THE CAPTAIN'S BUNK
A STORY FOR BOYS
M. B. MANWELL
AUTHOR OF 'THE BENTS OF BATTERSBY,' ETC.
WITH COLOURED ILLUSTRATIONS
THE RELIGIOUS TRACT SOCIETY
4 BOUVERIE STREET AND 65 ST. PAUL'S CHURCHYARD
I. A PLAGUEY PAIR II. A NOVEL TRADE III. 'MISS THEEDORY' IV. BINKS'S BIT O' TEACHIN' V. BREAKERS AHEAD VI. THE LITTLE MOTHER VII. MUTINY AT THE BUNK VIII. THEO'S HAVEN IX. COMING EVENTS X. UNDER ARREST XI. A TANGLED WEB XII. IN THE FAR NORTH XIII. IN PERIL ON THE SEA XIV. A DOOR OF ESCAPE XV. THE BIRD-SCHOOL XVI. THE SEAMY SIDE OF LIFE XVII. IN THE MIRE XVIII. IN MULLINER'S RENTS XIX. NO PLACE LIKE HOME
THE CAPTAIN'S BUNK
A PLAGUEY PAIR
'Do the thing that's nearest, Though it's dull at whiles.'
If anybody wanted to go down and have a look round Northbourne for himself, it would be necessary to take a railway journey as far as Brattlesby town, and then tramp the rest of the road, unless a friendly chance befell the traveller of a lift in some passing vehicle.
There had never been so much as a talk of extending the railway line to Northbourne, which was a quaint little fishing village tucked away under the shelter of a long stretch of downs. It consisted of a few small thatched cottages that had seated themselves, as it were, in a semicircle round the tiny bay, to peep out from its shelter at the far, open ocean, the highway of waters on which the outward-bound liners loomed like grey ghostly shadows as they passed.
There were but two of what is known as gentry's houses in Northbourne. Oddly enough, each of them finished off the half-circle of cottages, and in that way they stared across the bay at one another, face to face.
One of the two, the Bunk, had been for some years inhabited by an elderly half-pay naval officer, Captain Carnegy, and his motherless boys and girls. The other house was the Vicarage, the habitation of Mr. Vesey, the good old vicar, his invalid wife, and a pair of excitable Yorkshire terriers, Splutters and Shutters, thus curiously named for the sake of rhyme, it is to be presumed. They were brothers, and as tricky a pair as one could meet, ever up to their eyes in mischief from morning until night. Indeed, Splutters and Shutters kept what would have been a still, staid household in nearly as great a ferment as did the captain's crew the Bunk across the bay.
'They two dogs, they be summat like a couple o' wild b'ys; they keeps the passon and the mistress in, not for to say hot water, but bilin' water, for the livelong day!' constantly declared Binks, who was the handy-man at the Vicarage, and, in fact, handy-man at the little church as well, he being both factotum and sexton. Binks was a worthy old soul whom the terriers led a troubled life by their destructive capers in the garden and lawn, which he vainly tried to keep trim. Still, on the whole, Binks, harassed as he was by the dogs, was apt to thank his stars that Splutters and Shutters were not actually boys; such boys, for instance, as those of the captain at the Bunk across the bay, who were a sore handful, as any one could see for themselves, without the prompt testimony of all Northbourne to that effect.
'You be a plaguey pair, you b'ys!' was the unfailing greeting of Binks, when he encountered Geoff and Alick Carnegy.
'Come, you shut up, Binks! You surely would not have us a couple of mincing girls peacocking round in this fashion, would you now?' And the captain's boys affectedly pirouetted up and down on the shingle below the low wall of the Vicarage garden, laughing boisterously the while.
'I dunno, young musters!' rejoined Binks, contemplating the ridiculous spectacle with much the same gravity as he would have regarded a funeral. 'P'raps it'd be a sight better if so be as you was gells. That is, gells after the pattern of your sister, Miss Theedory!'
'Oh, Theo! Well, she's different!' and Geoff sobered down his antics, and stood still to retort. 'That just reminds me I've brought a note for Mrs. Vesey from Theo. I'll run up to the house with it. I don't remember if it wants an answer; but don't you go away, Alick. Wait for me!'
'All right!' Alick nodded, and swinging himself up on the wall, he watched Binks, who was patiently pottering over the carrot-beds. The ceaseless tussel he had to induce these refractory vegetables to make a fair show was one of the minor crosses of the old man's life.
Of the two Carnegys, Alick was the least reasonable, if the word reasonable could be applied to either of 'them young limbs,' as Northbourne privately called the captain's boys. He, however, managed to sit still for the space of five minutes or so on the wall, whistling vigorously.
'I 'opes as you be a-gittin' on brisk with your book-larnin', Muster Alick?' Binks lifted his head, after the prolonged silence, to regard, with a critical air, the boy who sat dangling his feet above. Binks had a fashion peculiar to himself of staring at most people in a reproving manner, as though he had just found them out in some dark transgression. It was possibly a habit due to a lifelong experience of the faults and the failings of human nature, and it was one which stood Binks in good stead, giving him an austere and awe-inspiring appearance. Especially on Sundays did this detective air prove helpful, when he did duty as parish clerk in the quaint, old-time church on the shore, where it served to keep the small fisher-folk in proper order.
'Oh, bother!' said Alick shortly. 'We have enough of that sort of talk from old Price. He pegs away at us to get on, get on, until I'm sick of the sight of books, and pen and ink!'
'Ay?' Binks leaned on his spade, and, resting, stared fixedly up into the face of the boy-speaker. 'Sick of it, be you? And what be you supposin' as Muster Price feels? A deal sicker, I make no doubt, toiling and moiling every week-day as the sun rises on, a-tryin' to till sich unprofitable ground as your b'y-brains! I dunnot 'spose as you ever looked at it from his pint of view, did ye?'
Certainly Alick never had. It was a new idea to him to wonder how poor Philip Price, the tutor, liked walking every day, rain or shine, over from Brattlesby, the little inland town some three miles off, in order to teach Geoff and himself just so much and no more as either of the unruly brothers chose to learn; for the Carnegy boys were 'kittle cattle,' as the North-country folk say, to deal with. Their father, though he had been, in the old days, skilled at commanding men, knew little or nothing of managing children. When his wife died and he retired from the service, he found his hands full, with the most unruly crew that he had ever encountered in his long naval career. Not gifted with much patience, he soon gave up trying to guide the helm of that unmanageable ship, his own home. Betaking himself to his special hobby, which was the compiling an epitome of all the naval engagements that have taken place within the memory of man, he left his boys and girls to grow up anyhow or, to put it more exactly, just as they pleased. His conscience was satisfied when he had placed his young folk in the hands of one whom he knew to be a genuinely upright Christian gentleman, Philip Price, the tutor from Brattlesby town.
The boys themselves were no fools. They knew in their hearts that it was but a slack rein that guided them. There was a good deal of forcibly put justice in the suggestive question of Binks, and for a few seconds Alick, nonplussed, kept silence, swinging his feet a little faster under the fire of the sharp, light eyes that glinted from beneath the old man's bushy eyebrows.
'But—but, I say, it's Price's business to teach. That's what he has got to do, you know!' he stammered out at last, rather uneasily.
'P'raps you was a-goin' to say as it was what he was made for, purpose-like!' observed Binks ironically. 'Well, maybe so! And, maybe also, who can tell, it's what the Lord has made you for likewise, Muster Alick. Time may come as you'll be tramping every day, wet or dry, to teach ongrateful, onruly b'ys according to their station.'
What d'ye mean?' A furious red flush rose on Alick's cheeks, and he glared back into the face of the bent old man, who stood still so fixedly regarding himself.
'Mean? Why, just what I'm a-sayin' of!' was the calm rejoinder. 'I've heard tell,' went on Binks, undisturbed by Alick's wrathful looks, 'as Muster Price is the son of a reverend genelman as was pretty high up in the Church. When the poor soul was took off, suddent, his fam'ly had to help theirselves in the world, and this one, bein' the youngest, and enjying terrible poor health, ain't fit for nothin' but teachin' b'ys. That's how he keeps the old lady and hisself in bread I've heard say. And if so be'—Binks straightened himself, and drew out his spade from the earth—'as I was him, I'd a deal rather break stones, or else try to grow them plaguey carrits in damp clay! But,' he added sardonically, as his outburst calmed down, 'in course if, as you think, it's what he was made a-purpose for—— Well, I say no more. I never was one to hinterfere with, or so much as even to question, the will of the Almighty in aught. I'm not like some in that.'
'How you do run on, Binks!' sulkily put in Alick. He felt rather cornered by the old man's plain speaking. 'And it's all very fine for you to talk; you and Theo say the same things. But if you'd to grind away, when the sun's shining and the sea dancing before your eyes, at rubbishy old Latin grammars and arithmetic, and all the rest of it, you'd be the first to grumble. Oh, I wish a hundred times in the day that I was only Ned Dempster, who's out all hours, free as any lark!' ended Alick, with a sudden burst of energy that nearly sent him toppling off the sea-wall.
'Ned Dempster!' echoed Binks in amaze. Then, after turning over a few spadefuls of earth, he looked up to say epigrammatically, 'Well, young muster, what Ned is, I was. And what I am, Ned will be! There! D'ye take my meaning? 'Cos I, when a b'y, was like Ned, free as any lark in the air, so when I came to be a man without no book-larnin' in the pockets o' my brain, I had to grope my way about in the world. Many's the time it's bin all dark, round and round, 'cept in the faces of other folk where I seed the light o' understanding shinin' about them things as I couldn't make out. 'Tain't so to say comforable for a grown man to feel that; but it's what you'll come to, young muster, if you gits your will to go free as free!' and Binks set to work on his refractory carrots with renewed energy.
