BEING THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE TREASURE SEEKERS
By E. Nesbit
TO My Dear Son Fabian Bland
1. The Jungle 2. The Wouldbegoods 3. Bill's Tombstone 4. The Tower of Mystery 5. The Waterworks 6. The Circus 7. Being Beavers; or, The Young Explorers (Arctic or Otherwise) 8. The High-Born Babe 9. Hunting the Fox 10. The Sale of Antiquities 11. The Benevolent Bar 12. The Canterbury Pilgrims 13. The Dragon's Teeth; or, Army Seed 14. Albert's Uncle's Grandmother; or, The Long-Lost
CHAPTER 1. THE JUNGLE
Children are like jam: all very well in the proper place, but you can't stand them all over the shop—eh, what?'
These were the dreadful words of our Indian uncle. They made us feel very young and angry; and yet we could not be comforted by calling him names to ourselves, as you do when nasty grown-ups say nasty things, because he is not nasty, but quite the exact opposite when not irritated. And we could not think it ungentlemanly of him to say we were like jam, because, as Alice says, jam is very nice indeed—only not on furniture and improper places like that. My father said, 'Perhaps they had better go to boarding-school.' And that was awful, because we know Father disapproves of boarding-schools. And he looked at us and said, 'I am ashamed of them, sir!'
Your lot is indeed a dark and terrible one when your father is ashamed of you. And we all knew this, so that we felt in our chests just as if we had swallowed a hard-boiled egg whole. At least, this is what Oswald felt, and Father said once that Oswald, as the eldest, was the representative of the family, so, of course, the others felt the same.
And then everybody said nothing for a short time. At last Father said—
'You may go—but remember—'
The words that followed I am not going to tell you. It is no use telling you what you know before—as they do in schools. And you must all have had such words said to you many times. We went away when it was over. The girls cried, and we boys got out books and began to read, so that nobody should think we cared. But we felt it deeply in our interior hearts, especially Oswald, who is the eldest and the representative of the family.
We felt it all the more because we had not really meant to do anything wrong. We only thought perhaps the grown-ups would not be quite pleased if they knew, and that is quite different. Besides, we meant to put all the things back in their proper places when we had done with them before anyone found out about it. But I must not anticipate (that means telling the end of the story before the beginning. I tell you this because it is so sickening to have words you don't know in a story, and to be told to look it up in the dicker).
We are the Bastables—Oswald, Dora, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and H. O. If you want to know why we call our youngest brother H. O. you can jolly well read The Treasure Seekers and find out. We were the Treasure Seekers, and we sought it high and low, and quite regularly, because we particularly wanted to find it. And at last we did not find it, but we were found by a good, kind Indian uncle, who helped Father with his business, so that Father was able to take us all to live in a jolly big red house on Blackheath, instead of in the Lewisham Road, where we lived when we were only poor but honest Treasure Seekers. When we were poor but honest we always used to think that if only Father had plenty of business, and we did not have to go short of pocket money and wear shabby clothes (I don't mind this myself, but the girls do), we should be happy and very, very good.
And when we were taken to the beautiful big Blackheath house we thought now all would be well, because it was a house with vineries and pineries, and gas and water, and shrubberies and stabling, and replete with every modern convenience, like it says in Dyer & Hilton's list of Eligible House Property. I read all about it, and I have copied the words quite right.
It is a beautiful house, all the furniture solid and strong, no casters off the chairs, and the tables not scratched, and the silver not dented; and lots of servants, and the most decent meals every day—and lots of pocket-money.
But it is wonderful how soon you get used to things, even the things you want most. Our watches, for instance. We wanted them frightfully; but when I had mine a week or two, after the mainspring got broken and was repaired at Bennett's in the village, I hardly cared to look at the works at all, and it did not make me feel happy in my heart any more, though, of course, I should have been very unhappy if it had been taken away from me. And the same with new clothes and nice dinners and having enough of everything. You soon get used to it all, and it does not make you extra happy, although, if you had it all taken away, you would be very dejected. (That is a good word, and one I have never used before.) You get used to everything, as I said, and then you want something more. Father says this is what people mean by the deceitfulness of riches; but Albert's uncle says it is the spirit of progress, and Mrs Leslie said some people called it 'divine discontent'. Oswald asked them all what they thought one Sunday at dinner. Uncle said it was rot, and what we wanted was bread and water and a licking; but he meant it for a joke. This was in the Easter holidays.
We went to live at the Red House at Christmas. After the holidays the girls went to the Blackheath High School, and we boys went to the Prop. (that means the Proprietary School). And we had to swot rather during term; but about Easter we knew the deceitfulness of riches in the vac., when there was nothing much on, like pantomimes and things. Then there was the summer term, and we swotted more than ever; and it was boiling hot, and masters' tempers got short and sharp, and the girls used to wish the exams came in cold weather. I can't think why they don't. But I suppose schools don't think of sensible thinks like that. They teach botany at girls' schools.
Then the Midsummer holidays came, and we breathed again—but only for a few days. We began to feel as if we had forgotten something, and did not know what it was. We wanted something to happen—only we didn't exactly know what. So we were very pleased when Father said—
'I've asked Mr Foulkes to send his children here for a week or two. You know—the kids who came at Christmas. You must be jolly to them, and see that they have a good time, don't you know.'
We remembered them right enough—they were little pinky, frightened things, like white mice, with very bright eyes. They had not been to our house since Christmas, because Denis, the boy, had been ill, and they had been with an aunt at Ramsgate.
Alice and Dora would have liked to get the bedrooms ready for the honoured guests, but a really good housemaid is sometimes more ready to say 'Don't' than even a general. So the girls had to chuck it. Jane only let them put flowers in the pots on the visitors' mantelpieces, and then they had to ask the gardener which kind they might pick, because nothing worth gathering happened to be growing in our own gardens just then.
Their train got in at 12.27. We all went to meet them. Afterwards I thought that was a mistake, because their aunt was with them, and she wore black with beady things and a tight bonnet, and she said, when we took our hats off—'Who are you?' quite crossly.
We said, 'We are the Bastables; we've come to meet Daisy and Denny.'
The aunt is a very rude lady, and it made us sorry for Daisy and Denny when she said to them—
'Are these the children? Do you remember them?' We weren't very tidy, perhaps, because we'd been playing brigands in the shrubbery; and we knew we should have to wash for dinner as soon as we got back, anyhow. But still—
Denny said he thought he remembered us. But Daisy said, 'Of course they are,' and then looked as if she was going to cry.
So then the aunt called a cab, and told the man where to drive, and put Daisy and Denny in, and then she said—
'You two little girls may go too, if you like, but you little boys must walk.'
So the cab went off, and we were left. The aunt turned to us to say a few last words. We knew it would have been about brushing your hair and wearing gloves, so Oswald said, 'Good-bye', and turned haughtily away, before she could begin, and so did the others. No one but that kind of black beady tight lady would say 'little boys'. She is like Miss Murdstone in David Copperfield. I should like to tell her so; but she would not understand. I don't suppose she has ever read anything but Markham's History and Mangnall's Questions—improving books like that.
When we got home we found all four of those who had ridden in the cab sitting in our sitting-room—we don't call it nursery now—looking very thoroughly washed, and our girls were asking polite questions and the others were saying 'Yes' and 'No', and 'I don't know'. We boys did not say anything. We stood at the window and looked out till the gong went for our dinner. We felt it was going to be awful—and it was. The newcomers would never have done for knight-errants, or to carry the Cardinal's sealed message through the heart of France on a horse; they would never have thought of anything to say to throw the enemy off the scent when they got into a tight place.
They said 'Yes, please', and 'No, thank you'; and they ate very neatly, and always wiped their mouths before they drank, as well as after, and never spoke with them full.
And after dinner it got worse and worse.
We got out all our books and they said 'Thank you', and didn't look at them properly. And we got out all our toys, and they said 'Thank you, it's very nice' to everything. And it got less and less pleasant, and towards teatime it came to nobody saying anything except Noel and H. O.—and they talked to each other about cricket.
After tea Father came in, and he played 'Letters' with them and the girls, and it was a little better; but while late dinner was going on—I shall never forget it. Oswald felt like the hero of a book—'almost at the end of his resources'. I don't think I was ever glad of bedtime before, but that time I was.
When they had gone to bed (Daisy had to have all her strings and buttons undone for her, Dora told me, though she is nearly ten, and Denny said he couldn't sleep without the gas being left a little bit on) we held a council in the girls' room. We all sat on the bed—it is a mahogany fourposter with green curtains very good for tents, only the housekeeper doesn't allow it, and Oswald said—
'This is jolly nice, isn't it?'
'They'll be better to-morrow,' Alice said, 'they're only shy.'
Dicky said shy was all very well, but you needn't behave like a perfect idiot.
'They're frightened. You see we're all strange to them,' Dora said.
'We're not wild beasts or Indians; we shan't eat them. What have they got to be frightened of?' Dicky said this.
Noel told us he thought they were an enchanted prince and princess who'd been turned into white rabbits, and their bodies had got changed back but not their insides.
But Oswald told him to dry up.
'It's no use making things up about them,' he said. 'The thing is: what are we going to DO? We can't have our holidays spoiled by these snivelling kids.'
'No,' Alice said, 'but they can't possibly go on snivelling for ever. Perhaps they've got into the habit of it with that Murdstone aunt. She's enough to make anyone snivel.'
'All the same,' said Oswald, 'we jolly well aren't going to have another day like today. We must do something to rouse them from their snivelling leth—what's its name?—something sudden and—what is it?—decisive.'
'A booby trap,' said H. O., 'the first thing when they get up, and an apple-pie bed at night.'
But Dora would not hear of it, and I own she was right.
'Suppose,' she said, 'we could get up a good play—like we did when we were Treasure Seekers.'
