THE MAKING OF MONA.
BY MABEL QUILLER-COUCH. (Author of 'Troublesome Ursula,' 'A Pair of Red-Polls,' 'Kitty Trenire,' 'The Carroll Girls', Etc., Etc.)
ILLUSTRATED BY E. WALLCOUSINS.
LONDON SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
The kettle sat on the hob, and Mona sat on the floor, both as idle as idle could be.
"I will just wait till the kettle begins to sing," thought Mona; and became absorbed in her book again.
After a while the kettle, at any rate, seemed to repent of its laziness, for it began to hum softly, and then to hum loudly, and then to sing, but Mona was completely lost in the story she was reading, and had no mind for repentance or anything else. She did not hear the kettle's song, nor even the rattling of its cover when it boiled, though it seemed to be trying in every way to attract her attention. It went on trying, too, until at last it had no power to try any longer, for the fire had died low, and the kettle grew so chilly it had not even the heart to 'hum,' but sat on the black, gloomy-looking stove, looking black and gloomy too, and, if kettles have any power to think, it was probably thinking that poor old granny Barnes' tea would be scarcely worth drinking when she came home presently, tired and hungry, from her walk to Milbrook, for Mona, even if she realised that the water had boiled, would never dream of emptying it away and filling the kettle afresh, as she should do.
But Mona had no thought for kettles, or tea, or granny either, for her whole mind, her eyes, her ears, and all her senses were with the heroine of the fascinating story she was absorbed in; and who could remember fires and kettles and other commonplace things when one was driving through a lovely park in a beautiful pony carriage, drawn by cream-coloured ponies, and seated beside an exquisitely dressed little lady who had more money than she could count, and insisted on sharing all with her companion?
Mona certainly could not. She never could manage to remember two things at the same time; so, as all her thoughts were absorbed by her golden-haired friend in the blue silk frock, granny in her old black merino and heavy boots was forgotten as completely as the fire, and it was not until someone came stumbling up the garden path and a tired voice said, "Well, dearie, I'm come at last, how have you got on since I've been gone?" that she remembered anything about either; and when she did she felt almost sorry that granny had come quite so soon, for if she had only been a few minutes later Mona might just have finished the chapter.
"Oh, I'm so tired!" groaned granny, dropping wearily into her arm-chair. "I have been longing for a nice cup of tea for this hour and more." Then, as her eyes fell on the black grate, her voice changed to one of dismay. "Why, Mona!" she cried, "the fire's gone clean out! Oh, dear! oh, dear!" Granny's voice was full of disappointment. With anyone but Mona she would have been very cross indeed, but she was rarely cross with her. "I daresay it'll catch up again quickly with a few sticks," she added patiently.
Mona, really ashamed of herself, ran out to the little wood-rick which stood always in the back-yard. "Stupid old fire," she muttered impatiently, "of course it must go out, just to spite me because I wanted to have a little read," and she jerked out the sticks with such force that a whole pile of faggots came tumbling down to the ground. She did not stay, though, to pick them up again, for she really was sorry for her carelessness, and wanted to try and catch up the fire as quickly as possible. She had fully meant to have a nice fire, and the tea laid, and the kettle on the point of boiling, and everything as nice as could be by the time her grandmother got back from the town. But one never got any credit for what one meant to do, thought Mona with a feeling of self-pity.
By the time she got back to the kitchen her grandmother had taken off her bonnet and shawl and was putting on her apron. "My feet do ache," she sighed. "The roads are so rough, and it's a good step to Milbrook and back—leastways it seems so when you're past sixty."
Mona felt another pang of shame, for it was she who should have gone to the town to do the shopping; but she had not wanted to, and had complained of being tired, and so granny had gone herself, and Mona had let her.
"Let me unlace your boots, granny, and get your slippers for you." She thought she would feel less guilty if she did something to make her grandmother more comfortable. "You sit down in your chair, I'll do all that's got to be done."
Mrs. Barnes leaned back with a sigh of relief. "Bless the dear child," she thought affectionately, "how she does think for her old granny!" She had already forgotten that Mona had let the fire go out, and neglected to make any preparations for her home-coming; and Mona, who could be very thoughtful and kind if she chose, knelt down and unlaced the heavy boots, and slipped the warm, comfortable slippers on to the tired old feet, laughing and chattering cheerfully the while.
"Now you are to sit there, gran, and not to dare to move to do one single thing. I'm going to talk to that fire, and you'll see how I'll coax him up in no time, and if that kettle doesn't sing in five minutes I'll take the poker to him." And, whether it was because of her coaxing or not, the fire soon flamed cheerfully, and the kettle, being already warm, began to sing almost as soon as Mona had got the cloth spread.
While she waited for it to come to boiling point, she sat down on her little stool by the fire, and took up her book again. "Just to have a little look at the pictures for a minute," she explained. "Oh, granny, it is such a lovely story, I must tell you about it."
"Yes, dear, I'd like to—some day."
But Mona did not hear the 'some day.' She was already pouring into granny's ear all she had read, and granny interjected patiently, "Yes, dearie," and "Oh my!" and "How nice!" though she was so faint and weary she could not take in half of Mona's chatter.
Presently the kettle boiled again, but Mona was once more lost to everything but her story, and it was granny who got up and made the tea.
"It's all ready, dearie," she said, as she sank into her chair once more. "You must tell me the rest while you are having it. Oh, there's no butter out." She had to get up again and drag her aching feet to the little larder for the butter, and as soon as she had settled herself again she had to get up and get a teaspoon. Mona had forgotten a half of the things she should have laid, and she had forgotten, too, that granny was tired.
"And oh, granny," she went on breathlessly, "on her birthday Pauline wore a muslin dress, with blue forget-me-nots worked all over it, and a blue sash, and—and a hat just covered with forget-me-nots."
"She must have looked like a bed of them," remarked Granny.
"Oh, I think she looked perfectly sweet! I'd love to have clothes like she had. Of course, she didn't have to do any work—nothing at all all day long."
"Well, I know a little girl who doesn't do much," remarked granny quietly, but Mona did not hear her.
"Granny, do you think I'll be able to have a new hat this summer? Mine is ever so shabby—and shall I have forget-me-nots on it? I'd rather have forget-me-nots than anything. I suppose I couldn't have a blue sash to wear with it, could I, Gran? I don't think they cost very very much. Millie Higgins, in at Seacombe, had a plaid one, and she was sure it didn't cost a great deal, she said. Her uncle brought it to her, but Millie never wears it. She doesn't like plaid; she wishes it was pink. I'd wear it if 'twas mine, but I'd rather have a blue one. Do you think I can have a new hat, granny?"
"We will see. If your father is able to send some more money for you I might be able to manage it; but with your stepmother always ailing his money seems to be all wanted for doctor's bills and medicines. It does seem hard."
Mona's face fell. "And I don't suppose the medicine does any good, do you, granny?"
"Some folks believe in it, and I s'pose if you believe in it it does you good. For my own part, I never had but two bottles in my life, and I don't see that I'm any the worse for going without. In fact, I——"
Mona, who always sat at the side of the table facing the window, sprang to her feet excitedly. "Why, it's the postman! and he's coming in here," she interrupted, and was at the door to meet him before he had power to knock. She came back more slowly, carefully studying the one letter she held. "It's from father," she said eagerly, as she at last handed it to her grandmother. "Oh, granny! I wonder if he has sent any money?"
Granny was evidently surprised. "A letter from your father! Whatever can he be writing about? I haven't written to him since I had his last. I hope he isn't having more trouble."
"Perhaps he has written to know why you haven't," said Mona shrewdly.
"Oh, granny, do make haste and open the letter, I am longing to know what's inside!"
But letters did not come every day to Hillside Cottage, so when they did they must be made the most of. Mrs. Barnes examined the envelope back and front; the handwriting, the stamp, the postmark; then she had to go to a drawer to get a skewer with which to slit the envelope, then her spectacles had to be found, polished, and put on, and at long last she took out the letter and began to read.
Mona chafed with impatience as she watched her. Her eyes looked ready to pop out of her head with eagerness. "Why don't you let me read it to you?" she cried at last, irritably, and regretted her words as soon as they were spoken. Granny laid the letter on the table beside her and fixed her eyes on Mona instead. "I am not got past reading my own letters yet," she said sternly, looking out over the tops of her spectacles at her. Mona was dreadfully afraid they would fall off, and then the polishing and fixing process would all have to be gone through again, but she had the wisdom to hold her tongue this time, and granny took up the letter again, and at last began to read it, while Mona tried hard to read granny's face.
She did not utter aloud one word of what she was reading, but presently she gave a little half-suppressed cry.
"Oh, granny, what's the matter?" Mona could keep quiet no longer.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear! Here's a pretty fine thing. Your father wants you to go home."
Mona's face fell again. Then he had not sent any money, and she would not be able to have her hat! For the moment nothing else seemed to matter.
"What does he want me home for?" she asked sullenly.
"Your stepmother has been ill again, and the doctor says she mustn't be left alone, and must have someone to help her. She's terrible nervous when your father's away to the fishing, so you've got to be fetched home." Mrs. Barnes spoke resentfully. Her daughter, Mona's mother, had died when Mona was a sturdy little maiden of ten, and for eighteen months Mona had run wild. Her father could not bear to part with her, nor would he have anyone to live with them. So Mona had been his housekeeper, or rather, the house had kept itself, for Mona had taken no care of it, nor of her father's comforts, nor of her own clothes, or his. She just let everything go, and had a gloriously lazy, happy time, with no one to restrain her, or make her do anything she did not want to do.
She was too young, of course, to be put in such a position; but she did not even do what she might have done, and no one was surprised, and no one blamed her father—no one, at least, but Mrs. Barnes—when at the end of eighteen months he married pretty, gentle Lucy Garland, one of the housemaids at the Squire's.
