Teddy: The story of a Little Pickle
by John Conran Hutcheson ___________ This short book is probably of more interest to ten or eleven year olds, rather than any other age group, for much of the book is taken up with describing sundry very juvenile misdemeanours.
It is well written, but my personal opinion is that it is quite inconsequential.
Still, it was quite amusing to scan it, OCR it, and edit it. N.H. ___________
TEDDY: THE STORY OF A LITTLE PICKLE
BY JOHN CONRAN HUTCHESON.
AN INDEPENDENT YOUNG GENTLEMAN.
"I want do d'an'ma!"
This sudden and unexpected exclamation, uttered as it was in a shrill little voice like that of a piping bullfinch, and coming from nowhere in particular, as far as he could make out, for he had fancied himself all alone on the platform, made the tall railway porter almost jump out of his skin, as he expressed it, startling him out of his seven senses.
He was a stalwart, good-natured, black-bearded giant of a man, clad in a suit of dunduckety-mud-coloured velveteens, rather the worse for wear, and smeary with oil and engine-grease, which gave them a sort of highly- burnished appearance resembling that of a newly-polished black-leaded stove.
Doing nothing, and thinking of nothing specially, for the three-forty up-train had gone through the station, and it was a good hour yet before the five-ten down express was due, he had been lazily leaning in a half- dreamy and almost dozing state against the side of the booking-office.
From this coign of vantage, he was, as well as his blinking eyes would allow, gazing out over the rails at the fast-falling flakes of feathery snow that were quickly covering up the metals and permanent way with a mantle of white; when, all at once, without a "by your leave," or seeing or hearing anyone approach, his attention was summarily brought back to the present by the strange announcement of the shrill little voice, while, at the same time, he felt the clutch of tiny fingers twitching at one of the legs of his shiny velveteen trousers, evidently as a further means of attracting his notice.
The touch made the porter look downwards, when, perceiving that his unknown interlocutor was a small mite barely reaching up to his knees, he became more reassured; and, bending his big body so as to bring his face somewhat on a level with the young person, he proceeded to interrogate him in familiar fashion.
"Well, my little man," he said, desiring to learn how he might be of service, for he was a genial willing fellow, and always anxious to oblige people when he knew how—"what's the matter?"
"I want do d'an'ma!" repeated the small mite in the same piping tones as before, speaking with the utmost assurance and in the most matter-of- fact way.
It seemed as if, having now explicitly notified his wants and wishes, he confidently looked forward, in all the innocent trust of childhood, to their being instantly acted upon and carried out without any demur or hesitation.
Jupp, the porter, was quite flabbergasted by the little chap's sang- froid; so, in order the better to collect his ideas and enable him to judge what was best to be done under the circumstances, he took off his flat-peaked uniform cap with one hand and scratched his head reflectively with the fingers of the other, as is frequently the wont of those possessed of thick skulls and wits that are apt to go wool- gathering.
The operation appeared to have the effect desired; for, after indulging in this species of mental and physical cogitation for a moment or two, Jupp ventured upon asking the mite another question which had brilliantly suggested itself to him as opportune.
"Where is your grandma, sir?" he inquired with more deference than he had used before.
"Don-don," replied the small person nonchalantly, as if the point was quite immaterial, looking the porter calmly and straight in the eyes unflinchingly, without turning a hair as the saying goes.
Jupp had never come across such a self-possessed young mannikin in his life before. Why, he might have been the station-master or traffic- manager, he appeared so much at his ease!
But, he was a little gentleman all the same, Jupp could readily see, in spite of the fact that his costume was not quite suited for travelling, the mite being attired in a very prominent and dirty pinafore, while his chubby face was tear-stained, and he had the look of having come out in a hurry and being perhaps unprepared for the journey he contemplated; although, mind you, he had his luggage with him all right—a small bundle tied up in a large pocket-handkerchief of a bright-red colour, which he held tightly clasped to his little stomach as if afraid of its being taken from him.
Jupp hardly knew off-hand how to deal with the case, it being of a more perplexing nature than had previously come within range of his own personal experience; still, he had his suspicions, and thought it best to entertain the young person in conversation for a bit, until he should be able to find out something about his belongings and where he came from.
"London's a large place, sir," he therefore observed tentatively, by way of drawing the mite out and getting some clue towards his identity.
The little chap, however, was quite equal to the occasion.
"Don't tare," he said defiantly, checking the porter's artful attempt at cross-examination. "I want do d'an'ma!"
Certainly, he was a most independent young gentleman.
Jupp was at a nonplus again; however, he tried to temporise with the mite, the more especially from his noticing that his little legs were quite mottled and his tiny fingers blue with cold.
"Well, come in here, sir, at all events, and warm yourself, and then we can talk the matter over comfortably together," he said, throwing open the door of the waiting-room as he spoke, and politely motioning the little chap to enter.
The mite made no reply to the invitation, but he tacitly accepted it by following the porter into the apartment he had indicated, and the two were presently seated before a glowing fire, on which Jupp immediately emptied the scuttleful of coals, there being no stint of the fuel by reason of the company standing all expense.
Thawed by the genial warmth, rendered all the more enjoyable by the wintry scene outside, where the snow was now swirling down faster and faster as the afternoon advanced, the little chap began to get more communicative, egged on by Jupp in a series of apparently innocent questions.
"Nussy bad ooman," he blurted out after a long silence, looking up at Jupp and putting his hand on his knee confidingly.
"Indeed, sir?" said the other cautiously, leading him on.
"Ess, man," continued the mite. "See want take way my kitty."
"You don't mean that, sir!" exclaimed Jupp with well-feigned horror at such unprincipled behaviour on the part of the accused nurse.
"Ess, man, see did," replied the little chap, nodding his small curly head with great importance; but the next instant his little roguish blue eyes twinkled with suppressed intelligence, and his red rosebud of a mouth expanded into a happy smile as he added, with much satisfaction in his tones, "but I dot kitty all wite now!"
"Have you really, sir?" said Jupp, pretending to be much surprised at the information, the little chap evidently expecting him to be so.
"Ess, man," cried the mite with a triumphant shout; "I'se dot po' 'ittle kitty here!"
"Never, sir!" ejaculated Jupp with trembling eagerness, as if his life depended on the solution of the doubt.
The little chap became completely overcome with merriment at having so successfully concealed his treasured secret, as he thought, that the porter had not even guessed it.
"Kitty's in dundle!" he exclaimed gleefully, hugging his handkerchief parcel tighter to his little stomach as he spoke. "I dot kitty here, all wite!"
"You don't mean that, sir—not in that bundle o' yours surely, sir?" repeated Jupp with deep fictitious interest, appearing still not quite convinced on the point and as if wishing to have the difficulty cleared up.
This diplomatic course of procedure on the part of the porter removed any lingering scruples the mite had in respect of his good faith.
"Ess, man. I dot kitty here in dundle all wite," he repeated earnestly in his very impressive little way. "Oo musn't tell nobody and I'll so her to 'oo!"
"I won't breathe a word of it to a soul, sir," protested Jupp as solemnly and gravely as if he were making his last dying deposition; whereupon the mite, quite convinced of the porter's trustworthiness and abandoning all further attempt at concealment, deposited his little bundle tenderly on the floor in front of the fireplace, and began to open it with much deliberation.
The little fellow appeared so very serious about the matter, that Jupp could not help trying to be serious too; but it required the exercise of all the self-command he possessed to refrain from laughing when the motley contents of the red handkerchief were disclosed.
Before the last knot of the bundle was untied by the mite's busy fingers there crawled out a tiny tortoise-shell kitten, with its diminutive little tail erect like a young bottle-brush, which gave vent to a "phiz- phit," as if indignant at its long confinement, and then proceeded to rub itself against Jupp's leg, with a purring mew on recognising a friend.
"So that's kitty," said Jupp, holding the little thing up on his knee and stroking it affectionately, the animal signifying its satisfaction by licking the back of his hand with its furry little red tongue, and straightening its tiny tail again as stiff as a small poker.
"Ess, man. Dat's kitty," murmured the mite, too much occupied undoing the last knots of the bundle to waste time in further speech for the moment, struggling as he was at the job with might and main.
In another second, however, he had accomplished his task; and, lifting up the corners of the red handkerchief, he rolled out the whole stock of his valued possessions on to the floor.
"Dere!" he exclaimed with much complacency, looking up into Jupp's face in expectation of his admiring surprise.
The porter was again forced to act a part, and pretend that he could not guess anything.
"Dear me!" he said; "you have brought a lot of things! Going to take 'em with you to London, sir?"
"Ess. Da'n'ma tate tare of zem."
"No doubt, sir," replied Jupp, who then went on to inspect gingerly the different articles of the collection, which was very varied in character.
They consisted, in addition to the tortoise-shell kitten fore-mentioned, of a musical snuff-box, a toy model of a ship, a small Noah's ark, a half-consumed slice of bread and butter, an apple with a good-sized bite taken out of one side, a thick lump of toffee, and a darkish-brown substance like gingerbread, which close association in the bundle, combined with pressure, had welded together in one almost indistinguishable mass.
"I suppose, sir," observed Jupp inquiringly, picking up all the eatables and putting them together apart on the seat next the little man—"I suppose as how them's your provisions for the journey?"
"Ess. I ate dindin; an', dat's tea."
"Indeed, sir! and very nice things for tea too," said Jupp, beaming with admiration and good-humoured fun.
"I touldn't det any milk, or I'd bought dat too," continued the mite, explaining the absence of all liquid refreshment.
"Ah! that's a pity," rejoined the porter, thinking how well half a pint of milk would have mixed up with the other contents of the bundle; "but, perhaps, sir, the kitty would have lapped it up and there would have been none left. Would you like a cup of tea now, sir? I'm just agoing to have mine; and if you'd jine me, I'd feel that proud you wouldn't know me again!"
"Dank 'oo, I'm so dirsty," lisped the little man in affable acquiescence; and, the next moment, Jupp had spirited out a rough basket from under the seat in the corner, when extracting a tin can with a cork stopper therefrom, he put it on the fire to warm up.