We said, well what? But she did not say.
'It ought to be a good long thing—to last all day,' Dicky said, 'and if they like they can play, and if they don't—'
'If they don't, I'll read to them,' Alice said.
But we all said 'No, you don't—if you begin that way you'll have to go on.'
And Dicky added, 'I wasn't going to say that at all. I was going to say if they didn't like it they could jolly well do the other thing.'
We all agreed that we must think of something, but we none of us could, and at last the council broke up in confusion because Mrs Blake—she is the housekeeper—came up and turned off the gas.
But next morning when we were having breakfast, and the two strangers were sitting there so pink and clean, Oswald suddenly said—
'I know; we'll have a jungle in the garden.'
And the others agreed, and we talked about it till brek was over. The little strangers only said 'I don't know' whenever we said anything to them.
After brekker Oswald beckoned his brothers and sisters mysteriously apart and said—
'Do you agree to let me be captain today, because I thought of it?'
And they said they would.
Then he said, 'We'll play Jungle Book, and I shall be Mowgli. The rest of you can be what you like—Mowgli's father and mother, or any of the beasts.'
'I don't suppose they know the book,' said Noel. 'They don't look as if they read anything, except at lesson times.'
'Then they can go on being beasts all the time,' Oswald said. 'Anyone can be a beast.'
So it was settled.
And now Oswald—Albert's uncle has sometimes said he is clever at arranging things—began to lay his plans for the jungle. The day was indeed well chosen. Our Indian uncle was away; Father was away; Mrs Blake was going away, and the housemaid had an afternoon off. Oswald's first conscious act was to get rid of the white mice—I mean the little good visitors. He explained to them that there would be a play in the afternoon, and they could be what they liked, and gave them the Jungle Book to read the stories he told them to—all the ones about Mowgli. He led the strangers to a secluded spot among the sea-kale pots in the kitchen garden and left them. Then he went back to the others, and we had a jolly morning under the cedar talking about what we would do when Blakie was gone. She went just after our dinner.
When we asked Denny what he would like to be in the play, it turned out he had not read the stories Oswald told him at all, but only the 'White Seal' and 'Rikki Tikki'.
We then agreed to make the jungle first and dress up for our parts afterwards. Oswald was a little uncomfortable about leaving the strangers alone all the morning, so he said Denny should be his aide-de-camp, and he was really quite useful. He is rather handy with his fingers, and things that he does up do not come untied. Daisy might have come too, but she wanted to go on reading, so we let her, which is the truest manners to a visitor. Of course the shrubbery was to be the jungle, and the lawn under the cedar a forest glade, and then we began to collect the things. The cedar lawn is just nicely out of the way of the windows. It was a jolly hot day—the kind of day when the sunshine is white and the shadows are dark grey, not black like they are in the evening.
We all thought of different things. Of course first we dressed up pillows in the skins of beasts and set them about on the grass to look as natural as we could. And then we got Pincher, and rubbed him all over with powdered slate-pencil, to make him the right colour for Grey Brother. But he shook it all off, and it had taken an awful time to do. Then Alice said—
'Oh, I know!' and she ran off to Father's dressing-room, and came back with the tube of creme d'amande pour la barbe et les mains, and we squeezed it on Pincher and rubbed it in, and then the slate-pencil stuff stuck all right, and he rolled in the dust-bin of his own accord, which made him just the right colour. He is a very clever dog, but soon after he went off and we did not find him till quite late in the afternoon. Denny helped with Pincher, and with the wild-beast skins, and when Pincher was finished he said—
'Please, may I make some paper birds to put in the trees? I know how.'
And of course we said 'Yes', and he only had red ink and newspapers, and quickly he made quite a lot of large paper birds with red tails. They didn't look half bad on the edge of the shrubbery.
While he was doing this he suddenly said, or rather screamed, 'Oh?'
And we looked, and it was a creature with great horns and a fur rug—something like a bull and something like a minotaur—and I don't wonder Denny was frightened. It was Alice, and it was first-class.
Up to now all was not yet lost beyond recall. It was the stuffed fox that did the mischief—and I am sorry to own it was Oswald who thought of it. He is not ashamed of having THOUGHT of it. That was rather clever of him. But he knows now that it is better not to take other people's foxes and things without asking, even if you live in the same house with them.
It was Oswald who undid the back of the glass case in the hall and got out the fox with the green and grey duck in its mouth, and when the others saw how awfully like life they looked on the lawn, they all rushed off to fetch the other stuffed things. Uncle has a tremendous lot of stuffed things. He shot most of them himself—but not the fox, of course. There was another fox's mask, too, and we hung that in a bush to look as if the fox was peeping out. And the stuffed birds we fastened on to the trees with string. The duck-bill—what's its name?—looked very well sitting on his tail with the otter snarling at him. Then Dicky had an idea; and though not nearly so much was said about it afterwards as there was about the stuffed things, I think myself it was just as bad, though it was a good idea, too. He just got the hose and put the end over a branch of the cedar-tree. Then we got the steps they clean windows with, and let the hose rest on the top of the steps and run. It was to be a waterfall, but it ran between the steps and was only wet and messy; so we got Father's mackintosh and uncle's and covered the steps with them, so that the water ran down all right and was glorious, and it ran away in a stream across the grass where we had dug a little channel for it—and the otter and the duck-bill-thing were as if in their native haunts. I hope all this is not very dull to read about. I know it was jolly good fun to do. Taking one thing with another, I don't know that we ever had a better time while it lasted.
We got all the rabbits out of the hutches and put pink paper tails on to them, and hunted them with horns made out of The Times. They got away somehow, and before they were caught next day they had eaten a good many lettuces and other things. Oswald is very sorry for this. He rather likes the gardener.
Denny wanted to put paper tails on the guinea-pigs, and it was no use our telling him there was nothing to tie the paper on to. He thought we were kidding until we showed him, and then he said, 'Well, never mind', and got the girls to give him bits of the blue stuff left over from their dressing-gowns.
'I'll make them sashes to tie round their little middles,' he said. And he did, and the bows stuck up on the tops of their backs. One of the guinea-pigs was never seen again, and the same with the tortoise when we had done his shell with vermilion paint. He crawled away and returned no more. Perhaps someone collected him and thought he was an expensive kind unknown in these cold latitudes.
The lawn under the cedar was transformed into a dream of beauty, what with the stuffed creatures and the paper-tailed things and the waterfall. And Alice said—
'I wish the tigers did not look so flat.' For of course with pillows you can only pretend it is a sleeping tiger getting ready to make a spring out at you. It is difficult to prop up tiger-skins in a life-like manner when there are no bones inside them, only pillows and sofa cushions.
'What about the beer-stands?' I said. And we got two out of the cellar. With bolsters and string we fastened insides to the tigers—and they were really fine. The legs of the beer-stands did for tigers' legs. It was indeed the finishing touch.
Then we boys put on just our bathing drawers and vests—so as to be able to play with the waterfall without hurting our clothes. I think this was thoughtful. The girls only tucked up their frocks and took their shoes and stockings off. H. O. painted his legs and his hands with Condy's fluid—to make him brown, so that he might be Mowgli, although Oswald was captain and had plainly said he was going to be Mowgli himself. Of course the others weren't going to stand that. So Oswald said—
'Very well. Nobody asked you to brown yourself like that. But now you've done it, you've simply got to go and be a beaver, and live in the dam under the waterfall till it washes off.'
He said he didn't want to be beavers. And Noel said—
'Don't make him. Let him be the bronze statue in the palace gardens that the fountain plays out of.'
So we let him have the hose and hold it up over his head. It made a lovely fountain, only he remained brown. So then Dicky and Oswald and I did ourselves brown too, and dried H. O. as well as we could with our handkerchiefs, because he was just beginning to snivel. The brown did not come off any of us for days.
Oswald was to be Mowgli, and we were just beginning to arrange the different parts. The rest of the hose that was on the ground was Kaa, the Rock Python, and Pincher was Grey Brother, only we couldn't find him. And while most of us were talking, Dicky and Noel got messing about with the beer-stand tigers.
And then a really sad event instantly occurred, which was not really our fault, and we did not mean to.
That Daisy girl had been mooning indoors all the afternoon with the Jungle Books, and now she came suddenly out, just as Dicky and Noel had got under the tigers and were shoving them along to fright each other. Of course, this is not in the Mowgli book at all: but they did look jolly like real tigers, and I am very far from wishing to blame the girl, though she little knew what would be the awful consequence of her rash act. But for her we might have got out of it all much better than we did. What happened was truly horrid.
As soon as Daisy saw the tigers she stopped short, and uttering a shriek like a railway whistle she fell flat on the ground.
'Fear not, gentle Indian maid,' Oswald cried, thinking with surprise that perhaps after all she did know how to play, 'I myself will protect thee.' And he sprang forward with the native bow and arrows out of uncle's study.
The gentle Indian maiden did not move.
'Come hither,' Dora said, 'let us take refuge in yonder covert while this good knight does battle for us.' Dora might have remembered that we were savages, but she did not. And that is Dora all over. And still the Daisy girl did not move.
Then we were truly frightened. Dora and Alice lifted her up, and her mouth was a horrid violet-colour and her eyes half shut. She looked horrid. Not at all like fair fainting damsels, who are always of an interesting pallor. She was green, like a cheap oyster on a stall.
We did what we could, a prey to alarm as we were. We rubbed her hands and let the hose play gently but perseveringly on her unconscious brow. The girls loosened her dress, though it was only the kind that comes down straight without a waist. And we were all doing what we could as hard as we could, when we heard the click of the front gate. There was no mistake about it.
