[Frontispiece: THE TWO MAIDEN AUNTS.]
TWO MAIDEN AUNTS
MARY H. DEBENHAM
AUTHOR OF 'MISTRESS PHIL' 'A LITTLE CANDLE ETC.
WITH TWO FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS
BY GERTRUDE D. HAMMOND
NATIONAL SOCIETY'S REPOSITORY
BROAD SANCTUARY, WESTMINSTER
NEW YORK: THOMAS WHITTAKER, 2 & 3 BIBLE HOUSE
[All rights reserved]
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE MAVIS AND THE MERLIN. Price 2s. MY GOD-DAUGHTER. Price 2s. MOOR AND MOSS. Price 2s. 6d. FOR KING AND HOME. Price 2s. 6d. MISTRESS PHIL. Price 2s. A LITTLE CANDLE. Price 3s. 6d. FAIRMEADOWS FARM. Price 2s. ST. HELEN'S WELL. Price 2s.
NATIONAL SOCIETY'S DEPOSITORY,
SANCTUARY, WESTMINSTER. S.W.
I. THE AUNTS II. THE NEPHEW III. THE FIRST DAY IV. A HEART OF OAK V. THE WRONG END VI. CHRISTMAS AT OAKFIELD VII. HERO AND HEROINES VIII. IN THE CHANNEL IX. IN PORT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE TWO MAIDEN AUNTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (Frontispiece)
'WHAT USEFUL THINGS SHALL I DO,' HE ASKED (missing from book)
TWO MAIDEN AUNTS
'Child, be mother to this child.'—E. B. BROWNING.
It was seven o'clock on an autumn morning nearly a hundred years ago. A misty October morning, when the meadows looked grey with the heavy dew, and the sky was only just beginning to show pale blue through the haze which veiled it.
There was a certain little hamlet, just a few cottages clustered together beside a country road, where the world seemed hardly yet awake. The road ran across a wide common, where the cows and horses and geese wandered about pretty much as they chose, and the blackberries grew as they grow only on waste ground. The blackberry season was pretty nearly over, and the damp had taken the taste out of those which the village children had left, but the dewy nights were still warm enough to bring up the mushrooms like fairy tables in all directions, and there was at least one gatherer from the village who had been astir an hour ago, for the common was a well-known mushroom ground, and early birds had the best chance. He was coming back now with a goodly basketful, shaking showers of dew off the grass at every step and leaving a track of footmarks behind him. Through the mist he looked a sort of giant, but he was only a tall, sturdy lad of seventeen, in a fustian jacket and the wide hat which countrymen used to wear in the days of our grandfathers. He turned off the common before he reached the village and went down a little lane, at the end of which stood a small gabled house, in a garden where the autumn flowers hung their heads under the heavy dew. There was a paddock behind the house where a cow was feeding, and a gate led through a yard to the back door, and thither the boy was turning when he noticed a little girl in homespun frock and sun-bonnet leaning over the garden gate, looking up rather wistfully at the shuttered windows of the house. She gave a great start as the boy came behind her and laid his hand suddenly on her shoulder.
'Now then, Nance,' he said severely, 'what are you about, disturbing the place at this time in the morning?'
The little girl shook his hand off with an impatient shrug.
'What be you about, Pete, starting me like that? I'm not doing nothing nor disturbing nobody. I can look at the cottage, I suppose, without you to call me up for it?'
'Mother'll be fine and angry when she hears what you've been at,' said the boy, 'peeping and prying on the young ladies, and them in trouble.'
Nancy put up her pretty lip with the injured look of a spoilt child. 'I'm not peeping nor prying nor hurting nobody, and, if I am, what are you doing, I should like to know?' Then, as she noticed his basket, she clapped her hands with a little triumphant laugh.
'I know what 'tis you're after,' she cried; 'you've been off and got them mushrooms, and you've brought them for the young ladies so as you can see Penny or maybe Miss Betty herself, and hear whether it's really true. And haven't I got some eggs, my own hen's eggs, here for them, and only just waiting till they open the shutters to take them in?'
'Well, why don't you go round to the back door, as is the proper place for you,' said the stern elder brother, 'instead of staring at gentlefolks' houses like a great gawky?'
'Well, come to that, I know which is the biggest gawky of us two,' said pert little Nance; 'and, if you must know, I was just waiting for the chance of Miss Betty coming down, seeing Penny might be in one of her tantrums and not tell me a word.' Then, as the front door of the house suddenly opened, she exclaimed, joyously,
'Look, if she isn't there,' and was darting in at the gate, when her brother caught her and held her back. 'Come away, will you, ye interfering little hussy!' he was beginning hastily, when the girl who had opened the door caught sight of the two and came down the garden path towards them. Spoilt Nancy shook herself free, and with a triumphant glance at her big brother she ran to meet the young lady, and Peter could do nothing but follow her; and, indeed, if the truth must be told, he was not at all sorry to do it, and, perhaps, just a little grateful to naughty Nancy for showing the way.
The early riser from the cottage was a girl of thirteen, a very pretty little girl, with a fair, fresh face, sunshiny hazel eyes, and hair of that golden brown colour which the bracken wears in autumn. She seemed to have dressed in rather a hurry, for her long black frock was not quite perfectly fastened, the muslin scarf round her shoulders was just a little crooked, and the black ribbon which tied the bright hair had not managed to catch it all, so that a few curly locks came tumbling out at the side. She had shut the house door very quietly, and she held up her finger for a sign of silence as she came down the path; and Nancy, who had started off running to meet her, stopped as if a sudden feeling of shyness had come over her, a feeling, it must be owned, which didn't often trouble Nancy, certainly not towards Miss Betty Wyndham, whom she had known ever since she could remember. But then she had never seen Miss Betty look quite like this before, in her black frock and with such a grave look in her merry eyes, a look that was rather sad, and yet, perhaps, more serious than sad, and that somehow made Nancy stop and curtsey and Peter pull off his hat with that sort of shy respect which the most careless among us must pay to a fresh sorrow or loss. But, in spite of her grave look, Miss Betty seemed very pleased to see them.
'Good morning, Pete; good morning, Nancy,' she said. 'How kind of you to come so early! Did you guess I should be down?'
'I thought maybe you would, miss,' said Nancy, 'only the shutters being up I thought you must be asleep still.'
'I dressed in the dark,' said Miss Betty, giving her scarf a little tug which didn't straighten it much, 'because I didn't want to wake Angel. Poor Angel, she was so late coming to bed last night; I'd been asleep ever so long and woken up again while she was talking to Penny.'
And then she stopped and looked from one to the other with a questioning look in her eyes.
'You know, don't you?' she said at last; 'you've heard about the sad thing that's happened?'
For once in a way Nancy left her brother to answer.
'We haven't heard nothing for certain, Miss Betty,' he said, 'only people talked, and we knew Penny had gone to fetch you home; but father said we weren't to say nothing till we knew for certain.'
'It's quite true,' said Miss Betty gravely,' quite dreadfully true, Pete. Our brother, Mr. Bernard, has been killed in the West Indies, and we are very poor now; we have left school and come home to live.'
I fear that the last piece of news so much did away with the sadness of the first that Nancy's face broadened into a delighted smile, and she only just cut short an exclamation of joy. Luckily Miss Betty was not looking at her, and she saw Peter's frown and felt a little ashamed of herself.
'I want to tell you everything,' Miss Betty went on; 'it was very nice of your father not to want people to talk, but now we should like every one to know because we are very proud of my brother, and we want our friends to be. Will you come into the arbour and I'll tell you?' and she led the way across the garden while Peter and Nancy followed willingly enough. The arbour was that sort of bower which we see in old-fashioned pictures and sing about in old songs. There had been roses climbing over it all the summer, and a few blossoms hung there still, pale and fragrant, among a tangle of clematis and everlasting peas. On the little grass plot just outside the arbour there was a stone figure, not like the nymphs and Cupids and water-carriers which we find in trim old-fashioned gardens and stately pleasure grounds, but the chipped worn figure of a lady, lying with folded hands and a quaint head-dress and straight falling hair. No one quite knew where that statue came from, except that it must have lain once upon a tomb in some church or monastery chapel, and in evil days, when men had forgotten their reverence for holy ground and the quiet dead, the tomb must have been destroyed, and the figure defaced and thrown out as rubbish. Then some one later on had brought her to the cottage and set her up as an ornament to the garden, leaning against a tree, and looking very strange and uncomfortable. When Betty and her sister were little children they were half afraid of the tall grim figure, which looked queer and uncanny among the bushes in the twilight, but as they grew older and knew more about her, they lost their fear of her and began to be sorry for her, and they got Peter and some of the village boys to move her out of her unnatural position and lay her down on the grass as she had once lain on her tomb in the church, and planted flowers beside her. And the great purple convolvulus, or, as I love to call it by its sweet old name, the Morning Glory, seeded itself every year, and twined its soft tendrils and opened its lovely flowers all about the poor lady, as if it wanted to hide all the marks of hard usage, and the grass made her a soft pillow, and the pink rose petals dropped all about her, and she looked as if she were happily asleep among the flowers. And when she was being moved the boys came upon some other pieces of stone among the bushes, which might have been part of the same tomb. There was one bit with part of a coat-of-arms on it which no one could make out, and another bit with some letters, many of them quite defaced, but after a lot of puzzling and rubbing the moss off, the little girls managed to read the two words, 'Demoiselle Jehanne.' Miss Angelica felt sure it was French, and she copied it out and took it back to school to ask her schoolmistress what it meant. And the mistress said she was right, it was most likely old Norman-French such as was talked in England five or six hundred years ago, and that 'demoiselle' was the title of a young lady, and 'Jehanne' was the old way of writing Jeanne or Jane. So Angelica and Betty decided directly that it must be the name of their stone lady, and called her 'Demoiselle Jehanne,' or, to make it clearer to Peter and their other village friends, 'Miss Jane.' And it was wonderful what a companion Miss Jane had become to them: they never felt really alone when they were sitting beside her. Betty made up stories about her, and Angelica wondered about her and about the days when she was alive, and how old she was when she died, and whether she ever saw Edward the Black Prince, and whether she had a father and a mother who were very sad when they put that figure over her grave. And often when anything had gone wrong with the sisters, they would come and sit down on the grass by the arbour and tell it to Miss Jane, and feel as if she sympathized with them and comforted them. And if more lucky little girls are inclined to laugh at them, I would ask them to be thankful that they are happier than my two little sisters, and have a mother to whom they can go and tell their troubles instead of whispering them into the broken stone ear of Miss Jane.
