Quicksilver; or, The Boy With No Skid To His Wheel, by George Manville Fenn.
I don't know where they get titles for books from. The subtitle is "The Boy with no Skid to his Wheel", and that is the only mention of the word "skid" in the entire book. The only "wheel" mentioned is when the boy hero does cartwheels round the drawing-room. And the said boy is referred to as "a globule of quicksilver". So I suppose it is something the author had in his mind before he began the book.
Unlike most of Fenn's books, which involve dire situations with pirates in the China Seas, and other such places, the entire action of this book takes place in a small English village. The local doctor, having retired childless, decides he would like to adopt a boy. Being a Governor of the local Institute for the Poor he goes there and selects a boy who at the age of two had been a foundling, and who is now eleven or twelve.
Everyone is keen to make this work, but there is a big difference in social manners between a boy brought up in an Institute, and the boy the doctor would like to have. So a certain amount of retraining has to take place. Of course this is successful in the end, but there are a lot of blips long the way. Our hero makes friends with a local boy who is definitely "non-U". They run away together in a boat they have nicked for the purpose. For a few days they have various adventures, some enjoyable, but most of them not.
On being brought back our hero is sent to a small private school run by a clergyman, who beats the boy mercilessly, so that he runs away from the school, back to the doctor's, but remains hidden in an out-house. He is found, but becomes very ill, so the whole household is taken to a rented house in the Isle of Wight, where he eventually recovers. At which point it is discovered who his real parents are, and he is "U" after all, so everyone feels good about it.
QUICKSILVER; OR, THE BOY WITH NO SKID TO HIS WHEEL, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
A VERY STRANGE PAIR.
He was very grubby, and all about his dark grey eyes there were the marks made by his dirty fingers where he had rubbed away the tickling tears. The brownish red dust of the Devon lanes had darkened his delicate white skin, and matted his shiny yellow curls.
As to his hands, with their fat little fingers, with every joint showing a pretty dimple, they looked white and clean, but that was due to the fact that he was sitting in a bed of moss by the roadside, where the water came trickling down from the red rocks above, and dabbling and splashing the tiny pool, till the pearly drops hung among his dusty curls, and dotted, as if with jewels, the ragged old blue jersey shirt which seemed to form his only garment.
This did not fit him, in spite of its elasticity, for it was what a dealer would have called "man's size," and the wearer was about two and a half, or at the most three; but the sleeves had been cut so that they only reached his elbows, and the hem torn off the bottom and turned into a belt or sash, which was tied tightly round the little fellow's waist, to keep the jersey from slipping off.
Consequently the plump neck was bare, as were his dirty little legs, with their dimpled, chubby knees.
While he splashed and dabbled the water, the sun flashed upon the drops, some of which jewelled the spreading ferns which drooped over the natural fount, and even reached as high as the delicate leafage of stunted overhanging birch, some of whose twigs kept waving in the soft summer breeze, and sweeping against the boy's curly hair.
When the little fellow splashed the water, and felt it fly into his face, he laughed—burst after burst of silvery, merry laughter; and in the height of his enjoyment he threw back his head, his ruddy lips parted, and two rows of pearly teeth flashed in the bright sunshine.
As dirty a little grub as ever made mud-pies in a gutter; but the water, the ferns, moss, and flowers around were to his little soul the most delightful of toys, and he seemed supremely happy.
After a time he grew tired of splashing the water, and, drawing one little foot into his lap, he pursed up his lips, an intent frown wrinkled his shining forehead, and he began, in the most serio-comic manner, to pick the row of tiny toes, passing a chubby finger between them to get rid of the dust and grit.
All this while the breeze blew, the birch-tree waved, and the flowers nodded, while from out of a clump of ling and rushes there came, at regular intervals, a low roar like the growl of a wild beast.
After a few minutes there was the pad, pad—pad, pad of a horse's hoofs on the dusty road; the rattle of wheels; and a green gig, drawn by a sleepy-looking grey horse, and containing a fat man and a broad woman, came into sight, approached slowly, and would have passed had not the broad woman suddenly laid her hand upon the reins, and checked the grey horse, when the two red-faced farming people opened their mouths, and stared at the child.
"Sakes alive, Izick, look at that!" said the woman in a whisper, while the little fellow went on picking his toes, and the grey horse turned his tail into a live chowry to keep away the flies.
"Well, I am!" said the fat man, wrinkling his face all over as he indulged in a silent laugh. "Why, moother, he's a perfeck picter."
"The pretty, pretty little fellow," said the woman in a genuine motherly tone. "O Izick, how I should like to give him a good wash!"
"Wash! He's happy enough, bless him!" said the man. "Wonder whose he be. Here, what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to give un a kiss, that's what I'm a-going to do," said the woman getting very slowly out of the gig. "He must be a lost child."
"Well," grumbled the man, "we didn't come to market to find lost children."
Then he sat forward, with his arms resting upon his knees, watching his wife as she slowly approached the unconscious child, till she was in the act of stooping over him to lay her fat red hand upon his golden curls, when there was a loud roar as if from some savage beast, and the woman jumped back scared; the horse leaped sidewise; the farmer raised his whip; and the pair of simple-hearted country folks stared at a fierce-looking face which rose out of the bed of ling, its owner having been sleeping face downward, and now glowering at them above his folded arms.
It was not a pleasant countenance, for it was foul without with dirt and more foul within from disease, being covered with ruddy fiery blotch and pimple, and the eyes were of that unnatural hue worn by one who has for years been debased by drink.
"Yah!" roared the man, half-closing his bleared eyes. "Leave the bairn alone."
"O Izick!" gasped the woman.
"Here, none o' that!" cried the farmer fiercely. "Don't you frighten my wife."
"Let the bairn alone," growled the man again.
"How came you by him!" said the woman recovering herself. "I'm sure he can't be your'n."
"Not mine!" growled the man in a hoarse, harsh voice. "You let the bairn be. I'll soon show you about that. Hi! chick!"
The little fellow scrambled to him, and putting his tiny chubby arms about the man's coarse neck, nestled his head upon his shoulder, and turned to gaze at the farmer and his wife.
"Not my bairn!" growled the man; "what d'yer say to that?"
"Lor, Izick, only look," said the woman in a whisper. "My!"
"Well, what are yer starin' at?" growled the man defiantly; "didn't think he were your bairn, did you!"
"Come away, missus," said the farmer; and the woman reluctantly climbed back into the gig.
"It don't seem right, Izick, for him to have such a bairn as that," said the woman, who could not keep her eyes off the child.
"Ah, well! it ar'n't no business of our'n. Go along!"
This was to the horse, who went off directly in a shambling trot, and the gig rattled along the road; but as long as they remained in sight, the farmer's wife stared back at the little fellow, and the rough-looking tramp glared at her from among the heather and ling.
"Must be getting on—must be getting on," he growled to himself; and he kept on muttering in a low tone as he tried to stagger to his feet, but for a time his joints seemed to be so stiff that he could only get to his knees, and he had to set the child down.
Then after quite a struggle, during which he kept on muttering in a strange incoherent manner, he contrived to get upon his feet, and stood holding on by a branch of the birch-tree, while the child stared in his repellent face.
The next minute he staggered into the road and began to walk away, reeling strangely like a drunken man, talking wildly the while; but he seemed to recall the fact that he had left the child behind, and he staggered back to where a block of stone lay by the water-side, and sat down. "Here, chick!" he growled.
His aspect and the tone of his voice were sufficient to frighten the little fellow away, but he did not seem in the least alarmed, and placed his tiny hands in the great gnarled fists extended to him. Then with a swing the man threw the child over his shoulder and on to his back, staggering and nearly overbalancing himself in the act. But he kept his feet, and growled savagely as his little burden uttered a whimpering cry.
"Hold on," he said; and the next minute the pretty bare arms were clinging tightly round his neck, the hands hidden in the man's grizzly tangled beard; and, pig-a-back fashion, he bore him on along the road.
The sun beat down upon the fair curly head; the dust rose, shuffled up by the tramp's uncertain step, while the chats and linnets twittered among the furze, and the larks sang high overhead. This and the heat, combined with the motion, sufficed to lull the tiny fellow to rest, and before long his head drooped sidewise, and he was fast asleep.
But he did not fall. It was as if the natural instinct which enables the young life to maintain its hold upon the old orang-outang was in force here, so that the child clung tightly to the staggering man, who seemed thenceforth oblivious of his existence.
The day passed on: the sun was setting fast, and the tramp continued to stagger on like a drunken man, talking wildly all the time, now babbling of green leaves, now muttering angrily, as if abusing some one near.
Then came the soft evening-time, as he tottered down a long slope towards the houses lying in a hollow, indicating the existence of a goodly town.
And now groups of people were passed, some of whom turned to gaze after the coarse-looking object with disgust, others with wonder; while the more thoughtless indulged in a grin, and made remarks indicating their impressions of where the tramp had been last.
He did not seem to see them, however, but kept on the same incoherent talking in a low growl, and his eyes glared strangely at objects unseen by those he passed.
All at once, though, he paused as he reached the broad marketplace of the town, and said to one of a group of idlers the one word—
"Workus!" said the tramp fiercely.
"Oh! Straight avore you. Zee a big wall zoon as yer get over the bridge."
The man staggered on, and crossed the swift river running through the town, and in due course reached the big wall, in which was a doorway with a bell-pull at the side.
A few minutes later the door had been opened, and a stalwart porter seemed disposed to refuse admission, but his experienced eyes read the applicant's state, and the door closed upon the strangely assorted pair.
THE TRAMP'S LEGACY.
The doctor shook his head as he stood beside a plain bed in a whitewashed ward where the tramp lay muttering fiercely, and the brisk-looking master of the workhouse and a couple of elderly women stood in a group.