'I hope whoever it is will go straight to the front door,' said Alice. But whoever it was did not. There were feet on the gravel, and there was the uncle's voice, saying in his hearty manner—
'This way. This way. On such a day as this we shall find our young barbarians all at play somewhere about the grounds.'
And then, without further warning, the uncle, three other gentlemen and two ladies burst upon the scene.
We had no clothes on to speak of—I mean us boys. We were all wet through. Daisy was in a faint or a fit, or dead, none of us then knew which. And all the stuffed animals were there staring the uncle in the face. Most of them had got a sprinkling, and the otter and the duck-bill brute were simply soaked. And three of us were dark brown. Concealment, as so often happens, was impossible.
The quick brain of Oswald saw, in a flash, exactly how it would strike the uncle, and his brave young blood ran cold in his veins. His heart stood still.
'What's all this—eh, what?' said the tones of the wronged uncle.
Oswald spoke up and said it was jungles we were playing, and he didn't know what was up with Daisy. He explained as well as anyone could, but words were now in vain.
The uncle had a Malacca cane in his hand, and we were but ill prepared to meet the sudden attack. Oswald and H. O. caught it worst. The other boys were under the tigers—and of course my uncle would not strike a girl. Denny was a visitor and so got off.
But it was bread and water for us for the next three days, and our own rooms. I will not tell you how we sought to vary the monotonousness of imprisonment. Oswald thought of taming a mouse, but he could not find one. The reason of the wretched captives might have given way but for the gutter that you can crawl along from our room to the girls'. But I will not dwell on this because you might try it yourselves, and it really is dangerous. When my father came home we got the talking to, and we said we were sorry—and we really were—especially about Daisy, though she had behaved with muffishness, and then it was settled that we were to go into the country and stay till we had grown into better children.
Albert's uncle was writing a book in the country; we were to go to his house. We were glad of this—Daisy and Denny too. This we bore nobly. We knew we had deserved it. We were all very sorry for everything, and we resolved that for the future we WOULD be good.
I am not sure whether we kept this resolution or not. Oswald thinks now that perhaps we made a mistake in trying so very hard to be good all at once. You should do everything by degrees.
P.S.—It turned out Daisy was not really dead at all. It was only fainting—so like a girl.
N.B.—Pincher was found on the drawing-room sofa.
Appendix.—I have not told you half the things we did for the jungle—for instance, about the elephants' tusks and the horse-hair sofa-cushions, and uncle's fishing-boots.
CHAPTER 2. THE WOULDBEGOODS
When we were sent down into the country to learn to be good we felt it was rather good business, because we knew our being sent there was really only to get us out of the way for a little while, and we knew right enough that it wasn't a punishment, though Mrs Blake said it was, because we had been punished thoroughly for taking the stuffed animals out and making a jungle on the lawn with them, and the garden hose. And you cannot be punished twice for the same offence. This is the English law; at least I think so. And at any rate no one would punish you three times, and we had had the Malacca cane and the solitary confinement; and the uncle had kindly explained to us that all ill-feeling between him and us was wiped out entirely by the bread and water we had endured. And what with the bread and water and being prisoners, and not being able to tame any mice in our prisons, I quite feel that we had suffered it up thoroughly, and now we could start fair.
I think myself that descriptions of places are generally dull, but I have sometimes thought that was because the authors do not tell you what you truly want to know. However, dull or not, here goes—because you won't understand anything unless I tell you what the place was like.
The Moat House was the one we went to stay at. There has been a house there since Saxon times. It is a manor, and a manor goes on having a house on it whatever happens. The Moat House was burnt down once or twice in ancient centuries—I don't remember which—but they always built a new one, and Cromwell's soldiers smashed it about, but it was patched up again. It is a very odd house: the front door opens straight into the dining-room, and there are red curtains and a black-and-white marble floor like a chess-board, and there is a secret staircase, only it is not secret now—only rather rickety. It is not very big, but there is a watery moat all round it with a brick bridge that leads to the front door. Then, on the other side of the moat there is the farm, with barns and oast houses and stables, or things like that. And the other way the garden lawn goes on till it comes to the churchyard. The churchyard is not divided from the garden at all except by a little grass bank. In the front of the house there is more garden, and the big fruit garden is at the back.
The man the house belongs to likes new houses, so he built a big one with conservatories and a stable with a clock in a turret on the top, and he left the Moat House. And Albert's uncle took it, and my father was to come down sometimes from Saturday to Monday, and Albert's uncle was to live with us all the time, and he would be writing a book, and we were not to bother him, but he would give an eye to us. I hope all this is plain. I have said it as short as I can.
We got down rather late, but there was still light enough to see the big bell hanging at the top of the house. The rope belonging to it went right down the house, through our bedroom to the dining-room. H. O. saw the rope and pulled it while he was washing his hands for supper, and Dicky and I let him, and the bell tolled solemnly. Father shouted to him not to, and we went down to supper.
But presently there were many feet trampling on the gravel, and Father went out to see. When he came back he said—'The whole village, or half of it, has come up to see why the bell rang. It's only rung for fire or burglars. Why can't you kids let things alone?'
Albert's uncle said—
'Bed follows supper as the fruit follows the flower. They'll do no more mischief to-night, sir. To-morrow I will point out a few of the things to be avoided in this bucolic retreat.'
So it was bed directly after supper, and that was why we did not see much that night.
But in the morning we were all up rather early, and we seemed to have awakened in a new world rich in surprises beyond the dreams of anybody, as it says in the quotation.
We went everywhere we could in the time, but when it was breakfast-time we felt we had not seen half or a quarter. The room we had breakfast in was exactly like in a story—black oak panels and china in corner cupboards with glass doors. These doors were locked. There were green curtains, and honeycomb for breakfast. After brekker my father went back to town, and Albert's uncle went too, to see publishers. We saw them to the station, and Father gave us a long list of what we weren't to do. It began with 'Don't pull ropes unless you're quite sure what will happen at the other end,' and it finished with 'For goodness sake, try to keep out of mischief till I come down on Saturday'. There were lots of other things in between.
We all promised we would. And we saw them off and waved till the train was quite out of sight. Then we started to walk home. Daisy was tired so Oswald carried her home on his back. When we got home she said—
'I do like you, Oswald.'
She is not a bad little kid; and Oswald felt it was his duty to be nice to her because she was a visitor. Then we looked all over everything. It was a glorious place. You did not know where to begin. We were all a little tired before we found the hayloft, but we pulled ourselves together to make a fort with the trusses of hay—great square things—and we were having a jolly good time, all of us, when suddenly a trap-door opened and a head bobbed up with a straw in its mouth. We knew nothing about the country then, and the head really did scare us rather, though, of course, we found out directly that the feet belonging to it were standing on the bar of the loose-box underneath. The head said—
'Don't you let the governor catch you a-spoiling of that there hay, that's all.' And it spoke thickly because of the straw.
It is strange to think how ignorant you were in the past. We can hardly believe now that once we really did not know that it spoiled hay to mess about with it. Horses don't like to eat it afterwards.
Always remember this.
When the head had explained a little more it went away, and we turned the handle of the chaff-cutting machine, and nobody got hurt, though the head HAD said we should cut our fingers off if we touched it.
And then we sat down on the floor, which is dirty with the nice clean dirt that is more than half chopped hay, and those there was room for hung their legs down out of the top door, and we looked down at the farmyard, which is very slushy when you get down into it, but most interesting.
Then Alice said—
'Now we're all here, and the boys are tired enough to sit still for a minute, I want to have a council.'
We said what about? And she said, 'I'll tell you.' H. O., don't wriggle so; sit on my frock if the straws tickle your legs.'
You see he wears socks, and so he can never be quite as comfortable as anyone else.
'Promise not to laugh' Alice said, getting very red, and looking at Dora, who got red too.
We did, and then she said:
'Dora and I have talked this over, and Daisy too, and we have written it down because it is easier than saying it. Shall I read it? or will you, Dora?'
Dora said it didn't matter; Alice might. So Alice read it, and though she gabbled a bit we all heard it. I copied it afterwards. This is what she read:
NEW SOCIETY FOR BEING GOOD IN
'I, Dora Bastable, and Alice Bastable, my sister, being of sound mind and body, when we were shut up with bread and water on that jungle day, we thought a great deal about our naughty sins, and we made our minds up to be good for ever after. And we talked to Daisy about it, and she had an idea. So we want to start a society for being good in. It is Daisy's idea, but we think so too.'
'You know,' Dora interrupted, 'when people want to do good things they always make a society. There are thousands—there's the Missionary Society.'
'Yes,' Alice said, 'and the Society for the Prevention of something or other, and the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society, and the S.P.G.'
'What's S.P.G.?' Oswald asked.
'Society for the Propagation of the Jews, of course,' said Noel, who cannot always spell.
'No, it isn't; but do let me go on.'
Alice did go on.
'We propose to get up a society, with a chairman and a treasurer and secretary, and keep a journal-book saying what we've done. If that doesn't make us good it won't be my fault.
'The aim of the society is nobleness and goodness, and great and unselfish deeds. We wish not to be such a nuisance to grown-up people and to perform prodigies of real goodness. We wish to spread our wings'—here Alice read very fast. She told me afterwards Daisy had helped her with that part, and she thought when she came to the wings they sounded rather silly—'to spread our wings and rise above the kind of interesting things that you ought not to do, but to do kindnesses to all, however low and mean.'
Denny was listening carefully. Now he nodded three or four times.
'Little words of kindness' (he said), 'Little deeds of love, Make this earth an eagle Like the one above.'
This did not sound right, but we let it pass, because an eagle does have wings, and we wanted to hear the rest of what the girls had written. But there was no rest.
'That's all,' said Alice, and Daisy said—'Don't you think it's a good idea?'
'That depends,' Oswald answered, 'who is president and what you mean by being good.'
