An Old Fashioned Story
Author of "carrots", "cuckoo Clock", etc.
With Illustrations by Walter Crane
London: MacMillan & Co. Ltd
CHAPTER I. PAGE HOW THEY CAME TO BE "US" 1
CHAPTER II. BREAD AND MILK 20
CHAPTER III. QUEER VISITORS 40
CHAPTER IV. BABES IN A WOOD 59
CHAPTER V. TIM 79
CHAPTER VI. TOBY AND BARBARA 100
CHAPTER VII. DIANA'S PROMISE 119
CHAPTER VIII. NEW HOPES 139
CHAPTER IX. CROOKFORD FAIR 156
CHAPTER X. A BOAT AND A BABY 177
CHAPTER XI. A SAD DILEMMA 197
CHAPTER XII. GOOD-BYE TO "US" 218
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
IN ANOTHER MOMENT TOBY'S NOSE WAS IN THE BOWL TOO, TO TOBY'S SUPREME CONTENT Front.
FROM BEHIND SOME STUBBLE A FEW YARDS OFF ROSE THE FIGURE OF THE YOUNG BOY WHOM THE CHILDREN HAD SEEN WALKING BEHIND THE GIPSIES—WHISTLING WHILE HE CUT AT A BRANCH HE HELD IN HIS HAND Page 74
"HERE'S SOME SUPPER FOR YOU. WAKE UP, AND TRY AND EAT A BIT. IT'LL DO YOU GOOD" 89
"THEY WANT OUT A BIT," SHE SAID. "THEY'RE TIRED LIKE WITH BEING MEWED UP IN THERE ALL DAY AND NEVER A BREATH OF AIR—NO WONDER" 132
"UPON MY WORD THEY ARE SOMETHING QUITE OUT OF THE COMMON," HE SAID; "I WOULDN'T HAVE MISSED THEM FOR A GOOD DEAL. WHAT A KING AND QUEEN OF THE PIGMIES, OR 'BABES IN THE WOOD,' THEY'D MAKE" 173
"I DO FINK WHEN US IS QUITE BIG AND CAN DO AS US LIKES, US MUST HAVE A BOAT LIKE THIS, AND ALWAYS GO SAILING ALONG" 195
"She is telling them stories of the wood, And the Wolf and Little Red Riding-Hood." The Golden Legend.
HOW THEY CAME TO BE "US."
"Blue were their eyes as the fairy-flax, Their cheeks like the dawn of day." LONGFELLOW.
A soft rather shaky sort of tap at the door. It does not all at once reach the rather deaf ears of the little old lady and tall, still older gentleman who are seated in their usual arm-chairs, one with his newspaper by the window, the other with her netting by the fire, in the exceedingly neat—neat, indeed, is no word for it—"parlour" of Arbitt Lodge. In what part of the country this queerly-named house was—is still, perhaps—to be found there is no particular reason for telling; whence came this same queer name will be told in good time. The parlour suited its name anyway better far than it would that of "drawing-room," which would be given it nowadays. There was a round table in the middle; there were high-backed mahogany chairs against the wall, polished by age and careful rubbing to that stage of dark shininess which makes even mahogany pleasant to the eye, and with seats of flowering silk damask whose texture must have been very good to be so faded without being worn; there were spindle-legged side-tables holding inlaid "papier-mache" desks and rose-wood work-boxes, and two or three carved cedar or sandal-wood cases of various shapes. And, most tempting of all to my mind, there were glass-doored cupboards in the wall, with great treasures of handleless teacups and very fat teapots, not to speak of bowls and jugs of every form and size; and everything, from the Indian box with the ivory chessmen to the china Turk with his long pipe of green spun-glass, sitting cross-legged on the high mantelpiece between a very sentimental lady and gentleman, also of china, who occupied its two ends,—everything was exactly and precisely in its own place, in what had been its own place ever since the day, now more than thirty years ago, when Grandpapa, the tall old gentleman, had retired from the army on half-pay and come to settle down at Arbitt Lodge for the rest of his life with Grandmamma and their son Marmaduke. A very small Marmaduke, for he was the only one left of a pretty flock who, one after the other, had but hovered down into the world for a year or two to spread their tiny wings and take flight again, leaving two desolate hearts behind them. And in this same parlour at Arbitt Lodge had that little Marmaduke learned to walk, and then to run, to gaze with admiring eyes on the treasures in the glass cupboards, to play bo-peep behind the thick silken curtains, even in his time faded to a withered-leaf green, to poke his tiny nose into the bowl of pot-pourri on the centre table, which made him sneeze just exactly as—ah! but I am forgetting—never mind, I may as well finish the sentence—just exactly as it made "us" sneeze now!