From a brown-paper parcel he also turned out some thick slices of bread that quite put in the shade the half-eaten one belonging to the mite; and as soon as the tea began to simmer in the tin over the coals, he poured out some in a pannikin, and handed it to his small guest.
"Now, sir, we'll have a regular picnic," he said hospitably.
"All wite, dat's jolly!" shouted the other in great glee; and the two were enjoying themselves in the highest camaraderie, when, suddenly, the door of the waiting-room was opened from without, and the face of a buxom young woman peered in.
"My good gracious!" exclaimed the apparition, panting out the words as if suffering from short breath, or from the effects of more rapid exertion than her physique usually permitted. "If there isn't the young imp as comfortably as you please; and me a hunting and a wild-goose chasing on him all over the place! Master Teddy, Master Teddy, you'll be the death of me some day, that you will!"
Jupp jumped up at once, rightly imagining that this lady's unexpected appearance would, as he mentally expressed it, "put a stopper" on the mite's contemplated expedition, and so relieve him of any further personal anxiety on his behalf, he having been puzzling his brains vainly for the last half hour how to discover his whereabouts and get him home to his people again; but, as for the little man himself, he did not seem in the least put out by the interruption of his plans.
"Dat nussy," was all he said, clutching hold of Jupp's trouser leg, as at first, in an appealing way: "Don't 'et her, man, tate away poor kitty!"
"I won't sir, I promise you," whispered Jupp to comfort him; however, before he could say any more, the panting female had drawn nearer from the doorway and come up close to the fireplace, the flickering red light from which made her somewhat rubicund countenance appear all the ruddier.
TELLS ALL ABOUT HIM.
"Pray, don't 'ee be angry wi' him, mum," said Jupp appealingly, as the somewhat flustered female advanced towards the mite, laying hands on his collar with apparently hostile intentions.
"I ain't a going to be angry," she replied a trifle crossly, as perhaps was excusable under the circumstances, carrying out the while, however, what had evidently been her original idea of giving the mite "a good shaking," and thereby causing his small person to oscillate violently to and fro as if he were crossing the Bay of Biscay in a Dutch trawler with a choppy sea running. "I ain't angry to speak of; but he's that tormenting sometimes as to drive a poor creature a'most out of her mind! Didn't I tell 'ee," she continued, turning round abruptly to the object of her wrath and administering an extra shake by way of calling him to attention. "Didn't I tell 'ee as you weren't to go outdoors in all the slop and slush—didn't I tell 'ee now?"
But in answer the mite only harked back to his old refrain.
"I want do d'an'ma," he said with stolid defiance, unmoved alike by his shaking or the nurse's expostulation.
"There, that's jest it," cried she, addressing Jupp the porter again, seeing that he was a fine handsome fellow and well-proportioned out of the corner of her eye without looking at him directly, in that unconscious and highly diplomatic way in which women folk are able to reckon up each other on the sly and take mental stock of mankind. "Ain't he aggravating? It's all that granma of his that spoils him; and I wish she'd never come nigh the place! When Master Teddy doesn't see her he's as good as gold, that he is, the little man!"
She then, with the natural inconsequence and variability of her sex, immediately proceeded to hug and kiss the mite as affectionately as she had been shaking and vituperating him the moment before, he putting up with the new form of treatment as calmly and indifferently as he had received the previous scolding.
"He's a fine little chap," said Jupp affably, conceiving a better opinion of the nurse from her change of manner as well as from noticing, now that her temporary excitement had evaporated, that she was a young and comely woman with a very kindly face. "He told me as how he were going to Lun'non."
"Did he now?" she exclaimed admiringly.
"He's the most owdacious young gen'leman as ever was, I think; for he's capable, young as he is, not long turned four year old, of doin' a'most anything. Look now at all them things of his as he's brought from home!"
"That were his luggage like," observed Jupp, smiling and showing his white teeth, which contrasted well with his black beard, making him appear very nice-looking really, the nurse thought.
"The little rogue!" said she enthusiastically, hugging the mite again with such effusion that Jupp wished he could change places with him, he being unmarried and "an orphan man," as he described himself, "without chick or child to care for him."
"He ought to be a good 'un with you a looking after him," he remarked with a meaning glance, which, although the nurse noticed, she did not pretend to see.
"So he is—sometimes, eh, Master Teddy?" she said, bending down again over the mite to hide a sudden flush which had made her face somehow or other crimson again.
"Ess," replied the hero of the occasion, who, soothed by all these social amenities passing around him, quickly put aside his stolid demeanour and became his little prattling self again.
However, such was his deep foresight that he did not forget to grasp so favourable an opportunity for settling the initial difficulty between himself and nurse in the matter of the kitten, which had led up logically to all that had happened, and so prevent any misunderstanding on the point in future.
"Oo won't tate way kitty?" he asked pleadingly, holding up with both hands the struggling little animal, which Jupp had incontinently dropped from his knee when he rose up, on the door of the waiting-room being suddenly opened and the impromptu picnic organised by the mite and himself brought to an abrupt termination, by the unexpected advent of the nurse on the scene.
"No, Master Teddy, I promise you I won't," she replied emphatically. "You can bathe the poor little brute in the basin and then put it all wet in your bed afterwards, as you did this morning, or anything else you like. Bless you, you can eat it if it so please you, and I shan't interfere!"
"All wite, den; we frens 'dain," lisped the mite, putting up his little rosebud mouth so prettily for a kiss, in token of peace and forgiveness on his part, that the nurse could not help giving him another hug.
This display of affection had unfortunately the same effect on Jupp as before, causing the miserable porter to feel acute pangs of envy; although, by rights, he had no direct interest in the transaction, and was only an outside observer, so to speak!
By way of concealing his feelings, therefore, he turned the conversation.
"And have you come far arter him, miss, if I may make so bold as to ax the question?" he said hesitatingly, being somewhat puzzled in his mind as to whether "miss" or "mum" was the correct form in which to address such a pleasant young woman, who might or might not be a matron for all he could tell.
He evidently hit upon the right thing this time; for, she answered him all the more pleasantly, with a bright smile on her face.
"Why, ever so far!" she exclaimed. "Don't you know that large red brick house t'other side of the village, where Mr Vernon lives—a sort of old-fashioned place, half covered with ivy, and with a big garden?"
"Parson Vernon's, eh?"
"Yes, Master Teddy's his little son."
"Lor', I thought he were a single man, lone and lorn like myself, and didn't have no children," said Jupp.
"That's all you know about it," retorted the nurse. "You must be a stranger in these parts; and, now I come to think on it, I don't believe as I ever saw you here before."
"No, miss, I was only shifted here last week from the Junction, and hardly knows nobody," said Jupp apologetically. "For the rights o' that, I ain't been long in the railway line at all, having sarved ten years o' my time aboard a man-o'-war, and left it thinking I'd like to see what a shore billet was like; and so I got made a porter, miss, my karacter being good on my discharge."
"Dear me, what a pity!" cried the nurse. "I do so love sailors."
"If you'll only say the word, miss, I'll go to sea again to-morrow then!" ejaculated Jupp eagerly.
"Oh no!" laughed the nurse; "why, then I shouldn't see any more of you; but I was telling you about Master Teddy. Parson Vernon, as you call him, has four children in all—three of them girls, and Master Teddy is the only boy and the youngest of the lot."
"And I s'pose he's pretty well sp'ilt?" suggested Jupp.
"You may well say that," replied the other. "He was his mother's pet, and she, poor lady, died last year of consumption, so he's been made all the more of since by his little sisters, and the grandmother when she comes down, as she did at Christmas. You'd hardly believe it, small as he looks he almost rules the house; for his father never interferes, save some terrible row is up and he hears him crying—and he can make a noise when he likes, can Master Teddy!"
"Ess," said the mite at this, thinking his testimony was appealed to, and nodding his head affirmatively.
"And he comed all that way from t'other side o' the village by hisself?" asked Jupp by way of putting a stop to sundry other endearments the fascinating young woman was recklessly lavishing on the little chap. "Why, it's more nor a mile!"
"Aye, that he has. Just look at him," said she, giving the mite another shake, although this time it was of a different description to the one she had first administered.
He certainly was not much to look at in respect of stature, being barely three feet high; but he was a fine little fellow for all that, with good strong, sturdy limbs and a frank, fearless face, which his bright blue eyes and curling locks of brown hair ornamented to the best advantage.
As before mentioned, he had evidently not been prepared for a journey when he made his unexpected appearance at the station, being without a hat on his head and having a slightly soiled pinafore over his other garments; while his little feet were encased in thin house shoes, or slippers, that were ill adapted for walking through the mud and snow.
Now that the slight differences that had arisen between himself and the nurse had been amicably settled, he was in the best of spirits, with his little face puckered in smiles and his blue eyes twinkling with fun as he looked up at the two observing him.
"He is a jolly little chap!" exclaimed Jupp, bending down and lifting him up in his strong arms, the mite the while playfully pulling at his black beard; "and I tell you what, miss, I think he's got a very good nurse to look after him!"
"Do you?" said she, adding a moment afterwards as she caught Jupp's look of admiration, "Ah, that's only what you say now. You didn't think so when I first came in here after him; for you asked me not to beat him— as if I would!"
"Lor', I never dreamt of such a thing!" cried he with much emphasis, the occasion seeming to require it. "I only said that to coax you like, miss. I didn't think as you'd hurt a hair of his head."
"Well, let it be then," replied she, accepting this amende and setting to work gathering together the mite's goods and chattels that were still lying on the floor of the waiting-room—with the exception of the kitten, which he had himself again assumed the proprietorship of and now held tightly in his arms, even as he was clasped by Jupp and elevated above the porter's shoulder. "I must see about taking him home again."
"Shall I carry him for you, miss?" asked Jupp. "The down-train ain't due for near an hour yet, and I dessay I can get my mate to look out for me while I walks with you up the village."