Oswald did not care very much for the idea himself, because being good is not the sort of thing he thinks it is proper to talk about, especially before strangers. But the girls and Denny seemed to like it, so Oswald did not say exactly what he thought, especially as it was Daisy's idea. This was true politeness.
'I think it would be nice,' Noel said, 'if we made it a sort of play. Let's do the Pilgrim's Progress.'
We talked about that for some time, but it did not come to anything, because we all wanted to be Mr Greatheart, except H. O., who wanted to be the lions, and you could not have lions in a Society for Goodness.
Dicky said he did not wish to play if it meant reading books about children who die; he really felt just as Oswald did about it, he told me afterwards. But the girls were looking as if they were in Sunday school, and we did not wish to be unkind.
At last Oswald said, 'Well, let's draw up the rules of the society, and choose the president and settle the name.'
Dora said Oswald should be president, and he modestly consented. She was secretary, and Denny treasurer if we ever had any money.
Making the rules took us all the afternoon. They were these:
1. Every member is to be as good as possible.
2. There is to be no more jaw than necessary about being good. (Oswald and Dicky put that rule in.)
3. No day must pass without our doing some kind action to a suffering fellow-creature.
4. We are to meet every day, or as often as we like.
5. We are to do good to people we don't like as often as we can.
6. No one is to leave the Society without the consent of all the rest of us.
7. The Society is to be kept a profound secret from all the world except us.
8. The name of our Society is—
And when we got as far as that we all began to talk at once. Dora wanted it called the Society for Humane Improvement; Denny said the Society for Reformed Outcast Children; but Dicky said, No, we really were not so bad as all that.
Then H. O. said, 'Call it the Good Society.'
'Or the Society for Being Good In,' said Daisy.
'Or the Society of Goods,' said Noel.
'That's priggish,' said Oswald; 'besides, we don't know whether we shall be so very.'
'You see,' Alice explained, 'we only said if we COULD we would be good.'
'Well, then,' Dicky said, getting up and beginning to dust the chopped hay off himself, 'call it the Society of the Wouldbegoods and have done with it.'
Oswald thinks Dicky was getting sick of it and wanted to make himself a little disagreeable. If so, he was doomed to disappointment. For everyone else clapped hands and called out, 'That's the very thing!' Then the girls went off to write out the rules, and took H. O. with them, and Noel went to write some poetry to put in the minute book. That's what you call the book that a society's secretary writes what it does in. Denny went with him to help. He knows a lot of poetry. I think he went to a lady's school where they taught nothing but that. He was rather shy of us, but he took to Noel. I can't think why. Dicky and Oswald walked round the garden and told each other what they thought of the new society.
'I'm not sure we oughtn't to have put our foot down at the beginning,' Dicky said. 'I don't see much in it, anyhow.'
'It pleases the girls,' Oswald said, for he is a kind brother.
'But we're not going to stand jaw, and "words in season", and "loving sisterly warnings". I tell you what it is, Oswald, we'll have to run this thing our way, or it'll be jolly beastly for everybody.'
Oswald saw this plainly.
'We must do something,' Dicky said; it's very very hard, though. Still, there must be SOME interesting things that are not wrong.'
'I suppose so,' Oswald said, 'but being good is so much like being a muff, generally. Anyhow I'm not going to smooth the pillows of the sick, or read to the aged poor, or any rot out of Ministering Children.'
'No more am I,' Dicky said. He was chewing a straw like the head had in its mouth, 'but I suppose we must play the game fair. Let's begin by looking out for something useful to do—something like mending things or cleaning them, not just showing off.'
'The boys in books chop kindling wood and save their pennies to buy tea and tracts.'
'Little beasts!' said Dick. 'I say, let's talk about something else.' And Oswald was glad to, for he was beginning to feel jolly uncomfortable.
We were all rather quiet at tea, and afterwards Oswald played draughts with Daisy and the others yawned. I don't know when we've had such a gloomy evening. And everyone was horribly polite, and said 'Please' and 'Thank you' far more than requisite.
Albert's uncle came home after tea. He was jolly, and told us stories, but he noticed us being a little dull, and asked what blight had fallen on our young lives. Oswald could have answered and said, 'It is the Society of the Wouldbegoods that is the blight,' but of course he didn't and Albert's uncle said no more, but he went up and kissed the girls when they were in bed, and asked them if there was anything wrong. And they told him no, on their honour.
The next morning Oswald awoke early. The refreshing beams of the morning sun shone on his narrow white bed and on the sleeping forms of his dear little brothers and Denny, who had got the pillow on top of his head and was snoring like a kettle when it sings. Oswald could not remember at first what was the matter with him, and then he remembered the Wouldbegoods, and wished he hadn't. He felt at first as if there was nothing you could do, and even hesitated to buzz a pillow at Denny's head. But he soon saw that this could not be. So he chucked his boot and caught Denny right in the waistcoat part, and thus the day began more brightly than he had expected.
Oswald had not done anything out of the way good the night before, except that when no one was looking he polished the brass candlestick in the girls' bedroom with one of his socks. And he might just as well have let it alone, for the servants cleaned it again with the other things in the morning, and he could never find the sock afterwards. There were two servants. One of them had to be called Mrs Pettigrew instead of Jane and Eliza like others. She was cook and managed things.
After breakfast Albert's uncle said—
'I now seek the retirement of my study. At your peril violate my privacy before 1.30 sharp. Nothing short of bloodshed will warrant the intrusion, and nothing short of man—or rather boy—slaughter shall avenge it.'
So we knew he wanted to be quiet, and the girls decided that we ought to play out of doors so as not to disturb him; we should have played out of doors anyhow on a jolly fine day like that.
But as we were going out Dicky said to Oswald—
'I say, come along here a minute, will you?'
So Oswald came along, and Dicky took him into the other parlour and shut the door, and Oswald said—
'Well, spit it out: what is it?' He knows that is vulgar, and he would not have said it to anyone but his own brother. Dicky said—
'It's a pretty fair nuisance. I told you how it would be.' And Oswald was patient with him, and said—
'What is? Don't be all day about it.'
Dicky fidgeted about a bit, and then he said—
'Well, I did as I said. I looked about for something useful to do. And you know that dairy window that wouldn't open—only a little bit like that? Well, I mended the catch with wire and whip cord and it opened wide.'
'And I suppose they didn't want it mended,' said Oswald. He knew but too well that grown-up people sometimes like to keep things far different from what we would, and you catch it if you try to do otherwise.
'I shouldn't have minded THAT,' Dicky said, 'because I could easily have taken it all off again if they'd only said so. But the sillies went and propped up a milk-pan against the window. They never took the trouble to notice I had mended it. So the wretched thing pushed the window open all by itself directly they propped it up, and it tumbled through into the moat, and they are most awfully waxy. All the men are out in the fields and they haven't any spare milk-pans. If I were a farmer, I must say I wouldn't stick at an extra milk-pan or two. Accidents must happen sometimes. I call it mean.'
Dicky spoke in savage tones. But Oswald was not so unhappy, first because it wasn't his fault, and next because he is a far-seeing boy.
'Never mind,' he said kindly. 'Keep your tail up. We'll get the beastly milk-pan out all right. Come on.' He rushed hastily to the garden and gave a low, signifying whistle, which the others know well enough to mean something extra being up.
And when they were all gathered round him he spoke.
'Fellow countrymen,' he said, 'we're going to have a rousing good time.'
'It's nothing naughty, is it,' Daisy asked, 'like the last time you had that was rousingly good?'
Alice said 'Shish', and Oswald pretended not to hear.
'A precious treasure,' he said, 'has inadvertently been laid low in the moat by one of us.'
'The rotten thing tumbled in by itself,' Dicky said.
Oswald waved his hand and said, 'Anyhow, it's there. It's our duty to restore it to its sorrowing owners. I say, look here—we're going to drag the moat.'
Everyone brightened up at this. It was our duty and it was interesting too. This is very uncommon.
So we went out to where the orchard is, at the other side of the moat. There were gooseberries and things on the bushes, but we did not take any till we had asked if we might. Alice went and asked. Mrs Pettigrew said, 'Law! I suppose so; you'd eat 'em anyhow, leave or no leave.'
She little knows the honourable nature of the house of Bastable. But she has much to learn.
The orchard slopes gently down to the dark waters of the moat. We sat there in the sun and talked about dragging the moat, till Denny said, 'How DO you drag moats?'
And we were speechless, because, though we had read many times about a moat being dragged for missing heirs and lost wills, we really had never thought about exactly how it was done.
'Grappling-irons are right, I believe,' Denny said, 'but I don't suppose they'd have any at the farm.'
And we asked, and found they had never even heard of them. I think myself he meant some other word, but he was quite positive.
So then we got a sheet off Oswald's bed, and we all took our shoes and stockings off, and we tried to see if the sheet would drag the bottom of the moat, which is shallow at that end. But it would keep floating on the top of the water, and when we tried sewing stones into one end of it, it stuck on something in the bottom, and when we got it up it was torn. We were very sorry, and the sheet was in an awful mess; but the girls said they were sure they could wash it in the basin in their room, and we thought as we had torn it anyway, we might as well go on. That washing never came off.
'No human being,' Noel said, 'knows half the treasures hidden in this dark tarn.'
And we decided we would drag a bit more at that end, and work gradually round to under the dairy window where the milk-pan was. We could not see that part very well, because of the bushes that grow between the cracks of the stones where the house goes down into the moat. And opposite the dairy window the barn goes straight down into the moat too. It is like pictures of Venice; but you cannot get opposite the dairy window anyhow.
We got the sheet down again when we had tied the torn parts together in a bunch with string, and Oswald was just saying—
'Now then, my hearties, pull together, pull with a will! One, two, three,' when suddenly Dora dropped her bit of the sheet with a piercing shriek and cried out—
'Oh! it's all wormy at the bottom. I felt them wriggle.' And she was out of the water almost before the words were out of her mouth.