Mrs. Barnes, though, resented very strongly anyone being put in her dead daughter's place, with control over her daughter's child, and she had written angrily enough to Peter, demanding that Mona should be given up to her. And though he doubted the wisdom of it, to please and pacify her, Peter Carne had let her have the child. "Not for good," he said, "for I can't part with her altogether, but for a long visit."
"If she puts Mona against Lucy, it'll be a bad job," he thought anxiously, "and mischief may be done that it'll take more than I know to undo."
However, Mona felt none of the dislike of her stepmother that her grandmother felt. In fact, she was too happy-go-lucky and fond of change to feel very strongly about anything. She had got her father's home and all his affairs into such a muddle she was not sorry to go right away and leave it all. She was tired of even the little housework she did. She hated having to get up and light the fire, and, on the whole, she was very glad for someone else to step in and take it all off her shoulders. And as she had left her home before her stepmother came to it, she had not experienced what it was to have someone in authority over her.
So Mona felt no real grievance against her stepmother, and, with all her faults, she was too healthy-minded to invent one. Her grandmother's not too kind remarks about her had fallen on indifferent ears, and, fortunately, had had no effect except to make Mona feel a sort of mild scorn for anyone so constantly ailing as Lucy Carne was.
She felt no sympathy for the cause of the ill-health, even though she knew that it all began one bitter, stormy night when Lucy and the wives of the other men who were out at sea stood for hours watching for the first signs of the little storm-tossed boats, in the agony of their hearts, deaf and blind, and entirely unconscious of the driving sheets of rain and the biting east wind which soaked and chilled them to the bone.
When at daybreak the storm lulled, and the boats, with all safe on board, were seen beating up before the wind, all the misery and wet and cold were forgotten as they hurried joyfully home to make up big fires and prepare hot food for the exhausted men. But more than one woman paid heavily for the night's experience, and Lucy Carne was among them.
For days she had lain writhing in the agony of rheumatic fever. For days she had lain at the gates of death, and when at last she came back to life again, it was such a wreck of her old self that she was scarcely able to do anything. And this in Granny Barnes' eyes had been an added grievance.
It was a greater grievance than ever now, for it meant that her grandchild, her very own daughter's child, was to be taken from her, to work for the stranger who had taken her daughter's place.
Fortunately, Mona had no such foolish thoughts. Her only grievance was that the money which might have been spent on a new hat would have to be spent on the carrier. "And nobody will be any the better for it, except Mr. Darbie, and he's got lots already. They say he has a whole bagful in a box under his bed."
"Your stepmother will be better off. She'll have you," said Granny Barnes crossly. "Well, the letter's spoilt my tea for me. Anyway, I don't want anything more. I've had enough for one while."
Mona looked surprised. "Oh, has it! I thought you were hungry, granny. I am," and she helped herself to another slice of bread and butter. "I wonder which day I'd better go?—and I must wear my best frock, mustn't I? Such a lot of people go by the van, and you've got to sit so close you can't help seeing if anybody's clothes are shabby."
"Um, you seem to have thought it all out, but you don't seem to think anything of leaving me, nor of what my feelings may be. You'd better wear your best frock and your best hat too, then your father and your stepmother will see that you want something new for Sundays. It's as well folk should learn that all the money can't be spent on doctors and physic—that there's other things wanted too!"
But this speech only sent Mona's expectations higher, and lessened her regrets at leaving. If going home to Seacombe and her new mother meant having a new hat and dress, she would only be the more pleased at having to go. She was so occupied with these thoughts that she did not notice her grandmother rise and leave the kitchen, nor did she see the tears in the sad old eyes. But her dreams of a journey, clad all in her best, were suddenly broken in upon by a sharp scream. The scream came from the backyard. Mona flew out at once. It was getting dark out of doors now, but not too dark for her to see her grandmother stretched on the ground with faggots of wood lying all around her.
For a moment Mona's heart seemed to stand still with fear. She thought her grandmother was killed, or, at any rate, had broken her leg. Then, to her intense relief, Mrs. Barnes groaned, and began to rouse herself.
"However did these things come scattered about like this, I should like to know," she cried angrily. But in her relief at knowing she was able to move and speak Mona did not mind granny's crossness.
"Didn't you pull them down?"
"I pull them down." Granny's voice was shrill with indignation. "It was they pulled me down! I wonder I wasn't killed outright. It must have been those cats that knocked them over. They are always ranging all over the yard. I shall tell Mrs. Lane if she can't keep them in she'll have to get rid of them. Oh, dear, what a shaking I've had, and I might have broke my leg and my head and everything. Well, can't you try an' give me a hand to help me up?"
But Mona was standing dumb-stricken. It had come back to her at last. It was she who had pulled down the faggots and left them. She had meant to go out again and pick them up, and, of course, had forgotten about them, and she might have been the cause of a terrible accident! She was so shocked and so full of remorse, she could not find a word to utter. Fortunately, it was dark, and her grandmother was too absorbed to notice her embarrassment. All her time was taken up in getting on to her feet again and peering about her to try and catch sight of the cats.
Perhaps if granny had been less determined to wage war on the cats, Mona might have found courage to make her confession, but while she waited for a chance to speak her courage ebbed away. She had done so many wrong things that afternoon, she was ashamed to own to more, and, after all, she thought, it would not make it better for granny if she did know who really scattered the faggots. So in the end Mona held her tongue, and contented herself with giving what assistance she could.
"This is Black Monday for me!" she said to herself as she helped her grandmother into the house again. "Never mind, I'll begin better to-morrow. There's one good thing, there's no real harm done."
She was not so sure, though, that 'no harm was done' when she woke the next morning and heard loud voices and sound of quarrelling coming from the garden. She soon, indeed, began to feel that there had been a great deal of harm done.
"Well, what I say is," her grandmother cried shrilly, "your cats were nearly the death of me, and I'll trouble you to keep them in your own place."
"And what I say is," cried her neighbour, "my cats were never near your faggot rick. They didn't go into your place at all last night; they were both asleep by my kitchen fire from three in the afternoon till after we'd had our supper. Me and my husband both saw them. You can ask him yourself if you like."
"I shan't ask him. I wouldn't stoop to bandy words about it. I know, and I've a right to my own opinion."
"Do you mean to say you don't believe what I say?" cried Mrs. Lane indignantly. "Do you mean to tell me I'm telling an untruth? Well, Mrs. Barnes, if you won't speak to my husband, and won't believe me, perhaps you'll ask your Mona! I daresay she can tell you how the faggots got scattered. She was out there, I saw her from——"
"That's right! Try and put it off on the poor child! Do you expect me to believe that my Mona would have left those faggots——"
"Ask her, that's all," said Mrs. Lane, meaningly. "And now I've done. I ain't going to have anything more to say. You're too vi'lent and onreasonable, Mrs. Barnes, and I'll trouble you not to address me again till you've 'pologised."
Granny laughed, a short sarcastic laugh. "'Pologise!" she cried shrilly, "and me in the right too! No, not if I lived next door to you for fifty years, I wouldn't 'pologise. When you've 'pologised to me, Mrs. Lane, I'll begin to think about speaking to you again."
Mona, standing shivering by the window, listened to it all with a sick feeling of shame and dismay. "Oh, why does granny say such dreadful things! Oh, I wish I'd spoken out at once! Now, when granny asks me, I shall have to tell her, and oh," miserably, "won't she be angry?"
But Mona escaped that ordeal. Her grandmother did not mention the subject, for one reason; she felt too unwell; an outburst of anger always made her ill; and for another, she was already ashamed of herself and of what she had said. Altogether, she was so uncomfortable about the whole matter, and so ashamed, and vexed, she wanted to try to forget all about it.
John Darbie and his one-horse van journeyed from Milbrook to Seacombe every Tuesday and Friday, passing Mrs. Barnes' cottage on their way; and on Wednesdays and Saturdays he journeyed home again. The two places were only ten miles apart, but, as John's horse 'Lion' never travelled faster than three miles an hour, and frequent stops had to be made to pick up passengers and luggage, and put down other passengers and other luggage, the journey was seldom accomplished in less than six hours.
The day that Mona travelled to Seacombe the journey took longer than usual, for they had to stop at Barnes Gate—an old turnpike—to pick up a couple of young pigs, which were to be brought by a farm boy to meet them there; and as the pigs refused to be picked up, and were determined to race back to their home, it took John and the farmer's boy, and some of the passengers, quite a long time to persuade them that their fate lay in another direction.
Mona, homesick and depressed, was quite glad of the distraction, though she felt sorry for the poor pigs. At that moment she felt sorry for anyone or anything which had to leave its old home for a new one.
Only a few days had elapsed since that evening when her father's letter had come, and her grandmother had fallen over the faggots, but such long, unhappy days they had been. Her grandmother had been silent and depressed, and she herself had been very unhappy, and everything had seemed wrong. Sometimes she had longed to be gone, and the parting over. Yet, when at last the day came, and she had to say good-bye to granny, and her own little bedroom, and the cottage, and to leave without saying good-bye to Mrs. Lane, it seemed almost more than she could bear. She looked out at the cottage and at granny, standing waving her handkerchief, but she could scarcely see either because of the mist in her eyes, and, when at last the van turned a corner which cut them off entirely from view, the mist in her eyes changed to rain.
If it had not been for the other people in the van, Mona would have jumped out and run back again, and have confessed all to granny, and have been happy once more. She knew that if she asked granny to forgive her, she would do so before long, even if she was vexed with her at first.
But Mona's courage failed her. The people in the van would try to stop her, and very likely would succeed, and there would be such a chattering and fuss. Her spirit sank at the thought of it, and so she hesitated and wavered until it was too late.
It was not to be wondered at that she welcomed the little scene with the pigs at the four cross-roads, and felt quite glad when Mr. Darbie asked her to get out and stand at the end of one of the roads to keep the poor little things from running down it.