A NOVEL TRADE
There was something so quaint about Binks, the old handy-man, that nobody resented his preachings at them. Not the Carnegy boys, at least, not even Alick, who was no fool. He knew, if he had allowed himself to say so fairly and squarely, that a man without education must of necessity make but a poor show in the world among his fellow-men. But Alick was incorrigibly lazy, and he had grown up so far without attempting to get the reins of his idle, pleasure-loving self between his own fingers. Geoff, on the other hand, though a regular pickle of a boy, did manage to scramble through his lessons, and to present a more decent appearance therein, doubtful as it was if he thoroughly digested what learning he took in.
He was a greater favourite in the neighbourhood than Alick; and as he came rushing, helter-skelter, along the garden-path, cramming Mrs. Vesey's answer into one of his crowded pockets, one could not be surprised at his popularity, for a merrier-faced boy than Geoff did not exist. And his looks did not belie his laughter-loving nature. The boy overflowed with mischief and good-humour. His was one of those natures that never fail to take their colour from their surroundings. Geoff was influenced this way and that by every wind that blew. Had it not been for Alick's bad example, the boy would have been as orderly and obedient a pupil as even his tutor could desire. As matters stood, however, Geoff trod on the heels of his mutinous elder brother in every mischief hatched at the Bunk. There was this distinct difference between the rebels, however: Alick's tricks and practical jokes, as well as his rebellion against authority, had in them the strain of malice prepense which made of them blacker faults, while Geoff's misdemeanours were committed in the name of, and for the sake of, pure mischief. Splutters and Shutters instinctively recognised this kindred spirit in the boy, as they tore madly after him through the garden, barking vociferously their affectionate admiration.
'Binks, I say!' Geoff almost yelled in his endeavour to drown the terriers' voices. 'Who do you think has come back to the village? Why, Jerry Blunt, with one arm, poor chap, from that North Pole expedition. He has given up the sea; and you'll never guess the land trade he means to take up, not if you sat down for six weeks to think it out. You couldn't, so I may as well tell you. Training young bullfinches to sing tunes. Ho! ho! He! ho!' Geoff Carnegy had a most extraordinary laugh of his own, and it rang out on the crisp salt air.
'Who told you? How did you hear?' shouted Alick from above.
'Why, Jerry himself has just been up to the Vicarage to tell Mr. Vesey all about it, and—— But, wait a bit, I'll come up beside you and finish the story!' and Geoff clambered up alongside of his brother.
'Whatever's that you're a-sayin' of, Muster Geoff?' Binks, with spade in mid air, was open-mouthed.
'Jerry Blunt—you remember old Jerry, Binks, don't you? He has come back from the North Pole.'
'Oh, comed back, has he? Jes' so! Well, I ain't surprised.'
'No, you never are, Binks!' Alick drily observed. 'Take an earthquake to wake you up!' he added under his breath.
'And do'ee say as the lad's left an arm behind?' inquired Binks.
'Yes, I did,' rejoined Geoff. 'He's up at the house yonder, in the study, telling the vicar how it was done. Mrs. Vesey didn't know; she told me about the bullfinches, but she couldn't say how the arm was lost. I should say it must have been nipped off by a Polar bear, shouldn't you, Binks?' Geoff's eyes protruded excitedly as he mentally pictured the suggested nip.
'Polar bear? Hum! Well, it might ha' bin. I never fancied bears. There's a deal o' low cunning about a bear; no slapdash courage, so to say, same's there's in a lion or a leopard, but jes' a cruel, slow, deliberate intention to kill, like a nor'-east wind as blights and nips, sure as sure. Once, I remember, there was a travellin' bear came Northbourne way. 'Twas when I was a b'y, same's your two selves. This yere bear had a man with it, a mounseer, to judge from his tongue. He wasn't a bad chap, and couldn't well help bein' a Frenchy. He wasn't never unkind to the bear; he fed him, and saw to his straw bed o' nights, same's the creature was his own child. But as I've said, there ain't no nice feelin' about a bear; you can't win 'em, nohow.'
'Well, but what happened?' impatiently broke in Alick. 'Did the bear do anything?'
'I'm a-comin' to that, muster, if you'll give me time; but you're the hurryin' sart, you are. I should think as the teacher-genelman must have his work laid out to keep up with you, you be so mortal anxious to learn.'
Alick reddened, and glared down at Binks's unruffled countenance; but he forbore to retort, recognising that the old man's powers of repartee were superior to his own.
'Oh, come on, please do!' persuasively said Geoff, thrilling to hear the sequel of Binks's story.
'Well, as I was sayin',' Binks relented and went on, ''twas when I was a b'y, and a rare fuss it did make. I was one as saw the thing with my own eyes. That mounseer chap had divided his dinner with the bear one day; the greedy baste had swallowed his own share, and was watching his master out of them cunning eyes bears has. Of a suddent he clawed away the victuals and bolted them; then there was a shriek from poor Frenchy, and we all saw as the bear had him in a grim death-hug. I tell you it took a few Northbourne men to separate them two, and when 'twas done, I don't forget the sorry sight the unfortunit' man was. There warn't no hospitals nor nothin' in them days, and the doctor he had a tough job to bring the poor furriner to, and patch him up, I tell you!'
'And the bear?' struck in Geoff. 'Did they do anything to the bear?'
'Only shot him dead; nothin' else. 'Twas the doctor hisself as shot him; we didn't want no savage wild beasts round Northbourne woods. But, as I was sayin', there's no nice feelin' about bears, and I make no doubt 'twas owin' to one of them Polar beasts as Jerry lost his arm, but we'll hear about that from hisself. Poor lad, he wasn't a bad sort, Jerry. You could always take his word for whatever 'twas. I never knowed Jerry tell a lie, and you can't say more'n that for a genelman born. B'ys, I'd rather, when my own time comes to be laid by in the churchyard yonder, have it in writin' over me, He never telled a lie, than I'd have anything on arth writ there.'
'Well,' said Alick reflectively, 'there's one thing I can't make out, and that is, what brought Jerry Blunt back to Northbourne? If I'd his chances, and got free away from this stupid hole, catch me ever coming back, that's all!'
'Ah, so you say, muster!' Binks had returned to the refractory carrots once again. 'But you'll find out, one of these days, that there's summat in each of us like cords that draws a man to the old home. 'Tis nature, as the Almighty 'as planted deep in our hearts, a-workin' in the wust of us and in the best of us alike. Why, 'tis the same thing, that hankering, we—some of us—has for a further-away home still, the homeland beyond.'
As Binks leant on his spade, and pushed back his straw hat to gaze over the blue waters to the misty, far-off horizon, a softer look stole over the wrinkled face. He had forgotten, the mischievous boys perched on the wall above, forgotten Jerry, the returned wanderer, in the thought of that home to which he would willingly enough depart, where the old man's human treasures were already housed, and where they awaited himself.
'I say, let's get down, and slip round to the lane; perhaps we might catch Jerry, and walk home with him.'
It was Geoff's suggestion; and the brothers slid down from the wall to the beach on the other side to make off, amid a distracting volley of heart-rending howls from the betrayed Splutters and Shutters.
'Oh dear! I wish I could make it come right!'
The speaker was a tall girl of eighteen or so, who sat with her thumbs pressing her ears, and her fingers shading her eyes, to shut out the sights and sounds of the blue waters that rolled up and broke in crisp waves on the stretch of yellow sands under the windows of the Bunk dining-room.
Theo Carnegy had been trying her hardest for a couple of hours to add up the housekeeping bills for the week. It was a task the girl dreaded always, and on this particular day the figures seemed unusually contrary and obstinate to cope with. Somehow, they utterly refused to come straight and tally with the money she had been entrusted with to lay out. The bristling difficulties seemed all the more unmanageable because the sunshine that afternoon was so bright, and the wind so fresh; while the boat that belonged to the Carnegy family lay tossing at anchor within sight, as if inviting the girl down for the greatest enjoyment of her life—a pull across the bay.
But there was good stuff in Theo, gentle and yielding though she looked, with her sweet, soft face, and the fair waving hair surrounding it. She was the one of all the Carnegys who had deliberately given her heart to God's service. That she had done so spoke out of her clear, steadfast eyes, and in the peaceful lines of her mouth, and more than all, in her unflagging determination to keep on straight at what she knew to be her duty, without allowing herself to be beguiled to this side or to that of the narrow path. Eighteen is not a very advanced age, even regarded from the point of view of her brothers and little sister; and Theo, who passionately loved the sea, had a great struggle to keep her blue eyes fixed on the tiresome figures, which would not come right, struggle as she might to make them. It never occurred to her to shirk a difficulty in any sense; her nature was such that she must grapple with a duty, however distasteful, once she felt she was appointed to fulfil it. Her mother had died when Theo, the eldest Carnegy, was fifteen, and Queenie, the younger, only two years old. So, already, she had been for three years her father's housekeeper. A certain sum of money was given into her hands every week by the captain, and there was an end of the matter as regarded him. He wanted to hear nothing about ways and means, certainly no details regarding household management. All such was forbidden sternly; the captain's time was valuable, he imagined, it being dedicated to the great object which he hoped to achieve before he died. Distinctly, the naval battles of the world throughout the ages were more important than the everyday skirmishes in his own household. Theo, therefore, knew that on no pretext whatever might she venture to appeal to her preoccupied father in her difficulties; but she was faithful to her charge, and gallantly enough fought with the distracting items and their corresponding figures, which should have agreed, but didn't. It was uphill work, however, for the youthful housekeeper.
'Can't you come out yet, Theo? The boys are across the bay at the Vicarage, and we could have the boat all to ourselves, if you would only leave those nasty sums!'
It was a patient little voice that interrupted the distracted girl. Its owner had been into the room three times already, with the same object, to ask the pathetic question.
'Oh, don't worry me, Queenie dear! I'm just as anxious as yourself to go on the water; but there's three halfpence gone astray, and I—I can't find it out!' half sobbed Theo, who was getting nervous over the troublesome figures.