The other girls all scuttled out too, and they let the sheet go in such a hurry that we had no time to steady ourselves, and one of us went right in, and the rest got wet up to our waistbands. The one who went right in was only H. O.; but Dora made an awful fuss and said it was our fault. We told her what we thought, and it ended in the girls going in with H. O. to change his things. We had some more gooseberries while they were gone. Dora was in an awful wax when she went away, but she is not of a sullen disposition though sometimes hasty, and when they all came back we saw it was all right, so we said—
'What shall we do now?'
Alice said, 'I don't think we need drag any more. It is wormy. I felt it when Dora did. And besides, the milk-pan is sticking a bit of itself out of the water. I saw it through the dairy window.'
'Couldn't we get it up with fish-hooks?' Noel said. But Alice explained that the dairy was now locked up and the key taken out. So then Oswald said—
'Look here, we'll make a raft. We should have to do it some time, and we might as well do it now. I saw an old door in that corner stable that they don't use. You know. The one where they chop the wood.'
We got the door.
We had never made a raft, any of us, but the way to make rafts is better described in books, so we knew what to do.
We found some nice little tubs stuck up on the fence of the farm garden, and nobody seemed to want them for anything just then, so we took them. Denny had a box of tools someone had given him for his last birthday; they were rather rotten little things, but the gimlet worked all right, so we managed to make holes in the edges of the tubs and fasten them with string under the four corners of the old door. This took us a long time. Albert's uncle asked us at dinner what we had been playing at, and we said it was a secret, and it was nothing wrong. You see we wished to atone for Dicky's mistake before anything more was said. The house has no windows in the side that faces the orchard.
The rays of the afternoon sun were beaming along the orchard grass when at last we launched the raft. She floated out beyond reach with the last shove of the launching. But Oswald waded out and towed her back; he is not afraid of worms. Yet if he had known of the other things that were in the bottom of that moat he would have kept his boots on. So would the others, especially Dora, as you will see.
At last the gallant craft rode upon the waves. We manned her, though not up to our full strength, because if more than four got on the water came up too near our knees, and we feared she might founder if over-manned.
Daisy and Denny did not want to go on the raft, white mice that they were, so that was all right. And as H. O. had been wet through once he was not very keen. Alice promised Noel her best paint-brush if he'd give up and not go, because we knew well that the voyage was fraught with deep dangers, though the exact danger that lay in wait for us under the dairy window we never even thought of.
So we four elder ones got on the raft very carefully; and even then, every time we moved the water swished up over the raft and hid our feet. But I must say it was a jolly decent raft.
Dicky was captain, because it was his adventure. We had hop-poles from the hop-garden beyond the orchard to punt with. We made the girls stand together in the middle and hold on to each other to keep steady. Then we christened our gallant vessel. We called it the Richard, after Dicky, and also after the splendid admiral who used to eat wine-glasses and died after the Battle of the Revenge in Tennyson's poetry.
Then those on shore waved a fond adieu as well as they could with the dampness of their handkerchiefs, which we had had to use to dry our legs and feet when we put on our stockings for dinner, and slowly and stately the good ship moved away from shore, riding on the waves as though they were her native element.
We kept her going with the hop-poles, and we kept her steady in the same way, but we could not always keep her steady enough, and we could not always keep her in the wind's eye. That is to say, she went where we did not want, and once she bumped her corner against the barn wall, and all the crew had to sit down suddenly to avoid falling overboard into a watery grave. Of course then the waves swept her decks, and when we got up again we said that we should have to change completely before tea.
But we pressed on undaunted, and at last our saucy craft came into port, under the dairy window and there was the milk-pan, for whose sake we had endured such hardships and privations, standing up on its edge quite quietly.
The girls did not wait for orders from the captain, as they ought to have done; but they cried out, 'Oh, here it is!' and then both reached out to get it. Anyone who has pursued a naval career will see that of course the raft capsized. For a moment it felt like standing on the roof of the house, and the next moment the ship stood up on end and shot the whole crew into the dark waters.
We boys can swim all right. Oswald has swum three times across the Ladywell Swimming Baths at the shallow end, and Dicky is nearly as good; but just then we did not think of this; though, of course, if the water had been deep we should have.
As soon as Oswald could get the muddy water out of his eyes he opened them on a horrid scene.
Dicky was standing up to his shoulders in the inky waters; the raft had righted itself, and was drifting gently away towards the front of the house, where the bridge is, and Dora and Alice were rising from the deep, with their hair all plastered over their faces—like Venus in the Latin verses.
There was a great noise of splashing. And besides that a feminine voice, looking out of the dairy window and screaming—
'Lord love the children!'
It was Mrs Pettigrew. She disappeared at once, and we were sorry we were in such a situation that she would be able to get at Albert's uncle before we could. Afterwards we were not so sorry.
Before a word could be spoken about our desperate position Dora staggered a little in the water, and suddenly shrieked, 'Oh, my foot! oh, it's a shark! I know it is—or a crocodile!'
The others on the bank could hear her shrieking, but they could not see us properly; they did not know what was happening. Noel told me afterwards he never could care for that paint-brush.
Of course we knew it could not be a shark, but I thought of pike, which are large and very angry always, and I caught hold of Dora. She screamed without stopping. I shoved her along to where there was a ledge of brickwork, and shoved her up, till she could sit on it, then she got her foot out of the water, still screaming.
It was indeed terrible. The thing she thought was a shark came up with her foot, and it was a horrid, jagged, old meat-tin, and she had put her foot right into it. Oswald got it off, and directly he did so blood began to pour from the wounds. The tin edges had cut it in several spots. It was very pale blood, because her foot was wet, of course.
She stopped screaming, and turned green, and I thought she was going to faint, like Daisy did on the jungle day.
Oswald held her up as well as he could, but it really was one of the least agreeable moments in his life. For the raft was gone, and she couldn't have waded back anyway, and we didn't know how deep the moat might be in other places.
But Mrs Pettigrew had not been idle. She is not a bad sort really.
Just as Oswald was wondering whether he could swim after the raft and get it back, a boat's nose shot out from under a dark archway a little further up under the house. It was the boathouse, and Albert's uncle had got the punt and took us back in it. When we had regained the dark arch where the boat lives we had to go up the cellar stairs. Dora had to be carried.
There was but little said to us that day. We were sent to bed—those who had not been on the raft the same as the others, for they owned up all right, and Albert's uncle is the soul of justice.
Next day but one was Saturday. Father gave us a talking to—with other things.
The worst was when Dora couldn't get her shoe on, so they sent for the doctor, and Dora had to lie down for ever so long. It was indeed poor luck.
When the doctor had gone Alice said to me—
'It IS hard lines, but Dora's very jolly about it. Daisy's been telling her about how we should all go to her with our little joys and sorrows and things, and about the sweet influence from a sick bed that can be felt all over the house, like in What Katy Did, and Dora said she hoped she might prove a blessing to us all while she's laid up.'
Oswald said he hoped so, but he was not pleased. Because this sort of jaw was exactly the sort of thing he and Dicky didn't want to have happen.
The thing we got it hottest for was those little tubs off the garden railings. They turned out to be butter-tubs that had been put out there 'to sweeten'.
But as Denny said, 'After the mud in that moat not all the perfumes of somewhere or other could make them fit to use for butter again.'
I own this was rather a bad business. Yet we did not do it to please ourselves, but because it was our duty. But that made no difference to our punishment when Father came down. I have known this mistake occur before.
CHAPTER 3. BILL'S TOMBSTONE
There were soldiers riding down the road, on horses two and two. That is the horses were two and two, and the men not. Because each man was riding one horse and leading another. To exercise them. They came from Chatham Barracks. We all drew up in a line outside the churchyard wall, and saluted as they went by, though we had not read Toady Lion then. We have since. It is the only decent book I have ever read written by Toady Lion's author. The others are mere piffle. But many people like them. In Sir Toady Lion the officer salutes the child.
There was only a lieutenant with those soldiers, and he did not salute me. He kissed his hand to the girls; and a lot of the soldiers behind kissed theirs too. We waved ours back.
Next day we made a Union Jack out of pocket-handkerchiefs and part of a red flannel petticoat of the White Mouse's, which she did not want just then, and some blue ribbon we got at the village shop.
Then we watched for the soldiers, and after three days they went by again, by twos and twos as before. It was A1.
We waved our flag, and we shouted. We gave them three cheers. Oswald can shout loudest. So as soon as the first man was level with us (not the advance guard, but the first of the battery)—he shouted—
'Three cheers for the Queen and the British Army!' And then we waved the flag, and bellowed. Oswald stood on the wall to bellow better, and Denny waved the flag because he was a visitor, and so politeness made us let him enjoy the fat of whatever there was going.
The soldiers did not cheer that day; they only grinned and kissed their hands.
The next day we all got up as much like soldiers as we could. H. O. and Noel had tin swords, and we asked Albert's uncle to let us wear some of the real arms that are on the wall in the dining-room.
And he said, 'Yes', if we would clean them up afterwards. But we jolly well cleaned them up first with Brooke's soap and brick dust and vinegar, and the knife polish (invented by the great and immortal Duke of Wellington in his spare time when he was not conquering Napoleon. Three cheers for our Iron Duke!), and with emery paper and wash leather and whitening. Oswald wore a cavalry sabre in its sheath. Alice and the Mouse had pistols in their belts, large old flint-locks, with bits of red flannel behind the flints. Denny had a naval cutlass, a very beautiful blade, and old enough to have been at Trafalgar. I hope it was. The others had French sword-bayonets that were used in the Franco-German war. They are very bright when you get them bright, but the sheaths are hard to polish. Each sword-bayonet has the name on the blade of the warrior who once wielded it. I wonder where they are now. Perhaps some of them died in the war. Poor chaps! But it is a very long time ago.