"We shan't get to Seacombe till nightfall," grumbled the old man when at last he had got the pair into two sacks, and had fastened them up securely on the tail-board of the van.
"And I've got to catch the five o'clock train from there," said one of the passengers sourly. "If ever you want to be a little bit earlier than usual, you're bound to be later. It's always the way."
Old John Darbie always recovered his temper when other people had lost theirs. He realised how foolish they looked and sounded. "Aw, don't you worry, missus," he said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "She'll wait for me. They wouldn't let no train start 'fore me and my passengers was in!"
All the rest of the passengers laughed, Mona too, at which the sour-faced woman glared at them angrily. Then they jogged on again, and by that time Mona had recovered sufficiently to be able to take more interest in her surroundings.
She noticed that the woman beside her, and the woman opposite her, were looking her up and down, and she felt very glad that she had on her best hat and dress. She did wish, though, that she had mended the hole in her gloves, for one of the women seemed more attracted by them than by anything else, and it was really rather embarrassing. She longed to put her hands behind her back to hide them, but that would have looked too pointed; so, instead, she turned round and looked out of the window, pretending to be lost to everything but the view.
It was a very pretty road that they were travelling, but very hilly, and Lion's pace grew, if possible, even slower. One or two of the passengers complained loudly, but Mona was enjoying herself thoroughly now. To her everything was of interest, from the hedges and the ploughed fields, just showing a tinge of green, to the cottages and farms they passed here and there. To many people each mile would have seemed just like the last, but to Mona each had a charm of its own. She knew all the houses by sight, and knew the people who dwelt in some of them, and when by and by the van drew near to Seacombe, and at last, between a dip in the land, she caught her first glimpse of the sea, her heart gave a great leap, and a something caught in her throat. This was home, this was her real home. Mona knew it now, if she had never realised it before.
At Hillside something had always been lacking—she could hardly have told what, but somehow, she had never loved the place itself. It had never been quite 'home' to her, and never could be.
"I expect you're tired, dear, ain't you?" the woman beside her asked in a kindly voice. The face Mona turned to her was pale, but it was with feeling, not tiredness.
"Oh, no," she cried, hardly knowing what she felt, or how to put it into words. "I was a little while ago—but I ain't now. I—I don't think I could ever feel tired while I could see that!" She pointed towards the stretch of blue water, with the setting sun making a road of gold right across it and into the heaven that joined it.
The woman smiled sadly. "Are you so fond of it as all that! I wish I was. I can't abide it—it frightens me. I never look at it if I can help it. It makes me feel bad."
"And it makes me feel good," thought Mona, but she was shy of saying so. "I think I should be ashamed to do anything mean when I was in sight of the sea," she added to herself. And then the old horse drew up suddenly, and she saw that they had actually reached their journey's end.
As she stepped down from the van and stood alone in the inn yard, where John Darbie always unloaded, and put up his horse and van, Mona for the first time felt shy and nervous. She and her new mother were really strangers to each other. They had met but once, and that for only a little while.
"And p'raps we shan't get on a bit," thought Mona. "P'raps she's very particular, and will be always scolding!" and she felt very miserable. And then, as she looked about her, and found that no one, as far as she could tell, had come to meet her, she began to feel very forlorn, and ill-used too. All the sharp little unkind remarks about Lucy Carne, which had fallen from Granny Barnes' lips, came back to her mind.
"I do think somebody might have come to meet me!" she said to herself, and being tired, and nervous, and a little bit homesick for granny, the tears rushed to her eyes. Hastily diving in her pocket for her handkerchief, her fingers touched her purse, and she suddenly realised that she had not paid John Darbie his fare! With a thrill and a blush at her own forgetfulness, she hurried back to where he was busy unloading his van. He had already taken down the pigs and some bundles of peasticks, and a chair which wanted a new cane seat, and was about to mount to the top to drag down the luggage which was up there, when he saw Mona waiting for him.
"Please, here's my fare. I'm sorry I forgot it, and how am I to get my box up to my house?"
"Get your box up? Why the same way as you'll get yourself up. Hop inside again, and I'll drive 'ee both up in a minute. I promised your mother I would. You hold on to your money now, it'll be time enough to settle up when I've done my job," and the old man chuckled amiably at his little joke.
But Mona did not want to get back into the close, stuffy van again, and sit there in solitary state, with everyone who passed by staring at her. So, as soon as John Darbie was safely on the top and busy amongst the boxes there, she walked quietly out of the yard and into the street.
How familiar it all was, and how unchanged! After Milbrook—the little ugly new town, scarcely worthy the name of town—and the hamlet where her granny lived, the street and houses looked small and old-fashioned, but they looked homelike and strong. The Milbrook houses, with their walls half a brick thick, and their fronts all bow-windows, would not have lasted any time in little stormy, wind-swept Seacombe. Experience had taught Seacombe folk that their walls must be nearly as solid as the cliffs on which many of them were built, and the windows must be small and set deep in the walls; otherwise they were as likely as not to be blown in altogether when the winter storms raged; that roofs must come well down to meet the little windows, like heavy brows protecting the eyes beneath, which under their shelter, could gaze out defiantly at sea and storm.
To Mona, seeing them again after many months' absence, the houses looked rough and poor, and plain; yet she loved them, and, as she walked up the steep, narrow street, she glanced about her with eager, glowing eyes. For the time her loneliness and nervousness were forgotten. Here and there someone recognised her, but at that hour there were never many people about.
"Why, Mona Carne! is it really you! Well, your mother and father'll be glad to have you home again." Mona beamed gratefully on the speaker.
"Is it really Mona," cried another. "Why, now, you've grown! I didn't know you till Mrs. Row said your name!"
Mona began to feel less forlorn and ill-used, and she was more glad than ever that she had on her best clothes, and had put her hair up in squibs the night before.
Outside one of the few shops Seacombe possessed, she drew up and looked in at the windows with interest. They had improved a little. The draper's was particularly gay with new spring things, and to Mona who had not seen a shop lately, unless she walked the three miles to Milbrook, the sight was fascinating. One window was full of ties, gloves, and ribbons; the other was as gay as a garden with flowers of every kind and colour, all blooming at once. Many of them were crude and common, but to Mona's eyes they were beautiful. There were wreaths of wall-flowers, of roses, and of lilacs, but the prettiest of all to Mona was one of roses and forget-me-nots woven in together.
"Oh," she gasped, "how I'd love to have that one! Oh, I'd love it!" There were hats in the window, too. Pretty, light, wide-brimmed hats. Mona's eyes travelled backwards and forwards over them till she saw one of the palest green straw, the colour of a duck's egg.
"Oh, wouldn't the roses and forget-me-nots look lovely on that, with just a bow of white ribbon at the back. Oh, I wish——"
"Why, it's Mona Carne!" cried a voice behind her, and Mona, wheeling swiftly round, found Millie Higgins at her elbow.
"Why, who ever would have thought of meeting you strolling up the street just as though you had never been away!" cried Millie. "But you've grown, Mona. You are ever so much taller than when you went away, and your hair's longer too. Do you think I am changed?"
Mona was delighted. She wanted to be tall, and she wanted to have nice long hair. She had never cared for Millie Higgins before, but at that moment she felt that she liked her very much indeed, and they chattered eagerly to each other, lost to everything but the news they had to pour into each other's ears.
After a little while, though, Millie tired of talking. She wanted to get on, and what Millie wanted to do she generally did. "I must fly—and there's your poor mother home worrying herself all this time to a fiddle-string, wondering what has become of you. She expected the van an hour ago, and had got your tea all ready and waiting for you."
Mona started guiltily, and then began to excuse herself. "Well, we were late in coming, we were so long on the road. Mr. Darbie said he'd drive me up, but I liked walking best. If I had gone up by the van I shouldn't have been there yet, so it's all the same."
"The van! Why, it's gone by. Only a minute ago, though. If you run you'll be there almost as soon as he will."
Without staying to say good-bye, Mona ran, but either Millie's minute had been a very long one, or 'Lion' had stepped out more briskly at the end of the day than at the beginning, for when Mona got to the house John Darbie was just coming away. "Thank'ee, ma'am," he was saying, and Mona saw him putting some coins in his pocket.
"I've got the——" she began to call out to him, but stopped, for her new mother came out to the gate, and looked anxiously down the hill. She was looking for herself, Mona knew, and a fit of shyness came over her which drove every other thought from her mind.
But almost as quickly as the shyness came it disappeared again, for Lucy's eyes fell on her, and, her face alight with pleasure, Lucy came forward with arms outstretched in welcome. "Why, you poor little tired thing, you," she cried, kissing her warmly, "you must be famished! Come in, do. I was quite frightened about you, for I've been expecting you this hour and more, and then when Mr. Darbie came, and brought only your box, it seemed as if I wasn't ever going to see you. Come in, dear," drawing Mona's arm through her own, and leading her into the house. "Sit down and rest a bit before you go up to see your room."
Exhausted with excitement, and talking, and the extra exertion, Lucy herself had to sit down for a few minutes to get her breath. Mona, more tired than she realised until she came to sit down, lay back in her father's big chair and looked about her with shy interest. How familiar it all seemed, yet how changed. Instead of the old torn, soiled drab paper, the walls were covered with a pretty blue one, against which the dresser and table and the old familiar china showed up spotless and dainty; the steel on the stove might have been silver, the floor was as clean and snowy as the table.
Mona's memory of it all was very different. In those days there had been muddle, dust, grease everywhere, the grate was always greasy and choked with ashes, the table sloppy and greasy, the floor unwashed, even unswept, the dressers with more dust than anything else on them. Mona could scarcely believe that the same place and things could look so different.
