The Hawthorns; a Story about Children
by Amy Walton
This is a nice little book, which would certainly appeal to its intended audience of eleven- or twelve-year-old little girls. Its background is distinctly late Victorian, but nevertheless a modern child would find nothing it could not relate to other than the more pleasant general atmosphere of those days.
Amy Walton has written a sequel to this book, "Penelope and the Others," also published on the Athelstane website. NH
THE HAWTHORNS; A STORY ABOUT CHILDREN
BY AMY WALTON
Quite close to the nursery window at Easney Vicarage there grew a very old pear-tree. It was so old that the ivy had had time to hug its trunk with strong rough arms, and even to stretch them out nearly to the top, and hang dark green wreaths on every bough. Some day, the children had been told, this would choke the life out of the tree and kill it; that would be a pity, but there seemed no danger of it yet, for every spring the pear-tree still showed its head crowned with white blossoms, and every summer the pears grew yellow and juicy, and fell with a soft "splosh!" on the gravel path beneath. It was interesting to watch that, and it happened so often, that it was hard to imagine a windsor pear without a great gash where the sharp stones had cut into it; it was also natural to expect when you picked it up that there would be a cunning yellow wasp hidden somewhere about it, for all the little Hawthorns had always found it so except the baby, and she was too small to have any experience. Five little Hawthorns, without counting the baby, had looked out of the nursery window and watched the pear-tree blossom, and the sparrows build their nests, and the pears fall; but by the time this story begins, four of them, whose names were Penelope, Ambrose, Nancy, and David, were schoolroom children, and learnt lessons of Miss Grey down-stairs. They had no longer much time for looking out of the window, and the nursery was left in the possession of Dickie and Cicely the baby. Dickie, whose real name was Delicia, was three years old—a great girl now she thought—but she was still fond of kneeling up in the window seat and flattening her little nose against the glass. She could not see very much. Through the branches of the pear-tree a little to the left appeared the church tower, and a glimpse here and there of grey and white tombstones in the churchyard. Straight in front of her there was a broad lawn sloping down to a sunk fence, and beyond that a meadow with tall elms in it, and after that another meadow where cows were feeding, and that was all. In the spring the meadows turned to gold and silver with the buttercups and daisies, and the rooks cawed noisily in the elms; but in the summer it was all very green and very quiet. Particularly at lesson time, when the "others" were busy with Miss Grey, and Dickie must not make a noise because baby was asleep. Then there was only Andrew to be seen in the distance, bending over his barrow or rake or spade; but he never looked up to the nursery window, and this was not surprising, for Andrew had a great deal to do. He worked in the garden, and fed the chickens, and took care of Ruby the horse, and sometimes drove the wagonette into Nearminster; he also rang the church bell, and was parish clerk. Perhaps it was because he had so much on his mind that he was of a melancholy disposition, and seldom disposed for conversation with the children.
They thought it a pity sometimes that neither the nursery nor the schoolroom window looked out to the front of the house, for it was only a little way back from the street; not that there was much going on in the village, but still you could hear the "clink, clink" from the blacksmith's forge opposite, and see anyone passing the white gate which led out into the road. The vicarage was an old house; many and many a vicar had lived in it, and altered or added to it according to his liking, so that it was full of twists and turns, inside and out, and had wonderful nooks and corners, and strange cupboards under the stairs. Pennie, who was eleven years old, and a great hand at "making up," thought a good deal about those old bygone vicars, and founded some of her choicest romances upon them. There was one particular vicar, a tablet to whose memory was placed in the chancel just opposite the Hawthorns' seat in church.
"Godfrey Ablewhite, sometime vicar of this parish," etcetera.
It seemed to Pennie, as she sat staring up at this during her father's sermons, that she saw plainly what sort of man this Godfrey Ablewhite had been. He was broad and strong, and rode a tall white horse, and had doubtless built those large stables at the vicarage, because he was fond of hunting. From this she would go on to adorn his character with many daring feats of horsemanship, and by the time the sermon was over there was another story ready to be eagerly listened to by the other children—and, indeed, believed also, for they had an infinite trust in Pennie. This was partly because she was the eldest, and partly because she "made up" so well, and had such good ideas about games and plans. No one could make a better plan than Pennie if she put her mind to it, and this was a valuable faculty, for toys were not plentiful at Easney Vicarage, and the children had to find their own amusements. These, fortunately, did not depend upon anything to be bought in shops, for there was only one in the village, and that was the post-office too. There you could get bacon, and peppermint drops, and coarse grey stockings; but for anything more interesting you had to drive to Nearminster, ten miles away. Mother went over there sometimes, and took each child with her in turn, but even then there was a serious drawback to buying much, and that was want of money.
Some children would doubtless think living at Easney a very dull affair. No shops, nothing new to play with, and very little new to wear. Pennie did get a little tired sometimes of always wearing serge in winter and holland in summer; but neither she nor her brothers and sisters ever found their lives dull. They would have been astonished at the idea. There were so many interesting things to do. For instance, there was a large family of pet beasts and birds, some living in the barn in cages, and some free. Snuff the terrier was the most intimate and friendly of these last, and Methuselah the tortoise the greatest stranger. The children regarded him with respectful awe, for he passed so much of his life hidden away in the cold dark earth, that he must know many strange and wonderful things which went on there; but, like all people of really wide experience, he was singularly modest and retiring in his behaviour, and appeared on the border the first mild day in spring after his disappearance, with no fuss at all, and as if he had done nothing remarkable.
Pennie's jackdaw, a forward bird, who hopped about with an air of understanding everything, was one day found perched on the tortoise's shell with the evident intention of making some searching inquiries. Methuselah, however, had very prudently drawn in his head, and Jack was both baffled and disgraced.
Next to the animals in point of interest came the Wilderness. This was a part of the garden shut off from the rest by a shrubbery, and given up to the children as their very own. Here they messed and muddled to their hearts' content, carried out a great many interesting designs, and reared quantities of mustard and cress; once they each had a garden, but Nancy, Ambrose, and David had lately struck out the bold idea of joining their plots of ground and digging a well. It was a delightful occupation, and when the hole got deep it was pleasant to see how the small frogs and other slimy reptiles crawled about at the bottom; but, after much heated labour, there were no signs of water. Interest flagged then, and the well was deserted, until the ever-ready Pennie suggested the game of Joseph and his brethren, and it became a favourite amusement to lower Dickie down in a basket amongst the frogs and newts. Dickie was both small and brave, two very necessary qualities for her part, for the basket was narrow, and wobbled about a good deal in its descent; but she was used to perilous positions, and had a soul above fear.
The Wilderness was certainly very interesting; nevertheless at a certain time in the summer it was completely forsaken, and that was when the hay was down. Then everyone must help to get it in; and there could be no lessons done, for even Miss Grey was in the hay-field. Then the excited children, with flushed faces, worked as hard as though the whole matter depended on them alone, and even Dickie, with tiny rake and sturdy legs planted wide apart, did brave service. Then the maids, with sun-bonnets tilted well forward on their foreheads, came out to toss a little hay, and giggle a great deal, and say how hot it was; then the surly Andrew threw sour looks of scorn at them, and the vicar, casting aside his black coat, did more real work than anyone. Then mother came into the field with Cicely in her arms, and was welcomed with acclamations, and forthwith seated on a royal throne of hay; then, under her watchful eyes, the ambitious Ambrose worked feverishly, and threw his arms and legs about like an excited spider. Then Nancy laughed at him, and David pushed him down, and Pennie covered him with hay; and it got into his eyes and down his throat and he choked and kicked, and mother said: "That will do, children!" Then tea was brought out and laid under the great oak-tree, and everyone's face was very red, and everyone was very thirsty. And then the cool evening came stealing on, and a tiny breeze blew, and the hay smelt sweet, and the shadows lengthened, and it was bed-time just as things were getting pleasant.
Each time all this happened it was equally delightful, and it seemed a pity when the field stood bare and desolate after the hay was carried, shorn of its shadowy grass and pretty flowers; yet there was consolation too in the size of the stack which the children had helped to make, and which they always thought "bigger than last year."
Soon after this autumn came and made the orchard and woods and lanes interesting with apples and nuts and blackberries; and then, after the apples and nuts had been stored away, and the blackberries made into jam, it was time to look forward to the winter.
Winter brought a great deal that was very pleasant; for sometimes he came with snow and ice, and the children would wake up to find that in the night he had quietly covered everything out-of-doors with a sparkling white garment.
Then what could be more delicious than to make a snow man or a snow palace?
Pennie, who was a great reader, and always anxious to carry out something she had read about, inclined towards the palace; but the others had less lofty minds. It quite contented them to make a snow man, to put one of Andrew's pipes in his mouth and a battered hat on his head, and stick in bits of coal for his eyes.
"Isn't he lovely?" Nancy would exclaim when all these adornments were complete.
"Zovely!" echoed Dickie, clapping red worsted mittens ecstatically.
"I think he's rather vulgar," Pennie said doubtfully on one of these occasions with an anxiously puckered brow; "and besides, there's nothing to make up about him. What can you pretend?"
The snow man certainly looked hopelessly prosaic as Ambrose tilted his hat a little more to one side.
"Guy Fawkes?" suggested David, having studied the matter solidly for some minutes.
"No," said Pennie, "not Guy Fawkes—he's so common—we've had him heaps of times. But I'll tell you what would be splendid; we'll make him a martyr in Smithfield."
The boys looked doubtful, but Nancy clapped her hands.
"That's capital," she said.
"You know," continued Pennie for the general information, "they burned them."
"Alive?" inquired Ambrose eagerly.
"How jolly!" murmured David.
"Jolly! jolly! jolly!" repeated Dickie, jumping up and down in the snow.
"Why were they burned?" asked Ambrose, who was never tired of asking questions, and liked to get to the bottom of a matter if possible.