I should like to be a soldier. It is better than going to the best schools, and to Oxford afterwards, even if it is Balliol you go to. Oswald wanted to go to South Africa for a bugler, but father would not let him. And it is true that Oswald does not yet know how to bugle, though he can play the infantry 'advance', and the 'charge' and the 'halt' on a penny whistle. Alice taught them to him with the piano, out of the red book Father's cousin had when he was in the Fighting Fifth. Oswald cannot play the 'retire', and he would scorn to do so. But I suppose a bugler has to play what he is told, no matter how galling to the young boy's proud spirit.
The next day, being thoroughly armed, we put on everything red, white and blue that we could think of—night-shirts are good for white, and you don't know what you can do with red socks and blue jerseys till you try—and we waited by the churchyard wall for the soldiers. When the advance guard (or whatever you call it of artillery—it's that for infantry, I know) came by, we got ready, and when the first man of the first battery was level with us Oswald played on his penny whistle the 'advance' and the 'charge'—and then shouted—
'Three cheers for the Queen and the British Army!' This time they had the guns with them. And every man of the battery cheered too. It was glorious. It made you tremble all over. The girls said it made them want to cry—but no boy would own to this, even if it were true. It is babyish to cry. But it was glorious, and Oswald felt differently to what he ever did before.
Then suddenly the officer in front said, 'Battery! Halt!' and all the soldiers pulled their horses up, and the great guns stopped too. Then the officer said, 'Sit at ease,' and something else, and the sergeant repeated it, and some of the men got off their horses and lit their pipes, and some sat down on the grass edge of the road, holding their horses' bridles.
We could see all the arms and accoutrements as plain as plain.
Then the officer came up to us. We were all standing on the wall that day, except Dora, who had to sit, because her foot was bad, but we let her have the three-edged rapier to wear, and the blunderbuss to hold as well—it has a brass mouth and is like in Mr Caldecott's pictures.
He was a beautiful man the officer. Like a Viking. Very tall and fair, with moustaches very long, and bright blue eyes. He said—
So did we.
Then he said—
'You seem to be a military lot.'
We said we wished we were.
'And patriotic,' said he.
Alice said she should jolly well think so.
Then he said he had noticed us there for several days, and he had halted the battery because he thought we might like to look at the guns.
Alas! there are but too few grown-up people so far-seeing and thoughtful as this brave and distinguished officer.
We said, 'Oh, yes', and then we got off the wall, and that good and noble man showed us the string that moves the detonator and the breech-block (when you take it out and carry it away the gun is in vain to the enemy, even if he takes it); and he let us look down the gun to see the rifling, all clean and shiny—and he showed us the ammunition boxes, but there was nothing in them. He also told us how the gun was unlimbered (this means separating the gun from the ammunition carriage), and how quick it could be done—but he did not make the men do this then, because they were resting. There were six guns. Each had painted on the carriage, in white letters, 15 Pr., which the captain told us meant fifteen-pounder.
'I should have thought the gun weighed more than fifteen pounds,' Dora said. 'It would if it was beef, but I suppose wood and gun are lighter.'
And the officer explained to her very kindly and patiently that 15 Pr. meant the gun could throw a SHELL weighing fifteen pounds.
When we had told him how jolly it was to see the soldiers go by so often, he said—
'You won't see us many more times. We're ordered to the front; and we sail on Tuesday week; and the guns will be painted mud-colour, and the men will wear mud-colour too, and so shall I.'
The men looked very nice, though they were not wearing their busbies, but only Tommy caps, put on all sorts of ways.
We were very sorry they were going, but Oswald, as well as others, looked with envy on those who would soon be allowed—being grown up, and no nonsense about your education—to go and fight for their Queen and country.
Then suddenly Alice whispered to Oswald, and he said—
'All right; but tell him yourself.'
So Alice said to the captain—
'Will you stop next time you pass?'
He said, 'I'm afraid I can't promise that.'
Alice said, 'You might; there's a particular reason.'
He said, 'What?' which was a natural remark; not rude, as it is with children. Alice said—
'We want to give the soldiers a keepsake and will write to ask my father. He is very well off just now. Look here—if we're not on the wall when you come by, don't stop; but if we are, please, PLEASE do!'
The officer pulled his moustache and looked as if he did not know; but at last he said 'Yes', and we were very glad, though but Alice and Oswald knew the dark but pleasant scheme at present fermenting in their youthful nuts.
The captain talked a lot to us. At last Noel said—
'I think you are like Diarmid of the Golden Collar. But I should like to see your sword out, and shining in the sun like burnished silver.'
The captain laughed and grasped the hilt of his good blade. But Oswald said hurriedly—
'Don't. Not yet. We shan't ever have a chance like this. If you'd only show us the pursuing practice! Albert's uncle knows it; but he only does it on an armchair, because he hasn't a horse.'
And that brave and swagger captain did really do it. He rode his horse right into our gate when we opened it, and showed us all the cuts, thrusts, and guards. There are four of each kind. It was splendid. The morning sun shone on his flashing blade, and his good steed stood with all its legs far apart and stiff on the lawn.
Then we opened the paddock gate, and he did it again, while the horse galloped as if upon the bloody battlefield among the fierce foes of his native land, and this was far more ripping still.
Then we thanked him very much, and he went away, taking his men with him. And the guns of course.
Then we wrote to my father, and he said 'Yes', as we knew he would, and next time the soldiers came by—but they had no guns this time, only the captive Arabs of the desert—we had the keepsakes ready in a wheelbarrow, and we were on the churchyard wall.
And the bold captain called an immediate halt.
Then the girls had the splendid honour and pleasure of giving a pipe and four whole ounces of tobacco to each soldier.
Then we shook hands with the captain, and the sergeant and the corporals, and the girls kissed the captain—I can't think why girls will kiss everybody—and we all cheered for the Queen. It was grand. And I wish my father had been there to see how much you can do with L12 if you order the things from the Stores.
We have never seen those brave soldiers again.
I have told you all this to show you how we got so keen about soldiers, and why we sought to aid and abet the poor widow at the white cottage in her desolate and oppressedness.
Her name was Simpkins, and her cottage was just beyond the churchyard, on the other side from our house. On the different military occasions which I have remarked upon this widow woman stood at her garden gate and looked on. And after the cheering she rubbed her eyes with her apron. Alice noticed this slight but signifying action.
We feel quite sure Mrs Simpkins liked soldiers, and so we felt friendly to her. But when we tried to talk to her she would not. She told us to go along with us, do, and not bother her. And Oswald, with his usual delicacy and good breeding, made the others do as she said.
But we were not to be thus repulsed with impunity. We made complete but cautious inquiries, and found out that the reason she cried when she saw soldiers was that she had only one son, a boy. He was twenty-two, and he had gone to the War last April. So that she thought of him when she saw the soldiers, and that was why she cried. Because when your son is at the wars you always think he is being killed. I don't know why. A great many of them are not. If I had a son at the wars I should never think he was dead till I heard he was, and perhaps not then, considering everything. After we had found this out we held a council.
Dora said, 'We must do something for the soldier's widowed mother.'
We all agreed, but added 'What?'
Alice said, 'The gift of money might be deemed an insult by that proud, patriotic spirit. Besides, we haven't more than eighteenpence among us.'
We had put what we had to father's L12 to buy the baccy and pipes.
The Mouse then said, 'Couldn't we make her a flannel petticoat and leave it without a word upon her doorstep?'
But everyone said, 'Flannel petticoats in this weather?' so that was no go.
Noel said he would write her a poem, but Oswald had a deep, inward feeling that Mrs Simpkins would not understand poetry. Many people do not.
H. O. said, 'Why not sing "Rule Britannia" under her window after she had gone to bed, like waits,' but no one else thought so.
Denny thought we might get up a subscription for her among the wealthy and affluent, but we said again that we knew money would be no balm to the haughty mother of a brave British soldier.
'What we want,' Alice said, 'is something that will be a good deal of trouble to us and some good to her.'
'A little help is worth a deal of poetry,' said Denny.
I should not have said that myself. Noel did look sick.
'What DOES she do that we can help in?' Dora asked. 'Besides, she won't let us help.'
H. O. said, 'She does nothing but work in the garden. At least if she does anything inside you can't see it, because she keeps the door shut.'
Then at once we saw. And we agreed to get up the very next day, ere yet the rosy dawn had flushed the east, and have a go at Mrs Simpkins's garden.
We got up. We really did. But too often when you mean to, overnight, it seems so silly to do it when you come to waking in the dewy morn. We crept downstairs with our boots in our hands. Denny is rather unlucky, though a most careful boy. It was he who dropped his boot, and it went blundering down the stairs, echoing like thunderbolts, and waking up Albert's uncle. But when we explained to him that we were going to do some gardening he let us, and went back to bed.
Everything is very pretty and different in the early morning, before people are up. I have been told this is because the shadows go a different way from what they do in the awake part of the day. But I don't know. Noel says the fairies have just finished tidying up then. Anyhow it all feels quite otherwise.
We put on our boots in the porch, and we got our gardening tools and we went down to the white cottage. It is a nice cottage, with a thatched roof, like in the drawing copies you get at girls' schools, and you do the thatch—if you can—with a B.B. pencil. If you cannot, you just leave it. It looks just as well, somehow, when it is mounted and framed.
We looked at the garden. It was very neat. Only one patch was coming up thick with weeds. I could see groundsel and chickweed, and others that I did not know. We set to work with a will. We used all our tools—spades, forks, hoes, and rakes—and Dora worked with the trowel, sitting down, because her foot was hurt. We cleared the weedy patch beautifully, scraping off all the nasty weeds and leaving the nice clean brown dirt. We worked as hard as ever we could. And we were happy, because it was unselfish toil, and no one thought then of putting it in the Book of Golden Deeds, where we had agreed to write down our virtuous actions and the good doings of each other, when we happen to notice them.
