THE GIRLS AND I
THE GIRLS AND I: A Veracious History
BY MRS MOLESWORTH
Illustrated by L. Leslie Brooke
London Macmillan & Co. MDCCCXCII
CHAPTER I OURSELVES 1
CHAPTER II THE DIAMOND ORNAMENT 16
CHAPTER III WORK FOR THE TOWN-CRIER 30
CHAPTER IV AT THE DANCING CLASS 46
CHAPTER V RODNEY SQUARE 63
CHAPTER VI THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW 79
CHAPTER VII FOUR 'IF'S' AND A COINCIDENCE 95
CHAPTER VIII MOSSMOOR FARM 110
CHAPTER IXSPYING THE LAND 125
CHAPTER X A LONG AGO ADVENTURE 140
CHAPTER XI MISCHIEF IN THE AIR 157
CHAPTER XII MISS CROSS-AT-FIRST'S FUR CAPE 173
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
'JACK, DO HELP ME TO FASTEN THIS BRACELET' 24
'I'D GIVE ANYTHING, I'D ALMOST GIVE MYSELF, TO FIND IT' 48
'THE DOOR OPENED A LITTLE WIDER, AND TWO FACES APPEARED' 74
'I JUST STOOD STILL ... AND LOOKED WELL ROUND AT THE VIEW AND EVERYTHING' 130
'HER GRANDMOTHER ... WENT QUIETLY OUT OF THE PEW WITHOUT A NOTION BUT THAT THE CHILD WAS BESIDE HER' 153
'WE RAN OVER THE FIELDS BY A SHORT CUT TO A STILE ON TO THE ROAD, WHERE WE COULD SEE HER PASS, AND THERE WE SHOUTED OUT AGAIN ALL OUR MESSAGES' 168
'WE ALL THREE SAT LISTENING AND LISTENING' 175
I'm Jack. I've always been Jack, ever since I can remember at least, though I suppose I must have been called 'Baby' for a bit before Serena came. But she's only a year and a half younger than me, and Maud's only a year and a quarter behind her, so I can scarcely remember even Serena being 'Baby'; and Maud's always been so very grown up for her age that you couldn't fancy her anything but 'Maud.'
My real name isn't John though, as you might fancy. It's a much queerer name, but there's always been one of it in our family ever since some grandfather or other married a German girl, who called her eldest son after her own father. So we're accustomed to it, and it doesn't seem so queer to us as to other people. It's 'Joachim.' 'Jock' seems a better short for it than 'Jack,' doesn't it? and I believe mother once meant to call me 'Jock.' But when Serry and Maud came I had to be Jack, for with Anne and Hebe in front of me, and the two others behind, of course I was 'Jack-in-the-middle.' There's never been any more of us, and even if there had I'd have stayed Jack, once I'd got settled into it, you see.
I'm eleven. I'm writing this in the holidays; and if I don't get it finished before they're done I'll keep adding on to it till I've told all there is to tell.
It's a sort of comfort to me to write about everything, for one way and another I've had a good deal to put up with, all because of—girls. And I have to be good-tempered and nice just because they are girls. And besides that, I'm really very fond of them; and they're not bad. But no one who hasn't tried it knows in the least what it is to be one boy among a lot of girls, 'specially when some of them are rather boy-ey girls, and when you yourself are just a little perhaps—just a very little—the other way.
I don't think I'm a baby. Honestly I don't, and I'm not going to write down anything I don't quite think. But I do like to be quiet, and I like to have things tidy and regular. I like rules, and keeping to them; and I hate racket and mess. Anne, now, drives me nearly wild with her rushy, helter-skelter ways. You wouldn't think it, would you, considering that she's fourteen, and the eldest, and that she's been the eldest all her life?—eldests should be steady and good examples. And her name sounds steady and neat, doesn't it? and yet of all the untidy, unpunctual—no, I mustn't let myself go like that. Besides, it's quite true, as Hebe says, Anne has got a very good heart, and she's very particular in some mind ways; she never says a word that isn't quite true—she doesn't even exaggerate. I have noticed that rather tiresome, careless people often have very good hearts. I wish they could see how much nicer it would be for other people if they'd put some of their good hearts into their tiresome ways.
On the whole, it's Hebe that suits the best with me. She particular—much more particular than Anne, though not quite as particular as I'd like her to be, and then she is really awfully sweet. That makes her a little worrying sometimes, for she will take sides. If I am in a great state at finding our postage stamps all muddled, for instance—Anne and Hebe and I have a collection together, I am sorry to say—and I know who's been at them and say something—who could help saying something if they found a lot of carefully-sorted ones ready to gum in, all pitched into the unsorted box with Uncle Brian's last envelopeful that I haven't looked over?—up flies Hebe in Anne's defence.
'Poor Anne, she was in such a hurry, she never meant it'; or 'she only wanted to help you, Jack; she didn't know you had sorted these.'
Now, isn't that rather trying? For it makes me feel as if I was horrid; and if Hebe would just say, 'Yes, it is awfully tiresome,' I'd feel I had a sort of right to be vexed, and when you feel that, the vexedness often goes away.
Still, there's no doubt Hebe is sweet, and I daresay she flies up for me just as she does for the others when I am the one not there.
We're all very fond of Hebe. She and Serena are rather like each other; they have fair fluffy hair and rosy cheeks, but they're not a bit like each other in themselves. Serena is a terrible tomboy—worse than Anne, for she really never thinks at all. Anne does mean to think, but she does it the wrong way; she gets her head so full of some one thing that she forgets everything else, and then she's awfully sorry. But Serry just doesn't think at all, though she's very good-natured, and, of course, when it comes to really vexing or hurting any one, she's sorry too—for about a minute and a half!
And then there's Maud. It is very funny about Maud, the oddest thing about us, though we are rather a topsy-turvy family. Maud is only eight and a half, but she's the oldest of us all.
'She's that terrible old-fashioned,' mother's old nurse said when she came to pay us a visit once, 'she's scarce canny.'
They call me old-fashioned sometimes, but I'm nothing to Maud. Why, bless you (I learnt that from old nurse, and I like it, and nobody can say it's naughty to bless anybody), compared to Maud I'm careless, and untidy, and unpunctual, and heedless, and everything of these kinds that I shouldn't be. And yet she and I don't get on as well as Hebe and I do, and in some ways even not as well as Anne and I do. But Maud and Anne get on very well— I never saw anything like it. She tidies for Anne; she reminds her of things she's going to forget; she seems to think she was sent into the world to take care of her big sister. Anne is big—at least she's tall—tall and thin, and with rather smooth dark hair. My goodness! if she'd had fluffy hair like us three middle ones—for even mine is rather a bother, it grows so fast and is so curly—what would she have looked like? She seems meant to be neat, and till you know her, and go her all over pretty closely, you'd never guess how untidy she is—pins all over, even though Sophy is always mending her frocks and things. And Maud is dark too, though her hair is curly like ours; she's like a gipsy, people say, but she's not a bit gipsy in her ways—oh dear, no!
We live in London—mostly, that's to say. We've got a big dark old house that really belongs to grandfather, but he's so little there that he lets us use it, for father has to be in London a lot. We're always there in winter; that's the time grandfather's generally in France or Egypt, or somewhere warm. Now and then, if he's later of going away than usual, or sooner of coming back, he's with us a while in London. We don't like it much.
That sounds unkind. I don't mean to be unkind. I'm just writing everything down because I want to practise myself at it. Father writes books—very clever ones, though they're stories. I've read bits, but I didn't understand them much, only I know they're very clever by the fuss that's made about them. And people wonder how ever he gets time to write them with all the Government things he does too. He must be very clever; that's what put it in my head that perhaps some day I might be clever that way too. For I don't want to be either a soldier or a sailor, or a lawyer like father was before he got into Government things, and I'm sure I'm not good enough to be a parson, though I think I'd rather like it; and so sometimes I really get frightened that I'll be no good at anything at all, and a boy must be something.
I think father and mother would be pleased if I were a great writer.
And then we really have had some adventures: that makes it more interesting to make out a story about ourselves, for I think a book just about getting up and going to bed, and breakfast, and dinner, and tea, would be very stupid—though, all the same, in story-books I do like rather to know what the children have to eat, and something about the place they live in too.
To go back about grandfather. The reason we don't much like his being with us isn't exactly that we don't care for him. He's not bad. But father's his only child, and our grandmother died a good while ago, and I think she must have been a very giving-in sort of person, and that's bad training for any one. When I'm grown up, if ever I marry, I shall settle with my wife before we start that she mustn't give in to me too much, and I'll stick to it once it's settled. For I've got rather a nasty temper, and I feel in me that if I was to get too much of my own way it would get horrid. It's perhaps because of that that it's been a good thing for me to have four sisters, for they're nearly as bad as four wives sometimes. I don't get too much of my own way at present, I can tell you.
I often think I'm rather like grandfather. P'raps if he'd had four sisters or a not-too-giving-in wife he'd have been better. Now, I hope that's not rude? I don't mean it to be; I'm rather excusing him. And I can't put down what isn't true, even though nobody should ever see this 'veracious history'—that's what I'm going to put on the title-page—except myself. And the truth is that grandfather expects everybody and everything to give in to him. Not always father, for he does see how grand and clever father is, and that he can't be expected to come and go, and do things, and give up things, just like a baby. But oh, as for poor little mums!—that's mother—her life's not her own when gran's with us. And it isn't that she's silly a bit. She's awfully sensible; something like Hebe and Maud mixed together, though to look at her she's more like Anne. It's real goodness makes her give in.
'He's getting old, dears, you know,' she says, 'and practically he's so very good to us.'
I'm not quite sure that I understand quite what 'practically' means. I think it's to do with the house—or the houses, for we've got two—and money. For father, though he's so clever, wouldn't be rich without grandfather, I don't think. Perhaps it means presents too. He—grandfather—isn't bad about presents. He never forgets birthdays or Christmases—oh dear, no, he's got an awfully good memory. Sometimes some of us would almost rather be worse off for presents if only he'd forget some other things.