"You are very kind," said she; "but, I hardly like to trouble you?"
"No trouble at all, miss," replied Jupp heartily. "Why, the little gentleman's only a featherweight."
"That's because you're such a fine strong man. I find him heavy enough, I can tell you."
Jupp positively blushed at her implied compliment. "I ain't much to boast of ag'in a delicate young 'ooman as you," he said at last; "but, sartenly, I can carry a little shaver like this; and, besides, look how the snow's a coming down."
"Well, if you will be so good, I'd be obliged to you," interposed the nurse hurriedly as if to stop any further explanations on Jupp's part, he having impulsively stepped nearer to her at that moment.
"All right then!" cried he, his jolly face beaming with delight at the permission to escort her. "Here, Grigson!"
"That's me!" shouted another porter appearing mysteriously from the back of the office, in answer to Jupp's stentorian hail.
"Just look out for the down-train, 'case I ain't back in time. I'm just agoin' to take some luggage for this young woman up to the village."
"Aye, just so," replied the other with a sly wink, which, luckily for himself, perhaps, Jupp did not see, as, holding the mite tenderly in his arms, with his jacket thrown over him to protect him from the snow, he sallied out from the little wayside station in company with the nurse, the latter carrying all Master Teddy's valuables, which she had re- collected and tied up again carefully within the folds of the red pocket-handkerchief bundle wherein their proprietor had originally brought them thither.
Strange to say, the mite did not exhibit the slightest reluctance in returning home, as might have been expected from the interruption of his projected plan of going to London to see his "d'an'ma."
On the contrary, his meeting with Jupp and introduction to him as a new and estimable acquaintance, as well as the settlement of all outstanding grievances between himself and his nurse, appeared to have quite changed his views as to his previously-cherished expedition; so that he was now as content and cheerful as possible, looking anything but like a disappointed truant.
Indeed, he more resembled a successful conqueror making a triumphal entry into his capital than a foiled strategist defeated in the very moment of victory!
"I like oo," he said, pulling at Jupp's black beard in high glee and chuckling out aloud in great delight as they proceeded towards the village, the nurse clinging to the porter's other and unoccupied arm to assist her progress through the snow-covered lane, down which the wind rushed every now and then in sudden scurrying gusts, whirling the white flakes round in the air and blinding the wayfarers as they plodded painfully along.
"I don't know what I should have done without your help," she observed fervently after a long silence between the two, only broken by Master Teddy's shouts of joy when a snow-flake penetrating beneath Jupp's jacket made the kitten sneeze. "I'm sure I should never have got home to master's with the boy!"
"Don't name it," whispered Jupp hoarsely beneath his beard, which the snow had grizzled, lending it a patriarchal air. "I'm only too proud, miss, to be here!" and he somehow or other managed to squeeze her arm closer against his side with his, making the nurse think how nice it was to be tall and strong and manly like the porter!
"They'll be in a rare state about Master Teddy at the vicarage!" she said after they had plodded on another hundred yards, making but slow headway against the drifting snow and boisterous wind. "I made him angry by taking away his kitten, I suppose, and so he determined to make off to his gran'ma; for we missed him soon after the children's dinner. I thought he was in the study with Mr Vernon; but when I came to look he wasn't there, and so we all turned out to search for him. Master made sure we'd find him in the village; but I said I thought he'd gone to the station, far off though it was, and you see I was right!"
"You're a sensible young woman," said Jupp. "I'd have thought the same."
"Go on with your nonsense; get along!" cried she mockingly, in apparent disbelief of Jupp's encomiums, and pretending to wrench her arm out of his so as to give point to her words.
"I'll take my davy, then," he began earnestly; but, ere he could say any more, a voice called out in front of them, amid the eddying flakes:
"Hullo, Mary! Is that you?"
"That's my master," she whispered to Jupp; and then answered aloud, "Yes, sir, and I've found Master Teddy."
"Is Mary your name?" said Jupp to her softly in the interlude, while scrunching footsteps could be heard approaching them, although no one yet could be perceived through the rifts of snow. "I think it the prettiest girl's name in the world!"
"Go 'long!" cried she again; but she sidled up to him and held on to his arm once more as she spoke, the blasts of the storm at the moment being especially boisterous.
"Is that you, Mary?" repeated the voice in front, now much nearer, her answer not having been heard apparently, on account of the wind blowing from the speaker towards them.
"Yes, sir," she screamed out. "I've found Master Teddy, and he's all right."
She was heard this time.
"Thank God!" returned the voice in trembling accents, nearer still; and then a thin, haggard, careworn-looking man in clergyman's dress rushed up to them.
He was quite breathless, and his face pale with emotion.
"Padie! Padie!" exclaimed the mite, raising himself up on Jupp's shoulder and stretching out one of his little hands to the new-comer while the other grasped the kitten. "I'se turn back, I'se turn back to oo!"
"My boy, my little lamb! God be praised for his mercy!" cried the other; and the next instant Teddy was locked in his father's arms in a close embrace, kitten and all.
"Say, Miss Mary," whispered Jupp, taking advantage of the opportunity while Mr Vernon's back was turned.
"What?" she asked, looking up into his face demurely.
"This ought to be passed round."
"Go 'long!" she replied; but, she didn't budge an inch when Jupp put his arm round her, and nobody knows what happened before Mr Vernon had composed himself and turned round again!
AT THE VICARAGE.
Three little girls were flattening their respective little noses against the panes of glass as they stood by one of the low French windows of the old red brick house at the corner of the lane commanding the approach from the village; and three little pairs of eager eyes, now big with expectation, were peering anxiously across the snow-covered lawn through the gathering evening gloom towards the entrance gate beyond—the only gap in the thick and well-nigh impenetrable laurel hedge, some six feet high and evenly cropped all round at the top and square at the sides, which encircled the vicarage garden, shutting it in with a wall of greenery from the curious ken of all passers-by without.
With eager attention the little girls were watching to see who would be the first of the trio to herald the return of the missing Master Teddy and those who had gone forth in search of him; but, really, seekers and sought alike had been so long absent that it seemed as if they were all lost together and never coming back!
The little girls were weary almost of waiting, and being thus kept in suspense with hope deferred.
Besides that, they were overcome with a sense of loneliness and desertion, everyone in the house but old Molly the cook and themselves having started off early in the afternoon in different directions in quest of the truant Teddy; so, as the time flew by and day drew to a close, without a sight or sound in the distance to cheer their drooping spirits, their little hearts grew heavy within them.
Presently, too, their whilom bright eyes got so dimmed with unshed tears which would well up, that they were unable to see clearly had there been anything or anyone for them to see; while their little putty noses, when they removed them occasionally from close contact with the glass, bore a suspiciously red appearance that was not entirely due to previous pressure against the window panes.
Nor were their surroundings of a sufficiently enlivening character to banish the little maidens' despondency, the fire in the drawing-room grate having died out long since from inattention, making them feel cold and comfortless, and it had got so dark within that they could not distinguish the various articles of furniture, even papa's armchair in the chimney-corner; while, outside, in the gloaming, the snow-flakes were falling slowly and steadily from a leaden-hued sky overhead.
The only thing breaking the stillness of the murky air was the melancholy "Chirp, churp! chirp, churp" uttered at intervals by some belated sparrow who had not gone to bed in good time like all sensible bird-folk, and whose plaintive chirp was all the more aggravating from its monotonous repetition.
"I'm sore sumtin d'eadfill's happened," whimpered little Cissy, the youngest of the three watchers, after a long silence between them. "Pa sood have been back hours and hours and hours ago."
"Nonsense, Cissy!" said Miss Conny, her elder sister, who by virtue of her seniority and the fact of her having reached the mature age of ten was rather prone to giving herself certain matronly airs of superiority over the others, which they put up with in all good faith, albeit they were most amusing to outside onlookers. "You are always imagining something terrible is going to befall everybody, instead of hoping for the best! Why don't you learn to look on the bright side of things, child? Every cloud, you know, has its silver lining."
"But not dat one up dere!" retorted Cissy, unconvinced by the proverb, pointing to the sombre pall of vapour that now enveloped the whole sky overhead; when, struck more than ever with the utter dismalness of the scene, she drew out a tiny sort of doll's handkerchief from as tiny a little pocket in her tiny pinafore-apron, and began wiping away the tears from her beady eyes and blowing her little red nose vigorously. "It's all black, and no light nowhere; and I'm sore poor pa and Teddy and all of dem are lost!"
With that, completely overcome by her own forebodings, the little thing all at once broke down, sobbing in such a heart-broken way that it was as much as Conny could do to comfort her; the elder sister drawing her to her side and hugging her affectionately, rocking her small person to and fro the while with a measured rhythm-like movement as if little Cissy were a baby and she her mother, hushing her to sleep!
At this moment, Liz, who occupied the middle step between the two, and was of a much more sedate and equable nature than either of her sisters, suddenly effected a diversion that did more to raise Cissy's spirits than all Conny's whispered consolation and kisses.
"I think I see a black speck moving in the lane," she exclaimed, removing her face a second from the glass to look round at the others as she spoke, and then hastily glueing it to the pane again. "Yes, somebody's coming. There's an arm waving about!"
Conny and Cissy were instantly on the alert; and before Liz had hardly got out the last words they had imitated her example, wedging their little noses once more against the window, looking down the lane, and trying somewhat vainly to pierce the haze obscuring the distance.
"No," said Conny, after a prolonged observation of the object Liz had pointed out; "it's only a branch of the lilac tree blown about by the wind."
A minute later, however, and Liz began to clap her hands triumphantly, although still keeping her face fixed to the window.
"I was right, I was right!" she exclaimed in triumph. "The speck is getting nearer, and, see, there are two more behind."
"I believe you are right," said Conny, after another steady glance down the lane. "There are three people approaching the house, and—"
"Dat's pa in front, I know," shouted out Cissy, interrupting her and clapping her hands like Liz, her whilom sad little face beaming with gladness. "I see him, I see him, and he's dot Teddy in his arms!"