"Why, I am not quite sure," answered Pennie cautiously, "because I've only just got to it; but I think it was something about the Bible. I'll ask Miss Grey."
"Oh, never mind all that," interrupted the practical Nancy impatiently; "we'll make a splendid bonfire all round him and watch him melt. Come and get the wood."
"And we'll call him 'a distinguished martyr,'" added Pennie as she moved slowly away, "because I can't remember any of their real names."
Pennie was never satisfied to leave things as they were; she liked to adorn them with fancies and make up stories about them, and her busy little mind was always ready to set to work on the smallest event of the children's lives. Nothing was too common or familiar to have mysteries and romance woven round it; and this was sometimes a most useful faculty, for winter was not always kind enough to bring snow and ice with him. Very often there was nothing but rain and fog and mud, and then mother uttered those dreadful words:
"The children must not go out."
Then when lessons were over, and all the games exhausted, and it was still too early for lights, the schoolroom became full of dark corners, and the flickering fire cast mysterious shadows which changed the very furniture into something dim and awful.
Then was Pennie's time—then, watching her hearers' upturned faces by the uncertain light of the fire, she saw surprise or pity or horror on them as her story proceeded, and, waxing warmer, she half believed it true herself. And this made the tales very interesting and thrilling. Yet once Pennie's talent had an unfortunate result, as you shall hear in the next chapter.
The children all thought that Pennie's best stories were about a certain lumber-room in the vicarage which was called the "Garret." They were also the most dreadful and thrilling, for there was something about the garret which lent itself readily to tales of mystery and horror. The very air there was always murky and dim, and no sunlight could steal through the tiny lattice window which came poking out from the roof like a half-shut eyelid. Dust and cobwebs had covered the small leaded panes so thickly that a dusky gloom always dwelt there, and gave an unnatural and rather awful look to the various objects. And what a strange collection it was! Broken spindle-legged chairs, rickety boxes, piles of yellow old music-books and manuscripts, and in one corner an ancient harp in a tarnished gilt frame. Poor deserted dusty old things! They had had their day in the busy world once, but that was over now, and they must stay shut up in the silent garret with no one to see them but the spiders and the children. For these last came there often; treading on tiptoe they climbed the steep stairs and unlatched the creaky door and entered, bold but breathless, and casting anxious glances over their shoulders for strange things that might be lurking in the corners. They never saw any, but still they came half hoping, half fearing; and they had, besides, another object in their visits, which was a great great secret, and only known to Pennie, Nancy, and Ambrose. It was indeed a daring adventure, scarcely to be spoken of above a whisper, and requiring a great deal of courage. This was the secret:
They had one day succeeded in forcing open the rickety lattice, which was fastened by a rusty iron hasp, and looked out. There was a steep red-tiled piece of roof covered with little lumps of lichen which ended in a gutter and a low stone balustrade; there were tall crooked chimneys, and plenty of places where cats and children could walk with pleasure and safety. Soon it was impossible to resist the temptation, and one after the other they squeezed themselves through the narrow window, and wriggled cautiously down the steep roof as far as the balustrade. It scraped the hands and knees a good deal to do this, and there was always the danger of going down too fast, but when once the feet arrived safely against the stone coping, what a proud moment it was!
Standing upright, they surveyed the prospect, and mingled visions of Robinson Crusoe, Christopher Columbus, and Alexander Selkirk floated across their brains. "I am monarch of all I survey," said Pennie on the first occasion. And so she was, for everything seen from that giddy height looked strange and new to her, and it was quite like going into another country.
The old church tower with the chattering jackdaws flying round it, the pear-tree near the nursery window, the row of bee-hives in the kitchen-garden, the distant fields where the cows were no bigger than brown and white specks, all were lifted out of everyday life for a little while. No one had forbidden this performance, because no one knew of it, and the secrecy of it added to the mystery which belonged to everything in the garret.
It was not difficult to keep it hidden from the elders, for they did not go into the lumber-room from year's end to year's end; so the spiders and the children had it all to themselves, and did just as they liked there, and wove their cobwebs and their fancies undisturbed. Now, amongst Pennie's listeners when she told her tales of what went on in the garret after nightfall, Ambrose was the one who heard with the most rapt attention and the most absolute belief. He came next to Nancy in age, and formed the most perfect contrast to her in appearance and character, for Nancy was a robust blue-eyed child, bold and fearless, and Ambrose was a slender little fellow with a freckled skin and a face full of sensitive expression. He was full of fears and fancies, too, poor little Ambrose, and amongst the children he was considered not far short of a coward; it had become a habit to say, "Ambrose is afraid," on the smallest occasions, and if they had been asked who was the bravest amongst them, they would certainly have pointed out Nancy. For Nancy did not mind the dark, Nancy would climb any tree you liked, Nancy could walk along the top of a high narrow wall without being giddy, Nancy had never been known to cry when she was hurt, therefore Nancy was a brave child. Ambrose, on the contrary, did mind all these things very much; his imagination pictured dangers and terrors in them which did not exist for Nancy, and what she performed with a laugh and no sense of fear, was to him often an occasion of trembling apprehension. And then he was so afraid of the dark! That was a special subject of derision from the others, for even Dickie was bolder in the matter of dark passages and bed-rooms than he was. Ambrose was ashamed, bitterly ashamed of this failing, and he made up his mind a hundred times that he would get over it, but that was in the broad daylight when the sun was shining. As surely as night came, and he was asked perhaps to fetch something from the schoolroom, those wretched feelings of fear came back, for the schoolroom was at the end of a long dark passage.
Nancy, who was always good-natured, though she laughed at him, would give him a nudge on such occasions if she were near him, and say:
"Never mind, I'll go;" but Ambrose never accepted the offer. He went with a shiver down his back, and a sort of distended feeling in his ears, which seemed to be unnaturally on the alert for mysterious noises.
He always made up his mind before he got to the passage to check a wild desire to run at full speed, and walk through it slowly, but this resolve was never carried out.
Before he had gone two steps in the darkness there would be a sense of something following close behind, and then all was over, and nothing to be seen but a panic-stricken little boy rushing along with his hands held over his ears. How foolish! you will say. Very foolish, indeed, and so said all the other children, adding many a taunt and jeer.
But that did not do poor Ambrose any good, and he remained just as timid as ever. Nevertheless there were moments of real danger when Ambrose had been known to come gallantly to the front, and when he seemed to change suddenly from a fearful, shrinking boy into a hero. Such was the occasion when, alone of all the children, who stood shrieking on the other side of the hedge, he had ventured back into the field to rescue Dickie, who by some accident had been left behind among a herd of cows. There she stood bewildered, holding up her little pinafore full of daisies, helpless among those large horned monsters.
"Run, Dickie," shouted the children; but Dickie was rooted to the ground with terror, and did not move.
Then Ambrose took his courage in both hands, and leaving the safe shelter of the hedge, ran back to his little sister's side. As he reached her a large black cow with crooked horns detached herself from the herd, and walked quickly up to the children lashing her tail. Ambrose did not stir. He stood in front of Dickie, took off his straw hat and waved it in the cow's face. She stood still.
"Run back to the others, Dickie," said Ambrose quietly, and, Dickie's chubby legs recovering power of movement, she toddled quickly off, strewing the ground with daisies as she went. Covering her retreat, Ambrose remained facing the cow, and walked slowly backwards still brandishing his hat; then, one quick glance over his shoulder assuring him of Dickie's safety, he too took to his heels, and scrambled through the gap.
That was certainly brave of Ambrose; for though Farmer Snow told them afterwards, "Thuccy black coo never would a touched 'ee," still she might have, and for the moment Ambrose was a hero.
The children carried home an excited account of the affair to their father, penetrating into his very study, which was generally forbidden ground.
"And so it was Ambrose who went back, eh?" he said, stroking Dickie's round head as she sat on his knee.
"Yes, father," said Pennie, very much out of breath with running and talking, "we were all frightened except Ambrose."
"And why weren't you frightened, Ambrose?"
"I was," murmured Ambrose.
"And yet you went?"
"Yes. Because of Dickie."
"Then you were a brave boy."
"A brave boy, a brave boy," repeated Dickie in a sort of sing-song, pulling her father's whiskers.
"Now I want you children to tell me," pursued the vicar, looking round at the hot little eager faces, "which would have been braver—not to be frightened at all, or to go in spite of being frightened?"
"Not to be frightened at all," answered Nancy promptly.
"Do you all think that?"
"Yes," said Pennie doubtfully, "I suppose so."
"Well," continued the vicar, "I don't think so, and I will tell you why. I believe the brave man is not he who is insensible to fear, but he who is able to rise above it in doing his duty. People are sometimes called courageous who are really so unimaginative and dull that they cannot understand danger—so of course they are not afraid. They go through their lives very quietly and comfortably, as a rule, but they do not often leave great names behind them, although they may be both good and useful.
"Others, again, we are accustomed to consider cowards, because their active, lively imagination often causes them to see danger where there is none. These people do not pass such peaceable lives as the first; but there is this to be remembered: the same nature which is so alive to fear will also be easily touched by praise, or blame, or ridicule, and eager therefore to do its very best. It is what we call a 'sensitive' nature, and it is of such stuff very often, that great men and heroes are made."
The children listened very attentively to what their father said, and if they did not understand it all they gathered enough to make them feel quite sure that Ambrose had been very brave about the cow. So they treated him for a little while with a certain respect, and no one said "Ambrose is afraid." As for Ambrose himself, his spirits rose very high, and he began to think he never should feel afraid of anything again, and even to wish for some great occasion to show himself in his new character of "hero." He walked about in rather a blustering manner just now, with his straw hat very much on one side, and brandished a stick the gardener had cut for him in an obtrusively warlike fashion. As he was a small thin boy, these airs looked all the more ridiculous, and his sister Nancy was secretly much provoked by them; however, she said nothing until one evening when Pennie was telling them stories.