I'm like him about remembering too. I think my mind is rather tidy, as well as my outside ways. I've got things very neat inside; I often feel as if it was a cupboard, and I like to know exactly which shelf to go to for anything I want. Mums says, 'That's all very well so far as it goes, Jack, but don't stop short at that, or you will be in danger of growing narrow-minded and self-satisfied.'
And I think I know what she means. There are some things now about Anne, for all her tiresome ways, that I know are grander than about me, or even perhaps than about Hebe, only Hebe's sweetness makes up for everything. But Anne would give anything in a moment to do any one a good turn. And I—well, I'd think about it. I didn't at all like having to tear up my nice pocket-handkerchief even the day we found the poor little boy with his leg bleeding so dreadfully in the Park, and Anne had hers in strips in a moment. And she'll lend her very best things to any one of us. And she's got feelings I don't understand. Beautiful church music makes her want so dreadfully to be good, she says. I like it very much, but I don't think I feel it that way. I just feel nice and quiet, and almost a little sleepy if it goes on a good while.
I was telling about our house in London. It's big, and rather grand in a dull sort of way, but dark and gloomy. Long ago, when they built big houses, I think they fancied it was the proper thing to make them dark. It's nice in winter when it's shut up for the night, and the gas lighted in the hall and on the staircases, and with the lamps in the dining-room and drawing-rooms and library—it is very warm and comfortable then, and though the furniture's old-fashioned, and not a pretty kind of old-fashioned, it looks grand in a way. But when the spring comes, and the bright days show up all the dinginess, poor mother, how she does sigh!
'I would so like to have a pretty house,' she says. 'The curtains are all so dark, you can scarcely see they're any colour at all, and those dreadful heavy gilt frames to the mirrors in the drawing-rooms! Oh, Alan'—Alan is father—'don't you think gran would let us refurnish even the third drawing-room? I could make it a sort of boudoir, you know, and I could have my own friends in there in the daytime. The rooms don't look so bad at night.'
But father shakes his head.
'I'm afraid he wouldn't like it,' he says.
So I suppose even father gives in a good deal to gran.
Mums isn't a bit selfish. The brightest rooms in the house have always been ours. They're two floors over the drawing-rooms, which are really very big rooms. We have a nursery, and on one side of it a dressing-room—that's mine—and two other rooms, with two beds each for the girls. We do our lessons in the study—a little room in front of the dining-room, very jolly, for it looks to the front, and the street is wide, and we can see all the barrel-organs and monkeys, and Punch and Judys, and bands, when we're doing our lessons. I don't mean when we're having our lessons; that's different. My goodness! I'd like to see even Serry try to look out of the window when Miss Stirling is there! Miss Stirling's our governess. She comes, you know; she's not a living-in-the-house one, and she's pretty strict, so we like her best the way she is. But doing our lessons is when we're learning them. Most days, in winter anyway, we go a walk till four, or a quarter to, and then we learn for an hour, and then we have tea; and if we're not finished, we come down again till half-past six or so, and then we dress to go into the drawing-room to mums.
She nearly always dresses for dinner early, so we have an hour with her. The little ones, Serena and Maud, never have much to learn. It's Anne and Hebe and me. We all do Latin— I mean we three do. And twice a week Miss Stirling takes Anne and Hebe to French and German classes for 'advanced pupils.' I'm not an advanced pupil, so those mornings I work alone for two hours, and then I've not much to do in the evening those days. And Miss Stirling gives me French and German the days that the girls are at their music with Mrs. Meux, their music-teacher.
That's how we've done for a long time—ages. But next year I'm going to school.
I'm to go when I'm twelve. My birthday comes in November. It's just been; that's how I said 'I'm eleven,' not eleven and a quarter, or eleven and a half—just eleven. And I'm to go at the end of the Christmas holidays after that. I don't much mind; at least I don't think I do. I'll have more lessons and more games in a regular way, and I'll have less worries, anyway at first. For I shall be counted a small boy, of course, and I shan't have to look after others and be blamed for them, the way I have to look after the girls at home. It'll really be a sort of rest. I've had such a lot of looking after other people. I really have.
Mums says so herself sometimes. She even says I have to look after her. And it's true. She's awfully good—she's almost an angel—but she's a tiny bit like Anne. She's rather untidy. Not to look at, ever. She's as neat as a pin, and then she's very pretty; but she's careless—she says so herself. She so often loses things, because she's got a trick of putting them down anywhere she happens to be. Often and often I go to her room when she's dressing, and tap at the door and say—
'Have you lost something, mums?'
And ten to one she'll call back—
'Yes, my dear town-crier, I have.' ('My gloves,' or 'my card-case,' or 'my keys,' or, oh! almost anything.) 'But I wasn't worrying about it; I knew you'd find it, Jack.'
And Maud does finder for Anne, just the same way, only her finding sometimes gets me into trouble. Just fancy that. If Anne loses something, and Maud is hunting away and doesn't find it all at once, they'll turn upon me—they truly will—and say—
'You might help her, Jack, you really might, poor little thing! It's no trouble to you to run up and down stairs, and she's so little.'
When that sort of thing happens, I do feel that I've got a rather nasty temper.
I've begun about losing things, because our adventures had to do with a very big losing. The first adventure came straight from it, and the rest had to do with it.
It's funny how things hang together like that. You think of something that's come, and you remember what made it happen, and then you go back to the beginning of that, and you see it came from something else; and you go on feeling it out like, till you're quite astonished to find what a perfectly different thing had started it all from what you would have thought.
I think this will be a good place for ending the first chapter, which isn't really like a story—only an explanation of us.
And in the next I'll begin about our adventures.
THE DIAMOND ORNAMENT
It was two years ago nearly; it was the end of February—no, I think it was a little way on in March. So I was only nine and a quarter, and Anne was about twelve, and all the others in proportion younger than they are now, of course. You can count their ages, if you like, though I don't know who 'you' are, or if there's ever going to be any 'you' at all. But it's the sort of thing I like to do myself when I read a story. I count all the people's ages, and the times they did things, and that things are said to have happened, and I can tell you that very often I find that authors make very stupid mistakes. I told father of this once, and I said I'd like to write and tell them. He laughed, but he called me a prig, which I didn't like, so I never have written to any of them.
That winter began early, and was very cold, but it went early too. So grandfather took it into his head to come back to England the end of February, for a bit, meaning to go on somewhere else—to Ireland, I think, where we have some relations—after he'd been in London a fortnight or so.
It all came—all that I've got to tell—of gran's returning from the hot place he'd been at, whichever it was, so much sooner than usual.
There was going to be a Drawing-room just about the end of the fortnight he was to be with us, and mums was going to it. She had fixed it a good while ago, because she was going to take some friends—a girl who'd got married to a cousin of father's, and another girl—to be presented. They were both rather pretty. We saw them in the morning, when they came for mums to take them. I thought the married one prettiest; she had nice laughing eyes. If ever I marry, I'd like a girl with laughing eyes; they look so jolly. The other one was rather cross, I thought, and so did Maud. But Anne said she was interesting-looking, as if she had a hidden sorrow, like in poetry. And after that, none of us quite dared to say she was only cross-looking. And she wasn't really cross; we found that out afterwards. It was only the way her face was made.
Her name was Judith, and the married one was Dorothea. We always call her that, as she's our cousin.
They were prettily dressed, both of them. All white. But Dorothea's dress went rather in creases. It looked too loose. I went all round her, ever so many times, peeping at it, though she didn't know, of course. I can tell when a dress fits, as well as anybody, because of helping to dress mums so often. Sometimes, for a change from the town-crier, mums calls me a man-milliner. I don't mind.
Judith's dress was all right. It was of silk, a soft kind, not near so liney as satin. I like it better. They were both very neat. No pins or hair-pins sticking out.
But mums looked prettiest. I can tell you how she was dressed, because she's not been at a Drawing-room since, for last spring and summer she got a cold or something both times she meant to go. By rights she should go every year, because of what father is. I hope she'll go next spring, for after that I shall be at school, and never able to see her, and I do love to look at her all grand like that. She says she doesn't know how she'll do without me for seeing she's all right.
Well, her dress was blue and pale pink, the train blue—a flowery pattern—and she had blue and pink bunches of feathers all sticking about it; no flowers except her nosegay, which was blushing roses tied with blue streamers.
She did look nice.
Her hair looked grander than usual, because of something she had never had in it before, and that was a beautiful diamond twisty-twirly thing. I have never seen a diamond brooch or pin quite like it, though I often look in the jewellers' windows.
She was very proud of it, though she'd only got the loan of it. I must go back a bit to tell you how she had got it.
A day or two before grandfather left, mums told him about the Drawing-room. If she had known he was going to be with us then, she wouldn't have fixed to go to it; for, as I have said, he takes up nearly all her time, especially when he's only there for a short visit. I suppose I shouldn't call it a visit, as it's his own house, but it seems the best word. And for her to be a whole day out, not in at luncheon, and a train-show at afternoon tea-time, would have been just what he doesn't like. But it couldn't be helped now, as others were counting on her, especially Mrs. Chasserton, our cousin's wife—that's Dorothea.
We were there—Anne, Hebe, and I—when mother told gran about it. We really felt rather frightened, but she said it so sweetly, I felt sure he couldn't be vexed. And he wasn't. He did frudge up his eyebrows—'frudge' is a word we've made ourselves, it does do so well; we've made several—and they are very thick. Anne opened her mouth in a silly way she has, just enough to make him say, 'What are you gaping at, Miss Anne, may I ask?' but luckily he didn't notice. And Hebe squeezed my hand under the table-cloth. It was breakfast time. But in a minute he unfrudged his eyebrows, and then we knew it was over.
'Quite right, my dear Valeria,' he said. Valeria is mums' name; isn't it pretty? 'I am very glad for you to show attention to Dick's wife—quite right, as you are at the head of the family. As for Judith Merthyr—h-m—h-m—she's a strong-minded young woman, I'm told—don't care about strong-minded young women—wonder she condescends to such frivolity. And thank you, my dear, for your consideration for me. But it won't be needed. I must leave for Holyhead on Tuesday. They are expecting me at Tilly' something or other (I don't mean that gran said that, but I can't remember these long Irish names).