"No, Hippetts," said the doctor; "the machinery is all to pieces and beyond repair. No."
Just then there was a loud cry, consequent upon one of the women taking the child from where it had been seated upon the foot of the bed, and carrying it toward the door.
In a moment the sick man sprang up in bed, glaring wildly and stretching out his hands.
"Quick! take the boy away," said the master; but the doctor held up his finger, watching the sick man the while.
Then he whispered a few words to the master, who seemed to give an unwilling consent, and the boy was placed within the tramp's reach.
The man had been trying to say something, but the words would not come. As he touched the child's hand, though, he gave vent to a sigh of satisfaction, and sank back upon the coarse pillow, while the child nestled to his side, sobbing convulsively, but rapidly calming down.
"Against all rule and precedent, doctor," said the master, in an ill-used tone.
"Yes, my dear Mr Hippetts," said the doctor, smiling; "but I order it as a sedative medicine. It will do more good than anything I can give. It will not be for long."
The master nodded.
"Mrs Curdley," continued the doctor, "you will sit up with him."
"Yes, sir," said one of the old women with a curtsey.
"Keep an eye to the child, in case he turns violent; but I don't think he will—I don't think he will."
"And send for you, sir, if he do!"
The little party left the workhouse infirmary, all but Mrs Curdley, who saw to lighting a fire for providing herself with a cup of tea, to comfort her from time to time during her long night-watch, and then all was very still in the whitewashed place.
The child took the bread and butter the old woman gave him, and sat on the bed smiling at her as he ate it hungrily, quite contented now; and the only sounds that broke the silence after a time were the mutterings of the sick man.
But these did not disturb the child, who finished his bread and butter, and drank some sweet tea which the old woman gave him, after which his little head sank sidewise, his eyes closed, and he fell fast asleep on the foot of the bed.
The night was warm, and he needed no coverlet, while from time to time the hard-faced old woman went to look at her patient, giving him a cursory glance, and then stopping at the bedside to gently stroke the child's round cheek with her rough finger, and as the little fellow once broke into a crowing laugh in his sleep, it had a strange effect upon the old nurse, who slowly wiped the corners of her eyes with her apron, and bent down and kissed him.
Hour after hour was chimed and struck by the great clock in the centre of the town; and as midnight passed, the watchful old nurse did her watching in a pleasant dream, in which she thought that she was once more young, and that boy of hers who enlisted, went to India, and was shot in an encounter with one of the hill tribes, was young again, and that she was cutting bread and butter from a new loaf.
It was a very pleasant dream, and lasted a long time, for the six o'clock bell was ringing before she awoke with a start and exclaimed—
"Bless me! must have just closed my eyes. Why, a pretty bairn!" she said softly, as her hard face grew soft. "Sleeping like a top, and— oh!"
She caught the sleeping child from the bed, and hurried out of the place to lay him upon her own bed, where about an hour after he awoke, and cried to go to the tramp.
But there was no tramp there for him to join. The rough man had gone on a long journey, where he could not take the child, who cried bitterly, as if he had lost the only one to whom he could cling, till the old woman returned from a task she had had to fulfil, and with one of her pockets in rather a bulgy state.
Her words and some bread and butter quieted the child, who seemed to like her countenance, or read therein that something which attracts the very young as beauty does those of older growth, and the addition of a little brown sugar, into which he could dip a wet finger from time to time, made them such friends that he made no objection to being washed.
"Yes, sir; went off quite quiet in his sleep," said the old nurse in answer to the doctor's question.
"And the child?"
"Oh, I gave him a good wash, sir, which he needed badly," said the woman volubly.
"Poor little wretch!" muttered the doctor as he went away. "A tramp's child—a waif cast up by the way. Ah, Hippetts, I was right, you see: it was not for long."
DOCTOR GRAYSON'S THEORY.
"I want some more."
"Now, my dear Eddy, I think you have had quite as much as is good for you," said Lady Danby, shaking her fair curls at her son.
"No, I haven't, ma. Pa, may I have some pine-apple!"
"Yes, yes, yes, and make yourself ill. Maria, my dear, I wish you wouldn't have that boy into dessert; one can hardly hear one's-self speak."
"Sweet boy!" muttered Dr Grayson of the Manor House, Coleby, as he glanced at Sir James Danby's hopeful fat-faced son, his mother's idol, before which she worshipped every day.
The doctor glanced across the table at his quiet lady-like daughter, and there was such a curious twinkle in his eye that she turned aside so as to keep her countenance, and began talking to Lady Danby about parish work, the poor, and an entertainment to be given at the workhouse.
Dr Grayson and his daughter were dining at Cedars House that evening, greatly to the doctor's annoyance, for he preferred home.
"But it would be uncivil not to go," said Miss Grayson, who had kept her father's house almost from a child. So they went.
"Well, doctor," said Sir James, who was a comfortable specimen of the easy-going country baronet and magistrate, "you keep to your opinion, and I'll keep to mine."
"I will," said the doctor; "and in two years' time I shall publish my book with the result of my long studies of the question. I say, sir, that a boy's a boy."
"Oh yes, we all agree to that, doctor," said Lady Danby sweetly. "Edgar, my dear, I'm sure you've had enough."
"Pa, mayn't I have half a glass of Madeira!"
"Now, my dear boy, you have had some."
"But that was such a teeny weeny drop, ma. That glass is so thick."
"For goodness' sake, Maria, give him some wine, and keep him quiet," cried Sir James. "Don't you hear that Dr Grayson and I are discussing a point in philosophy!"
"Then you mustn't ask for any more, Eddy dear," said mamma, and she removed the decanter stopper, and began to pour out a very thin thread of wine, when the young monkey gave the bottom of the decanter a tilt, and the glass was nearly filled.
"Eddy, for shame!" said mamma. "What will Miss Grayson think?"
"I don't care," said the boy, seizing the glass, drinking some of the rich wine, and then turning to the thick slice of pine-apple his mother had cut.
The doctor gave his daughter another droll look, but she preserved her calm.
"To continue," said the doctor: "I say a boy's a boy, and I don't care whose he is, or where he came from; he is so much plastic clay, and you can make of him what you please."
"You can't make him a gentleman," said Sir James.
"I beg your pardon."
"And I beg yours. If the boy has not got breed in him—gentle blood— you can never make him a gentleman."
"I beg your pardon," said the doctor again. "I maintain, sir, that it is all a matter of education or training, and that you could make a gentleman's son a labourer, or a labourer's son a gentleman."
"And are you going to put that in your book, doctor?"
"Yes, sir, I am: for it is a fact. I'm sure I'm right."
Sir James laughed.
"And I'm sure you are wrong. Look at my boy, now. You can see in an instant that he has breed in him; but if you look at my coachman's son, you will see that he has no breeding at all."
Crork, crork, crork, crork.
"Oh!" from her ladyship, in quite a scream.
"Good gracious!" cried Sir James; and the doctor and Helen Grayson both started to their feet, while Master Edgar Danby kept on making the most unearthly noises, kicking, gasping, turning black in the face, and rolling his eyes, which threatened to start from their sockets.
"What is it?" cried Sir James.
Crash went a glass. A dessert-plate was knocked off the table, and Master Edgar kept on uttering his hoarse guttural sound of crork, crork, crork!
He was choking, and the result might have been serious as he sat struggling there, with papa on one side, and mamma on the other, holding his hands, had not Dr Grayson come behind him, and given him a tremendous slap on the back which had a beneficial effect, for he ceased making the peculiar noise, and began to wipe his eyes.
"What was it, dear? what was it, my darling?" sobbed Lady Danby.
"A great piece of pine-apple stuck in his throat," said the doctor. "I say, youngster, you should use your teeth."
"Edgar, drink some water," said Sir James sternly.
Master Edgar caught up his wine-glass, and drained it.
"Now, sir, leave the room!" said Sir James.
"Oh, don't, don't be harsh with him, James," said her ladyship pathetically. "The poor boy has suffered enough."
"I say he shall leave the room," cried Sir James in a towering fury; and Master Edgar uttered a howl.
"Really, James, I—"
Here her ladyship had an hysterical fit, and had to be attended to, what time Master Edgar howled loudly till the butler had been summoned and he was led off like a prisoner, while her ladyship grew worse, but under the ministrations of Helen Grayson, suddenly becoming better, drank a glass of water, and wiped her eyes.
"I am so weak," she said unnecessarily, as she rose from the dessert-table and left the room with Helen Grayson, who had hard work once more to keep her countenance, as she encountered her father's eye.
"Spoils him, Grayson," said Sir James, as they settled down to their port. "Noble boy, though, wonderful intellect. I shall make him a statesman."
"Hah!" ejaculated the firm-looking grey-haired doctor, who had taken high honours at his college, practised medicine for some years, and since the death of his wife lived the calm life of a student in the old Manor House of Coleby.
"Now, you couldn't make a statesman of some boys whom you took out of the gutter."
"Oh yes, I could," said the doctor. "Oh yes, sir."
"Ah, well; we will not argue," said Sir James good-humouredly.
"No," said the doctor, "we will not argue."
But they did argue all the same, till they had had their coffee, when they argued again, and then joined the ladies in the drawing-room, where Master Edgar was eating cake, and dropping currants and crumbs between the leaves of a valuable illustrated book, which he turned over with fingers in a terrible state of stick,—the consequence being that he added illustrations—prints of his fingers in brown.
"Have you settled your debate, Dr Grayson!" said Lady Danby, smiling.
"No, madam; I shall have to prove my theory to your husband, and it will take time."
"My dear James, what is the matter!" said her ladyship as a howl arose.
"Pa says I'm to go to bed, ma, and it's only ten; and you promised me I might sit up as long as I liked."
"How can you make such foolish promises, Maria?" said Sir James petulantly. "There, hold your tongue, sir, and you may stay another half-hour."