The children were alone in the schoolroom, for it was holiday time. It was just seven o'clock. Soon Nurse would come and carry off Dickie and David to bed, but at present they were sitting one each side of Pennie on the broad window-seat, listening to her with open ears and mouths. Nancy and Ambrose were opposite on the table, with their legs swinging comfortably backwards and forwards.
All day long it had been raining, and now, although it had ceased, the shrubs and trees, overladen with moisture, kept up a constant drip, drip, drip, which was almost as bad. The wind had risen, and went sighing and moaning round the house, and shook the windows of the room where the children were sitting. Pennie had just finished a story, and in the short interval of silence which followed, these plaintive sounds were heard more plainly than ever.
"Hark," she said, holding up her finger, "how the Goblin Lady is playing her harp to-night! She has begun early."
"Why does she only play when the wind blows?" asked Ambrose.
"She comes with the wind," answered Pennie, "that is how she travels, as other people use carriages and trains. The little window in the garret is blown open, and she floats in and takes one of those big music-books, and finds out the place, and then sits down to the harp and plays."
"What tune does she play?" asked David.
"By the margin of fair Zurich's waters," answered Pennie; "sometimes she sings too, but not often, because she is very sad."
"Why?" inquired Ambrose, ruffling up his hair with one hand, as he always did when he was getting interested.
Pennie paused a moment that her next remark might have full weight; then very impressively and slowly she said:
"She has not always been a Goblin Lady."
This was so unexpected, and suggested so much to be unfolded, that the children gazed speechless at Pennie, who presently continued:
"Once she was a beautiful—"
"Is she ugly now?" hastily inquired David.
"Don't, Davie; let Pennie go on," said Ambrose.
"I want to know just one thing," put in Nancy; "if it's dark when she comes, how does she see to read the music?"
"She carries glowworms with her," answered Pennie; "they shine just like the lamps in father's gig at night, and light up all the garret."
"Now, go on, Pennie," said Ambrose with a deep sigh, for these interruptions were very trying to him. "Once she was a beautiful—"
"A most beautiful lady, with long golden hair. Only she was very very proud and vain. So after she died she could not rest, but has to go flying about wherever the wind will take her. The only pleasure she has is music, and so she always tries to get in where there is anything to play. That is why she goes so often to the garret and plays the harp."
"Why doesn't she go into the drawing-room and play the piano?" asked Nancy bluntly. Nancy's questions were often very tiresome; she never allowed the least haze or uncertainty to hang over any subject, and Pennie was frequently checked in the full flow of her eloquence by the consciousness that Nancy's eye was upon her, and that she was preparing to put some matter-of-fact inquiry which it would be most difficult to meet.
"There you go, interrupting again," muttered Ambrose.
"Well, but why doesn't she?" insisted Nancy, "it would be so much easier."
"Why, of course she can't," resumed Pennie in rather an injured voice, "because of the lights, and the people, and, besides, she never learnt to play the piano."
"I wish I needn't either," sighed Nancy. "How nice to be like the Goblin Lady, and only play the harp when one likes!"
"I should like to see her," said Ambrose thoughtfully.
"You'd be afraid," said Nancy; "why, you wouldn't even go into the garret by daylight alone."
"That was a long time ago," said Ambrose quickly. "I wouldn't mind it now."
"In the dark?"
"Well, I don't believe you'd go," said Nancy. "You might perhaps go two or three steps, and then you'd scream out and run away; wouldn't he, Pennie?"
"Why, you know he was brave about the cow," said Pennie, "braver than any of us."
"That was different. He's quite as much afraid of the dark as ever. I call it babyish."
Nancy looked defiantly at her brother, who was getting very red in the face. She was prepared to have something thrown at her, or at least to have her hair, which she wore in a plaited pig-tail, violently pulled, but nothing of the sort happened. Nurse came soon afterwards and bore away David and Dickie, and as she left the room she remarked that the wind was moaning "just like a Christian."
It certainly was making a most mournful noise that evening, but not at all like a Christian, Ambrose thought, as he listened to it—much more like Pennie's Goblin Lady and her musical performances.
Pennie had finished her stories now, and she and Nancy were deeply engaged with their dolls in a corner of the room; this being an amusement in which Ambrose took no interest, he remained seated on the table occupied with his own reflections after Nurse had left the room with the two children.
Nancy's taunt about the garret was rankling in his mind, though he had not resented it openly as was his custom, and it rankled all the more because he felt that it was true. Yes, it was true. He could not possibly go into the garret alone in the dark, and yet if he really were a brave boy he ought to be able to do it. Was he brave, he wondered? Father had said so, and yet just now he certainly felt something very like fear at the very thought of the Goblin Lady.
In increasing perplexity he ruffled up his hair until it stood out wildly in all directions; boom! boom! went the wind, and then there followed a long wailing sort of sigh which seemed to come floating down from the very top of the house.
It was quite a relief to hear Nancy's matter-of-fact voice just then, as she chattered away about her dolls:
"Now, I shall brush Jemima's hair," Ambrose heard her say to Pennie, "and you can put Lady Jane Grey to bed."
"I ought to be able to go," said Ambrose to himself, "and after all I don't suppose the Goblin Lady can be worse than Farmer Snow's black cow."
"But her head's almost off," put in Pennie's voice. "You did it the last time we executed her."
"If I went," thought Ambrose, continuing his reflections, "they would never, never be able to call me a coward again."
He slid off the table as he reached this point, and moved slowly towards the door. He stood still as he opened it and looked at his sisters, half hoping they would call him back, or ask where he was going, but they were bending absorbed over the body of the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, so that two long flaxen pig-tails were turned towards him. They did not even notice that he had moved.
He went quickly through the long dimly-lighted passage, which led into the hall, and found that Mary was just lighting the lamp. This looked cheerful, and he lingered a little and asked her a few questions, not that he really wanted to know anything, but because light and human companionship seemed just now so very desirable. Mary went away soon, and then he strolled a few steps up the broad old staircase, and met Kittles the fluffy cat coming slowly down. Here was another excuse for putting off his journey, and he sat down on the stairs to pass a few agreeable moments with Kittles, who arched his back and butted his head against him, and purred his acknowledgments loudly. But presently, having business of his own, Kittles also passed on his way, and Ambrose was alone again, sitting solitary with his ruffled head leaning on one hand. Then the church clock struck eight. In half an hour it would be bed-time, and his plan not carried out. He must go at once, or not at all. He got up and went slowly on. Up the stairs, down a long winding passage, up some more stairs, and across a landing, on to which the nursery and the children's bedrooms opened. He stopped again here, for there was a pleasant sound of Dickie and David's voices, and the splashing of water; but presently he thought he heard Nurse coming out, and he ran quickly round the corner into a little passage which led to the foot of the garret stairs. This passage was dimly-lighted by a small low window, which was almost covered outside by the thickly growing ivy. Even in the daytime it was very dusky, and now it was quite dark, but Ambrose knew the way well, and he groped about with his hands until he came to the steep carpetless steps. And now his heart began to beat very quickly, for he felt that he was in the region of mystery, and that anything might happen at any moment. The wind had dropped, and there was no sound at all to be heard, though he strained his ears to the utmost for some signs of the presence of the Goblin Lady.
"Perhaps," thought he, "she has finished playing and gone away again with the wind." This was an encouraging idea, and though his knees trembled a good deal, he went on bravely until he came to the place where the stairs took a sudden sharp turn; but here he saw something which brought him to a standstill again, for underneath the garret door at the top there was a faint gleam of light. "That's the glowworms," thought Ambrose, "and she's there still." His spirits sank.
Could he go on? It must be now or never. With a tremendous effort he went quickly up the remaining steps, stood on tiptoe to unlatch the door, and pushed it open. It swung back with a creak upon its rusty hinges, and a cold wind rushed in Ambrose's face, for the window was open. The room was faintly lighted, not with glowworms, but by the pale rays of a watery moon, which made some of the objects whitely distinct, and left others dark and shadowy. Standing motionless on the threshold, Ambrose turned his eyes instinctively to the corner where the harp was dimly visible. There was certainly no one playing it, but as he looked he heard a faint rustle in that direction. What was it? Again it came, this time louder, with a sound like the flapping of feathers. Could it be the Goblin Lady? But Pennie never said she had wings. Unable to go either backwards or forwards, Ambrose remained rooted to the spot with his eyes fixed on the mysterious corner. Rustle, rustle, flap, flap, went the dreadful something, and presently there followed a sort of low hiss. At the same moment a sudden gust of wind burst through the window and banged the door behind him with a resounding clap. Panic-stricken he turned and tried to open it, but his cold trembling fingers could not move the rusty fastening. He looked wildly round for a means of escape, and his eye fell on a bright ray of moonlight resting on the lattice window. He rushed towards it, scrambled up on to a box, from thence to the window-ledge, and thrust himself through the narrow opening. If the thing came after him now, he could go no further than the balustrade, unless he jumped down into the garden, "and that would kill me," he thought, "Pennie has often said so."
He stood on the rough tiles, holding on to the iron window frame with one hand; behind him the dark garret, where the thing still flapped and rustled, and before him the sloping roof, the tall chimneys, the garden beneath, partly lighted up by the moon. He could see the nursery window, too, in an angle of the house, brightly illumined by the cheerful fire within. Dickie and David were snugly in bed now, warm and safe, and Nurse was most likely searching everywhere for him. If they only knew!
"If ever I get back," he said to himself, "I never will try to be brave again; it's much better to be called a coward always." He had hardly come to this conclusion before, with a tremendous whirring noise, something came banging up against the shut part of the window from within the garret. Ambrose gave one wild scream, let go his hold, and went rolling over and over quicker and quicker, down—down—down.