And perhaps it was partly that old custom of theirs that made Betty at this moment, when she wanted to tell about the great change that was coming into her life, lead the way to the arbour and sit down on the bench close to the silent figure among the trailing creepers. Peter and Nancy stood in front of her and waited for her to speak, both a little embarrassed, as we are when we aren't quite sure how we ought to feel and what we ought to say. It was very sad, of course, about Mr. Bernard Wyndham being dead, but, as they had neither of them ever seen him in their lives, it was rather difficult to mind very much. But then they knew they ought to think about what Miss Betty was feeling. Nancy looked at Pete and felt that it would be dreadful to have one's brother killed, even if he did scold one and keep one in order rather too much. But then a brother who had been in the West Indies for twelve out of the thirteen years of one's life was different from a brother who was always there to get one blackberries and lift one over hedges, and even box one's ears when one required it. And besides, as I have said, Miss Betty did not look exactly very sad, only grave and just the least little bit important. So they waited to hear what she had to say.
'It is quite true, Pete and Nancy,' she began; 'Mr. Bernard has been killed in a dreadful rising of the natives in the West Indian Islands. He was very, very brave—of course we knew he would be that—and he has died as an Englishman ought to die, so we shall never be able to show him all the things we wanted to show him, and to introduce him to all of you here, as we always thought we should.' Miss Betty's voice began to shake a little for the first time, and Pete and Nancy waited in respectful silence. After a minute she went on:
'But Angel says we must try to be very proud to think of him dying so bravely, for she says that women all over England are giving up so much, that we ought to be glad to think that we have given something too. And now I am coming to the part that is the most surprising. Only think—our brother was married, married out there eight years ago, and he never told us! I suppose he wanted to give us a beautiful surprise when he brought us a new sister home.'
She waited for somebody to say something. Peter's face did not look as if he thought the surprise a very beautiful one.
'Beg your pardon, Miss Betty,' he said doubtfully, 'but Mr. Bernard's lady, she'd—she'd be black, I suppose?'
'Black!' exclaimed Betty in horror. 'Oh, dear me, no, Peter! Of course she wouldn't be black. There are English people in the West Indies or my brother wouldn't have been there, and it was an English lady he married; but, poor lady, she died when she'd only been our sister not quite a year. I suppose that was why Bernard never told us afterwards, because of not wanting us to know what we'd missed. It was very, very brave and very unselfish of him, of course, but Angel and I wish he had, because then we could have written and said how sorry we were, and perhaps comforted him a little. And now I'm coming to the most surprising thing of all. My brother had a little boy, and he is seven years old now, and he is in England and he will be here to-night.' Miss Betty hurried out these last pieces of news one on the top of the other, and then stopped and looked at her hearers, who certainly seemed surprised enough to satisfy her.
'Poor little gentleman!' said kind-hearted Peter, ''tis a sad coming to England for him, for sure, and him an orphan and alone in the world, as one may say.'
'No, Peter, one mayn't say anything of the kind,' said Miss Betty, pulling herself up and looking as dignified as she possibly could. 'Of course, he's an orphan, poor dear little boy! but he can't be alone in the world at all when he's got two aunts, and his aunt Angelica and I will take good care he never feels like an orphan, the darling.'
Nancy's eyes opened their very widest. 'But, Miss Betty,' she said, 'I thought aunts were old people.'
'Oh, Nancy!' said Betty, with an air of wisdom; 'you have a very great deal to learn, Nancy, dear. It is not the age that makes the aunt, Nancy, it is the nephew or the niece. And as for being old, Angelica and I aren't so very young. She was sixteen last winter and I am thirteen, and people have done a great deal at thirteen, as you'll learn when you read biography. And, even if we haven't been so very old before, we have to begin now and grow up at once, for we are going to live here and be independent ladies, with our cousin, Mr. Crayshaw, coming down now and then from London to see us, and—and talk over business, and advise us about our money matters, and we shall have Godfrey, our nephew Godfrey, to take care of and educate. Angel says,' she went on after a minute, while the faces of her listeners showed great satisfaction at the arrangements, 'that we must put everything else on one side and bring up our nephew as his father would have wished, to be a proper English gentleman and a credit to his family. She says we can fit ourselves to do any duty that we have got to do, and our duty now is to be good aunts, and we must be that with all our might;' and here the good aunt broke off suddenly as her eye fell for the first time on the baskets which her listeners were holding.
'Did you bring those for us?' she exclaimed. 'Oh, how kind of you! Are those Polly's eggs, Nance? I guessed they were, and the mushrooms are off the common, I know. Whereabouts did you get them, Pete? I must go with you some day very soon, I'm longing——'
And then as if with a sudden recollection the eager little lady pulled herself up, smoothed her crooked kerchief, and shook the rebellious hair out of her eyes, and went on in her most sober tones: 'I don't know, Peter, whether I shall be able to come mushrooming much now. Of course my nephew will take up a good deal of my time, and I'm not sure whether many mushrooms are quite a good thing for children. But eggs will be very nice for his breakfast—a new-laid egg every day, I think, not too hard-boiled. And there's just one more little thing; I hope you won't mind, but I fancy if you could get into the way of calling us Miss Angelica and Miss Elizabeth when our nephew is there it would be a good thing, and make him look up to us more. You won't mind my saying so, will you? And now I think I must go, because Angel—because Miss Angelica will be up; so good-bye, and thank you very much indeed for coming.'
And the next minute Miss Betty was gone, starting off in her usual whirlwind fashion, then pulling herself up and marching along solemnly and with the dignity which became the aunt.
But she forgot her dignity when she got upstairs, and met her sister coming out of her bedroom to look for her with a little shade of anxiety in her face. Angelica Wyndham was one of those very gentle, thoughtful people who are so tender about their neighbours' happiness, so fearful of hurting and slow to put their own wishes forward, that we hardly know how powerful that very gentleness makes them in their little world. Everybody loved Angel, and said how sweet she was and how pretty; but they hardly knew how they came to consider her and to go out of their way to please her, just because she always thought so much about other people that really it was a shame to vex her. She was not particularly quick, except with that sort of quickness which we can all learn by being thoughtful for others, and watchful to please and help them. She was not nearly so clever as Betty, and she knew it quite well, and was never a bit jealous when Betty passed her in class and learnt her lessons in half the time; and Betty, on her side, thought there was no one in all the world like Angel and would have done anything to please her, and always hoped that one day she might be half as wise and good. And so this morning, when she saw her sister standing in the doorway, with the little worried anxious look in her gentle eyes, she flung her arms round her, and stood on tip-toe to kiss her, exclaiming eagerly:
'Angel dear, did you wonder where I was? Did I wake you getting up? I left the blinds down on purpose. I've only been talking to Pete and Nancy, and telling them all about it, and Nancy's brought us some eggs, and Pete's got such a basket of mushrooms!'
'You haven't been on the common for mushrooms this morning, have you, dear?' asked Angelica.
'Oh no, no, of course not, Angel; how could I? No, I told him perhaps I shouldn't be able to go with him now. You needn't be afraid, Angel, I've told him all about it, and how we are going to grow up now at once, as we have to be Godfrey's maiden aunts; and I told him to call me Miss Elizabeth, and he quite understands.'
Angel, with an arm round Betty's neck among the tumbled curls, wondered, in her gentle way, whether her eager young sister quite understood herself, but all she said was:
'Come in and let me tie your hair, Betty dear.'
'Isn't it tidy?' said Betty, with a pull at her loose locks; then, as she stopped beside the looking-glass, and caught sight of herself in contrast to Angelica's graceful figure, looking taller and slimmer in the straight black dress, with the soft muslin about her slender throat and the dark abundant curls falling smoothly on her shoulders, she exclaimed in dismay,
'Oh, Angel dear, I'm so sorry! I dressed in the dark.'
'I know, Betty dear. Sit down and let me do your hair,' said the elder sister, getting the ribbon off with as little pulling of the tangled curls as possible.
'You see,' she said very gently and diffidently, as she set to work to put Betty in order, 'I've been thinking a great deal about this dear little boy of ours, and, Betty, it makes me feel so young.'
'Does it?' said Betty, twisting her head round so as to look into her sister's face; 'why, Angel dear, it makes me feel old!'
'Yes, I know what you mean. I mean it makes me feel silly and inexperienced when I ought to be wise. You see, Betty, I think we ought both to consider that we haven't got Bernard's little boy to please ourselves with him, and pet him, and give him everything he wants. He won't be a plaything for us—we have to make a man of him, and as he hasn't any one else to look to, we mustn't let him just take us for playfellows, he must look upon us as——'
'As his maiden aunts,' said Betty, emphatically; 'yes, Angel, I quite see that.'
'You see,' Angelica went on, 'I expect when we get the dear little thing to ourselves we shall find it much easier to romp with him and pet him and all that, and so we might if there were any one else older and wiser for him to look up to; but it wouldn't do for a little boy only to have playfellows, there must be some one for him to respect.'