"But ma said I might stop up as long as I liked," howled Master Edgar.
"Then for goodness' sake stop up all night, sir," said Sir James impatiently; and Master Edgar stayed till the visitors had gone.
"Enjoyed your evening, my dear?" said the doctor.
"Ye-es, papa," said his daughter; "I—"
"Might have enjoyed it more. Really, Helen, it is absurd. That man opposed my theory tooth and nail, and all the time he kept on proving it by indulging that boy. I say you can make what you like of a boy. Now what's he making of that boy?"
"Sir James said he should make him a statesman," said Helen, smiling.
"But he is making him a nuisance instead. Good-night."
"Oh, by the way, my dear, I shall have to prove my theory."
THE CHOICE OF A BOY.
Next morning Dr Grayson took his gold-headed cane, and walked down to the workhouse.
Upon dragging at the bell the porter opened the gate obsequiously, and sent a messenger to tell the master Dr Grayson had called.
"Good morning, Hippetts," said the doctor, who being a Poor-Law Guardian, and a wealthy inhabitant of the place, was received with smiles by the important master.
"Good morning, sir. Called to look round."
"No, Hippetts, no," said the doctor, in the tone and manner of one making an inquiry about some ordinary article of merchandise; "got any boys?"
"Boys, sir; the house swarms with them."
"Ah, well, show me some."
"Show you some, sir?"
"Yes. I want a boy."
"Certainly, sir. This way, sir. About what age, sir!"
"Eleven or twelve—not particular," said the doctor. Then to himself: "About the age of young Danby."
"I see, sir," said the master. "Stout, strong, useful boy for a buttons."
"Nonsense!" said the doctor testily, "I want a boy to adopt."
"Oh!" said the master staring, and wondering whether rich philosophical Dr Grayson was in his right mind.
He led the way along some whitewashed passages, and across a gravel yard, to a long, low building, from which came the well-known humming hum of many voices, among which a kind of chorus could be distinguished, and from time to time the sharp striking of a cane upon a desk, followed by a penetrating "Hush! hush!"
As the master opened the door, a hot puff of stuffy, unpleasantly close air came out, and the noise ceased as if by magic, though there were about three hundred boys in the long, open-roofed room.
The doctor cast his eye round and saw a crowd of heads, the schoolmaster, and besides these—whitewash. The walls, the ceiling, the beams were all whitewashed. The floor was hearth-stoned, but it seemed to be whitewashed, and even the boys' faces appeared to have been touched over with a thin solution laid on with the whitewash brush.
Every eye was turned upon the visitor, and the doctor frowned as he looked round at the pallid, wan-looking, inanimate countenances which offered themselves to his view. The boys were not badly fed; they were clean; they were warmly clad; but they looked as if the food they ate did them no good, and was not enjoyed; as if they were too clean; and as if their clothes were not comfortable. Every face seemed to have been squeezed into the same mould, to grow it into one particular make, which was inexpressive, inanimate, and dull, while they all wore the look of being on the high-road to old-manism without having been allowed to stop and play on the way, and be boys.
"Hush! hush!" came from the schoolmaster, and a pin might have been heard to fall.
The boys devoured the doctor with their eyes. He was a stranger. It was something to see, and it was a break in the horrible monotony of their existence. Had they known the object of the visit, a tremendous yell would have arisen, and it would have been formed of two words—"Take me."
It was considered a model workhouse school, too, one of which the guardians were proud. There was no tyranny, no brutality, but there was endless drill and discipline, and not a scrap of that for which every boy's heart naturally yearns;—"Home, sweet home."
No amount of management can make that and deck it with a mother's love; and it must have been the absence of these elements which made the Coleby boys look like three hundred white-faced small old men.
"Now, let me see, sir," said the master; "of course the matter will have to be laid before the Board in the usual form, but you will make your selection now. Good light, sir, to choose."
Mr Hippetts did not mean it unkindly; but he too spoke as if he were busy over some goods he had to sell.
"Let me see. Ah! Coggley, stand out."
Coggley, a very thin boy of thirteen, a little more whitewashy than the rest, stood out, and made a bow as if he were wiping his nose with his right hand, and then curving it out at the doctor.
He was a nice, sad-looking boy, with railways across his forehead, and a pinched-in nose; but he was very thin, and showed his shirt between the top of his trousers and the bottom of his waistcoat, instead of upon his chest, while it was from growth, not vanity, that he showed so much ankle and wrist.
"Very good boy, sir. Had more marks than any one of his age last year."
"Won't do," said the doctor shortly.
"Too thin," said Mr Hippetts to himself. "Bunce!" he shouted.
Bunce stood out, or rather waddled forth, a stoutly-made boy with short legs,—a boy who, if ever he had a chance, would grow fat and round, with eyes like two currants, and a face like a bun.
Bunce made a bow like a scoop upside down.
"Another excellent boy, sir," said Mr Hippetts. "I haven't a fault to find with him. He is now twelve years old, and he—"
"Won't do," said the doctor crossly.
"Go back, Bunce," cried the master. "Pillett, stand out. Now here, sir, is a lad whom I am sure you will like. Writes a hand like copperplate. Age thirteen, and very intelligent."
Pillett came forward eagerly, after darting a triumphant look at Coggley and Bunce. He was a wooden-faced boy, who seemed to have hard brains and a soft head, for his forehead looked nubbly, and there were rounded off corners at the sides.
"Let Dr Grayson hear you say—"
"No, no, Hippetts; this is not an examination," cried the doctor testily. "That is not the sort of boy I want. He must be a bright, intelligent lad, whom I can adopt and take into my house. I shall treat him exactly as if he were my own son, and if he is a good lad, it will be the making of him."
"Oh! I see, sir," said Mr Hippetts importantly. "Go back, Pillett. I have the very boy. Gloog!"
Pillett went back, and furtively held up his fist at triumphant Gloog, who came out panting as if he had just been running fast, and as soon as he had made the regulation bow, he, from old force of habit, wiped his nose on his cuff.
"No, no, no, no," cried the doctor, without giving the lad a second glance, the first at his low, narrow forehead and cunning cast of features being quite enough.
"But this is an admirably behaved boy, sir," protested Mr Hippetts. "Mr Sibery here can speak very highly of his qualifications."
"Oh yes, sir," put in the schoolmaster with a severe smile and a distant bow, for he felt annoyed at not being consulted.
"Yes, yes," said the doctor; "but not my style of boy."
"Might I suggest one, sir!" said Mr Sibery deferentially, as he glanced at the king who reigned over the whole building.
"To be sure," said the doctor. "You try."
Mr Hippetts frowned, and Mr Sibery wished he had not spoken; but the dark look on the master's brow gave place to an air of triumph as the schoolmaster introduced seven boys, one after the other, to all of whom the visitor gave a decided negative.
"Seems a strange thing," he said, "that out of three hundred boys you cannot show one I like."
"But all these are excellent lads, sir," said the master deprecatingly.
"Best of characters."
"Our own training, sir. Mr Sibery has spared no pains, and I have watched over the boys' morals."
"Yes, I dare say. Of course. Here, what boy's that?"
He pointed with his cane to a pair of round blue eyes, quite at the back.
"That, sir—that lame boy!"
"No, no; that young quicksilver customer with the curly poll."
"Oh! that, sir! He wouldn't do," cried the two masters almost in a breath.
"How do you know!" said the doctor tartly.
"Very bad boy indeed, sir, I'm sorry to say," said the schoolmaster.
"Yes, sir; regular young imp; so full of mischief that he corrupts the other boys. Can't say a word in his favour; and, besides, he's too young."
"About eleven, sir."
"Humph! Trot him out."
"Obed Coleby," said the master in a severe voice.
"Yes, sir. Son of a miserable tramp who died some years ago in the House. No name with him, so we called him after the town."
"Humph!" said the doctor, as the little fellow came, full of eagerness and excitement, after kicking at Pillett, who put out a leg to hinder his advance.
The doctor frowned, and gazed sternly at the boy, taking in carefully his handsome, animated face, large blue eyes, curly yellow hair, and open forehead: not that his hair had much opportunity for curling—the workhouse barber stopped that.
The boy's face was as white as those of his companions, but it did not seem depressed and inanimate, for, though it was thin and white, his mouth was rosy and well-curved, and the slightly parted lips showed his pearly white teeth.
"Humph!" said the doctor, as the bright eyes gazed boldly into his.
"Where's your bow, sir?" said the master sternly.
"Oh! I forgot," said the boy quickly; and he made up for his lapse by bowing first with one and then the other hand.
"A sad young pickle," said the master. "Most hopeless case, sir. Constantly being punished."
"Humph! You young rascal!" said the doctor sternly. "How dare you be a naughty boy!"
The little fellow wrinkled his white forehead, and glanced at the schoolmaster, and then at Mr Hippetts, before looking back at the doctor.
"I d'know," he said, in a puzzled way.
"You don't know, sir!"
"No. I'm allus cotching it."
"Say sir, boy," cried the master.
"Allus cotching of it, sir, and it don't do me no good."
"Really, Dr Grayson—"
"Wait a bit, Mr Hippetts," said the doctor more graciously. "Let me question the boy."
"Certainly, sir. But he has a very bad record."
"Humph! Tells the truth, though," said the doctor. "Here, sir, what's your name?"
"Sir!" cried the master.
"Obed Coleby, sir," said the boy quickly, correcting himself.
"What a name!" ejaculated the doctor.
"Yes, ain't it? I hates it, sir."
"Oh! you do?"
"Yes; the boys all make fun of it, and call me Bed, and Go-to-bed, and Old Bedstead, and when they don't do that, they always call me Old Coal bag or Coaly."
"That will do, sir. Don't chatter so," said Mr Sibery reprovingly.
"Please, sir, he asked me," said the boy in protest; and there was a frank, bluff manner in his speech which took with the doctor.