"So he has," said Conny, carried away by the excitement out of her ordinarily staid and decorous demeanour. "Let us all run down and meet him!"
Her suggestion was hailed with a shout of exclamation; and, the next moment, forgetful of the falling flakes and the risk of getting damp feet, which Conny the careful was ever warning the others against, the three had run out into the hall, opened the outside door of the porch, which the wind banged against the side of the passage with a thump that shook the house, and were racing towards the entrance gate over the white expanse of lawn, now quite covered with some six inches of snow.
Just as the little girls reached the gate, all breathless in a batch, it was opened from without, and they were confronted by their father with Master Teddy on his shoulder, still holding the kitten in his arms; while, close behind, followed Jupp taking care of Mary the nurse.
"Oh, papa!" cried Conny, Cissy, and Liz in chorus, hanging on to their father's coat-tails as if afraid he would get away from them again; and so, in a motley procession, Teddy apparently king of the situation and Jupp and Mary still bringing up the rear, they marched into the hall, where Molly the cook, having heard the door bang when the little girls rushed out, was waiting with a light to receive them.
"Take the porter to the kitchen, Molly," said Mr Vernon, "and give him, mind, a good cup of tea for bringing home Master Teddy. But for his kindness we might not perhaps have seen the little truant again—to- night, at all events."
"Lawks a mercy, sir!" ejaculated Molly with open-mouth astonishment, curtseying and smiling: "you doant mean that?"
"Yes, I do," went on Mr Vernon. "Mind you take every care of him, for the porter is a right good fellow."
"Why, sir, I didn't do nothing to speak of, sir," said Jupp, quite abashed at being made so much of. "The young gen'leman commed to me, and in course, seeing as how he were such a little chap and all alone out in the cold, I couldn't do nothing else."
"Never mind that; I'm very much obliged to you, and so are all of us. What you've got to do now is to go with Molly and have a good cup of tea, the same as we are going to have after that long tramp in the snow," said the vicar cordially, shaking hands with Jupp; while Teddy, who was still perched on his father's shoulder, came out with a "tank oo, my dood man," which made everybody laugh.
Jupp hesitatingly attempted to decline the proffered hospitality, murmuring something about being wanted down at the station; but the vicar wouldn't hear of his refusal, the more especially as Mary reminded him that he had asked in her hearing his fellow-porter to look after his work in his absence.
So, presently, in heart nothing loth in spite of his excuses, he was following Molly the cook down the passage into her warm kitchen at the back of the house; while Mr Vernon, opening a door on the opposite side of the hall to the drawing-room, entered the parlour, where fortunately the fire, thanks to Molly's care, had not been allowed to go out, but was dancing merrily in the grate-lighting up the bright-red curtains that were closely drawn across the windows, shutting out the gloomy prospect outside, and throwing flickering shadows against the walls of the apartment as the jets of flame rose and fell.
Nurse Mary at first wanted to march off Master Teddy to bed, on the plea that he must be wet through and tired out with all the exposure he had undergone during his erratic escapade; but the young gentleman protesting indignantly against his removal whilst there was a chance of his sitting up with the rest, and his clothes having been found on examination to be quite dry on the removal of the porter's protecting jacket, he was allowed to remain, seated on the hearth-rug in state, and never once leaving hold of the tabby kitten that had indirectly led to his wandering away from home, with Conny and Liz and little Cissy grouped around him.
Here by the cosy fireside the reunited family had quite a festive little meal together, enlivened by the children's chatter, Miss Conny pouring out the tea with great dignity as her father said laughingly, and Teddy, unchecked by the presence of his nurse, who was too prone to calling him to account for sundry little breaches of etiquette for him to be comfortable when she was close by.
While the happy little party were so engaged, Jupp was being regaled sumptuously in the kitchen with both Molly the cook and Mary to minister to his wants, the latter handmaiden having returned from the parlour after carrying in the tea-tray.
Jupp was in a state of supreme satisfaction ensconced between the two, munching away at the pile of nice hot buttered toast which the cook had expressly made for his delectation, and recounting between the mouthfuls wonderful yarns connected with his seafaring experiences for Mary's edification.
Joe the gardener, who had also come back to the house shortly after the others, with the report that he "couldn't see nothing of Master Teddy nowheres," sat in the chimney-corner, gazing at the porter with envious admiration as he told of his hairbreadth scapes at sea and ashore when serving in the navy. Joe wished that he had been a sailor too, as then perhaps, he thought, the nurse, for whom he had a sneaking sort of regard, might learn to smile and look upon him in the same admiring way, in which, as he could see with half an eye, she regarded the stalwart black-bearded Jupp.
Bye and bye, however, a tinkle of the parlour bell summoning the household to prayers brought the pleasant evening to a close, too soon so far as Jupp was concerned, although Joe the gardener did not regard the interruption with much regret; and while Mary took off the children to bed on the termination of the vicar's heart-felt thanks to the Father above for the preservation of his little son, Mr Vernon wished him good-night, trying to press at the same time a little money present into his hand for his kind care of Teddy.
But this Jupp would not take, declining the douceur with so much natural dignity that the vicar honoured him the more for refusing a reward, for only doing his duty as he said.
Mr Vernon apologised to him for having hurt his feelings by offering it, adding, much to Jupp's delight, that he would always be pleased to see him at the vicarage when he had an hour or so to spare if he liked to come; and, on the porter's telling him in return that he was only free as a rule on Sundays, as then only one train passed through the station early in the morning, between which and the mail express late at night he had nothing to do, and being a stranger in the place and without any relations the time somewhat hung on his hands, Mr Vernon asked him to come up to the house after church and have dinner with the servants, saying that he could go to the evening service in company with the family.
This invitation Jupp gladly accepted in the same spirit in which it was given; and then, with another hearty "good-night" from the vicar, to which he responded by touching his cap and giving a salute in regular blue-jacket fashion, he went on his way back to the little railway- station beyond the village where Master Teddy had first made his acquaintance—much to their mutual benefit as things now looked!
IN A SCRAPE AGAIN.
The winter was a long and severe one, covering the range of downs that encircle Endleigh with a fleecy mantle of white which utterly eclipsed the colour of the woolly coats of the sheep for which they were famous, and heaping the valleys with huge drifts that defied locomotion; so that Master Teddy, being unable to get out of doors much, was prevented from wandering away from home again, had he been in that way inclined.
It may be added, too, that beyond breaking one of his arms in a tumble downstairs through riding on the banisters in defiance of all commands to the contrary, he managed for the next few months to keep pretty free from scrapes—something surprising in such a long interval.
During all this time Jupp had been a very regular Sunday visitor at the vicarage, coming up to the house after morning-service and being entertained at dinner in the kitchen, after which meal he served as a playfellow for the children until the evening, when he always accompanied the vicar to church.
He had now come to be looked upon by all as a tried and valued friend, Mr Vernon being almost as fond of chatting with him about his old sea life as was Mary, the nurse; while Conny would consult him earnestly on geographical questions illustrative of those parts of the globe he had visited.
As for the younger ones, he was their general factotum, Teddy and Cissy regarding him as a sort of good-natured giant who was their own especial property and servant.
With all a sailor's ingenuity, he could carve the most wonderful things out of the least promising and worthless materials that could be imagined; while, as for making fun out of nothing, or telling thrilling stories of fairies and pirates and the different folk amongst whom he had mixed in his travels—some of them, to be sure, rather queer, as Conny said—why, he hadn't an equal, and could make the dreariest afternoon pass enjoyably to young and old alike, even Joe the gardener taking almost as great pleasure in his society as Molly and Mary.
This was while the snow lay on the ground and Jack Frost had bound the little river running through the village and the large pond in the water meadow beyond with chains of ice, and life out of doors seemed at a standstill; but, anon, when the breath of spring banished all the snow and ice, and cowslips and violets began to peep forth from the released hedgerows, and the sparrows chuckled instead of chirped, busying themselves nest-building in the ivy round the vicarage, and when the thrush sang to the accompaniment of the blackbird's whistle, the children found that Jupp was even a better playfellow in the open than he had been indoors, being nearly as much a child in heart as themselves.
Whenever he had half a day given him in the week free from duty he would make a point of coming up to take "Master Teddy and the young ladies" out into the woods, fern-hunting and flower-gathering, the vicar frequently popping upon the little picnickers unawares, whilst they were watching the rabbits and rabbitikins combing out their whiskers under the fir-trees, and Jupp and Mary getting an al fresco tea ready for the party.
The little tabby kitten had long since been eclipsed in Teddy's affections by a small Maltese terrier with a white curly coat of hair, which his fond grandmother had rather foolishly given him, the poor little animal being subjected to such rough treatment in the way of petting that it must have over and over again wished itself back in its Mediterranean home.
"Puck" was the little dog's name, and he appeared in a fair way of "putting a girdle round the earth," if not in forty minutes like his elfish namesake, at least in an appreciable limited space of time, Teddy never being content except he carried about the unfortunate brute with him everywhere he went, hugging it tightly in his arms and almost smothering its life out by way of showing his affection.
Having once had his hair cut, too, unluckily by Mary, Teddy seized an opportunity, when alone in the nursery, to treat poor Puck in similar fashion, the result of which was that the little animal, deprived of his long curly coat, not only shivered constantly with cold, but looked, in his closely-shorn condition, like one of those toy lambs sold in the shops in lieu of dolls for children, which emit a bleating sort of sound when pressed down on their bellows-like stands.
Of course, Puck was as invariable an attendant at the picnic excursions in the woods as Master Teddy himself, and, having developed sufficient interest in the rabbits to summon up courage to run after them, which Teddy graciously permitted him to do, these outings perhaps gave the little animal the only pleasure he had in existence, save eating; for he was then allowed, for a brief spell at all events, to use his own legs instead of being carried about in baby fashion.
One day at the beginning of May, when the birds were gaily singing in the branches of the trees overhead, through which an occasional peep of blue sky could be had, the grass below being yellow with buttercups or patched in white with daisies, Jupp and Mary were grouped with the children beneath a spreading elm in the centre of a sort of fairy ring in the wood, a favourite halting-place with them all.
