the village, or by the fields towards the station. And at every sound from outside someone went to the door peering out with the hope of seeing the child. But an hour passed, and no Juliet appeared. Then her aunt became seriously anxious, dreading lest some terrible thing should have happened.
"If she had fallen into the lock—" said Mrs. Rowles.
"We should have heard her scream," said Mr. Rowles.
"If she had been kidnapped by gipsies," said Emily; "but then—"
"There are no gipsies about," said Philip.
Mrs. Rowles now began to think that Juliet must have set off to go home. "We have not been kind enough to her, poor child, and she can't bear it any longer."
"Don't talk nonsense," was Rowles's reply, as he obeyed a call to the lock. "We've been too kind; and if Thomas Mitchell had taken to any sensible business that did not keep him up all night, thereby breaking down his health, he would be able to support his family, and there would be no need for us to bother ourselves with such a cross-grained girl as that. Now, Phil, off to your digging again. Yes, gents, I know; how they do keep calling out for one, to be sure!"
Philip went out to the kitchen-garden. Within a few minutes his voice was heard, loudly raised.
"Here! Father! Mother! Emily! Come quick! Just look here!"
All three responded to his call
"Whatever is the matter?"
"Why, look there! The boat is gone!"
"So she is! Well, I never!" and Mr. Rowles stared blankly at the post to which his boat was usually moored. "Someone has made off with the Fairy. That beats everything!"
Mrs. Rowles was wringing her hands. "Oh, dear, dear, dear! This is worse than I expected. She never will come home again safe!"
"No," said the lock-keeper, "them that has took her are not likely to send her back; and if so be as she has drifted down by accident she will be drawn over Banksome Weir and be smashed. I'm glad she is only an old, worn-out thing."
"An old, worn-out thing!" cried Mrs. Rowles, quite wildly. "A poor, dear child of twelve! What are you thinking of?"
"I was thinking of the Fairy. You don't mean, wife—" and he grew more serious—"you don't mean that you think the child was in her?"
"That is what I do think, Ned."
"Well, that is bad."
"And see," cried Phil, "she must have taken the sculls, for they are gone too. I know Juliet thought she could manage a boat; she said so the other day."
Emily was crying. Mr and Mrs. Rowles looked at each other in an agony. They knew pretty well what must happen to Juliet alone in a boat. She would be carried rapidly down stream, and the current would draw the little bark to the weir, and over the weir, and it would be dashed about by the swirling rush of water, capsized, and its occupant thrown out. And nothing more would be seen of poor Juliet but a white, lifeless body carried home.
Oh, it was too sad to think of!
"What can we do? What can we do? What would her own mother do?"
"Hope for the best, Emma," said Mr. Rowles. "If I had another boat I would send Phil down to look for her. Perhaps the next boat that goes through would let him jump into the bows."
"I might run down the towing-path," said Phil. "I can run pretty quick."
"And if you did see her in the Fairy out in mid-stream, how could you get near enough to help her? No; the only chance will be to ask some of them to take you down in their boat. Here they come; both ways."
The lower gate of the lock was open, so that the boat coming up passed through first. Rowles worked the handles as quickly as he could; standing on the bank while the lock filled he asked the two gentlemen in the boat if they had seen anything of a little girl out by herself on the river.
"No," replied one of the young men; "we only started from just below Littlebourne Ferry. I have noticed no little girl in a boat."
"Nor I," added the other gentleman. "And I think I should have noticed such a person, for little girls don't often go out boating alone."
"And an ignorant London child, too," groaned Mr. Rowles. "And many a time I told her never to think of boating by herself; but she is so obstinate and so stupid, there is no knowing what she has done. And if you gentlemen have not met her, she must have got below Littlebourne Ferry, and then she would be very near Banksome Weir, and there is no saying what has become of her."
The two gentlemen looked very grave, but did not offer to turn and go down stream to look for Juliet.
As their boat came out of the lock another was waiting to come in. It contained Mr. Webster, the vicar of Littlebourne, and his wife.
"Beg your pardon, sir," said Rowles as soon as he had closed the gate above them, "would you mind if Philip was to jump into your bows and go down a bit with you? Because there's a girl, my niece in fact, who must have gone off in my little Fairy, and she don't know bow oar from stroke, and if she gets alongside Banksome Weir she'll go over and be drowned."
"Oh, dear me!" said Mr. Webster. "How did the child come to be all alone in a boat?"