Queenie, a small, sedate maiden of five, a miniature of Theo in face, stood silent in the doorway for a few seconds, wistfully piecing out the possible meaning of her tall sister's bewildered grief. Then she disappeared.
Theo glanced through her fingers, and Queenie, who had been struggling with the clasp of what looked like a doll-purse, proudly spread out three halfpennies so remarkably clean and bright that they had unmistakably been carefully washed by their small owner.
'You may have these, Theo, 'stead of the three you've lost. Please take them. I don't weally want them, for I've still got five ha'pennies left!' The small woman spoke urgently.
'Oh, my darling Queenie, you don't understand! I could have done that myself—I could have put in three halfpence, and made all right, but it would have been all wrong in another way. Listen now, and I shall try to explain to you.'
Placing her arm round Queenie's little neck, Theo tried to make the child understand that such a proceeding would not be fair, nor upright, nor honest. It would not be getting out of the difficulty; it would rather be making it a deeper one.
'What's difficulties?' abruptly asked Queenie, with her round, solemn eyes gazing into her sister's face.
'Difficulties are things made on purpose to be conquered in the right way,' said Theo, after a pause of consideration. 'I think,' she added, 'that God puts them in our way, very often, just to try us.'
'Oh, if God makes difficulties, they must be quite right, mustn't they, Theo?'
'Yes, yes!' was the quick response; and Theo, fired afresh, shut out the fair picture of the tiny speaker whose grave, sweet face looked out of a tangle of fine-spun, golden hair. Covering her eyes, she applied herself with renewed vigour to the detested task before her.
Queenie, who had oftentimes witnessed such struggles before, knew better than to utter another word; the child stood perfectly still. There was no sound in the room but the ticking of the clock and the cracking of the seeds with which Miss Pollina, the old grey parrot in the cage by the window, amused herself unceasingly from morn until night. Even Miss Pollina seemed to be aware that perfect quietness was necessary for the present, and she had hushed her usual chatter.
'I've got them! I've got them!' cried out Theo, suddenly throwing up her pencil in the air, and showing all her white teeth in a joyous laugh over her triumph. Pollina instantly lifted up her head and raised her voice also in a succession of deafening screams of congratulation, while Queenie, always sedate as regards laughter and chatter, silently performed, with a quaint gravity, a careful, slow minuet round and round the room.
'I lent three halfpence to Geoff to make up his sixpence for the hospital-cot collection at the children's service last Sunday. He had only fourpence halfpenny. I remember it all now. Oh, how stupid I've been, to be sure!' It was an intense relief to have chased successfully the truant halfpence. 'Now, Queenie,' went on Theo gleefully, 'in five minutes I shall be ready for you, and we are going to have a good time in the boat. Get your hat on, deary.'
'May I bring some of my doll-people, Theo?' Queenie turned as she was disappearing through the doorway to ask anxiously.
'Oh dear, yes! As many as you can carry!' Theo called back absently, for she was finishing the column of figures, with a flourish of triumph.
In five minutes more 'Miss Theedory,' as all Northbourne called the captain's eldest daughter, was rowing across the bay with Queenie sedately facing her in the Bunk boat. Queenie had seated several members of her waxen family on either side of her, and taking them an airing was a serious responsibility for their anxious little parent. She was in truth over-burdened with family cares, being the owner of no less than thirteen dolls of various sizes and degrees of beauty. 'Miss Queenie's baker's dozen,' the boys Geoff and Alick loved to tease her by calling them.
At the Bunk there was a tiny, three-cornered room overlooking the bay, too small for any purpose whatever, even for a storeroom. This niche had been given up to Queenie as a play-room. In it the child kept her thirteen children; and, in addition, all the accumulated toys of the family which had come down to herself, the youngest Carnegy, were therein hoarded and stored by that most staid and careful of little maids.
'Where is us going to, Theo?' sedately inquired Queenie, after she had settled her family to her mind in the boat.
'Across to the Vicarage, first. We are going to have tea with Mrs. Vesey. I wrote this morning to say that we should come. And then, on our way back, I shall pull round to old Mrs. Dempster's; I want to have a talk with her about Ned. You won't mind sitting in the boat if I tie her to the old punt, will you, deary?'
'Oh no!' tranquilly said Queenie. The little maid was quite as much at home on the sea as on the land, for the Carnegy young folk took to the water like ducklings, from the time they could walk. The family boat, 'The Theodora,' christened after Theo herself, was in daily use in the bay, which was generally well sheltered, no matter how fierce the storms that raged out their fury in the deep waters beyond. 'Is Ned a naughty boy?' inquired the little girl presently, her watchful eyes fixed on the waxen ladies and gentlemen who lay back languidly when they did not abruptly slide altogether down to the bottom of the boat.
'Well, Ned's not a bad boy exactly!' said Theo slowly. 'He's not quite satisfactory, though. I'm afraid our Alick is too much with Ned; they are putting mischief into each other's heads, if I'm not mistaken!' Theo had a trick of talking confidentially to her little sister, as if she were grown-up enough to understand that this world is not made of play-days. Possibly that was one of the reasons why Queenie seemed so sedate and solemn.
'Alick's going to be a sailor, and find the North Pole,' observed Queenie, administering a quiet box on the ear to an ill-behaved doll that wobbled with the motion of the boat in a manner that was enough to render anybody who watched her quite sea-sick. 'Who lost the North Pole, Theo?' demanded the child.
Queenie's questions were usually of a most unexpected nature, and were occasionally comical enough.
'Oh, nobody, of course!' laughed Theo. 'What a queer mite you are, deary!' Then she went on gravely, 'Finding the North Pole means trying to reach and to see, with human eyes, what I, for one, don't believe human beings will ever live to behold. It is one of God's mysteries which man has never yet penetrated, perhaps never was meant to penetrate.'
'What's mysteries?' Queenie of course thirsted to know.
'Dark, wonderful things; possibly things that it might hurt us to see or to know. I've heard Mr. Vesey say that when the fever to find the North Pole gets into the blood it never leaves a man until life perishes. That's why so many have been already lost in the attempt. They will persist, and nature gives out. But here we are at the Vicarage pier. Jump out, dear, and I'll tie "The Theodora" safely up.'
BINKS'S BIT O' TEACHIN'
An uproarious welcome awaited the captain's daughters as they stepped out of their boat on the little pier belonging to the Vicarage. Splutters and Shutters scrambled to meet the visitors, barking out hospitality in their customary violent fashion. Behind them hobbled Binks, eager to help 'Miss Theedory' fasten up the boat, privately sceptical of the young lady's capacity to do so.
'Oh, Binks! How d'ye do?' politely asked Queenie, who, having disembarked her waxen family, was endeavouring to protect them from the frantic welcome of the terriers, both of which seemed ready to eat up the doll-guests, so glad were they to see them.
'Sadly, missy; I'm but proper sadly!'
'What is it, Binks?' sympathetically asked Theo, shaking out her blue-cotton skirts, and drawing on a pair of gloves, for Mrs. Vesey was peculiarly dainty and sensitive about trifles. Though an invalid herself, the poor lady was always exquisitely dressed, maintaining as a reason that if the human body be the temple of Christ, then it must be the bounden duty of the Christian owner not only to keep it wholesome, but also to adorn it, making it fair without, to match the fairness within. Not only in her own person did this dainty gentlewoman carry out her theory, but she looked for it in the persons of her visitors. Theo invariably respected her wishes by appearing before her trim and trig.
'Tis jes' they rheumatics, Miss Theedory!' answered Binks cheerfully, for all the world as if his aches and pains were so many honours. 'But there, what's 'ee to expec' at sixty-seven? People's jints bain't made to hold out for ever-'n-ever. Will 'um now?'
'No, they won't!' joined in Queenie comprehendingly. 'Miss Muffet's jints are giving way, too. Just look, Binks!' She held up for inspection an elaborately dressed lady, whose arms and legs were in such a tremulous condition that their total lapse from the body to which they belonged would have been no surprise.
'I shall ask father for some of that famous liniment of his, Binks,' said Theo. 'I could send you over some in a little bottle; the boys shall bring it this evening.'
'If you ask me candid, I should say that glue would be the best liniment to patch them jints!' Binks was stolidly contemplating the loose condition of Miss Muffet's limbs.
'We're at cross purposes!' laughed Theo. 'Come along, Queenie; there's Mrs. Vesey standing at the drawing-room window waving to us. We must not keep her waiting. Can't you leave your doll-people in the boat, dear? Binks will see that the dogs don't worry them to bits.'
'Ay, ay! That I will, missy. Bless 'em both, they're picters, they two, as taut and trig as you please. God give 'em smooth seas to sail over!' added the old man under his breath, as he watched the captain's daughters cross the lawn above.
Time was, far back in years, when Binks had watched with pride such another maiden as 'Miss Theedory,' the daughter God had given, or, rather, had lent, for a little while, to the parents who idolised her. The frosts of death nipped the human flower. Slowly, surely, it faded, until the little home it had gladdened and made fair was empty and dark, like the hearts left sorrowing. Long years ago though it was since the blow had fallen, still not yet was the wound healed over. Behind the austere front and grim temper of old Binks, the memory of his maid Bessie lived fresh and fragrant as the girl herself had been. There are some of us who, loyal ever to the love rooted deep in our hearts, thus keep green the memory of those 'faces we have loved long since, and lost awhile!'
'She's rare and sweet, is Miss Theedory,' murmured the weather-beaten old man, when the sisters had disappeared, and he turned to fasten the boat to the pier-head. 'But I make no doubt she've her peck o' troubles, too, what with them limbs of young brothers, and the captain so uplifted-like that he can't give a hand to help her rule 'em. Yes, Miss Theedory has no easy life of it, though she be a born lady. 'Tis a world o' ups and downs, this is.'
'Hilloa, Binks! Oh, I say!'
The old man wheeled round to find Geoff and Alick had unexpectedly returned.
'Whatever's ado now? What's brought 'ee both back?' snapped the old man crustily. The boys were anything but pleasant interruptions in his eyes.