"Humph!" he said. "Would you like to leave this place, and come and live with me!"
The boy puckered up his face, took a step forward, and the master made a movement as if to send him back; but the doctor laid his hand upon his arm, while the boy gazed into his eyes for some moments with wonderfully searching intentness.
"Well?" said the doctor. "Will you?"
The boy's face smoothed; a bright light danced in his eyes; and, as if full of confidence in his own judgment, he said eagerly—
"Yes; come along;" and he held out his hand.
"And leave all your schoolfellows!" said the doctor.
The boy's bright face clouded directly, and he turned to gaze back at the crowd of closely cropped heads.
"He'll be glad enough to go," said the schoolmaster.
"Yes," said Mr Hippetts; "a most ungrateful boy."
The little fellow—stunted of his age—swung sharply round; and they saw that his eyes were brimming over as he looked reproachfully from one to the other.
"I didn't want to be a bad un, sir," he said. "I did try, and—and— and—I'll stop here, please, and—"
He could say no more, for his face was working, and, at last, in shame and agony of spirit, he covered his face with his hands, and let himself drop in a heap on the stone floor, sobbing hysterically.
"Coleby! Stand up, sir!" cried the master sternly.
"Let him be, Mr Hippetts, if you please," said the doctor, with dignity; and he drew in a long breath, and remained for some moments silent, while the whole school stared with wondering eyes, and the two masters exchanged glances.
"Strange boy," said Mr Hippetts.
Then the doctor bent down slowly, and laid his hand upon the lad's shoulder.
The little fellow started up, flinching as if from a blow, but as soon as he saw who had touched him, he rose to his knees, and caught quickly at the doctor's extended hand, while the look in the visitor's eyes had so strange an influence upon him that he continued to gaze wonderingly in the stern but benevolent face.
"I think you'll come with me?" said the doctor.
"Yes, I'd come. But may I?"
"Yes; I think he may, Mr Hippetts?" said the doctor.
"Yes, sir; of course, sir, if you wish it," said the master, with rather an injured air; "but I feel bound to tell you the boy's character."
"Yes; of course."
"And to warn you, sir, that you will bring him back in less than a week."
"No, Mr Hippetts," said the doctor quietly; "I shall not bring him back."
"Well, sir; if you are satisfied I have nothing to say."
"I am satisfied, Mr Hippetts."
"But he is not so old as you said, sir."
"And you wanted a boy of good character."
"Yes; but I recall all I said. That is the boy I want. Can I take him at once?"
"At once, sir!" said the master, as the little fellow, with his face a study, listened eagerly, and looked from one to the other. "I shall have to bring your proposal before the Board."
"That is to say, before me and my colleagues," said the doctor, smiling. "Well, as one of the Guardians, I think I may venture to take the boy now, and the formal business can be settled afterwards."
"Oh yes, sir; of course. And I venture to think, sir, that it will not be necessary to go on with it."
"Why, Mr Hippetts?"
"Because," said the master, with a peculiar smile which was reflected in the schoolmaster's face; "you are sure to bring him back."
"I think I said before I shall not bring him back," replied the doctor coldly.
The master bowed, and Mr Sibery cleared his throat and frowned at the boys.
"Then I think that's all," said the doctor, laying his hand upon the boy's head.
"Do I understand you, sir, to mean that you want to take him now?"
"But his clothes, sir; and he must be—"
"I want to take him directly, Mr Hippetts, with your permission, and he will need nothing more from the Union."
"Very good, sir; and I hope that he will take your kindness to heart. Do you hear, Coleby? And be a very good boy to his benefactor, and—"
"Yes, yes, yes, Mr Hippetts," said the doctor, cutting him short. "I'm sure he will. Now, my man, are you ready?"
"Yes, sir," cried the boy eagerly; "but—"
"Well?" said the doctor kindly.
"I should like to say good-bye to some of the chaps, and I've got something to give 'em."
"Well, sir; I want to give Dick Dean my mouse, and Tommy Robson my nicker, and share all my buttons among the chaps in my dormitory; and then I've six pieces of string and a pair of bones, and a sucker."
"Go and share them, and say good-bye to them all," said the doctor, drawing a breath full of satisfaction; and the boy darted away full of excitement.
"May I say a word to the boys, Mr Sibery?" said the doctor, smiling.
"Will you call for silence?"
The master called, and the doctor asked the lads to give their old schoolfellow a cheer as he was going away.
They responded with a shout that made the windows rattle.
"And now," said the doctor, "I'm going to ask Mr Hippetts to give you all a holiday, and I am leaving threepence a piece to be distributed among you, so that you may have a bit of fun."
Mr Hippetts smiled as he took the money, and the boys cheered again, in the midst of which shouts the doctor moved off with his charge, but only for his protege to break away from him, and run to offer his hand to Mr Sibery, who coughed slightly, and shook hands limply, as if he were conferring a great favour.
The boy then held out his hand to the master, and he also shook hands in a dignified way.
"Shall I send the boy on, sir?" said Mr Hippetts.
"Thanks, no, Hippetts; I'll take him with me."
"Would you like a fly, sir?"
"No, Hippetts; I'm not ashamed for people to see what I do. Come along, my lad."
"Please, sir; mayn't I say good-bye to Mother Curdley?"
"Mother Curdley? Who is she!"
"The woman who had charge of him when he was a tiny fellow."
"Ah! to be sure. Yes, certainly," said the doctor. "He may, of course?"
"Oh! certainly, sir. Run on, boy, and we'll follow."
"No larks," said the boy sharply, as he looked at the doctor.
"No; I shall not run away, my man."
The boy darted down a long whitewashed passage, and the doctor said:—
"I understand you to say that he has no friends whatever!"
"None, sir, as far as we know. Quite a foundling."
"That will do," said the doctor; and while the boy was bidding good-bye to the old woman who had tended the sick tramp, the master led the way to the nursery, where about a dozen children were crawling about and hanging close to a large fire-guard. Others were being nursed on the check aprons of some women, while one particularly sour creature was rocking a monstrous cradle, made like a port-wine basket, with six compartments, in every one of which was an unfortunate babe.
"Which he's a very good affectionate boy, sir," said a woman, coming up with the doctor's choice clinging to her apron; "and good-bye, and good luck, and there, God bless you, my dear!" she said, as she kissed the boy in a true motherly way, he clinging to her as the only being he had felt that he could love.
That burst of genuine affection won Mother Curdley five shillings, which she pocketed with one hand, as she wiped her eyes with the other, and then had a furtive pinch of snuff, which made several babies sneeze as if they had bad colds.
"Very eccentric man," said Mr Hippetts.
"Very," assented Mr Sibery.
"But he'll bring the young ruffian back."
The doctor did not hear, for he was walking defiantly down the main street, waving his gold-headed cane, while the boy clung to his hand, and walked with bent head, crying silently, but fighting hard to keep it back.
The doctor saw it, and pressed the boy's hand kindly.
"Yes," he said to himself; "I'll show old Danby now. The very boy I wanted. Ah," he added aloud; "here we are."
A "REG'LAR" BAD ONE.
Maria, the doctor's maid, opened the door, and as she admitted her master and his charge, her countenance was suggestive of round O's.
Her face was round, and her eyes opened into two round spots, while her mouth became a perfectly circular orifice, as the doctor himself took off the boy's cap, and marched him into the drawing-room, where Helen Grayson was seated.
On his way to the house, and with his young heart swelling at having to part from the only being who had been at all kind to him—for the recollection of the rough tramp had become extremely faint—the boy had had hard work to keep back his tears, but no sooner had he passed the doctor's door than the novelty of all he saw changed the current of his thoughts, and he was full of eagerness and excitement.
The first inkling of this was shown as his eyes lit upon Maria's round face, and it tickled him so that he began to smile.
"Such impidence!" exclaimed Maria. "And a workus boy. My! what's master going to do with him?"
She hurried to the housekeeper's room, where Mrs Millett, who had kept the doctor's house, and attended to the cooking as well, ever since Mrs Grayson's death, was now seated making herself a new cap.
"A workhouse boy, Maria?" she said, letting her work fall upon her knees, and looking over the top of her spectacles.
"Yes; and master's took him into the drawing-room."
"Oh! very well," said Mrs Millett tartly. "Master's master, and he has a right to do what he likes; but if there's anything I can't abear in a house it's a boy in buttons. They're limbs, that's what they are; regular young imps."
"Going to keep a page!" said Maria, whose eyes looked a little less round.
"Why, of course, girl; and it's all stuff."
"Well, I don't know," said Maria thoughtfully. "There's the coal-scuttles to fill, and the door-bell to answer, a deal more than I like."
"Yes," said Mrs Millett, snipping off a piece of ribbon viciously; "I know. That boy to find every time you want 'em done, and a deal less trouble to do 'em yourself. I can't abear boys."
While this conversation was going on in the housekeeper's room, something of a very different kind was in progress in the drawing-room, where the daughter looked up from the letter she was writing, and gazed wonderingly at the boy. For her father pushed the little fellow in before him, and said: "There!" in a satisfied tone, and looked from one to the other.
"Why, papa!" said Helen, after looking pleasantly at the boy.
"Yes, my dear, that's him. There he is. From this hour my experiment begins."
"With this boy?" said Helen.
"Yes, my dear, shake hands with him, and make him at home."
The doctor's sweet lady-like daughter held out her hand to the boy, who was staring about him at everything with wondering delight, till he caught sight of an admirably drawn water-colour portrait of the doctor, the work of Helen herself, duly framed and hung upon the wall.
The boy burst into a hearty laugh, and turned to Helen, running to her now, and putting his hand in hers. "Look there," he cried, pointing with his left hand; "that's the old chap's picture. Ain't it like him!"
The doctor frowned, and Helen looked troubled, even though it was a compliment to her skill; and for a few moments there was a painful silence in the room.