"Oh, how nice it all is," she said in a voice full of admiration, and Lucy smiled with pleasure. She knew that many girls would not have admitted any improvement even if they had seen it.
"Shall we go upstairs now?" she said. "I've got my breath again," and she led the way up the steep little staircase, which Mona remembered so well.
"You know the way to your old room, don't you?"
Mona walked ahead to it, but at the door she drew up with a cry of delight. "Oh, Mother!" she turned to say with a beaming face, and without noticing that she had called her by the name about which she and granny had debated so long.
Lucy noticed it though, and coloured with pleasure. She had felt more shy than had Mona, about suggesting what her stepchild should call her. "Thank you, dear, for calling me that," she said, putting her arm about her and kissing her. "I didn't know, I wondered how you would feel about it."
But Mona was too delighted with everything she saw to feel anything but pleasure and gratitude then. The walls had been papered with a pretty rose-covered paper, the shabby little bed had been painted white. Pretty pink curtains hung at the window, and beside the bed stood a small bookcase with all Mona's own books in it. Books that she had left lying about torn and shabby, and had thought would have been thrown away, or burnt, long ago. Lucy had collected them, and mended and cleaned them. And Lucy, who had brought to her new house many of the ideas she had gathered while in service at the Squire's, had painted the furniture white too, to match the bed.
Mona had never in her life before seen anything so pretty and dainty. "Isn't it lovely!" she cried, sitting down plump on the clean white quilt, and crushing it. "I can't believe it's for me." She looked about her with admiring eyes as she dragged off her hat and tossed it from her, accidentally knocking over the candlestick as she did so.
Lucy stooped and picked up both. The candlestick was chipped, the hat was certainly not improved.
"The chipped place will not show much," said Lucy in her gentle, tired voice, "but you've crushed the flowers in your hat."
Mona looked at the hat with indifferent eyes. "Have I? Oh, well, it's my last year's one. I shall want a new one for the summer."
"Shall you, dear?"
Mona did not notice the little anxious pucker of her mother's forehead. Carried away by all that had been done for her already, she had the feeling that money must be plentiful at Cliff Cottage. Her father's boat had done well, she supposed.
But before any more was said, a sound of footsteps reached them from below, and a loud voice, gruff but kindly, shouted through the little place "Lucy, where are you, my girl? Has the little maid come?" and the next moment Mona was darting down the stairs and, taking the last in one flying leap, as in the old days, sprang into her father's arms.
"My word! What a big maid you are grown!" he cried, holding her a little way from him, and eyeing her proudly. "Granny Barnes must have taken good care of you! And now you've come to take care of Lucy and me. Eh! Isn't that it?"
"Yes, dad, that's it," cried Mona, excitedly, and sat back with all her weight on the pretty flowers and the fresh eggs that her grandmother had sent to Lucy by her.
Her father looked vexed. He knew how much his ailing wife enjoyed fresh eggs, and how seldom she allowed herself one, but he could not very well express his feelings just when Mona had come back to her home after her long absence, so he only laughed a little ruefully, and said, "Same as ever, Mona! Same as ever!"
But, to his surprise, tears welled up into Mona's eyes. "I—I didn't mean to be," she said tremulously. "I meant to try to be careful—but I—I've done nothing but break things ever since I came. You—you'll be wishing you had never had me home."
"We shan't do that, I know," said Lucy kindly. "There's some days when one seems to break everything one touches—but they don't happen often. Now I'll make the tea. I'm sure we all want some. Come, Peter, and take your own chair. There's no moving around the kitchen till we've put you in your corner. Mona, will you sit in the window?"
"I think I ought to stand," said Mona tragically. "I've sat down once too often already."
At which they all burst out laughing, and drew round the table in the happiest of spirits.
From the moment she lay down in her little white bed, Mona had slept the whole night through. She had risen early the day before—early at least, for her, for her grandmother always got up first, and lighted the fire and swept the kitchen before she called Mona, who got down, as a rule, in time to sit down to the breakfast her grandmother had got ready for her.
On this first morning in her home she woke of her own accord, and half-waking, half-sleeping, and with not a thought of getting up, she turned over and was about to snuggle down into the cosy warmth again, when across her drowsy eyes flashed the light from her sunny window.
"Why, how does the window get over there?" she asked herself, and then recollection came pouring over her, and sleepiness vanished, for life seemed suddenly very pleasant and interesting, and full of things to do, and see, and think about.
Presently the clock in the church-tower struck seven. "Only seven! Then I've got another hour before I need get up! But I'll just have a look out to see what it all looks like. How funny it seems to be back again!" She slipped out of bed and across the floor to draw back the curtains. Outside the narrow street stretched sunny and deserted. The garden, drenched with dew, was bathed in sunshine too. But it was not on the garden or the street that her eyes lingered, but on the sea beyond the low stone wall on the opposite side of the way. Deep blue it stretched, its bosom gently heaving, blue as the sky above, and the jewels with which its bosom was decked flashed and sparkled in the morning sunshine.
"Oh-h-h!" gasped Mona. "Oh-h-h! I don't know how anyone can ever live away from the sea!"
In spite of the sun, though, the morning was cold, with a touch of frost in the air which nipped Mona's toes, and sent her scuttling back to her bed again. She remembered, joyfully, from the old days, that if she propped herself up a little she could see the sea from her bed. So she lay with her pillow doubled up under her head, and the bedclothes drawn up to her chin, and gazed and gazed at the sea and sky, until presently she was on the sea, in a boat, floating through waves covered with diamonds, and the diamonds came pattering against the sides of the boat, as though inviting her to put out her hands and gather them up, and so become rich for ever. Strangely enough, though, she did not heed, or care for them. All she wanted was a big bunch of the forget-me-nots which grew on the opposite shore, and she rowed and rowed, with might and main, to reach the forget-me-nots, and she put up a sail and flew before the wind, yet no nearer could she get to the patch of blue and green.
"But I can smell them!" she cried. "I can smell them!" and then remembered that forget-me-nots had no scent and realised that the scent was that of the wallflowers growing in her own garden; and suddenly all the spirit went out of her, for she did not care for what she could reach, but only for the unattainable; and the oars dropped out of her hands, and the diamonds no longer tapped against the boat, for the boat was still, and Mona sat in it disappointed and sullen. The sun went in too, and nothing was the same but the scent of the flowers. And then, through her sullen thoughts, the sound of her father's voice came to her.
"Mona! Mona! It's eight o'clock. Ain't you getting up yet? I want you to see about the breakfast. Your mother isn't well."
Mona jumped up with a start, and felt rather cross in consequence. "All right, father," she called back. "I'll come as soon as I can," but to herself she added, in an injured tone, "I s'pose this is what I've been had home for! Hard lines, I call it, to have to get up and light the fire the very first morning."
Her father called through the door again. "The fire's lighted, and burning nicely, and I've put the kettle on. I lighted it before I went out. I didn't call 'ee then, because I thought I heard you moving."
Then her father had been up and dressed for an hour or two, and at work already! A faint sense of shame crossed Mona's mind. "All right, father," she called back more amiably, "I'll dress as quick as I can. I won't be more than a few minutes."
"That's a good maid," with a note of relief in his voice, and then she heard him go softly down the stairs.
It always takes one a little longer than usual to dress in a strange place, but it took Mona longer than it need have done, for instead of unpacking her box the night before, and hanging up her frocks, and putting her belongings neatly away in their places, she had just tumbled everything over anyhow, to get at her nightdress, and so had left them. It had taken her quite as long to find the nightdress as it would have to lift the things out and put them in their proper places, for the garment was almost at the bottom of the box, but Mona did not think of that. Now, though, when she wanted to find her morning frock and apron, she grew impatient and irritable. "Perhaps if I tip everything out on the floor I'll find the old things that way!" she snapped crossly. "I s'pose I shan't find them until they've given me all the trouble they can," and she had actually thrown a few things in every direction, when she suddenly stopped and sat back on her heels.
"I've half a mind to put on my best dress again, then I can come and look for the old one when I ain't in such a hurry." The dress—her best one— was lying temptingly on a chair close beside her. She hesitated, looked at it again, and picked it up. As she did so, something fell out of the pocket. It was her purse, the little blue one her granny had bought for her at Christmas. She picked it up and opened it, and as she did so the colour rushed over her face. In one of the pockets was the eighteenpence which had been given to her to pay John Darbie with. "I—I suppose I ought to have given it to mother, but it went right out of my head." She completed her dressing in a thoughtful mood, but she did find, and put on, her old morning dress. "I suppose I had better tell her—about the money." She put the blue purse in a drawer, however, and tossed in a lot of things on top of it.
When at last she got downstairs it was already past half-past eight, and the fire was burning low again. "Oh, dear," she cried, irritably, "how ever am I going to get breakfast with a fire like that and how am I to know what to get or where anything is kept. I think I might have had a day or two given me to settle down in. I s'pose I'd better get some sticks first and make the fire up. Bother the old thing, it only went out just to vex me!"
She was feeling hungry and impatient, and out of tune with everything. At Hillside she would have been just sitting down to a comfortable meal which had cost her no trouble to get. For the moment she wished she was back there again.
As she returned to the kitchen with her hands full of wood, her mother came down the stairs. She looked very white and ill, and very fragile, but she was fully dressed.
"I thought you were too bad to get up," said Mona, unsmilingly. "I was going to bring you up some breakfast as soon as I could, but the silly old fire was gone down——"
"I was afraid it would. That was why I got up. I couldn't be still, I was so fidgeted about your father's breakfast. He'll be home for it in a few minutes. He's had a busy morning, and must want something."
Mona looked glummer than ever. "I never had to get up early at granny's," she said in a reproachful voice. "I ain't accustomed to it. I s'pose I shall have to get so."
"Did you let your grandmother—did your grandmother come down first and get things ready for you?" asked Lucy, surprised; and something in her voice, or words, made Mona feel ashamed, instead of proud of the fact.