After the tap came a kind of little pattering and scratching, like baby taps, not quite sure of their own existence; then, had Grandpapa's and Grandmamma's ears been a very little sharper, they could not but have heard a small duel in words.
"You, bruvver, my fingers' bones is tired."
"I told you, sister," reproachfully, "us should always bring old Neddy's nose downstairs with us. They never hear us tapping."
Then a faint sigh or two and a redoubled assault, crowned with success. Grandmamma, whom after all I am not sure but that I have maligned in calling her deaf—the taps were so very faint really!—Grandmamma looks up from her netting, and in a thin but clear voice calls out, "Come in!"
The door opens—then, after admitting the entrance of two small figures, is carefully closed again, and the two small figures, with a military salute from the boy, a bob, conscientiously intended for a curtsey, from the girl, advance a step or two into the room.
"Grandmamma," say the two high-pitched baby voices, speaking so exactly together that they sound but as one. "Grandmamma, it's 'us.'"
Still no response. Grandmamma is not indifferent—far from it—but just at this moment her netting is at a critical stage impossible to disregard; she thinks to herself "wait a moment, my dears," and is quite under the impression that she has said it aloud; this is a mistake, but all the same "my dears" do wait a moment—several moments indeed, hand-in-hand, uncomplainingly, without indeed the very faintest notion in their faithful little hearts that there is anything to complain of—there are some lessons to be learnt from children long ago, I think,—while Grandmamma tries to secure her knots.
Look at them while they stand there; it is always a good plan to save time, and we have a minute or two to spare. They are so alike in size and colour and feature that if it had not been that one was a boy and the other a girl, there would have been no telling them apart. Before Duke was put into the first stage of boy-attire—what that exactly was in those days I confess I am not sure—they never had been told apart was the fact of the matter, till one day the brilliant idea struck Grandmamma of decorating little Pamela with a coral necklace. She little knew what she was about; both babies burst into howling distress, and were not to be quieted even when the unlucky beads were taken away; no, indeed, they only cried the more. Grandmamma and Nurse were at their wits' end, and Grandpapa's superior intelligence had at last to be appealed to. And not in vain.
"They must each have one," said Grandpapa solemnly. And so it had to be. In consequence of which fine sense of justice and firm determination on the part of the babies, they went on "not being told apart" till, as I said, the day came when Marmaduke's attire began to be cut after a different fashion, and by degrees he arrived at his present dignity of nankin suits complete. Such funny suits you would think them now—funnier even than Pamela's white frock, with its skirt to the ankles and blue-sashed waist up close under the arm-pits, for even if she walked in just as I describe her you would only call her "a Kate-Greenway-dressed little girl." But Marmaduke's light yellow trousers, buttoning up over his waistcoat, with bright brass buttons, and open yellow jacket to match, would look odd. Especially on such a very little boy—for he and Pamela, as they stand there with their flaxen hair falling over their shoulders and their very blue eyes gazing solemnly before them, wondering when either of the old people will think fit to speak to "us"—Pamela and he are only "six last birfday."
All this time Grandpapa is in happy—no, I won't say "happy," for the old gentleman is always, to give him his due, pleased to welcome the children to his presence, "at the right time and in the right manner," be it understood—in complete unconsciousness of their near neighbourhood. There was nothing to reveal it; they had not left the door open so as to cause a draught, for Grandpapa abhorred draughts; they were as still and quiet as two little mice, when mice are quiet that is to say. For often in the middle of the night, when my sleep has been disturbed by these same little animals who have been held up as a model for never disturbing any one, I have wondered how they gained this distinction! "When mouses is quiet, perhaps it's cos they isn't there," said a little boy I know, and the remark seems to me worthy of deep consideration.