Tuesday was the day before the Drawing-room. I'm sure mums clapped her inside hands—that's another of our makings up—I know we did. For if gran had been there I don't believe we'd have got in to the train-show at all. And of course it's much jollier to be in the drawing-room in the afternoon, waiting for them to come back, and speaking to the people that are there, and getting a good many extra teas and sandwiches and cakes and ices, than just to see mums start in the morning, however pretty she looks.
Grandfather was really rather wonderful that day.
'What are you going to wear, my dear Valeria?' he asked mother.
She told him.
'H-m, h-m,' he said. He has different ways of h-ming. This time it was all right, not like when he spoke of Judy Merthyr. And actually a smile broke over his face.
The night before he was leaving he came into the drawing-room just before dinner-time, looking very smiley. He was holding something in his hand—a dark leather case.
'My dear child,' he said, and though we were all five there we knew he was speaking to mother. I like to hear mother called 'my dear child'—father does it sometimes—it makes her seem so nice and young. 'My dear child,' he said, 'I have got something here that I want you to wear in your hair at the Drawing-room. I cannot give it you out and out, though I mean you to have it some day, but I want to lend it you for as long as you like.'
And then he opened the case, mother standing close by, and all of us trying to peep too. It was the twisty-twirly diamond ornament. A sort of knot—big diamonds in the middle and littler ones in and out. It is awfully pretty. I never saw diamonds sparkle so—you can see every colour in them when you look close, like thousands of prisms, you know. It had a case on purpose for it, and there were pins of different shapes and sizes, so that it could be a brooch, or a hair-pin, or a hanging thing without a pin at all.
Mums was pleased.
'Oh, thank you, dear gran,' she said. 'It is good of you. Yes, indeed, I shall be proud to have such a lovely, splendid ornament in my hair.'
Then grandfather took it out of the case, and showed her all the different ways of fastening in the pins. They had little screws at their ends, and they all fitted in so neatly, it was quite interesting to see.
'You will wear it in your hair on Wednesday, no doubt,' he said. 'So I will fasten in the hair-pin—there, you see it screws quite firmly.'
And then he gave it to mother, and she took it upstairs and put it away.
The next night—grandfather had left that morning—father and mother were going out to dinner. Mother dresses rather early generally, so that she can be with us a little, but that night she had been busy, and she was rather late. She called us into her room when she was nearly ready, not to disappoint us, and because we always like to see her dressed. She had on a red dress that night, I remember.
Her maid, Rowley, had put out all the things on the toilet-table. When mums isn't in a hurry I often choose for her what she's going to wear—we spread all the cases out and then we settle. But to-night there wasn't time for that. Rowley had got out a lot of things, because she didn't know which mother would choose, and among them the new, grand, diamond thing of grandfather's.
'Oh,' said Anne—she and I were first at the toilet-table,—'are you going to wear gran's ornament, mother?'
'No, of course not,' said mums. 'It's only for very grand occasions, and to-night is quite a small dinner. I've got on all the jewellery I need. But, Jack, do help me to fasten this bracelet, there's a good boy.' Rowley was fussing away at something that wasn't quite right in mother's skirt. Mother was rather impatient, and the bracelet was fidgety.
But at last I got it done, and Rowley stood up with rather a red face from tacking the sweepy, lacey thing that had come undone. Mums flew off.
'Good-night, dears,' she said. 'I haven't even time to kiss you. Father has gone down, and the carriage has been there ever so long.'
The girls called out 'good-night,' and Hebe and I ran to the top of the staircase to watch her go down. Then we went straight back to the nursery, and in a minute or two the three others came in. Maud was saying something to Anne, and Anne was laughing at her.
'Did you ever hear such a little prig as Maud?' she said. 'She's actually scolding me because I was looking at mums's jewels.'
'Anne made them all untidy,' said Maud.
'Well, Rowley'll tidy them again. She came back on purpose; she'd only gone down to put mother's cloak on,' said Anne carelessly.
'Anne,' said I rather sharply. You see I knew her ways, and mums often leaves me in charge. 'Were you playing with mother's jewels?'
'I was doing no harm,' said Anne; 'I was only looking at the way the pins fasten in to that big diamond thing. It's quite right, Jack, you needn't fuss. Rowley's putting them all away.'
So I didn't say any more.
And to-morrow was the Drawing-room day.
Mother looked beautiful, as I said. We watched her start with the two others, cousin Dorothea and Miss Merthyr. It was rather a cold day; they took lots of warm cloaks in the carriage. I remember hearing Judy—we call her Judy now—say,
'You must take plenty of wraps, Mrs. Warwick,'—that's mother. 'My aunt made me bring a fur cape that I thought I should not wear again this year; it would never do for you to catch cold.'
Mums does look rather delicate, but she isn't delicate really. She's never ill. But Judith looked at her so nicely when she said that about not catching cold, that the cross look went quite out of her face, and I saw it was only something about her eyebrows. And I began to think she must be rather nice.
But we didn't see her again. She did not get out of the carriage when they came back in the afternoon, but went straight home to her own house. Somebody of hers was ill there. Cousin Dorothea came back with mother, and three other ladies in trains came too, so there was rather a good show.
And everybody was laughing and talking, and we'd all had two or three little teas and several ices, and it was all very jolly when a dreadful thing happened.
I was standing by mother. I had brought her a cup of tea from the end drawing-room where Rowley and the others were pouring it out, and she was just drinking it, when I happened to look up at her head.
'Mums,' I said, 'why have you taken out gran's diamond thing? It looked so nice.'
Mums put her hand to her head—to the place where she knew she had put in the pin: of course it wasn't there, I wouldn't have made such a mistake.
Mums grew white—really white. I never saw her like that except once when father was thrown from his horse.
'Oh, Jack,' she said, 'are you sure?' and she kept feeling all over her hair among the feathers and hanging lacey things, as if she thought it must be sticking about somewhere.
'Stoop down, mums,' I said, 'and I'll have a good look.'
There weren't many people there just then—several had gone, and several were having tea. So mums sat down on a low chair, and I poked all over her hair. But of course the pin was gone—no, I shouldn't say the pin, for it was there; its top, with the screwy end, was sticking up, but the beautiful diamond thing was gone!
I drew out the pin, and mother gave a little cry of joy as she felt me.
'Oh, it's there,' she said, 'there after all——'
'No, dear,' I said quickly, 'it isn't. Look—it's only the pin.'
Mother seized it, and looked at it with great puzzle as well as trouble in her eyes.
'It's come undone,' she said, 'yet how could it have done? Gran fixed it on himself, and he's so very particular. There's a little catch that fastens it to the pin as well as the screw—see here, Jack,' and she showed me the catch, 'that couldn't have come undone if it was fastened when I put it on. And I know gran clicked it, as well as screwing the head in.'
She stared at me, as if she thought it couldn't be true, and as if explaining about it would make it come back somehow.
Several ladies came up, and she began telling them about it. Cousin Dorothea had gone, but these other ladies were all very sorry for her, and indeed any one would have been, poor little mother looked so dreadfully troubled.
One of them took up the pin and examined it closely.
'There's one comfort,' she said, 'it hasn't been stolen. You see it's not been cut off, and that's what very clever thieves do sometimes. They nip off a jewel in a crowd, quite noiselessly and in half a second, I've been told. No, Mrs. Warwick, it's dropped off, and by advertising and offering a good reward you may very likely get it back. But—excuse me—it was very careless of your maid not to see that it was properly fastened. A very valuable thing, I suppose it is?'
'It's more than valuable,' said poor mother. 'It's an heirloom, quite irreplaceable. I do not know how I shall ever have courage to tell my father-in-law. No, I can't blame my maid. I told her not to touch it, as the General had fastened it himself all ready. But how can it have come undone?'
At that moment Anne and Hebe, who had been having a little refreshment no doubt, came into the front drawing-room where we were. They saw there was something the matter, and when they got close to mother and saw what she was holding in her hand, for the lady had given it back to her, they seemed to know in a moment what had happened. And Anne's mouth opened, the way it does when she's startled or frightened, and she stood staring.
Then I knew what it meant.
WORK FOR THE TOWN-CRIER
'Oh, those girls,' I thought to myself; 'why did I leave them alone in mother's room with all her things about?'
But Anne's face made me feel as if I couldn't say anything—not before all those people; though of course I knew that as soon as she could see mother alone she would tell, herself. I was turning away, thinking it would be better to wait—for, you see, mother was not blaming any one else—when all of a sudden Maud ran up. She was all dressed up very nicely, of course; and she's a pretty little thing, everybody says, and then she's the youngest. So a lot of people had been petting her and making a fuss about her. Maud doesn't like that at all. She's not the least bit conceited or spoilt, and she really is so sensible that I think it teazes her to be spoken to as if she was only a baby. Her face was rather red, I remember; she had been trying to get away from those ladies without being at all rude, for she's far too 'ladylike' to be rude ever. And now she ran up, in a hurry to get to her dear Anne as usual. But the moment she saw Anne's face she knew that something was wrong. For one thing, Anne's mouth was wide open, and I have told you about Anne's mouth. Then there was the pin in mother's hand, the hair-pin, and no top to it! And mums looking so troubled, and all the ladies round her.
'What is it?' said Maud in her quick way. 'Oh—is mums' brooch broken? Oh, Anne, you shouldn't have touched it!'
Everybody—mother and everybody—turned to Anne; I was sorry for her. It wasn't like Maud to have called it out, she is generally so careful; but you see she was startled, and she only thought the diamond thing was broken or loosened.
Anne's face grew scarlet.
'What do you mean, Maudie?' said mother. 'Anne, what does she mean?'
It was hard upon Anne, for it looked as if she hadn't been going to tell, and that wasn't at all her way. In another moment I daresay she would have blurted it out; but then, you see, she had hardly had time to take in that most likely she had caused the mischief, for she knew she hadn't meant to, and she quite thought she had left the pin just as firmly fastened as she had found it.