"Granny liked getting up early," she said, excusingly. Lucy did not make any comment, and Mona felt more ashamed than if she had.
"Hasn't father had his breakfast yet?" she asked presently. "He always used to come home for it at eight."
"He did to-day, but you see there wasn't any. The fire wasn't lighted even. He thought you were dressing, and he wouldn't let me get up. When he'd lighted the fire he went off to work again. He's painting his boat, and he said he'd finish giving her her first coat before he'd stop again; then she could be drying. I'll manage better another morning. I daresay I'll feel better to-morrow."
Lucy did look very unwell, and Mona's heart was touched. "I wish father had told me earlier," she said in a less grumbling tone. "I was awake at seven, and got up and looked out of the window. I never thought of dressing then, it seemed so early, and I didn't hear father moving."
"Never mind, dear, we will manage better another time. It's nice having you home, Mona; the house seems so much more cheerful. You will be a great comfort to us, I know."
Mona's ill-temper vanished. "I do want to be," she said shyly, "and I am glad to be home. Oh, mother, it was lovely to see the sea again. I felt—oh, I can't tell you how I felt when I first caught a glimpse of it. I don't know how ever I stayed away so long."
Lucy laughed ruefully. "I wish I loved it like that," she said, "but I can't make myself like it even. It always makes me feel miserable."
A heavy step was heard on the cobbled path outside, and for a moment a big body cut off the flood of sunshine pouring in at the doorway. "Is breakfast ready?" demanded Peter Carne's loud, good-tempered voice. "Hullo, Lucy! Then you got up, after all! Well—of all the obstinate women!"
Lucy smiled up at him bravely. "Yes, I've got down to breakfast. I thought I'd rather have it down here with company than upstairs alone. Isn't it nice having Mona home, father?"
Peter laughed. "I ain't going to begin by spoiling the little maid with flattery, but yet, 'tis very," and he beamed good-naturedly on both. "Now, then, let's begin. I'm as hungry as a hunter."
By that time the cloth was laid, a dish of fried bacon and bread was keeping hot in the oven, and smelling most appetisingly to hungry folk, and the kettle was about to boil over. Through the open doorway the sunshine and the scent of wallflowers poured in.
"Them there wallflowers beat anything I ever came across for smell," remarked Peter as he finished his second cup of tea.
"I dreamed about wallflowers," said Mona, "and I seemed to smell them quite strong," and she told them her dream—at least a part of it. She left out about the forget-me-nots that she rowed and rowed to try and get. She could not have told why she left out that part, but already a vague thought had come to her—one that she was ashamed of, even though it was so vague, and it had to do with forget-me-nots.
All the time she had been helping about the breakfast, and all the time after, when she and her stepmother were alone again, she kept saying to herself, "Shall I give her the money, shall I keep it?" and her heart would thrill, and then sink, and inside her she kept saying, "There is no harm in it?—It is all the same in the end." And then, almost before she knew what she was doing, she had taken the easy, crooked, downhill path, with its rocks and thorns so cleverly hidden.
"Mona, haven't you got any print frocks for mornings, and nice aprons?"
Mona's thoughts came back suddenly from "Shall I? Shall I not?" and the eyes with which she looked at her mother were half shamed, half frightened. "Any—any what?" she stuttered.
"Nice morning aprons and washing frocks? I don't like to see shabby, soiled ones, even for only doing work in."
"I hadn't thought about it," said Mona, with more interest. "What else can one wear? I nearly put on my best one, but I thought I hadn't better."
"Oh, no, not your best."
"Well, what else is there to wear? Do you always have a print one like you've got on now?"
"Yes, and big aprons, and sleeves. Then one can tell when they are dirty."
"Oh, I thought you put on that 'cause you were wearing out what you'd got left over. You were in service, weren't you, before you married father?"
"I haven't got any print dresses. I haven't even got a white one. I've two aprons like this," holding out a fanciful thing trimmed with lace. "That's all, and I never saw any sleeves; I don't know what they are like."
"I'll have to get you some as soon as father has his next big haul. You'd like to wear nice clean prints, if you'd got them, wouldn't you?"
"Oh, yes!" eagerly. But after a moment she added: "I do want a summer hat, though, and I don't s'pose I could have both?" Her eyes sought her mother's face anxiously. Lucy looked grave and a little troubled. "Wasn't that your summer hat that you had on yesterday? It was a very pretty one. I'm so fond of wreaths of daisies and grasses, aren't you?"
"Yes—I was—I'm tired of them now. I wore that hat a lot last summer."
"Did you? Well, you kept it very nicely. I thought it was a new one, it looked so fresh and pretty."
"I'd like to have one trimmed with forget-me-nots this year," Mona went on hurriedly, paying no heed to her mother's last remarks.
"They are very pretty," agreed Lucy, absently. In her mind she was wondering how she could find the money for all these different things.
"I've got eighteenpence," broke in Mona, and the plunge was taken. She was keeping the eighteen-pence, though she knew it belonged either to her granny or to Lucy. As soon as the words were spoken she almost wished them back again, but it was too late, and she went on her downhill way.
"Mother, if you'll get me the hat, I'll buy the wreath myself. They've got some lovely ones down at Tamlin's for one and five three. There are some at one and 'leven three, but that's sixpence more, and I haven't got enough."
"Very well, dear, we'll think about it. It's early yet for summer hats." She was trying to think of things she could do without, that Mona might have her hat. If she had been her own child, she would have told her plainly that she did not need, and could not have a new one, but it was not easy—as things were—to do that.
Mona's heart leaped with joy. Though she had known Lucy such a little while, she somehow felt that she could trust her not to forget. That when she said she would think about a thing, she would think about it, and already she saw with her mind's eye, the longed-for hat, the blue wreath, and the bow of ribbon, and her face beamed with happiness.
"I can do without the aprons and the print frocks," she said, in the generosity of her heart, though it gave her a wrench. But Lucy would not hear of that. She had her own opinion about the grubby-looking blue serge, and the fancy apron, which were considered 'good enough' for mornings.
"No, dear, you need them more than you need the hat. If ever anyone should be clean it's when one is making beds, and cooking, and doing all that sort of thing, I think, don't you?"
Mona had never given the subject a thought before. In fact, she had done so little work while with her grandmother, and when she 'kept house' herself had cared so little about appearance or cleanliness, or anything, that it had never occurred to her that such things mattered. But now that her stepmother appealed to her in this way she felt suddenly a sense of importance and a glow of interest.
"Oh, yes! and I'll put my hair up, and always have on a nice white apron and a collar; they do look so pretty over pink frocks, don't they?"
"Yes, and I must teach you how to wash and get them up."
"Oh!" Mona's interest grew suddenly lukewarm. "I hate washing and ironing, don't you, mother?"
"I like other kinds of work better, perhaps. I think I should like the washing if I didn't get so tired with it. I don't seem to have the strength to do it as I want it done. It is lovely, though, to see things growing clean under one's hand, isn't it?"
But Mona had never learnt to take pride in her work. "I don't know," she answered indifferently. "I should never have things that were always wanting washing."
Lucy rose to go about her morning's work. "Oh, come now," she said, smiling, "I can't believe that. Don't you think your little room looks prettier with the white vallance and quilt and the frill across the window than it would without?"
"Oh, yes!" Mona agreed enthusiastically. "But then I didn't have to wash them and iron them."
"Well, I had to, and I enjoyed it, because I was thinking how nice they would make your room look, and how pleased you would be."
"I don't see that. If you were doing them for yourself, of course, you'd be pleased, but I can't see why anyone should be pleased about what other people may like."
"Oh, Mona! can't you?" Lucy looked amazed. "Haven't you ever heard the saying, 'there is more pleasure in giving than in receiving'?"
"Yes, I think I've heard it," said Mona, flippantly, "but I never saw any sense in it. There's lots of things said that ain't a bit true."
"This is true enough," said Lucy quietly, "and I hope you'll find it so for yourself, or you will miss half the pleasure in life."
"Well, I don't believe in any of those old sayings," retorted Mona, rising too. "Anyway, receiving's good enough for me!" and she laughed boisterously, thinking she had said something new and funny.
A little cloud rested for a moment on Lucy's face, but only for a moment. "It isn't nice to hear you speak like that, Mona," she said quietly, a note of pain in her voice, "but I can't make myself believe yet that you are as selfish as you make out. I believe," looking across at her stepdaughter with kindly, smiling eyes, "that you've got as warm a heart as anybody, really."
And at the words and the look all the flippant, silly don't-careishness died out of Mona's thoughts and manner.
Yet, presently, when in her own little room again, she opened her little blue purse and looked in it, a painful doubt arose in her mind. It was nice to be considered good-hearted, but was she really so? And unselfish? "If I was, wouldn't I make my last year's hat do? Wouldn't I give back the eighteenpence?" What tiresome questions they were to come poking and pushing forward so persistently. Anyhow, her mother knew now that she wanted a hat, and she knew that she had the money, and that she was going to spend it on herself—and yet she had called her unselfish!
And downstairs, Lucy, with an anxious face, and a weight at her heart, was thinking to herself, "If Mona had lived much longer the idle, selfish life she has been living, her character would have been ruined, and there is so much that is good in her! Poor child, poor Mona! She has never had a fair chance yet to learn to show the best side of her, and I doubt if I'm the one to teach her. I couldn't be hard with her if I tried, and being her stepmother will make things more difficult for me than for most. I couldn't live in the house with strife. I must try other means, and," she added softly, "ask God to help me."
For a while, after that talk with her mother, Mona worked with a will. She swept, and scrubbed, and polished the stove and the windows and helped with the washing and ironing, until Lucy laughingly declared there would soon be nothing left for her to do.