The porter for once in a way had a whole holiday, and had spent the morning helping Joe the gardener in mowing the lawn and putting out plants in the flower-beds in front of the vicarage; so after their early dinner, the children under Mary's care came out with him for a regular picnic tea in the woods, carrying a kettle with them to make a fire, with plenty of milk and cakes and bread and butter, for it was intended to have quite a feast in honour of "papa's birthday," the vicar having promised to come and join them as soon as he had finished his parish work.
The little ones had been romping with Jupp all the way to the wood under the downs, running races with him and making detours here and there in search of wild anemones and meadow-sweet, or else chasing butterflies and the low-flying swallows that heralded the advent of summer, so they were rather tired and glad to lie down on the grass and rest when they reached their old elm-tree; albeit, on Jupp setting to work to pick up sticks for the fire that was to boil the kettle, first one and then another jumped up to help, for, really, they could not be quiet very long.
The sticks being collected and Jupp having slung the camp-kettle over them by the means of two forked props, in campaigning fashion, as he well knew how to do as an old sailor, a match was quickly applied, and there was soon a pleasant crackling sound of burning wood, accompanied with showers of sparks like fireworks as the wind blew the blaze aside.
Soon, too, a nice thick column of smoke arose that reminded Conny of what she had read of Indian encampments, although Jupp told her that if he were abroad and near any of such dark-skinned gentry he would take precious good care when making a fire to have as little smoke as possible.
"Why?" asked Conny, always anxious for information in order to improve her mind.
"Because I shouldn't like them to discover my whereabouts, unless, miss, I knew 'em to be friends," said Jupp in answer.
"And how would you manage to have no smoke?" she next pertinently inquired, like the sensible young lady she was.
"By always burning the very driest wood I could find, miss," replied Jupp. "It is only the green branches and such as has sap in it that makes the smoke."
"Oh!" ejaculated Conny, "I shall remember that. Thank you, Mr Jupp, for telling me. I often wondered how they contrived to conceal their camp-fires."
Teddy, with Cissy and Liz, had meanwhile been lying on the grass, overcome with their exertions in stick-gathering, and were intently watching a little glade in front of the elm-tree, some distance off under a coppice. Here they knew there were lots of rabbit-burrows, and they were waiting for some of the little animals to come out and perform their toilets, as they usually did in the afternoon and early evening, preparing themselves for bed-time, as the children said; but, for a long while, not one appeared in sight.
"Dere's a bunny at last," whispered Cissy as one peeped out from its hiding-place; and, seeing no cause for alarm in the presence of the little picnic party, with whom no doubt it was now well acquainted, it came further out from the coppice, sitting up on its haunches in the usual free-and-easy fashion of rabbitikins, and beginning to comb out its whiskers with its paws.
At the sight of this, Puck, who of course was cuddled up tightly in Teddy's arms, began to bark; but it was such a feeble little bark that not even the most timid of rabbits would have been frightened at it, while as for the one Puck wished to terrify, this simply treated him with the utmost contempt, taking no notice either of bark or dog.
Three or four other rabbits, too, impressed with the beauty of the afternoon and the advantages of the situation, now followed their comrade's example, coming out from their burrows and squatting on the turf of the sloping glade in a semicircle opposite the children; while, the more poor Puck tried to express his indignation at their free-and- easiness, the more nonchalantly they regarded him, sitting up comfortably and combing away, enjoying themselves as thoroughly as if there was no such thing as a dog in existence, Puck's faint coughing bark being utterly thrown away upon them.
"Imp'dent tings!" said Teddy, unloosing the small terrier; "do and lick 'em, Puck!"
The little woolly lamb-like dog, who certainly possessed a larger amount of courage than would reasonably have been imagined from his attenuated appearance, at once darted after the rabbits, who, jerking their short tails in the funniest way possible and throwing up their hind-legs as if they were going to turn somersaults and come down on the other side, darted off down the glade, making for the holes of their burrows under the coppice.
The artful Puck, however, having chased the gentry before, was up to all their little dodges, so, instead of running for the rabbits directly, he attacked their flank, endeavouring to cut off their retreat; and, in this object succeeding, away went the hunted animals, now scared out of their lives, down the side of the hill to the bottom, with Puck charging after them, and Teddy following close behind, and Cissy and Liz bringing up the rear.
Miss Conny was much too dignified to chase rabbits.
"Stop, Master Teddy! stop!" cried Mary. "Come back, Miss Liz and Cissy—come back at once!"
The little girls immediately obeyed their nurse; but Teddy, who perhaps in the ardour of the chase might not have heard her call, continued on racing down the hill after Puck, as fast as his stumpy little legs could carry him, his hat flying off and his pinafore streaming behind him in the wind.
"Stop, Master Teddy, stop!" called out Mary again.
"Why can't you let him be?" said Jupp. "He's only enj'ying hisself with the rabbits, and can't come to no harm on the grass."
"Little you know about it," retorted Mary, rather crossly it seemed to Jupp. "Why, the river runs round just below the coppice; and if Master Teddy runs on and can't stop himself, he'll fall into it—there!"
"My stars and stripes!" ejaculated Jupp starting up in alarm. "I'll go after him at once."
"You'd better," said Mary as he set off running down the hill after Teddy, singing out loudly for him to stop in a sort of reef-topsails-in- a-heavy-squall voice that you could have heard more than a cable's length ahead!
The momentum Teddy had gained, however, from the descent of the glade prevented him from arresting his rapid footsteps, although he heard Jupp's voice, the slope inclining the more abruptly towards the bottom of the hill. Besides, Puck in pursuit of the rabbits was right in front of him, and the dog, unable or unwilling to stop, bounded on into the mass of rushes, now quite close, that filled the lower part of the valley, and disappeared from Teddy's sight.
The next moment there was a wild yelp from Puck as he gripped the rabbit, and both tumbled over the bank of the river into the water, which was previously concealed from view; the dog's bark being echoed immediately afterwards by a cry of alarm from Teddy and a heavy plunge, as he, too, fell into the swiftly-flowing stream, and was borne out from the bank by the rapid current away towards the mill-dam below!
"Well, I never!" panted out Jupp as he raced down the incline at a headlong speed towards the spot where he had seen Teddy disappear, and whence had come his choking cry of alarm and the splash he made as he fell into the water. "The b'y'll be drownded 'fore I can reach him!"
But, such was his haste, that, at the same instant in which he uttered these words—more to himself than for anyone else's benefit, although he spoke aloud—the osiers at the foot of the slope parted on either side before the impetuous rush of his body, giving him a momentary glimpse of the river, with Teddy's clutching fingers appearing just above the surface and vainly appealing for help as he was sinking for the second time; so, without pausing, the velocity he had gained in his run down the declivity carrying him on almost in spite of himself, Jupp took a magnificent header off the bank. Then,—rising after his plunge, with a couple of powerful strokes he reached the unconscious boy, whose struggles had now ceased from exhaustion, and, gripping fast hold of one of his little arms, he towed him ashore.
Another second and Jupp would have been too late, Teddy's nearly lifeless little form having already been caught in the whirling eddy of the mill-race. Even as it was, the force of the on-sweeping current was so great that it taxed all Jupp's powers to the utmost to withstand being carried over the weir as he made for the side slanting-wise, so as not to weary himself out uselessly by trying to fight against the full strength of the stream, which, swollen with the rains of April, was resistless in its flow and volume.
Swimming on his side, however, and striking out grandly, Jupp succeeded at length in vanquishing the current, or rather made it serve his purpose; and, presently, grasping hold of the branch of an alder that hung over the river at the point of the bend, he drew himself up on the bank with one hand, holding poor Teddy still with the other, to find himself at the same moment confronted by Nurse Mary, with Cissy and Liz, who had all hurried down the slope to the scene of the disaster.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!—he's dead, he's dead!" wailed Mary, taking the little fellow from Jupp and lifting him up in her arms, preparing to start off at a run for the vicarage, while the little girls burst into a torrent of tears.
"You just bide there!" said Jupp, preventing her from moving, and looking like a giant Triton, all dripping with water, as he stepped forward. "You just bide there!"
"But he'll die if something's not done at once to restore him," expostulated Mary, vainly trying to get away from the other's restraining hold.
"So he might, if you took him all that long way 'fore doin' anything," replied Jupp grimly. "You gie him to me; I knows what's best to be done. I've seed chaps drounded afore aboard ship, and brought to life ag'in by using the proper methods to git back the circularation, as our doctor in the Neptune used to call it. You gie him to me!"
Impressed with his words, and knowing besides now from long acquaintance that Jupp was what she called "a knowledgeable man," Mary accordingly surrendered the apparently lifeless body of little Teddy; whereupon the porter incontinently began to strip off all the boy's clothing, which of course was wringing wet like his own.
"Have you got such a thing as a dry piece of flannel now, miss?" he then asked Mary, hesitating somewhat to put his request into words, "like, like—"
"You mean a flannel petticoat," said the girl promptly without the least embarrassment in the exigencies of the case. "Just turn your back, please, Mr Jupp, and I'll take mine off and give it to you."
No sooner was this said than it was done; when, Teddy's little naked body being wrapped up warmly in the garment Mary had surrendered, and turned over on the right side, she began under Jupp's directions to rub his limbs, while the other alternately raised and depressed the child's arms, and thus exercising—a regular expansion and depression of his chest.
After about five minutes of this work a quantity of water that he had swallowed was brought up by the little fellow; and next, Mary could feel a slight pulsation of his heart.
"He's coming round! he's coming round!" she cried out joyously, causing little Cissy's tears to cease flowing and Liz to join Mary in rubbing Teddy's feet. "Go on, Mr Jupp, go on; and we'll soon bring him to."
"So we will," echoed her fellow-worker heartily, redoubling his exertions to promote the circulation; and, in another minute a faint flush was observable in Teddy's face, while his chest rose and fell with a rhythmical motion, showing that the lungs were now inflated again and in working order.
