THE HAPPY ADVENTURERS
The Happy Adventurers
LYDIA MILLER MIDDLETON
To Alastair and Margaret
"I tell this tale, which is strictly true, Just by way of convincing you How very little, since things were made, Things have altered in the building trade." —Kipling.
I. HOW IT BEGAN II. THE BUILDERS, OR THE LITTLE HOUSE III. THE FORTUNE-MAKERS, OR THE CHERRY-GARDEN IV. THE TREASURE-HUNTERS, OR THE DUKE'S NOSE V. THE GOLD-DIGGERS, OR THE MIRACLE VI. THE GRAPE-GATHERERS, OR WHO WAS MR. SMITH? VII. THE AERONAUTS, OR THE FATEFUL STONE VIII. HOW IT ENDED
"YOU CALLED ME, SO I CAME"
"I WISH I COULD MAKE SOMETHING THAT WOULD REACH FROM HERE TO MY BROTHER"
GRIZZEL THREW IN A SMALL HANDFUL OF TEA
DICK STARTED VIOLENTLY
THEY STOOD AND WATCHED THE "KANGAROO" FOR SOME TIME
THERE THEY WERE-OH, HOW MOLLY LONGED TO KEEP THEM!
THE HAPPY ADVENTURERS
How it Began
"Dear, dear!" said Grannie, "woes cluster, as my mother used to say."
"Let us hope that this is the last woe, and that now the luck will turn," said Aunt Mary.
Mollie did not say anything. She had smiled the Guides' smile valiantly through the worst of her misfortunes, but now she was so tired that she felt nothing short of a hammer and two tacks could fasten that smile on to her face any longer. So she closed her eyes and lay back on the cushions, feeling that Fate had done its worst and that no more blows were possible in the immediate future.
Grannie fetched an eiderdown and tucked it cosily round the patient, who looked pale and chilly even on this fine warm day in June, while Aunt Mary tidied away the remains of lotions and bandages left by the doctor.
"The best thing now will be a little sleep," said Grannie, looking down with kind old eyes at her granddaughter, "a little quiet sleep and then a nice tea, with the first strawberries from the garden. I saw quite a number of red ones this morning, and Susan shall give us some cream."
Mollie opened her eyes again and tried to look pleased, but even the thought of strawberries and cream could not make her feel really happy in her heart; for one thing, she still felt rather sick.
"That will be lovely," she said, as gratefully as she could, "and now I think I will try to go to sleep, and perhaps forget things for a little while—" and, in spite of all her efforts, a few tears insisted upon rolling down her cheeks as she thought of home, and Mother's disappointment, and the dull time that lay before her.
Mollie Gordon's home was in London, in the somewhat dull district of North Kensington, where her father, Dr. Gordon, had a large but not particularly lucrative practice, and her mother cheerfully made the best of things from Monday morning till Sunday night. There were five children: Mollie and her twin brother Dick; Jean, Billy, and Bob. They lived in a large, ugly house, one of a long row of ugly houses in a dull gardenless street, where the sidewalks were paved, and the plane trees which bordered the road were stunted and dusty. In the near neighbourhood ran a railway line, a car line, and four bus routes, so that noise and dust were familiar elements in the Gordons' lives—so familiar, indeed, that they passed unnoticed.
A month ago Mollie had been in the full swing of mid-term. Every moment of her life had been taken up with lessons, games, and Guiding; the days had been too short for all she wanted to get into them, and, if she had been allowed, she would certainly have followed the poet's advice to "steal a few hours from the night", but, fortunately for herself, she had a sensible mother whose views did not coincide with the poet's.
And then in the midst of all her busyness, just when she thought herself quite indispensable to the school play, the hockey team, and her Patrol, she fell ill with measles. She was not very ill, so far as measles went, but her eyes remained obstinately weak, and so it was decided that she should be sent down to the country to stay with Grannie, do no lessons at all, and spend as much time as possible in the open air. Luckily, or unluckily, according to the point of view, none of the other children had caught the disease, so that Mollie went alone to Chauncery, as Grannie's house in Sussex was called.
Chauncery was an old-fashioned house standing in a beautiful garden surrounded by fields and woods. If Mollie could have had a companion of her own age, she would have been perfectly happy there, in spite of frustrated ambitions and the trial of not being allowed to read; but the very word "measles" frightened away the neighbours, so that no one came to keep her company, and she sometimes felt very lonely. Nevertheless, she had accommodated herself to circumstances, and, between playing golf with Aunt Mary, driving the fat pony, and learning to milk the pretty Guernsey cows, she managed to "put in a very decent time", as she expressed it. Till this third misfortune befell her.
"First measles, then eyes, and now a sprained ankle," she sighed to Aunt Mary on the morning after her accident; "what can I do to pass the time? It's all very well for Baden-Powell to talk, but I can't sing and laugh all day for a week; it would drive you crazy if I did. I have smiled till my mouth aches. What shall I do next?"
"You poor chicken!" Aunt Mary exclaimed, with the most comforting sympathy. "You have had a run of bad luck and no mistake! We must invent something. You can't read and you can't sew—how about knitting? Suppose we knit a scarf in school colours for Dick, or a jumper for yourself to wear when you are better? I could get wool in the village. That would do to begin with, till I think of something better."
Mollie agreed that it certainly would be better than doing nothing, though hardly an exciting occupation for an active girl of thirteen. So the scarf was set agoing, whilst Grannie read aloud, and the first half of the first day was got through pretty well. But after lunch the day darkened and rain began to fall in heavy slate- coloured streaks, pouring down the window-panes and streaming across the greenhouse roof, changing the bright daylight into a dismal twilight, and blotting out all view of the garden. It was depressing weather even for people who were quite well, and poor Mollie might be forgiven for finding it hard to keep up her spirits. She was tired of knitting, tired of being read aloud to, and tired of writing letters to her family.
"How would you like to see some photographs of your father when he was little?" suggested Grannie at last. "He was the most beautiful infant I ever saw." She opened a cupboard door as she spoke, and presently came back to Mollie's side with an arm-load of photograph- albums, the kind of albums to be found in country houses, filled with carte-de-visite photographs of old-fashioned people, all standing, apparently, in the same studio, and each resting one hand on the same marble pillar. The ladies wore spreading crinoline skirts, and had hair brushed in smooth bands on either side of their high foreheads; the men wore baggy trousers and beards; family groups were large, and those boys and girls taken separately looked altogether too good for this world.
Mollie smiled at the picture of her father, a fat, solemn baby in his mother's arms. She thought, but did not say, that he was a remarkably plain child, and congratulated herself that she took after her mother in appearance; though, of course, Father, as she knew him, was not in the least like that infant. At the rest of the photographs she looked politely, but it was hard work to keep from yawning, and at last her mouth suddenly opened of itself and gave a great gape.
"That's right," said Grannie, "now I'll tuck you up and lower the blinds, and you'll have a nice little nap till tea-time."
Mollie closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but sleep would not come. She missed her morning walk and the fresh air of out-of-doors, so she gave it up, opened her eyes again, and lay wakefully thinking of home and Mother, Dick and Jean, and school. The big clock on the mantelpiece seemed to go very, very slowly, its tick loud and deliberate, as though it would say: "Don't think you are going to get off one single minute—sixty minutes to the hour you have to live through, and there are still two hours till tea-time." The rain splashed against the window, the wind moaned through the tree-tops, and the room got steadily darker.
"Oh dear!" Mollie whispered to herself, "what can I do to make the time pass?"
She sat up and looked round, and her eyes fell upon the last of the photograph-albums—the one she had yawned over. She picked it up, propped it on her knees, and, lying back against the cushions, turned the pages over. These were all children, prim children with tidy hair and solemn faces. Mollie stopped at the picture of a girl dressed in a wide-skirted, sprigged-muslin frock. Her hair fell in plump curls from beneath a broad-brimmed hat with long ribbons floating over one shoulder. Her legs were very conspicuous in white stockings and funny boots with tassels dangling on their fronts.
"I expect this is how Ellen Montgomery looked in The Wide, Wide World," Mollie said to herself. "She would be rather pretty if she were properly dressed; she looks about my age. I wonder what sort of time she had—horribly dull, probably. No hockey, no Guiding, no fox-trots—I expect she danced the polka, and recited 'Lives of great men all remind us', and got pi-jawed ten times a day. I can't imagine how children endured life in those days. Thank goodness I wasn't born till 1907! She does look rather nice, though—and oh! I wish you could talk, my dear! I am dull."
Just then Aunt Mary began to play the piano in the next room. She played soft, old-fashioned tunes, so that her niece might be soothed to sleep. Mollie did not recognize the tunes but she liked them; they seemed to sympathize with her as she continued to look at the prim little girl in the photograph.