"That's just what I want," declared Mona. "I want you not to have anything to do. Perhaps I can't manage the cooking yet, but I'll learn to in time." Excited by the novelty and change, and buoyed up by the prospect of her new hat, and new frocks and aprons too, she felt she could do anything, and could not do enough in return for all that was to be done for her, and, when Mona made up her mind to work, there were few who could outdo her. She would go on until she was ready to drop.
As the spring days grew warmer, she would get so exhausted that Lucy sometimes had to interfere peremptorily, and make her stop. "Now you sit right down there, out of the draught, and don't you move a foot till I give you leave. I will get you a nice cup of tea, and one of my new tarts; they're just this minute ready to come out of the oven."
A straight screen, reaching from floor to ceiling, stood at one side of the door, to keep off some of the draught and to give some little privacy to those who used the kitchen. Mona dried her hands and slipped gratefully into the chair that stood between the screen and the end of the table.
"Oh, mother, this is nice," she sighed, her face radiant, though her shoulders drooped a little with tiredness.
"Isn't it beautiful? I love these sunny, quiet afternoons, when everything is peaceful, and the sea quite calm." Her eyes looked beyond the little kitchen to the steep, sunny street outside, and beyond that again to where the blue sea heaved and glittered in the distance. The little window, as well as the door, stood wide open, letting in the scent of the sun-warmed wallflowers, and box, and boy's love. The bees buzzed contentedly over the beds. One made his way in to Lucy's plants in the window.
"I seem to smell the sea even through the scent of the flowers," said Lucy.
"I am sure I do. I can't think how people can choose to live inland, can you, mother?"
"I don't suppose they choose, they just live where God has seen fit to place them—where their work lies."
"Well, I hope my work will always be in some place near the sea," said Mona decidedly. "I don't think I could live away from it."
Lucy smiled. "I think you could, dear, if you made up your mind to it! I am sure you are not a coward."
"I don't see that it has got anything to do with being a coward or not," objected Mona.
"But indeed it has. If people can't face things they don't like without grumbling all the time they are cowards. It is as cruel and cowardly to keep on grumbling and complaining about what you don't like as it is brave to face it and act so that people never guess what your real feelings are. Think of my mother now. She loved living in a town, with all that there is to see and hear and interest one, and, above all, she loved London. It was home to her, and every other place was exile. Yet when, after they had been married a couple of years, her husband made up his mind to live right away in the country, she never grumbled, though she must have felt lonely and miserable many a time. Her mother, and all belonging to her, lived in London, and I know she had a perfect dread of the country. She was afraid of the loneliness. Then my father tried his hand at farming and lost all his savings, and after that there was never a penny for anything but the barest of food and clothing, and sometimes not enough even for that. Well, I am quite sure that no one ever heard a word of complaint from mother's lips, and when poor father reproached himself, as he did very often, with having brought ruin on her, she'd say, 'Tom, I married you for better or worse, for richer or poorer. I didn't marry you on condition you stayed always in one place and earned so much a week.'"
"Mother didn't think she was being brave by always keeping a cheerful face and a happy heart—but father did, and I do, now. I understand things better than I did. I can see there's ever so much more bravery in denying yourself day after day what you want, and bearing willingly what you don't like, than there is in doing some big deed that you carry through on the spur of the moment."
Mona sat silent, gazing out across the flowers in the window to the sky beyond. "There's ever so much more bravery in denying yourself what you want." The words rang in her head most annoyingly. Could Lucy have spoken them on purpose? No, Mona honestly did not think that, but she wished she had not uttered them. She tried to think of something else, and, unconsciously, her mother helped her.
"I want to go to see mother on Monday or Tuesday, if I can. Do you think you'll mind being left here alone for a few hours?"
Mona looked round at her with a smile. "Why, of course not! I used to spend hours here alone. I'll find plenty to do while you're gone. I'll write to granny, for one thing. I promised I would. I could take up some of the weeds in the garden, too."
She was eager to do something for her stepmother, so that she herself would feel more easy in her mind about the one thing she could not summon up courage to do.
"Yes, if you'll do a little weeding it'll be fine. I'm ashamed to see our path, and the wallflowers are nearly choked, but I daren't do it. I can't stoop so long."
On Sunday Mona went to Sunday school for the first time, and was not a little pleased to find that her last year's hat, with the daisy wreath, was prettier than any other hat there. With every admiring glance she caught directed at it her spirits rose. She loved to feel that she was admired and envied. It never entered her head that she made some of the children feel mortified and discontented with their own things.
"If they think such a lot of this one, I wonder what they'll think of me having another new one soon!" To conceal the elation in her face, she bent over her books, pretending to be absorbed in the lesson. Miss Lester, the teacher, looked at her now and again with grave, questioning eyes. She was wondering anxiously if this little stranger was going to bring to an end the peace and contentment of the class. "Is she going to make my poor children realise how poor and shabby their clothes are, and fill their heads with thoughts of dress?" She said nothing aloud, however. She was only a little kinder, perhaps, to the most shabby of them all.
Mona, who had been quite conscious of her teacher's glances, never doubted but that they were glances of admiration, and was, in consequence, extremely pleased. She returned home quite elated by her Sunday afternoon's experiences.
The next day, at about eleven, Lucy started on her three mile walk to her mother's.
"Isn't it too far for you?" asked Mona, struck anew by her stepmother's fragile appearance. "Hadn't you better put it off till you're stronger?"
But Lucy shook her head. "Oh, no, I shall manage it. If I go to-day I shall be able to have a lift home in Mr. Lobb's cart. It's his day. So I shall only have three miles to walk, and I do want to see mother. She has been so bad again."
Mona did not try any more to stop her, but bustled around helping her to get ready. "If you hadn't been going to drive back, I'd have come to meet you. Never mind, I expect I'll be very busy," and she smiled to herself at the thought of all she was going to do, and of the nice clean kitchen and tempting meal she would have ready by the time Mr. Lobb's cart deposited Lucy at the door again.
"Now, don't do too much, and tire yourself out, dear," said Lucy, warningly. "There isn't really much that needs doing," but Mona smiled knowingly.
As soon as Lucy had really started and was out of sight, she washed and put away the few cups and plates, and swept up the hearth. Then, getting a little garden fork and an old mat, she sallied forth to the garden. There certainly were a good many weeds in the path, and, as the ground was trodden hard, they were not easy to remove. Those in the flower beds were much easier.
"I'll do the beds first," thought Mona. "After all, that's the right way to begin." So she dug away busily for some time, taking great care to dig deep, and lift the roots right out. "While I am about it, I may as well turn all the earth over to make it nice and soft for the flowers. I don't know how they ever manage to grow in such hard, caked old stuff, poor little things."
Here and there a 'poor little thing' came up root and all, as well as the weed, or instead of it, but Mona quickly put it back again, and here and there one had its roots torn away and loosened. In fact, most of Lucy's plants found themselves wrenched from the cool, moist earth they loved, and their hold on life gone. Presently Mona came to a large patch of forget-me-nots. The flowers were not yet out, but there was plenty of promise for by and by. It was not, though, the promise of buds, nor the plant itself which caused Mona to cease her work suddenly, and sit back on her heels, lost in thought.
"I've a good mind to go down now this minute and get it," she exclaimed eagerly, "while mother's away. Buying a hat won't seem much if she hasn't got to buy the trimmings. And—and if—if I don't get the wreath, Mr. Tamlin may—may sell it before mother goes there."
This fear made her spring from her knees. Without any further hesitation, she rushed, into the house, washed and tidied herself, got her blue purse from the drawer in which it was still hidden, and in ten minutes from the moment the thought first struck her she was hurrying down the street, leaving the mat and the fork where she had been using them. But she could think of nothing. Indeed, she could scarcely breathe for excitement until she reached Tamlin's shop, and, to her enormous relief, saw the blue wreaths still hanging there.
"Of course, it is much the best way to buy it now and take it home," Mona argued with herself. "It will only get dirty and faded where it is."
She felt a little nervous at entering the big shop by herself, especially as she seemed to be the only customer, and the attendants had no one else at whom to stare. She went up to the one who had the pleasantest smile and looked the least grand of them all.
"Forget-me-nots? Oh, yes, dear, we have some lovely flowers this season, all new in. Perhaps you'd prefer roses. We have some beautiful roses, pink, red, yellow, and white ones—and wreaths, we have some sweet wreaths, moss and rose buds, and sweet peas and grasses." She proceeded to drag out great boxes full of roses of all shapes and kinds. Mona looked at them without interest. "No, thank you I want forget-me-nots."
"Oh, well, there's no harm in looking at the others, is there? I've got some sweet marg'rites too. I'll show you. P'raps you'll change your mind when you see them. Blue ties you so, doesn't it?"
"I've got daisies on a hat already. I'm tired of them. I want something different."
"Of course, we all like a change, don't we? I'll show you a wreath— perfectly sweet it is, apple-blossom and leaves; it might be real, it's so perfect." And away she went again for another box.
Mona felt as though her eighteenpence was shrivelling smaller and smaller. It seemed such a ridiculously small sum to have come shopping with, and she wished she had never done so. The girl dropped a huge box on the counter, and whipped the cover off. She was panting a little from the weight of it. Mona longed to sink out of sight, she was so ashamed of the trouble she was giving, and only eighteenpence to spend after all!
"There, isn't that sweet, and only three and eleven three."
But Mona was by this time feeling so ashamed and bothered and uncomfortable, she would not bring herself to look at the flowers. "Yes, thank you, it's very pretty, but—but—it's too dear—and—I want forget-me-nots."
Then, summoning up all the courage she had left, "You've got some wreaths for one and fivepence three-farthings; it's one of those I want."