This was however broken by the boy, who lifted Helen's hand up and down, and said in a parrot-like way—
"How do you do?"
Helen's face rippled over with smiles, and the boy's brightened, and he too smiled in a way that made him look frank, handsome, and singularly attractive.
"Oh, I say, you are pretty," he said. "Ten times as pretty as Miss Hippetts on Sundays."
"Hah! yes. Never mind about Miss Hippetts. And look here, my man, Mr Hippetts said that you were anything but a good boy, and your schoolmaster said the same."
"Yes; everybody knows that I am a reg'lar bad boy. The worst boy in the whole school."
Helen Grayson's face contracted.
"Oh, you are, are you!" said the doctor drily.
"Yes, Mr Sibery told everybody so."
"Well, then, now, sir, you will have to be a very good boy."
"All right, sir."
"And behave yourself very nicely."
"But, I say: am I going to stop here, sir?"
"What, in this room?"
"And ain't I to go back to the House to have my crumbs!"
"To have your what?"
"Breakfasses and dinners, sir?"
"No, you will have your meals here."
"But I shall have to go back to sleep along with the other boys?"
"No, you will sleep here; you will live here altogether now."
"What! along of you and her?" cried the boy excitedly.
"Yes, always, unless you go to a good school."
"But live here along o' you, in this beautiful house with this nice lady, and that gal with a round face."
"Yes, of course."
"Ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ri-i-kee!" cried the boy in a shrill, piercing voice; and, to the astonishment of the doctor and his daughter, he made a bound, and then, with wonderful skill and rapidity, began turning the wheel, as it is called, going over and over on hands and feet, completely round the room.
"Here, stop, sir, stop!" cried the doctor, half-angry and half-amused.
"I can do it t'other way too," cried the boy; and, as he had turned before commencing upon his left hand, he began with his right, and completed the circuit of the room in the opposite direction.
"There!" he cried, as he stopped before the doctor and his daughter, flushed and proud. "There isn't a chap in the House can do it as quick as I can. Mr Sibery caught me one day, and didn't I get the cane!"
There was such an air of innocent pride displayed by the boy, that after for the moment feeling annoyed, Helen Grayson sat back in her chair and laughed as much at the boy as at her father's puzzled look, of surprise.
"That's nothing!" cried the boy, as he saw Helen's smiles. "Look here."
He ducked down and placed his head on the hearthrug, his hands on either side in front, and threw his heels in the air, to the great endangerment of the chimney ornaments.
"Get down, sir! get down!" cried the doctor. "I mean, get up."
"It don't hurt," cried the boy, "stand on my head longer than you will for a penny."
"Will you get up, sir!"
The boy let his feet go down into their normal position upon the carpet, and rose up with his handsome young face flushed, and a look of proud delight in his eyes.
"I can walk on my hands ever so far," he shouted boisterously.
"No, no; stop!"
"You look, miss, and see me run like a tomcat."
Before he could be stopped, he was down on all-fours running, with wonderful agility, in and out among the chairs, and over the hearthrug.
"That's what I do to make the boys laugh, when we go to bed. I can go all along the dormitory, and jump from one bed to the other. Where's the dormitory? I'll show you."
"No, no; stop!" cried the doctor, and he caught hold of the boy by the collar. "Confound you, sir: are you full of quicksilver!"
"No. It's skilly," said the boy, "and I ain't full now I'm ever so hungry."
The doctor held him tightly, for he was just off again.
Helen Grayson tried to look serious, but was compelled to hold her handkerchief before her mouth, and hide her face; but her eyes twinkled with mirth, as her father turned towards her, and sat rubbing his stiff grey hair.
The doctor's plan of bringing up a boy chosen from the workhouse had certainly failed, she thought, so far as this lad was concerned; and as the little prisoner stood tightly held, but making all the use he could of his eyes, he said, pointing to a glass shade over a group of wax fruit—
"Is them good to eat!"
"No," said Helen, smiling.
"I say, do you have skilly for breakfast!"
"I do not know what skilly is," replied Helen.
"Then, I'll tell you. It's horrid. They beats up pailfuls of oatmeal in a copper, and ladles it out. But it's better than nothing."
"Ahem!" coughed the doctor, who was thinking deeply.
The boy glanced at him sharply, and then turned again to Helen—
"You mustn't ask for anything to eat at the House if you're ever so hungry."
"Are you hungry?" said Helen.
"Would you like a piece of cake!"
"Piece o' cake? Please. Here, let go."
He shook himself free from the doctor and ran to Helen.
"Sit down on that cushion, and I'll ring for some."
"What, have you got a big bell here? Let me pull it, will you?"
"It is not a big bell, but you may pull it," said Helen, crossing to the fireplace. "There, that will do."
She led the way back to the chair where she had been seated, and in spite of herself felt amused and pleased at the way in which the boy's bright curious eyes examined her, for, outside of his school discipline, the little fellow acted like a small savage, and was as full of eager curiosity.
"I say," he said, "how do you do your hair like that? It is nice."
Just then Maria entered the room.
"Bring up the cake, Maria, and a knife and plate—and—stop—bring a glass of milk."
"Yes, miss," said Maria, staring hard at the boy with anything but favourable eyes.
"I say, do you drink milk?" said the boy.
"Sometimes. This is for you."
"For me? Oh, I say! But you'll put some water to it, won't you!"
"No; you can drink it as it is. No, no! Stop!"
Helen Grayson was too late; in the exuberance of his delight the boy relieved his excited feelings by turning the wheel again round the room, stopping, though, himself, as he reached the place where the doctor's daughter was seated. "Well, why do you look at me like that?"
"I d'know. Feels nice," said the boy. "I say, is that round-face gal your sister?"
"Oh no; she's the servant."
"I'm glad of that," said the boy thoughtfully; "she won't eat that cake, will she!"
Helen compressed her lips to control her mirth, and glanced at her father again, where he sat with his brow knit and lips pursed up thinking out his plans.
Maria entered now with the cake and milk, placing a tray on a little table, and going out to return to the housekeeper, saying—
"Pretty pass things is coming to when servants is expected to wait on workus boys."
In the drawing-room the object of her annoyance was watching, with sparkling eyes, the movements of the knife with which Helen Grayson cut off a goodly wedge of the cake.
"There," she said; "eat that, and sit quite still."
The boy snatched the piece wolfishly, and was lifting it to his mouth, but he stopped suddenly and stretched out his hand—
"Here; you have first bite," he said.
Helen shook her head, but felt pleased.
"No," she said. "It is for you."
"Do," said the boy, fighting hard with the longing to begin.
"No; eat it yourself."
"Would he have a bit if I asked him!" said the boy, torturing himself in his generous impulse.
"No, no. You eat it, my boy."
Once more the cake was within an inch of the bright sparkling teeth, but the bite was not taken. Instead of eating, the boy held out the cake to his hostess.
"Cut it in half, please," he said; "fair halves."
"I'm going to eat one bit; t'other's for Billy Jingle. He's had measles, and been very bad, and he's such a good chap."
"You shall have a piece to send to your schoolfellow," said Helen, with her eyes a little moist now, for the boy's generous spirit was gaining upon her, and she looked at him with more interest than she had displayed a few minutes before.
The boy took a tremendous bite, and began to munch as he sat upon a velvet-covered hassock; but he jumped up directly, and held out the bitten cake again, to say, with his mouth full—
"Oh, do have a bit. It's lovely."
Helen smiled, and laid her hand upon the boy's shoulder, as she shook her head, when to her surprise he caught the soft white hand in his left, gazed hard at it, and then pressed it against his cheek, making a soft purring noise, no bad imitation of a cat.
Then he sat eating and holding the hand which was not taken away, till, as the little stranger munched on in the full enjoyment of the wondrous novelty, the doctor said sharply, "Helen, come here."
The boy stared, but went on eating, and the doctor's daughter crossed the room to where her father sat.
A QUICKSILVER GLOBULE.
"Well, papa?" she said, looking into his face in a half-amused way.
"Well, Helen," said the doctor, taking her hand and drawing her to him; "about this boy?"
"Yes, dear. You have made up your mind to adopt and bring one up," she said, in a low tone which the lad could not hear.
"Yes," said the doctor, taking his tone from her, "to turn the raw material into the polished cultured article."
"But of course you will take this one back, and select another!"
"And pray why!" said the doctor sharply.
"I thought—I thought—" faltered Helen.
"Oh, nonsense! Better for proving my theory."
"Yes, papa, but—"
"A little wild and rough, that's all; boy-like; high-spirited; right stuff in him."
"No doubt, papa; but he is so very rough."
"Then we'll use plenty of sand-paper and make him smooth. Moral sand-paper. Capital boy, my dear. Had a deal of trouble in getting him—by George! the young wolf! He has finished that cake."
"Then you really mean to keep him, papa?" said Helen, glancing at the boy, where he sat diligently picking up a few crumbs and a currant which he had dropped.
"Mean to keep him? Now, my dear Helen, when did you ever know me undertake anything, and not carry it out!"
"Then I am not going to begin now. There is the boy."
"Yes, papa," said Helen rather sadly; "there is the boy."
"I mean to make him a gentleman, and I must ask you to help me with the poor orphan—"
"He is an orphan, then!" said Helen quickly.
"Yes. Son of some miserable tramp who died in the casual ward."
"How dreadful!" said Helen, glancing once more at the boy, who caught her eye, and smiled in a way which made his face light up, and illumined the sallow cheeks and dull white pinched look.
"Dreadful? Couldn't be better for my theory, my dear."
"Very well, papa," said Helen quietly; "I will help you all I can."
"I knew you would, my dear," said the doctor warmly; "and I prophesy that you will be proud of your work, and so shall I. Now, then, to begin," he added loudly.