"Through being brought up without a grain of sense. What can you expect when the father sleeps all day so that he never can give a word of advice to his children? Now, in with you, Phil; and I shall be glad to see you come back—" he broke off with a cough.
"I will pull as hard as I can," said Mr. Webster. "We must hope that by God's mercy the child will be saved."
Phil dropped from the bank into the boat, and the moment they were out of the lock the boat went flying down the river as fast as the current and the vicar's strong arms could send her.
"She will be very wet when she comes in," said Mrs. Rowles; "it is beginning to rain."
"She'll be pretty wet if she's been in the river," said Mr. Rowles.
His wife heaped up the kitchen fire and put coffee on to boil, and laid some clean garments to get warm, and waited with anxious heart for some news of the missing child.
Emily went up to the attic and looked at the belongings of Juliet, which lay on the table and hung on pegs. Her cousin's real character was better known to Emily than to anyone else at Littlebourne Lock. Juliet was proud and conceited, and thought she could do whatever other people did; then, when her carelessness brought her into accidents and difficulties, she would grow very cross and angry with herself, and when reproved for her faults would say, "I don't care; I'm that stupid and awkward that I can't do anything right." Emily had seen her stamping on the ground at the end of the garden after some unfortunate occurrence, and had heard her sobbing and choking in her bed after some stern words from Mr. Rowles. Emily knew that it was not humility but wounded pride which made Juliet so sullen and dull; and Emily wondered if a girl who did not wish to learn, and would not condescend to be taught, could ever possibly improve.
"And if she is drowned," cried Emily with a burst of tears, "she can never learn anything more on earth! Oh, I do pray to God to let Juliet be saved, and learn, and grow better!"
The sky became dark, distant thunder growled over the hill; would Juliet Mitchell escape the consequences of her disobedience and self-conceit?
FAST as Mr. Webster rowed, it was not fast enough for Philip's anxiety. They both knew that if the Fairy had drifted down to Banksome Weir they would probably be too late to save Juliet from a terrible death. On a single minute might depend the fate of the girl.
Mr. Webster set his teeth and pulled with all his strength; Mrs. Webster was steering, and she kept the boat in mid-stream that it might get the full force of the current. Phil knelt in the bows, keeping the sharpest look-out for any sign of his missing cousin. The damp wind blew down the river and drove them on.
They passed many other boats and two or three barges, but not a sign of the Fairy. They flew along between green banks, between hedges, trees, houses. Sometimes they could see nothing more distant than a hedge, at other times the flat fields stretched back and back, and were lost at the feet of misty gray hills. But not on the river, nor on the banks, nor in the fields, could Philip see Juliet's figure.
"How little even some grown men know about rowing!" was Mr. Webster's remark when he saw a heavy-looking boat with a smaller one tied to its stern coming up the middle of the stream. "It is that old gentleman who, they say, is staying at the hotel with his son, and their man-servant is sculling them up the very stiffest bit of the current."
"Hoorah!" shouted Philip. "All right, Juliet!"
For on the seat beside Mr. Burnet, sheltered by his umbrella, sat the truant girl, while young Leonard was giving Roberts instructions in the art of rowing.
The two boats met and came alongside. Philip was so greatly relieved in mind that he almost felt inclined to cry, while Juliet was silent and ashamed if not sulky.
"This child has given her friends at Littlebourne Lock a terrible fright," said Mr. Webster to Mr. Burnet. "When they discovered that the boat was missing as well as the girl, they quite thought that both must have gone over the weir together."
The vicar had brought his boat close beside Mr. Burnet's, and held the rowlocks of the latter while he asked questions.
"Is she hurt in any way?"
"No, not at all. I think we came upon her just in time."
"Had she got down as far as the weir?"
"Just to the first pier which is marked with the word DANGER."
"Oh, Juliet!" cried Philip with a gasp. "If the Fairy had been drawn to the wrong side of that post—"
Mr. Webster looked so grave, and they were all so impressed with a sense of the great peril she had incurred, that Juliet's pride and coldness were broken down for once, and she sat beside Mr. Burnet weeping silently.
"Well, well," said Mrs. Webster, "she is tired, and I daresay hungry, and you had better get her home as quickly as you can. There is heavy rain coming up, and we must be down at Egham by four o'clock if possible. I am afraid we shall be caught by the storm. Philip Rowles, get into this gentleman's boat, and help to take your cousin home."