Grandpapa was absorbed in his newspaper, for it was newspaper day for him, and newspaper day only came once a week, and when it—the paper, not the day—did come, it was already the best part of a week old. For it came all the way from London, and that not by the post, as we understand the word, but by the post of those days, which meant "his Majesty's mail," literally speaking, and his Majesty's mail took a very long time indeed to reach outlying parts of the country, for all the brave appearance, horses foaming, whips cracking, and flourishing of horns, not to say trumpets, with which it clattered over the stones of the "High Streets" of those days. And the paper—poor two-leaved, miserable little pretence that we should think it—cost both for itself and for its journey from London, oh so dear! I am afraid to say how much, for I should be sorry to exaggerate. But "those days" are receding ever farther and farther from us, and as I write it comes over me sadly that it is no use now to leave a blank on my page and say to myself, "I will ask dear such a one, or such an other. He or she will remember, and I will fill it in afterwards." For those dear ones of the last generation are passing from us—have already passed from us in such numbers that we who were young not so very long ago shall ere long find ourselves in their places. So I would rather not say what Grandpapa's newspaper cost, but certainly it was dear enough and rare enough for him to think of little else the day it came; and I don't suppose he would have noticed the two children at all, till Grandmamma had made him do so, had it not been that just as they were beginning to be a little tired, to whisper to each other, "Suppose us stands on other legs for a change," something—I don't know what—for his snuff-box had been lying peacefully in his waistcoat pocket ever since Dymock, his old soldier-servant, had brought in the newspaper—made him sneeze. And with the sneeze he left off looking at the paper and raised his eyes, and his eyes being very good ones for his age—much better in comparison than his ears—he quickly caught sight of his grandchildren.
"So ho!" he exclaimed, "and you are there, master and missy! I did not know it was already so late. Grave news, my love," he added, turning to Grandmamma; "looks like war again. The world is trying to go too fast," he went on, turning to his paper. "They are actually speaking of running a new mail-coach from London which should reach Sandlingham in three days. It is appalling,—why, I remember when I was young it took——"
"It is flying in the face of Providence, I should say, my dear," interrupted Grandmamma.
The two little faces near the door grew still more solemn. What strange words big people used!—what could Grandpapa and Grandmamma mean? But Grandpapa laid down his paper and looked at them again; Grandmamma too by this time was less embarrassed by her work. The children felt that they had at last attracted the old people's attention.
"We came, Grandpapa and Grandmamma, to wish you good-night," began Duke.
"And to hope you will bo'f sleep very well," added Pamela.
This little formula was repeated every evening with the same ceremony.
"Thank you, my good children," said Grandpapa encouragingly; on which the little couple approached and stood one on each side of him, while he patted the flaxen heads.
"I may call you 'my good children' to-night, I hope?" he said inquiringly.
The two looked at each other.
"Bruvver has been good, sir," said the little girl.
"Sister has been good, sir," said the little boy.
The two heads were patted again approvingly.
"But us haven't bo'f been good," added the two voices together.
Grandpapa looked very serious.
"Indeed, how can that be?" he said.
There was a pause of consideration. Then a bright idea struck little Marmaduke.
"I think perhaps it was most Toby," he said. "Us was running, and Toby too, and us felled down, and Toby barked, and when us got up again it was all tored."
"What?" said Grandpapa, still very grave.
"Sister's gown, sir."
"My clean white gown," added Pamela impressively; "but bruvver didn't do it. He said so."
"And sister didn't do it. She said so," stated Duke. "But Nurse said one of us had done it. Only I don't think she had thought of Toby."
"Perhaps not," said Grandpapa. "Let us hope it was Toby."
"Nevertheless," said Grandmamma, who had quite disengaged herself from her netting by this time, "Pamela must remember that she is growing a big missy, and it does not become big misses to run about so as to tear their gowns."
Pamela listened respectfully, but Grandmamma's tone was not alarming. The little girl slowly edged her way along from Grandpapa's chair to Grandmamma's.
"Did you never tear your gowns when you were a little missy, Grandmamma?" she inquired, looking up solemnly into the old lady's face. Grandmamma smiled, and looked across at her husband rather slily. He shook his head.
"Who would think it indeed?" he said, smiling in turn. "Listen, my little girl, but be sure you tell it again to no one, for it was a little bird told it to me, and little birds are not fond of having their secrets repeated. Once upon a time there was not a greater hoyden in all the countryside than your Grandmamma there. She swam the brooks, she climbed the trees, she tore her gowns——"
"Till at last my poor mother told the pedlar the next time he came round he must bring her a web of some stuff that wouldn't tear to dress me in," said Grandmamma; "and to this day I mind me as if it had been but last week of the cloth he brought. Sure enough it would neither tear nor wear, and oh how ugly it was! 'Birstle peas' colour they called it, and how ashamed I was of the time I had to wear it. 'Little miss in her birstle-peas gown' was a byword in the countryside. No, my Pamela, I should be sorry to have to dress you in such a gown."
"I'll try not to tear my nice white gowns," said the little girl; "Nurse said she would mend it, but it would take her a long time. Grandmamma," she went on, suddenly changing the subject, "what does a 'charge' mean, 'a great charge?'"