"All in—all in—all in!" shouted the boy, jumping up like a grasshopper, and preparing to go through some fresh gymnastic feat.
"Ah! ah! Sit down, sir. How dare you!" shouted the doctor; and the boy dropped into his seat again, and sat like a mouse.
"There!" said the doctor softly; "there's obedience. Result of drilling. Now, then, what's the first thing? He must have some clothes."
"Oh yes; at once," said Helen.
"And, look here, my dear," said the doctor testily; "I never use anything of the kind myself, but you girls rub some stuff—pomade or cream—on your hair to make it grow, do you not?"
"Well, yes, papa."
"Then, for goodness' sake, let a double quantity be rubbed at once upon that poor boy's head. Really it is cut so short that he is hardly fit to be seen without a cap on."
"I'm afraid you will have to wait some time," said Helen, with a smile.
"Humph! yes, I suppose so," said the doctor gruffly. "That barber ought to be flogged. Couldn't put the boy in a wig, of course."
"O papa! no."
"Well, I said no," cried the doctor testily. "Must wait, I suppose; but we can make him look decent."
"Are you—are you going—" faltered Helen.
"Going? Going where!"
"Going to have him with us, papa, or to let him be with the servants?" said Helen rather nervously; but she regretted speaking the next moment.
"Now, my dear child, don't be absurd," cried the doctor. "How am I to prove my theory by taking the boy from the lowest station of society and making him, as I shall do, a gentleman, if I let him run wild with the servants!"
"I—I beg your pardon, papa."
"Humph! Granted. Now, what's to be done first? The boy is clean?"
"Can't improve him then, that way; but I want as soon as possible to get rid of that nasty, pasty, low-class pallor. One does not see it in poor people's children, as a rule, while these Union little ones always look sickly to me. You must feed him up, Helen."
"I have begun, papa," she said, smiling.
"Humph! Yes. Clothes. Yes; we must have some clothes, and—oh, by the way, I had forgotten. Here, my boy."
The lad jumped up with alacrity, and came to the doctor's side boldly— looking keenly from one to the other.
"What did you say your name was!"
"Hah!" cried the doctor; "then we'll do away with that at once. Now, what shall we call you!"
"I d'know," said the boy, laughing. "Jack?"
"No, no," said the doctor thoughtfully, while Helen looked on rather amused at her father's intent manner, and the quick bird-like movements of their visitor.
For the boy, after watching the doctor for a few moments, grew tired, and finding himself unnoticed, dropped down on the carpet, took four pebbles from his pocket, laid them on the back of his right hand, and throwing them in the air, caught them separately by as many rapid snatches in the air.
"Do that again," cried the doctor, suddenly becoming interested.
The boy showed his white teeth, threw the stones in the air, and caught them again with the greatest ease.
"That's it, Helen, my dear," cried the doctor triumphantly. "Cleverness of the right hand—dexterity. Capital name."
"Capital name, papa?"
"Yes; Dexter! Good Latin sound. Fresh and uncommon. Dexter—Dex. Look here, sir. No more Obed. You shall be called Dexter."
"All right," said the boy.
"And if you behave yourself well, perhaps we shall shorten it into Dex."
"Dick's better," said the boy sharply.
"No, it is not, sir; Dex."
"Well, Dix, then," said the boy, throwing one stone up high enough to touch the ceiling, and in catching at it over-handed, failing to achieve his object, and striking it instead, so that it flew against the wall with a loud rap.
"Put those stones in your pocket, sir," cried the doctor to the boy, who ran and picked up the one which had fallen, looking rather abashed. "Another inch, and it would have gone through that glass."
"Yes. Wasn't it nigh!" cried the boy.
"Here, stop! Throw them out of that window."
The boy's brow clouded over.
"Let me give them to some one at the school; they're such nice round ones."
"I said, throw them out of the window, sir."
"All right," said the boy quickly; and he threw the pebbles into the garden.
"Now, then; look here, sir—or no," said the doctor less sternly. "Look here, my boy."
The doctor's manner influenced the little fellow directly, and he went up and laid his hand upon his patron's knee, looking brightly from face to face.
"Now, mind this: in future you are to be Dexter."
"All right: Dexter Coleby," said the boy.
"No, no, no, no!" cried the doctor testily. "Dexter Grayson; and don't keep on saying 'All right.'"
The boy stopped short, and rubbed his nose with his cuff.
"Hah! First thing, my dear. Twelve pocket-handkerchiefs, and mark them 'Dexter Grayson.'"
"What? twelve handkerchies for me—all for me?"
"Yes, sir, all for you; and you are to use them. Never let me see you rub your nose with your cuff again."
The boy's mouth opened to say, "All right," but he checked himself.
"That's right!" cried the doctor. "I see you are teachable. You were going to say 'all right.'"
"You told me not to."
"I did; and I'm very pleased to find you did not do it."
"I say, shall I have to clean the knives?"
"No, no, no."
"Nor yet the boots and shoes?"
"No, boy; no."
"I shall have to fetch the water then, shan't I?"
"My good boy, nothing of the kind. You are going to live with us, and you are my adopted son," said the doctor rather pompously, while Helen sighed.
"Which?" queried the boy.
"Which what?" said the doctor.
"Which what you said?"
"I did not say anything, sir."
"Oh my! what a story!" cried the boy, appealing to Helen. "Didn't you hear him say I was to be his something son?"
"Adopted son," said the doctor severely; "and, look here, you must not speak to me in that way."
"All—" Dexter checked himself again, and he only stared.
"Now, you understand," said the doctor, after a few minutes' hesitation; "you are to be here like my son, and you may call me—yes, father, or papa."
"How rum!" said the boy, showing his white teeth with a remarkable want of reverence. "I say," he added, turning to Helen; "what am I to call you!"
Helen turned to her father for instructions, her brow wrinkling from amusement and vexation.
"Helen," said the doctor, in a decided tone. "We must have no half measures, my dear; I mean to carry out my plan in its entirety."
"Very well, papa," said Helen quietly; and then to herself, "It is only for a few days."
"Now, then," said the doctor, "clothes. Ring that bell, Dexter."
The boy ran so eagerly to the bell that he knocked over a light chair, and left it on the floor till he had rung.
"Oh, I say," he exclaimed; "they go over a deal easier than our forms."
"Never mind the forms now, Dexter. I want you to forget all about the old school."
"Forget it?" said the boy, with his white forehead puckering up.
"Yes, and all belonging to it. You are now going to be my son."
"But I shall want to go and see the boys sometimes."
"No, sir; you will not."
"But I must go and see Mother Curdley."
"Humph!" ejaculated the doctor. "Well, we shall see. Perhaps she will be allowed to come and see you."
"Hooray!" cried the boy excitedly; and turning to Helen he obtained possession of her hand. "I say, save her a bit of that cake."
"She shall have some cake, Dexter," said Helen kindly, for she could not help, in spite of her annoyance, again feeling pleased with the boy's remembrance of others.
"And I say," he cried, "when she does come, we'll have a ha'porth o' snuff screwed up in a bit o' paper, and—has he got any gin?"
"Hush, hush!" whispered Helen.
"But she's so fond of a drop," said the boy earnestly.
"And now," said the doctor; "the next thing is clothes. Ah, Maria, send Cribb to ask Mr Bleddan to come here directly."
"Yes, sir," said Maria; and after a glance at the boy she closed the door.
In less than a quarter of an hour Mr Bleddan, the tailor of Coleby, was there; and Dexter stood up feeling tickled and amused at being measured for some new clothes which the tailor said should be ready in a week.
"A week!" said the doctor; "but what am I to do now? The boy can't go like that."
"Ready-made, sir? I've plenty of new and fashionable suits exactly his size."
"Bring some," said the doctor laconically; "and shirts and stockings and boots. Everything he wants. Do you understand!"
Mr Bleddan perfectly understood, and Dexter stood with his eyes sparkling as he heard the list of upper and under garments, boots, caps, everything which the tailor and clothier considered necessary.
The moment the man had gone, Dexter made a dash to recommence his Ixion-like triumphal dance, but this time Helen caught his hand and stopped him.
"No, no, not here," she said quietly; and not in the least abashed, but in the most obedient way, the boy submitted.
"It was because I was so jolly glad: that's all."
"Hah!" said the doctor, smiling. "Now, I like that, Helen. Work with me, and all that roughness will soon pass away."
"I say, will that chap be long?" cried Dexter, running to the window and looking out. "Am I to have all those things for my own self, and may I wear 'em directly?"
"Look here, my lad; you shall have everything that's right and proper for you, if you are a good boy."
"Oh, I'll be a good boy—least I'll try to be. Shall you give me the cane if I ain't?"
"I—er—I don't quite know," said the doctor. "I hope you will not require it."
"Mr Sibery said I did, and he never knew a boy who wanted it worse, but it didn't do me no good at all."
"Well, never mind that now," said the doctor. "You will have to be very good, and never want the cane. You must learn to be a young gentleman."
"Young gentleman?" said Dexter, holding his head on one side like a bird. "One of them who wears black jackets, and turn-down collars, and tall hats, and plays at cricket all day? I shall like that."
"Humph! Something else but play cricket, I hope," said the doctor quietly. "Helen, my dear, I shall begin to make notes at once for my book, so you can take Dexter in hand, and try how he can read."
The doctor brought out a pocket-book and pencil, and Helen, after a moment's thought, went to a glass case, and took down an old gift-book presented to her when she was a little girl.
"Come here, Dexter," she said, "and let me hear you read."
The boy flushed with pleasure.
"Yes," he said. "I should like to read to you. May I kneel down and have the book on your knees!"
"Yes, if you like," said Helen, who felt that the boy was gaining upon her more and more: for, in spite of his coarseness, there was a frank, merry, innocent undercurrent that, she felt, might be brought to the surface, strengthened and utilised to drive the roughness away.