The little fellow had been brought back to life from the very gates of death!
"Hooray!" shouted Jupp when Teddy at length opened his eyes, staring wonderingly at those bending over him, and drawing away his foot from Liz as if she tickled him, whereat Mary burst into a fit of violent hysterical laughter, which terminated in that "good cry" customary with her sex when carried away by excess of emotion.
Then, all at once, Teddy appeared to recollect what had happened; for the look of bewilderment vanished from his eyes and he opened his mouth to speak in that quaint, formal way of his which Jupp said always reminded him of a judge on the bench when he was had up before the court once at Portsmouth for smuggling tobacco from a troopship when paid off!
"Were's Puck an' de bunny?" he asked, as if what had occurred had been merely an interlude and he was only anxious about the result of the rabbit hunt that had so unwittingly led to his unexpected immersion and narrow escape from drowning.
No one in the greater imminence of Teddy's peril had previously thought of the dog or rabbit; but now, on a search being made, Puck was discovered shivering by the side of the river, having managed to crawl out somehow or other. As for the rabbit, which was only a young one or the little woolly terrier could never have overtaken it in the chase down the glade, no trace could be seen of it; and, consequently, it must have been carried over the weir, where at the bottom of the river it was now safe enough from all pursuit of either Puck or his master, and free from all the cares of rabbit life and those ills that even harmless bunnies have to bear!
When this point was satisfactorily settled, much to the dissatisfaction, however, of Master Teddy, a sudden thought struck Mary.
"Why, wherever can Miss Conny be all this time?" she exclaimed, on looking round and not finding her with the other children.
"See's done home," said Cissy laconically.
"Gone home!" repeated Mary. "Why?"
"Done fets dwy c'o's for Teddy," lisped the little girl, who seemed to have been well informed beforehand as to her sister's movements, although she herself had hurried down with the nurse to the river bank in company with the others immediately Jupp had rushed to Teddy's rescue.
"Well, I never!" ejaculated Mary, laughing again as she turned to Jupp. "Who would have thought the little puss would have been so thoughtful? But she has always been a funny child, older than her years, and almost like an old woman in her ways."
"Bless you, she ain't none the worse for that!" observed Jupp in answer. "She's a real good un, to think her little brother 'ud want dry things arter his souse in the water, and to go and fetch 'em too without being told."
"I expect you'd be none the worse either for going back and changing your clothes," said Mary, eyeing his wet garments.
"Lor', it don't matter a bit about me," he replied, giving himself a good shake like a Newfoundland dog, and scattering the drops about, which pleased the children mightily, as he did it in such a funny way. "I rayther likes it nor not."
"But you might catch cold," suggested Mary kindly.
"Catch your grandmother!" he retorted. "Sailors ain't mollycoddles."
"Wat's dat?" asked Teddy inquiringly, looking up at him.
"Why, sir," said Jupp, scratching his head reflectively—he had left his cap under the elm-tree on top of the hill, where he had taken it off when he set about building the fire for the kettle—"a mollycoddle is a sort of chap as always wraps hisself up keerfully for fear the wind should blow upon him and hurt his complexion."
"Oh!" said Teddy; but he did not seem any the wiser, and was about to ask another question which might have puzzled Jupp, when Liz interrupted the conversation, and changed the subject.
"There's Conny coming now, and Pa with her," she called out, pointing to the top of the glade, where her father and elder sister could be seen hurrying swiftly towards them, followed closely by Joe the gardener bearing a big bundle of blankets and other things which the vicar thought might be useful.
"My! Master must have been scared!" cried Mary, noticing in the distance the anxious father's face. "Master Teddy do cause him trouble enough, he's that fond of the boy!"
But, before Jupp could say anything in reply, the new arrivals had approached the scene of action, Conny springing forward first of all and hugging Teddy and Cissy and Liz all round. In the exuberance of her delight, too, at their being safe and sound, when in her nervous dread she had feared the worst, she extended the same greeting to Mary and Jupp; for, she was an affectionate little thing, and highly emotional in spite of her usually staid demeanour and retiring nature.
The vicar, too, could hardly contain himself for joy, and broke down utterly when he tried to thank Jupp for rescuing his little son; while Joe the gardener, not to be behindhand in this general expression of good-will and gratitude, squeezed his quondam rival's fist in his, ejaculating over and over again, with a broad grin on his bucolic face, "You be's a proper sort, you be, hey, Meaister?" thereby calling upon the vicar, as it were, to testify to the truth of the encomium.
He was a very funny man, Joe!
When the general excitement had subsided, and Teddy, who had in the meantime been stalking about, a comical little figure, attired in Mary's flannel petticoat, was re-dressed in the fresh suit of clothes Joe had brought for him amidst the blankets, the whole party adjourned up the hill to their old rendezvous under the elm-tree.
Here they found, greatly to their surprise and gratification, that Jupp's well-built fire had not gone out, as all expected, during the unforeseen digression that had occurred to break the even tenor of their afternoon's entertainment, although left so long unattended to.
On the contrary, it was blazing away at a fine rate, with the kettle slung on the forked sticks above it singing and sputtering, emitting clouds of steam the while, "like an engine blowing off," as the porter observed; so, all their preparations having been already completed, the children carried out their original intention of having a festal tea in honour of "Pa's birthday," he being set in their midst and told to do nothing, being the guest of the occasion.
Never did bread and butter taste more appetisingly to the little ones than when thus eaten out in the woods, away from all such stuck-up surroundings as tables and chairs, and plates, and cups and saucers, and the other absurd conventionalities of everyday life. They only had three little tin pannikins for their tea, which they passed round in turn, and a basket for their dish, using a leaf when the luxury of a plate was desired by any sybarite of the party—those nice broad ones of the dock making splendid platters.
Now, besides bread and butter, Molly the cook had compounded a delicious dough-cake for them, having plums set in it at signal distances apart, so conspicuous that any one could know they were there without going to the trouble of counting them, which indeed would not have taken long to do, their number being rather limited; and, what with the revulsion of feeling at Teddy's providential escape, and the fact of having papa with them, and all, they were in the very seventh heaven of enjoyment.
Conny and Cissy, who were the most active of the sprites, assisted by the more deliberate Teddy and Liz, acted as "the grown-up people" attending as hostesses and host to the requirements of "the children," as they called their father and Mary and Jupp, not omitting Joe the gardener, who, squatting down on the extreme circumference of their little circle, kept up a perpetual grin over the acres of bread and butter he consumed, just as if he were having a real meal and not merely playing!
The worthy gardener was certainly the skeleton, or cormorant, so to speak, of the banquet, eating them almost out of house and home, it must be mentioned in all due confidence; and, taking watch of his depravity of behaviour in this respect, the thoughtful Conny registered an inward determination never to invite Joe to another of their al fresco feasts, if she could possibly avoid doing so without seriously wounding his sensibilities. The way he walked into that dough-cake would have made anyone almost cry.
The fete, however, excepting this drawback, passed off successfully enough without any other contretemps; and after the last crumb of cake had been eaten by Joe, and the things packed up, the little party wended their way home happily in the mellow May evening, through the fields green with the sprouting corn, with the swallows skimming round them and the lark high in the sky above singing her lullaby song for the night and flopping down to her nest.
Towards the end of the month, however, Teddy managed somehow or other to get into another scrape.
"There never was such a boy," as Mary said. He was "always in hot water."
The queen's birthday coming round soon after the vicar's, Jupp, remembering how it used to be kept up when he was in the navy, great guns banging away at royal salutes while the small-arm men on board fired a feu de joie, or "fire of joy," as he translated it by the aid of Miss Conny, who happened just then to be studying French, he determined to celebrate the anniversary as a loyal subject in similar fashion at the vicarage, with the aid of a couple of toy cannon and a small bag of powder which he purchased for the purpose.
Teddy, of course, was taken into his confidence, the artillery experiments being planned for his especial delectation; so, coming up to the house just about noon on the day of the royal anniversary, when he was able to get away from the station for an hour, leaving his mate Grigson in charge, he set about loading the ordnance and getting ready for the salute, with a train laid over the touch-holes of the cannon to set light to the moment it was twelve o'clock, according to the established etiquette in the navy, a box of matches being placed handy for the purpose.
As ill luck would have it, though, some few minutes before the proper time, Mary, who was trying to sling a clothes-line in the back garden, called Jupp to her assistance, and he being her attentive squire on all occasions, and an assiduous cavalier of dames, hastened to help her, leaving Teddy in charge of the loaded cannon, the gunpowder train, and lastly, though by no means least, the box of matches.
The result can readily be foreseen.
Hardly had Jupp reached Mary's side and proceeded to hoist the obstreperous clothes-line, when "Bang! bang!" came the reports of distant cannonading on the front lawn, followed by an appalling yell from the little girls, who from the safe point of vantage of the drawing-room windows were looking on at the preparations of war.
To rush back through the side gate round to the front was but the work of an instant with Jupp, and, followed by Mary, he was almost as quickly on the spot as the sound of the explosion had been heard.
He thought that Master Teddy had only prematurely discharged the cannon, and that was all; but when he reached the lawn what was his consternation to observe a thick black cloud of smoke hanging in the air, much greater than could possibly have been produced by the little toy cannon being fired off, while Teddy, the cause of all the mischief, was nowhere to be seen at all!
THE POND IN THE MEADOW.
Not a trace of the boy could be seen anywhere.
The cause of the explosion was apparent enough; for, the little wooden box on which Jupp had mounted the toy cannons, lashing them down firmly, and securing them with breechings in sailor-fashion, to prevent their kicking when fired, had been overturned, and a jug that he had brought out from the house containing water to damp the fuse with, was smashed to atoms, while of the box of matches and the bag of powder only a few smouldering fragments remained—a round hole burned in the grass near telling, if further proof were needed, that in his eagerness to start the salute, Master Teddy, impatient as usual, had struck a light to ignite the train, and this, accidentally communicating with the bag of powder, had resulted in a grand flare-up of the whole contents.