"Perhaps she played those very tunes; she looks as if she practised for one hour a day regularly."
As Mollie lay there, the sweet old music sounding in her ears and her eyes steadily fixed on the face of that other child of long ago, it seemed to her that the child smiled at her.
"I am getting sleepy," she said to herself, and shut her eyes. But she did not feel sleepy and soon opened them again. This time there was no mistake about it—the child in the photograph was smiling, first with her solemn eyes, and then with her prim little mouth. Mollie was so startled that she let the album slip from her lap, and it fell down between the sofa and the wall. She turned round, and, after groping in the narrow space for a minute, she succeeded in getting hold of the album again and pulled it up. As she raised her head and sat up, she saw, standing beside her sofa, as large as life, the prim little girl—wide skirts, white stockings, tasselled boots, and all.
As Mollie stared "with all her eyes" as people say, the little girl smiled at her again, and she noticed that, although the child's dress was so very old-fashioned, her smile was quite a To-day smile, so to speak.
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Mollie, "who are you?"
"I am a Time-traveller," the child answered, speaking in a peculiarly soft voice. "You called me, so I came."
"What on earth is a Time-traveller?" asked Mollie, rather surprised to find that she did not feel in the least alarmed at this sudden apparition.
"A person who travels in Time," the child replied. "I am one, and you are one, but everybody isn't one. I can't explain, so you'd better not waste time asking questions if you want to travel. I can't wait here long."
"But—" said Mollie, looking bewildered, as well she might. "Travel where? Of course I'd love to come, but how can I with a crocked-up ankle; and what would Grannie say?"
"Those things don't matter to Time-travellers," said the other child. "We travel about in Time. You haven't got to think about what is happening here and now—that will be all right. But you have to make a vow before you begin Time-travelling. Do you know what a vow is?"
"Of course I do," Mollie replied; "I'm a Girl Guide."
"I don't know what a Girl Guide is," said the other girl, wrinkling up her pretty forehead, "but a Time-traveller has to vow on her faith and honour never to say one single word about her adventures to any grown-up, either here or there. You must not ask them questions that will make them wonder things, however much you want to, because they don't understand, and would be almost sure to interfere. Will you vow?"
"Yes, I will, but you must give me one moment to think. Where shall I travel to and how long shall I stay?"
"You come along with me to my Time; I don't know how long you will stay. A year of our Time might be a minute of yours, or a minute of ours might be a year of yours, but you will be all right. Have you ever seen a dissolving view?"
"That's a magic lantern, isn't it? Yes, Dick once had one. I think they are rather dull."
"Oh no, not if they are properly done. Hugh—" she stopped and then began again. "You will step into a dissolving view of our Time. It just begins and ends anyhow, and you go out of it again."
"But it's so queer," Mollie said doubtfully. "I never heard of such a thing. I must be dreaming."
The other child shook her head. "No, you're not," she said patiently. She looked around the room as though in search of inspiration, and her eyes fell upon a volume of Shakespeare which Aunt Mary had been reading: "Do you learn Shakespeare at your school?" she asked.
"Rather," Mollie answered, in a slightly superior voice; "I have acted in six plays."
"Ah—then you remember what Hamlet says: 'There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy'."
"We haven't done Hamlet yet," Mollie answered, in a less superior tone, "I don't think I quite understand what that means."
"Neither do I," said the child. "That's it, you see. Papa says—" she stopped short again, and then went on. "It's nearly time for me to go—and I can never come back if you don't come this time," moving away a few steps as she spoke.
"Oh, don't go—don't go," Mollie cried. "I do want to come; it won't do anyone any harm, will it?"
The child smiled very sweetly: "Not the least in the world. But remember the vow. On your faith and honour."
"I vow, I vow—on my word of honour as a Guide. I can't say more than that."
"Give me your hand, then. Listen to the music, and shut your eyes till I tell you to open them."
Mollie closed her eyes. She had a queer swimmy feeling, as if she were in a high swing and were just swooping down to the lowest point. All the time Aunt Mary's tunes went on, but they seemed to go farther and farther away.
"Open," said a soft voice.
* * * * *
The darkened room had vanished, and the ticking clock; Aunt Mary's tunes and the rain splashing on the window-panes; the sofa too, and the prim child. And Mollie herself!
* * * * *
She was standing in a sunny road, with one foot on a white painted wooden gate, upon which she had evidently been swinging. The gate opened into a large garden, and before her lay a broad path planted on either side with tall, pointed cypress trees, their thin shadows lying across the walk like black bars. Between the trees ran narrow flower-beds, and beyond these stretched a wide, open space, so solidly spread with yellow dandelions that it looked as though the golden floor of heaven had come to rest upon earth. The path, with its sentinel trees, led straight as a rod to a distant house, long and low, surrounded by a vine-covered veranda. There were strange, sweet smells in the air, which felt soft and warm. The sky was brilliantly blue, and on the fence across the road a gorgeous parrot sat preening its feathers in the sunshine.
Mollie looked about her with curious eyes, wondering where she was. Not in England, of that she was sure—there was a different feel in the air, colours were brighter, scents were stronger, and that radiant parrot would never perch itself so tranquilly upon an English fence.
Then she saw, coming down the path, a girl of about her own age, dressed in a brown-holland overall trimmed with red braid, high to the throat, and belted round the waist. She wore no hat, and her hair fell over her shoulders in plump brown curls. By her side paced a large dog, a rough-haired black-and-white collie with sagacious brown eyes. He leapt forward with a short bark, but the girl laid a restraining hand on his back:
"Down, Laddie, down," she said, "don't you know a friend when you see one? Come in, Mollie."
And suddenly Mollie knew where she was. This was Adelaide, in Australia; that was the child in the photograph, whose name, she knew, was Prudence Campbell; and they were living in the year 1878.
The Builders or The Little House
Mollie left the white gate, which swung behind her with a sharp click, and walked up the path towards Prudence. Laddie circled round with a few inquiring sniffs, decided that the newcomer was harmless, and stood blinking his eyes in the sunlight, his bushy tail waving slowly from side to side. Prudence slid an arm through Mollie's.
"I'm so glad you've come," she said. "Hugh's little house is all but finished, and he promised to let us up to-day. Let's go and sit beside Grizzel till he calls."
Mollie's eyes followed the turn of Prue's head, and she saw a younger child seated upon the golden floor beyond the flower-beds. This child wore an overall of bright blue cotton, shaped like Prue's, and her head was covered with short red curls, which shone in the sun like burnished copper. Prudence frowned a little as she looked at her sister:
"How Grizzel can sit in the middle of that yellow, dressed in that blue, with that red hair, I can't think," she said. "She calls herself an artist, but it simply puts my teeth on edge. Did you ever see anything so ugly?"
"Ugly!" Mollie repeated in surprise. "I think it is beautiful, just like a picture in Colour. What is she doing?"
The child looked up at that moment and smiled at them. "Hullo, Mollie," she said in a friendly tone, as if she were quite well acquainted with the new arrival, "come and see my dandelion-chain; it's nearly done."
Prudence jumped the flower-bed, followed by Mollie and the dog, and all three made their way through the thickly growing dandelions, and seated themselves beside Grizzel. She had filled her lap with dandelions, and was busily occupied in linking them together as English children link a daisy-chain.
"What are you doing?" Mollie asked again, as her eyes followed Grizzel's chain, and she observed that it stretched far away out of sight among the trees and bushes.
"I am laying a chain right round the garden," Grizzel replied. "When it is finished it will be the longest dandelion-chain in the world."
"What are you going to do with it?" asked Mollie.
"Nothing," answered Grizzel.
"Then what's the good of making it?" asked Mollie.
"It isn't meant to be any good," answered Grizzel, "it's only meant to be the longest dandelion-chain in the world."
"But there's nothing beautiful about longness," persisted Mollie. "You wouldn't like to have the longest nose in the world."
"It would be rather nice," said Grizzel, working as steadily as the Princess in Hans Andersen's tale of the "White Swans", "then I could smell all the delicious smells there are. Mamma says a primrose- patch in an English wood is delicious."
"Don't waste your breath trying to make Grizzel change her mind," Prudence interposed. "Papa says you might as well explain to a pigling which way you want it to go. Let's help with her chain and get it finished. I'm tired of it." She threw a handful of yellow bloom into Mollie's lap as she spoke, and began herself to link some stalks together in a somewhat dreamy and lazy fashion. Mollie followed her example more briskly.
"It's a pity, you know," she said to Grizzel, "to leave the poor little flowers withering all round the garden when they might have gone on growing for days. They will soon be faded and forgotten."
"I'd rather fade in the longest chain in the world than be one of a million dandelions growing on their roots," Grizzel said, pulling a fresh handful and shifting her chain to make room for them.