'And as there isn't any one else, it must be us,' said Betty, decidedly, 'for he won't have any one else belonging to him to respect except Cousin Crayshaw about once a fortnight, which isn't very often, and so we shall have to be instead of a father and mother and uncles and aunts and grandmothers and everybody that little boys have to respect all rolled into one.'
'And not think at all about pleasing ourselves with him as if he were a kitten,' said Angel, gravely; 'you see things so quickly, Betty dear——'
But there her sentence was cut short by Betty springing up suddenly and flinging both arms round her.
'Angel,' she cried, 'if you talk like that I'll never forgive you. If he can't be good with you to teach him he doesn't deserve to have you for his relation. And you are always to scold me—only it mustn't be when he is there—if I forget about growing up and do stupid things and make myself so that he can't respect me. And perhaps by-and-bye, if you tell me, and I try very hard indeed, I may get to be a real, good, proper, sensible maiden aunt.'
'Hers is a spirit deep and crystal clear: Calmly beneath her earnest face it lies, Free without boldness, meek without a fear, Quicker to look than speak its sympathies.'—LOWELL.
As Betty Wyndham had said, she and Angel were not very well off for relations. Angelica's memory held some faint, faraway pictures of mother and father, which she had dreamt over so often that they were always fair and tender like the hazy distance of an autumn landscape. Dimly, too, she could recollect the time of loss and loneliness and half-understood grief when she cried herself to sleep at night for want of the familiar kisses, and she had hazy remembrances of strange faces and changes, and a time when the cottage by Oakfield Common was a new home, and Cousin Amelia Crayshaw, the elderly relation, with whom she and Betty were to live (and who had died two years before this story begins), was a stranger—a rather alarming stranger, so unlike mamma, that it seemed unnatural to go to her for things, and ask her questions, and say the Catechism to her on Sunday.
And there was one other recollection which Angel had thought of and talked to Betty about so often, that it made quite a landmark in her life: the recollection of a day in that dreary time when she sat, a little lonely, frightened child, only dimly understanding the meaning of her black frock, by the cradle where baby Betty was asleep, crying in a hushed, awed way, as much at the grave faces and the drawn blinds as because papa and mamma had gone away, for they must surely come back by-and-bye.
Then her nurse Penelope looked into the darkened room, with a face swollen with crying, and said in a whisper, 'Miss Angel dear, speak to your brother,' and pushed in a lad whom Angel had never seen before, and went away, treading softly as every one did in the shadowed house. Little Angel left off crying and looked up at the stranger, who stood there by the door, with a white set face of pain which frightened her. Then she got up obediently and came to him, and held up a little pale face to be kissed, as she had learnt to do to her friends. And the tall lad caught her up suddenly and held her tight in a clasp which hurt her, and sat down in her little chair and burst into strong weeping over her curly hair. And Angel, frightened as she was, knew she ought to try and comfort him, and so stroked the hands that held her so tightly, and whispered tremulously that by-and-bye papa and mamma would be coming back, for Penny had cried over her because they were gone away, and this mysterious brother must be grieving about it too. And once or twice he said out loud, 'I did love them! I did love them!' and his voice sounded quite fierce, only he held her so close all the time that Angel felt he could not be angry with her. And then baby Betty woke and cried, and the four-year-old sister and the big brother soothed her between them, until Penny came back to the door and called softly, and cried afresh to see the young gentleman with Betty in his arms and Angel holding on to his coat. And he kissed them both quickly and went away, and Angelica never saw him again. He went abroad, she knew, very soon afterwards, for Penny told her to pray that the ship might not go down on the way; but Cousin Amelia never talked about him, and Angel, with the quick intuition of a little child, soon learnt that she did not care to speak of him. But if Angel spoke little she thought the more.
All her pitiful little heart had gone out to the big brother who had cried so about papa and mamma, and had said he loved them as Angel loved them herself, and had hushed Betty to sleep, and held her and kissed her as kind, quiet Cousin Amelia never did.
When she and Betty grew older and went to school, and heard other girls talk about their brothers, Angel added all the good things she learnt to her fancies about her brother abroad, and Betty's active imagination improved upon the picture, until they hardly knew how much of it was their own painting and how much belonged to that dim recollection of Angel's childhood.
And now the fancies had come suddenly to an end which was real enough, and the brother would never come home to live with them and play with them, and let them mend his clothes and knit his stockings as other sisters did. And, instead, they had to get used to the strange idea of the dead unknown wife, and the little son for whose sake they were to grow up into wise sober women before they had done with being little girls. What wonder that Angel looked pale and grave after a wakeful night, and that Betty felt that madcap ways and tumbled curls must cease from this day forward.
Little Nancy Rogers, hurrying home so as to get there before Peter, felt herself a person of importance, with such news to tell. Her father was gardener at Oakfield Place, the most important building in the village, an ivied house with a garden full of sweet, old-fashioned flowers, planted by the late mistress who had died six years before. The present owner, Captain Maitland, was a naval officer, away with his ship, and the house was empty except for the Rogers family, who lived in some of the back rooms that Mrs. Rogers might keep the place in order. Before she married she had been maid to Miss Amelia Crayshaw, and still came in now and then when Penny wanted extra help; and her children and the two little ladies had been playfellows, for Angel and Betty had no girl friends near their home, and, when Cousin Amelia would let them, were happy enough to spend their holidays running about the old garden with the little Rogers, getting mushrooms and blackberries under Peter's charge, or, on wet days, playing 'hide and seek' about the empty house. And even Cousin Amelia, who was very particular about their manners and the company they kept, admitted that Martha Rogers' children could not teach them any harm. Indeed, it was Betty who now and then led the whole party into scrapes, for which, however, she was always ready enough to bear the blame.
So that there was no house in Oakfield where the news of Mr. Bernard's death and the arrival of his little son was received with more interest than at the Rogers', even though Nancy did get a scolding for going off to the cottage and taking up Miss Betty's time without a word to any one at home. But Nancy was the baby and a little spoilt even by her sensible mother, and it took a good deal of scolding to put her out of conceit with herself; so, though she had strict orders on no account to go to the cottage again till she was sent for, she managed to be by the roadside at that hour in the evening when Mr. Crayshaw's post-chaise always arrived on the occasions of his visits to Oakfield. And so she saw the chaise and the horses, and a black box on the top, but it was too dark for even her inquisitive black eyes to get a peep at the travellers. And in the twilight of the October evening the two young aunts were awaiting the nephew who was to be henceforward such a great part of their lives. Angel stood in the cottage porch under a tangle of twining creepers, looking gravely out into the shadows. It seemed to her as if, out of that darkness, something strange and great were coming to her—new duties, new cares and thoughts, which would change her from a quiet, obedient little girl into a wise, thoughtful woman. And, with very little confidence in her own power or wisdom, she was trying to be brave and making up her mind to do her best. Betty's clear voice on the stairs roused her from her grave thoughts.
'No, not meat to-night, Penny, it's too late; it isn't good for children to have heavy suppers; only the bread-and-milk, please, and do, do take care not to burn the milk, because I know quite well how horrid it was when they burnt it at school.'
'Bless your heart, Miss Betty dear,' was the answer, 'one'd think I never made a basin of bread-and-milk in my life instead of feeding you as a baby and Miss Angel before you.'
But if Betty heard the remark she did not wait to answer it, for she was in the porch by her sister's side before Penelope had finished.
'Angel, can you hear wheels? I fancy I do; I think they'll be here in a minute, don't you? I hope I shall remember all the things I wanted to say. Aren't you excited, Angel? Only I suppose maiden aunts oughtn't ever to be very excited. Let's try to be calm. I don't feel very calm, do you?'
'Not very,' Angel said. Her colour was coming and going, and the arm that she put round Betty trembled, but she stood quite still. Old Penelope came to the door behind them and asked almost as anxiously as Betty if they heard anything, and said something a little doubtfully about it being a damp evening for standing there in the porch, but she did not call them to come in, only stood there and strained eyes and ears in the dim light. After all Angelica heard the wheels first and gave a start as they broke the silence, and there was time after that for Betty to rush indoors and poke up the fire before the chaise stopped at the garden gate. And then it was Betty who reached the gate first, with Penelope just behind her, for Angel was so unused to coming to the front that somehow she let them both pass her. And so Betty had hold of the door-handle first, and was trying to see through the steamy window almost before the horses stopped.
'There he is, the darling!' she exclaimed; 'I see him. Godfrey dear, I'm your aunt Elizabeth; come and let me kiss you.'
'Bless him for his papa's own boy,' puffed Penny behind her. 'I knew your dear papa, love.'
And at this moment the door opened suddenly, and the two received into their arms a thin, severe-looking gentleman, with scanty grey hair and a rather annoyed expression of face.
'Good gracious, Elizabeth, what is the meaning of this?' he exclaimed, as Betty clasped him round the waist in the dark. 'Penelope, what in the world are you doing? Is the whole place gone demented?'
Penny fell back in great confusion, but Betty was undaunted.
'I beg your pardon, Cousin Crayshaw,' she said, 'it wasn't you I meant to kiss—I thought you were Godfrey. Isn't Godfrey here?'
'Your brother's child is here of course,' said Mr. Crayshaw rather sharply, and turning back to the carriage, he said:
'Godfrey, come here and get out at once; don't keep every one waiting.'
'I won't!' said a very decided voice from the darkness inside the big chaise.
'You will do as you are told,' said Mr. Crayshaw severely; 'come out at once.'
'I won't!' said the voice again.