The girl's face changed, and her manner too. "Oh, it's one of the cheap wreaths you want, like we've got in the window," and from another box she dragged out one of the kind Mona had gazed at so longingly, and, without handing it to her to look at, popped it into a bag, screwed up the top, and pushed it across the counter. "One and five three," she snapped rudely, and, while Mona was extracting her eighteenpence from her purse, she turned to another attendant who had been standing looking on and listening all the time.
"Miss Jones, dear, will you help me put all these boxes away."
Mona noticed the sneer in her voice, the glances the two exchanged. She saw, too, Miss Jones's pitying smile and toss of her head, and she walked out of the shop with burning cheeks and a bursting heart. She longed passionately to throw down the wreath she carried and trample on it—and as for Tamlin's shop! She felt that nothing would ever induce her to set foot inside it again.
Poor Mona, as she hurried up the street with her longed-for treasure—now detestable in her eyes—all the sunshine and happiness seemed to have gone out of her days. She went along quickly, with her head down. She felt she did not want to see or speak to anyone just then. She hurried through the garden, where the patch of newly-turned earth was already drying under the kiss of the sun, and the wallflowers were beginning to droop, but she saw nothing of it all. She only wanted to get inside and shut and bolt the door, and be alone with herself and her anger.
"There!" she cried passionately, flinging the wreath across the kitchen, "take that! I hate you—I hate the sight of you!" She would have cried, but that she had made up her mind that she would not. "I'll never wear the hateful thing—I couldn't! If I was to meet that girl when I'd got it on I—I'd never get over it! And there's all my money gone; wasted, and— and——" At last the tears did come, in spite of her, and Mona's heart felt relieved.
She picked out the paper bag from inside the fender, and, carrying it upstairs, thrust it inside the lid of her box. "There! and I hope I'll never see the old thing ever any more, and then, p'raps, in time I'll forget all about it."
As she went down the stairs again to the kitchen she remembered that her father would be home in a few minutes to his dinner, and that she had to boil some potatoes. "Oh, dear—I wish—I wish——" But what was the use of wishing! She had the forget-me-nots she had so longed for—and what was the result!
"I'll never, never wish for anything again," she thought ruefully, "but I suppose that wishing you'd got something, and wishing you hadn't forgot something, are two different things, though both make you feel miserable," she added gloomily.
For a moment she sat, overwhelmed by all that she had done and had left undone. The emptiness and silence of the house brought to her a sense of loneliness. The street outside was empty and silent too, except for two old women who walked by with heavy, dragging steps. One of the two was talking in a patient, pathetic voice, but loudly, for her companion was deaf.
"There's no cure for trouble like work, I know that. I've had more'n my share of trouble, and if it hadn't been that I'd got the children to care for, and my work cut out to get 'em bread to eat, I'd have give in; I couldn't have borne all I've had to bear——"
The words reached Mona distinctly through the silence. She rose to her feet. "P'raps work'll help me to bear mine," she thought bitterly. "When my man and my two boys was drowned that winter, I'd have gone out of my mind if I hadn't had to work to keep a home for the others——" The voices died away in the distance, and Mona's bitterness died away too.
"Her man, and her two boys—three of them dead, all drowned in one day— oh, how awful! How awful!" Mona's face blanched at the thought of the tragedy. The very calmness with which it was told made it seem worse, more real, more inevitable. Even the sunshine and peace about her made it seem more awful. Compared with such a trouble, her own was too paltry. It was not a trouble at all. She felt ashamed of herself for the fuss she had been making, and without more ado she bustled round to such good purpose that when her father returned to his meal she had it all cooked and ready to put on the table.
"That's a good maid," he said, encouragingly. "Why, you've grown a reg'lar handy little woman. You'll be a grand help to your poor mother."
"I do want to be," said Mona, but she did not feel as confident about it as her father did. "I'm going to have everything ready for her by the time she gets home."
"That's right, I shan't be home till morning, most likely, so you'll have to take care of her. She'll be fairly tired out, what with walking three miles in the sun, and then being rattled about in Mr. Lobb's old cart. The roads ain't fit for a horse to travel over."
"I should think she'd be here about six, shouldn't she, father?"
"Yes, that's about the old man's time, but there's no reckoning on him for certain. He may have to go a mile or more out of his way, just for one customer."
Apparently that was what he had to do that day, for six came and went, and seven o'clock had struck, and darkness had fallen before the cart drew up at Cliff Cottage, and Lucy clambered stiffly down from her hard, uncomfortable seat.
She was tired out and chilly, but at the sound of the wheels the cottage door was flung open, letting out a wide stream of cheerfulness, which made her heart glow and drove her weariness away. Inside, the home all was neat and cosy, the fire burned brightly, and the table was laid ready for a meal. Lucy drew a deep breath of happiness and relief.
"Oh, it is nice to get home again," she sighed contentedly, "and most of all to find someone waiting for you, Mona dear."
And Mona's heart danced with pleasure and happy pride. She felt well repaid for all she had done.
When Mona woke the next morning she felt vaguely that something was missing. "Why it's the smell of the wallflowers!" she cried, after lying for some minutes wondering what it could be. But in her new desire to get dressed and downstairs early she did not give the matter another thought.
Lucy, coming down later, stepped to the door for a moment to breathe in the sunshine and sweet morning air. "Oh," she cried, and her voice rang out sharply, full of dismay, "Oh, Mona, come quick. Whatever has happened to our wallflowers! Why, look at them! They are all dead! Oh, the poor things! Someone must have pulled them up in sheer wickedness! Isn't it cruel? Isn't it shameful!"
Mona, rushing to the door to look, found Lucy on her knees by the dying plants, the tears dropping from her eyes. Only yesterday they were so happy and so beautiful, a rich carpet of brown, gold, tawny, and crimson, all glowing in the sunshine, and filling the air with their glorious scent—and now! Oh, it was pitiful, pitiful.
"I'll fill a tub with water and plunge them all in," cried Lucy, frantically collecting her poor favourites—then suddenly she dropped them. "No, no, I won't, I'll bury them out of sight. I could never give them new life. Oh, who could have been so wicked?"
Mona was standing beside her, white-faced and silent. At her mother's last question, she opened her lips for the first time. "I—I did it," she gasped in a horrified voice. "I—didn't know, I must have done it when I was weeding. Oh, mother, I am so sorry. What can I do—oh, what can I do!"
"You! Oh, Mona!" But at the sight of Mona's distress Lucy forgot her own.
"Never mind. It can't be helped. 'Twas an accident, of course, and no one can prevent accidents. Don't fret about it, dear. Of course, you wouldn't have hurt them if you'd known what you were doing!"
But her words failed to comfort Mona, for in her inmost heart she knew that she should have known better, that she could have helped it. It was just carelessness again.
"They wouldn't have lasted more than a week or two longer, I expect," added Lucy, consolingly, trying to comfort herself as well as Mona. "Now, we'll get this bed ready for the ten-weeks stocks. It will do the ground good to rest a bit. I daresay the stocks will be all the finer for it later on." But still Mona was not consoled.
"If I hadn't run away and left them to go and buy that hateful wreath," she was thinking. "If only I had remembered to press the earth tight round them again—if—if only I'd been more careful when I was weeding, and—if, if, if! It's all ifs with me!" Aloud, she said bitterly, "I only seem to do harm to everything I touch. I'd better give up! If I don't do anything, p'raps I shan't do mischief."
Lucy laughed. "Poor old Paddy," she cried. "Why, you couldn't live and not do anything. Every minute of your life you are doing something, and when you are doing what you call 'nothing' you will be doing mischief, if it's only in setting a bad example. And you can work splendidly if you like, Mona, and you do like, I know. I shan't forget for a long while how nice you'd got everything by the time I came home last night, and how early you got up this morning."
Mona's face brightened.
"You've got to learn to think, that's all, dear; and to remember to finish off one thing before you leave it to go to another. It's just the want of that that lies at the root of most of your trouble."
A sound of many feet hurrying along the street and of shouting voices made Lucy break off suddenly, and sent them both running to the gate.
"Boats are in sight, missis. Fine catch!" called one and another as they hurried along.
Lucy and Mona looked at each other with glad relief in their eyes. There had been no real cause for anxiety because the little fishing fleet had not been home at dawn, yet now they knew that they had been a little bit anxious, Lucy especially, and their pleasure was all the greater. For a moment Mona, in her excitement, was for following the rest to the quay where the fish would be landed. It was so exciting, such fun, to be in all the bustle of the unloading, and the selling—and to know that for a time, at any rate, money would not be scarce, and rent and food and firing would be secure.
Mona loved nothing better than such mornings as this—but her first step was her last. "I won't remember 'too late' this time," she said to herself determinedly, and turning, she made her way quickly into the house. There would be more than enough to do to get ready. There would be hot water, dry clothes, and a hot breakfast to get for the tired, cold, famished father.
"Now you sit down, mother, and stoke the fire, I'll see to the rest," and for the next hour she flew around, doing one thing after another, and as deftly as a woman. She was so busy and so happy she forgot all about the beach and the busy scene there, the excitement, and the fun.
But before Lucy did any 'stoking' she went out with a rake and smoothed over the rough earth of the empty wallflower bed. "If it's looking tidy, perhaps he won't notice anything's wrong when he first comes home," she thought. "When he's less tired he'll be able to bear the disappointment better." She knew that if he missed his flowers one of his chief pleasures in his homecoming would be gone, and she almost dreaded to hear the sound of his footsteps because of the disappointment in store for him. Because she could not bear to see it, she stayed in the kitchen, and only Mona went out to meet him. Lucy heard his loved voice, hoarse and tired, but cheerful still. "Hullo, my girl!" he cried, "how's mother, and how 'ave 'ee got on? I was 'fraid she'd be troubling. Hullo! Why, what's happened to our wallflowers?"