Mollie shook her head but did not argue any more. She dropped her chain and looked round the garden. Although the sun was so warm and bright the flowers were those which grow in springtime in England. Daffodils, narcissus, freesias, and violets grew thickly in the borders and under the trees, which seemed to be mostly fruit-trees, though Mollie did not recognize them all. Peach and apricot were in bloom; fig trees and mulberry trees spread out their broad leaves; and an immense vividly scarlet geranium dazzled even Mollie's modern eyes. It was a funny mixture of seasons, she thought.
Suddenly Prudence jumped to her feet, letting all her dandelions drop unheeded. "There's Hugh!" she exclaimed; "he is calling us. The house must be finished. Come on, Grizzel, leave your old chain—come on, Mollie."
Grizzel shook her head and set all the red curls bobbing; "I must finish my chain first. You go. I won't be long."
Prudence and Mollie jumped the flower-beds again, Laddie, who had fallen comfortably asleep among the dandelions, deciding after a few lazy blinks to stay where he was. A slender boy in grey was waiting for them in the veranda. He was like Prue, but fairer, and his eyes were peculiarly clear and thoughtful.
"Come on," he said, "I'm ready for the furnishings now. What I want is: first, a carpet; second, curtains; and third—third—a tin- opener; but there is no great hurry for that. Where can I get a carpet?"
"Schoolroom hearthrug," Prudence suggested promptly. "No one will notice, and it's pretty shabby since I dropped the red-hot poker and you spilt the treacle-toffee."
"And the curtains?"
"You can have the striped blanket off my bed," said Prue, after a moment's consideration, "we can cut it in halves."
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Mollie. "Cut a blanket in halves! What will your mother say to that?"
"Mamma won't know," Prudence replied calmly. "She never looks at my bed, and, if she did, she would forget it had ever had a striped blanket on it. Come on, Mollie, we'll get the things and smuggle them across while no one is looking."
Mollie felt shocked for a minute. Doing things behind backs was all against Guide Law, and at home she would almost as soon think of chopping up her own feet as of cutting up Mother's blankets to play with. But, she reflected, different times have different ways; there was no Guide Law in 1878, and perhaps Prue's mother was very extra strict, in which case "all's fair in love and war", so she followed Prue into the house. It was, to her eyes, an unusual sort of house, all built on the ground floor, so that there was no staircase. The front door opened into a square hall with doors on all sides. Prue pushed one open and they passed through into a bedroom, very plainly furnished with two little beds, two chests of drawers, a wash-stand, and a chair. They pulled the white cover off one bed and hauled away a blanket, cheerfully striped in scarlet, purple, yellow, and green, with a few black and white lines thrown in here and there. Mollie thought it would be rather a difficult blanket to forget about. Prue replaced the white cover, spreading it smoothly and neatly, rolled up the blanket, and made for the door again.
Hugh had disappeared. They walked down the veranda, passing several open French windows through which Mollie caught a glimpse of sitting-rooms, and crossed a paved courtyard, at the farther side of which was a red brick house with a wooden porch in front of it.
"The schoolroom is here," Prudence explained, "because Mamma doesn't like noise. It's a very good plan for us; we can do lots of things we couldn't do if we were in the house. Miss Wilton is our governess; she has gone home to-day to nurse a sister with bronchitis. I'm sorry for the sister, but it's a treat for us, especially as Hugh has got a half-holiday. Mamma is out, Bridget has taken Baby for a walk, and Mary is talking to her sweetheart across the fence, so we'll get the hearthrug without any questions."
As she talked, Prudence led the way into the schoolroom. It was plainly furnished and not very tidy, but it had a homely look—in fact it reminded Mollie of the nursery in North Kensington, so that, for one very brief moment, she almost felt homesick. But Prudence gave her little time to indulge in this luxurious sensation (because having a home nice enough to be sick for is a luxury in its way), and Mollie had merely taken in a general impression of books, toys, and shabbiness, when Prudence called her to help with the hearthrug. It certainly was shabby and by no means added to the beauty of the room. They rolled it up with the blanket inside, and, carrying it between them, they left the schoolroom, crossed the courtyard again, scrambled over a low stone wall, and arrived at the foot of a tall tree.
It was a very large tree. Its trunk, grey, smooth, and absolutely straight, rose from the ground for fourteen feet without a branch or foothold of any description. At that height its thick boughs spread out in a broad and even circumference, and across two of these boughs was built a hut, perhaps five by seven feet in area, and high enough for a child of ten to stand upright in. It had a floor, four walls, and a roof, an opening for a door, and three smaller openings for windows. At the door sat Hugh, waiting for the girls and their bundle. When they came to a standstill below him he let down a rope.
"Tie the things on and I'll haul them up," he ordered; "and then you two climb up and give me a hand. Better send Mollie up first, as the ladder is a bit shaky till you know it, and Prue can hang on to it below."
Mollie noticed then that a narrow green ladder leant up against the smooth trunk; it looked as if an unwary step would send it flying, and she put a reluctant foot on the lowest rung. The ground below was hard and stony, most uninviting for a fall.
"You are quite safe so long as you push and don't pull," Prudence assured her. "I am holding on here, and the ladder is firmer than it looks."
Mollie mounted with gingerly tread, but reached the top safely and crawled into the hut through the little door. She was quickly followed by Prudence, and the two girls examined the interior with interest. There was not very much room; two could sit down with comfort, three would be slightly crowded, and four would be a tight fit but not impossible.
"You won't be able to lay the carpet with all of us inside," said Mollie, as she felt the big roll at her back.
"One of you had better stay out," said Hugh. "There are seats all over the tree."
Mollie put her head out at the door and looked up into the branches. They were very much forked, and upon every difficult branch Hugh had nailed steps and made a railing. In some of the forks he had inserted wooden seats, others he had left to nature. The topmost seat was almost at the summit of the tree, and behind it was firmly lashed a flagpole, with a Union Jack hanging limply in the still air, and a lantern with green and red glass on two of its sides. Near the door of the little house there hung from a stout branch a curious-looking canvas bag, broadly tubular in shape, and with a small brass tap at the lower end. The tree was thickly foliaged, but the leaves were delicate and lacy, and, though they formed an admirable screen for the climbers, a good view of the surrounding country was to be obtained between them, and even through them in some places. Mollie decided to climb to the top and look about.
"That's our look-out," Hugh explained. "We can see the enemy from there a long time before the enemy can see us."
"'O Pip', is what we call it," said Mollie. "Who is the enemy?"
"It all depends," Hugh replied evasively. "Now, Prue, look alive."
Mollie was a level-headed climber when she had something reasonably solid beneath her feet; no one unfamiliar with the vagaries of the green ladder could be expected to climb it with enthusiasm. She crawled out of the house by the little door again, found her road to the nearest staircase, and climbed this way and that among the leafy branches till she reached the Look-out. There she settled herself comfortably and examined her surroundings near and far, whilst the other two laid the carpet and tacked up the blanket, now cut into three strips by Prudence.
"She looks as if she were hemming sheets for missionaries," Mollie said to herself, as she watched Prudence doing execution on the blanket with a large pair of scissors. "It would be almost impossible for any girl to be as good as Prue looks; it's her eyelashes, and the way she does her hair."
After admiring the well-planned architecture of the tree Mollie turned her attention to the scenery. At her feet lay the garden with the long, vine-wreathed house and the red schoolroom at one side. It was a large garden, stretching far behind the house, and, as Mollie surveyed the rows of almond trees which outlined its boundaries, she felt some respect for Grizzel's perseverance. "If she has laid a chain right round that she knows how to stick to a thing," she thought, as she caught sight of the little blue figure still sitting amongst the golden dandelions. "It's a pity she doesn't do something more worth while. She would make a good Guide." Looking beyond the garden, Mollie could see the town of Adelaide. It was a white town among green trees, with many slender spires and pointed steeples piercing the blue sky, many gardens and meadows, and a silvery streak of river winding across it like a twisted thread. A semicircle of softly swelling hills enclosed the town upon two sides, some of them striped with vineyards, some wooded, and some brilliantly yellow, for the dandelions seemed to be spread over the country like a carpet. Mollie shook a wise head at such waste of good land, for of what use are dandelions! In the far distance she could see a straight white road leading from the town into the hills. She thought she would like to follow that road and see what happened to it in the end. "I had not the least idea," she murmured to herself, "that Adelaide and Australia were like this; not the very least. There must be a great deal of world outside England, when you come to think of it. When I am grown-up—"
"Come down, Mollie," called Prue. "The house is beautiful now; come and see it."