This could be readily reasoned out at a glance; but, where could Teddy be, the striker of the match, the inceptor of all the mischief?
Jupp could not imagine; hunt high, hunt low, as he might and did.
At first, he thought that the young iconoclast, as nothing could be perceived of him on the lawn or flower-beds, had been blown up in the air over the laurel hedge and into the lane; as, however, nothing could be discovered of him here, either, after the most careful search, this theory had to be abandoned, and Jupp was fairly puzzled.
Teddy had completely vanished!
It was very strange, for his sisters had seen him on the spot the moment before the explosion.
Mary, of course, had followed Jupp round to the front of the house, while the little girls came out on to the lawn; and Molly the cook, as well as Joe the gardener, attracted by the commotion, had also been assisting in the quest for the missing Teddy, prying into every hole and corner.
But all their exertions were in vain; and there they stood in wondering astonishment.
"P'aps," suggested Cissy, "he's done upstairs?"
"Nonsense, child!" said Conny decisively; "we would have seen him from the window if he had come in."
"Still, we'd better look, miss," observed Mary, who was all pale and trembling with anxiety as to the safety of her special charge. "He may have been frightened and rushed to the nursery to hide himself, as he has done before when he has been up to something!"
So saying, she hurried into the passage, and the rest after her.
It was of no use looking into the drawing-room or kitchen, the little girls having been in the former apartment all the time, and Molly in the latter; but the parlour was investigated unsuccessfully, and every nook and cranny of the study, a favourite play-ground of the children when the vicar was out, as he happened to be this evening, fortunately or unfortunately as the case might be, visiting the poor of his parish.
Still, there was not a trace of Teddy to be found.
The search was then continued upstairs amongst the bed-rooms by Mary and Molly, accompanied by the three little girls, who marched behind their elders in silent awe, Jupp and Joe remaining down in the hall and listening breathlessly for some announcement to come presently from above.
The nursery disclosed nothing, neither did the children's sleeping room, nor the vicar's chamber, although the beds were turned up and turned down and looked under, and every cupboard and closet inspected as cautiously as if burglars were about the premises; and Mary was about to give up the pursuit as hopeless, when all at once, she thought she heard the sound of a stifled sob proceeding from a large oak wardrobe in the corner of the spare bed-room opposite the nursery, which had been left to the last, and where the searchers were all now assembled.
"Listen!" she exclaimed in a whisper, holding up her finger to enjoin attention; whereupon Cissy and Liz stopped shuffling their feet about, and a silence ensued in which a pin might have been heard to drop.
Then, the noise of the stifled sobs that had at first attracted Mary's notice grew louder, and all could hear Teddy's voice between the sobs, muttering or repeating something at intervals to himself.
"I do believe he's saying his prayers!" said Mary, approaching the wardrobe more closely with stealthy steps, so as not to alarm the little stowaway, a smile of satisfaction at having at last found him crossing her face, mingled with an expression of amazement—"Just hear what he is repeating. Hush!"
They all listened; and this was what they heard proceeding from within the wardrobe, a sob coming in as a sort of hyphen between each word of the little fellow's prayer.
"Dod—bess pa—an' Conny an' Liz—an' 'ittle Ciss—an' Jupp, de porter man, an' Mary—an'—an'—all de oders—an' make me dood boy—an' I'll neber do it again, amen!"
"The little darling!" cried Mary, opening the door of the wardrobe when Teddy had got so far, and was just beginning all over again; but the moment she saw within, she started back with a scream which at once brought Jupp upstairs. Joe the gardener still stopped, however, on the mat below in the passage, as nothing short of a peremptory command from the vicar would have constrained him to put his heavy clod-hopping boots on the soft stair-carpet. Indeed, it had needed all Mary's persuasion to make him come into the hall, which he did as gingerly as a cat treading on a hot griddle!
As Jupp could see for himself, when he came up to the group assembled round the open door of the wardrobe there was nothing in the appearance of poor Teddy to frighten Mary, although much to bespeak her pity and sympathy—the little fellow as he knelt down in the corner showing an upturned face that had been blistered by the gunpowder as it exploded, besides being swollen to more than twice its ordinary size. His clothing was also singed and blackened like that of any sweep, while his eyelashes, eyebrows, and front hair had all been burnt off, leaving him as bare as a coot.
Altogether, Master Teddy presented a very sorry spectacle; and the little girls all burst into tears as they looked at him, even Jupp passing his coat-sleeve over his eyes, and muttering something about its being "a bad job" in a very choky sort of voice.
It was but the work of an instant, however, for Mary to take up the unfortunate sufferer in her arms, and there he sobbed out all his woes as she cried over him on her way to the nursery, sending off Jupp promptly for the doctor.
"I'se not do nuzzin," explained Teddy as he was being undressed, and his burns dressed with oil and cotton-wool, pending the arrival of medical advice. "I'se only zust light de match an' den dere was a whiz; an' a great big black ting lift me up an' trow me down, and den I climb up out of de smoke an' run 'way here. I was 'fraid of black ting comin' an' hide!"
"There was no black thing after you, child," said Conny. "It was only the force of the explosion that knocked you down, and the cloud of smoke you saw, which hid you from us when you ran indoors."
"It was a black ting," repeated Teddy, unconvinced by the wise Miss Conny's reasoning. "I see him, a big black giant, same as de jinny in story of de fairies; but I ran 'way quick!"
"All right, dear! never mind what it was now," said Mary soothingly. "Do you feel any better now?"
"Poor mou's so sore," he whimpered, "an' 'ittle nosey can't breez!"
"Well, you shouldn't go meddling with matches and fire, as I've told you often," said Mary, pointing her moral rather inopportunely. Still she patted and consoled the little chap as much as she could; and when Doctor Jolly came up from Endleigh presently, he said that she had done everything that was proper for the patient, only suggesting that his face might be covered during the night with a piece of soft rag dipped in Goulard water, so as to ease the pain of the brows and let the little sufferer sleep.
The vicar did not return home until some time after the doctor had left the house and Jupp gone back to his duties at the railway-station; but although all traces of the explosion had been removed from the lawn and the grass smoothed over by Joe the gardener, he knew before being told that something had happened from the unusual stillness around, both without and within doors, the little girls being as quiet as mice, and Teddy, the general purveyor of news and noise, being not to the fore as usual.
It was not long before he found out all about the accident; when there was a grand to-do, as may be expected, Mr Vernon expressing himself very strongly anent the fact of Jupp putting such a dangerous thing as gunpowder within reach of the young scapegrace, and scolding Mary for not looking after her charge better.
Jupp, too, got another "blowing up" from the station-master for being behind time. So, what with the general upset, and the dilapidated appearance of Master Teddy, with his face like a boiled vegetable marrow, when the bandages had been removed from his head and he was allowed to get up and walk about again, the celebration of the Queen's Birthday was a black day for weeks afterwards in the chronicles of the vicar's household!
During the rest of the year, however, and indeed up to his eighth year, the course of Teddy's life was uneventful as far as any leading incident was concerned.
Of course, he got into various little scrapes, especially on those occasions when his grandmother paid her periodic visits to the vicarage, for the old lady spoiled him dreadfully, undoing in a fortnight all that Mary had effected by months of careful teaching and training in the way of obedience and manners; but, beyond these incidental episodes, he did not distinguish himself by doing anything out of the common.
Teddy leisurely pursued that uneven tenor of way customary to boys of his age, exhibiting a marked preference for play over lessons, and becoming a great adept at field sports through Jupp's kindly tuition, albeit poor Puck was no longer able to assist him in hunting rabbits, the little dog having become afflicted with chronic asthma ever since his immersion in the river when he himself had so narrowly escaped from drowning.
If water, though, had worked such ill to Puck, the example did not impress itself much on Teddy; for, despite his own previous peril, he was for ever getting himself into disgrace by going down to the river to catch sticklebacks against express injunctions to the contrary, when left alone for any length of time without an observant and controlling eye on his movements. He was also in the habit of joining the village boys at their aquatic pranks in the cattle-pond that occupied a prominent place in the meadows below Endleigh—just where the spur of one of the downs sloped before preparing for another rise, forming a hollow between the hills.
Here Master Teddy had loved to go on the sly, taking off his shoes and stockings and paddling about as the shoe and stockingless village urchins did; and this summer, not satisfied with simple paddling as of yore, he bethought himself of a great enterprise.
The pond was of considerable extent, and when it was swollen with rain, as happened at this period, the month of June being more plentiful than usual of moisture, its surface covered several acres, the water being very deep between its edge and the middle, where it shallowed again, the ground rising there and forming a sort of island that had actually an alder-tree growing on it.
Now, Teddy's ambition was to explore this island, a thing none of the village boys had dreamed of, all being unable to swim; so, as the wished-for oasis could not be reached in that fashion, the next best thing to do was to build a boat like Robinson Crusoe and so get at it in that way.
As a preliminary, Teddy sounded the ex-sailor as to the best way of building a boat, without raising Jupp's suspicions—for, the worthy porter, awed by the vicar's reprimand anent the feu de joie affair and Mary's continual exhortations, had of late exhibited a marked disinclination to assist him in doing anything which might lead him into mischief—artfully asking him what he would do if he could find no tree near at hand large enough that he could hollow out for the purpose; but, Jupp could give him no information beyond the fact that he must have a good sound piece of timber for the keel, and other pieces curved in a particular fashion for the strakes, and the outside planking would depend a good deal whether he wanted the boat clinker-built or smooth- sided.
"But how then," asked Teddy—he could speak more plainly now than as a five-year old—"do people get off from ships when they have no boat?"
"Why, they builds a raft, sir," answered Jupp.
"A raft—what is that?"
"Why, sir, it means anything that can swim," replied Jupp, quite in his element when talking of the sea, and always ready to spin a yarn or tell what he knew. "It might be made of spare spars, or boards, or anything that can float. When I was in the Neptune off Terra del Faygo I've seed the natives there coming off to us seated on a couple of branches of a tree lashed together, leaves and all."