We had just done, and we were looking at the beautiful production of our honest labour, when the cottage door burst open, and the soldier's widowed mother came out like a wild tornado, and her eyes looked like upas trees—death to the beholder.
'You wicked, meddlesome, nasty children!' she said, ain't you got enough of your own good ground to runch up and spoil, but you must come into MY little lot?'
Some of us were deeply alarmed, but we stood firm.
'We have only been weeding your garden,' Dora said; 'we wanted to do something to help you.'
'Dratted little busybodies,' she said. It was indeed hard, but everyone in Kent says 'dratted' when they are cross. 'It's my turnips,' she went on, 'you've hoed up, and my cabbages. My turnips that my boy sowed afore he went. There, get along with you do, afore I come at you with my broom-handle.'
She did come at us with her broom-handle as she spoke, and even the boldest turned and fled. Oswald was even the boldest. 'They looked like weeds right enough,' he said.
And Dicky said, 'It all comes of trying to do golden deeds.' This was when we were out in the road.
As we went along, in a silence full of gloomy remorse, we met the postman. He said—
'Here's the letters for the Moat,' and passed on hastily. He was a bit late.
When we came to look through the letters, which were nearly all for Albert's uncle, we found there was a postcard that had got stuck in a magazine wrapper. Alice pulled it out. It was addressed to Mrs Simpkins. We honourably only looked at the address, although it is allowed by the rules of honourableness to read postcards that come to your house if you like, even if they are not for you.
After a heated discussion, Alice and Oswald said they were not afraid, whoever was, and they retraced their steps, Alice holding the postcard right way up, so that we should not look at the lettery part of it, but only the address.
With quickly-beating heart, but outwardly unmoved, they walked up to the white cottage door.
It opened with a bang when we knocked.
'Well?' Mrs Simpkins said, and I think she said it what people in books call 'sourly'.
Oswald said, 'We are very, very sorry we spoiled your turnips, and we will ask my father to try and make it up to you some other way.'
She muttered something about not wanting to be beholden to anybody.
'We came back,' Oswald went on, with his always unruffled politeness, 'because the postman gave us a postcard in mistake with our letters, and it is addressed to you.'
'We haven't read it,' Alice said quickly. I think she needn't have said that. Of course we hadn't. But perhaps girls know better than we do what women are likely to think you capable of.
The soldier's mother took the postcard (she snatched it really, but 'took' is a kinder word, considering everything) and she looked at the address a long time. Then she turned it over and read what was on the back. Then she drew her breath in as far as it would go, and caught hold of the door-post. Her face got awful. It was like the wax face of a dead king I saw once at Madame Tussaud's.
Alice understood. She caught hold of the soldier's mother's hand and said—
'Oh, NO—it's NOT your boy Bill!'
And the woman said nothing, but shoved the postcard into Alice's hand, and we both read it—and it WAS her boy Bill.
Alice gave her back the card. She had held on to the woman's hand all the time, and now she squeezed the hand, and held it against her face. But she could not say a word because she was crying so. The soldier's mother took the card again and she pushed Alice away, but it was not an unkind push, and she went in and shut the door; and as Alice and Oswald went down the road Oswald looked back, and one of the windows of the cottage had a white blind. Afterwards the other windows had too. There were no blinds really to the cottage. It was aprons and things she had pinned up.
Alice cried most of the morning, and so did the other girls. We wanted to do something for the soldier's mother, but you can do nothing when people's sons are shot. It is the most dreadful thing to want to do something for people who are unhappy, and not to know what to do.
It was Noel who thought of what we COIULD do at last.
He said, 'I suppose they don't put up tombstones to soldiers when they die in war. But there—I mean Oswald said, 'Of course not.'
Noel said, 'I daresay you'll think it's silly, but I don't care. Don't you think she'd like it, if we put one up to HIM? Not in the churchyard, of course, because we shouldn't be let, but in our garden, just where it joins on to the churchyard?'
And we all thought it was a first-rate idea.
This is what we meant to put on the tombstone:
Who died fighting for Queen
'A faithful son, A son so dear, A soldier brave Lies buried here.'
Then we remembered that poor brave Bill was really buried far away in the Southern hemisphere, if at all. So we altered it to—
'A soldier brave We weep for here.'
Then we looked out a nice flagstone in the stable-yard, and we got a cold chisel out of the Dentist's toolbox, and began.
But stone-cutting is difficult and dangerous work.
Oswald went at it a bit, but he chipped his thumb, and it bled so he had to chuck it. Then Dicky tried, and then Denny, but Dicky hammered his finger, and Denny took all day over every stroke, so that by tea-time we had only done the H, and about half the E—and the E was awfully crooked. Oswald chipped his thumb over the H.
We looked at it the next morning, and even the most sanguinary of us saw that it was a hopeless task.
Then Denny said, 'Why not wood and paint?' and he showed us how. We got a board and two stumps from the carpenter's in the village, and we painted it all white, and when that was dry Denny did the words on it.
It was something like this:
'IN MEMORY OF BILL SIMPKINS
DEAD FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY.
HONOUR TO HIS NAME AND ALL
OTHER BRAVE SOLDIERS.'
We could not get in what we meant to at first, so we had to give up the poetry.
We fixed it up when it was dry. We had to dig jolly deep to get the posts to stand up, but the gardener helped us.
Then the girls made wreaths of white flowers, roses and Canterbury bells, and lilies and pinks, and sweet-peas and daisies, and put them over the posts. And I think if Bill Simpkins had known how sorry we were, he would have been glad. Oswald only hopes if he falls on the wild battlefield, which is his highest ambition, that somebody will be as sorry about him as he was about Bill, that's all!
When all was done, and what flowers there were over from the wreaths scattered under the tombstone between the posts, we wrote a letter to Mrs Simpkins, and said—
DEAR MRS SIMPKINS—
We are very, very sorry about the turnips and things, and we beg your pardon humbly. We have put up a tombstone to your brave son.
And we signed our names. Alice took the letter.
The soldier's mother read it, and said something about our oughting to know better than to make fun of people's troubles with our tombstones and tomfoolery.
Alice told me she could not help crying.
'It's not! it's NOT! Dear, DEAR Mrs Simpkins, do come with me and see! You don't know how sorry we are about Bill. Do come and see.
We can go through the churchyard, and the others have all gone in, so as to leave it quiet for you. Do come.'
And Mrs Simpkins did. And when she read what we had put up, and Alice told her the verse we had not had room for, she leant against the wall by the grave—I mean the tombstone—and Alice hugged her, and they both cried bitterly. The poor soldier's mother was very, very pleased, and she forgave us about the turnips, and we were friends after that, but she always liked Alice the best. A great many people do, somehow.
After that we used to put fresh flowers every day on Bill's tombstone, and I do believe his mother was pleased, though she got us to move it away from the churchyard edge and put it in a corner of our garden under a laburnum, where people could not see it from the church. But you could from the road, though I think she thought you couldn't. She came every day to look at the new wreaths. When the white flowers gave out we put coloured, and she liked it just as well.
About a fortnight after the erecting of the tombstone the girls were putting fresh wreaths on it when a soldier in a red coat came down the road, and he stopped and looked at us. He walked with a stick, and he had a bundle in a blue cotton handkerchief, and one arm in a sling.
And he looked again, and he came nearer, and he leaned on the wall, so that he could read the black printing on the white paint.
And he grinned all over his face, and he said—
'Well, I AM blessed!'
And he read it all out in a sort of half whisper, and when he came to the end, where it says, 'and all such brave soldiers', he said—
'Well, I really AM!' I suppose he meant he really was blessed. Oswald thought it was like the soldier's cheek, so he said—
'I daresay you aren't so very blessed as you think. What's it to do with you, anyway, eh, Tommy?'
Of course Oswald knew from Kipling that an infantry soldier is called that. The soldier said—
'Tommy yourself, young man. That's ME!' and he pointed to the tombstone.
We stood rooted to the spot. Alice spoke first.
'Then you're Bill, and you're not dead,' she said. 'Oh, Bill, I am so glad! Do let ME tell your mother.'
She started running, and so did we all. Bill had to go slowly because of his leg, but I tell you he went as fast as ever he could.
We all hammered at the soldier's mother's door, and shouted—
'Come out! come out!' and when she opened the door we were going to speak, but she pushed us away, and went tearing down the garden path like winking. I never saw a grown-up woman run like it, because she saw Bill coming.
She met him at the gate, running right into him, and caught hold of him, and she cried much more than when she thought he was dead.
And we all shook his hand and said how glad we were.
The soldier's mother kept hold of him with both hands, and I couldn't help looking at her face. It was like wax that had been painted on both pink cheeks, and the eyes shining like candles. And when we had all said how glad we were, she said—
'Thank the dear Lord for His mercies,' and she took her boy Bill into the cottage and shut the door.
We went home and chopped up the tombstone with the wood-axe and had a blazing big bonfire, and cheered till we could hardly speak.
The postcard was a mistake; he was only missing. There was a pipe and a whole pound of tobacco left over from our keepsake to the other soldiers. We gave it to Bill. Father is going to have him for under-gardener when his wounds get well. He'll always be a bit lame, so he cannot fight any more.
CHAPTER 4. THE TOWER OF MYSTERY
It was very rough on Dora having her foot bad, but we took it in turns to stay in with her, and she was very decent about it. Daisy was most with her. I do not dislike Daisy, but I wish she had been taught how to play. Because Dora is rather like that naturally, and sometimes I have thought that Daisy makes her worse.