"Read here!" said the boy, opening the book at random. "Oh, here's a picture. What are these girls doing?"
"Leave the pictures till afterwards. Go on reading now."
"Yes; at the beginning of that chapter."
"I shall have to read it all, as there's no other boy here. We always stand up in a class at the House, and one boy reads one bit, and another boy goes on next, and then you're always losing your place, because it's such a long time before it comes round to your turn, and then old Sibery gives you the cane."
"Yes, yes; but go on," said Helen, with a feeling of despair concerning her father's protege.
Dexter began to read in a forced, unnatural voice, with a high-pitched unpleasant twang, and regardless of sense or stops—merely uttering the words one after the other, and making them all of the same value.
At the end of the second line Helen's face was a study. At the end of the fourth the doctor roared out—
"Stop! I cannot stand any more. Saw-sharpening or bag-pipes would be pleasant symphonies in comparison."
At that moment Maria entered.
"Lunch is on the table, if you please, sir."
"Ah, yes, lunch," said the doctor. "Did you put a knife and fork for Master Dexter?"
"For who, sir!" said Maria, staring.
"For Master Dexter here," said the doctor sharply. "Go and put them directly."
Maria ran down to her little pantry, and then attacked Mrs Millett.
"Master's going mad, I think," she said. "Why, he's actually going to have that boy at the table to lunch."
"It's a fact," cried Maria; "and I've come down for more knives and forks."
"And you'd better make haste and get 'em, then," said the housekeeper; "master's master, and he always will have his way."
Maria did make haste, and to her wonder and disgust Dexter was seated at the doctor's table in his workhouse clothes, gazing wonderingly round at everything: the plate, cruets, and sparkling glass taking up so much of his attention that for the moment he forgot the viands.
The sight of a hot leg of lamb, however, when the cover was removed, made him seize his knife and fork, and begin tapping with the handles on either side of his plate.
"Errum!" coughed the doctor. "Put that knife and fork down, Dexter, and wait."
The boy's hands went behind him directly, and there was silence till Maria had left the room, when the doctor began to carve, and turned to Helen—
"May I give you some lamb, my dear?"
"There, I knowed it was lamb," cried Dexter excitedly, "'cause it was so little. We never had no lamb at the House."
"Hush!" said the doctor quietly. "You must not talk like that."
"Nor yet like that, Dexter. Now, then, may I send you some lamb!"
"May I say anything?" said the boy so earnestly that Helen could not contain her mirth, and the boy smiled pleasantly again.
"Of course you may, my boy," said the doctor. "Answer when you are spoken to, and try and be polite."
"Yes, sir, I will; I'll try so hard."
"Then may I send you some lamb!"
"Yes; twice as much as you give her. It does smell nice."
The doctor frowned a little, and then helped the boy pretty liberally.
"Oh, I say! Just look at the gravy," he cried. "Have you got plenty, Miss!"
"Oh yes, Dexter," said Helen. "May I—"
"Don't give it all to me, Mister," cried the boy. "Keep some for yourself. I hate a pig."
"Errum!" coughed the doctor, frowning. "Miss Grayson was going to ask if you would take some vegetables!"
"What? taters? No thankye, we got plenty o' them at the House," cried the boy; and he began cutting and devouring the lamb at a furious rate.
"Gently, gently!" cried the doctor. "You have neither bread nor salt."
"Get's plenty o' them at the House," cried the boy, with his mouth full; "and you'd better look sharp, too. The bell'll ring directly, and we shall have to—no it won't ring here, will it!" he said, looking from one to another.
"No, sir," said the doctor sternly; "and you must not eat like that. Watch how Miss Grayson eats her lunch, and try and imitate her."
The boy gave the doctor a sharp glance, and then, in a very praiseworthy manner, tried to partake of the savoury joint in a decent way.
But it was hard work for him. The well-cooked succulent meat was so toothsome that he longed to get to the end of it; and whenever he was not watching the doctor and his daughter he kept glancing at the dish, wondering whether he would be asked to have any more.
"What's that rum-looking stuff?" he said, as the doctor helped himself from a small tureen.
"Mint sauce, sir. Will you have some?"
"I don't know. Let's taste it."
The little sauce tureen was passed to him, and he raised the silver ladle, but instead of emptying it upon his plate he raised it to his lips, and drank with a loud, unpleasant noise, suggestive of the word soup.
The doctor was going to utter a reproof, but the sight of Helen's mirth checked him, and he laughed heartily as he saw the boy's face full of disgust.
"I don't like that," he said, pushing the tureen away. "It ain't good."
"But you should—"
"Don't correct him now, papa; you will spoil the poor boy's dinner," remonstrated Helen.
"He said it was lunch," said Dexter.
"Your dinner, sir, and our lunch," said the doctor. "There, try and behave as we do at the table, and keep your elbows off the cloth."
Dexter obeyed so quickly that he knocked a glass from the table, and on leaving his seat to pick it up he found that the foot was broken off.
The doctor started, and uttered a sharp ejaculation.
In an instant the boy shrank away into a corner, sobbing wildly.
"I couldn't help it. I couldn't help it, sir. Don't beat me, please. Don't beat me this time. I'll never do so any more."
"Bless my soul!" cried the doctor, jumping up hastily; and the boy uttered a wild cry, full of fear, and would have dashed out of the open window into the garden had not Helen caught him, the tears in her eyes, and her heart moved to pity as she read the boy's agony of spirit. In fact that one cry for mercy had done more for Dexter's future at the doctor's than a month's attempts at orderly conduct.
"Hush, hush!" said Helen gently, as she took his hands; and, with a look of horror in his eyes, the boy clung to her.
"I don't mind the cane sometimes," he whispered, "but don't let him beat me very much."
"Nonsense! nonsense!" said the doctor rather huskily. "I was not going to beat you."
"Please, sir, you looked as if you was," sobbed the boy.
"I only looked a little cross, because you were clumsy and broke that glass. But it was an accident."
"Yes, it was; it was," cried the boy, in a voice full of pleading, for the breakage had brought up the memory of an ugly day in his young career. "I wouldn't ha' done it, was it ever so; it's true as goodness I wouldn't."
"No, no, Maria, not yet," cried Helen hastily, as the door was opened. "We will ring."
Maria walked out again, and the boy clung to Helen as he sobbed.
"There, there," she said. "Papa is not cross. You broke the glass, and you have apologised. Come: sit down again."
If some one had told Helen Grayson two hours before that she would have done such a thing, she would have smiled incredulously, but somehow she felt moved to pity just then, and leading the boy back to his chair, she bent down and kissed his forehead.
In a moment Dexter's arms were about her neck, and he was clinging to her with passionate energy, sobbing now wildly, while the doctor got up and walked to the window for a few moments.
"There, there," said Helen gently, as she pressed the boy down into his seat, and kissed him once again, after seeing that her father's back was turned. "That's all over now. Come, papa."
The doctor came back, and as he was passing the back of the boy's chair, he raised his hand quickly, intending to pat him on the head.
The boy flinched like a frightened animal anticipating a blow.
"Why, bless my soul, Dexter! this will not do," he said huskily. "Here, give me your hand. There, there, my dear boy, you and I are to be the best of friends. Why, my dear Helen," he added in French, "they must have been terribly severe, for the little fellow to shrink like this."
The boy still sobbed as he laid his hand in the doctor's, and then the meal was resumed; but Dexter's appetite was gone. He could not finish the lamb, and it was only with difficulty that he managed a little rhubarb tart and custard.
"Why, what are you thinking about, Dexter!" said Helen after the lunch; and somehow her tone of voice seemed to indicate that she had forgotten all about the workhouse clothes.
"Will he send me back to the House?" the boy whispered hoarsely, but the doctor heard.
"No, no," he said quickly; and the boy seemed relieved.
That night about eleven, as she went up to bed, Helen Grayson went softly into a little white bedroom, where the boy's pale face lay in the full moonlight, and something sparkled.
"Poor child!" she said, in a voice full of pity; "he has been crying."
She was quite right, and as she bent over him, her presence must have influenced his dreams, for he uttered a low, soft sigh, and then smiled, while, forgetting everything now but the fact that this poor little waif of humanity had been stranded, as it were, at their home, she bent over him and kissed him.
Then she started, for she became aware of the fact that her father was at the door.
The next moment she was in his arms.
"Bless you, my darling!" he said. "This is like you. I took this up as a whim as well as a stubborn belief; but somehow that poor little ignorant fellow, with his rough ways, seems to be rousing warmer feelings towards him, and, please God, we'll make a man of him of whom we shall not be ashamed."
Poor Dexter had cried himself to sleep, feeling in his ignorant fashion that he had disgraced himself, and that the two harsh rulers were quite right,—that he was as bad as ever he could be; but circumstances were running in a way he little thought.
TAMING THE WILD.
"Ah!" said the doctor, laying down his pen and rubbing his hands. "That's better;" and he took off his spectacles, made his grey hair stand up all over his head like tongues of silver fire, and looked Dexter over from top to toe.
Thanks to Helen's supervision, the boy looked very creditable. His hair was of course "cut almost to the bone," and his face had still the Union look—pale and saddened, but he was dressed in a neat suit which fitted him, and his turn-down collar and black tie seemed to give his well-cut features quite a different air.
"What did I say, Helen!" said the doctor, with a chuckle. "You see what we have done already. Well, sir, how do you feel now!"
"Not very jolly," said the boy, with a writhe.
"Hem!" coughed the doctor; "not very comfortable you mean!"
"Yes, that's it," said Dexter. "Boots hurts my feet, and when the trousers ain't rubbin' the skin o' my legs, this here collar feels as if it would saw my head off."
"Humph!" ejaculated the doctor stiffly. "You had better put on the old things again."