It certainly looked very snug, with the carpet, whose shabbiness was not noticeable in the dim light, and the gaily striped curtains, which had been tacked up and fastened back from the windows. They had added a set of shelves made out of a box covered with American leather and brass-headed nails. A few books lay upon one shelf, and on another stood a collection of cups, saucers, and plates, cracked, perhaps, and not all matching, but suggestive of convivial parties and good cheer. In one corner lay a cushion embroidered in woolwork with magenta roses, pea-green leaves, and orange-coloured daisies, all upon a background of ultramarine blue. Mollie thought it gave an effective touch to the somewhat scanty furnishing—in fact, it was the only furniture there was, except the shelves.
"How perfectly ripping!" Mollie exclaimed enthusiastically. "If I had this house I would live in it all the time. It is much nicer than a common house in a road. I do think Hugh is the cleverest boy I ever met."
"This is nothing much," Hugh said modestly, "you should see my raft—that is worth seeing. I have invented a way of arranging corks so that it will float in the severest storm. It could not sink if it tried, unless, of course, it became waterlogged. But I can only work at that when we are down at Brighton."
"I wish my brother Dick could be a Time-traveller and come here," sighed Mollie. "He would adore this tree, and the raft too."
"How old is Dick?" Hugh asked with interest.
"He is my twin; we are thirteen and a half," answered Mollie, quite forgetting that in the year 1878 Dick was still minus twenty-nine. "We do everything together in the holidays except football, and just now there isn't any football, so Dick is rather bored at school. In term-time we hardly see each other at all, we are both so horribly busy. How do you find time to do all these things?"
"I don't find it, I steal it," Hugh answered. "If I waited to find time I should never have enough to be useful. To-day is a half- holiday, and I am supposed to be learning Roman history and writing out five hundred lines. But I'm not," he added unnecessarily.
"Building is much more important than Roman history," said Mollie decidedly, "and lines are absolutely rotten. I wonder why—"
"Hullo!" came a voice from below. "It's me. I have finished my chain at last, and now I want to come up. Please come and hold the ladder, Prue."
Prudence crept out, tripped lightly down the ladder, and stood beside her sister.
"Hold tight, Grizzel, and do remember to push and not pull; if you pull I can't hold the ladder up."
"I wish Hugh would cut steps in the tree-trunk like the blacks," Grizzel complained, as she proceeded rather nervously to climb the ladder. "I do hate this old tobbely old green old thing."
"I am going to make a rope-ladder and pull it up after me," Hugh said, watching her from the door of his castle in the air. "I don't want steps that everybody could climb. Look out, Griz, you are pulling—" he stretched out a hand as he spoke, and held the top of the ladder, while Prudence steadied it at the bottom, until Grizzel had safely negotiated "the green passage", as Hugh called it, and crawled in at his little front door.
"It is very, very, very, very nice," she said approvingly, "and it will make a lovely place to come and hate in when everybody is horrid. You can draw the curtains and shut the door, and light your lantern and sit here hating as long as you like, for no one can get up when you have your rope-ladder."
"It would be rather stuffy," Mollie said, looking at the thick blanket curtains. "If he went on hating very long he would be suffocated. I'd sooner have a tea-party myself, and pull all the tea up in baskets. The water would be the hard part."
"The water is in that canvas bag," Hugh pointed out; "Papa gave it to me; it's the boiling that bothers me, because I don't much like using a spirit-lamp in here."
"Get an old biscuit-tin and fasten it up in the tree and put your spirit-lamp in that," suggested Mollie the Guide. "Cut out the front; then you will have a nice little cave all safe and sheltered."
"That's a jolly good idea," said Hugh; "I'll do it to-morrow and we'll have a party."
A bell in the distance warned the children that it was time to go in and tidy up for tea. Grizzel, however, was far too much enthralled by the little house to want to come down so soon. "I don't want any bread-and-butter tea," she announced; "bring me three oranges and eleven biscuits, and the Swiss Family Robinson, and let me stay up here."
Tea was laid in the dining-room, where they found Baby already seated in her high chair. She was a very pretty baby, with large dark eyes, silky golden hair, and a dear little mouth parting over two rows of tiny pearly teeth. She gurgled melodiously to her family in the intervals of dropping bits of jammy bread into her mug of milk, and watching them bob about with absorbed interest.
"Good old Mary! She's made potato scones and almond gingerbread." Hugh remarked approvingly. "If you've never tasted real Irish potato scones baked on a girdle, Mollie, you'd better chalk it up, as Bridget says. You split them in two, pop in a lump of butter, shut them up, and eat them. Too soon they are but a sweet dream of the past."
"They'll soon be a horrid dream of the future if you gobble them like that," Prudence said warningly, "and you've forgotten Grizzel's oranges; go and pull three fresh ones, and we'd better send her ginger cake."
The gingerbread was baked in thin oblong squares frosted with white sugar, each child's name being written on its own cake in pink letters. They were most fascinating, and Mollie was charmed to see one with her own name on it. The delightful part about this most unexpected visit, she thought, was the way everyone had apparently expected her. She could not help wondering how the invitation had been sent, but decided that it was better not to ask too many questions.
Hugh departed with Grizzel's oranges, biscuits, and gingerbread, elegantly arranged in a green-rush basket, the Swiss Family Robinson forming the basis of the repast. He returned with a smile upon his face which disclosed two most engaging dimples.
"I've sneaked the ladder," he said. "Won't Frizzy Grizzy be pleased when she finds out! Ha ha! More scones, please."
"She won't mind," Prudence answered placidly, "she knows someone will have to let her down before Mamma comes in. You've had enough jam, Baby darling; let Prudence take off your bib now and wash your handy-pandys. You can have half my gingerbread if you like, Hugh— hullo, there's Papa!"
There was a sharp double knock at the front door, followed by the sound of someone entering. Prudence set Baby on her feet and bolted helter-skelter across the square hall, flinging herself into the arms of a stout man with a brown beard, who returned her embrace so warmly that Mollie wondered if he had been away from home for some time. He removed his tall silk hat, showing a head as thickly covered with curls as Grizzel's, but the hair was dark and slightly touched with grey.
"Well, my chick-a-biddies," he said, in a delightfully genial voice, beaming upon them all with the kindest blue eyes Mollie had ever seen, "and what has everybody been doing? And where is Grizzel?"
As he spoke he lifted Baby into his arms, ignoring the jammy little fingers, laid a hand on Mollie's head, and looked round inquiringly for his missing daughter.
"She's in my Nest," Hugh replied, "it's finished. Come and see it. You can't climb into it yet, but it looks very nice from the outside. I think I'll arrange a box to pull you and Mamma up in. The zinc-lined box the piano came in would do."
"Thank you, my son," said Papa kindly, "thank you, thank you. At the moment I am rather pressed for time. I have to meet Mamma at Mrs. Taylor's at half-past five, and we are going to the town-hall to hear this wonderful new telephone, as they call it. They say that someone speaking from the post office at Glenelg will be perfectly audible in the town-hall here, a distance of six and a half miles. It sounds almost incredible. What will they discover next! Truly this is an amazing age, and you children may live to see men flying yet."
Hugh had left his gingerbread, which lay forgotten on his plate, and stood before his father flushed with excitement:
"Take me with you, do, Papa," he cried. "I'll learn reams of Latin and get up at four o'clock and—"
"Well, get your hat and be quick then," Papa interrupted indulgently. "Prue, my pet, look in my bag and you will find five parcels, one for each young robber. Be fair and amiable, my children. Come, Hugh. Good night, Papa's little angel." He kissed Baby, handed her over to Prudence, put on his hat again, and was off down the wide path between the cypress trees with Hugh hanging on his arm, in less than no time.
"Let's watch from the gate," said Prudence. "Bridget will take Baby. Hurry up, Mollie."
They reached the foot of the garden just in time to see Papa's tall hat disappear round the corner of the road. It was a lovely evening, and the girls lingered by the gate; the scent of violets and freesias rose from the flowerbed at their feet, and every now and again came a whiff of something else—something exquisitely fragrant and delicate.
"What's that?" asked Mollie, with an unladylike sniff; "that lovely smell?"
"It's wattle," Prudence answered. "It's in the fields over there. You can smell it for miles sometimes, in the country; it's a nice smell. Let's go and look at Papa's parcels. He went to see Mrs. Macfarline at her toyshop to-day, and when he goes there he always brings something home. It's a beautiful shop. Once I stayed with Lucy Macfarline from Saturday till Monday, and her mamma allowed us to play in the shop on Sunday; it was so funny, all dark and dim, and the dolls looking like little ghosts. We played with the toys on the shelves and had a lovely time. I love shops—oh, Mollie, we have forgotten Grizzel! She is up in the tree all this time! We must run and get her down. I hope Hugh hasn't hidden the ladder—I wish he wouldn't tease so."