'Oh, we got tired waiting about for Jerry. He hasn't come yet. And we've just seen our boat come into the pier, and we want it to go for a row,' both boys spoke at once.
'Ye want the boat, do 'ee now? Well, then, ye can't get it, that's all!' Binks faced round upon the boys, who were trying to push past him and jump into the boat. 'Miss Theedory, she says, says she, "Binks, I looks to you to see arter that boat for me!" and with that she stepped up to the house, she and little missy, to see the mistress. 'Tain't likely I'm a-goin' to 'low her to find no boat waitin' for her, bym-bye, when she's ready to go back 'ome. You jes' be off, young musters!'
'That's all nonsense! It's no use of you showing fight. We mean to have the boat. It's our boat, and Theo can walk home; do her good, too.'
Alick spoke sullenly, and pushed past Binks on the slippery little pier. But he reckoned without counting the cost. Binks, though rheumatic and a trifle bent, still retained some of the strength that had made him a byword as an athlete in his young days. With a touch of angry red in his brown, wrinkled cheek, and a spark of wrath in his deep-set eyes, he seized the boy neatly by the back of the collar and the band of his Norfolk tweed jacket. It was useless for Alick to splutter and howl and threaten. Old Binks swung him, as though he were a kitten, over the edge of the pier, while Geoff fairly doubled up in a wild ecstasy of laughter.
'Tis this way I'll serve 'ee, if so be as you wants to, interfere wi' me doin' of my dooty, young sir!' croaked out the sturdy old veteran.
'Let me down, I say, let me down! Oh, I'll pay you out!' screamed Alick, maddened more by a sense of humiliation than of terror, for none of the Carnegy name dreaded a ducking in the sea.
'There ye be, then!' Binks at last deposited his wriggling burden flat on the pier. 'Now, p'raps ye'll understand the way an honest man dispoges of obstructions in the path o' dooty! You're an obstruction, you are, muster; and if so be as you lay the lesson to heart, the bit o' teachin' on my part will be wuth while.'
'I'll pay you out. See if I don't!' repeated Alick, sidling hurriedly off, with a parting shot in the shape of the coward's favourite threat.
'Oh, come!'—Geoff was at his heels,—'the old chap is very game. You must allow, too, that he was in the right, Alick, and we were wrong.'
Clear-sighted Geoff never hesitated to render justice to others. But Alick was different. Baffled and furious, he slouched away, hatching secret revenge upon the old man who had so determinedly baulked his will.
Ned Dempster was certainly the sharpest of all the boys in Northbourne. Naturally sharp, that is to say, for he, in common with Alick Carnegy, was incorrigibly idle, and Ned's talent of ability was therefore allowed to rust from disuse.
The Carnegy boys and Ned were in the same class at Sunday school, a class taught by Theo. The rest of the boys comprising it being dull and lumpish, it was only to be expected that a sharp-witted lad like Ned stood out brilliantly from his neighbours, attracting by his intelligence the attention of his teacher as well as her young brothers.
Ned Dempster was an orphan who had been brought up by his grandmother, Goody Dempster, the oldest inhabitant of the little fishing-village, an aged woman whose skin was baked brown by the sun and the salt sea-breezes until she had more the appearance of a New Zealander than an Englishwoman. Pitying the boy, as well as being considerably interested in his intelligent answers in class, Theo began to have him a good deal at the Bunk. She found many little offices there for him, such as to look after and keep tidy 'The Theodora,' the family boat, and to help in the obstinately unproductive garden. In this way the acquaintance between the three boys became a week-day as well as a Sunday one. Alick and Ned, in particular, rapidly found themselves to be kindred spirits. In each was ingrained a powerful love of adventure. Alick, a great reader, who had devoured already his father's little library, which was made up for the most part of books on seafaring subjects, found in Ned Dempster a listener who hungered for as much of that exciting fare as Alick could manage to retail second-hand.
For a long time the darling topic that absorbed their individual attention was pirates. The boys were never weary of rehearsing all the thrilling scenes of pirate-life which Alick had either read or heard of. In these lively pastimes Geoff willingly shared, lending a hand and a stentorian throat to the exciting work, though his tastes did not lie in that direction to the same extent as did those of his brother and Ned Dempster. Still, to be dressed in fierce red sashes, to wear elaborately corked moustaches, to be armed with clumsy, antique weapons which represented cutlasses, and to board, with ringing shouts, the beached-up fishing-boats in search of slaves, was a delightsome diversion. And perhaps to Geoff its greatest charm was that there was plenty of noise about it.
In course of time the joys of pirate-life palled. Next, there set in an extended course of terrible shipwrecks to order; these catastrophes being altogether independent of the weather. Into this game, which was not so exclusively manly, the many dolls belonging to Queenie were pressed. Time after time, these waxen ladies were bravely rescued and ceremoniously restored, dripping from the waves, to their anxious little owner, who, truth to tell, caught more colds than one in tending the shipwrecked doll-people.
But, in after days, Alick and Ned struck out quite a new line. Late and early they were found poring over atlases; drawing charts upon everything and anything, promiscuously, in the Northbourne landscape. Their daily conversation consisted of mysterious whispers about marching Polewards; about dangerous floes, and about camping out on the ice. At this juncture Geoff threw up his partnership in the games, which had become over-serious for his light-hearted, fun-loving nature. Not for him was there any attraction in the great mystery of the North Pole.
The imagination of Ned Dempster, on the other hand, took fire over the marvellous adventures, the awe-inspiring dangers and hardships of those explorers who, hitherto, have failed to attain the great object. This, in truth, was an aim to live for, to perish for, if need be; and as time went on, the boys became closer intimates than ever, particularly as nobody else took any interest in the one topic that had seized, with iron grip, their youthful imaginations. Perhaps the fact of the indifference of others bound the two closer together.
Alick grew worse and worse over the preparation of his lessons for the tutor. The routine and discipline of the schoolroom became too irksome to be borne. Consequently, punishments and detentions and complaints were the order of the day at the Bunk, to the despair of their tutor, Philip Price, a quiet, not over robust-looking young man, who had qualified for the Church, but as yet had failed in getting a living. Meantime he taught the young Carnegys every morning, and made up a slender income by giving afternoon lessons elsewhere.
The young man and his widowed mother, after their home was broken up by death, had sought a hiding-place far from the summer-friends, who fell away so quickly in the 'day of trouble.'
'I'll work for you, mother dear; never you fear about the future!' Philip had bravely declared. Poor lad, he had gallantly striven to do so, but sometimes he felt as though every man's hand was against him, so fruitless were his struggles. It is hard work to force one's way inside the world's pitilessly closed doors.
Certainly, Philip Price might have had his chances, as they are called, if he had not been so bent upon entering the clerical profession. His mother's relatives were City men of some repute, and a sure footing among them might have been gained by the young man, had he chosen to relinquish his dream. But Philip did not so choose. Even after he had fully qualified, and the living he had made so sure of stepping into passed into the hands of others, and it seemed as if the labourer were not 'worthy of his hire,' Philip did not regret his choice of a career.
'It will come right, mother, don't you doubt it,' he persisted. Meanwhile something else came. Failing health was the cross that Philip Price was required to shoulder. He grew painfully thin as time went on; his tall, elastic figure acquired a stoop; and there came, to stay, an anxious, upright line between his eyebrows, that spoke of mental worry.
'Philip dear,' his watchful mother, quick to note these signs, laid her hand on his shoulder to say, 'these pupils try you overmuch. I know they do!'
'Nonsense, dear old mater!' evaded Philip, imprisoning the wrinkled hand. He had come in looking unusually spent, and thrown himself on the hard, slippery sofa of the cheap lodging the Prices called, nowadays, their home.
The truth was the young tutor had begun to tire woefully of the daily grind he had taken up so blithely. It was the incorrigible Carnegy boys who were his special worry. His other pupils, a meek, small boy and his shy sister, though they would never set the Thames on fire by their wit, at the same time would never goad their teacher to desperation by mutinous, unruly ways. But Philip Price never carried tales out of school. Not from himself did his mother learn how tried the tutor was, but, with a woman's instinct, she divined the cause.
'I wish, dear, you had never seen that family, the Carnegys,' she said plaintively. It was a chance shot, of course, but Philip started up alert.
'I've been told a good deal about them, only to-day,' went on the widow, taking up some fleecy knitting. The mother and son were sitting in the twilight, and knitting needed no spectacles. 'It seems they are an ill-governed pack, the young people, neglected by their father, and allowed to grow up anyhow, people say. Philip, I feel quite positive that they try you beyond your strength. Is it not so? Tell me, my dear.'
'Mother,'—Philip's thin face flushed as he spoke hurriedly,—'is it quite fair of you to quote "they say" about people whom you don't know? The Carnegys are not an "ill-governed pack," I assure you. The boys—my pupils—are, I grant you, unmanageable young rebels; but the others—Miss Carnegy and her little sister—they are——' Philip stopped abruptly.
'Well, Phil?' His mother raised her head quickly to glance at the troubled face opposite.
'They are as sweet and gentle-natured as they are fair!' said Philip in a low voice.
'I should like very well to see and know these Misses Carnegy for myself,' presently observed Mrs. Price; and Philip noted the faint, jealous displeasure in her voice.
'Mother,' he laughed in a boyish way, 'one of those Misses Carnegy, as you call them, is so charming that you could not resist taking her in your arms and setting her on your lap!'
'Oh, they are only children, these girls?'
'One of them is,' rejoined Philip, after a hesitating pause. 'She is a child of five. But the other Miss Carnegy is grown up; she is the eldest, and the mainstay of the family. There is no mother, you see.'
'Ah! Poor dear young things! Well, but, my boy, the thing troubling me most is that you should be condemned to such poor work as teaching, when, by rights, you ought to be filling a far different position. Oh, Philip, to think with your fine abilities you should be nothing better than a mere drudge! I often wish, dear, that you had not been so obstinate. You might have had a capital position by this time, with one or other of your uncles in the City.'