"Eh? No, thankye," cried Dexter eagerly. "I like these here ever so much. Please may I keep 'em!"
"Of course," said the doctor; "and take care of them, like a good boy."
"Yes. I'm going to be a very good boy now, sir. She says I am to."
He nodded his head in the direction of Helen, and stood upon one leg to ease the foot which the shoe pinched.
"That's right, but don't say she. You must look upon Miss Grayson now as if she were your sister."
"Yes, that I will," said the boy warmly.
Helen flushed a little at her father's words, and a serious look came into her sweet face; but at that moment she felt Dexter steal his hand into hers, and then it was lifted and held against the boy's cheek, as, in feline fashion, he rubbed his face against it, and a smile came into her eyes again, as she laid the hand at liberty upon the closely cropped head.
"I say, ain't she pretty, and don't she look nice?" said Dexter suddenly; and his free and easy way made the doctor frown: but he looked at the boy's appearance, and in the belief that he would soon change the manners to match, he nodded, and said, "Yes."
Helen looked at her father, as if asking him what next, but the doctor joined his finger-tips and frowned, as if thinking deeply.
"Dexter and I have been filling his drawers with his new clothes and linen," she said.
"Yes; such a lot of things," cried the boy; "and is that always to be my bedroom?"
"Yes; that's to be your room," said the doctor.
"And I've got three pairs of boots. I mean two pairs of boots, and one pair of shoes," cried Dexter. "One pair on, and two in the bedroom; and I shall get up at six o'clock every morning, and clean 'em, and I'll clean yours too."
"Hem!" coughed the doctor. "No, my boy, your boots will be cleaned for you, and you will not have to dirty your hands now."
The boy stared wonderingly, as the doctor enunciated a matter which was beyond his grasp. But all the time his eyes were as busy as those of a monkey, and wandering all over the study, and taking in everything he saw.
"May I leave Dexter with you now!" said Helen, "as I have a few little matters to see to."
"Yes, yes; of course, my dear. We are beginning capitally. Dexter, my boy; you can sit down on that chair, and amuse yourself with a book, while I go on writing."
The boy looked at the chair, then at the doctor, and then at Helen.
"I say, mayn't I go with you?" he said.
"Not now, Dexter, I am going to be very busy. By and by I will take you for a walk."
Helen nodded, and left the room.
"You'll find some books on that shelf," said the doctor kindly; and he turned once more to his writing, while Dexter went to the bookcase, and, after taking down one or two works, found a large quarto containing pictures.
He returned to the chair the doctor had pointed out, opened the book upon his knees, turned over a few leaves, and then raised his eyes to have a good long wondering stare at the doctor, as he sat frowning there very severely, and in the midst of a great deal of deep thought put down a sentence now and again.
Dexter's eyes wandered from the doctor to a dark-looking bust upon the top of a book-shelf. From thence to a brown bust on the opposite shelf, at which he laughed, for though it was meant for Cicero, it put him greatly in mind of Mr Sibery, and he then fell a-wondering what the boys were doing at the workhouse school.
Just then the black marble timepiece on the shelf chimed four quarters, and struck eleven.
"No matter what may be the descent," wrote the doctor, "the human frame is composed of the same element."
"I say," cried Dexter loudly.
"Eh? Yes?" said the doctor, looking up.
"What time are you going to have dinner!"
"Dinner? One o'clock, sir. Why, it's not long since you had breakfast."
"Seems a long time."
"Go on looking at your book."
Dexter obeyed, and the doctor went on writing, and became very interested in his work.
So did not the boy, who yawned, fidgeted in his seat, rubbed his neck impatiently, and then bent down and tried to ease his boot, which evidently caused him pain.
There was a pause during which Dexter closed the book and fidgeted about; now one leg went out, now the other. Then his arms moved about as if so full of life and energy that they must keep on the jerk.
There was another yawn, but the doctor did not hear it, he was too much intent upon the chapter he was writing. Then a happy thought occurred to Dexter, and he raised the heavy quarto book he had upon his knees, placed it upon his head, and balanced it horizontally.
That was too easy, there was no fun or excitement in the feat, so he placed it edgewise.
That was better, but very easy—both topwise and bottomwise. Harder when tried with the front edges upon his crown, for the big book demonstrated a desire to open.
But he dodged that, and felt happier.
He glanced at the doctor, and smiled at his profile, for in his intentness the writer's thick bottom lip protruded far beyond the upper, and seemed to Dexter as if trying to reach the tip of his nose.
What should he do next?
Could he balance that book on its back?
Dexter held it between his hands and cogitated. The back was round, therefore the feat would be more difficult, and all the more enjoyable, but would the book keep shut?
He determined to try.
Up went the book, his hands on either side keeping it close. Then there was a little scheming to get it exactly in equilibrium; this was attained, and as the boy sat there stiff-necked and rigid of spine, with his eyes turned upwards, there was nothing left to do now but to remove his hands.
This he proceeded to do by slow degrees, a finger at a time, till the heavy work was supported only by the left and right forefingers, the rounded back exactly on the highest point of his cranium.
"All right," said Dexter to himself, supremely happy in his success, and with a quick movement he let his hands drop to his lap.
For one solitary moment the great quarto volume remained balanced exactly; then, as a matter of course, it opened all at once.
Flip! flop! bang!
The book had given him two boxes on the sides of the head, and then, consequent upon his sudden effort to save it, made a leap, and came heavily upon the floor.
Dexter's face was scarlet as he dropped upon his knees to pick it up, and found the doctor gazing at him, or, as in his own mind he put it, threatening a similar caning to that which Mr Sibery gave him a year before, when he dropped the big Bible on the schoolroom floor.
"Be careful, my boy, be careful," said the doctor dreamily, for he was half lost in thought. "That damages the bindings. Take a smaller book."
Dexter felt better, and hastily replaced the work on the shelf, taking one of a smaller size, and returning to his seat to bend down and thrust a finger inside his boot.
"How they do hurt!" he thought to himself; and he made a sudden movement.
Then he checked himself.
No; 'twas a pity. They were so new, and looked so nice.
Yes, he would: they hurt so terribly; and, stooping down, he rapidly unlaced the new boots, and pushed them off, smiling with gratification at the relief.
Then he had another good look round for something to amuse himself with, yawned, glanced at the doctor, dropped down on hands and knees, went softly to the other side of the centre table, and began to creep about with the agility of a quadruped or one of the monkey tribe.
This was delightful, and the satisfied look on the boy's face was a study, till happening to raise his eyes, he saw that the doctor had risen, and was leaning over the writing-table, gazing down at him with a countenance full of wonder and astonishment combined.
"What are you doing, sir?" said the doctor sternly. "Have you lost something?"
Dexter might have said, "Yes, a button—a marble;" but he did not; he only rose slowly, and his late quadrupedal aspect was emphasised by a sheepish look.
"Don't do that on the carpet, sir. You'll wear out the knees of your trousers. Why, where are your boots?"
"On that chair, sir," said Dexter confusedly.
"Then put them on again, and get another book."
Dexter put on his boots slowly, laced them up, and then fetched himself another book.
He returned to his seat, yawning, and glanced at the doctor again.
Booz, booz, booz, boom—'m—'m.
A bluebottle had flown in through the open window, bringing with it the suggestion of warm sunshine, fields, gardens, flowers, and the blue sky and waving trees.
"Booz!" said the bluebottle, and it dashed away, leaving a profound silence, broken by the scratching of the doctor's pen.
"I say," cried Dexter excitedly; "is that your garden?"
"Yes, my boy, yes," said the doctor, without looking up from his writing.
"May I go out in it?"
"Certainly, my boy. Yes," said the doctor, without looking up, though there was the quick sound of footsteps, and, with a bound, Dexter was through the open French window, and out upon the lawn.
The doctor did not heed the lapse of time, for he was intent upon his writing, and an hour had passed when the door opened and Helen returned.
"Now I am at liberty, papa," she said; "and—where is Dexter?"
"Eh? The boy? Bless me, I thought he was here!"
The sound of breaking glass, and the doctor leaped to his feet, just as a loud gruff voice sounded—
"Here, you just come down."
"Copestake!" cried the doctor. "Why, what is the matter out there!"
OLD DAN'L IS WROTH.
Mr Grayson's was the best garden for twenty miles round.
The Coleby people said so, and they ought to have known.
But Dan'l Copestake said it was all nonsense. "Might be made a good garden if master wasn't so close," he used to say to everybody. "Wants more money spent on it, and more hands kept. How'm I to keep a place like that to rights with only two—me and a lab'rer, under me, and Peter to do the sweeping?"
Keep it to rights or not, it was to Helen Grayson four acres of delight, and she was to blame for a great deal which offended Dan'l Copestake, the head-gardener.
"Papa," it would be, "did you give orders for that beautiful privet hedge to be cut down!"
"Eh? no, my dear, Copestake said it kept the light off some of those young trees, and I said he might cut it down."
"Oh, do stop him," cried Helen. "It will take years to grow up, and this past year it has been delightful, with its sweet-scented blossom and beautiful black berries."
So it was with scores of things. Helen wanted to see them growing luxuriantly, Dan'l Copestake loved to hash and chop them into miserably cramped "specimints," as he called them, and the doctor got all the blame.
But what a garden! It was full of old-fashioned flowers in great clumps, many of them growing, to Dan'l's disgust, down among the fruit and vegetables.
There were flowering shrubs and beautiful conifers, a great mulberry-tree on the mossy lawn, and a huge red brick wall all round, literally covered with trained trees, which in their seasons were masses of white bloom, or glowing with purple and golden plums, and light red, black, or yellowy pink cherries, and great fat pears, while, facing the south, there were dozens of trees of peaches, nectarines, and downy golden apricots.
As to the apples, they grew by the bushel, almost by the ton; and for strawberries and the other lower fruits there was no such garden near.