"All brothers do," Mollie said philosophically. "Dick is simply the limit sometimes, but I do wish we could get him over here, Prudence. Do you think we could?"
"I'll think. But first we must find that ladder."
As they neared the tree Prudence called to her sister that they were coming, but got no answer. They jumped the low wall and stood underneath the tree, nearly dislocating their necks in their efforts to see some sign of life in the little house. But Grizzel neither answered nor showed herself, in spite of Prue's eloquent description of Papa's parcels and denunciations of their brother.
"Perhaps she is having her evening hate," suggested Mollie.
"She does take awful fits of the sulks sometimes," Prudence allowed, "but I don't think she would be sulky with me just now; it wasn't me that stole the ladder—oh bother that Hugh! We had better go and look for it as fast as we can. I wonder where he has hidden it?"
"It can't be far away, because he was only gone for a few minutes at tea-time," Mollie remarked sensibly. "Very likely it is simply lying on the ground behind the wall."
That was precisely where it was, and without much trouble the girls got it into place again, and Prudence mounted quickly. She disappeared through the little door, but in one moment appeared again with a frightened face.
"She's not here, Mollie. She's gone."
"Gone!" Mollie exclaimed incredulously. "She can't be gone! How could she get down without the ladder? She must be up in the tree."
"No, she isn't. I can see every branch from here; there is not a single place where she could hide."
"But she must be up there somewhere," Mollie persisted. "If she had fallen out she would be lying round somewhere. There is no way she could get down without the ladder. She is so nervous. I'll come up too and look."
"You may come, but you won't see anything," Prudence said, steadying her end of the ladder while Mollie climbed.
The Nest was certainly empty. The little blue bird must have found wings and flown, Mollie thought. She looked up and down and round about, but not a vestige of Grizzel was there to be seen. Then she called her Scouting lore to her aid, and set her wits to work.
"The basket has gone too, and there is no orange peel anywhere, but the Swiss Family Robinson is there on the book-shelf. So she did not go in a great hurry, because she tidied up first. Let us go to the Look-out and see if we can catch sight of her blue frock. She may be hiding quite near and laughing at us all the time."
They climbed to the Look-out and anxiously scanned all the visible parts of the garden, but nowhere was there a morsel of blue pinafore or red curls to be seen.
"We had better get down," Prudence said, "and search the garden properly; I'll ask Bridget to come and help us. What I can't understand is how she got down at all, and, if she was down, why she didn't come to meet Papa. She always meets him; always, always. Whoever doesn't meet him Grizzel always does."
Bridget laughed at their fears, but under her laugh Mollie could detect a tone of anxiety, and when house and garden had been searched in vain, Bridget and Prudence faced each other in silence. Then Prue spoke out the fear which Mollie had not understood:
"The blacks have come to town; I saw their wurlies yesterday when we left the Gardens."
"Away wid ye, Miss Prudence," Bridget scoffed. "An' what for wud the blacks be touchin' Grizzel? Isn't yur Pa the kindest gintleman in the whole wurrld to thim, dirrty things they be!"
"Old Sammy was angry because Mamma would not give him a new blanket last time he came," Prudence answered, her face pale with anxiety and tears not far away. "He just goes and sells them, that's what he does, and buys whisky. He followed me all down the road one day when I was alone, and jabbered away till his wife came and hauled him off."
There was a troubled silence while Bridget and Prue considered the next step to take. Mollie felt that this problem was beyond her powers of solving. Then a sudden thought struck her:
"Where's Laddie? We haven't seen him either."
"Praise be!" exclaimed Bridget. "The dog'll be wid Grizzel, an' that's sure. Blessin's on ye for the thought, Miss Mollie, for it's scared I was an' there's no use denyin'."
"Thank goodness! If the blacks had come Laddie would have barked," Prudence said, taking a long breath of relief. "How on earth did I not miss him myself!"
"Your mind was so full of Grizzel you had no room for another thought, but now—where is she, and how did she get down?"
"We must find her before Mamma comes home. Mollie, you are clever; think some more."
Mollie thought her hardest, but, as she explained, it was difficult to make suggestions when she knew neither Grizzel nor the surroundings very well. "She had no hat on; let us go and see if she has taken a hat. Would she be likely to go out without one?"
No, they said, going out without a hat was unheard of. So a search was instituted in the girl's room, and to their relief Grizzel's garden hat was missing—somehow, even to Mollie, it seemed less alarming to be missing with a hat than without one. In fact, if it had not been for the mystery of the tree—which certainly was very inexplicable—Mollie would not have disturbed herself. Grizzel had gone out, wearing her hat, carrying her basket, and accompanied by the large and capable Laddie. Most likely she would come back presently with some simple explanation to account for everything.
"I think she has gone for a walk. She got down somehow and ran off to give Hugh a fright. Let's go and look for her along the road," was Mollie's next proposal.
"If she has gone for a walk she will most likely come home by the lane, unless she went over to the parklands—oh, I wish she would come back! She never goes out alone in town, because she is frightened of meeting Things. She says there are all sorts of Things in town. Once she got lost in a big crowd, and I think it made her rather nervous. Besides, Mamma will be angry if she is not home when they come in, and we'll get such scoldings." Prudence sighed and looked longingly towards the white gate, but there was no sign of the wanderer's return.
"Suppose we go to the Look-out and reconnoitre, and if we see her we can go and meet her," said Mollie.
This seemed a good idea, so they climbed the ladder once more, and, one behind the other, scrambled to the top of the tree. But twilight was already creeping over the land—the brief Australian twilight which turns to darkness so quickly. It was impossible to see any distance, and the girls were turning their backs on the flagpole when Prudence stopped with an exclamation:
"I think I will light the lantern. Grizzel will see it from a long way off. Look in the house for matches, Mollie, while I turn the red glasses both ways."
"But red means danger," Mollie objected, "and we aren't dangerous."
"Mamma is when we break rules," Prudence replied, "and it will remind Grizzel to hurry up."
"Good gracious!" Mollie ejaculated, as she climbed down on her errand, "I am glad we don't hang a red lantern out of the nursery window when we see Mother coming along. How she would laugh if we did!"
"It won't burn long," Prue said, as she shut the lantern door, "but it will do. Now we'll go down the lane; I am almost sure Grizzel will come that way."
They crossed the garden and slipped into the lane through a narrow back gate. It seemed to Mollie that the darkness fell like a curtain, so quickly did it come dropping down. High up above the trees they could see the red lantern shining in the dusk like a glowing ruby; the air was growing chilly, and all the warm bright colours were fading into a dull uniform grey, when suddenly out of the shadowy dimness there leapt a dark form—a form with a bushy tail and a friendly bark.
"Laddie!" exclaimed Prudence, and a moment after Grizzel appeared, running along and swinging her basket.
"Am I late?" she asked breathlessly. "I didn't mean to be so long; I stopped to look at the shop windows."
"Oh, Grizzel, where have you been?" Prue said, catching her sister by the arm. "I have been so frightened. Come on quickly now, or we won't be ready, and then there will be a hullabuloo and goodness knows what tomorrow."
They hurried back to the house, and were met by an anxious Bridget with Baby in her arms. Bridget scolded, and Baby laughed, and they were all so busy "getting ready" that it was not till three white muslin frocks were spread primly over three green damask Victorian chairs that Prudence found time to ask:
"How on earth did you get down from the tree?"
"I just got down," Grizzel answered, looking mysterious, "I invented a secret way of getting down."
"Nonsense," Prudence said rather crossly; "there can't be a secret way down."
"Well, find out for yourself," Grizzel retorted, her face taking on an obstinate expression.
"But how did you?" Mollie asked, with an ingratiating smile.
Grizzel shook her rebellious little red curls. "It's my secret," she repeated; "I won't tell."
"When did you find out that the ladder was gone?" Prue asked, in a more amiable voice.
"I just knew. It's part of the secret."
"You'll have to tell Hugh," Prudence said firmly; "you can't have secret ways into other people's houses."
"I won't tell anyone. It's my mysterious secret and I shall keep it."
Prudence frowned and opened her mouth to speak again, but Mollie signed to her to be silent. Mollie was not a Patrol Leader for nothing; she had learned to be diplomatic, and now she turned the conversation:
"Where are those parcels?" she asked.
"The parcels! Goodness me, I forgot them! How could I do such a thing!" Prudence exclaimed, jumping up from the green chair and rushing into the hall, followed by Mollie; Grizzel sat on in sulky dignity, trying to look uninterested.