"Oh, thank you," said Teddy, rejoiced to hear this, the very hint he wanted; "but what did they do for oars?"
"They used sticks, in course, sir," answered the other, quite unconscious of what the result of his information would be, and that he was sowing the seeds of a wonderful project; and Teddy presently leading on the conversation in a highly diplomatic way to other themes, Jupp forgot bye and bye what he had been talking about.
Not so, however, Master Teddy.
The very next day, taking up Puck in his arms, and getting away unperceived from home soon after the early dinner, which the children always partook of at noon, he stole down to the pond, where, collecting some of the little villagers to assist him, a grand foray was made on the fencing of the fields and a mass of material brought to the water's edge.
Teddy had noted what Jupp had said about the Tierra del Fuegans lashing their rude rafts together, so he took down with him from the house a quantity of old clothes-lines which he had discovered in the back garden. These he now utilised in tying the pieces of paling from the fences together with, after which a number of small boughs and branches from the hedges were laid on top of the structure, which was then pushed off gently from the bank on to the surface of the pond.
Hurrah, it floated all right!
Teddy therefore had it drawn in again, and stepped upon the raft, which, although it sank down lower in the water and was all awash, still seemed buoyant. He also took Puck with him, and tried to incite some others of the boys to venture out in company with him.
The little villagers, however, were wiser in their generation, and being unused to nautical enterprise were averse to courting danger.
"You're a pack of cowards!" Teddy exclaimed, indignant and angry at their drawing back thus at the last moment. "I'll go by myself."
"Go 'long, master," they cried, noways abashed by his comments on their conduct; "we'll all watch 'ee."
Naturally plucky, Teddy did not need any further spurring, so, all alone on his raft, with the exception of the struggling Puck, who did not like leaving terra firma, and was more of a hindrance than an aid, he pushed out into the pond, making for the islet in the centre by means of a long pole which he had thinned off from a piece of fencing, sticking it into the mud at the bottom and pushing against it with all his might. Meanwhile, the frail structure on which he sat trembled and wobbled about in the most unseaworthy fashion, causing him almost to repent of his undertaking almost as soon as he had started, although he had the incense of popular admiration to egg him on, for the village boys were cheering and hooraying him like—"like anything," as he would himself have said!
FATHER AND SON.
The road from the vicarage to the village and station beyond passed within a hundred yards or so of the pond; but from the latter being situated in a hollow and the meadows surrounding it inclosed within a hedge of thick brushwood, it could only be seen by those passing to and fro from one point—where the path began to rise above the valley as it curved round the spur of the down.
It was Saturday also, when, as Teddy well knew, his father would be engaged on the compilation of his Sunday sermon, and so not likely to be going about the parish, as was his custom of an afternoon, visiting the sick, comforting the afflicted, and warning those evil-doers who preferred idleness and ale at the "Lamb" to honest toil and uprightness of living; consequently the young scapegrace was almost confident of non-interruption from any of his home folk, who, besides being too busy indoors to think of him, were ignorant of his whereabouts. It was also Jupp's heaviest day at the station, so he couldn't come after him he thought; and he was enjoying himself to his heart's content, when as the Fates frequently rule it, the unexpected happened.
Miss Conny, now a tall slim girl of thirteen, but more sedate and womanly even than she had been at ten, if that were possible, was occupied in the parlour "mending the children's clothes," as she expressed it in her matronly way, when she suddenly missed a large reel of darning cotton. Wondering what had become of it, for, being neat and orderly in her habits, her things seldom strayed from their proper places, she began hunting about for the absent article in different directions and turning over the piles of stockings before her.
"Have you seen it?" she asked Liz, who was sitting beside her, also engaged in needlework, but of a lighter description, the young lady devoting her energies to the manufacture of a doll's mantilla.
"No," said Liz abstractedly, her mouth at the time being full of pins for their more handy use when wanted, a bad habit she had acquired from a seamstress occasionally employed at the vicarage.
"Dear me, I wonder if I left the reel upstairs," said Conny, much concerned at the loss; and she was just about prosecuting the search thither when Cissy threw a little light on the subject, explaining at once the cause of the cotton's disappearance.
"Don't you recollect, Con," she observed, "you lent it to Teddy the other day? I don't s'pose he ever returned it to you, for I'm sure I saw it this morning with his things in the nursery."
"No more he did," replied Conny. "Please go and tell him to bring it back. I know where you'll find him. Mary is helping Molly making a pie, and he's certain to be in the kitchen dabbling in the paste."
"All right!" said Cissy; and presently her little musical voice could be heard calling through the house, "Teddy! Teddy!" as she ran along the passage towards the back.
Bye and bye, however, she returned to the parlour unsuccessful.
"I can't see him anywhere," she said. "He's not with Mary, or in the garden, or anywhere!"
"Oh, that boy!" exclaimed Conny. "He's up to some mischief again, and must have gone down to the village or somewhere against papa's orders. Do you know where he is, Liz?"
"No," replied the young sempstress, taking the pins out of her mouth furtively, seeing that Conny was looking at her. "He ran out of the house before we had finished dinner, and took Puck with him."
"Then he has gone off on one of his wild pranks," said her elder sister, rising up and putting all the stockings into her work-basket. "I will go and speak to papa."
The vicar had just finished the "thirdly, brethren," of his sermon; and he was just cogitating how to bring in his "lastly," and that favourite "word more in conclusion" with which he generally wound up the weekly discourse he gave his congregation, when Conny tapped at the study door timidly awaiting permission to enter.
"What's the matter?" called out Mr Vernon rather testily, not liking to be disturbed in his peroration.
"I want to speak to you, papa," said Conny, still from without.
"Then come in," he answered in a sort of resigned tone of voice, it appearing to him as one of the necessary ills of life to be interrupted, and he as a minister bound to put up with it; but this feeling of annoyance passed off in a moment, and he spoke gently and kindly enough when Conny came into the room.
"What is it, my dear?" he asked, smiling at his little housekeeper, as he called her, noticing her anxious air; "any trouble about to-morrow's dinner, or something equally serious?"
"No, papa," she replied, taking his quizzing in earnest. "The dinner is ordered, and nothing the matter with it that I know of. I want to speak to you about Teddy."
"There's nothing wrong with him, I hope?" said he, jumping up from his chair and wafting some of the sheets of his sermon from the table with his flying coat-tails in his excitement and haste. "Nothing wrong, I hope?"
Although a quiet easy-going man generally, the vicar was wrapt up in all his children, trying to be father and mother in one to them and making up as much as in him lay for the loss of that maternal love and guidance of which they were deprived at an age when they wanted it most; but of Teddy he was especially fond, his wife having died soon after giving him birth, and, truth to say, he spoiled him almost as much as that grandmother whose visitations were such a vexed question with Mary, causing her great additional trouble with her charge after the old lady left.
"Nothing wrong, papa dear, that I know of," replied Conny in her formal deliberative sort of way; "but, I'm afraid he has gone off with those village boys again, for he's nowhere about the place."
"Dear me!" ejaculated the vicar, shoving up his spectacles over his forehead and poking his hair into an erect position like a cockatoo's crest, as he always did when fidgety. "Can't you send somebody after him?"
"Mary is busy, and Teddy doesn't mind Joe, so there's no use in sending him."
"Dear me!" ejaculated her father again. "I'm afraid he's getting very headstrong—Teddy, I mean, not poor Joe! I must really get him under better control; but, I—I don't like to be harsh with him, Conny, you know, little woman," added the vicar dropping his voice. "He's a brave, truthful little fellow with all his flow of animal spirits, and his eyes remind me always of your poor mother when I speak sternly to him and he looks at me in that straightforward way of his."
"Shall I go after him, papa?" interposed Conny at this juncture, seeing that a wave of memory had carried back her father into the past, making him already forget the point at issue.
"What? Oh, dear me, no!" said the vicar, recalled to the present. "I'll go myself."
"But your sermon, papa?"
"It's just finished, and I can complete what has to be added when I come back. No—yes, I'll go; besides, now, I recollect, I have to call at Job Trotter's to try and get him to come to church to-morrow. Yes, I'll go myself."
So saying, the vicar put on the hat Conny handed to him, for she had to look after him very carefully in this respect, as he would sometimes, when in a thinking fit, go out without any covering on his head at all!
Then, taking his stick, which the thoughtful Conny likewise got out of the rack in the hall, he went out of the front door and over the lawn, through the little gate beyond. He then turned into the lane that led across the downs to the village, Miss Conny having suggested this as the wisest direction in which to look for Teddy, from the remembrance of something the young scapegrace had casually dropped in conversation when at dinner.
As he walked along the curving lane, the air was sweet with the scent of dry clover and the numerous wild flowers that twined amongst the blackberry bushes of the hedgerows. Insects also buzzed about, creating a humming music of their own, while flocks of starlings startled by his approach flew over the field next him to the one further on, exhibiting their speckled plumage as they fluttered overhead, and the whistle of the blackbird and coo of the ring-dove could be heard in the distance.
But the vicar was thinking of none of these things.
Conny's words about Teddy not minding Joe the gardener, or anybody else indeed, had awakened his mind to the consciousness that he had not given proper consideration to the boy's mental training.
Teddy's education certainly was not neglected, for he repeated his lessons regularly to his father and displayed the most promising signs of advancement; but, lessons ended, he was left entirely to the servants. The vicar reflected, that this ought not to be permitted with a child at an age when impressions of right and wrong are so easily made, never to be effaced in after life, once the budding character is formed.
He would correct this error, the vicar determined; in future he would see after him more personally!
Just as he arrived at this sound conclusion the vicar reached the bend of the lane where it sloped round by the spur of the down, a bustling bumblebee making him notice this by brushing against his nose as he buzzed through the air in that self-satisfied important way that all bumblebees affect in their outdoor life; and, looking over the hedge that sank down at this point, he saw a group of boys gathered round the edge of the pond.