"Yes," said Marmaduke, who heard what she said, "'a very great charge.'"
Grandpapa's eyes grew brighter.
"Can they be speaking of a field of battle?" he said quickly. But Duke turned his large wistful blue eyes on him before Grandmamma had time to answer.
"No, sir," he said, in his slow earnest way, "it wasn't about battles; it was about us."
"She said us was that thing," added Pamela.
"Who said so?" inquired Grandmamma, and her voice was perhaps a little, a very little, sharp.
"Nurse said it," said Pamela. "It was when us had felled down, and the old woman was at the door of her house, and she asked if us was hurt, and Nurse was vexed, and then she said that."
"What old woman?" asked Grandmamma again.
"Her that makes the cakes," said Duke.
"Oh, Barbara Twiss!" said the old lady in a tone of relief. "Now, my dear children, kiss Grandpapa and kiss me, and say good-night. I will explain to you when you are bigger what Nurse meant. God bless you and give you a nice sleep till to-morrow morning!"
The two little creatures obeyed at once. No "oh, mayn't we stay ten minutes"'s, "just five minutes then, oh please"'s—so coaxingly urged, so hard to refuse—of the little ones of our day! No, Marmaduke and Pamela said their "good-nights" in dutiful fashion, stopping a moment at the door before leaving the room, there to execute the military salute and the miniature curtsey, and went off to bed, their curiosity still unsatisfied, as children's curiosity often had to remain in those times when "wait till you are big and then you will be told" was the regular reply to questions it was not easy or desirable to answer otherwise.
There was a moment's silence when they had left the room. Grandpapa's face was once more hidden in his newspaper; Grandmamma had taken up her netting again, but it did not go on very vigorously.
"I must warn Nurse," she said at last. "She means no harm, but she must be careful what she says before the children. She forgets how big they are growing, and how they notice all they hear."
"It was no great harm, after all," said Grandpapa, more than half, to tell the truth, immersed in his paper.
"Not as said to a discreet person like Barbara," replied Grandmamma. "But still—they have the right to all we can give them, the little dears, as long as we are here to give it. I could not bear them ever to have the idea that we felt them a burden."
"Certainly not," agreed Grandpapa, looking up for a moment. "A burden they can never be; still it is a great responsibility—a great charge, in one sense, as Nurse said—to have in our old age. For, do the best we can, my love, we cannot be to them what their parents would have been. Nor can we hope to be with them till we can see them able to take care of themselves."
"There is no knowing," said Grandmamma. "God is good. He may spare us yet some years for the little ones' sakes. And it is a mercy to think they have each other. It is always 'us' with them—never 'me.'"
"Yes," said Grandpapa, "they love each other dearly;" and as if that settled all the difficulties the future might bring, he disappeared finally into the newspaper.
Grandmamma, for her part, meant to disappear into her netting. But somehow it did not go on as briskly as usual. Her hands seemed to lag, and more than once she was startled by a tear rolling quickly down her thin soft old cheek—one of the slow-coming, touching tears of old age. She would have been sorry for Grandpapa to see that she was crying; she was always cheerful with him. But of that there was no fear. So Grandmamma sat and cried a little quietly to herself, for the children's innocent words had roused some sad thoughts, and brought before her some pictures of happy pasts and happy "might-have-beens."