'Perhaps he's frightened,' suggested Betty, peeping in under her cousin's arm. 'Godfrey dear, I'm your Aunt Elizabeth. Come and have your supper, dear, I am sure you're hungry.'
'I don't want my Aunt Elizabeth, nor my supper,' said the rebellious voice from the chaise. 'I am going to turn this carriage the other way, and the horses will take me to the ship, and the ship will take me home.'
'The horses will take you to the stable, sir,' said the exasperated Mr. Crayshaw, 'and you can stay there if you prefer it to obeying me.'
'They will take me to the ship,' said the child's voice inside.
'They will do nothing of the kind, because you are to come with me instantly,' said the gentleman, with his foot on the step.
He made a dive into the chaise, there was the sound of a scuffle, then the clear voice could be heard exclaiming:
'Bad man, you are to let me go.'
'I shall do nothing of the sort, sir.'
'Then I'll be a leech.'
The next moment there was a sort of spring from a little dark figure, and Mr. Crayshaw stumbled out of the chaise, with a small boy holding tightly to his leg.
'Let go of me directly, you abominable child!' he cried, but the small arms only tightened their grip of his knee, the thin legs twisted closely round his ankle, and I am afraid even that a set of very white sharp little teeth were fastened in the black knee breeches. Poor Mr. Crayshaw! It was not a dignified position for a very stiff and solemn London lawyer to have to hop along a gravelled path with a little boy hanging on to his leg. He made a desperate attempt to unclasp the clutching fingers, but the sharp teeth were so uncomfortably near his hand that he gave that up and tried kicking. It did not make it easier for him either to know that his appearance had been quite too much for the auntly gravity of Betty, who had her hands over her face to keep herself from screaming with laughter, while the driver and the postilion were watching with their mouths expanded into broad grins.
How it would have ended I cannot say; but at this moment Angelica came forward, standing just in the broad ray of light that streamed through the open door. She had put on a white dress, with a broad black sash, and her tall white figure caught Godfrey's eye. He still held on tightly to Mr. Crayshaw, but he called to her, in a voice half trembling, half defiant:
'I'm not afraid of you.'
'I don't want you to be, Godfrey,' said Angel, dreadfully puzzled as to what she ought to do.
'I'm a bad boy,' announced her nephew, with a fresh grip of his victim's leg, 'but if you turn me into a scorpion I'll sting him and kill him.'
Betty tried to stifle a fresh explosion of laughter; Angel looked in dismay at Mr. Crayshaw's black face, then stooped down and laid her gentle hand quickly on Godfrey's arm.
'Let go, dear, there's a good boy,' she said softly. 'Please do, because I want to speak to you.'
Her nephew looked straight at her for a moment, and then suddenly relaxed his hold and dropped down on the path at her feet. Mr. Crayshaw, feeling, perhaps, that he would gain nothing by stopping to scold, and just a little afraid of being seized by the other leg, muttered something indistinctly and walked into the house, limping a little, for Godfrey's feet and fingers had left their mark. Angel stooped down and laid her hand on the little boy's shoulder, and he caught hold of her dress and looked up in her face.
'I know all about you,' he said; 'you're a white witch. I am a bad boy, but I'm going to be good now, quite good. If I do everything you tell me, and promise not to be a leech again, and give you all the money in my pocket, will you make me into a bird, so that I can fly over the sea and back home to Biddy? Will you, white witch, will you?'
He had risen to his feet and was looking at her with such a white earnest face, and she could feel the thin little hands trembling as they clutched her dress. Angelica hardly knew what to say with those great eyes, grey eyes like Betty's, devouring her face.
'Godfrey, dear,' she said gently, 'you're mistaken, dear, I'm not a witch at all; I'm your papa's sister. I loved your papa and I want to love you, if you'll let me. I want you to come into the house with me, and I know you will be good.'
The child looked steadily at her for a minute, as if to make quite sure that she was speaking the truth, then his lips suddenly began to quiver.
'Can't I—can't I—go back, then?' he said, pressing his thin little hands tight together.
'We want you to try and be happy here with us,' said Angel very gently.
The bitter disappointment that swept over the little white face went to her heart. She put her arm tenderly round the boy, and felt that he was quivering all over from head to foot; he had set his teeth hard and was clasping his hands tightly, as if to force the tears back. He looked such a small, fragile thing with the black lines of weariness under his big, sad eyes; the only wonder was that he had managed to give poor Mr. Crayshaw so much trouble. Now when Angelica put her arm around him, his courage seemed to give way all at once, he gave a sort of gasp, and his voice ran up into a shrill little quaver.
'Take me where he can't see,' he faltered, and Angel, without another word, bore him off into the house and upstairs with his face hidden against her.
I think we must admit that poor Mr. Crayshaw had had a good deal to try him that evening. He had come down from London after some very disagreeable business there, and, as we can imagine, the journey had not been a very pleasant one. Then there had been that dreadful arrival, when Betty and the driver and the postilion had all laughed at him. And now, here at Oakfield Cottage, where his wishes were always treated with the greatest respect, he was kept waiting full twenty minutes for his supper. He rang the bell twice without getting any answer, but a third tremendous tug brought Penelope down, rather breathless and excited.
'Beg your pardon, sir, did you ring, sir?'
'I rang three times,' said Mr. Crayshaw severely, 'to ask whether the young ladies think of supping this evening.'
'I am sure I humbly beg pardon, sir,' said Penelope, who was dreadfully afraid of Mr. Crayshaw; 'the young ladies were just taken up with the poor dear little gentleman, bless him.'
'Hum!' said Mr. Crayshaw, with a dry little cough; 'still as the fact of the young gentleman being in the house does not prevent my wishing for something to eat, I should be glad if you would bring supper in any moment of time you can spare from his company.'
'Oh, I'm sure, sir, directly, sir,' stammered Penny, hurrying out of the room, and the next minute her voice might have been heard in very loud whispers to Angelica on the stairs, before she bustled down in double quick time to the kitchen. A minute or two later Betty came in with an air of much importance.
'Cousin Crayshaw, Angel and I beg your pardon for keeping you waiting for supper,' she said; 'we were putting Godfrey to bed. He seemed so strange, and so frightened, poor darling!'
'Humph!' coughed Mr. Crayshaw again, 'his behaviour has not given me that impression so far. I warn both you and Angelica that if you persist in making a martyr of an exceedingly spoilt and ill-disposed child, my only alternative will be to send him at once to some strict school where he will be properly dealt with.'
The colour rushed into Betty's cheeks and her lips opened for a hasty reply, when Angel came quickly into the room with a tray in her hands. Betty ran to help her while she made her gentle apology for being late. Penny had been upstairs with them, but they would help her now, and supper would be ready in a minute. She feared Cousin Crayshaw must be very hungry and cold too, perhaps; she hoped he was not fatigued by the journey from London. It was almost impossible to be angry with Angel, and Mr. Crayshaw relented a little, and said no more about Godfrey; indeed, remembering how Betty had laughed at his predicament, he was perhaps not very anxious to talk about the arrival. It was a very silent supper. Betty kept beginning to talk and pulling herself up, and Angel devoted herself to attending to Mr. Crayshaw, trying to keep him from missing Penelope, who usually waited on them, but who had stolen upstairs as soon as supper was served.
She came back when the meal was over to clear away, and behind the gentleman's back made signs to Angel that Godfrey was asleep; and Angel gently stopped Betty, who seemed inclined to slip out of the room, and took her own worsted work to a chair by the hearth opposite her cousin. Mr. Crayshaw had a newspaper, but he sat looking over it at the burning logs with a decidedly annoyed expression, and when the table was cleared and Penelope gone, he laid it down and turned to his two young cousins.
'How old are you, Angelica?' he asked abruptly.
'Nearly seventeen, Cousin Crayshaw,' answered the girl, 'and Betty is thirteen.'
'But I feel a great deal more than thirteen, Cousin Crayshaw,' said Betty, leaning over the back of Angelica's chair.
'I am glad to hear it,' said Mr. Crayshaw rather drily; 'I trust at any rate that you will be able to show some of the discretion which your peculiar circumstances will require.'
He cleared his throat and began again, while Angel laid down her work respectfully:
'You are possibly aware that the sudden death of your father, followed a few days later by that of your mother, left their affairs in much confusion. The greater part of their fortune went by law to your elder brother, a moderate sum being devoted to the expenses of your education. I regret that the investment of the small property accruing to yourselves has been less successful than could have been wished. As you probably know, the conduct of your brother has been from first to last unsatisfactory—most unsatisfactory.'
Betty glanced up sharply. Angel said gently,
'I know he loved my papa and mamma.'
'He showed his affection in an extraordinary manner,' said Mr. Crayshaw grimly; 'he was idle and extravagant in his early youth, and his career since then has been far from brilliant, not to speak of this most unfortunate and imprudent marriage with a penniless orphan girl, which he had sufficient shame to keep secret from his relations and advisers in England. When I heard of his death I naturally looked upon you and your sisters as heirs to the small property which I have managed to the best of my ability, and which would make a comfortable provision for you. And now it appears that this child, who was at first believed to have perished at the same time, has by some extraordinary chance survived, and of course inherits everything. A most unfortunate occurrence altogether.'
I think Mr. Crayshaw in his vexation had almost forgotten that he was not talking to himself, but he was suddenly reminded, for at this moment Angel stood up, looking very pale, but with a strange light burning in her eyes.
'Cousin Crayshaw,' she said, and there was a new ring in her quiet tones, 'you said a minute ago that it is time Betty and I were growing up. I think you must have forgotten that, and must think us either very childish or very heartless, or you would not speak as you have just done before us. Godfrey's father was our brother and he is dead, and whatever he has done that is wrong, I think no friend of ours should speak of it before us. And if you really mean that it is a misfortune for us that our brother's little boy is not dead, I hope you will never say such a thing again to us, or to any one. If his mother had lived we should have loved her dearly, and welcomed her for our sister, and now that we have only him left it will be the most sacred work of our lives to care for him, and teach him, and work for him too if he is poor.'