'Oh, mother,' she cried, 'I didn't think— I never meant— I'm sure I screwed it in again quite the same.'
'When did you touch it? I don't understand anything about it. Jack, what do Anne and Maud mean?' said poor mums, turning to me.
'It was my fault,' I said. 'I shouldn't have left any one in your room, with all your things about, and Rowley even not there.'
'And I did tell Anne not to touch the diamond brooch,' said Maud. For once she really seemed quite angry with Anne.
Then we told mother all there was to tell—at least Anne did, for she knew the most of course. She had been fiddling at the diamond thing all the time she was standing by the table, but no one had noticed her except Maud. For you remember mums was in a great hurry, and I was helping her to fasten her bracelet, and Rowley was fussing at her skirt, and then Hebe and I went half-way downstairs to see mother start. Oh dear, I did feel vexed with myself! Anne said she wanted to see how the ornament could be turned into different things; she had unscrewed the pin and unclicked the little catch, and then she had fixed in the other kind of pin to make it into a brooch, and she wanted to try the screw with a ring to it, to make it a hanging ornament, but Maud wouldn't let her stay. So she screwed in the hairpin again—the one that gran had fastened in himself. She meant to do it quite tight, but she couldn't remember if she clicked the little catch. And she was in a hurry, so no doubt she did it carelessly.
That was really about all Anne had to tell.
But it was plain that it had been her fault that the beautiful ornament was lost. It had dropped off. Mums didn't say very much to her: it wouldn't have done before all the visitors. They were very good-natured, and very sorry for mother. And several people said again what a good thing it was it was only lost, not stolen, for that gave ever so much more chance of finding it.
When all the people had gone, father came in. Mother had still her dress on, but she was looking very white and tired, and in a moment, like Maud, he saw there was something the matter.
He was very vexed, dreadfully vexed, only he was too good to scold Anne very much. And indeed it would have been difficult to do so, she looked such a miserable creature, her eyes nearly swollen out of her head with crying. And we were all pretty bad—even Serry, who never troubles herself much about anything, looked solemn. And as for me, I just couldn't forgive myself for not having stayed in mother's room and seen to putting away her jewel-cases, as I generally do.
Father set to work at once. First he made mother stand up in the middle of the room, and he called Rowley, and he and Rowley and I and Hebe shook out her train and poked into every little fluthery ruffle—there was a lot of fustled-up net inside the edge, just the place for the diamond thing to get caught in, and we made her shake herself and turn out her pocket and everything. But it was no use. Then—the poor little thing was nearly dead, she was so tired!—father made her go to take off her finery, telling Rowley to look over all the dress again when mother had got out of it. Then he and I went out together to the coach-house, first telling all the servants of the loss, and making them hunt over the hall and up and down the stairs; it was really quite exciting, though it was horrid too, knowing that father and mother were so vexed and Anne so miserable.
We found the coachman just washing the carriage. We got into it, and poked into every corner, and shook out the rugs, and just did everything, even to looking on the front-door steps behind the scraper, and in the gutter, and shaking out the roll of carpet that had been laid down. For father is splendid at anything like that; he's so practical, and I think I take after him. (I don't know but what I'd like best of all to be a private detective when I grow up. I'll speak to father about it some day.)
But all was no use, and when we came up to the drawing-room again there was mums in her crimson teagown, looking so anxious. It went to my heart to have to shake my head, especially when poor Anne came out of a corner looking like a dozen ghosts.
Still, we had rather a nice evening after all, though it seems odd. It was all thanks to father. He made us three come down to dinner with mums and him, 'To cheer your mother up a little,' he said, though I shouldn't have thought there was much cheering to be got out of Anne. In reality I think he did it as much for Anne's sake as for mums's. And Hebe was very sweet to Anne, for they don't always get on so very well. Hebe sometimes does elder sister too much, which is bad enough when one is elder sister, but rather too bad when one isn't, even if it is the real elder sister's own fault. But to-night Hebe sat close to Anne, holding her hand under the table-cloth, and trying to make her eat some pudding. (It was chocolate pudding, I remember, and mother gave us each some.)
And when dessert was on the table, and the servants had gone, father called Anne to him, and put his arm round her.
'My dear little girl,' he said, 'you must try to leave off crying. It only makes mother more troubled. I can't deny that this loss is a great vexation: it will annoy grandfather, and—well, there's no use telling you what you know already. But of course it isn't as bad as some troubles, and even though I'm afraid I can't deny that it has come through your fault, it isn't as bad as if your fault had been a worse one—unkindness, or untruthfulness, or some piece of selfishness.'
Anne hid her face on his shoulder, and sobbed and choked, and said something we couldn't hear.
'But still carelessness is a great fault, and causes troubles without end,' father went on. 'And in this case it was meddlesomeness too. I do hope——'
'Oh, father,' said Anne, looking up, 'I know what you're going to say. Yes, it will be a lesson to me: you'll see. I shall be quite different, and ever so much more thoughtful and careful from now.'
And of course she meant what she said.
But father looked grave still.
'My dear child, don't be too confident. You won't find that you can cure yourself all at once. The force of bad habit is almost harder to overcome in small things than in great: it is so unconscious.'
'Yes, father,' said Anne.
She understood what he said better than I did then; for she is really clever—much cleverer than I am about poetry and thinking sort of cleverness, though I have such a good memory. So I remembered what father said, and now I understand it.
After dinner we went up to the littlest drawing-room—the one mother wanted for so long to refurnish prettily. There was a fire, for it was only March, and mums sat in one of the big old armchairs close to it, and Anne and Hebe beside her. And father drew a chair to mums' writing-table, and wrote out several advertisements for the next morning's papers, which he sent off to the offices that very evening. Some were in the next morning, and some weren't; but it didn't much matter, for none of them did any good. Before he sent them he inquired of all the servants if they had looked everywhere he had told them to.
'There is just a chance of daylight showing it in some corner,' he said, when he had done all this, and come to sit down beside mums.
'I don't know that,' she said. 'This house is so dark by day. But, after all, the chance of its being here is very small.'
'Yes,' father said, 'I have more hope in the advertisements.'
'And,' mother went on, her voice sounding almost as if she was going to cry—I believe she kept it back a good deal for Anne's sake—'if—if they don't bring anything, what about telling your father, Alan?' 'Alan' is fathers name—'Alan Joachim,' and mine is 'Joachim Gerald.'
'We must wait a little. It will be a good while before I quite give up hopes of it. And there's no use in spoiling gran's time in Ireland; for there's no doubt the news would spoil it—he's the sort of person to fret tremendously over a thing of the kind.'
'I'm afraid he is,' said mother, and she sighed deeply.
But hearing a faint sob from Anne, father gave mother a tiny sign, and then he asked us if we'd like him to read aloud a little sort of fairy story he'd been writing for some magazine. Of course we all said 'Yes': we're very proud if ever he offers to read us anything, even though we mayn't understand it very well; but this time we did understand it—Anne best of all, I expect. And when he had finished, it was time for us to go to bed.
We had had, as I told you, rather an extra nice evening after all, and father had managed to make poor mums more cheerful and hopeful.
It got worse again, however, the next day, when the hours went on, and there came no letter or telegram or anything about the lost treasure. For mother had got to feel almost sure the advertisements would bring some news of it. And father was very late of coming home. It was a dreadfully busy time for him just then. We were all in bed before he came in, both that night and the next I remember, for I know he looked in to say good-night to me, and to say he hoped we were all being as good as we could be to mums.
I think we were, and to Anne too, for we were nearly as sorry for her. I had never known her mind about anything so much, or for so long. Serry began to be rather tired of it.
'It's so awfully dull to see Anne going about with such a long face,' she said the second evening, when we were all sitting with mother. 'Mums herself doesn't look half so gloomy. Mums, do tell Anne not to be so cross; it can't be as bad for her as for you.'
'You're very unkind, Serry,' said Maud, bristling up for Anne; 'and, after all, I think you might feel a little sorry too. You joined Anne in looking over all mother's things that night, you know you did, and you only laughed when I said you'd left them in a mess.'
Serry only laughed now. She tossed back her fluffy hair—it's a way of hers, and I must say she looks very pretty when she does it.
'It's not my nature to fuss about things,' she said. 'It wouldn't suit my name if I did; would it, mums? And you are such a little preacher, Maud.'
It was funny to hear Maud. It's funny still, for she looks such a mite, but two years ago it was even funnier. For she was only six and a half then, though she spoke just as well as she does now. I can't remember ever hearing Maud talk babyishly.
'Don't begin quarrelling about it, my dear children,' said mother. 'That certainly won't do any good. And, Anne, you must just try to put it off your mind a little, as I am doing.'
'I can't,' said Anne. 'I've never been so long sorry about anything in my life. I didn't know any one could be. I dream about it all night, too—the most provoking dreams of finding it in all sorts of places. Last night I dreamt I found it in my teacup, when I had finished drinking my tea, and it seemed so dreadfully real, you don't know. I could scarcely help thinking it would be in my cup this morning at breakfast.'
'Oh,' said Serena, 'that was why you were staring at the dregs so, and sighing so dolefully.'
But Anne didn't pay any attention to her.
'Mother,' she said, 'you don't think it could mean anything—my dream, I mean? Could it be that we are to look all through the teacups in the pantry, for you know there were a great lot in the drawing-room that day, and it might have dropped into one that wasn't used, and got put away without being washed.'
Mums smiled a little.
'I'm afraid that's wildly improbable,' she said; 'but if you like to go downstairs and tell Barstow about your dream, you may. It may inspirit them all to go on looking, for I'm afraid they have given up hopes.'
Barstow is the butler. He's very nice, and he was with father since he—I mean, father—was a baby; he's been always with gran, or what he calls 'in the family.' He's only got one fault, and that is, he can't keep a footman. We've just had shoals, and now father and mother say they really can't help it, and Barstow must settle them for himself. Since they've said that, the last two have stayed rather longer.