At the sound of the dismay in his voice, Lucy had to go out. "Poor Mona," she thought, "it's hard on her! Why, father!" she cried brightly, standing in the doorway with a glad face and happy welcome. "We're so glad to see you at last. Make haste in, you must be tired to death, and cold through and through. Mona's got everything ready for you, as nice as can be. She's worked hard since we heard the boats were come. We've all got good appetites for our breakfast, I guess."
Then, in his pleasure at seeing his wife and child again, Peter Carne forgot all about his flowers. Putting his arms around them both, he gave them each a hearty kiss, and all went in together. "I ain't hardly fit to," he said, laughing, "but you're looking as fresh and sweet as two daisies this morning."
Diving his hand deep into his pocket, he drew out a handful of gold and silver. "Here, mother, here's something you'll be glad of! Now, Mona, my girl," as he dropped into his arm-chair, "where's my old slippers?"
Mona picked them up from the fender, where they had been warming, and, kneeling down, she pulled off his heavy boots. Once more she was filled with the feeling that if she could only do something to make up for the harm she had done she would not feel so bad.
"Thank'ee, little maid. Oh, it's good to be home again!" He leaned back and stretched his tired limbs with a sigh of deep content. "But I mustn't stop here, I must go and have a wash, and change into dry things before I have my breakfast. I can tell you, I'm more than a bit hungry. When I've had it I've got to go down and clean out the boat."
"Oh, not till you've had a few hours' sleep," coaxed Lucy. "You must have some rest, father. I've a good mind to turn the key on you."
Her husband laughed too. "There's no need for locks and keys to-day," he said, ruefully. "If I was to start out I believe I'd have to lie down in the road and have a nap before I got to the bottom of the street. I'll feel better when I've had a wash."
As he stumbled out of the kitchen Lucy picked up the coins lying on the table, and put them in a little locked box in the cupboard. Mona, coming back into the kitchen from putting her father's sea-boots away, saw that there seemed to be quite a large sum.
"Shall I have my new hat?" she wondered eagerly. "There's plenty of money now." But Lucy only said, "I'll have to get wool to make some new stockings for your father, and a jersey, and I'll have to go to Baymouth to get it. Mr. Tamlin doesn't keep the right sort. Can you knit stockings, Mona?"
"Ye—es, but I hate——" She drew herself up sharply. "Yes, I can, but I'd rather scrub, or sweep, or—or anything."
"Never mind, I'll make them. I'm fond of all that kind of work. I'll have to be quick about the jersey, for I see that one he's got on has a great hole in the elbow, and he's only got his best one besides. I'd better go to Baymouth on Wednesday. It won't do to put it off."
"I wish I could take you with me," she said to Mona regretfully when the Wednesday came, and she was getting ready to start. "I would, only your father thinks he'll be back about tea-time, and he'll need a hot meal when he comes. Never mind, dear, you shall go next time."
"Oh—h—that's all right." Mona tried to speak cheerfully, but neither face nor voice looked or sounded all right! The thought uppermost in her mind was that there was no chance of her having her new hat. Her mother could not get that unless she was there to try it on.
She saw her mother off, and she did try to be pleasant, but she could not help a little aggrieved feeling at her heart.
"Granny would have bought me one before now," she said to herself. She did really want not to have such thoughts. She still felt mean and uncomfortable about the wreath, and in her heart she knew that her stepmother was kinder to her than she deserved.
When she had done the few things she had to do, and had had her dinner, and changed her frock, she went out into the garden. It would be less lonely there, she thought, and she could weed the path a little. She would never touch one of the flower beds again! Before she had been out there long, Millie Higgins came down the hill. At the sight of Mona, Millie drew up. "So you ain't gone to Baymouth too?" she said, leaning over the low stone wall, and evidently prepared for a talk. "I saw your mother starting off. Why didn't she take you with her? You'd have liked to have gone, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," Mona admitted.
"Well, why didn't you?"
"Somebody had to be here to look after father. He'll be home before mother gets back."
Millie Higgins snorted sarcastically. "Very nice for some people to be able to go off and enjoy themselves and leave others to look after things for them! If I were you I'd say I'd like to go too."
Mona resented Millie's tone. A sense of fairness rose within her too. "If I'd said I wanted to go, I daresay I could have gone," she retorted coldly. "I'm going another time."
"Oh, are you? Well, that's all right as long as you are satisfied," meaningly. "Good-bye," and with a nod Millie took herself off. But before she had gone more than a few paces she was back again.
"Come on out and play for a bit, won't you?"
"I'd like to," Mona hesitated, "but I don't know for certain what time father'll get back."
"Well, I do! I know they won't be home yet awhile. They'll wait till the tide serves. Come along, Mona, you might as well come out and play for half an hour as stick moping here. You might spend all your life waiting about for the old boats to come in, and never have a bit of pleasure if you don't take it when you can. We'll go down to the quay, then you'll be able to see the boats coming. After they're in sight there'll be heaps of time to run home and get things ready."
The temptation was great, too great. Mona loved the quay, and the life and cheerfulness there. Towards evening all the children in the place congregated there, playing 'Last touch,' 'Hop-Scotch,' and all the rest of the games they loved, to a chorus of shouts, and screams, and laughter. Then there was the sea to look at too, so beautiful and grand, and awe-inspiring in the fading light. Oh, how dearly she loved it all!
In her ears Millie's words still rang: "You might spend all your life waiting about for the old boats, and never have a bit of pleasure, if you don't take it when you can."
"Wait a minute," she said eagerly, "I'll just put some coal on the fire and get my hat."
She banked up a good fire, unhung her hat, and, pulling the door after her, ran out to Millie again, "I'm ready now," she said excitedly.
When they arrived at the quay they received a very warm welcome; they were just in time to take part in a game of 'Prisoners.' After that they had one of 'Tip,' and one or two of 'Hop-Scotch,' then 'Prisoners' again; and how many more Mona could never remember, for she had lost count of time, and everything but the fun, until she was suddenly brought to her senses by a man's voice saying, "Well, it's time they were in, the clock struck seven ten minutes agone."
"Seven!" Mona was thunderstruck. "Did you say seven?" she gasped, and scarcely waiting for an answer she took to her heels and tore up the street to her home. Her mind was full of troubled thoughts. The fire would be out, the house all in darkness. She had only pulled the front door behind her, she had not locked it. Oh, dear! what a number of things she had left undone! What a muddle she had made of things. When, as she drew near the house, she saw a light shining from the kitchen window, her heart sank lower than ever it had done before.
"Father must have come! Oh! and me not there, and—and nothing ready. Oh, I wouldn't have had it happen for anything." She rushed up to the house so fast and burst into the kitchen so violently that her mother, who was sitting in her chair, apparently lost in thought, sprang up in alarm.
"Oh, Mona! it's you! You frightened me so, child. Where's your father," she asked anxiously. "Haven't you seen him?"
"No, he hasn't come yet."
Lucy's face grew as white as a lily. Her eyes were full of terror, which always haunted her. "P'raps he came home while you were out, and went out again when he found the house empty."
"He couldn't. I've been on the quay all the time. The boats couldn't have come in without my seeing them. I was waiting for him. Everybody was saying how late they were. They couldn't think why."
"Yes—they are dreadfully late—but I—I didn't think you'd have gone out and left the house while I was away," said Lucy with gentle reproach. "But, as you did, you should have locked the door behind you. I s'pose Mr. King called before you left?"
"He hasn't been," faltered Mona, her heart giving a great throb. She had entirely forgotten that the landlord's agent was coming for his rent that afternoon. "The money's on the dresser. I put it there."
"Is it? I couldn't see it. I looked for it at once when I found the door wide open and nobody here."
"Open! I shut it after me. I didn't lock it, but I pulled the door fast after me. You can't have looked in the right place, mother. I put it by the brown jug." And, never doubting but that her mother had overlooked it, Mona searched the dressers herself. But there was no money on them, not even a farthing for the baker. "But I put it there! I put it there myself!" she kept repeating more and more frantically. She got upon a chair and searched every inch of every shelf, and turned every jug and cup upside down. "It must be somewhere."
"Yes, somewhere! But it isn't here, and it isn't in Mr. King's pocket." Poor Lucy sank back in her chair looking ready to faint. Five shillings meant much to her. It was so horrible, too, to feel that a thief had been in, and had perhaps gone all over the house. Who could say what more he had taken, or what mischief he had done.
She was disappointed also in her trust in Mona, and she was tired and faint from want of food. All her pleasure in her day and in her homecoming was gone, changed to worry and weariness and disappointment.
"But who can have been so wicked as to take it!" cried Mona passionately. "Nobody had any right to open our door and come into our house. It's hard to think one can't go out for a few minutes but what somebody must come and act dishonest——"
"We can't talk about others not doing right if we don't do right ourselves! Your father and I left you here in charge, and you undertook the charge. We trusted you."
Mona got down from the chair. "It's very hard if I can't ever go anywhere—I only went for a little while. Millie said father wouldn't be here—the boats weren't in sight. And you see she was right! They are ever so late."
"Well, I suppose we are all made differently, but I couldn't have played games knowing that the boats ought to have been in, and not knowing what might have happened to my father."
"I get tired of always sticking around, waiting on the old boats. I never thought of there being any danger, they're so often late. It was only towards the end that people came down looking for them and wondering."
Lucy groaned. "Well, I'm thankful you don't suffer as I do, child. P'raps I'm foolish, but I'm terrified of the sea, and I never get accustomed to the danger of it." And she looked so white and wan, Mona's heart was touched, and some of the sullenness died out of her face and voice.
"I never thought—there was only a little wind," she began, when a sharp rap at the door interrupted her, then the latch was raised, and the door opened briskly. "Boats are in sight, Mrs. Carne! and all's well!" cried a voice cheerfully, and old Job Maunders popped his grizzled head round the screen. "I thought you might be troubling, ma'am, so I just popped 'fore to tell 'ee. I'm off down to see if I can lend a hand."