He remembered nothing more until he woke up that night in his own little bed with a very confused feeling that something dreadful had happened, though he could not think what it was. There was a light in his room, which was strange too, and presently he saw that Nurse was sitting there with her spectacles on, nodding sleepily over a book. What could it mean? He clasped his head with both hands, and tried to remember; but it was startling to find that there was a wet bandage round it, and inside it there was a dull throbbing ache, so he soon gave up trying and lay quietly with his eyes fixed on Nurse, and the funny shadow she made on the wall. At last she gave a most tremendous nod, which knocked off her spectacles, and then she gathered herself up and opened her eyes very wide. Presently she came to the bed with a glass in her hand and leant over Ambrose to see if he was awake; he drank what she gave him eagerly, for he was thirsty, and as he lay down again he said with an effort:
"I think I've had a very bad dream, Nurse, and my head does ache so."
"Well, you're safe and sound now, my lamb," she answered, patting his shoulder soothingly; "just you turn round and go to sleep again."
Still puzzled Ambrose closed his eyes, and wondered vaguely for a few minutes why Nurse called him "lamb." She had not done it since he had the measles, so he supposed he must be ill; but he did not feel at all equal to asking questions about anything, and was soon fast asleep again.
But this was the beginning of many weary days and nights for poor little Ambrose. When the doctor came the next day he looked gravely at Mrs Hawthorn.
"The child is in a high fever," he said, "and has had, I should think, some great nervous shock. Great care and quiet are needed. Let him sleep as much as possible."
But that was the difficulty, for, as time went on, Ambrose seemed less and less able to sleep quietly at night. As evening drew on the fever and restlessness increased; he could not bear to be left alone a moment, and often in the night he would start up and cry out trembling:
"Take her away." "She is coming." "Don't let her catch me."
It was most distressing for everyone and puzzling too, for no one could imagine what it was that had frightened him in the garret, or how he came to be there at all at that time in the evening. It was evidently a most terrible remembrance to him, for he could not bear the least reference to it, and to question him was a sure way to give him what he called "bad dreams." So in his presence the subject was dropped; but Mrs Hawthorn and Nurse did not cease their conjectures, and there was one person who listened to their conversation with a feeling of the deepest guilt. This was Pennie, who just now was having a most miserable time of it, for she felt that it was all her fault. If she had not told those stories about the Goblin Lady it never would have happened, although it certainly was Nancy who had put the garret into Ambrose's head.
Nancy was the only person she could talk to on the subject, but she was not any comfort at all.
"Don't let's think about it," she said. "I knew you made it up. I daresay he'll get better soon."
Poor Pennie could not take matters so lightly; it was a most dreadful weight on her mind, and she felt sure she should never have another happy minute till she had confessed about the Goblin Lady. But she was not allowed to see Ambrose, and she could not bring herself to tell anyone else about it. Once she nearly told mother, and then something stuck in her throat; and once she got as far as the study door with the intention of telling father, but her courage failed her and she ran away.
She would creep to Ambrose's door and listen, or peep round the screen at him while he was asleep, and her face got quite thin and pointed with anxiety. Every morning she asked:
"Is he better, mother? May I go and sit with him?" But the answer always was:
"Not to-day, dear. We hope he is better, but he has such bad nights."
Pennie was very wretched, and felt she could not bear it much longer.
She was in the nursery one morning looking listlessly out of the window, when her attention was caught by a conversation going on between Nurse and Mrs Hawthorn, who was sitting there with Cicely in her arms.
"I know no more than that baby, ma'am," said Nurse emphatically, as she had said a hundred times before, "why or wherefore Master Ambrose should take such a thing into his head. It's easy to frame that he should get scared—when once he was up there in the dark, for he's a timid child and always has been. But what took him there all alone? That's what I want to know!"
"I cannot understand it," said Mrs Hawthorn; "but it makes him so much worse to ask him questions that we must leave it alone until he is stronger. We cannot be too thankful that he was not killed."
"Which I never doubted for one moment that he was, ma'am, when I found him," continued Nurse; "he was lying all crumpled up and stone-cold, for all the world like Miss Nancy's dormouse when she forgot to feed it for a week."
On this theme Nurse was apt to become very voluble, and there were few things she liked better than describing her own feelings on the occasion. Mrs Hawthorn held up her hand entreatingly: "Do not talk of it, Nurse," she said; "I cannot bear it." And then they went on to discuss other matters.
Now all this while Pennie had been trying to make up her mind to speak. There was a fly just in front of her on the window-pane, and as she watched it crawling slowly along she said to herself:
"When it gets as far as the corner I will tell mother." But alas! before the fly had nearly completed his journey Mrs Hawthorn rose to leave the nursery. As she passed Pennie she stopped and said:
"Why, Pennie, my child, it is not like you to be idle. And you look mournful; what's the matter?"
"I think Miss Pennie frets after her brother, ma'am," observed Nurse.
"Well, then," said Mrs Hawthorn, "I have something to tell you that I am sure you will like. The doctor thinks Ambrose much better to-day, and if you are very quiet and discreet I will let you go and have tea with him this afternoon at five o'clock."
"Oh, mother, mother," cried Pennie, "how lovely! May I really?"
"Yes; but you must promise me one thing, and that is that you will not speak of anything that has to do with the garret or his accident."
Pennie's face fell.
"Very well, mother," she said in a dejected tone.
"If you can't feel sure, Pennie," said her mother observing the hesitation, "I can't let you go."
"I won't, really, mother," repeated Pennie with a sigh—"truly and faithfully."
But she felt almost as low-spirited as ever, for what was the good of seeing Ambrose if she could not make him understand about the Goblin Lady? She remained at the window pondering the subject, with her eyes fixed on the grey church tower, the top of which she could just see through the branches of the pear-tree. It reminded her somehow of her father's text last Sunday, and how pleased she and Nancy had been because it was such a short one to learn. Only two words: "Pray always." She said it to herself now over and over again without thinking much about it, until it suddenly struck her that it would be a good thing to say a little prayer and ask to be helped out of the present difficulty. "If I believe enough," she said to herself, "I shall be helped. Father says people always are helped if they believe enough when they ask."
She shut her eyes up very tight and repeated earnestly several times: "I do believe. I really and truly do believe;" and then she said her prayer.
After this she felt a little more comfortable and ran out to play with Nancy, firmly believing that before five o'clock something would turn up to her assistance.
But Pennie was doomed to disappointment, for five o'clock came without any way out of the difficulty having presented itself.
"I suppose I didn't believe hard enough," she said to herself as she made her way sorrowfully upstairs to Ambrose's room. Just as she thought this the study door opened and her father came out. He was carrying something which looked like a large cage covered with a cloth. Pennie stopped and waited till he came up to her.
"Why, whatever can that be, father?" she said. "Is it alive? Where are you taking it?"
"It is a little visitor for Ambrose," he answered; "and I'm taking him upstairs to tea with you both. But you're not to look at him yet;" for Pennie was trying to peep under the cloth.
When they got into Ambrose's room she was relieved to find that he looked just like himself, though his face was very white and thin. He was much better to-day, and able to sit up in a big arm-chair with a picture-book. But nevertheless before Nurse left the room she whispered to Pennie again that she must be very quiet.
There was no need for the caution at present, for Pennie was in one of her most subdued moods, though at any other time she would have been very much excited to know what was inside the cage.
"Now," said the vicar when he was seated in the arm-chair, with Ambrose settled comfortably on his knee, "we shall see what Ambrose and this little gentleman have to say to each other."
He lifted off the covering, and there was the dearest little brown and white owl in the world, sitting winking and blinking in the sudden light.
Ambrose clasped his little thin hands, and his eyes sparkled with pleasure.
"Oh, father," he cried, "what a darling dear! Is he for me? I always did want to have an owl so!"
He was in such raptures when he was told that the owl was to be his very own, that when the tea was brought in he could hardly be persuaded to touch it. Pennie, too, almost forgot her troubles in the excitement of pouring out tea, and settling with Ambrose where the owl was to live.
"The nicest place will be," at last said Ambrose decidedly, "in that corner of the barn just above where Davie's rabbits are. You know, Pennie. Where it's all dusky, and dark, and cobwebby."
"I think that sounds just the sort of place he would feel at home in," said their father; "and now, would you like me to tell you where I got him?"
"Oh, yes, please, father," said Ambrose, letting his head drop on Mr Hawthorn's shoulder with a deep sigh of contentment. "Tell us every little scrap about it, and don't miss any."
"Well, last night, about nine o'clock, when I was writing in the study, I wanted to refer to an old book of sermons, and I couldn't remember where it was. I looked all over my book-cases, and at last I went and asked mother, and she told me that it was most likely put away in the garret."
Ambrose stirred uneasily, and Pennie thought to herself, "They said I wasn't to mention the garret, and here's father talking about it like anything."
"So I took a lamp," continued Mr Hawthorn, "and went upstairs, and poked about in the garret a long while. I found all sorts of funny old things there, but not the book I wanted, so I was just going down again when I heard a rustling in one corner—"
Pennie could see that Ambrose's eyes were very wide open, with a terrified stare as if he saw something dreadful, and he was clinging tightly with one hand to his father's coat.
"So I went into the corner and moved away a harp which was standing there, and what do you think I saw? This little fluffy gentleman just waked up from a nap, and making a great fuss and flapping. He was very angry when I caught him, and hissed and scratched tremendously; but I said, 'No, my friend, I cannot let you go. You will just do for my little son, Ambrose.' So I put him into a basket for the night, and this morning I got a cage for him in the village, and here he is."
Mr Hawthorn looked down at Ambrose as he finished his story: the frightened expression which Pennie had seen had left the boy's face now, and there was one of intense relief there. He folded his hands, and said softly, drawing a deep breath:
"Then it was not the Goblin Lady after all."