"Suppose Papa had come home and found we had not opened them, his feelings would have been dreadfully hurt," Prudence said with compunction. "It would have been murder outing. He always says murder will out." Grizzel's dignity could not survive the sight of the brown-paper packages, and the parcels were quickly undone and the wrappings and string tidied away—"the evidences of our folly", Prue said, as she bundled them out of sight. The contents were so charming that everybody forgot their little difference of opinion. There was a fine large kaleidoscope, the first she had ever seen, for Mollie; a charming musical box, with a long list of tunes printed inside the lid and a little gilt key to wind it up with, for Prudence; a Winsor and Newton paint-box for Grizzel; Five Weeks in a Balloon, by Jules Verne, for Hugh; and a Punchinello doll on a stick for Baby.
"I must say," Mollie remarked appreciatively, "your father is a peach. I have often wanted to see a proper kaleidoscope, but they seem to have gone out of fashion."
The others were too busy admiring their own things to observe Mollie's remarks. Grizzel was speechless with joy as she found all the paints she had been longing for—the crimson lake, Prussian blue, Vandyke brown, and the rest; Prue had wound up her box, and as Mollie turned her kaleidoscope towards the light, and delighted herself with the wonderful colours and designs it produced, she heard the delicate, sweet tinkle of a faintly familiar tune—an old- fashioned sort of tune....
While they were thus pleasantly occupied Professor and Mrs. Campbell and Hugh returned, and Mollie was introduced to "Mamma" who after all did not look in the least alarming. She was a fair, pretty woman, with large clear eyes like Hugh's and a beautifully modulated voice. She kissed Mollie and looked at her with rather a sad expression in her eyes:
"You must tell me all about home this evening," she said in her musical voice. "How nicely your hair is cut; I wonder if Prue's would look nice like that."
"No, no," said Papa, laying his hand on Prue's curls, "I can't spare one hair off my Prue's head. I must have my brown ringlets to play with sometimes."
Hugh could talk of nothing but the wonderful telephone. "I believe I could make one," he said later on. "I understood a good deal of what the man said. I shall require a new magnet and some other things. I'll begin tomorrow." He had forgotten all about such trifles as hidden ladders and treed sisters, and the girls did not remind him.
But when Mollie found herself alone with Grizzel she began to talk about the little house and described a beautiful plan she had concocted for a house-warming, finishing up with the remark that it was a pity that Grizzel could not come.
"Why can't I come?" demanded Grizzel. "Of course I'll come. I adore the little house."
"It's Hugh's house, and I don't think he will let you come if you have a mysterious secret way of getting up and down. He won't like it."
Grizzel was silent. "It's nothing very wonderful," she said at last. "I was only paying Prudence out for forgetting me. She might have remembered to let me down when Papa came home—" and Grizzel's eyes filled with tears. Mollie's heart softened:
"He was in such a hurry that there was no time to get you, and it was my fault afterwards just as much as Prue's."
"I'll tell you now if you like," Grizzel went on; "only you must promise not to tell Prudence and Hugh."
"No," said Mollie, "I can't do that. Prudence was awfully frightened; she got quite pale. We were frightened together and looked for you together; it wouldn't be fair for you to tell me and not to tell her. I hate things that are not fair."
Grizzel was silent again and then sighed. "Oh well, I suppose I'd better tell. I'd have liked to keep one secret, but I can't bear not to go to Hugh's party. It was very easy—I only—"
"Wait," said Mollie, "I'll call Prue."
"I saw Hugh take the ladder," Grizzel went on, after Prue joined them; "of course I heard it scraping along; Hugh is a silly. So I watched him hide it, and when the milkman came I called him, and he put it up and helped me down and we hid it back again. That's all."
The others looked at each other, and then Mollie began to laugh, and went on laughing till Prue and Grizzel laughed at her laughing. "Well, I must say!" she exclaimed at last, "I am a Sherlock Holmes and no mistake! I was so busy being clever that I never even thought of a milkman, which would have been Baden-Powell's first idea. Of all the silly things! Why on earth didn't we think of it, Prue?"
Hugh, most reluctantly, went to school next morning, and Mamma kept the girls busy with Italian, music, and needlework till lunch-time. After that Grizzel departed with her paint-box, Bridget took Baby for a walk, and Mollie and Prue settled themselves in the little house, with a cushion apiece at their backs, a basket of freshly pulled oranges between them, and a couple of books in case conversation should flag.
"Now, Prudence, tell me more about Time-travellers," Mollie said; "somehow I can't seem to remember that I am one; in fact—" she paused.
"You can't believe it," Prudence finished for her. "I know. But it's meant to be like that. If you didn't forget you would remember too much, and then you would stop being a Time-traveller, because your mind can't be in two places at once. So it is better not to talk; or you may have to go."
"I won't again, but just tell me two things. Can we travel forwards as well as backwards?"
"A few people can, not everyone; but it is better not, Mollie. It is far better not."
"But you came into my Time to fetch me."
"I didn't exactly come, you brought me; and I can only stay a moment."
"Well," Mollie said, after a short silence, "the other thing is: Can I bring Dick? He would love this place and this Time—somehow you seem to have more room than we have, and you are not so frightfully busy. We never have enough time; I think your hours must be longer than ours," she went on, with a sigh. "I simply cannot get all the things squeezed in that I want to do. I often wish the days were thirty hours long."
"You weren't wishing that when I came," Prudence said, with a little laugh. "I don't know about Dick; you can't bring him unless he wants to come—of his own accord, I mean."
Mollie pondered a little, and then sighed again: "It will be rather hard. He doesn't want anything frightfully except football, and there isn't any just now. Perhaps we could make him want to come; couldn't Hugh invent some way? It was only one chance in a hundred— in a thousand, perhaps, that made me talk to your photograph. Let us ask Hugh."
"We can ask," Prudence agreed, "but his head is going to be packed full of telephone now, and he won't think or speak of anything else for days. That's the way he is; we get rather tired of it sometimes, especially when we have to help. Grizzel collected four hundred corks for his raft. She grubbed in the ashpit, and among the empty beer-bottles—" Prudence sighed in her turn.
The two girls met Hugh at the white gate on his return from school, and Mollie seized the first opportunity to make her request.
"I don't know," Hugh answered thoughtfully; "there ought to be a way. I believe there is a way somewhere to do everything, if you can only find it. It's mostly a question of looking long enough. And a thing is always in the last place you look for it—naturally. I am going to make a telephone; if I could make one long enough—" he paused.
They were strolling up the wide, cypress-bordered path as they talked, and Mollie's wandering gaze fell upon a low mound at the foot of one of the cypress trees.
"What's that?" she asked, coming to a standstill. "It looks like a cat's grave."
It was a grave sure enough, and crowned with a bunch of pansies. A small headstone had been made from the lid of an old soapbox, on which was printed the following inscription:
HERE LITH THE LONGEST DANDY LION CHANE IN THE WURLD
"It's Grizzel," said Prudence; "why on earth has she gone and buried her beautiful chain?"
Grizzel joined the group and answered for herself:
"Mollie said the poor flowers would be forgotten. I should hate to be forgotten, so I lifted them all up and buried them. I bought a yard of lovely yellow muslin when I was out yesterday and made a beautiful shroud. That cypress tree is rather big for such a little grave, but it's the littlest in the garden."
No one smiled. "It was a wonderful chain," Mollie said, remembering her view from the Look-out, "I wish I could make something that would reach from here to my brother Dick. I wish we had wireless. I wonder if 'willing' would be any good. Have you ever played willing? We join hands and will with all our might that Dick would come here."
"It sounds easy," said Hugh, always ready for a new experiment, "much easier than making a telephone; we might as well try."
So they joined hands and wished. As they loosened hands again a shrill cry above their heads made them all look up—it was a parrot flying low across the garden, its brilliant plumage shining in the evening sunlight like jewels. "It's my parrot!" Mollie exclaimed, "it met me by the gate yesterday."
Mollie sat up. The rain was still splashing on the window-panes, but Aunt Mary was drawing the curtains, and a cheerful little fire had been lighted. There was a pleasant tinkle of china as tea-cups were settled on the tray.
"Have I been asleep?" she asked incredulously. (It surely was not all a dream!)
"A beautiful sleep," Aunt Mary answered; "and now tea, and after tea—you shall see what you shall see."
The Fortune-makers or The Cherry-garden
Mollie was rather silent at tea-time. She could not help thinking of those other children in that long-ago far-away garden. Were they real? Or had it all been a dream? It must have been a dream, she thought—such things do not happen in real life—it was impossible that it should have been true. And yet, never before had she dreamt anything so clearly, so "going-on" as she expressed it to herself. She longed to tell Aunt Mary all about it, but the memory of her vow restrained her. If nothing further happened, in course of time she would feel free to tell of her wonderful experience, but in the meantime she must have patience. She racked her brains to think of some roundabout way of introducing the subject of Australia and the year 1878, but could not get past her vow—it seemed to block the way in every direction.