But he's most exceedingly jolly to us. Mums says he spoils us, but I don't think he does, for he's very particular. Lots of footmen have been sent away because he didn't think they spoke properly for us to hear. He was terribly shocked one day when Serry said something was 'like blazes,' and still worse when he caught me pretending to smoke. He was sure James or Thomas had taught me, say what I would, and of course I was only humbugging.
I think mums sent Anne down to talk to old Barstow a bit, partly to cheer her up. Anne was away about ten minutes. When she came back she did look rather brighter, though she shook her head. She was holding a note in her hand.
'No,' she said; 'Barstow was very nice, and he made Alfred climb up to look at some cups on a high shelf that hadn't been used the Drawing-room day—they'd just been brought up in case the others ran short. But there was nothing there. At least—look, mother,' she went on, holding out the letter. 'Fancy, Alfred found this on the shelf. Barstow is so angry, and Alfred's dreadfully sorry, and I said I'd ask you to forgive him. It came that evening, when we were all in such a fuss, and he forgot to give it you. He was carrying down a tray and put the note on it, meaning to take it up to the drawing-room. And somehow it got among the extra cups.'
Mums took the note and began to open it.
'I haven't the heart to scold any one for being careless just now,' she said, and then she unfolded the letter and read it.
'I'm rather glad of this,' she said, looking up. 'And it is a good thing it was found, Anne, otherwise Mrs. Liddell would have thought me very rude. It is from her to say that the dancing class begins again on—let me see—yes, it's to-morrow, Saturday, and she wants to know how many of you are coming. It's to be at her house, like last year. I must send her a word at once.'
Mrs. Liddell's house isn't far from ours, and it's very big. There's a room with no carpet on, where we dance. She likes to have the class at her house, because her children are awfully delicate, or, anyway, she thinks they are; and if it's the least cold or wet, she's afraid to let them go out. They come up to town early in the spring, and it suits very well for us to go to their class, as it's so near.
We rather like it. There's more girls than boys, of course—a lot—but I don't mind, because there are two or three about my size, and one a bit bigger, though he's younger.
We were not sorry to hear it was to begin again, and we all said to mums that she should let Maud come too. Maud had never been yet, and Serry had only been one year. Mums wasn't sure. Dancing is rather expensive, you know, but she said she'd ask father.
'The class is to be every Saturday afternoon, like last year,' she said. 'That will do very well.'
'But do persuade father to let Maud come too,' we all said.
It wasn't till afterwards that I thought to myself that I would look absurder than ever—the only boy to four sisters! It was bad enough the year before with three.
AT THE DANCING CLASS
It's funny to think what came of our going to that first dancing class. If Anne hadn't run down to the pantry, the note wouldn't have been found—perhaps not for months, if ever. And though Mrs. Liddell would have written again the next week most likely, it wouldn't have been in time for us to go to the first class, and everything would have come different.
We did go—all five of us. Father was quite willing for Maud to come too. I think he would have said yes to anything mother asked just then, he was so sorry for her; and he was beginning himself, as the days went on, to feel less hopeful about the diamond ornament being found. And you see mums couldn't put it off her mind, as she kept telling Anne she should do, for it was quite dreadful to her to think of grandfather's having to hear about it. She was so really sorry for him to be vexed, for she had thought it so kind of him to lend it to her.
There were several children we knew at the dancing class. Some, like the little Liddells themselves, that we hadn't seen for a good long while, as they always stayed in the country till after Christmas, and some that we didn't know as friends, only just at the dancing, you see.
It was rather fun. We always found time for a good deal of talking and laughing between the exercises and the dances, for they took us in turns—the little ones, like Serena and Maud, who were just beginning, and the older ones who could dance pretty well, and one or two dances at the end for the biggest of all or the furthest on ones. Anne and Hebe were among these, but Hebe danced much better than Anne. Most of the exercises and the marching we did all together. And the mammas or governesses sat at the other end of the room from all of us.
There were some children there called Barry that we didn't know except meeting them there. But I was glad to see them again, because two of them were boys, one a little older and the other a little younger than me. And they had a sister who was a twin to the younger one. They were nice children, and I liked talking to them, and the girl—her name was Flossy—was nice to dance with. I could manage much better with her than with our girls somehow.
They put me to dance the polka with Flossy. She's not at all a shy girl, and I'm not shy either, so we talked a good deal between times, and after the polka was done we sat down beside Anne and Hebe, and I went on talking. I was telling Flossy about losing the diamond thing, and she was so interested. It wasn't a secret, you see. Father said the more we told it the better; there was no saying how it might be traced through talking about it.
Only I was sorry for Anne. I had rather forgotten about her when I begun about it to Flossy, and I hadn't told about Anne's having meddled with the pin; and when Flossy went on talking, I felt as if Anne would think me unkind.
But Anne's not like that. She only sat looking very grave, and when I had answered Flossy's questions, she just said—
'Isn't it dreadful to have lost it? I'd give anything, I'd almost give myself, to find it.'
That's the queer sort of way Anne talks sometimes when she's very tremendously in earnest.
Flossy looked rather surprised.
'What a funny girl you are,' she said. 'I don't think your mother would agree to give you, even to get back her brooch! But, do you know, there's something running in my head about losings and findings that I've been hearing. What can it be? Oh yes; it was some of our cousins yesterday— Ludo,' and she called her brother, the twin one, 'Ludo, do you remember what the little Nearns were telling us, about something they'd found?'
'It wasn't they that found it. It was lying on their doorstep the day of the Drawing-room; they'd had a party, and it must have dropped off some lady's dress. But their mother had sent to all the ladies that had been there, and it wasn't theirs.'
Anne was listening so eagerly that her eyes almost looked as if they were going to jump out of her head.
'What is it like—the brooch, I mean—didn't you say it was a brooch?' she asked in a panting sort of voice.
Ludovic Barry stared at her.
'It's because they've lost one,' said Flossy quickly, 'at least their mother has, and they would give anything to find it. It's a—I forget the word—a family treasure, you know.'
'An heirloom,' I said. 'Yes, that's the worst of it. But, Anne, don't look so wild about it,' I went on, laughingly. 'What is the brooch like, that your cousins have found? Is it diamonds?' I went on to the Barrys.
'I think so,' said Ludo. 'It's some kind of jewels. But the Nearns are quite small children; they wouldn't know, and I don't suppose they've seen it. They'd only heard their mother and the servants talking about it. We can easily find out, though. I'll run round there—they live in our Square—when we go home.'
'No, Ludo, I'm afraid you can't, for mamma heard this morning that——'
At that very moment we were interrupted by another dance beginning. And when it was over it was time for us all to go. Flossy Barry didn't finish her sentence. I saw her saying something to her brother, and then she came up to us.
'I'll find out about the found brooch,' she said. 'I won't forget. And if it's the least likely to be yours, I'll ask mamma to write to your mamma. That'll be the best.'
'Thank you,' I said. She was a nice, kind little girl, and I was sure she wouldn't forget. But Anne looked disappointed.
'I don't see why she tried to stop her brother going about it at once,' she said.
'Perhaps there was some reason,' I said. 'And Anne, if I were you, I wouldn't say anything about it to mums. Raising her hopes, you know, very likely for nothing, for it's such a chance that it's our brooch—ours has been advertised so, these people would have seen the notices.'
Anne did not answer.
Flossy had a reason, and a good one, for what she said to her brother. But she had been told not to speak of what her mother had heard, as Mrs. Barry said it was not certain. The 'it' was that these little cousins of theirs had got the whooping-cough, or rather Lady Nearn, their mother, was afraid they had, and so she had told the Barrys they mustn't come to the house.
Of course we only heard all that afterwards.
We walked home from the dancing with Miss Stirling. She came with us sometimes, and sometimes mother, and now and then only nurse. For as the class was on Saturday afternoon, it wouldn't have done for Miss Stirling always to take us, as it was giving up part of her holiday. That first day mother was busy or engaged, otherwise she would have come herself.
It was getting dusk already as we went home; it was a dull afternoon, looking as if it was going to rain.
'I do hope it's not going to be wet to-morrow,' said Hebe. 'I like it to be fine on Sunday.'
Anne started at this. She had been walking very silently, scarcely talking at all.
'Is to-morrow Sunday?' she said. 'I'd quite forgotten. Oh, I do wish it wasn't. There's no post on Sunday, you know, Jack.'
She was next me, and I don't think any one else heard what she said.
'What do you mean?' I said. 'There's never any post on Sunday in London. What does it matter?'
'About the brooch, of course,' she answered. 'You see, if Flossy tells her mother what we said, and they send to find out, perhaps Mrs. Barry would write to mums to-night; and if it wasn't Sunday, the letter would come to-morrow morning.'
I felt quite provoked with her.
'Anne,' I said, and I daresay I spoke rather crossly, 'you're really silly. It's just as unlikely as it can be that it's mums' thing, and you'd much better put out of your head that it could be. You'll get yourself into a fidget, and then mums will think there's something new the matter, and——'
'I'm not going to tell her anything about it, I've said so already,' interrupted Anne, rather crossly too. 'I'm always being told to put things out of my head now; it would have been better if they hadn't been so much put in my head. I wouldn't have been half so miserable all this time if you hadn't all gone on so about it's being my fault that the horrid thing was lost,' and she gave a little sob, half of anger, half of unhappiness.
I was very sorry for her, and I was vexed with myself for having begun about it at the dancing class just when Anne might have forgotten it a little.
'If—just supposing Mrs. Barry thought it was it, she'd very likely send a note round to say; Rodney Square is quite near us,' said Hebe, who always thought of something cheering to say.
'Rodney Square,' Anne repeated, 'yes, that's close to here.'
For by this time we were almost at our own house.
Miss Stirling said good-bye to us as soon as the door was opened, and we all five went in together.
Mother was out; we knew she was, but yet it seemed rather dull to be told she hadn't come in. I always think it's dreadfully dull to come home and find one's mother out.