"The Goblin Lady! What can the child mean?" said the vicar looking inquiringly at Pennie.
But he got no answer to his question, for Pennie's long-pent-up feelings burst forth at last. Casting discretion to the winds, she threw her arms vehemently round Ambrose, and blurted out half laughing and half crying:
"I made it up! I made it up! There isn't any Goblin Lady. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I made it every bit up!"
The two children sobbed and laughed and kissed each other, and made incoherent exclamations in a way which their puzzled father felt to be most undesirable for an invalid's room. He had been carefully warned not to excite Ambrose, and what could be worse than this sort of thing?
Perfectly bewildered, he said sternly:
"Pennie, if you don't command yourself, you must go out of the room. You will make your brother ill. It is most thoughtless of you. Tell me quietly what all this means."
With many jerks and interruptions, and much shamefacedness Pennie proceeded to do so. Looking up at her father's face at the end she was much relieved to see a little smile there, though he did not speak at once.
"You're not angry, are you, father?" said Ambrose doubtfully at last.
"No, I am not angry," replied Mr Hawthorn, "but I am certainly surprised to find I have two such foolish children. I don't know who was the sillier—Pennie to make up such nonsense, or Ambrose to believe it. But now I am not going to say anything more, because it is quite time for Ambrose to go to bed, so Pennie and the owl and I will say good-night."
What a relief it was to hear the dreaded subject spoken of so lightly. Pennie felt as though a great heavy weight had been suddenly lifted off her mind, and she was so glad and happy that after she had left Ambrose's room she could not possibly walk along quietly. So she hopped on one leg all down a long passage, and at the top of the stairs she met Nurse hastening up to her patient:
"You look merry, Miss Pennie," said she. "I hope you haven't been exciting Master Ambrose."
"Why, yes," Pennie couldn't help answering. "Father and I have both excited him a good deal; but he's much better, and now he'll get quite well."
And Pennie was right, for from that night Ambrose improved steadily, though it was some time before he became quite strong and lost his nervous fears.
The first visit he paid, when he was well enough to be wheeled into the garden in a bath-chair, escorted by the triumphant children, was to see his new pet, the owl. There he was, hanging in his cage in the darkest corner of the barn. Ambrose looked up at him with eyes full of the fondest affection.
"What shall we call him, Pennie?" he said. "I want some name which has to do with a goblin."
Pennie considered the subject with her deepest frown.
"Would 'Goblinet' do?" she said at length; "because, you see, he is so small."
"Beautifully," said Ambrose.
So the owl was called "Goblinet."
By the time Ambrose was quite well again, and able to run about with the others and play as usual, the holidays were over; Miss Grey came back, and lessons began.
It was late autumn; hay-time had passed and harvest, and all the fields looked brown and bare and stubbly. The garden paths were covered with dry withered leaves, which made a pleasant sound when you shuffled your feet in them, and were good things for Dickie to put into her little barrow, for as often as she collected them there were soon plenty more. Down they came from the trees, red, brown, yellow, when the wind blew, and defied the best efforts of Dickie and Andrew. There were very few flowers left now—only a few dahlias and marigolds, and some clumps of Michaelmas daisies, so the garden looked rather dreary; but to make up for this there was a splendid crop of apples in the orchard, and the lanes were thickly strewn with bright brown acorns. And these last were specially interesting to David, for it was just about this time that he got his pig.
David was a solid squarely-built little boy of seven years old, with hair so light that it looked almost grey, and very solemn blue eyes. He spoke seldom, and took a long time to learn things, but when once that was done he never forgot them; and in this he was unlike Nancy, who could learn quickly, but forget almost as soon. Miss Grey always felt sure that when once David had struggled through a lesson, whether it were the kings and queens of England, or the multiplication table, that he would remember it if she asked him a question weeks afterwards. But then it was a long time before he knew it—so long that it often seemed a hopeless task. Nevertheless, if David was slow he was certainly sure, and people had a habit of depending upon him in various matters. For instance, when Nurse wanted to intrust the baby for a few moments to any of the children during her absence from the nursery, it was never to the three elder she turned, but to David, and her confidence was not misplaced. Once having undertaken any charge or responsibility, David would carry it through unflinchingly, whether it were to amuse the baby, or to take care of any of the animals while their various owners were away. It would have been impossible to him to have forgotten to feed the dormouse for a week as Nancy did, or to have left Sappho the canary without any water, which Pennie to her great agony of mind was once guilty of doing.
David's animals never missed their meals, or were neglected in any way; he was particularly proud of his sleek rabbits, which, together with a family of white rats, lived in the barn, and certainly throve wonderfully, if numbers mean prosperity. The biggest rabbit was called Goliath, and it was David's delight to hold him up by the ears, in spite of his very powerful kicks, and exhibit his splendid condition to any admiring beholder. But though Goliath was handsome, and the white rats numerous, their owner was not quite satisfied, for his fondest wish for some time past had been to possess a pig. A nice little round black pig, with a very curly tail; he would then be content, and ask nothing further of fortune.
He thought of the pig, and hoped for the pig, and it would not be too much to say that he dreamed of the pig. When he passed a drove of them in the road, squeaking, pushing, grunting, and going every way but the right, he would stand in speechless admiration. His mind was a practical one, and did not dwell merely on the pleasure of owning the pig itself, but also on the prospect of fattening, selling, and realising money by it.
"You'd never be able to have it killed," said Nancy, who was his chief confidante, "after you got fond of it, and it got to know you; you'd as soon kill Goliath."
"I shouldn't have it killed," answered David. "I should sell it to the farmer."
"Well; but he'd have it killed," pursued the relentless Nancy.
This was unanswerable.
"Never mind. I want a pig, and I shall save up my money," said David sturdily.
David's bank was a white china house which stood on the nursery mantel-shelf; it had a very red roof with a hole in it, and into this he continued for some time to drop all his pennies, and halfpennies, and farthings with great persistency, and a mind steadily fixed on the pig. After all, however, he got it without spending any of his savings, and this is how it happened:—
One fine morning at the end of September the children were all ready for their usual walk with Miss Grey—all, that is, except Dickie, who, being still a nursery child, went out walking with Nurse and baby. The other four, however, were ready, not only as regards hats and jackets, but were also each provided with something to "take out," which, in their opinion, was quite as indispensable. Penelope therefore carried a sketching book, Ambrose a boat under one arm, and under the other a camp-stool in case Miss Grey should be tired, Nancy two dolls and a skipping-rope, and David a whip and a long chain. At the end of this was the terrier dog Snuff, choking and struggling with excitement, and giving vent to smothered barks. Snuff would willingly have been loose, and there was indeed not the least occasion for this restraint, as it would have been far easier to lose David than the dog; he knew well, however, that children have their little weaknesses in these matters, and submitted to his bondage with only a few whines of remonstrance when the company had once fairly started.
His patience was a good deal tried on this occasion, as well as that of the children, for it seemed as though Mrs Hawthorn never would finish talking to Miss Grey in the hall. At last, however, she said something which pleased them very much:
"I want you to go to Hatchard's Farm for me, and ask about the butter."
Now Hatchard's Farm was the place of all others that the children delighted to visit. It was about two miles from Easney, and the nicest way to it was across some fields, where you could find mushrooms, into a little narrow lane where the thickly growing blackberry brambles caught and scratched at you as you passed. This lane was muddy in winter, and at no time in the year did it appear so desirable to Miss Grey as to the children; but it was such a favourite walk with them that she generally yielded. The only other way of getting to the farm was by the high-road, and that was so dreadfully dull! After scrambling along the lane a little while, you saw the red-brown roofs of the barns and outbuildings clustering round the house itself, and almost hiding it, and soon a pleasant confusion of noises met your ear. Ducks quacked, hens cackled, pigeons perched about on the roofs kept up a monotonous murmur; then came the deep undertones of the patient cows, and as you neared the house you could generally hear Mrs Hatchard's voice in her dairy adding its commanding accents to the medley of sounds. It certainly was a delightful farm, and David had long ago determined that when he grew up he would have one just like it, and wear brown leather gaiters like Farmer Hatchard's. He would also keep pigs like his—quite black, with very short legs and faces, and tightly curled tails. But some time must pass before this, and the next best thing was to go as often as possible to see them, and ask all manner of questions of the farmer or his men. There was no one in the great wide kitchen when the party arrived on this occasion, and Miss Grey sat down to wait for Mrs Hatchard, while the children made their usual tour of admiring examination. They had seen every object in the room hundreds of times before, but how interesting they always were! The high-backed settle on each side of the fire was dark with age, and bright with the toil of Mrs Hatchard's hands; the heavy oak rafters were so conveniently low that the children could see the farmer's gun, a bunch of dips, a pair of clogs, a side of bacon kept there as in a sort of storehouse. At the end of the room opposite the wide hearth was the long narrow deal table, where the farmer and his men all dined together at twelve o'clock, for they were old-fashioned people at Hatchard's Farm; and behind the door hung the cuckoo clock, before which the children never failed to stand in open-mouthed expectation if it were near striking the hour. On all this the sun darted his rays through the low casement, and failed to find, for all his keen glances, one speck of dust.
Miss Grey sat in the window-seat looking absently out at the marigolds and asters in the gay garden, when she felt a little hand suddenly placed in hers, and, turning round, saw David, his face crimson with suppressed excitement:
"Come," he said, pulling her gently, "come and look here."
He led her to the hearth, and pointed speechless to something which looked like a small flannel bundle in a basket. As she looked at it, it moved a little.
"Well, Davie," said she, "what is this wonderful thing? Something alive?"
David had knelt down close to the bundle and was peering in between the folds of the flannel with an expression of reverent awe. He looked up gravely.
"Don't you see," he said slowly in lowered accents, "it's a little baby pig!"