So she ate her little triangles of toast—made in a particularly fascinating way peculiar to Grannie's housekeeping—without enjoying the scrunch, scrunch between her teeth so much as usual. Even the early strawberries and cream found her somewhat absent-minded.
But after tea was cleared away and the room tidied up, Aunt Mary disappeared for a short time and returned with her hands behind her back. She stood before Mollie, and in a solemn voice chanted the following words:
"Neevie neevie nick nack, Which hand will ye tak? Tak the right or tak the wrong, I'll beguile ye if I can."
This was too interesting to be ignored. Mollie sat up and became her ordinary self again. She looked critically at Aunt Mary's arms, shoulders, and eyes, but got no information from any of these. Then she laughed:
"I won't have the wrong, please, I'll have the right."
Aunt Mary laughed too. "You are too clever, Miss Mollie. That is not the way I did neevie-neevie when I was young." She brought her right hand round as she spoke, and in it was a charming box, large, varnished, and clamped at the corners with brass. She laid it on Mollie's lap, and watched the sliding lid being pulled out by a pair of impatient hands. It was a beautiful jig-saw puzzle.
"Oh, where did you get it?" Mollie cried joyfully. "I adore jig- saw puzzles. You are a lovely, lovely aunt!" and she held out her arms for a hug and a kiss.
"Well," said Aunt Mary, smiling with pleasure at the success of her surprise, "I remembered how fond you are of jig-saws, so yesterday, as soon as you had fallen asleep, I wired to Hamley's. I was not sure if it would arrive to-day, so I did not tell you. Now, let us see what it is—a map! Oh, dear me, I hope you won't find a map dull!"
Grannie, who loved jig-saws almost as much as Mollie did, had drawn up a substantial table to the sofa and seated herself beside it. "Dull!" she said reprovingly, "I hope not indeed. Maps are the most interesting puzzles one can have. What is it a map of?"
"We'll soon find that out," said Mollie, laying a very jagged section upon the table and studying it with interest. "What funny names—Weeah! Where's that? It sounds like China."
Grannie had also possessed herself of a section, and was scrutinizing it through her spectacles. "I'll need my reading-glass, Mary, my dear," she said; "my old eyes cannot see this tiny print."
A silver-handled reading-glass was brought, and Grannie considered her section again: "The Yarra," she read out, "I wonder if you can tell me where the Yarra is, Mollie?"
"Never heard of it," said Mollie, shaking her head. "Yankalilla. Where's that? Goomooroo, Wanrearah, Koolywurtie. What names! I am glad I am not a railway guard in this place, wherever it may be."
"Aha, Miss Mollie, I am cleverer than you are with all your Oxford and Cambridge examinations!" Grannie exclaimed triumphantly, "for I can tell you where the Yarra is—it is the river upon which Melbourne is built, and Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, and Victoria is a colony in Australia."
"Australia!" Mollie exclaimed, a little startled. "How funny—I mean how interesting!" It was certainly rather odd, she thought, that her difficulty should be solved so promptly, for now, of course, she might ask as many questions as she pleased and no one would wonder at her sudden interest in our distant colonies. In the meantime Grannie and Aunt Mary were both too much engrossed in the puzzle to notice the rather peculiar expression on Mollie's face, and soon she too became absorbed in the puzzle under her eyes, and forgot for the moment the stranger puzzle in her mind.
When Mollie's breakfast-tray came up next morning, the first thing she saw on it was a letter from Dick. She seized it and tore it open.
"I've had the rummest experience you ever. Young Outram says it was -pyh- -psy- -pysh—-ghosts, you know. He says I must tell you exactly what happened and not leave out anything, because quite small things might turn out to be most important. Young Outram is great on ghosts and Spirits, he says it is because he was born in the East. It happened like this. Y.O. and me were sitting together at our desk, which is at the back beside the window. It is a very good desk. Old Nosey was talking about Macbeth—or perhaps it was Paradise Lost, I am not sure of this point, because sometimes he does one and sometimes the other, according to the mood he is in. But it was one of them. Y.O. and I were making a list of Probable Players in next term's 1st XV, and we both said 'Jenkyns will have left', at the same time, so we hooked little fingers and said Kipling, and were wishing a wish when all of a sudden, without the slightest warning there appeared, sitting on our desk, the most absolutely top-hole parrot I ever saw in my life. We sat staring, because, you see, we never saw the beast fly in, and if it flew through the window we must have seen it, because of my arm being on the window-sill. While we were still staring I distinctly heard your voice say, 'Do come here, Dick.' Just those words and then no more. Then the parrot vanished absolutely, tail and everything, though it was the finest parrot's tail I ever saw in my life. I can tell you, Moll, it made me sit up hearing you like that. Y.O. said my freckles came out like a rash because I got almost pale under them. I wish I'd seen myself. Then we made the astonishing discovery that none of the other chaps had seen the parrot, in fact they say it is a cock-and-bull story, but we are sitting tight because of the phyc-thingummy. Young O. says that whatever it is he has to be in it too, because most probably it was owing to his peculiar Indian ghostiness that we saw it at all. I don't quite agree, but anyhow that's what he says, and he'd better be in. Please write by return of post if you can explain this phenomenon. We hope you aren't dead.
Mollie read this letter through twice, then laid it down and ate her egg and toast without thinking much of what she was doing. She felt rather startled again; things were certainly queerish. Either her vivid dream had penetrated to Dick's brain—and such experiences were not altogether unknown between the twins—or else—or else Prudence really had come yesterday, and there was something in that story of the Time-travellers. So the experiment had worked too. She remembered the brilliant parrot.
She could not make up her mind how much of her story she might tell to Dick. Her vow had only applied to grown-ups, and since the Campbells had helped her to wish Dick over, presumably they would allow her to take him into her confidence. But would he believe such an unlikely story—and what about Young Outram? They had not bargained for two boys. She decided to wait and see if Prudence came again, and, in the meantime, to write and tell Dick that she was alive and well, and that some explanation of his most extraordinary vision would certainly be forthcoming sooner or later.
The morning passed much more quickly than the previous morning had done. Mollie and Grannie worked hard at the jig-saw puzzle, and, without breaking her word by the smallest fraction, Mollie contrived to get a considerable amount of information about Australia from Grannie. Not, of course, that she was totally ignorant on the subject of our Australian colonies, but her knowledge was vague, and her interest before this time had been so faint that it was hardly worth mentioning. Grannie, on the other hand, had had a brother and many friends in Australia, and had, at one time or another, corresponded with a number of people there. She was able to tell Mollie several thrilling tales of bush fires, of the gold-fields, and of Ned Kelly, the great bushranger. But in none of her stories did the name of the Campbells appear.
After lunch Mollie was again tucked up on her sofa and told to take a little nap. Grannie was somewhat amused to be asked for the photograph-album again. "Bairns have queer fancies," she thought to herself, as she laid it on Mollie's lap. "Don't look too long, my lamb," she said aloud. "Try and go to sleep. You were all the better yesterday. There is Aunt Mary playing the piano—dear me, it is long since I heard that tune!"
When Mollie was left alone she opened the album, lay back on her cushions, and stared hard at the picture of prim little Prudence.
"Now we shall see! Was it a dream, or will she come again? That is the question."
But nothing happened. Prudence stared solemnly and stolidly back, looking almost too good for human nature's daily food.
"But she wasn't, I feel sure she wasn't, even if it was all a dream. Oh—how disappointing! I did hope that parrot of Dick's meant something, and I do so want to see those children again and know what happened next. Besides, it would be thrilling to be a Time-traveller—one could see all sorts of things."
As she meditated over her disappointment Mollie turned the pages of the album, looking rather listlessly at the other children, and deciding that none was so attractive as Prudence, till she came to a group of three girls and a boy. She looked closer, then stretched out her hand for the reading-glass and looked again: "I do believe it is—yes, it is—Hugh and Prudence and Grizzel and Baby! How I wish they would come alive!"
Even as she said the last word she saw a smile dawn upon Prue's face. She did not drop the album this time but held tightly on to it, closed her eyes, and counted twenty. When she opened them there stood Prue, looking as good and sweet as ever.
"Oh, I am glad to see you!" Mollie exclaimed, sitting up and holding out her hands. "I thought it was all a dream, and that you were not coming. You will take me with you again, won't you? I did love yesterday."
Prudence smiled and took Mollie's hands in her own. "We need not waste time talking to-day," she said. "Listen to the music."
Mollie shut her eyes and listened to Aunt Mary, who just then began to sing—Mollie could hear the words quite plainly:
"Oft in the stilly night, Ere slumber's chain hath bound me, Fond memory brings the light Of other days around me."