I didn't go upstairs. I had some lessons to finish, though it was Saturday afternoon, and so had Hebe, because you see we'd been longer at the dancing than if we'd just gone a walk. So we two went straight into the schoolroom, and Hebe took off her hat and jacket and put them down on a chair. The other three went on upstairs, and we didn't think any more about them.
What happened when they got up to the nursery we heard afterwards. Nurse was not there, and the room was rather dark.
'Why isn't the gas lighted?' said Maud. 'It looks so dull,' and she ran out of the room and down the passage to nurse's own room, calling out, 'Nurse, nurse, where are you? We've come in.'
Maud was very fond of nurse, and of course being the youngest she was nurse's pet. She's married now—our old nurse, I mean. She left us last Christmas, and we've got a schoolroom-maid instead, who doesn't pet Maud at all of course, but I don't think Maud minds.
'Nurse, where are you?' she called out.
Nurse was in her room; she had a fire, and she was ironing some things.
'Come in here, dearie,' she answered. 'I didn't think it was so late. I'll have done in a moment, and then I'll light the gas and see about tea.'
So Maud went in to nurse's room and began telling her about the dancing. And thus Anne and Serena were left by themselves in the half-dark nursery.
Anne stood staring in the fire for a minute without speaking. All this, you understand, they told us afterwards.
'Won't you come and take your things off, Anne?' said Serry.
But, instead of answering, Anne asked her another question.
'Do you know the number of the Barrys' house in Rodney Square?' it was.
'No,' said Serena. 'But I know the house. It is a corner one, and it has blue and white flower-boxes. What do you want to know about it for?'
Anne looked round—no, there was no sign of nurse; she and Serena were alone.
'Serry,' she said in a whisper, 'I've thought of something,' and then she went on to tell Serry what it was.
That's all I'll tell just now; the rest will come soon. Till you try, you've no idea how difficult it is to tell a story—or even not a regular story, just an account of simple things that really happened—at all properly. The bits of it get so mixed. It's like a tangle of thread—the ends you don't want keep coming up the wrong way, and putting themselves in front of the others. I must just go on as well as I can, and put down the things as straight as they'll come.
Well, Hebe and I had about finished the lessons we wanted to get done. It was partly that Monday was going to be mother's birthday, and we wanted to have a clear evening. Hebe and I always agree about things like that; we like to look forward and arrange comfortably. Well, we had just about finished, and I was getting up to begin putting away the books, when the door opened and nurse came in looking just the least little bit vexed. For she is good-natured.
She glanced round the room before she spoke, as if she was looking for some one not there.
'The child's right,' she said, as if speaking to herself. 'I must say she generally is. Master Jack,' she went on, 'and Miss Hebe, my dears, tea's ready. But where are Miss Warwick and Miss Serry?'
'Anne and Serry,' I said. 'I'm sure I don't know. Upstairs, I suppose. They went straight up with Maudie when we came in, ever so long ago.'
'But indeed they're not upstairs,' said nurse, her face growing very uneasy. 'That's what Miss Maud said too. She saw them go into the nursery when she ran along to my room. But they are not there, nor in any of the bedrooms; I've looked everywhere, and called too.'
'They may be reading in the little drawing-room,' I said, and both Hebe and I jumped up to go and help nurse in her search. She had not thought of the drawing-room, knowing mother had not come in.
'Have they taken off their hats and jackets?' asked Hebe.
Nurse shook her head.
'I've not seen them anywhere about, and Miss Anne and Miss Serry are not young ladies that ever think of putting away their out-door things as you do sometimes, Miss Hebe.'
Hebe hung back a little. We were following nurse upstairs.
'Jack,' she whispered,'do you know, while you and I were busy in the schoolroom, I am sure I heard the front door shut. I hadn't heard the bell ring, and I wondered for a moment why Alfred was opening when no one had rung. But, you see, it may have been some one going out. Jack, do you think Anne and Serry can have gone out by themselves?'
'They'd never do such a thing,' I said. 'Why, it's almost quite dark, and they know mother would be really very angry if they did!'
But Hebe did not seem satisfied.
'The door was shut very softly,' she said.
We were at the drawing-room by this time. There was no light in the two big rooms, but there were two lamps in the little one where mums sits when she's alone. No sign of Anne or Serena, however. And no sign of them in the other rooms either. Alfred brought up a candle, and we called to them to come out if they were hiding, and said we were really frightened; but there was no answer.
'They can't be there,' said nurse; 'Miss Anne has far too kind a heart not to come out, even if they had begun by playing a trick on me. Come up to the nursery, my dears, and have your tea. I'll go down and speak to Mr. Barstow. Maybe he can throw some light on it.'
'They must have gone out, nurse,' I said boldly. There was no use not telling her all we knew.
She turned upon me quite sharply.
'Gone out, Master Jack? Nonsense, Miss Anne is far too good and obedient to do such a wild thing, knowing how it would displease your dear mamma too.'
But Maud, whom we met on the staircase, suddenly thought of an explanation of the mystery.
'Come in here,' she said, pulling us all three into the nursery and closing the door. 'Listen, I do believe I know where they've gone. It's about the diamond brooch. I believe Anne's gone to those children's house where they've found a brooch that might be it.'
Hebe and I jumped.
'I believe you're right, Maud,' I said.
'How stupid of us not to have thought of it!' exclaimed Hebe.
But nurse, of course, only stared.
Then we explained to her what Maud meant. Even then she could scarcely believe Anne had really done such a thing.
'It would have been so much better to wait till your mamma came in,' she said. 'Alfred could have been sent with a note in a minute.'
'Anne didn't want mother to know about it. At least, I said to her it would be a pity to raise mother's hopes, and it was all nicely settled that Flossy Barry was to find out and ask her mother to write if it seemed possible it was our diamond thing,' I said. 'It is all Anne's impatience, and you see, nurse, she knew she shouldn't have gone alone with Serry, or she wouldn't have crept out that way without telling any one.'
'I don't know how they can have gone to those people's house,' said Hebe. 'I'm not even sure of the name, though I heard it, and I've a better memory than Anne. I only know it's in Rodney Square.'
'They'll have gone to Flossy Barry's to ask for the redress,' said Maud.
We couldn't help smiling; it is so funny when Maud says words wrong, for she is so wonderfully clever and sensible.
'Yes,' exclaimed Hebe. 'I'm sure they'll have done that. Maud always thinks of the right thing.'
But what were we to do?
Every moment we hoped to hear the front-door bell ring, followed by our sisters' pattering steps running upstairs. We didn't seem to care much about the diamond brooch. Even if I had heard Anne's voice calling out, 'It is it. We've got it!' I think my first words would have been, 'Oh, Anne, how could you go out and frighten us so?'
And of course, even if it had been the brooch, they would never have given it to two children to bring back. Mums would have had to vow it was hers, and all sorts of fuss, I daresay.
Nurse poured out our three cups of tea. She was very sensible; I think she wanted to stop us getting too excited, though she told me afterwards she had been as frightened as frightened: it had been all she could do to keep quiet and not go off just as she was to look for them.
'I'll just go down and have a word with Mr. Barstow,' she said. 'I daresay he'll send round to Mrs. Barry's to see if the young ladies have been there, as Miss Maudie says, dear child. We'll find Mrs. Barry's number in the red book. And you don't know the other family's name?'
'It's a Lady something,' said Hebe. 'Not Mrs., and not Lady Mary or Lady Catharine, but Lady —— the name straight off.'
'That won't help so very much, I'm afraid,' said nurse. 'Not in Rodney Square. But they'll be sure to know the name at Mrs. Barry's. I shouldn't wonder if Mr. Barstow steps round himself. Now go on with your tea, my dears, while I go downstairs for a minute. Of course there's nothing at all to be really frightened about.'
We pretended to go on with our tea, but we were very unhappy.
It seemed a long time till nurse came back again. We had finished our tea—it was really rather a pretence one, as I said—when we thought we heard her coming upstairs, and ran out to meet her.
It was her: she was coming up the big front staircase, for she still, as she told me afterwards, had a half-silly idea that perhaps the two girls were still hiding somewhere in the drawing-rooms, and might be going to jump out to surprise her. When we looked over the balusters and saw it was nurse, we ran down to the first landing towards her.
'Mr. Barstow has gone himself,' she said. 'We've been looking out Rodney Square in the red book; we found Mr. Barry's—it's No. 37—fast enough, but we can't say which is the other lady's, as you've no idea of the name. There's ever so many might do for it; the very next door is a Sir Herbert Mortimer's.'
'No, it was a short name, I'm sure of that. Aren't you, Hebe?' I said.
'Now, my dears, why didn't you say so before?' said nurse. 'A short name would have been some guide.'
'But it was far the best to go straight to the Barrys,' said Maud, which was certainly quite true.
Just then the front bell rang.
'Oh,' said nurse, 'if only it could be the young ladies before your mamma comes in!'
But no, it was not Anne and Serena. It was mums herself.
She seemed to know by instinct that there was something wrong. She glanced up and saw our heads all looking over the railing.
'What is it?' she said. 'Are you all there, dears?'
Nurse and we three looked at each other. It was no use hiding it. So we went on downstairs to the hall.
'It's nothing really wrong, mums, darling,' I said. 'It's only——' but nurse interrupted me.
'It's Miss Warwick and Miss Serena, ma'am, haven't come in yet,' she said. 'We hoped it was them when the bell rang.'
Mother looked bewildered.
'Anne and Serry,' she said. 'What do you mean? Didn't they go to the dancing with the rest of you?'
'Yes, of course; they've been in since then,' said Hebe. 'Miss Stirling brought us all to the door. But they've gone out again, we're afraid;' and seeing mother looking more and more puzzled, she turned to Maud. 'You tell mums, Maud,' she said. 'You know most.'
Mother sat down on a chair in the hall. She seemed quite shaky and frightened. Nurse ran off to get a glass of water, and Maud told her all we knew or guessed in her quiet little particular way. She told all—about the ornament that had been found, and everything—it was no use hiding anything.