Stooping down Miss Grey examined it more closely, and found that it was indeed a little black pig of very tender age, so closely covered up in flannel that only its small pointed snout and one eye were visible.
"Do you suppose it's ill?" inquired David.
"I daresay it is," answered Miss Grey; "we'll ask Mrs Hatchard about it presently."
The other children had gathered round, all more or less interested in the invalid pig; but presently, Pennie having suggested that they should go and see the new little calf, they ran out of the kitchen in search of fresh excitement.
"Come along, Davie," said Ambrose, looking back from the door; "come out and see the other pigs."
"No," said David decidedly, "I shall stop here."
He took his seat as he spoke on the corner of the settle nearest the pig, with the evident intention of waiting for Mrs Hatchard's arrival; he was not going to lose a chance of inquiring closely into such an important subject.
And at last Mrs Hatchard came bustling in, cheerful, brisk, and ruddy-faced as usual, with many apologies for her delay. Miss Grey plunged at once into business with her, and the patient David sat silently biding his time for the fit moment to put his questions.
"Won't you run out, little master?" said the good-natured farmer's wife, noticing the grave little figure at last. "There's the calves to see, and a fine litter of likely young pigs too."
"No, thank you," said David politely. "I want to know, please, why you keep this one little pig in here, and whether it's ill."
"Oh, aye," said Mrs Hatchard, coming up to the basket and stooping to look at the occupant, which was now making a feeble grunting noise. "I'd most forgot it. You see it's the Antony pig, and it's that weakly and dillicut I took it away to give it a chance. I doubt I sha'n't rear it, though, for it seems a poor little morsel of a thing."
"How many other little pigs are there?" asked David.
"Why, there's ten on 'em—all fine likely pigs except this one, and they do that push and struggle and fight there's no chance for him."
"Why do you call it the Antony pig?" pursued David with breathless interest.
"Well, I don't rightly know why or wherefore," said Mrs Hatchard; "it's just a name the folks about here always give to the smallest pig in the litter."
"Do you think Farmer Hatchard knows?" inquired David.
"Well, he might," said Mrs Hatchard, "and then again he mightn't. But I tell you what, Master David, if yonder little pig lives, and providin' the vicar has no objections, I'll give him to you. You always fancied pigs, didn't you now?"
David was still leaning fondly over the basket, and made no reply at first. It took some time to fully understand the reality of such a splendid offer.
"Come, Davie," said Miss Grey, "we must say good-bye and go and find the others."
Then he got up, and held out his hand gravely to Mrs Hatchard.
"Good-bye," he said. "Thank you. I hope you'll accede in rearing the Antony pig. I should like to have it very much, if father will let me."
David went home from the farm hardly able to believe in his own good fortune, but according to his custom he said very little.
The matter was discussed freely, however, by the other children, and it was so interesting that it lasted them all the way back. Would the pig live? they wondered, and if it did, would their father let David have it? Where would it live? What would David call the pig if he did get it? This last inquiry was put by Ambrose, and he felt quite rebuked when his brother replied scornfully, "Antony, of course."
But there was some demur on the part of the vicar when he was informed of the proposed addition to his live stock.
"I don't like to disappoint you, my boy," he said, "but you know Andrew has plenty to do already. He has the garden to look after, and the cows, and my horse. I don't think I could ask him to undertake anything more."
Poor little David's face fell, and his underlip was pushed out piteously. He would not have cried for the world, and none of the children ever thought of questioning what their father said; so he stood silent, though he felt that the world without the Antony pig would be empty indeed.
"Do you want it very much, Davie?" said the vicar, looking up from his writing at the mournful little face.
"Yes, father, I do," said David, and with all his resolution he could not choke back a little catching sob as he spoke.
"Well, then, look here," said his father; "if you will promise me to take entire charge of it, and never to trouble Andrew, or call him away from his work to attend to it, you shall have the pig. But if I find that it is neglected in any way, I shall send it back at once to Farmer Hatchard. Is that a bargain?"
"Oh, yes, indeed," cried the delighted David; and he ran out to tell the result of his interview to the anxious children waiting outside the study door.
So David was to have the pig; and, with the assistance of Ambrose and a few words of advice from Andrew, he at once began to prepare a habitation for it. Fortunately there was an old sty still in existence, which only wanted a little repairing, and everything was soon ready. But the rearing of the Antony pig still hung trembling in the balance, and some anxious weeks were passed by David; he called to inquire after it as often as he possibly could, and, to his great joy, found it on each occasion more lively and thriving—thanks to Mrs Hatchard's devoted care.
And at last the long-wished-for day arrived. Antony was driven to his new home with a string tied round his leg, in the midst of a triumphal procession of children, and David's joy and exultation were complete.
There was certainly no danger of his neglecting his charge, or of asking anyone to assist him in its service; never was pig so well cared for as Antony, and as time went on he showed an intelligent appreciation of David's attentions not unmixed with affection. Perhaps in consequence of these attentions he soon developed much shrewdness of character, and had many little humorous ways which were the pride of his master's heart. The two were fast friends, and seemed to understand each other without the need of speech, though David had been known to talk to his pig when he believed himself to be in private. As for the selling part of the plan, it seemed quite to have faded away, and when Andrew said with a grin:
"Well, young master, t'pig 'ull soon be ready for market noo," David got quite hot and angry, and changed the subject at once.
On rare occasions Antony was conducted, making unctuous snorts of pleasure, into the field to taste a little fresh grass and rout about with his inquisitive nose; but the garden was of course forbidden ground. Therefore, when he was once discovered in the act of enjoying himself amongst Andrew's potatoes, the consternation was extreme. It was Nancy who saw him, as she sat one morning learning a French verb, and staring meanwhile absently out of the schoolroom window. Her expression changed suddenly from utter vacancy to keen interest, and her monotonous murmur of "J'ai, Tu as, Il a," to a shout of, "Oh, Davie, there's Antony in the garden!"
"Nancy," said Miss Grey severely, "you know it is against rules to talk in lesson time. Be quiet."
"But I can't really, Miss Grey," said Nancy, craning her neck to get a better view of the culprit; "he's poking up the potatoes like anything. Andrew will be so cross. You'd better just let us go and chase him back again."
The excitement had now risen so high that Miss Grey felt this would really be the best plan, for attention to lessons seemed impossible, and soon the four children were rushing helter-skelter across the garden in pursuit of Antony. With a frisk of his tail and a squeak of defiance he led the chase in fine style, choosing Andrew's most cherished borders. What a refreshment it was, after the tedium of French verbs and English history, and what a pity when Antony, after a brave resistance, was at length hustled back into his sty!
Whether the door was insecure, or not too carefully fastened after this, remains uncertain; but it is a fact that these pig-chases came to be of pretty frequent occurrence, and always happened, by some strange chance, during school hours. The cry of, "Pig out!" and the consequent rush of children in pursuit, at last reached such a pitch that both Miss Grey and the much-tried Andrew made complaint to the vicar. Miss Grey declared that discipline was becoming impossible, and Andrew that there would not be a "martal vegetable in the garden if Master David's pig got out so often." Then the vicar made a rule to this effect:
"If David's pig is seen in the garden again, it goes back that same day to Farmer Hatchard."
The vicar's rules were not things to be disregarded, and his threats were always carried out. David and Ambrose might have been seen with a large hammer and nails very busy at the pig-sty that afternoon, and Antony's visits to the garden ceased, until one unlucky occasion when David was away from home, and it fell out in the following manner:—
In the cathedral town of Nearminster, ten miles from Easney, lived Pennie's godmother Miss Unity Cheffins, and it was Mr and Mrs Hawthorn's custom to pay her an annual visit of two or three days, taking each of the four elder children with them in turn. It was an occasion much anticipated by the latter, but more for the honour of the thing than from any actual pleasure connected with it, for Miss Unity was rather a stiff old lady, and particular in her notions as to their proper behaviour. She was fond of saying, "In my time young people did so and so," and of noticing any little failure in politeness, or even any personal defect. She was a rich old lady, and lived in a great square house just inside the Cathedral Close; it was sombrely furnished, and full of dark old portraits, and rare china bowls and knick-knacks, which last Miss Unity thought a great deal of, and dusted carefully with her own hands. Amongst the many injunctions impressed upon the children, they were told never to touch the china, and there were indeed so many pitfalls to be avoided, that the visit was not by any means an unmixed pleasure to Mrs Hawthorn. The children themselves, however, though they missed the freedom of their home, and were a little afraid of the upright Miss Unity, managed to extract enjoyment from it, and always looked enviously upon the one of their number whose turn it was to go to Nearminster.
And now the time had come round again, and it was David's turn to go, but there was one drawback to his pleasure, because he must leave the pig. Who could say that some careless hand might not leave the door of the sty open or insecurely fastened during his absence? Then Antony's fate would be certain, for Andrew was only too eager to carry out the vicar's sentence of banishment, and was on the watch for the least excuse to hurry the pig back to the farm.
After turning it over in his mind, David came to the conclusion that he could best ensure Antony's safety by placing him under someone's special care, and he chose Nancy for this important office.
"You will take care of him, won't you?" he said, drawing up very close to her and fixing earnest eyes upon her face, "and see that his gate is always fastened."
Nancy was deeply engaged in painting a picture in the Pilgrim's Progress; she paused a moment to survey the effect of Apollyon in delicate sea-green, and said rather absently:
"Of course I will. And so will Ambrose and so will Pennie."
"No, but I want you partickerlerlery to do it," said David, bungling dreadfully over the long word in his anxiety—"you more than the others."
"All right," said Nancy with her head critically on one side.
"I want you to promise three things," went on David—"to keep his gate shut, and to give him acorns, and not to let Dickie poke a stick at him."
"Oh, yes, I'll promise," said Nancy readily.
"Truly and faithfully?" continued David, edging still closer up to her; "you won't forget?"