"And I will look in one day, little girl, and have a talk with you," said the vicar of Littlebourne as he bent to his work and flew down the river, distancing the storm.
Leonard Burnet now took an oar and Roberts took the other, and they rowed hard against wind and current. Mr. Burnet sheltered Juliet and himself as best he could against the rain, which came in heavy, uncertain dashes. Philip had to sit on the planks at their feet, for the stern seat only held two.
"Do tell me, Juliet, all that has happened to you. Did the Fairy go adrift by accident?"
"No," replied Juliet through her muffled sobs.
"Then how did she get unmoored? I do believe she has lost a scull!" Philip added, trying to examine the poor old boat which was being towed behind them. "I can't make out very well, but I think she has lost a scull and her rudder."
"Yes," said Juliet in a husky voice.
"I don't know what my father will say—" Philip began.
"I know what he will say," interrupted Mr. Burnet. "He will be so overjoyed to see his little niece again safe and sound that he will say not a word about the scull and the rudder."
"He will want to know how it all happened," said Philip; then he added, addressing Juliet, "you will have to tell him every bit about it from beginning to end."
"I can't, I won't," said Juliet faintly.
Philip was all in a fidget to hear a full account of Juliet's adventure, so he said, shaking his head, "Ah, then, I should advise you to tell me the story, and then I can tell it to father, and save you the trouble."
"Yes, Juliet," added Mr. Burnet; "tell us the whole story."
Thus persuaded, the girl poured out the tale of her adventures, which had been pent up in her stubborn heart, as the waters were sometimes pent up in the lock; and then, just as the waters when they escape from the lock pour out and away in a mad foaming rush, so Juliet's thoughts and words poured themselves out in a torrent when once she began to talk.
"I thought—I thought—it was quite easy to manage a boat; and I thought I would just take the Fairy a little way, over to the opposite bank, and get some forget-me-nots and come back again."
"Were you not forbidden to take out the boat?" asked Mr. Burnet.
Juliet hung her head, and then lifting it said, "Yes; but I did not care. I would not be ordered about by them, nor by nobody. So I got into the boat when they were all busy and untied the bit of rope from the post, and then the water made it move away quite quick. And I wanted to sit on the little seat that goes across, and I slipt and caught my shin such a crack against the edge of it, and I went down on my face on the floor; and I should have liked to call out, but I did not want anybody to know that I was gone. And when I did get on the seat and rubbed my shin-bone, which it has got the skin scratched off and sticking to my stocking, there was two great pieces of wood to be put out on each side to push the boat on with."
"The sculls," Philip put in.
"They ain't skulls; they are more like arms, or legs perhaps. They were so heavy, and when I pulled one up from the floor and put the end of it over into the water, I found it was the wrong end, and the spoon part had come into the boat. So I got that one to go right after a fight with it, and the other one went right much sooner; and so when they were right in their sockets the boat was gone out into the middle of the water. And I was frightened, I can tell you."
"I should think so!" said Mr. Burnet.
"Go on," said young Leonard.
"And so I tried to put both the sticks in the water at the same time, but when one went down the other went up, and the one that went down made a great splash, and then got itself so much under the water that it would not come up again for a long time; and so the one that went up seemed to get stuck, and when it came down it made a worse splash than the other one, and the water jumped up and hit me in the face and made my hat all wet. And there was a great black boat as big as Noah's ark going by, and three horses drawing it, and a little chimney in it, and two men, and they called out 'See-saw! see-saw!' and it was awful rude of them."
"And what happened next?"
"Why, I thought I could get along better if I had one oar at a time; and so I took up one and put both hands to it, and dipped it down deep and pulled it hard in the water, and so the other one got loose somehow and slipped away and fell into the water. And there was a boat and people sitting in it on chairs with fishing-rods, and they did so laugh at me; and some men on the bank they laughed too, and called out something, but I don't know what they said. And then the boat went on and on, and I saw some broad white posts like you have at Littlebourne Weir, and the boat went up sideways tight against the posts, and I sat still and waited until somebody come by to help me."
"And were you not frightened?"
"I was that frightened I could not have spoke if it was ever so."
"Well, well, well," said Mr. Burnet, "here you are safe, and very thankful you must be that we came down just in time to save you. Had the boat been carried over the weir you would have been drowned. But when Roberts saw you he knew you were one of the Littlebourne children, and my son felt sure that you were in distress."