'Hush, mother, please!' Philip raised his thin hand. 'You know that from my childhood I've desired to be a soldier of Christ. If there be no opening prepared for me as yet, it must be that I am not fit for the work. In God's own good time He will point the way. I am content to wait that time, mother; and,' added the young man softly under his breath, 'if it be that the opening never come in this life, well, we know that all things are possible to Him, without any feeble help from us weak mortals.'
'Dear boy,' sighed the widow, 'your patience shames my discontent. But, you see, it tries a mother's heart sorely to see her child stranded high and dry, while others, not half so fit, rush in and win the prizes of life.'
'Bide a wee, mater, bide a wee! Everything comes to the man who can wait, as the old proverb says. But I must confess I am at the end of my patience with those young scamps, the Carnegy boys.'
'Speak to their father, Philip. Rouse him up to rule in his own house,' said Mrs. Price energetically.
'I really think I must,' assented Philip; and he did.
THE LITTLE MOTHER
The next day the harassed tutor bearded the lion in his den.
'I really must have a few words with you, captain!' he began nervously enough.
'What on earth's the matter, Price? What's wrong now?' testily demanded the captain, grievously annoyed at being disturbed over his ponderous literary labours.
'It's the old story,' said Philip dejectedly. 'The fact is, the boys are getting beyond me, Alick especially so.'
'Well,' said the captain, fidgeting impatiently with his pen as he sat surrounded by waves of MSS., 'thrash them, can't you?'
'I'd rather try any other means than that!' was the quietly spoken answer.
'Hasn't the pluck in him for it!' was the thought that passed through the fiery old sailor's mind. But if he had noted the calm smile of a self-controlled nature that flitted across the face of the young man standing opposite him, the captain would have rapidly changed his opinion as to the lack of pluck in Philip Price.
'Oh, well, what do you want me to do, eh? You really can't expect me to come into the schoolroom and horsewhip the young scamps for you! You see for yourself how my time is occupied on a most important subject.' The captain waved his pen over the closely-written sheets before him.
'Perhaps not. But I really must ask you to reason with Alick, if not to punish him. It is imperative that something of the sort must be done. It comes to this, captain, I don't feel that it's quite honest to be taking your money for the mockery of teaching the boys, particularly Alick!' As he forced himself to speak thus, a dark-red flush rose to Philip Price's brow, for he was one of the over-sensitive folk.
'Pshaw, man! What a fool you must be!' The blunt captain was at the end of his patience. He was quivering to get back to his work. 'Besides, boys will be boys all the world over. Alick is no worse than others, I suppose. You're too conscientious. It's absurd!' ended the sailor in a more kindly tone, after he had pushed his spectacles up into the roots of his iron-grey hair, to take a leisurely look at the earnest, agitated face confronting him.
'Now, I'll tell you what, Price!' he began again—'the best thing you can do is to go and talk the matter over with Theo. That girl can do anything with her brothers. She's got a way that some women are born with—not all women, mind you, but my Theo has it. Just go and consult her, and let me get on with my work, I beg of you. I am going over my MSS. for the fifth time, young man! That will give you an idea of my perseverance with difficulties. Follow the example, and you'll soon conquer those young limbs. Now, good morning to you, Price, good morning!' and Philip was hastily bowed out of the stuffy little sanctum, with its piles of MSS. and its odours of stale tobacco.
'Theo's the one to settle it all!' cheerfully muttered the captain, as the tutor's footsteps died away. 'She's such a sensible little woman, and has such a talent for managing and organising; she takes after me!' he added, with a complacence that would have received a rude shock by a little plain speaking as to those duties close at hand in his home that he was daily neglecting, in order to follow a will-o'-the-wisp in the shape of literary success.
'Miss Carnegy, the captain has referred me to you about a matter I have been forced to mention to him.'
Philip Price was standing in the doorway of the tea-house, as the Carnegys called the rustic erection at the end of the long, unproductive garden, hanging sheer over the little rocky headland on which the captain had built his bunk, when he came to settle at Northbourne. A large part of the Carnegys' lives was spent in the tea-house, for as a family they loved the open air.
It was Queenie's schoolroom, in spring, summer, and autumn. The two fair heads raised at the sound of Philip's voice belonged to Theo and her pupil. They were busy over the Monday Bible-lessons, it being a wise rule of the young teacher to follow up the lessons of Sunday while they were still fresh in the childish memory of her little charge.
'What a contrast!' inwardly groaned the tutor as he took in the peaceful scene, and compared it with the one he had so recently quitted, in despair, where Geoff and Alick had that morning well-nigh goaded him to frenzy by their rebellious conduct. Alick had been in one of his worst moods, and Geoff had caught the infection. Books had been flung up to the ceiling; the ink-bottles deliberately emptied; and the rebels daringly shouted 'Rule Britannia!' from the top of the table on which they had leaped, brandishing the fire-irons. The tutor knew that he could have severely chastised one of the boys, and conquered him with ease, but he could hardly cope at once, single-handed, with the two. He therefore felt it to be the most dignified thing to leave the schoolroom in silence. All this he told, in a few brief words, to Theo, unwilling as he was to burden her youthful shoulders, already overweighted with many cares.
'I'm sorry, Mr. Price, so sorry!' Theo spoke humbly, and her sweet face coloured from chin to brow with vexation. 'It's hard for you to be subjected to such treatment. The boys are truly unmanageable. But, indeed, they have good hearts; they will be so repentant for their shocking behaviour by and by.'
'They must say so, if they are,' said Philip, firmly, his pale face growing set. 'I must have an apology from them before I can resume the lessons, whatever may be the cost.'
'Of course! oh, of course!' hurriedly assented Theo, her fingers working nervously. There were breakers ahead, she foresaw. The idea of Alick, or Geoff either, apologising! 'I shall go to them, and do my best to bring them to reason,' she said presently.
'Thank you! I am sorry that the matter should vex you!' was the grave reply; and lifting his hat, the tutor departed home.
'Vex me!' murmured Theo, leaning her head out of one of the open windows of the tea-house, and staring absently down upon the waves leaping over the black rocks below. 'Vex me! It's more than that. Oh, it's too bad that all the burden should fall on me! Father ought to look after the boys. It's too bad!' she repeated.
Then the sea and sky were blurred, and a vision took their place—a vision of a sweet, fading face; hands outstretched in pleading; and a loved voice, long since dumb, rang in her ears: 'You will promise, Theo, to be a little mother to the boys, and help them over the rough places in life's journey, as I should have tried to do? God will help you, dear. He will ever be ready with His aid!'
How vividly it all came back to the girl, that dark time in her young life when the dear, tender mother was called from out their midst. When all things, in heaven and earth alike, were shrouded in the pitiless gloom which hid the face of her Heavenly Father from the despairing daughter. What a chill, empty, rudderless home it was for the terror-struck children, with no one to look to for guidance! Father was away at the far ends of the world on his good ship, and mother—ah, farther off still was the mother, who had slipped out of the little home. Theo remembered, with a pang, the clinging hands of the desolate boys and the baby, Queenie, which had stirred her out of her own stupor of sorrow. It was borne in upon her, then, that she must step into the dead mother's empty place; and, frail, weak girl though she was, she had done her brave best to fill it ever since. She knew well, none better, that God had indeed helped her daily in her efforts hitherto. Lifting her tear-stained face, Theo told herself that He would do so still, for 'His mercies never fail.' With a silent little prayer for strength and patience, she left Queenie in the tea-house while she went indoors to confront the rebels as courageously as she could.
MUTINY AT THE BUNK
'Boys!' Theo's clear treble voice rang through the din that was shaking the very pictures on the walls of the Bunk dining-room.
'Why, it's Theo, I declare!' shouted Geoff, the first to hear his sister. 'We're in a state of mutiny, Theo! Isn't it fun?' He shrieked in his glee.
'We've turned on old Price, and completely routed him off the decks, and we've seized the ship. We're in sole command of the Bunk—hooray!' Alick, his face flushed with triumph, his eyes dancing with wicked mischief, executed a hornpipe in the middle of the dining-table in furious style and making a hideous clatter, shouting the while—
'Will ye hear of Captain Kidd, And the deeds of which he did, All upon the Spanish main, Where so many men were slain?'
'Won't you get down, boys dear, and tell me quietly what has maddened you so this morning?' Theo, who had been standing transfixed, spoke at last, looking calmly at her excited brothers, and her voice, so evenly modulated and gentle, had an instantaneous effect. The dreadful din and noisy dancing abruptly ceased, while the rebels regarded her with much the same sullen stare as one encounters from a drove of Highland cattle when molested.
'Where's Price? Have you seen him?' suspiciously asked Geoff. 'Has he been reporting us?'
'He'd better not try on that game, I tell you, the coward that he is!' growled Alick.
'I don't know about Mr. Price being the coward,' pointedly said Theo. 'It isn't usually the fashion among brave men for two to set on one, is it, boys dear?' she added tranquilly.
Geoff gasped. Then his mouth, opening to sharply retort, shut with a click. He knew that his sister, though only a girl, was perfectly right. It had been an unfair, uneven conflict. Theo put her finger on the blot with remarkable accuracy for a girl; two to one must always be unfair, and a rush of shame tingled over him.
Not so Alick. He would not allow himself to be convinced.
'I'd like to know what right has Price to grind us down?' he muttered, gloomily frowning at Theo. 'He's an oppressor, that's what he is! But I'll soon let him see; I'll pitch into him, if he dares to show his white face here again, I tell you! Down with tyrants!'
'He isn't likely to show his face here,' said Theo, loftily regarding the inflamed countenance of her brother. 'That is,' she continued, 'not unless he receives an ample apology from each of you for this morning's work.'
'Apology!' shouted—almost yelled—Alick. 'Never! Don't you believe it, Miss Theo! You think you can do most things, but you won't bend us to that!' Rub-a-dub on the dining-table hammered the furious boy's toes and heels, as he broke out into another hornpipe.