"It is strange," she thought to herself, "very strange to think of—that we two, old and tired and ready to rest, should be here left behind by them all. All my pretty little ones, who might almost, some of them, have been grandparents themselves by this time! Left behind to take care of Duke's babies—ah, my brave boy, that was the hardest blow of all! The others were too delicate and fragile for this world—I learnt not to murmur at their so quickly taking flight. But he—so strong and full of life—who had come through all the dangers of babyhood and childhood, who had grown up so good and manly, so fit to do useful work in the world—was there no other victim for the deadly cholera's clutch, out there in the burning East?" and Grandmamma shuddered as a vision of the terrible scenes of a plague-stricken land, that she had more than once seen for herself, passed before her. "We had little cause to rejoice in the times of peace when they came. It would have seemed less terrible for him to be killed on the battlefield. Still—it was on the battlefield of duty. My boy, my own good boy! No wonder she could not live without him—poor, gentle little Lavinia, almost a child herself. Though if she had been but a little stronger,—if she could but have breasted the storm of sorrow till her youth came back again to her a little in the pleasure of watching these dear babies improving as they did,—she might have been a great comfort to us, and she would have found work to do which would have kept her from over-grieving. Poor Lavinia! How well I remember the evening they arrived—she and the two poor yellow shrivelled-up looking little creatures. I remember, sad at heart as we were—only two months after the bitter news of my boy's death!—Nurse and I could almost have found it in our hearts to laugh when the ayah unwrapped them for us to see. They were so like two miserable little unfledged birds! And poor Lavinia so proud of them, through her tears—what did she know of babies, poor dear?—and looking so anxiously to see what we thought of them. I could not say they were pretty—Duke's children though they were." And a queer little sound—half laugh, half sob—escaped from Grandmamma at the recollection. But it did not matter—Grandpapa was too deaf to hear. So she dried her eyes again quietly with her fine lavender-scented cambric pocket-handkerchief, and went on with her recollections all to herself. She seemed to see the two tiny creatures gradually—very gradually—growing plump and rosy in the sweet fresh English air, the look of unnatural old age that one sometimes sees in very delicate babies by degrees fading away as the thin little faces grew round and even dimpled; then came the recollection of the first toddling walk, when the two kept tumbling against each other, so that even the sad-eyed young widow could not help laughing; the first lisping words, which, alas, might not be the sweet baby names for father or mother—for by that time poor Lavinia had faded out of life, with words of whispered love and thankfulness to the grandparents so willing to do their utmost. But it was a sad little story at best, and even Grandmamma's brave old heart trembled when she thought that it might come to be sadder still.
"What would become of them if they were left quite alone in the world," she could not help saying to herself. "And though I am not so old as my dear husband by ten years, I cannot picture myself finding strength to live without him, nor would a poor old woman like me be much good to the young creatures if I did! But one must not lose courage, nor grieve about troubles before they come. For, after all, who would ever have believed these two poor fledglings would grow up to be two bonnie bairnies like Marmaduke and Pamela now!"
And for the last time that evening Grandmamma again wiped her eyes—though these tears were of thankfulness and motherly pride in the thought of the sweet and pretty children upstairs, who at that moment were kneeling in their little white nightgowns, one on each side of old Nurse, as they solemnly repeated after her the Lord's Prayer, and after that their own evening petitions that "God would bless dear Grandpapa and Grandmamma, and make 'us' very good children, and a comfort to them in their old age."
BREAD AND MILK.
"Words which tenderness can speak From the truths of homely reason." WORDSWORTH.
Grandmamma would probably have spoken to Nurse the next day about being careful as to what she said before the children, had not the next day brought rather a commotion. Nurse was ill, which, old as she, too, was, rarely happened. It was a bad attack of rheumatism, and very likely its coming on had made her less patient than usual the day before. However that may have been, Grandmamma was far too sorry to see her suffering to say anything which might have troubled her, for she was already distressed enough at not being able to get up and go about as usual.
"Never mind, Nurse," said the children to console her, when a message had been brought from Grandmamma in the morning to say that Nurse was on no account to try to get up till the doctor had seen her, "us is going to be very good. Us can do all your work, and you can stay in bed till your legs is not cracked any more," for they had heard her complaining of her knees and ankles being "wracked" with pain.
On the whole I am afraid Duke and Pamela did not think Nurse's rheumatism altogether an "ill-wind," as they sat on their high chairs at breakfast at the nursery table.
"Shall you eat all yours up, bruvver?" asked Pamela, pointing to the bowl of bread and milk which Duke was discussing.
"Shall you?" asked Duke warily, before committing himself.
Pamela looked contemplatively at her bowl.
"I think I'll leave just a very little," she said. "Cook won't see. I wish the bowls wasn't quite so big."
"Cook wouldn't see if us left a great deal," said Duke insinuatingly, but Pamela looked shocked.
"That would be very naughty," she said. "If you leave a great deal, Duke, I'll have to put it in the cupboard myself."
Upon which mysterious hint Duke set to work valiantly. But he had a small appetite, and so had Pamela. It was almost the only remains of their having been such delicate little children, and perhaps if they had been too much given in to about eating, they would have ended by eating almost nothing at all, and being much less strong and well than they were. Nurse, who had come to them from a family of great strong boys and girls at a country rectory, had no patience with "fads and fancies;" and as, on the whole, the children had prospered wonderfully under her care and she was really good to them, Grandmamma did not often interfere, nor did it ever occur to them to complain, even though nowadays children would, I think, find some of old Nurse's rules very much to be complained of indeed. Of these one was, that if the children did not finish the bowl of bread and milk at breakfast it was put away in the nursery cupboard and had to be eaten, cold and uninviting-looking as it had then become, before anything else at dinner-time. This was a sore trouble to the little brother and sister, more especially as if they did not finish the bread and milk they could not expect to have the treat waiting for them downstairs in the dining-room at Grandpapa's and Grandmamma's breakfast—of a cup of weak but sweet tea and a tiny slice of bread and butter or toast, with sometimes the tops of the old people's eggs, and at others a taste of honey, or marmalade, or strawberry jam, all daintily set out by Grandmamma's own little white hands!