They were standing on a rough deeply rutted cart-track high up on a hill-side. Behind them the hill rose steeply, so thickly wooded that Mollie could not see plainly to the top. Before her it fell in a gentle slope to a narrow valley, through which ran a shallow creek with green banks on either side. Straight before her, half-way up the opposite hill, she saw a white cottage covered with a scarlet flowering creeper. It had casement windows all wide open, and a trellised porch. The garden of the cottage reached to the foot of the hill, and for three-quarters of its length was filled with rows of vines, looking like green lines ruled on a brown slate.
On one side of the little vineyard Mollie could see a path winding up the hill, twisting in and out between vines and overhanging trees till it lost itself in a flower-garden, which made such a splash of rosy pink and flaming scarlet that Mollie thought it might have been spilt out of a sunset.
By the roadside at her feet sat Grizzel, red curls still bobbing round her head, and apparently the very same blue overall still clothing her slim little body. She was moulding a lump of wet clay, shaping it into a bowl, pinching here, smoothing there, patting and pressing with both little grubby hands. On a strip of grass before her stood a long row of golden balls, glittering in the sunshine as if they had newly left a jeweller's shop.
Prudence stood beside Mollie, rolling a clay ball round and round in her hands; and Mollie discovered presently that she herself was also rolling a lump of sticky stiff mud into some sort of shape, she was not sure what, but it seemed very important that it should be exactly right.
As she watched the other two children, she saw Grizzel rise to her feet and run a few steps along the road to where, on the upper slope, a wedge had been sliced out of the hill, leaving a three- cornered open space which glittered curiously. This apparently was where the golden balls came from, for Grizzel stooped down, and lifting a handful of shining sand let it filter evenly through her fingers over her bowl. She then set the bowl on the ground, and lightly rubbed the gold sand into its surface. She repeated this process three times, then straightened herself, rubbed her gritty hands on her overall, shook the curls out of her eyes, and said:
"It's quite a nice bowl. If only we could make them hold water, Prue, it would do beautifully for Mamma's Russian violets."
As Grizzel spoke Mollie suddenly realized that she knew where she was. They were in "the hills", across the way was their summer cottage, and those blue-green trees were gum trees. She remembered the long road she had seen from the Look-out, and how she had longed to follow it and see what lay behind those hills.
She carried her ball along to the wedge in the hill-side and rolled it in the golden sand, rubbing it and sprinkling it as she had seen Grizzel do, and soon it took on a splendid yellow shine.
"It looks very nice, Mollie," said Grizzel. "I like the way you've shaped it like an orange. I wonder if I could make a bunch of cherries—I think I will try to-morrow. Put it here beside mine; it is the hottest place."
Mollie stopped and put her ball—which she now saw she had shaped like an orange—beside Grizzel's on the sunny patch of grass. Then she stood up and looked round her again.
"Where is Hugh?" she asked, "and Baby, and your father and mother?"
"I think that is Hugh prowling among the roses over the way," Prudence answered, shading her eyes with one hand, and looking across the valley at the garden. "What is he doing, I wonder—he seems to have lost something! Baby is with Bridget. Papa and Mamma haven't come up yet. Miss Hilton is supposed to be taking care of us, but she is rather a goose."
"All the better for us," said Grizzel. "If she were strict and fussy we wouldn't have nearly such a nice time as we do. You have only to say snake to Miss Hilton and she is ready to faint; it is useful sometimes."
"Why should you say snake?" asked Mollie, feeling rather relieved to hear that the elders of the family were away.
"Because there are snakes about, and she is terrified of them," Prudence explained.
"Oh dear—so am I, horribly frightened!" Mollie exclaimed. "I never saw a snake in my life except in the Zoo." "Then how do you know you are frightened of them?" Grizzel asked. "You only have to be a little firm with them and they won't do you any harm. I have lived in Australia for years and years and have never once been bitten."
"I hope I will never meet one when I am alone," Mollie said, shaking an unconvinced head.
While the other children counted their balls, dried their hands, and tied on their sunbonnets, Mollie stood still and gazed about her. The country she saw looked strange and unfamiliar to her eyes. So far as she could see there seemed to be few trees but gum trees, with their monotonous foliage and gaunt grey trunks, so different from the mossy trunks at home in English woods. Here and there one had fallen, and lay like a giant skeleton on the ground. On all sides were hills, not very high, but rolling one behind the other like waves, some wooded and some bare of trees and covered only with short grass and rough boulders. Over everything was the same beautiful clear sunlight that had impressed Mollie so much on her first visit, and the air was warm and soft. She thought of the dull street at home in North Kensington, with brick houses all crowded up together and dingy little back-yards, and she wished that her family could come and live in this wide and sunny country.
As she stood, a cry came across the valley.
"There's Bridget calling for tea," said Prudence. "Come on quick; I'm as hungry as a hunter, and Biddy said she would make some damper, because we are rather short of bread."
"What is damper?" asked Mollie, as she followed the other two down the hill. "Is it wet bread?"
"Don't you know what damper is?" Grizzel asked, with round eyes. "It is unleavened bread—you know, like the Children of Israel ate. Sometimes we find manna too, lying underneath the trees, but I don't like it much. I am glad I am not a Child of Israel," she added; "I don't like that old Moses. Do you?"
"I haven't thought about him very much," Mollie confessed; "I suppose he was all right in his own way."
"He was so fond of Thou shalt not," Grizzel objected, "and I can't bear thou shalt nots. If I had made the commandments I should have said 'Thou oughtest not to commit murder, but if thou doest thou shalt be hung'. Don't you think that would be more interesting?"
"No, I don't," Mollie answered decidedly, "I like things to be short and plain like Thou shalt not steal. Then you know where you are."
Prudence looked disapprovingly at her sister. "You should not talk like that, Grizzel; it is flippant, and you know what Papa says about flippancy."
Grizzel made a face but did not answer, and they went on in silence till they reached the foot of the hill. They crossed the little creek by stepping-stones, and walked slowly up the winding path, the vines with their ripening grapes on the one side, and on the other great cherry trees, laden with the largest and reddest cherries that Mollie had ever seen in her life. They hung down temptingly among the green leaves, dangling their little bunches in the most inviting way imaginable, some scarlet, some black, and some almost white, but all ripe and luscious. The children stretched up their hands and pulled some, which tasted as good as they looked.
"I'm going to make cherry jam to-morrow," Grizzel said, dropping her stones on the ground and carefully pushing them into the soil with the heel of her boot. "I'm going to make the first beginnings of my fortune."
"What fortune?" asked Mollie, throwing her stones away in the careless fashion of people who are accustomed to buying their fruit in shops.
"My jam fortune," Grizzel answered. "Every year Mamma sends a case of jam home to Grandmamma, and this year I am going to put in twelve tins of my very own jam, and Grandmamma will sell it and put the money in the bank for me. She promised she would if I was a good girl, and I've been as good as it is possible for a human being to be."
"But can you make really-truly jam?" Mollie asked incredulously— Grizzel looked so small and young to be a maker of real jam in shoppy tins.
"Grizzel is a beautiful cook," said Prudence, with an air of great pride. "You wait till you taste her herring-shape, and her parsnip sauce. Mamma says that cooks are born, not made, and that Grizzel is born and I'm not made."
Mollie felt an immense respect for Grizzel. Cooking was not her own strong point, as her Guide captain had informed her in plain language more than once, and in any case food at home was too precious for children to experiment with except under supervision— there could be no playing about with fruit and sugar for instance. She began to think that if there were some things she could teach these forty-years-ago children, there were also some things she could learn from them—a thought which would have given her mother much pleasure could she have seen into her daughter's mind at that moment.
"Hullo, girls!" said Hugh, coming out of the garden as they drew near the cottage, "I've got an idea."
Mollie turned to look at Hugh. He had grown a little taller, she thought, but was as clear-eyed and meditative as ever. And behind Hugh was the flower-garden, full of roses—thousands and thousands of roses, mostly pale pink. They were loose-petalled and exquisitely sweet. The children paused for a moment before going into the house, and all four sniffed up the delicate fragrance appreciatively.
"That's my idea," said Hugh, with an extra loud sniff. "Scent! Let's make attar of roses. It costs a guinea a drop to buy, and we could make bottles full. I've been examining the rose-bushes—they are simply packed full of buds behind the flowers. I have been reading about it. It's quite easy to do; you merely have to extract the essential oil from the petals and there you are. I'll show you after tea."
They passed through the porch into the house. There was no hall; they walked straight into the sitting-room, where a table was spread with tea, and Miss Hilton, a rather faded-looking lady of middling age, was already seated behind the tea-pot.
"Go and wash your hands, children," she said, in a voice that matched her looks, "and smooth your hair. I am surprised at you coming into the room like this. I don't know what your visitor will think, I am sure. Children have very different manners in England."