'Won't you come down, dears?' again pleaded Theo as gently as before. 'Come to the tea-house, and tell me exactly what the trouble was from the very beginning,' she said persuasively.
'Oh, we'll tell you!' eagerly assented the boys, with one voice; and scrambling down from the table, each slipped an arm through Theo's, and walked away with her, both talking at once, excitedly endeavouring to make the best of their case in her eyes. They were genuinely fond of their elder sister; principally, it may have been, because she never scolded or flouted them, however badly they behaved. Theo's way was different. It was by gentle means she sought to lead, not drive, her rebellious, hot-headed young brothers back to the path of duty from which they were so constantly straying.
'What did you want, did you say?' she asked, bewildered by the two angry voices full of complaint on either side of her.
'You be quiet, Geoff, and let me tell her, said Alick, in a domineering tone. 'I'm the eldest!' That being a fact, Geoff could not well contradict it, and Alick triumphantly went on, 'You see, Theo, this is how it all began. We asked Price, civilly enough, this morning to allow us a whole day off on Wednesday next, instead of the usual half-holiday. And I'll tell you why we were so anxious for a whole day. You know Jerry Blunt?'
Theo nodded. Everybody had heard of the wanderer's return to Northbourne.
'Of course you do. Well, but perhaps you didn't know that he has set up as a bird-trainer, because he can't do any work since he lost his right arm, and he is bound to make a living somehow. Jerry told Ned Dempster that he was going to Brattlesby Woods all day Wednesday to seek for young bullfinches, and he also said that we might go with him, if we cared to, and help search the nests. Wouldn't that have been splendid? Now, wouldn't it?'
Theo nodded again—emphatically. She thoroughly sympathised with all the boys' pleasures and pursuits, even when she could not join them.
'But that cantankerous old Price refused us flat. He said we'd been far too idle, me especially, to yield us one single hour extra; and he hammered away about his responsibilities as he has the cheek to call us. Now, I ask you, wasn't that enough to make a fellow just mad? Wouldn't you have done exactly as we did yourself, Theo?' Alick gave his sister's arm an impatient shake.
'Well, no. I don't think I should have danced so madly on the table to the horrible music of the fire-irons. And I do know I should not have insulted a gentleman. Another thing'—Theo skilfully reserved her best shot for the last—'I also am quite sure I shouldn't have set on him when he was single-handed and I had a partner, as I said before.'
Geoff slid his hand quickly out of Theo's arm; her shot had gone home, and his face took on a look of hot shame. Alick, on the other hand, only frowned the more deeply.
'Let us sit down and talk it all over reasonably,' went on Theo. 'Queenie dear, it is one o'clock; you may take your lesson-book, and make yourself and your doll-people tidy for dinner.' Queenie obediently trotted off to the house, and the speaker continued. 'What's all this about Jerry Blunt, boys? I thought he was a sailor? What in the world has a sailor to do with training bullfinches, I want to know?'
'Why,' glibly began Alick, his face clearing, for the subject was one specially dear to him, 'you know Jerry was away on that expedition to find the North Pole—the one that went so far north. They got to the Franz Josef Land, the very farthest anybody has ever yet penetrated. But they failed that time, and Jerry got a frost-bite all through his own carelessness—he admits that. His right hand and arm above the elbow had to be taken off. Oh, you needn't shudder, Theo; a man can't both venture and go scot-free. When the expedition came back they gave Jerry the sack—turned him off, you know. So he has come back to Northbourne to settle with his old mother, and of course he is anxious to turn an honest penny for a living. It seems he knows a rare lot about training young bullfinches to pipe real tunes. He learned the trick from a cunning old Frenchman's yarns—a man who was on the expedition.'
'Yes, and just fancy, Theo!' cut in Geoff excitedly, and forgetting all his recent twinges of compunction. 'Jerry trains the bullfinches with a queer little musical instrument, a bird organ it is called. The notes are as like their own as they can possibly be, Jerry says so. He is going to show us the one he has got of his own. Old Frenchy, who taught him how to train, gave him one for himself.'
'What's Jerry Blunt's object in training the birds? How can it be a living for him?' asked Theo wonderingly. For the moment she, too, had forgotten the disagreeable events of the morning in the novelty of the subject.
'Why, he will sell them, of course—sell them to a chap in London who sells them again. They fetch a good price, I can tell you. And oh, Theo, listen, we are going to have a trained finch, Alick and I. We're going to save up, and Jerry has promised to keep a young bird to train for us. We shall pay him, you know.' Geoff in his elation jumped up and down on the seat.
'Yes, we are!' said Alick; adding wrathfully, 'and wasn't it a mean, low trick of Price to refuse us leave to go with Jerry?' He was quite ready to blaze up again, volcanic-wise, in another fury.
'Well, boys,' Theo spoke quietly and simply, but there was that in her face and voice that forced both other brothers to listen, 'you know, each of you, that father is too busy to look after you; so Mr. Price is set over you, and he is on honour—being a gentleman, you understand—not to take advantage of father's preoccupation to give you such holidays as you have no right to have. Already they say your work is far too light, and I know Mr. Vesey has again and again urged father to send you both to a public school. When the book is done, and sent to the publishers, father means to see about it seriously. You've called Mr. Price a great many bad names to-day, but you can't call him dishonourable; that's one point in his favour, and it's but fair that we should allow him what we can. It would have been so easy for him to grant this favour——'
'Humph!' interrupted Alick, as if to say, 'Oh, you're coming round to our view, are you? I thought you would!'
'Quite easy!' repeated the young girl gravely. 'And there's another thing: if it would have been such a pleasure to you, think what it would have been to Mr. Price to get rid of such tiresome plagues as yourselves for a whole day!'
In a flash Alick remembered the recent words of old Binks to the same effect. For the second time the novel idea of how irksome he and Geoff must be to their much-tried tutor presented itself, to the resentful boy's secret astonishment.
'I am sure,' Theo began again, and still more gravely, 'you boys must remember that the Bible tells us to respect those appointed to be rulers over us.'
'Don't preach!' Alick rudely cut her short; but Geoff bit his lip. He was already bitterly ashamed of his morning's exploit, and tender, serious words from Theo never failed to touch him to the heart.
Left to himself, Geoff was undoubtedly one of those who, amid good surroundings, would have kept on the straight path easily enough. So could many. But human nature is, for the most part, made up of Alicks as well as Geoffs—of boys who wilfully choose to do wrong and to stray from duty. Like the genuine wheat and the tares, all must grow together side by side—in the meantime.
'I didn't intend to preach, Alick,' rejoined Theo gently. 'I only want to ask you boys to show that you also are gentlemen, in the true sense of the word, by frankly begging Mr. Price's pardon, when he comes to-morrow, for your rude outbreak of this morning. It is the least you can do, to make amends for an almost unpardonable insult.'
There was a silence. The waves below dashed and broke on the rocks, and the hoarse voices from a belated, heavy-laden fishing-boat stole across the water in shouts to the women, who had been anxiously awaiting them for some hours on the shore.
'Well, boys dear, have you decided? Are you to act as father's sons, as Carnegys of the old stock, or, to put it in another way, as Christians who have given offence, and know that there is but one way of making up for it? Will you apologise?' Theo spoke with urgent persuasiveness.
'I shall!' Geoff stood up straight, and his face was pale and set, as he confronted Theo bravely.
'I shan't!' Alick's head sunk lower and lower; on his brow a gloomy scowl deepened, and his eyes refused to meet those of his sister wistfully seeking his.
'Oh, mother, mother, it's too hard for me! You have asked too much, and I have failed, miserably failed!'
The wind from the sea was blowing fresh and free over the village, and beyond it to the little churchyard, the God's acre of Northbourne. Kneeling beside one of the grassy mounds therein was Theo Carnegy, tears rolling down her earnest face. The girl was overwrought by home-worries, for Theo was none of the crying sort, as a rule. But there are times in the lives of each of us when all things seem too difficult for our feeble hands to smooth out; the knots, the difficulties, become hopelessly entangled; we sit down dismayed in stony despair, or we weep helplessly, according to our several temperaments. From the beginning of the sorrow that shaded her young days, Theo had a trick, in times when harassing troubles crowded upon her, of secretly slipping away to the churchyard, and whispering her trials to that grassy mound, the most sacred spot of earth to the girl.
It was so still, so unutterably peaceful, in the hallowed enclosure, where the green grass grew tangled among the grey headstones that elbowed each other in the cramped space. During the week the little churchyard was deserted. On Sundays the simple fisher-folk wandered in and out among the Northbourne sleepers, talking softly of their old neighbours; but it never occurred to them to do anything towards keeping the graves neat and straight. Theo's loving care kept the quiet corner where her mother slept in perfect order; but for the rest an air of dreary neglect prevailed.
Bewildered and harassed by her brothers' mad outbreak, Theo had sought her usual consolation, and was sitting leaning her cheek against the stone that told the last chapter in the life-history of the gentle mother who had risen at the Master's call to go up higher. And as she so sat, a peace, born of the surrounding silence, brooded down over her troubled soul. Her anger at the boys' mutiny died out. Somehow, among the silent sleepers round about her, it seemed small and paltry to fume over the wranglings of the schoolroom. The wind that stole up from the bay dried the tears on Theo's cheek. New resolves stirred her heart. She would pluck up courage and try, once again, to move Alick's stubborn will. Not that she had much hope of inducing him to apologise to his justly offended tutor. She knew that Philip Price had created an insurmountable rock in the path of reconciliation by his insistence on such a thing.
'I don't blame him, of course not,' she said half aloud. 'It's due to him that the boys should apologise. Dear old Geoff is already willing to do it; but Alick never will!'
'Who is you talking to, Theo?' A sweet, shrill voice made Theo jump, and turn quickly.
'Queenie! Oh, my deary, how did you know where to find me?' she cried in her surprise.