"No, I really won't," said Nancy with an impatient jerk of her elbow; "don't you worry me any more about it."
"I took care of your dormouse when you went," continued David, "and didn't forget it once. So you ought to take care of my pig, it's only fair."
"Well, don't I tell you I'm going to?" said Nancy, laying down her paint-brush with an air of desperation. "I sha'n't do it a bit more for your asking so often. Do leave off."
"You'll only be away three days, Davie," said Pennie, looking up from her book; "we can manage to take care of Antony that little while I should think."
"Well," said David, "Nancy's got to be 'sponsible, because I took care of her mouse."
"If I were you," said Ambrose with a superior air, "I wouldn't use such long words; you never say them right."
"I say," interrupted Pennie, putting down her book, "what do you all like best when you go to Nearminster? I know what I like best."
"Well, what is it?" said Ambrose; "you say first, and then Nancy, and then me, and then David."
"Well," said Pennie, clasping her knees with much enjoyment, "what I like best is going to church in the Cathedral in the afternoon. When it's a little bit dusky, you know, but not lighted up, and all the pillars look misty, and a long way off, and there are very few people. And then the boys sing, and you feel quite good and just a little bit sad; I can't think why it is that I never feel like that in our church; I suppose it's a cathedral feeling. That's what I like best. Now you, Nancy."
"Why," said Nancy without the least hesitation. "I like that little Chinese mandarin that stands on the mantel-piece in Miss Unity's sitting-room, and wags its head."
"And I like the drive back here best," said Ambrose, "because, when we're going there's only Miss Unity to see at the end; but when we get here there are all the animals and things."
"I don't call that liking Nearminster. I call it liking home," said Nancy. "Now, it's your turn, David."
"I don't know what I like best," said David solemnly. "I only know what I like least."
"Miss Unity," said David with decision.
"Should you call her very ugly?" inquired Ambrose.
"Yes, of course, quite hideous," replied Nancy indistinctly, with her paint-brush in her mouth.
"Well, I'm not quite sure," said Pennie; "once I saw her eyes look quite nice, as if they had a light shining at the back of them."
"Like that face Andrew made for us out of a hollow pumpkin, with a candle inside?" suggested Nancy.
"You're always so stupid, Nancy!" said Ambrose scornfully. "I know what Pennie means about Miss Unity; I've seen her eyes look nice too. Don't you remember, too, how kind she was when Dickie was so rude to her? I've never been so afraid of her since that."
The next day the party started for Nearminster in the wagonette, David sitting in front with his feet resting comfortably on his own little trunk. Andrew, who drove, allowed him to hold the whip sometimes, and the end of the reins—so it was quite easy to fancy himself a coachman; but this delightful position did not make him forget other things. Beckoning to Nancy, who stood with the rest on the rectory steps, he lifted a solemn finger.
"Remember!" he said.
Nancy nodded, the wagonette drove away followed by wavings, and good-byes, and shrieking messages from the children, and was soon out of sight.
"That was like Charles the First," said Pennie; "don't you remember just before they cut off his head—"
"Oh, don't!" said Nancy; "pray, don't talk about Charles the First out of lesson time."
It was a lonely life which Miss Unity Cheffins lived at Nearminster, but she had become so used to it that it did not occur to her to wish for any other. Far far in the distance she could remember a time when everything had not been so quiet and still round her—when she was one of a group of children who had made the old house in the Close echo with their little hurrying footsteps and laughing voices. One by one those voices had become silent and the footsteps had hastened away, and Miss Unity was left alone to fill the empty rooms as she best might with the memories of the past. That was long long ago, and now her days were all just alike, as formal and even as the trimly-kept Close outside her door. And she liked them to be so; any variety or change would have been irksome to her. She liked to know that exactly as eight o'clock sounded from the cathedral Bridget would bring her a cup of tea, would pull up her blind to a certain height, and would remark, "A fine morning, ma'am," or "A dull morning," as the case might be. At eleven o'clock, wet or dry, she would sally forth into the town to do the light part of her marketing and cast a thoughtful eye on the price of vegetables; after which, girt with a large linen apron, and her head protected by a mob-cap, she would proceed to dust and wash her cherished china. From much loneliness she had formed a habit of talking quietly to herself during these operations; but no one could have understood her, for she only uttered the fag-ends of her thoughts aloud.
The Chinese mandarin which Nancy admired was the object of Miss Unity's fondest care; some bygone association was doubtless connected with him, for she seldom failed to utter some husky little sentences of endearment while she lingered over his grotesque person with tender touches of her feather brush. So the day went on. After her dinner, if the weather were fair, she would perhaps deck herself with a black silk mantilla and a tall bonnet with nodding flowers, and go out to visit some old friend. A muffin, a cup of tea, and perhaps a little cathedral gossip would follow; and then Miss Unity, stepping primly across the Close, reached the dull shelter of her own home again, and was alone for the rest of the evening. At ten o'clock she read prayers to Bridget and the little maid, and so to bed.
The even course of these days was only disturbed twice in the year—once by Mr and Mrs Hawthorn's visit to Nearminster, and once by Miss Unity's visit to Easney. These were important events to her, anticipated for months, not exactly with pleasure; for, though she was really fond of her friends, she was shy, and to be put out of her usual habits was, besides, a positive torture to her. Then there were the children! Troublesome little riddles Miss Unity often found them, impossible to understand; and it is a question whether she or they were the more uncomfortable when they were together. For she had an idea, gathered from some dim recollection of the past, that children needed constant correction and reproof; and she felt sure Mary Hawthorn neglected her duty in this respect, and was over-indulgent. So, being a most conscientious woman, she tried to supply this shortcoming, and the result was not a happy one.
She was ill at ease with all the children, but of Dickie she was fairly frightened, for Dickie had disgraced herself at her very first introduction. Seeing Miss Unity's grim face framed by the nodding bonnet bending down to kiss her, the child looked up and said with a sweet smile, "Ugly lady!"
There was no disguising it, for Dickie's utterance had the clearness of a bell, and a horrified silence fell on the assembly.
"Don't be naughty, Dickie," said Mrs Hawthorn reprovingly; "say, 'How do you do?' directly."
But Miss Unity had straightened herself up and turned away with an odd look in her eyes.
"Don't scold the child, Mary," she said; "she's not naughty, she's only honest."
From that time Pennie never considered Miss Unity quite ugly, and indeed her features were not so much ugly as rugged and immovable. When her feelings were stirred she was not ugly at all; for they were good, kind feelings, and made her whole face look pleasant. So little happened in her life, however, that they generally remained shut up as in a sort of prison, and were seldom called forth; people, therefore, who did not know her often thought her cross. But Miss Unity was not cross—she was only lonely and dull because she had so little to love. Nothing could have passed off better than the Hawthorns' visit on this particular occasion, and indeed when David was with her Mrs Hawthorn never feared the unlucky accidents which were apt to occur with the other children. He was so deliberate and careful by nature that there was no risk of his knocking down the china, or treading on the cat's tail, or on the train of Miss Unity's gown. Nancy did all these things frequently, however hard she tried to be good, and was, besides, very restive under reproof and ready to answer pertly.
On the whole Miss Unity liked to have the grave little David with her better than the other children, though she sometimes felt when she found his solemn and disapproving gaze fixed upon her. David on his side had his opinions, though he said little, and he had long ago made up his mind that he did not like Miss Unity at all. So he was sorry to find, when the day came for leaving Nearminster, that she was going back to Easney with them instead of making her visit later in the year. It would not be nearly as pleasant as driving alone with his father and mother, he thought; for now he could not ask questions on the way, unless he talked to Andrew, and he was always so silent.
When the wagonette came round there were so many little packages belonging to Miss Unity that it was quite difficult to stow them away, and as fast as that was done Bridget brought out more. Not that there was much luggage altogether, but it consisted in such a number of oddly-shaped parcels and small boxes that it was both puzzling and distracting to know where to put them. Mr Hawthorn was busy for a good quarter of an hour disposing of Miss Unity's property; while David looked on, keenly interested, and full of faith in his father's capacity.
"That's all, I think," said Mr Hawthorn triumphantly at last, as he emerged from the depths of the wagonette, and surveyed his labours; "there's not much room left for us, certainly, but I daresay we shall manage."
As he spoke Bridget came out of the house carrying a waterproof bundle, bristling with umbrellas and parasols.
"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed the vicar in a discouraged voice, "is that to go? Does your mistress want all those umbrellas?"
"She wouldn't like to go without 'em, sir," replied Bridget.
"Where shall you put them, father?" asked David in quite an excited manner.
That was indeed a question, but it was at length solved by Mr Hawthorn deciding to walk, and the wagonette was ready to proceed, David sitting in front as usual. After several efforts to make Andrew talk he fell back for amusement on his own thoughts, and in recognising all the well-known objects they passed on the road. Presently they came to a certain little grey cottage, and then he knew they were halfway home. It had honeysuckle growing over the porch, and a row of bee-hives in the garden, which was generally bright and gay with flowers; just now, however, it all looked withered and unattractive, except that on one tree there still hung some very red apples, though it was the beginning of November. That reminded David of Antony, who had a great weakness for apples. He smiled to himself, and felt glad that he should see his pet so soon.
After this cottage there was a long steep hill to go up, and here Ruby the horse always waited for Andrew to get down and walk. David might really drive now, and even flick at Ruby's fat sides with the whip, which was pleasant, but did not make the least difference to his speed.
When they had reached the top of the hill, the little square tower of Easney church could just be seen, and the chimneys of the vicarage, but though they looked near, there were still nearly four miles to drive. Now it was all downhill, and Ruby pounded along at an even trot, which seemed to make a sort of accompaniment to David's thoughts—
To market, to market, To buy a fat pig; Home again, home again, Jig a jig, jig!
it said, over and over again. "I wonder whether Antony will know me!" thought David.