Angelica had never made such a speech in her life, certainly she had never dreamt of making it to Mr. Crayshaw, whom she had always looked upon with the greatest respect as a grown-up man, and her guardian. Betty felt as if she hardly knew her sister, but never in her life had she felt so proud of her. She stood up by Angel's side and put her arm through hers, and faced Mr. Crayshaw as if she were longing to fight Godfrey's battles directly.
'I won't touch one penny of his money,' she said, with her hair thrown back and her cheeks glowing, 'and I'd scrub and sweep for him gladly, that I would.'
Mr. Crayshaw got up and gave his chair an impatient push back.
'Don't let us have heroics, Elizabeth,' he said sharply. Then he glanced at Angel, walked over to the window and came back again.
'Angelica,' he began, 'I'—and there he hesitated. It was on the tip of his tongue to say, 'I am sorry I said what I did; I beg your pardon.' What a pity it was he didn't go on! If he had, Angel and Betty would have respected him more than they ever did before; but then we are apt to forget that people would really think more of us if they knew we were not ashamed to own ourselves in the wrong. But he did not finish his sentence, he went on after a minute:
'All I mean you to understand is the necessity for economy for you all if this child is to be put to school and started in life. I have considered the desirability of a lady companion for you, but no one presents herself to me at present, and I see no alternative but for the child to remain here with you until he is old enough for school. I shall spend every alternate Sunday here, and Penelope will do all that is necessary. You, Angelica, are of an age when young ladies should know something of housekeeping. As for the boy, he appears to have been thoroughly spoilt and mismanaged, and I can only say that if I find that you indulge him in such exhibitions as—as we have already seen, I must make other arrangements. You understand me?'
'Yes, Cousin Crayshaw,' said Angel quietly.
She sat down again, and took up her wool-work, but her fingers trembled so that the needle missed the proper holes. Betty dropped down on to a stool at her feet, and they sat in silence while Mr. Crayshaw took the lamp to a side table and began to write. Presently Betty stole upstairs, and at nine o'clock Angel too rose, went over to her cousin, and held out her hand.
'Good night, Cousin Crayshaw,' she said.
Her cousin gave a look at her as she stood in the lamplight in her white dress and black ribbons. She was pale still, and he could see she had been crying, and felt sorry that he had hurt her. He had always thought of her as a little schoolgirl, but this evening it seemed as if she were growing into a woman. He took her hand, and held it a little longer than usual.
'Good night, Angelica,' he said, and then he cleared his throat and added:
'I feel sure that you will be a good girl, a—a sensible girl.'
'I will try to,' Angel said gently, and she went upstairs.
Betty was in the little room opening out of their own which the sisters had chosen for Godfrey. She was kneeling by the little boy's bed, looking at him, and almost holding her breath lest she should wake him.
'Fast asleep, dear little darling!' she whispered. 'Oh, Angel, how could he? Wicked man! Fancy if he hadn't us to protect him.'
'Hush,' whispered Angelica gravely, 'hush; you mustn't, Betty.'
She stooped down and dropped a light kiss on Godfrey's hair, and then drew her sister away from the bed to the window. The mists had cleared away, there was going to be a frost, and overhead the stars were bright.
Angel leaned against the window-frame and looked out with very serious eyes. 'Betty,' she said softly, 'we must never say a word about—about what happened downstairs this evening to any one, not even to each other, and we mustn't think about it, or we shall fancy things. Cousin Crayshaw is our guardian, and he wants to be our good friend. And he is right in saying that we must be very wise and very careful. And we must be fair, Betty, quite fair to him and Godfrey both, and teach Godfrey to respect him because it is his duty, and not excuse him when he is naughty like he was to-night. You will do that, won't you, dear?'
'If you'll help me, Angel,' said Betty, clinging to her.
'God help us both,' whispered Angel under her breath.
THE FIRST DAY
We shall be what you will make us; Make us wise, and make us good! Make us strong for time of trial, Teach us temperance, self-denial, Patience, kindness, fortitude!'—MARY HOWITT.
It was, perhaps, just as well that Mr. Crayshaw had to start for London next morning before Godfrey was awake, so that he did not see his young cousin again. He had a talk with Angel, and gave her some money for the housekeeping expenses of the next fortnight, and was a good deal surprised to find how sensible and business-like she could be.
'Cousin Crayshaw really sees how you are beginning to grow up, Angel,' said Betty admiringly, as they came back up the garden path together after seeing their cousin off. 'I wish he talked to me like that. Angel dear, what a lot of money! I don't think that is economy, do you? I should think we might put by a good deal of it for Godfrey to use by-and-bye. Do let's see if we can't save out of it.'
But Angel thought not. She felt she hardly knew enough yet about housekeeping to cut the expenses down lower than her guardian thought fit.
'I must go and talk to Penny,' she said, 'and will you wash the breakfast china and listen for Godfrey moving?'
The breakfast china was a beautiful old set which had been a wedding present to the girls' grandmother, and which Miss Crayshaw in her lifetime had always washed herself, so Betty felt important as she tied on an apron and fetched her hot water.
Angel finished her housekeeping talk and went upstairs to see if Godfrey were still asleep. She opened the bedroom door softly lest she should wake him, but to her surprise he was up and dressed, and kneeling by the bed saying his prayers. He had been taught that at any rate, Angel thought joyfully, and she drew back reverently, not liking to disturb him. But she could not help hearing the last words:
'I will promise to be a very good boy, and if I may not go back to Biddy I would like to go up the ladder to-day, but I should like Biddy best.'
He rose to his feet the next minute and turning his head caught sight of Angel. A half-pleased, half-startled look came over his face.
'Good morning, Godfrey dear,' said his young aunt, coming forward.
The boy put his hands behind him and looked straight at her with his wide grey eyes.
'Good morning,' he said; 'you've come down the ladder for me, I suppose. I like Biddy best, but it can't be helped. Where is the ladder? Are you to go first or am I?'
'What ladder, dear?' said Angelica, dreadfully puzzled.
'What a stupid angel you are!' said the little boy impatiently; 'the ladder you and the others go up and down to Heaven on, of course, like the picture in Biddy's Bible; the ladder you took my papa and mamma up, and Biddy's father, and Corporal O'Roone, and all the others you angels take care of.'
'He must mean Jacob's ladder,' thought Angel. 'I didn't come down that ladder, Godfrey dear,' she said.
Godfrey shook his head.
'I didn't know angels told stories,' he said reproachfully; 'you know you are one, I heard that other call you it.'
'It is only short for my long name,' explained the girl; 'my name is Angelica, Godfrey,—your aunt Angelica, your aunt Angel.'
'I never heard they were aunts,' said Godfrey doubtfully; 'Biddy said just angels.'
'Who is Biddy?' asked Angel, to escape from the difficulty.
'She takes care of me and sometimes of my papa,' said Godfrey readily. 'She takes care of everybody that you angels aren't taking care of. She took care of her father till the angels did it instead, and then she went to church and promised to take care of Corporal O'Roone till the angels got him too. I would rather go back to Biddy, but if I can't I suppose I must go up the ladder with you to my papa.'
It was a queer sort of muddle altogether, and Angel hardly knew whether she felt more like laughing or crying over it. She sat down in the window and drew Godfrey towards her.
'Dear,' she said, 'you have made a mistake. I am not that sort of angel. I hope they take care of you and me and all of us here on earth, as well as where your papa is. But I don't want you to go away. I want you to stay here and be happy with me.'
Godfrey looked at her steadily through his lashes.
'What are you?' he asked abruptly; 'are you a lady?'
'Yes, I think—I hope so,' said Angel.
'Last night I thought you were a white witch, like the ones in Biddy's stories,' said the child, 'and I wanted you to make wings for me. Are you sure, sure you can't? I want to go back.'
His lips began to quiver, and Angel drew him close to her.
'I can't send you back, dear,' she said tenderly; 'couldn't you try to be happy with me? I want to love you very much.'
'Does he live here?' asked Godfrey abruptly.
'Cousin Crayshaw do you mean?' asked Angel, in some alarm. 'No; he comes to see us and help us, and tell us what to do.'
'I shall kill him next time he comes,' said Godfrey, calmly; 'I shall hold on to his leg and bite him till he dies.'
'Oh, no, I'm sure you won't!' said Angelica, in dismay; 'no angels will want to be near you, Godfrey, if you wish such unkind things as that.'
'Won't you want to be near me?' asked Godfrey doubtfully.
'I shall be very unhappy,' said Angel, and she added quickly, 'but by-and-bye we can talk about everything. Come down and have breakfast and see your other aunt.'
Godfrey looked at her steadily again for a minute, then he suddenly put his little hand in hers.