'Oh, I could find you nowhere, Theo. I asked everybody, even father. Then I knewed you must have gone to see mother, and so I comed too.' Queenie, armed as usual with a couple of dolls, proceeded to seat herself and them on the other side of the green mound. 'Tell me about mother an' me, Theo, when I was a very little girl, will you?' she soberly begged, when she had established herself and her infants to her satisfaction.
In this little one there was an utter lack of dread of death. Nobody had filled her childish mind with vague fears of the unknown life beyond. Her simple faith was that unlimited trustful belief that our Lord alluded to when He said, 'Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.'
The mother whom Queenie only knew by hearsay had gone home first—gone to Paradise beyond the blue skies. Theo said so. This dear mother would be waiting, with wistful welcomes, for each one of her dear ones when they, too, went to that other far-off home. Theo said so. Queenie, therefore, came, with happy, childish trust, to her mother's quiet resting-place much as she would have trotted into that mother's room, had God not called His meek servant away out of her earthly home.
'I don't think I could tell you stories to-day, dear.' Theo rose slowly from the grass, and looked down upon the fair little face under its straw hat. 'I am too troubled.'
'Is it the horrid figures, Theo?' Queenie asked, half-sympathetically, half-absently, her attention being attracted by a bold thrush hopping across the graves.
'No, it's worse than figures; it's the boys,' mournfully rejoined Theo.
'The boys are going shrimping this evening, with Ned,' said Queenie importantly. 'I wish you and I was boys, Theo!' the little one plaintively added. Queenie was beginning to discover the fact that dolls were not, perhaps, the highest joys of life.
Going out shrimping with Ned! Theo started. Then things were hopeless indeed. There would be no evening preparation. Perhaps even Geoff had changed his mind, and would refuse to say he was sorry.
'I must take you home now, at once, deary. Come! I have to go and see old Goody Dempster before tea. Say good-bye, and come.'
Queenie's fresh little mouth was pressed against the grey headstone, and she softly whispered, 'Good-bye, mother darlin'!'
Theo stooped and did the same. The touching little ceremony was never omitted by either. Then hand in hand they soberly left the quiet resting-place, the missel-thrush peering out of its bold eye at their retreating figures.
'May I come in, Goody?'
A sweet voice penetrated the dim recesses of the little thatched cottage which, with its weather-stained front, was the centre one of the half-circle of homely dwelling-places that huddled together looking out on the world of waters. Sitting by the smoky fire, watching, as she knitted busily, the iron pot of potatoes boiling for her supper and that of her grandson Ned, was Goody Dempster. Her face, as she lifted it, was brown and wrinkled—indeed, it was not unlike in hue the kippered herrings hanging on a stick outside. But a pleased surprise sprang into her eyes as she recognised her visitor's voice.
'Is that yourself, Miss Theedory? Come along in, deary! You're always a sight for sore eyes, as ye know well. Sit ye down on the little stool as ye've set on sin' ye were a tiny toddler. It's kep' dusted careful, case you should drop in; and nobody, not even Ned, sits on Miss Theedory's stool.'
'I know that, Goody dear. I shouldn't mind if they did; but you mean it for kindness to keep a stool specially for me. Well, you see I've come again to have another talk with you about Ned. Indeed, I hoped to see himself, but he doesn't seem to be in the way.'
'No, Miss Theedory, he ain't. And reason why's this. He's bin out with the Fletchers' boat all the day. There's a great take o' mackerrow expected shortly, and the Fletchers they're on the look out; they're always that spry to the main-chance, as you know, deary. Not as I'm one to blame they; people has got to be sharp in their bis'ness.'
'Yes, of course,' assented Theo absently. She was staring into the fire, wondering what tack would be best to take with Ned, when she did get hold of the boy. 'Have you been talking to Ned, Goody, as you promised you would?' she turned her head to ask presently.
'Ay; I've talked a bit to he. But b'ys is a handful, Miss Theedory, as nobody should know better than yourself. Now, my Ned his heart's in the right place; it's his head as is the trouble. He has crammed hisself with trash of foring travel until the b'y is fair crazed to be off and out into the world. That's what it is!'
'I shouldn't call books of travels trash,' said Theo slowly. 'It wouldn't be quite fair—nor true. But it's exactly the same at home with our boys, especially with Alick. He reads exciting books of adventure constantly. Of course I know some folk must go out into the world, and do all the wonderful things; everybody can't be stay-at-homes for life. But the worst thing about it is that Alick won't wait his time. He wants to shirk his education and rush off, in his ignorance, to do things that it takes full-grown men, and well-instructed men, to even attempt. Oh dear!'
'Same wi' Ned, set 'em both up!' angrily exclaimed Goody, dropping the stocking she was knitting into her lap. 'And as for wanting to find the North Pole, did anybody ever hear tell o' sich impident presumption! If the Lord had meant as we should find the North Pole, He'd ha' showed the way to it, straight as straight, and made it easy as easy. But seein' as time arter time men have giv' up their lives, bein' lost in the ice and snows, and still, to my thinking, if not to others, the North Pole is shrouded from their reach, why, a body can see, plain as plain, that 'tain't meant as man should ever compass it. Not that I can say as it's forbid special in the Book; I won't say that, nohow. At least,' added Goody cautiously, 'I've never come across it in my readin's.'
'Oh, well,' said Theo heavily, 'it would not really so very much signify what the boys' day-dreams of the future were, if they would only do their duty meantime. I was trying so hard last Sunday, in the class, to make them all understand that God Himself leads always, and that until He points the way we have no right to set out upon it. But it is questionable whether they took in my meaning.'
Goody nodded. There was a little silence in the cottage. The potatoes bubbled gaily in the pot, and the clock in the corner ticked in measured dignity.
'There's one thing, deary, that I think you had ought to be telled.' Goody broke the stillness, at last, with an effort. 'I've had it on my mind for some weeks back to let 'ee know; but somehow I dursn't. Them b'ys is plannin' mischief. They've a notion to run away—to sea!'
The old woman spoke the last words in a whisper, though there was nobody to hear, save the sleepy old tortoiseshell cat by the fender, which opened one lazy eye, winked as if she, too, were in the secret, then, shutting it, purred off to sleep.
'Run away!' Theo's fresh face turned chalky pale, and her eyes widened into a terrified stare.
'True, deary, quite true! Night arter night I could hear Ned a-talkin' in his sleep in his little bed yonder, same's if somethin' was on his mind. So, at last, I got out o' my bed one night a-purpose to listen careful, and there, if Ned wasn't ravin' away to hisself, in his sleep, and 'twas all about gettin' away up to the docks at Lunnon, and hidin' in some ship bund for the North, him and Muster Alick. It giv' me a turn, as I see it's done the same to you this minnit, my dear. So I thought I'd best tell 'ee private, when I'd the chance; for nobody knows what a b'y won't dare to do. P'raps you could speak to the captain, and git him to make a stir. Eh, deary?'
'Father? Oh, it would be no use. He wouldn't care, nor even listen. He's too busy with his stupid old writings to mind any of us, or what trouble we are in. It's too bad the way we are left to ourselves!' Theo in her excitement lost her self-control, and spoke with a bitterness not belonging to her sweet nature. In truth, the girl was becoming a great deal harassed by the cares that were pressing upon her so heavily of late.
'Deary!' A wrinkled brown finger was raised, and Goody looked over her horn spectacles in grieved surprise. ''Tain't for me to pint out to one so good and gentle as our Miss Theedory that one of the great God's commandments is to "Honour thy father and thy mother"! Ain't that so?'
'Yes; but—but,' sobbed Theo, who, tired out and ashamed of herself as well, suddenly broke down, as much to her own astonishment as to that of Goody, 'that means a father and a mother who take a real interest in their children, who——'
'It don't say so special, if so be as it means that!' rejoined Goody dryly. 'It don't mention any sort in pertikler. It just says "thy father an' thy mother"; and that's all you and I've got to do with it. Let's look to our part, and perform it. But folks is always in such a hurry to settle other people's bis'ness that they lose sight of their own.'
'Oh, Goody, you're right! What a monster, what a bad girl you must think me!' Theo sat up straight. 'I am ashamed of myself. To think I should grumble at my own father, my good father, who was such a brave sailor, as everybody knows, and who never has been unkind to one of us children in all our lives!'
'That's it, deary! That's it. 'Tain't what your father isn't, but what he is, that you've got to look at, and to be grateful for. Remember what I'm a-goin' to say, and don't 'ee take offence at an old body's words. We never, none of us, has but one father on earth, same's we've but one Father in heaven, who commands us so special to honour our earthly parents. And another thing, deary; them things as seem mountains in your young eyes seems but trifles to the captain's eyes. If the time comes as there's real need for him to interfere, and bring about order in his own home, he will be safe to do it, never ye fear. The captain he was one of them as England expec's every man to do his dooty, and he did it in battle, so I've heard tell. And he will do it by you and the b'ys, don't 'ee fear!'
'I'm sure he will,' said Theo humbly. She had come full of the spirit of putting everything and everybody to rights, and she told herself that her own pride and self-sufficiency had earned its well-merited fall. Theo Carnegy's heart was too gentle and single in thought to harbour arrogant pride. Her quick repentance for the ill-advised words she had suffered to spring off her lips gave ample proof that it was so, and that in her the Christian spirit reigned.
'Here's Ned a-comin'!' Granny lifted her head sharply to listen to a prolonged, familiar whistle, and the cat, uncurling herself, rose up into an arch. There was a rush past the little window, and then Ned bustled into the room, bringing with him a breath of strong sea air and also of the odours of the mackerel-boat.
'They've comed, granny! The mackerrow has comed into our bay, and we're goin' out agin—— Evenin', miss! I—I didn't see you before.' Ned's cap was off, and he stood, colouring up, before the young lady sitting on the stool and looking at him out of her clear, earnest eyes.