Five minutes more and the carriage stopped at the white gate, and Andrew getting down to open it, David drove in a masterly manner up to the front door, where Ambrose, Pennie, and Dickie were assembled to welcome the return. Amidst the bustle which followed, while Miss Unity's belongings were being unpacked and carried indoors under the watchful eye of their owner, David slipped down from his perch and hurried away towards the kitchen-garden; Antony lived there, and he would go and see him first of all. As he ran along the narrow path, bordered with fruit-trees, he stooped to pick up a wrinkled red apple which had fallen. "He's so fond of 'em!" thought he, as he put it in his pocket. There was the sty, and now he should soon hear the low grunt so delightful to his ears. All was silent, however, and he went on more slowly, with a slight feeling of dread, for somehow the sty had a strangely empty look about it. "He's eating," said David encouragingly to himself; but even as he said so he stood still, quite afraid to go any nearer. Then he called gently: "Choug, choug, choug." No sign of life. No inquiring black snout peering over the edge. Unable to bear the uncertainty, he rushed forward and looked into the sty.
Empty! Yes, quite empty—Antony's straw bed was there, and the remains of some food in his trough, but no Antony!
David stood staring at the desolate dwelling for some minutes, hardly able to believe his eyes; then with a thrill of hope he said to himself:
"He must have got out. He must be somewhere in the garden;" and he turned round to go and search for him. As he did so, he saw a small dejected figure coming down the path towards him with downcast face and lagging step. It was Nancy—grief in every feature, and guilt in every movement. One glance was enough for David; he understood it all now, and he flushed angrily, and turned his back upon her, clenching his fists tightly. She came slowly up and stood close to him; she was crying.
"Oh, Davie," she said. "I am so sorry."
"Where's Antony?" said David in a muffled voice without looking at her.
"Back to the farm."
"Andrew took him. He found him eating the spinach, and he said he must obey orders. And I asked Miss Grey to stop him, and she said she couldn't interfere—"
Nancy stopped and gasped.
"Then," said David sternly, "you didn't fasten his gate."
"Oh, I thought I did," said Nancy, beginning to sob again in an agonised manner; "but I forgot to put that stick through the staple, and he must have pushed it open. I am so sorry."
"That's no good at all," said David with a trembling lip; "Antony's gone."
"I'll give you anything of mine to make up," said Nancy eagerly—"my bantam hen, or my dormouse, or my white kitten."
"I don't want anything of yours," said David, "I want my own pig."
Nancy was silent, except for some little convulsive sobs. Presently she made a last effort.
"Please, Davie," she said humbly, "won't you forgive me? I am so sorry."
David turned round. His face was very red, but he spoke slowly and quietly:
"No," he said, "I won't forgive you. I never mean to. You promised to take care of Antony, and you haven't. You're very wicked."
Then he went away and left Nancy in floods of tears by the empty sty.
Everyone sympathised with David at first, and was sorry for his loss, though perhaps no one quite understood what a great one it was to him; but there was another feeling mingled with his grief for Antony, which was even stronger, and that was anger towards his sister. David had a deep sense of justice, and it seemed hard to him that he alone should suffer for Nancy's wrong-doing. When he saw her after a time as merry and gay as though Antony had never existed, he felt as hard as stone, and would neither speak to her nor join in any game in which she took part. She ought to be punished, he thought, and made to feel as unhappy as he did. Poor little Davie! he was very miserable in those days, and sadly changed, for his once loving heart was torn with grief and anger, which are both hard to bear, but anger far the worse of the two. So he moped about mournfully alone, and no one took much notice of him, for people got tired of trying to comfort him and persuade him to forgive. Even his mother was unsuccessful:
"You ought to forgive and forget, Davie," said she.
"I can't forget Antony," replied David, "and I don't want to forgive Nancy. I'd rather not."
"But she would be the first to forget any wrong thing you did to her," continued Mrs Hawthorn.
"Nancy always forgets," said David, "wrong things and right things too."
Mrs Hawthorn was silenced, for this was strictly true.
"I don't know what to make of David," she said to her husband afterwards. "I would ask you to let him have the pig back, but I don't think he ought to have it while he shows this unforgiving spirit."
"Let him alone," said the vicar. "Leave it to time."
So David was left alone; but time went on and did not seem to soften his feelings in the least, and this was at last brought about by a very unexpected person.
One morning Miss Unity, who had now been staying some time at Easney, went out to take a little air in the garden: it was rather damp under foot, for it had rained in the night, but now the sun shone brightly, and she stepped forth, well protected by over-shoes and thick shawl, with the intention of taking exercise for exactly a quarter of an hour.
From the direction of the Wilderness she heard shouts and laughter which warned her of the children's whereabouts, and she turned at once into another path which led to the kitchen-garden.
"How Mary does let those children run wild!" she said to herself, "and Pennie getting a great girl, too. As for Miss Grey, she's a perfect cipher, and doesn't look after them a bit. If they were my children—"
But here Miss Unity's reflections were checked. Lifting her eyes she saw at the end of the narrow path a low shed which looked like a pig-sty; by it was a plank, raised at each end on a stone, so as to form a rough bench, and on this there crouched a small disconsolate figure. It was bent nearly double, and had its face buried in its hands, so that only a rough shock of very light hair was visible; but though she could not see any features Miss Unity knew at once that it was David mourning for his pig.
Her first impulse was to turn round and go quickly away, for she had gathered from what she had heard of the affair that he was a very naughty, sulky little boy; as she looked, however, she saw by a slight heaving movement of the shoulder that he was crying quietly, and her heart was stirred with sudden pity:
"It's a real grief to the child, that's evident, though it's only about a pig," she said to herself, and, yielding to another impulse, she walked on towards him instead of going back. But after all it was a difficult situation when she got close to him, for she did not know what to say, although she felt an increasing desire to give him comfort. At any rate it was useless to stand there in silence looking at that little bowed head; would it be better to sit down by him, perhaps? she wondered, casting a doubtful eye on the decidedly dirty plank. Miss Unity was delicately particular, and her whole soul recoiled from dirt and dust, so it was really with heroic resolution that she suddenly folded her nice grey gown closely about her and took a seat, stiffly erect, by David's side. When there she felt impelled to pat his head gently with two long fingers, and say softly: "Poor little boy!"
David had watched all Miss Unity's movements narrowly through a chink in his fingers, though he kept his face closely hidden, and when she sat down beside him he was so surprised that he stopped crying. He wondered what she was going to say. She would scold him, of course, everyone scolded him now, and he set his teeth sullenly and prepared to defend himself. Then the unexpected kind words fell on his ear, and he could not help bursting into fresh tears, and sobbed as if his heart would break. It was partly for Antony, partly for Nancy, partly for himself, that he was crying; he was so tired of being naughty, and he wanted so much to be made good again.
Miss Unity was sadly perplexed by the result of her efforts; she seemed to have made matters worse instead of better, and she sat for some minutes in silent dismay by the side of the sobbing David. But having begun she felt she must go on, and taking advantage of a little lull she presently said:
"Was it a nice pig, David?"
"And you miss it?"
This was so evident a fact that David seemed to think it needed no answer, and Miss Unity continued:
"It's sad to lose anything we know and love. Very hard to bear. It's quite natural and right to be sorry."
David took his hands away from his face, which was curiously marked by dirty fingers and tears, and lifted a pair of blurred blue eyes to Miss Unity. He was listening, and she felt encouraged to proceed:
"But though it's hard, there is something else that is much worse; do you know what that is?"
"No," said David.
"To be angry with anyone we love," said Miss Unity solemnly; "that is a very bitter feeling, and hurts us very much. All the while we have it in our hearts we can't be happy, because anger and love are fighting together."
David's eyes grew rounder and larger. Could this really be Miss Unity? He was deeply impressed.
"And they fight," she went on, "until one is killed. Very often love is stronger, but sometimes it is anger that conquers, and then sad things follow. In this way, David, much evil has happened in the world from time to time."
Miss Unity paused. She felt that she was getting on very well, and was surprised at her own success, for David had stopped crying, and was staring at her with absorbed interest. She went on:
"When once we let anger drive love quite out of our hearts all manner of bad things enter; but we don't often succeed in doing it, because love is so great and strong. Do you know why you're so unhappy just now?"
"Because I've lost Antony," said David at once.
"Yes, that is one reason, but there is a bigger one. It is because you are angry with Nancy."
David hung his head.
"You're fond of Nancy, Davie? I've heard your mother say that you and she are favourite playfellows."
"No," said David, "not now. She promised to shut Antony's gate—and she forgot."
Miss Unity stopped a moment to think; then she said:
"Would you be happier, David, if Nancy were to be punished?"
"Because it would be fair."
"Well—you know it's Nancy's birthday soon, and she has to choose what present I shall give her?"
David nodded his head. He knew it very well; and not only that, he knew what Nancy was going to choose, for she had confided to him as a great secret that her heart was set on a kitchen-range for the doll's house.
"When she chooses, would you like me to say: 'No, Nancy. Because you were careless and forgot David's pig I shall give you nothing this year?'"
Miss Unity waited eagerly for the answer. How she hoped it would be "No." She had not been so anxious for anything for a long time.
But David raised his head, gazed at her calmly, and said quite distinctly:
Miss Unity sighed as she got up from her lowly seat.
"Very well, David," she said, "it shall be so; but I am sorry you will not forgive your sister."
She went sadly back to the house, thinking to herself:
"Of course I could not persuade where others have failed. It was foolish to try. I have no influence with children. I ought to have remembered that."
But she was mistaken. That night when she was dressing for dinner there was a little knock at her door, very low down as though from somebody of short stature. She opened it, and there was David.
"If you please," he said, "I've come to say that I'd rather you gave Nancy the kitchen-range—I mean, whatever she chooses for her birthday."