'I will go with you,' he said, and Angel kissed him with all her heart and led him downstairs. He was very quiet while he ate his bread-and-milk under the eyes of both aunts, and with Penelope making constant excuses to pop in and out of the room; but his great eyes took note of everything, and now and then he asked some quick question or said decidedly what he liked or did not like. He was very quick, Angel thought, as she watched him, nothing seemed to escape him, and his thoughts flew faster than she could follow. He would be very clever, she said to herself, and her heart failed her a little, for she was not clever, she knew. She was slow at understanding things, afraid of deciding quickly; would she ever be able to guide any one else? She thought about it that afternoon, when Betty had taken her nephew out for a walk and she was busy darning his stockings. They were in dreadful holes, and Angel, as she sat in the parlour window seat with the basket by her side, remembered what she had heard about the way boys wore out their clothes. It made her think of the plans she and Betty used to arrange in their schooldays for mending Bernard's things and taking care of him when he should come home. How little she had dreamt that the mending would be done for Bernard's son! Godfrey had not talked about his father, and Angel had asked no questions and had checked Betty and Penelope. If he should confide in them and tell them about his West Indian home, she would wait and let him do it in his own good time. Just now, everything was strange to him, and she wanted to let him take it in and get used to it all; she could not look for him to love them and be at home with them quite yet. You see, if she was not very quick, she was a very patient person, this Angel; she was content to wait and let her flowers grow, and trust to sun and rain to do the work, without wanting to help by digging them up every day or two to see how the roots looked. And so she sat and thought her gentle thoughts in the creeper-framed window, until she began to wonder where Betty and Godfrey were, and decided to go and meet them. She went down the road, where the wind blew fresh across the common, past one or two cottages, with a word here and there to the children playing at the doors, till she came in sight of the old 'Royal Oak,' the village inn, standing back from the road. In front of the inn was the tree which gave the name both to the house and the village, a noble old oak, hollow inside and propped up with iron supports, but still green above. A tree with a history it was, a tree which could have told many a tale, if it could have spoken, of generations who had passed away, while still its leaves budded fresh and green spring-time after spring-time, and dropped in a russet carpet when the November frosts touched them with cold fingers. But there seemed to be some unusual excitement going on about the oak to-day; a little crowd was collected beneath it: Mr. Collins the innkeeper, and the men and maids, John Ware the miller, pretty Patty Rogers, Nancy's elder sister, Nancy herself, who was always in the forefront when anything was going on, two or three women from the cottages, and, what startled Angel most, Betty, with her shady hat tumbling down her back, gazing up anxiously into the tree, but not Godfrey. Angel quickened her steps and looked where they were looking, and as she drew nearer she heard a chorus of voices.
'Come down, come down, Godfrey, dear Godfrey, you naughty, naughty little boy, come down!'
'Come down, young master; the bough's rotten, 'twon't bear you.'
'Oh, bless him, he'll break his neck, the wood's just tinder! I can't look at him.'
And here Nancy, who loved to have anything, bad or good, to tell, caught sight of Angel and came flying to meet her.
'Oh please, Miss Angelica,' she panted, 'the young gentleman's up the tree and he won't come down nor they can't fetch him, and Mrs. Taylor says he's safe to break his neck, miss—nothing can't save him.'
And then came Betty in a flood of tears.
'Angel, tell him to come down, tell him to come down; he won't listen to me; he'll be killed, he'll be killed!'
'Safe to be!' echoed all the women, as Angel reached the group.
Naughty Godfrey was up the tree in a place that certainly seemed unsafe enough. He was astride upon a bough that did indeed look fearfully rotten, and, though the men below would gladly have gone after him, no one heavier than the slim little boy could have climbed up there in safety.
'The wonder is how he got there, not being a cat,' remarked Ware the miller, who was of a rather dismal turn of mind, 'but he'll want nine lives if he's to get down with a whole skin.'
Angel turned pale as she looked up at him, but she called to him quietly, 'Godfrey, come down at once.'
Godfrey looked down at the sound of her voice, and she thought he looked rather scared.
'I'm going to stop up here,' he said.
'No, you are to come down,' said Angel gravely.
He made a little movement as if he were coming, resting his toe for an instant on a lower bough. As he did so the rotten wood snapped and the branch came down at Angel's feet, leaving Godfrey astride on the bough above, with his feet dangling, while his own seat cracked dangerously. There was a fresh chorus from below.
'The bough's breaking; come down, sir, come down!'
'No, don't move, sir, it'll break if you do; don't stir for your life!'
'Godfrey, keep quite still'—this was from Angel. 'Betty, don't cry; please all of you be quiet, you startle him.'
'Right for you, Miss Angelica,' said the innkeeper; 'hold your tongues, you stupids, if you can. Get into the house and fetch a couple of mattresses and put them here, and look alive about it, will you?'
'You'd best stand a bit back, Miss Angelica,' said the miller, 'else you'll have young master on your head, and there'll be two of you. I'd go up after him if it wouldn't come hard on my wife and six children, one in arms. One must mind one's neck a bit when one's a father, missy.'
'I'd be up after him this minute if the bough'd bear me,' said the innkeeper doubtfully.
Angel answered none of them. She stood still with her white face raised to the little figure in his dangerous position over her head.
He was frightened enough himself now, clinging tightly to the cracking bough and looking fearfully down at the ground beneath him.
'Don't look down, Godfrey,' called Angel encouragingly; 'sit quite still, and we will help you directly.'
At the same moment Peter Rogers came suddenly pushing through the group with a rope in his hand, He said not a word but went up the tree like a squirrel.
''Taint no good, Pete,' the miller began, 'the bough won't bear you.' Angel clutched his coat.
'Be quiet,' she said almost sharply; 'we can't do anything; be quiet.'
Every one obeyed her, and held their breath as Pete climbed to the higher boughs above Godfrey, which, though slender for his weight, looked safer than the dead ones. He fastened the rope where it seemed secure and dropped the end down to the little boy.
'Tie it tight round your waist, young master,' he said; 'tie it in two or three knots.'
Those below would have given directions too, but Angel stopped them again.
'Hush! let Pete tell him; don't confuse him.'
There was dead silence again, while Godfrey, looking up at Peter, struggled with his little fingers over the stiff rope. The maids came out while he was doing it, and, at their master's sign, put down the mattresses silently under the tree.
'Now come back, sir,' said Peter from above. 'Mind, you can't fall, the rope's tight, and I'll have you in a minute. Don't look down, and come along gently.'
His quiet voice seemed to give Godfrey confidence and he obeyed, pushing himself along the bough. Betty hid her face against Angel, and squeezed her sister's fingers till they were hot and sore. The miller puffed with excitement and began to say something, when the innkeeper clapped his big hand over his mouth. It did not really last a minute, but it seemed an hour before Peter, standing firm in a fork of the tree, could reach the child and drag him towards him, even as the branch on which Godfrey had been sitting crashed down on to the mattress at Angelica's feet. Another minute, and Peter was helping the little boy down the tree, amid a chorus of congratulation from below. Every one had something to say, some comment to make, except Angel, who just took tight hold of Godfrey's hand, as he stood quite quiet, hanging his head in the midst. She checked Betty with a gentle touch when she would have seized hold of him, though she was wanting dreadfully to hug him herself.
'Thank you all very much,' she said softly, to the people round her. 'I think we will go home now; come, Godfrey.' And she led him away with Betty following. After a minute or two she said:
'Godfrey, you have given us a most terrible fright. We must be very thankful you were not killed.'
'The other angels saw to me,' said Godfrey.
'Yes, but we mustn't look for angels to take care of us when we go into dangerous places where we have no business to be. Why did you climb the tree, Godfrey?'
'Because she said I couldn't,' said Godfrey stoutly.
'Do you mean your Aunt Elizabeth? It was very naughty of you to do what she told you not. We must take you home now and leave you with Penny because we can't trust you.'
All the time her kind heart was aching over the terribleness of having to be severe with him on the very first day, the longing to catch him up and kiss him and cry over him. But she kept on saying to herself, 'We must—we must, there is nobody else to do it,' and so she managed to be firm. She took Godfrey home, talked to him tenderly and gravely, and left him in the little room where Penny sat sewing. She felt as if she had not said half she meant, as if she had made a thousand mistakes, though she had tried her very best to be wise. Godfrey had listened silently to all she said; he would think about it, Angel hoped, and perhaps by-and-bye he would say something; she must just wait. Then she went to find her sister. Betty had not come into the house, and Angel, going out to look for her, heard sounds of sobbing by the arbour. Everything Betty did was always done vehemently, and there she was now, lying full length on the grass, with her head on Demoiselle Jehanne's stone shoulder, crying as if her heart would break.
'Betty dear, don't lie there, the grass is damp,' said Angelica, leaning over her. Betty left Miss Jane to throw her arms round her sister.
'Oh, Angel,' she sobbed, 'I can't—I can't ever be it! It's no use, I can't be a maiden aunt, I know I never shall. This first day, this very first, he's nearly killed himself. Oh, Angel, if I shut my eyes, I can see him with his darling neck broken, and the funeral, and Cousin Crayshaw coming down to it and looking "I told you so." And perhaps wicked people, who might think we want his money, might say we planned it, like the Babes in the Wood's uncle, and there might be a trial, and you and me tried for making away with Bernard's little boy.'
'Betty, Betty,' gasped Angel, who never could follow the pace of Betty's imagination, 'don't say such dreadful things! Godfrey's quite safe, and I'm sure you couldn't help it.'
'That's the worst of it, I couldn't help it,' sobbed Betty; 'I can't make him do as I tell him, and he won't—he won't—he won't call me Aunt Elizabeth,' and she watered Miss Jane's convolvulus with fresh tears.
'I am thinking,' said Angel hesitatingly, 'that perhaps we expected a little too much to begin with; you see, we had had no practice before, so perhaps it is natural we should make a few mistakes.'
'But we don't want to practise on Godfrey,' wailed Betty, 'and, if he gets killed while we're learning, where will be the use of us getting wise about it? Fancy us left to get quite old, two wise maiden aunts with no nephew to be aunt to, and all Godfrey's dreadful money for our own, and people thinking we liked it.'
The picture was altogether too dreadful for Angel to fancy at all.
'Don't you think perhaps it's better not to think about such dreadful things happening?' she said hesitatingly; 'and Betty, do you know, I've just remembered that I don't think we half thanked Pete properly. Shall we go down to the Place and see if we can find him?'