So for every reason Duke and Pamela wished to eat up the bread and milk to the last spoonful. It was not that they did not like it—it was as good and nice as bread and milk could be, and they were not dainty. Only they could not eat so much! This morning they had not half finished when their appetites began to flag. Perhaps it was with the excitement of Nurse being absent—perhaps they chattered and "played" over their breakfast, not having her to keep them up to the mark—I can't say. But the bowls were still deplorably full, though the milk was no longer steaming, and the little squares of bread had lost their neat shape, and were all "squashy" together, when Duke threw down his spoon in despair.
"I can't eat any more, sister. I cannot try any more."
Pamela opened her lips to make some reproach; she was a very "proper" little girl, as you have probably discovered, but the words died away before they were uttered, as her eyes fell on her own bowl, and with a deep sigh she said:
"I'm afraid I can't finish mine either. And after us saying to Nurse about going to be so good."
Her blue eyes began to look very dewy. Duke, who could not bear to see his dear "sister" sad, spoke out (in Nurse's absence be it observed) valiantly—more so, it must be confessed, than was his wont.
"I don't see that it's naughty of us not to eat more when us isn't hungry for more. I think it would be like little pigs to eat more than they want. Little pigs would go on eating all day just 'cos they're too silly, and they've got nothing else to do."
"But," objected Pamela, "us haven't eaten as much as us can, Duke, for you know downstairs us could eat Grandmamma's treat. I could—I could snap it up in a minute, and the tea too, and yet I can't eat any more bread and milk!" and she gazed at the bowl with a puzzled as well as doleful expression. "I'm afraid—yes, I'm afraid, Duke, that us is dainty like Master Frederick and Miss Lucy in 'Amusing Tales.' And Nurse says it is so very naughty to be dainty when so many poor children would fink our bread and milk such a great treat."
"I'm sure I wish, then, they'd come and eat it," said Duke. "I'd be very glad to give it them."
His boldness quite took away his sister's breath, and she looked up at him in astonishment.
"Bruvver!" she said reproachfully.
"Well, there's nothing naughty in that. It would be much better than letting it all be wasted. And——" but just at that moment came a queer little sound at the door, which made Duke tumble off his high chair as fast as he could, and hurry to open it.
"It's Toby," he cried.
Toby, sure enough, it was—Toby with his little black nose and bright eyes gleaming from behind the overhanging shaggy hair, that no one but a Toby could have seen through without squinting—Toby, rather subdued and meekly inquiring at first, as if not quite sure of his welcome, till—a glance round the room satisfying him that there was no one to dread, no one but his two dearly-beloved friends—his courage returned, and he rushed towards them with short yelps of delight, twisting about his furry little body, and wagging his queer short feathery tail, till one could not tell what was what of him, and almost expected to see him shake himself into bits!
"Toby, dear Toby!" cried the children, all their perplexities forgotten for the moment. "How clever of him—isn't it?—to come to see us this morning, just as if he knew us was alone. Dear Toby—but hush! don't make a noise, Toby, or Nurse may be vexed—are you so pleased to see us, Toby?"
Suddenly Duke separated himself from the group of three all rolling in a heap on the floor together and made for the table, and before Pamela could see what he was doing he was back again—his bowl, into which he had poured the contents of his sister's as well, in his hand, and in another moment Toby's nose was in the bowl too, to Toby's supreme content! It was done now—there was no stopping him till he had done. Aghast, and yet filled with admiration, Pamela could only express her feelings by the one word—"Bruvver!"
"Isn't it a good thought?" said Duke. "Why, he'll have finished it all in a minute, and nobody will ever know that it wasn't us. And nothing will have been wasted. There now," as Toby, having really made wonderfully quick work, lifted from the now empty bowl his hairy muzzle bespattered with remains of bread and milk, which he proceeded to lick away with his sharp bright-red tongue, with an air of the greatest satisfaction.
For a moment or two Pamela's face expressed nothing but approval. But gradually a little cloud stole over it.