I talked to Albert's uncle about it one day, when the others had gone to church, and I did not go because of ear-ache, and he said it came from reading the wrong sort of books partly—she has read Ministering Children, and Anna Ross, or The Orphan of Waterloo, and Ready Work for Willing Hands, and Elsie, or Like a Little Candle, and even a horrid little blue book about the something or other of Little Sins. After this conversation Oswald took care she had plenty of the right sort of books to read, and he was surprised and pleased when she got up early one morning to finish Monte Cristo. Oswald felt that he was really being useful to a suffering fellow-creature when he gave Daisy books that were not all about being good.
A few days after Dora was laid up, Alice called a council of the Wouldbegoods, and Oswald and Dicky attended with darkly-clouded brows. Alice had the minute-book, which was an exercise-book that had not much written in it. She had begun at the other end. I hate doing that myself, because there is so little room at the top compared with right way up.
Dora and a sofa had been carried out on to the lawn, and we were on the grass. It was very hot and dry. We had sherbet. Alice read:
'"Society of the Wouldbegoods.
'"We have not done much. Dicky mended a window, and we got the milk-pan out of the moat that dropped through where he mended it. Dora, Oswald, Dicky and me got upset in the moat. This was not goodness. Dora's foot was hurt. We hope to do better next time."'
Then came Noel's poem:
'We are the Wouldbegoods Society, We are not good yet, but we mean to try, And if we try, and if we don't succeed, It must mean we are very bad indeed.'
This sounded so much righter than Noel's poetry generally does, that Oswald said so, and Noel explained that Denny had helped him.
'He seems to know the right length for lines of poetry. I suppose it comes of learning so much at school,' Noel said.
Then Oswald proposed that anybody should be allowed to write in the book if they found out anything good that anyone else had done, but not things that were public acts; and nobody was to write about themselves, or anything other people told them, only what they found out.
After a brief jaw the others agreed, and Oswald felt, not for the first time in his young life, that he would have made a good diplomatic hero to carry despatches and outwit the other side. For now he had put it out of the minute-book's power to be the kind of thing readers of Ministering Children would have wished.
'And if anyone tells other people any good thing he's done he is to go to Coventry for the rest of the day.'
And Denny remarked, 'We shall do good by stealth, and blush to find it shame.'
After that nothing was written in the book for some time. I looked about, and so did the others, but I never caught anyone in the act of doing anything extra; though several of the others have told me since of things they did at this time, and really wondered nobody had noticed.
I think I said before that when you tell a story you cannot tell everything. It would be silly to do it. Because ordinary kinds of play are dull to read about; and the only other thing is meals, and to dwell on what you eat is greedy and not like a hero at all. A hero is always contented with a venison pasty and a horn of sack. All the same, the meals were very interesting; with things you do not get at home—Lent pies with custard and currants in them, sausage rolls and fiede cakes, and raisin cakes and apple turnovers, and honeycomb and syllabubs, besides as much new milk as you cared about, and cream now and then, and cheese always on the table for tea. Father told Mrs Pettigrew to get what meals she liked, and she got these strange but attractive foods.
In a story about Wouldbegoods it is not proper to tell of times when only some of us were naughty, so I will pass lightly over the time when Noel got up the kitchen chimney and brought three bricks and an old starling's nest and about a ton of soot down with him when he fell. They never use the big chimney in the summer, but cook in the wash-house. Nor do I wish to dwell on what H. O. did when he went into the dairy. I do not know what his motive was. But Mrs Pettigrew said SHE knew; and she locked him in, and said if it was cream he wanted he should have enough, and she wouldn't let him out till tea-time. The cat had also got into the dairy for some reason of her own, and when H. O. was tired of whatever he went in for he poured all the milk into the churn and tried to teach the cat to swim in it. He must have been desperate. The cat did not even try to learn, and H. O. had the scars on his hands for weeks. I do not wish to tell tales of H. O., for he is very young, and whatever he does he always catches it for; but I will just allude to our being told not to eat the greengages in the garden. And we did not. And whatever H. O. did was Noel's fault—for Noel told H. O. that greengages would grow again all right if you did not bite as far as the stone, just as wounds are not mortal except when you are pierced through the heart. So the two of them bit bites out of every greengage they could reach. And of course the pieces did not grow again.
Oswald did not do things like these, but then he is older than his brothers. The only thing he did just about then was making a booby-trap for Mrs Pettigrew when she had locked H. O. up in the dairy, and unfortunately it was the day she was going out in her best things, and part of the trap was a can of water. Oswald was not willingly vicious; it was but a light and thoughtless act which he had every reason to be sorry for afterwards. And he is sorry even without those reasons, because he knows it is ungentlemanly to play tricks on women.
I remember Mother telling Dora and me when we were little that you ought to be very kind and polite to servants, because they have to work very hard, and do not have so many good times as we do. I used to think about Mother more at the Moat House than I did at Blackheath, especially in the garden. She was very fond of flowers, and she used to tell us about the big garden where she used to live; and I remember Dora and I helped her to plant seeds. But it is no use wishing. She would have liked that garden, though.
The girls and the white mice did not do anything boldly wicked—though of course they used to borrow Mrs Pettigrew's needles, which made her very nasty. Needles that are borrowed might just as well be stolen. But I say no more.
I have only told you these things to show the kind of events which occurred on the days I don't tell you about. On the whole, we had an excellent time.
It was on the day we had the pillow-fight that we went for the long walk. Not the Pilgrimage—that is another story. We did not mean to have a pillow-fight. It is not usual to have them after breakfast, but Oswald had come up to get his knife out of the pocket of his Etons, to cut some wire we were making rabbit snares of. It is a very good knife, with a file in it, as well as a corkscrew and other things—and he did not come down at once, because he was detained by having to make an apple-pie bed for Dicky. Dicky came up after him to see what he was up to, and when he did see he buzzed a pillow at Oswald, and the fight began. The others, hearing the noise of battle from afar, hastened to the field of action, all except Dora, who couldn't because of being laid up with her foot, and Daisy, because she is a little afraid of us still, when we are all together. She thinks we are rough. This comes of having only one brother.
Well, the fight was a very fine one. Alice backed me up, and Noel and H. O. backed Dicky, and Denny heaved a pillow or two; but he cannot shy straight, so I don't know which side he was on.
And just as the battle raged most fiercely, Mrs Pettigrew came in and snatched the pillows away, and shook those of the warriors who were small enough for it. SHE was rough if you like. She also used language I should have thought she would be above. She said, Drat you!' and 'Drabbit you!' The last is a thing I have never heard said before. She said—
'There's no peace of your life with you children. Drat your antics! And that poor, dear, patient gentleman right underneath, with his headache and his handwriting: and you rampaging about over his head like young bull-calves. I wonder you haven't more sense, a great girl like you.'
She said this to Alice, and Alice answered gently, as we are told to do—
'I really am awfully sorry; we forgot about the headache. Don't be cross, Mrs Pettigrew; we didn't mean to; we didn't think.'
'You never do,' she said, and her voice, though grumpy, was no longer violent. 'Why on earth you can't take yourselves off for the day I don't know.'
We all said, 'But may we?'
She said, 'Of course you may. Now put on your boots and go for a good long walk. And I'll tell you what—I'll put you up a snack, and you can have an egg to your tea to make up for missing your dinner. Now don't go clattering about the stairs and passages, there's good children. See if you can't be quiet this once, and give the good gentleman a chance with his copying.'
She went off. Her bark is worse than her bite. She does not understand anything about writing books, though. She thinks Albert's uncle copies things out of printed books, when he is really writing new ones. I wonder how she thinks printed books get made first of all. Many servants are like this.
She gave us the 'snack' in a basket, and sixpence to buy milk with. She said any of the farms would let us have it, only most likely it would be skim. We thanked her politely, and she hurried us out of the front door as if we'd been chickens on a pansy bed.
(I did not know till after I had left the farm gate open, and the hens had got into the garden, that these feathered bipeds display a great partiality for the young buds of plants of the genus viola, to which they are extremely destructive. I was told that by the gardener. I looked it up in the gardening book afterwards to be sure he was right. You do learn a lot of things in the country.)
We went through the garden as far as the church, and then we rested a bit in the porch, and just looked into the basket to see what the 'snack' was. It proved to be sausage rolls and queen cakes, and a Lent pie in a round tin dish, and some hard-boiled eggs, and some apples. We all ate the apples at once, so as not to have to carry them about with us. The churchyard smells awfully good. It is the wild thyme that grows on the graves. This is another thing we did not know before we came into the country.
Then the door of the church tower was ajar, and we all went up; it had always been locked before when we had tried it.
We saw the ringers' loft where the ends of the bellropes hang down with long, furry handles to them like great caterpillars, some red, and some blue and white, but we did not pull them. And then we went up to where the bells are, very big and dusty among large dirty beams; and four windows with no glass, only shutters like Venetian blinds, but they won't pull up. There were heaps of straws and sticks on the window ledges. We think they were owls' nests, but we did not see any owls.
Then the tower stairs got very narrow and dark, and we went on up, and we came to a door and opened it suddenly, and it was like being hit in the face, the light was so sudden. And there we were on the top of the tower, which is flat, and people have cut their names on it, and a turret at one corner, and a low wall all round, up and down, like castle battlements. And we looked down and saw the roof of the church, and the leads, and the churchyard, and our garden, and the Moat House, and the farm, and Mrs Simpkins's cottage, looking very small, and other farms looking like toy things out of boxes, and we saw corn-fields and meadows and pastures. A pasture is not the same thing as a meadow, whatever you may think. And we saw the tops of trees and hedges, looking like the map of the United States, and villages, and a tower that did not look very far away standing by itself on the top of a hill. Alice pointed to it, and said—