'I think we'd better,' said Betty, rising; 'I'm sure I ought, for he's saved Godfrey's neck from being broken, and me from either dying of a broken heart or going quite mad. Fancy if you'd had to live alone, Angel, or to come and see me in an asylum, perhaps talk to me through bars. Yes, I think we'd better go and thank Pete.'
Angelica put her sister's tangled curls straight and tied on her hat, and they went together rather slowly and mournfully down the road to Oakfield Place.
They were quite at home there, and went in through the garden to the back of the house, where Patty was feeding chickens in the orchard with Nancy helping her. Nancy came running to meet the young ladies, stopping in dismay at sight of Betty's tear-stained face, and Patty asked anxiously if the young gentleman were hurt.
'Oh no, not at all, thank you,' said Angel, 'only he frightened us a good deal. Is Peter in, Patty? We wanted to thank him for being so sensible and helping Godfrey so cleverly.'
Pete would be in directly, Patty thought; he had just gone to the mill, he was bound to be back soon. Mother was making the lavender bags in the storeroom, wouldn't the young ladies step in? she'd be fine and pleased; and she showed them into the house and held back Nancy, who would have followed, since she never would learn when she wasn't wanted. The store-room was a long, low room, running along the back of the house and looking on to the garden. To-day it was full of the clean, pleasant scent of lavender; there were great trays of dried lavender on the long table, and Martha Rogers sat stitching away at muslin bags to put it in. Every year those lavender bags were made at Oakfield Place; they were all alike, of black muslin bound with lilac-coloured ribbon. Old Mrs. Maitland had made them herself up to the last year she lived; there were great stores of beautiful linen in the house, sheets and towels and table-cloths which she and her sisters had stitched at in their young days, and they were all stowed away in big presses, with the fragrant lavender between them, until the captain should bring a wife home to Oakfield and want them. The lavender bags which she did not use herself Mrs. Maitland gave to her friends; there was no one she had been fond of who did not possess several of the little sweet-scented presents. Miss Amelia Crayshaw had had plenty of them, and Angel and Betty had received one each, long ago, one day when they had been to drink tea at the Place with their cousin before Mrs. Maitland died. And as long as they lived the scent of lavender would always bring back to them the old house, and the sunny sloping garden, and the long, low store-room, with its deep window seats and shelves and presses, and Martha stitching away at black muslin and lilac ribbon. For the captain liked to know that things were done still as they had been in his mother's lifetime, and so the lavender was gathered every year, and the bags were made to put among the stores of linen which was waiting, all snowy and fragrant, till the master of the house came home.
Martha Rogers was a tall, comely woman, with capable hands and a sensible motherly face. And, indeed, she had mothered and cosseted many a child besides her own three, and Angel and Betty Wyndham were among the number. Often and often when they were little girls they had come to Martha with their troubles, for Cousin Amelia, though she was always kind, seemed to have forgotten the long ago time when she was a child, when little things looked so big, and a broken doll or a wet birthday made all the world dark for a little while. And Penny, though she was quite ready to pet and comfort them, never had very much to suggest except kisses and sugar and a bit of cake. But Martha Rogers, though she was so big and wise and busy, had that beautiful power, which we must all learn if we are going to be helpful, sympathizing people, of remembering what it was like to be little and shy and stupid, and never talked about it being a waste of time and tears to cry over playthings, or thought that people could be comforted by sweetmeats and advice not to spoil their pretty eyes. There was a sort of strong, happy feeling about her very presence, and Angel and Betty felt it to-day as they came into the lavender-scented store-room. Martha gave them a hearty welcome as usual.
'Come in, Miss Angel, come in, Miss Betty dear; 'tis a while since I saw you. Sit ye down here, Miss Angel, out of the draught. Bless your heart, my dear, where are your roses? But, of course, Patty's just told me the fright you've got about the young gentleman—a little Turk, to be sure; but there, boys will be boys, won't they, and never easy till they're in mischief one way or the other.'
Angel began to answer her, and then suddenly, at the kind hearty words, her composure broke down, and she dropped her face in her hands and cried as Betty had done.
'It's my fault, Martha,' faltered Betty, in explanation, 'it was me he was with, and I couldn't stop him doing it. And he's got nobody but us to look to, you know, and how are we ever going to teach him?'
Martha Rogers looked from one of the sisters to the other, and then she stuck her needle into the black muslin and came over to Angelica, and began stroking her bowed head with her broad tender hand.
'Poor dears! poor little ladies!' she said gently; 'bless your hearts, my dears, if you take on like this every time the young gentleman takes a frolic you'll have your hair white before you're twenty.'
'But, Martha,' sighed Betty, 'you know he did what I told him not to do.'
'Ay, did he, Miss Betty dear; and many's the time, I doubt, he'll take his own way again, like the rest of us, and be sorry for it, sure enough.'
'But if I can't make him obey me,' said Betty dolefully, 'there's nobody but us, you know.'
'Miss Betty dear, not all the King's army and navy can't make the smallest bit of a child obey them if he won't. You can tell a child what's right and punish him if he does wrong, but you can't make him do what you want, like you can drive a nail into a board. I'll warrant you've told him he's been a bad boy and put you both about, and scared everybody.'
'Yes, I told him,' said Angel, lifting her face, 'but, Martha, I don't know if he minded.'
'He'll mind by-and-bye, if he didn't then, Miss Angelica, and be worse vexed to think he's hurt you than to have nigh broken his neck.'
Angel looked gravely up at her.'
'Martha,' she said simply, 'you are always so good to us, and you know we have to be everything to Godfrey, and we have no one else to ask, so you will tell me what you think. Of course we want Godfrey to obey us for love—it would break my heart if he didn't love us—but still he must be punished if he does wrong, and there is no one else to do it. Sha'n't we find it very hard to make him care for us, and yet treat him rightly and wisely?'
Martha Rogers sat down again in the chair where she had been stitching the lavender bags, but she did not take up her work. She smoothed her large apron down thoughtfully once or twice and then she began to speak slowly, looking beyond Angel out of the window.
'You'll pardon me, Miss Angelica, I'm only just one that's been a child myself and seen myself over again in my own children, but this is how it seems to me. I think when we're bits of boys and girls, before we've learnt much of how other folks do things, the Lord gives us a very good notion of what's fair and right, and we look to see older folks have the same. When I was a young wife, Miss Angel, and Patty yonder was in her cradle, my grannie, that brought me up, said much the same thing to me. "Martha," says she, "yon little lass'll meet a many unfair things, and a many contrairy things to puzzle her before she's a grown woman; don't let her meet 'em in her mother, my dear. Let her have some one she can hold on to, and reckon on to blame her when she's wrong and praise her when she's right. If she breaks your best jug by accident don't go for to scold her, but if she takes a bit of sugar on the sly ye may take the birch to her." If young master's like most of the little lads I've known, Miss Angel, he'll put them first that loves him well enough to put what's fair before what's pleasant for him or for them.'
'But, Martha,' said Angel earnestly, 'you were older than we are, and you had your grannie to ask, and we are so afraid of making mistakes.'
'Miss Angelica, you'll forgive me for what I'm going to say. I'm not making light, missy dear, but what can you do more than do your best, and show him what's right and punish him when he's wrong, and say your prayers for him, and love him all you can; but remember all the time that there's One wiser than you loves him better still.'
And here Martha took up the lavender bag and began stitching away at the lilac ribbon binding. But she had to leave off after a minute, for Betty sprang up suddenly and put her arms round her neck and kissed her, and Angel looked at her across the table with earnest, grateful eyes.
'Thank you, Martha, so very much,' she said; 'you do help us so beautifully, better than any one else could!'
'I just tell you what I told myself, Miss Angel dear, and, mind you, my dear young ladies, I don't believe we've ever a job given us to do but we're taught the way, so we really want to learn.'
Just at this moment Peter came in from the mill, and the two young ladies thanked him till he got red to the tips of his ears. It was nothing at all to do, he said, and he was glad the young master was none the worse, and a first-rate climber he was, that he was, and him such a little bit of a fellow. And so the girls went away, very much more cheerful than they had come.
'We won't say any more about it to Godfrey,' Angelica said on the way home; 'it's just as Martha says, we can't make him say he's sorry, and if he is he'll tell us so by-and-bye, and it'll be worth waiting for, won't it?'
So the two waited, and in the evening they had their reward. Angelica put Godfrey to bed and heard him say his prayers, adding herself a few words of thanksgiving for his preservation that day. When she leaned over him to say good-night, he asked in his sudden way:
'If I had tumbled down and my head had been broken off would you have cried?'
'Indeed I should,' said Angel gravely; 'I am afraid to think about it even.'
'But I wasn't a good boy then,' went on Godfrey, with his wide grey eyes studying her face; 'are you going on loving me?'
'My little Godfrey, I shall go on loving you as long as I live, and longer, longer, dear.'
The next moment he put his arms round her and gave her his first real kiss.
'I love you,' he said gravely; 'I won't make you and the other angels cry. You can tell the other one, the Aunt Betty, that I won't climb up that tree again.'
'Yes, that I will,' Angel said joyfully, and she went downstairs to the parlour where Betty was reading and Penny clearing away supper, with her quiet face glowing with happiness.
'Betty,' she said, 'Godfrey is quite sorry now for frightening us. He told me to tell you that he wouldn't do it again.'
'Bless him!' exclaimed Penny, almost dropping the lamp.
'Darling!' cried Betty, letting her book tumble into the fender. 'Angel, did he—did he say "Aunt Elizabeth"?'
'Well, no,' said Angel, picking the book up and dusting off the ashes; 'but, Betty, do you know, I think perhaps we'd better not make a fuss about that if he thinks the other sounds nicer; if we're too strict about little things we sha'n't know what to do about big ones, I think.'