"What shall us say if Grandpapa and Grandmamma ask if us have eaten all our bread and milk?" she said.
"Us can say the bowls are quite empty. That won't be a story," and Pamela's face cleared again. Just then she had no time for second thoughts, for the sound of a bell ringing downstairs made both children start.
"Prayers," they exclaimed, and as they said the word a young housemaid put her face in at the door.
"Master Duke and Miss Pamela," she said, "Nurse says I'm to take you down to prayers. But you must come first to wash your hands and smooth your hair."
A very correct little couple presented themselves a few minutes later at the dining-room door, and after the salute and the curtsey, and wishing Grandpapa and Grandmamma "a very good morning," seated themselves one on each side of the old lady, while Grandpapa read from the prayer-book a few verses of the Bible, the Collect of last Sunday, and two or three prayers for the benefit of the whole family, including a row of neat, mostly elderly, servants near the door. Duke and Pamela listened attentively, their hands crossed on their knees, their eyes fixed on Grandpapa—no fidgetting or staring about or making signs to each other. Such things would probably have been severely punished.
And then came what was almost the happiest part of the day for "us,"—breakfast number two; that is, breakfast with Grandpapa and Grandmamma. With the greatest interest they watched to see what was to be given them. This morning there were no eggs, but there were some tempting little slices of toast, fresh butter, and a glass dish of honey, clear as amber, with which materials Grandmamma proceeded to fabricate two delicious sandwiches, having already filled the little cups with weak, but, this morning, sugarless tea.
"No need to put sugar when you are eating honey. You would not taste it," she explained. "Now, then, is not that a nice little treat for my two good children?" and Duke and Pamela were eagerly drawing in their chairs when another question from Grandmamma suddenly reminded them of what they had for the time forgotten. "You ate your breakfast nicely upstairs, I hope? Did you finish all the bread and milk?"
Brother looked at sister and sister looked at brother. Both grew rosier than usual, but Grandmamma, though fairly quick of hearing, was somewhat near-sighted. Pamela touched Duke without the old lady seeing, and looked what he understood—"Let us tell, Duke." But Duke would not allow himself to think he did understand. The tea and the honey sandwiches were so tempting!
"The bowls were quite empty, Grandmamma," he said. And Grandmamma, who had wondered a little at their hesitation in answering, seemed relieved. For, kind as she was, "rules were rules," to Grandmamma's thinking; and, though it would have pained her more than the children, she would certainly have thought it right to send them upstairs treatless had the answer been different.
"That is well," she said cheerfully, and then the two climbed on to their chairs and drew their cups and plates close to them; while Grandmamma went round to her own end of the table, where—for she was a very tiny little old lady—she was almost hidden from view by the large silver tea-urn. She went on talking to Grandpapa, and the children set to work at what was before them. They were quite silent; not that they ever thought of really speaking, except when "spoken to," at their grandparents' table, but no little whispers or smiles passed between themselves as usual; they ate on solemnly, and somehow—how was it?—the honey sandwiches did not taste quite as delicious as they had expected. But though each had the same sort of disappointed feeling, neither said anything about it to the other.
After breakfast Grandpapa went off to his study, and Grandmamma rang the bell for Dymock, who carried away the big tea-urn, the silver hot-water dish in which was served Grandpapa's rasher of bacon, the knives and forks,—everything, in short, on the table except the cups and saucers and the rest of the china belonging to the breakfast-service. This china was very curious, and, to those who understood such things, very beautiful. Grandpapa had got it in his travels at some out-of-the-way place, and the story went that it had been made for some great Chinese lady—some "mandarin-ess," Grandmamma used to say in laughing, who had never allowed it to be copied. How it had been got from her I cannot say. It was very fine in quality, and it was painted all over with green dragons, with gilt tongues and eyes, and the edges of the cups and saucers were also gilt. There were large as well as small cups; the large ones, of course, were for breakfast, and the small ones for tea, but Grandmamma always kept out two of the latter for Duke and Pamela. In those days one never saw large cups of oriental china, and this was what made the service particularly uncommon, and Grandpapa had never been able to find out if the large ones were really Chinese or only imitation, copied from the smaller ones. If really Chinese, then the lady-mandarin was most likely an Englishwoman after all, who had had them specially made for her.