'Ned,' said Theo, somewhat gravely, 'I want a quiet talk with you, one of these days soon.'
'Not to-morrow,' went on Theo. And Ned gave a gasp of relief, unobserved by her. He was secretly thankful that Miss Theedory had not fixed on the morrow, seeing it was the day of the proposed bird-hunt in Brattlesby Woods. 'We are all going across to the Vicarage to tea to-morrow,' continued the young lady; and Ned's relief changed to dismay. 'By the way, Ned, we shall be so glad to see you at the schoolroom tea at six o'clock. To-morrow will be Mrs. Vesey's birthday; and there's to be a little treat at the schoolhouse, as well as our tea at the Vicarage. You'll come?'
Ned fidgeted and turned all colours. He was a straightforward, honest boy, and his nature would have enjoined him to speak out and frankly say that his word had been already passed to go with Jerry Blunt to the woods on Wednesday, but his tongue was tied for Alick's sake. He could see that Theo was ignorant of her brother Alick's determination to carry out his rebellious mutiny. A fierce struggle raged in Ned's mind. 'His honour rooted in dishonour stood.' Should he be outspoken, or should he be faithful to his chum, Master Alick?
'Better be true,' said the clear voice of conscience.
'No. Better still stick to your friend through thick and thin,' contradicted a louder voice. How well the last specious suggestion sounded! So did the whispers of the serpent in Eden in Eve's ears.
'You will come to the tea-party, then?' said Theo, rising from her stool to depart.
'Thank ye, Miss Theedory; yes, I'll come,' was the mumbled reply; and in an agony of shame Ned shambled out of the cottage, making believe to be busy over the tangled brown nets lying in front of the door.
He was a capable lad enough, was Ned, and the Fletchers looked upon him as a promising hand already in the boat. Loving the sea passionately, he had been gay as a lark all day, watching keenly for the expected coming of the swarm of 'mackerrow.' But though the take had been abundantly successful, and the boat came home heavily laden; though the bay and the encircling cottages were bathed in the cheery red light of a gorgeous sunset, and supper-time was at hand, somehow the spring of happiness had died out of everything. Ned hated deceit with the vigorous hatred of an outspoken, truthful nature. He wriggled mentally, full of guilty discomfort, as he watched Theo's straight, slim figure rapidly stepping round to the Bunk, and told himself ashamedly that he had wilfully deceived the 'young miss' who was always so kind, so civil-spoken, to himself.
'Ned! Ned, my lad!' called out Goody's cracked voice from within. 'Whatever's ado that 'ee don't come to supper? The taters is coolin'.'
'All right, granny! I be turnin' over the nets, that's all.'
Goody's ears—her sharpest sense was hearing—detected the heaviness in Ned's voice.
'What's come to 'ee, Ned, so suddent?' she asked anxiously, as she heaped a plate with potatoes, and poured out a mug of butter-milk.
Perhaps it was the smoking supper that proved too much for the hungry fisher-boy, or perhaps Ned's conscience still troubled him, but the boy was unusually silent. Goody, try as she might, could get nothing out of him.
'I'm off again, granny, soon's ever the moon's up,' Ned at length broke silence to say, when his supper was finished.
'Are ye, lad? Well, good luck to 'ee! The wind's fair and the water calm.' Goody stepped to the open door, and peered out at the darkening bay. 'Ay! There's Fletcher's folk makin' ready in the boat, Ned.' She returned to the house-place, and reaching down the thick woollen muffler, stained with salt water, but a valued heirloom for its warmth, she handed it to the boy. 'See you don't forgit to put it round your throat,' she enjoined. 'Neither don't 'ee forgit the bit o' a prayer, my boy, that I taught ye to say out on the deep by night. Folks is apt to think as prayers belongs to a night spent in a comfortable bed ashore. But God listens as ready to bits of prayers that goes up to Him in the black silence o' night, out on the waters, same's He listens to them as is put up in church o' Sundays, with parson for mouthpiece. Will 'ee remember, Ned?'
'I'll remember, granny; I do always!' quietly replied Ned, throwing the muffler across his shoulders. To do the boy justice, he always did remember the 'bit o' a prayer' Goody had taught his father before him.
The Fletchers, three generations of whom manned the fishing-trawler, were decent folk, with a keen eye to the main-chance, or what some people consider to be such—namely, making as much money as possible. The sky had clouded over somewhat, and it was darkish as the 'Aurora'—known locally as the 'Roarer'—the chief of the Northbourne fishing-boats, put out for the night's work. Ned, glancing at the Bunk, could see the twinkling lights from its several windows reflected in the calm waters below. He wondered what Muster Alick was up to at that time of evening. 'He ain't learnin' of his lessons, that's sure,' thought Ned, with an uneasy recollection of the story of the rebellious outbreak in the schoolroom; for Alick had poured his indignant version of the same into the ears of his humble comrade. 'Happen he've got hold of a fresh travel-book.' Then Ned's thoughts easily slipped off to the subject of other 'travel-books' devoured by Alick and retailed to himself. He pictured vividly, as the 'Roarer' swished through the dark waters, a far different scene to that of the quiet Northbourne bay. A scene made up of dangers by land and dangers by sea; of wide, lonely floes of ice, their white gleam darkening into the gloom of the mysterious distance as yet untrodden by human feet. Ned's pulses never failed to beat like hammers when such thought-pictures dangled themselves before his mind's vision. He forgot in the entrancing dream the outbreak at the Bunk; forgot the holiday to be stolen on the morrow in Brattlesby Woods, and the deception practised on Miss Theedory; forgot, for the first time, the 'bit o' a prayer' taught him by faithful old Goody to say when his nights were passed on the deep.
Tuesday morning had come and gone. Philip Price, the tutor, sat in the dining-room of the Bunk with but one pupil facing him at the table. Geoff, faithful to his promise, had apologised in a manly, straightforward fashion for his unruly behaviour on the day of the 'Great Rebellion,' as the Carnegys had secretly christened their outbreak. No sooner had the boy so done than he was freely forgiven. But Alick flatly refused to sue for pardon, when confronted with his offended tutor, spite of Theo's tearful entreaties. Stubbornly the wrong-headed, wrong-hearted boy held out.
'Very good!' dryly said Mr. Price, after waiting in vain. 'Then, until you see fit to do so, I must dispense with your attendance here, Alick, otherwise our positions as master and pupil would be reversed. Good-morning to you!' Philip had risen, and was holding the door open. A great struggle had been going on in the young man's mind. It would be easier, he knew, far easier, for him to gloss over Alick's obstinate refusal to repent, and just to let things go on in the old way. The temptation to do so was great, particularly to one whose days were shadowed by much physical suffering, which made it the harder for him to rise up and energetically quell such a rebellious rising as he had had lately to cope with. But Philip owned a lion's heart as well as clear, well-defined notions of right and wrong. Also he had learned not to lean on his own strength. There was, he knew by experience, a higher help always ready for those who seek it, and Philip had long made it a habit to do that in all things, small or great. He was, therefore, enabled to deal with the young rebel in a dignified and temperate yet firm manner.
Muttering savagely Alick withdrew with slouching gait. He knew well that he was no match in regard to words with his tutor, who had preserved his temper admirably. Master Alick consequently felt it to be the best policy to hold his tongue.
'Has you got a holiday, Alick? Or has you got the toothache?' asked Queenie innocently, surprised when Alick sauntered into her playroom, an hour after, feeling rather like a fish out of water without his inseparable companion Geoff, and without his usual employment. Ned Dempster was also out of the way, he being absent with the fishing-boats; for the bay was alive with the shoals of mackerel, over which intense excitement simmered throughout Northbourne.
'Yes, I has got a holiday, miss!' was Alick's grim rejoinder. 'A pretty long one too, I expect.' Then he added in a curt, sharp tone, as though to stop further questions, 'Now, look here, Queenie! Have you got any of your family that wants mending, eh? Any sick and wounded? Any broken legs or heads lying about? Because if you have, I can undertake to put them right this morning. I've got nothing else on hand.'
'Oh, can you, will you?' delightedly said Queenie. Then, suddenly recollecting herself, she quickly added, 'But, Alick—oh, I couldn't get out all my sick dollies this minute, 'cos, you see, it is nearly 'leven o'clock, and Theo will be waiting for me in the tea-house, to begin my lessons.'
'Lessons! Never you mind rubbishy old lesson-books, Queenie! I don't mean to, never again!'
'Has you learnt up everything then, Alick?' asked the child, gazing respectfully at her brother, with all the wondering admiration one often sees in little girls for big brothers.
'What has that got to do with it?' roughly answered the boy. He was in that volcanic condition of mind that every word spoken was as a match, and set up a blaze of ill-temper. 'Give me over that one-legged doll, and I'll "fix" her up, as the Yankees say. Hand her ladyship over.' Alick Carnegy had one tender spot in his heart. Most of us have. And that in Alick was occupied by Queenie. He was passionately fond of the innocent-faced, round-eyed little sister, and he was always ready to mend her sick and damaged properties.
'That's poor Miss Muffet. She felled out of my arms on the beach, and Splutters and Shutters worried her, Alick, before I could pull her away. Ah, it was dreadful!' chattered Queenie.
'You shouldn't pull things away from dogs. Never, never do such a thing. Do you understand, Queenie? They might snap, you know, and then where would you be?'
Down on the floor Alick sat himself, and fell to work to repair as best he could the interesting cripple. But Queenie, eager enough though she was to watch the surgical operation, had a conscience hidden away in her small person, as her restlessness showed.
'I mustn't stay, Alick. I mus' go! Theo will be waiting, for the hall clock has struck. I counted 'leven strokes just now!'
Away to her lessons bustled the little maid, and Alick, unhappy, sullen and forlorn, was left to himself in the play-room. The boy was distinctly most miserable. Indeed, he could not be otherwise; it is unnatural for the young to be in a state of rebellion against those set in authority over them. They suffer hotly for it, with the measureless capacity for suffering belonging to the young.