'I thought perhaps he'd find "Aunt Elizabeth" easier to respect,' said Betty a little regretfully.
'I think he'll respect the person and not mind about the name,' said Angel, and she added thoughtfully, looking into the fire, 'I really mind more about my own name, because I'm afraid he mixes me up with what he has learnt about guardian angels, but I must just wait, and he'll find out his mistake all in good time.'
Old Penny was carrying the supper tray out of the room, and, as she stopped to shut the door after her, she remarked to herself:
'Bless your heart, my dear, if young master makes no worse mistakes than that in his life he won't go far wrong!'
A HEART OF OAK
'For a-fighting we must go, And a-fighting we must go, And what's the odds if you lose your legs, So long as you drub the foe?'
It was Sunday afternoon, the fourth Sunday after Godfrey's coming to Oakfield. It was almost the end of October now, but the spell of warm weather which we call St. Luke's summer had come, as it often does in late autumn, and the sun was warm and pleasant as Angelica paced up and down the garden path with a book in her hand. Mr. Crayshaw sat in the sunny parlour window where Angel's work-basket stood on week-days; he, too, had a book before him, but I'm afraid he was nodding over it, for there was a sleepy quiet about the house that afternoon. Only at the bottom of the garden by the arbour voices could be heard, and Angel caught a word or two every time she reached the end of the gravel walk, words that mingled strangely with the book of poetry she was reading.
'Be useful where thou livest, that they may Both want and wish thy pleasing presence still,'
read Angel as she strolled along the path. Then came Betty's clear tones from behind the yew hedge which separated her from the arbour:
'Now, Godfrey, say after me: "To love, honour, and succour my father and mother."'
'No, Aunt Betty, I needn't learn that. Penny says we oughtn't ever to waste precious time, and I hav'n't any papa and mamma to succour, so it's waste of time to learn about succouring them.'
'No, Godfrey, it isn't; because it means any one that stands in the place of a papa and mamma to you, your relations and friends that take care of you.'
'Aunts?' inquired Godfrey.
'Yes, certainly aunts.'
'Cousins?' asked Godfrey, with much unwillingness in his tone. Angel had turned round again before Betty's answer came. She was rather glad the question had not been put to her. Godfrey always would have his inquiries answered, and Angel felt sure he would not like to be told that it was his duty to succour Cousin Crayshaw. She paced up the gravel path and back again with her head bent over her book.
'Scorn no man's love, though of a mean degree, Love is a present for a mighty king.'
She had got so far when she reached the arbour again, and this time there was a shadow of impatience in Betty's tones.
'Godfrey, you are not attending. "Not to covet nor desire other men's goods."'
'What are goods?'
'Things that belong to them. If you wanted my desk or Cousin Crayshaw's watch it would be naughty of you. Godfrey, you must not put your foot on Miss Jane's head; her nose is off already.'
'I don't want his watch, I want a much bigger one. Aunt Betty, was that lady as ugly when she was alive as she is now?'
'Godfrey, that isn't a kind thing to say. People have been cruel to her—you wouldn't be pretty if your nose was off; and besides, she is dead, and it isn't right to speak so about her.'
'What killed her?' asked Godfrey gravely.
'Well, of course, we don't know for certain, but your Aunt Angelica and I feel almost sure she died young. You see she was Miss Jane, she wasn't married, and we have always had an idea that she died of a broken heart.'
'What broke it?' said Godfrey's interested voice.
'Of course I don't know for certain; but she was a maiden, you see—'demoiselle' means a maiden—and she may have been a maiden aunt—there's no reason why she shouldn't have been—and her nephew may have broken her heart by his bad ways.'
'What did he do?' asked Godfrey earnestly.
'It may have been what he didn't do,' said Betty impressively. 'Not learning things that were for his good, and—and that sort of thing.'
'When people's hearts break do you hear them crack?' was the next question.
'No, you don't hear anything,' said Betty solemnly; 'the people get paler and paler and thinner and thinner every day, till at last they die.'
'You ar'n't thin, Aunt Betty,' remarked the nephew, with satisfaction.
'Not now, perhaps,' said the aunt, with dignity, 'but I might soon get thin with lying awake thinking sad things about little boys.'
'Do you lie awake thinking of me not learning about succouring you and Cousin Crayshaw?'
'I haven't yet,' said Betty truthfully; 'but I soon might,' she hastened to add.
'I'll say it again now,' said Godfrey after a moment, 'and afterwards will you tell me about godpapa Godfrey and the acorn?'
'Yes, of course I will,' and then, as 'My duty to my neighbour' began again, Angel turned away with a smile in her gentle eyes.
Certainly in these three weeks the two young aunts had managed to win their little nephew's confidence. It had not come quite directly, for poor Godfrey was not one of those lucky little children who grow up with the happy belief that every one is friendly to them, and so open their glad hearts to all the world. Bit by bit they had learned the story of his short little life which there was no one but himself to tell them. His mother was only a name to him, and he knew little about his father, who was always kind, Godfrey said, but hardly ever saw him. He didn't talk, the child told Angel; he took him on his knee sometimes and looked at him, and Angel's gentle, pitiful heart drew its own pictures, and fancied her brother mourning for his young wife, estranged from his relations at home, perhaps afraid to cling too closely to what was left him. Biddy O'Roone, the corporal's widow, was evidently the chief person in Godfrey's world. Godfrey had been ill once, he said; he couldn't remember much about it, but Biddy came and sent away his black nurse, and after that she took care of him. She taught him what she could, to speak the truth and say his prayers morning and evening, and he was obedient to her, though the soldiers and the native servants did their best to spoil him. She could not read herself, but she knew most of the Bible stories, and Godfrey learnt them from hearing her tell them, and imagined all kinds of things about them afterwards. And she told him, too, endless fairy stories about witches and enchanters, and the good folk who danced at night on the greenswards at home. One of the soldiers taught him a little reading and writing, and another taught him to talk some French, and though he was small and delicate he had plenty of true English pluck and spirit, and would ride or climb against a boy twice his age.
It was Biddy who had awakened him one night when his papa was away from home, and had dressed him in a hurry, and told him that he was to be quiet and come away with her at once, for there were rascals about that hadn't a bit of pity in the black hearts of them for old or young. And Godfrey, half asleep and not understanding, was hurried away in the dark and found himself presently on board ship. And when, next day, he asked where his papa was, Biddy cried over him and told him in her simple way that the angels had taken him. And Godfrey had been a little sorry, but had supposed he would just stay on with Biddy, and by-and-bye they got to a great place full of houses where she had friends, and he thought it was America. And, not long afterwards, she mended his clothes and knitted some stockings for him, and told him that he was going to England, to some grand relations whose name was in his papa's pocket book, and that her heart was just breaking with joy for him being made a lovely gentleman, as indeed he should be, if it wasn't just broken entirely with sorrow to think how would she ever get on and the seas between them.
He had learnt among his soldier friends that it was unmanly to cry or make a fuss before people, and so his fellow travellers, who might have petted the delicate-looking little boy, set him down as rather sulky and stupid. He arrived in England on a dull rainy day, which seemed terrible to the little West Indian boy, and then came Cousin Crayshaw with his grave disapproving face and stiff manner, and Godfrey felt as if he must die if he could not get away and back to Biddy directly. That was what had made him so disobedient on the journey down from London, and when he arrived, tired and cold and bewildered, at Oakfield Cottage, he felt as if he must get away now or never. It was then that the sight of Angel, and the idea that she was a sort of fairy, had given him the wild hope that she might help him, and when that hope failed him there seemed to be nothing left but to pray that the angels might take him, as they had taken his papa and mamma, away from the strange, dreadful world. Then Angelica's sweetness and gentleness had begun to win the little lonely heart, and his disobedience to Betty on the first day had been a bit of perversity, just to show that he was not going to give in all at once. But when Godfrey gave his heart he gave it for good and all, and after that evening when he first kissed Angel he held out no longer, and soon made himself as much at home at Oakfield as if he had lived there all his life. He was a good deal like Betty herself in some things, just as bright and quick and fanciful, making up his mind about everything directly, and liking or disliking with all his might. Angel used to listen to them in wonder, as Godfrey asked torrents of questions and Betty answered them as readily as possible, and they went on supposing this and supposing that much faster than she could follow. Godfrey was quite different with her, much quieter and gentler, and Angel thought it very kind of him to wait, looking patiently up into her face while she thought things out and talked to him in her careful, deliberate way; and she feared he must think her stupid, and that would be so bad for him. She was a little bit afraid, too, that he was not even now quite clear about the difference between herself and the angels who watched over him, for he was apt to get confused between true stories and fairy stories and his own imaginings. One day she just hinted at it to Martha Rogers, but Martha didn't think it mattered. She advised Angel not to bother herself and little master too much about small things, which would get clear to him by-and-bye: children thought a many queer things which did no harm. And to herself she said, as Penelope had done, that if Godfrey made no worse mistakes than confusing his gentle young aunt with his angel guardians he would not go very far wrong. And Angel, feeling sure Martha knew best, was content to wait and not trouble about it. If Betty could have found a fault in her elder sister's dealings with their nephew it would have been that she was not strict and particular enough about what she called details. Betty wanted to bring up Godfrey on a proper plan, and she had arranged a set of rules which were all very excellent, only she changed them so often. She would waken her sister in the middle of the night with the eager exclamation, 'Angel dear, I beg your pardon for disturbing you, but don't you think we should begin at once teaching Godfrey to dance? It is such an excellent exercise you know, and I thought I might give him an hour every morning after breakfast, when he generally goes in the garden while you're talking to Penny.'