As soon as Juliet had told her story she relapsed into silence; the excitement of her rescue was passing off, and the terror of her danger remained. She sat beside Mr. Burnet and heard the rain pattering on his umbrella, and wished she was at the lock and wished she was in London, and wished she was grown-up and doing for herself, and not so stupid and always putting other people out and making things go wrong. Juliet was quite sure that though she had got into trouble with the boat, there were heaps of other things that she would be very clever about.
The rain was pouring down when Mr. Burnet's boat arrived at Littlebourne Lock.
Cries of joy greeted Juliet as soon as her relations saw her. Mr. Rowles was full of gruff thanks to the gentlemen, and begged the whole party to go inside the house until the rain should cease. For there was bright sky beyond the black clouds, and the shower would soon be over. So they all went into the "lodgers' rooms," as Mrs. Rowles called those which she was in the habit of letting, and there they sat together talking.
"I am afraid," said Mrs. Rowles, "that Juliet will never do better until she learns to be guided by the orders and the advice of other people. I used to think that she wanted encouraging and helping on, but I find that she really thinks a great deal of herself, and does not like to be told anything."
"But she must and shall be told!" cried her uncle. "A bit of a girl setting herself up against her elders indeed! If she is to stay in my house she shall obey my orders. Do you hear me, Juliet?"
"Yes," answered Juliet.
"And your aunt's orders."
"Yes, as long as I am in your house."
With these words Juliet burst into a flood of angry tears, and kicked her heels upon the floor in a violent manner.
"You had better go up to your room," said Mrs. Rowles gently.
The girl flung herself away, slamming the door after her.
"A troublesome child," said Mr. Burnet.
"Yes, sir. Poor thing! there are excuses to be made for her. Of late years her father has been a good deal out of work and in bad health; and then living in a close-packed part of London is trying to the temper. And she's a baby beginning to feel her feet, and beginning to feel herself getting on towards a woman. I am very sorry for her, poor child, but I don't know about keeping her with us. You don't want your whole comfort upset."
"And your boat too," said Rowles; "and your scull broken and lost. It's a-clearing up, I do believe," he added, going out to the front of the house, for he never stayed indoors when he could be out. Roberts followed him.
"Where does the child come from?" Mr. Burnet asked of Mrs. Rowles.
She named the street, and added, "Her father is a printer, and that is one thing that makes my husband so set against her."
"Why so?" inquired the gentleman.
"Because he thinks it unhealthy and wicked-like to work by night and sleep by day, as you must when you are on a morning paper like poor Thomas. You see, sir, Rowles has been lock-keeper these seventeen years with eighteen shillings a-week and a house, and his hours from six in the morning to ten at night; so he always gets his money regular and his sleep regular, and he can't see why other men can't do the same."
"We cannot be all of one trade," remarked Mr. Burnet. "And I hope he does not hold that bad opinion of all in the printing business, because I am a printer myself."
"You, sir!" cried Mrs. Rowles, while Emily opened her eyes.
"I don't mean exactly in the same way as that child's father, but I am in the same line. When I was a younger man I used to sit in the office of a newspaper every alternate night to receive the foreign telegrams as they came in. It was rather trying. Ah, Mrs. Rowles, while half the world is asleep in bed the other half is hard at work getting things ready for the sleepers when they waken. Do you know that, my dear?" he finished, as he turned to Emily.
"Yes, sir," replied Emily. "The people in Australia are asleep while the people in England are awake."
The gentleman laughed. "I did not mean that exactly, but you are quite right, my child. Yes, day and night come turn about to most of us. I am taking life easier now as I grow old. Most of my work is over. It is my boy's turn to go on with the task. One wants rest after the heat and burden of the day; and it is a blessed thing when at evening time there is light, and we can think over the mistakes and the mercies of the past, and look forward to the repose and joy of the future."
These words were so serious that Mrs. Rowles did not attempt to reply to them. And presently Mr. Burnet roused himself from his solemn thoughts and said brightly, "There! clear shining after rain. Now, we must say good-bye and go home."
While Mr. Burnet and Mrs. Rowles had been talking, Roberts and the lock-keeper had also been conversing.
"It is my own fault," Rowles said, "and my wife's. One might know that a London girl like that would be sure to get into trouble in the country. Her father's a printer; sits up all night, and naturally never has his head clear for anything."