'Oh,' said poor mums at the end, 'I do wish gran had never thought of lending me his diamonds,' and she gave a great sigh. 'But after all,' she went on, 'I don't think we need be very frightened, though it was exceedingly, really very wrong of Anne to go, whatever her motive was. I only hope the Barrys sent some one with them to these cousins of theirs; they must have thought it extraordinary for two little girls to be out alone so late.'
Still, on the whole, she did not seem so very frightened now. She drank the water nurse brought, and went into the library, where the lamp was lit, and the fire burning cheerfully.
'Barstow will be back immediately, no doubt?' she said to nurse.
'He'll be as quick as he can, I'm sure,' said nurse. 'But perhaps—if he has gone on to the other house—it may be some little time.'
At that moment, however, we heard the area bell ring, and almost immediately Barstow appeared. His face was rather red, and he seemed out of breath—poor Barstow is getting pretty fat.
'Are they back?' he exclaimed. Then seeing mother, 'I beg your pardon, ma'am. I just ran in to see if the young ladies were returned, for they've not been at Mrs. Barry's—no one there has heard anything of them. I got the address of the other lady's—Lady Nearn's——'
'Oh yes,' Hebe and I interrupted; 'that's the name.'
——'Just in case,' Barstow continued, 'they hadn't come in. But I really begin to think we're on the wrong tack. Perhaps Miss Anne has only gone to some shop, and it seemed making such a hue and cry to go round to another house, and not of our own acquaintances, you see, ma'am,' he went on, 'and asking for the young ladies. I quite hoped to find they were home.'
Mother considered. She kept her presence of mind, but I could see she was growing really frightened.
'Could they have gone to get cakes for tea, for a surprise,' she said suddenly, 'and have lost their way coming back? There's that German shop in —— Street, where there are such nice cakes.'
It was possible, but after all —— Street was not very far off, and Anne had sense enough to ask the way. And as the minutes went on, and no ring came to the bell, we all looked at each other in increasing trouble.
'You'd better go to Lady Nearn's, Barstow,' said mums at last, 'though it seems such a mere chance. How could they have known what house it was, scarcely having heard the name, and certainly not having been told the number!'
That was what we all thought.
But Barstow was off—like a shot, I was going to say, but it wouldn't be a very good description,—as like a shot as a stout elderly butler could be, we'll say.
And poor mums began walking up and down the room, squeezing her hands together in a way she has when she's awfully worried.
'If only Alan were at home,' I heard her say. 'Oh dear! is it a punishment to me for having made too much of the loss of that unlucky brooch? It would seem less, far less than nothing, in comparison with any harm to the children. Oh, if only Anne were less thoughtless and impulsive, what a comfort it would be!'
And I must say, when I saw the poor, dear little thing— I can't help calling mums a little thing sometimes, though of course she's twice as tall as I am, but she's so sweet and soft, and seems to need to be taken care of—when I saw her, I say, so dreadfully upset, it was all I could do not to feel very angry with Anne; and yet, you understand, till I could see with my own eyes that she and Serry were all right, I didn't dare to feel angry.
And all sorts of things began to come into my head, and I am sure they were in mother's already. The one that seemed the plainest was that they had been run over: the streets are not at all well lighted about where we live; there are no shops, and the London gas is horribly dull. Still, it wasn't likely that they'd both been run over and hurt so badly that they couldn't speak to tell who they were or where they lived. There was some comfort in that. But— I looked at the library clock, which always keeps good time: father sees to it himself—it was getting on for two hours since they had been out! Where could they be?
Suddenly there came a ring at the bell—rather a sharp ring—and as Alfred flew to open the door, we heard the sort of little bustle that there always is if it is a carriage or cab arriving—tiny clickings of the harness and the coachman's voice. Yes, it was a carriage. We ran out into the hall and saw a footman in a buff greatcoat standing on the steps, up which came two little dark figures, who ran in past him. Then the door was shut, the carriage drove off, and we saw that it was Anne and Serry.
'Oh, children! oh, Anne!' cried mother. 'Where have you been?'
And we all called out in different voice, 'Oh, Anne! oh, Serry!'
But before she said anything else Anne rushed up to mother.
'Oh, mums, it wasn't it after all. It was a star with a pearl in the middle. I was so disappointed!'
That shows how silly Anne is. She had planned, you know, to say nothing about it to mother, and then she bursts out as if mums had sent her to find out about it! Indeed, for that matter, it was only thanks to clever little Maud that any of us knew where they had been, or had any idea rather. For as to knowing, we had not known; we had only guessed.
'Then you were there, after all,' said Maud. 'I thought so.'
'But how did you get the address without going to the Barrys for it?' said Hebe. 'We sent there. Barstow went himself. Oh, Anne, you have frightened us so, especially poor darling mums!'
Then at last Anne and Serry began to look rather ashamed of themselves. Mother, after the first exclamation, had not spoken. She went back into the library, looking whiter than before almost, and I felt too disgusted with Anne's thoughtlessness to ask any questions. Still, I was very curious to know all about it, and so were we all.
Anne followed mums into the library—she was really frightened by this time, I think.
'Tell me all about it,' said mother.
So they did—Anne first, of course, and Serena putting in her word now and then. It was just as we had thought about the first part of it. They had gone to find out about the brooch. Rodney Square wasn't far off, and Anne was sure she knew the way there, and would be back directly. But after all, it wasn't so easy to find as she expected. It makes a great difference when it's dark—the turnings are so like each other, especially where there are no shops. They did get to Rodney Square at last, but they must have gone a very roundabout way, and when they were there, there was a new difficulty: they knew the Barrys' house by sight, or they thought they did, but they didn't know the number, only that it was a corner one. They came to one corner, one that looked something like it, and Anne thought they'd better try. So they went up the steps and rang the bell, and a footman opened.
'Does Mrs. Barry live here?' asked Anne.
'No,' he said,' that's not our name.' But he must have been good-natured, for he went on to say he'd get the red book if they liked, and look for it.
'Bury—was that the name?' he said when he had got the book.
'Barry,' Anne was just going to say, when a new thought struck her. It was no good going to two houses when she might get the information she wanted at one. 'It isn't really Mrs. Barry's house I need,' she said. 'I was only going to ask there for another address—Lady Nern, or some name like that.'
'Oh,' said the man, 'Lady Nearn's!—that's next door, miss. I don't need to look it up.'
They thanked him and set off again, thinking they had been very lucky, though I thought if Anne had remembered the name as close as that, she might have looked it up in our own red book at home before starting.
They rang again next door, and again a footman opened; but he wasn't so good-natured as the other, and he was stupid too.
'Is Lady Nearn at home? Can I see her?' asked Anne quite coolly. Anne is as cool as anything when she's full of some idea. Nothing puts her out or frightens her.
It was rather dark, and of course no one expects little ladies to be walking about alone so late. So it wasn't much wonder the man thought they were errand girls, or beggars of some kind possibly.
'No,' he said, 'my lady's not at home; and if she was she wouldn't be to no tiresome children like you.' (We made Anne and Serry tell us exactly all that was said.) 'She leaves word if she's expecting any of her school brats, but she's said nothing this time, so it's no use your teasing.'
If I'd been Anne I'd have been in a fury, but Serry said she didn't seem to mind.
'Oh, please,' she said, 'we're not school-children, and we've come about something very particular indeed. Don't you think Lady Nearn will be in soon?'
That was Anne all over. She'd no intention of giving up now she had got so far.
I suppose the footman heard by her voice that she wasn't a common child.
'Can't you leave a message?' he said rather more civilly.
'No,' said Anne. 'It's something I must see Lady Nearn herself about.'
She had the sense not to speak of the found ornament to him. Of course it would have been no use, as Lady Nearn wouldn't have left it with a servant.
'We're friends of—at least we know Mrs. Barry's children,' Anne went on. 'Can't you let us come in and wait, if Lady Nearn will be in soon?'
For it was very chilly on the doorstep, and indeed both Anne and Serry were very tired by this time—coming straight from the dancing, and losing their way to Rodney Square, and it being past tea-time and all.
The footman seemed to consider.
'Step inside,' he said at last; 'I'll see what—somebody—says,' They didn't catch the name.
It wasn't nearly such a grand house as the one next door. The hall was quite small, and there was no fireplace in it.
'You can take a seat,' said the man, and he went off. 'Somebody' must have taken a good while to find, for he didn't come back for ever so long. I suppose once he saw them in the light, he was satisfied they weren't beggars or anything like that.
They were glad to sit down, and it felt warm in the hall compared to outside. There was a door close to where they were. It was one of those houses that have the dining-room at the back and the library to the front, you know, and the door was the library door.
After a moment it opened, very slowly and softly, and some one peeped out; then Anne and Serena heard some whispering, and the door opened a little wider, and two faces appeared. It was two children—a boy and a girl, though their heads looked much the same, as they had both short, dark, curly hair, and they both wore sailor tops. They gradually opened the door still more till they could be seen quite well. They were about six or seven, and they stood smiling at the girls, half shy and half pleased.
'Won't you come in here?' said one of them. 'It must be so cold out there. We're having tea in here all by ourselves. It's such fun.'
'We're to stay here till mamma comes home,' said the other. 'We've been by ourselves all day, because Lilly and Tom are ill—we mustn't be in the nursery to disturb them.'
Anne and Serry walked in. 'They didn't see why they shouldn't,' said Serry, and these dear little children were so kind and polite. They handed them the cake and bread-and-butter, and they would have given them tea, only they hadn't cups enough, and they didn't seem quite sure about ringing for more.
George, the footman, was rather cross sometimes, they said. But it wasn't often he was so rude as to leave any one in the cold hall. They'd tell mamma when she came in.
She did come in very soon. The bell rang, and the children ran to the door to peep out, and when Lady Nearn hurried in, there she found the four as happy as could be—Anne and Serry so amused by the children that they had quite forgotten all about how frightened nurse and all of us would be getting; indeed, they'd almost forgotten what they had come to this strange house about at all.
Lady Nearn did look astonished. For half a minute she took Serena for Flossy Barry.
'Flossy,' she said, 'I wrote to your——' but then she stopped, and just stared in surprise.
Anne had got back her wits by then, and she explained it all—how it was partly, anyway, her fault about the brooch being lost, and how pleased she'd be to find it, and all about what Flossy had told them, and how she and Serry had come off by themselves, not even knowing the name, or the number of the house.
Lady Nearn was very kind, but I don't think she quite took in that it was really naughty of them to have come out without leave. You see, Anne hadn't got to think it naughty herself, yet. She fetched the brooch just to show Anne—though, indeed, from the way Anne spoke of it, she was sure it wasn't it, and of course it wasn't!
Anne could nearly have cried with disappointment.
Then it did strike Lady Nearn to ask how they were going home again. It was quite dark by now. She couldn't send a servant with them, for the house was rather upset—three of the children were ill.
'Indeed,' she said, 'I must write to Mrs. Warwick to explain. I hope no harm will come of it, as you have only seen the twins, who are quite well, so far, and separated from the others.'
But all the same she seemed anxious to get them away, and she suddenly rang the bell and told George—who must have looked rather astonished to see the 'school brats' such friends with his mistress—to run round to the stables and tell the coachman to call at the house on his way to fetch Lord Nearn from somewhere or other. That was how Anne and Serry came home in a carriage.
We didn't hear the whole ins and outs of the story at once, but we made the girls tell it us over afterwards.
Just now Anne could hardly get through with it; for she began crying when she understood how frightened mums had been, and begging her to forgive her.
Mums did, of course—she always does. And then she sent us upstairs to finish our tea. But as we left the library I heard her say to herself—
'I wonder what Lady Nearn can be going to write to me about.'
Serena was quite jolly, and as hungry as anything.
'All's well that ends well,' she said, tossing her hair.
Anne turned upon her pretty sharply. I wasn't sorry.
'Serry,' she said, 'I know you're not to blame like me, for I made you come. But you might see now how wrong it was, as I do. And "ends well" indeed! Why, we've given mums and all of them a dreadful fright, and we haven't found the brooch.'
And—but I must tell that in a new chapter. No, it wasn't 'ends well' yet, by a long way.
'If only you'd asked me, Anne,' said Miss Maud Wisdom.
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
I was alone with mums in her room the next morning when her letters were brought up. The poor little thing had a headache and was very tired, and, for once, she hadn't got up to breakfast. She had not been able to go to sleep the night before—really she had had a lot of worries lately—and then when she did, it was so nearly morning that she slept on ever so much longer than usual. For she's not a bit lazy, like some mothers I know.
When she does have breakfast in bed, she lets me look after her. It's awfully jolly. Father is sure to say as he goes off, 'You'll see to your mother, Jack.'
The girls don't mind. Anne wouldn't be much good at anything like that—at least, she wouldn't have been then, though she's ever so much better now about forgetting things, and spilling things, and seeming as if all her fingers were thumbs, you know. Hebe is very handy, and she always was. But she never put herself before Anne, and so we got in the way of me being the one to do most for mums. I told you at the beginning—didn't I?—that some people might think me rather a girl-y boy, but I don't mind one scrap of an atom if they do. I have my own ideas. I know the splendidest cricketer and footballer you ever saw is a fellow whose sister's a cripple, and she can't bear any one to lift her but him, because he's so gentle. And I've seen a young doctor in our village doing up a baby that was burnt nearly to death, as if his fingers were fairy's, and afterwards I heard that he'd been the bravest of the brave in some awful battles in Burmah, or somewhere like that. Indeed, he got so wounded with cutting in to carry out the men as they dropped—it was what they call a skirmish, I think, not a proper battle where they have ambulances and carrying people and everything ready, I suppose—that he's had to leave off being a soldier-doctor for good.
And now that the girls know it can't be for long, except in holidays, that I can look after mums, they're very good about letting me be with her as much as I can. And I've got them into pretty good ways. I don't think she'll miss me so very much when I go.
Well, I settled the breakfast tray with Rowley, and nothing was forgotten. I let Rowley carry it up, because I knew it was safer for her to do it, and there's no sense in bragging you're bigger than you are, and can carry things that need long arms when you know you can't. But I walked beside her, opening the doors and watching that the things didn't slide about; that's how I always do. And then when the tray was safe on the bed, and I had arranged the 'courses,' first the roll and butter and ham and egg—I cracked the top of the egg and got it ready—and then the muffin and marmalade, my nice time began. I squatted at the foot of the bed, near enough to reach mums anything she wanted, and then we talked.
We talk of lots of things when we're alone like that. Mums tells me of anything that's on her mind, and I comfort her up a bit. Of course we talked about the unlucky brooch, and about Anne, and how easily she and Serry might have been run over, or something like that.
'Yes, indeed,' said mums, 'I often think we're not half thankful enough for the misfortunes that don't happen.'
Just then there came a knock at the door.
'Bother!' thought I. I don't think I said it, for mums thinks it's such an ugly word.
It was Rowley again.
'Your letters, ma'am,' she said. 'They were forgotten when I brought up the tray.'
There were only three. Two were nothing particular—accounts or something. But the third was in a strange handwriting, and mums opened it quickly.
'It's from Lady Nearn,' she said. 'I think it was rather me to write to her. It's very kind of her, but——'
She began reading it, and her face got very grave.
'Do leave it till you've finished your breakfast, mums,' I said. 'You've not even finished the first course.'
But she scarcely listened to me.
'Oh, Jack!' she said, 'I'm afraid we haven't got to the end of the troubles caused by poor gran's diamonds yet. Oh dear, I shall be so uneasy for some days to come!'
I couldn't make out what she meant, and when she saw my puzzled face she went on to explain. Lady Nearn's letter was very kind, but she thought it right to tell mother that Anne and Serena had run into some risk by coming to her house the night before, for it was quite decided that three of her children had got whooping-cough. Not the two they had seen; at least she still hoped they—the twins—wouldn't get it, for they were very delicate, and they had been separated from the others. But still there was no telling how infection might be caught, and she advised mother to be prepared for her little girls having perhaps got the illness.
Mums did look worried.
'It's a most tiresome and trying thing,' she said; 'and neither Hebe nor Maud is very strong. Perhaps I shouldn't have told you, Jack. You must be sure not to speak of it to any of them.'
I promised, of course. And then poor mums, instead of having a nice rest, declared she must get up at once, and go off to catch the doctor before he went out. Wasn't it too bad? She wanted to know what to do—whether it was any good trying to separate Anne and Serry from the rest of us, and how soon it would show, and a lot of things like that. For mother was an only child herself, and she always says she isn't at all experienced about children. She's had to learn everything by us, you see.
Well, she did catch the doctor, and came back looking rather jollier. He had comforted her up. There were ten chances to one against the girls having got it, he said; and as for separating them, now they had been with us all, it would be nonsense.
Ah, well! doctors don't know everything. I'd have separated them fast enough, I know; and it would have been a good punishment for Anne and Serena to have been shut up for a day or two; perhaps it would have made them think twice before doing some wild, silly thing again.
So mums and I kept our own counsel. She told father, of course, but no one else, not even nurse—it would only have made her nervous. We sent round once or twice to ask how the little Nearns were—mums wrote notes, I think, as she didn't want the servants chattering. And we were very sorry to hear that the poor twins had got it after all, and rather badly.
'So you see, Jack,' said mother, 'it wasn't any good separating them. Dr. Marshall must know.'
I think this was rather a comfort to her. If the doctor had been right about one thing, there was more chance of his being right about another.
And for two or three days we all kept quite well, and mother began to breathe freely.
But, alas! I think it was about the fourth morning after that evening, when I ran into the nursery on my way down to prayers, I found mother there, talking to nurse. Mother looked very grave, much worse than nurse, who didn't seem particularly put out.
'It's only a cold, ma'am, I'm sure,' she was saying. 'A cold soon makes a child feverish and heavy. I don't think, indeed, there's any need for the doctor; but it's just as you like, of course.'
Then 'it' had come. Poor mums! I stole up to her and slipped my hand into hers. I understood, though nurse didn't. It was rather nice to feel that I was mother's sort of confi—— I'm not sure of the word. But who was it that was ill? My heart did go down when I heard it was not Anne or Serry—really, I think I'd have said they deserved it—but poor old Maudie! Sensible, good little Maud, who never did naughty, silly things, or teased anybody. It did seem too bad.
'May I run in to see her?' I asked.
Nurse would have said, 'Yes, of course, Master Jack,' in a moment, but mother shook her head.
'Not till Dr. Marshall has been, dear,' she said; and she gave my hand a little squeeze. I'm afraid she began to wish she had separated the girls after all.
I could see that nurse thought mums very funny, as she went on asking ever so many questions about Maud—above all, was she coughing?
'A little,' said nurse; 'rather a croupy, odd-sounding sort of cough.' But she was too old for croup, of course. It was just cold.
'I must go down to prayers now,' said mother. 'I will come up immediately after breakfast, and I will send for Dr. Marshall. I am sure it will be best.'
Just then there came the sound of a cough from Maud's room—a queer, croaky sort of cough—and we heard the poor little thing call out—
'Oh, mums, is that you? Do come to see me. I does feel so funny.'
'Yes, darling, I will come very soon,' said mother. It was so queer to hear Maudie talking babyishly—she always did if she was at all ill. As we went downstairs I was sure mums was crying a little.
Well, that was the beginning of it all. When the doctor came, of course he looked very owly, and said he couldn't say for a day or two; and pretended to be jolly, and told mother she wasn't to be so silly, and all that kind of talk. But after his 'day or two'—no, indeed, before they were over—he had to allow there was some cause for grave looks. For by then they'd all got it—all except me! Just fancy, all four of them! The nursery was like a menagerie, for no sooner did one cough than all the others started too, and they all coughed different ways. If it hadn't been really horrid it would have been rather absurd—something like the mumps, you know. It's all you can do not to laugh at each other when you've got the mumps. I'll never forget Serry's face,—never, as long as I live, and she's the prettiest of us, I suppose. I saw my own once in the glass, but I wouldn't look again. And yet it's awfully horrid. It hurts—my goodness! doesn't it just?