You will be surprised to hear that during the thirty or forty years during which Grandpapa and Grandmamma had daily used this precious china not a single piece had been broken, scarcely even chipped, though, by force of simple usage, the green dragons had grown less brilliant, and here and there the golden tongues and eyes had altogether disappeared, while the whole had grown soft and mellowed, so that a moment's glance was enough to show it was really old porcelain. And perhaps you will be still more surprised to learn how it was that these happy cups and saucers had escaped the usual fate of their kind. It was because Grandmamma always washed them up herself! I think there was no part of the day more pleasant to "us" than when—Dymock having cleared away all that was his charge, and brought all that Grandmamma required from the pantry—the old lady established herself at one end of the table, with two bowls of beautifully white wood, and a jug of hot water before her, and a towel of fine damask in her hand, and set to work daintily to rinse out each cup and saucer in the first bowl, passing them then into the fresh water of the second, and wiping them—after they had stood to drip for a moment or two on a small slab of wood made for the purpose—most carefully with the little cloth. It was nice to watch her—her hands looked so white, and moved so nimbly, and—I had forgotten to mention that—looked so business-like with the brown holland cuffs braided in white which she kept for this occasion, and always put on, with the big holland apron to match, before she began operations. Yes, it had been a treat to "us" merely to watch her, and so you can fancy how very proud Duke and Pamela felt when she at length allowed them, each with a little towel, to wipe their own cups and saucers. They had been promoted to this for some months now, and no accident had happened; and on those days—few and far between, it must be allowed—on which they had not been found deserving of their breakfast number two, I think the punishment of not "helping Grandmamma to wash up" had been quite as great as that of missing the treat itself. For very often, while deftly getting through her task, Grandmamma would talk so nicely to the children, telling them stories of the time when she was a little girl herself, and of all the changes between those far-away days and "now"; of the strange, wonderful places she had visited with Grandpapa; of cities with mosques and minarets gleaming against the intense blue sky of the East in the too splendid, scorching sunshine that no one who has not seen it can picture to himself; of rides—weary endless rides—night after night through the desert; or voyages of months and months together across the pathless ocean. They would sit, the little brother and sister, staring up at her with their great solemn blue eyes, as if they would never tire of listening—how wonderfully wise Grandpapa and Grandmamma must be!—"Surely," said little Pamela one day with a great sigh, "surely Grandmamma must know everyfing;" while Duke's breast swelled with the thought that he too, like his father and grandfather before him, would journey some day to those distant lands, there, if need were, like them "to fight for the king." For there were times at which "bruvver" was quite determined to be a soldier, though at others—the afternoon, for instance, when the young bull poked his head through the hedge and shook it at him and Pamela, and Duke's toy-sword had unfortunately been left at home in the nursery—he did not feel quite so sure about it!
But on this particular morning the little pair were less interested and talkative than usual. They sat so quiet while Grandmamma made her arrangements that her attention was aroused.
"You are very silent little mice, this morning," she said. "Is it because poor Nurse is ill that you seem in such low spirits?"
Duke and Pamela looked at each other. It would have been so easy to say "yes," and Grandmamma would have thought them so kind-hearted and sympathising! Once one has swerved a little bit from the straight exact road and begun to go down-hill even in the least, it is so tempting to go on a little farther—so much less difficult than to stop short, or, still more, to try to go back again. But these children were so unused to say anything not quite true that they hesitated, and this hesitation saved them from making another step in the wrong direction.
"I wasn't finking of Nurse, Grandmamma," said Pamela at last in rather a low voice.
"Nor I wasn't neither," said Duke, taking courage by her example.
"That's all right, then," said Grandmamma cheerfully, not having noticed anything unusual in their tone. "Poor Nurse, we are sorry for her to be ill, but I don't think it will be anything very bad. And I am sure you will try to be very good."
"Yes, Grandmamma," said the two voices together, but less confidently and more timidly than usual. This time their tone caught the old lady's attention.
"There's something on their minds," she said to herself. But she was a wise old lady, and thought it better to wait a while before trying to find out what it was.
"When I was a little girl," she began—and the children pricked up their ears—"when I was a little girl I remember once that our nurse was ill, or she had to go away to see some friend who was ill, and, as I was the eldest of several little brothers and sisters, I had to help to take care of them. I had always thought it would be very pleasant to be without a nurse, though we liked ours very well, and to be able to do just as we wished. But I shall never forget how pleased I was to see her come back again," and Grandmamma laughed a little at the recollection.
"Why were you so pleased, Grandmamma?" asked Pamela. "Had you done anyfing naughty?"
"That wouldn't have made Grandmamma pleased for her nurse to come back," said Duke; and a sudden thought of how "us" would have felt had Nurse come into the room just as Toby was licking up the last of the bread and milk made his face grow rosy.
"We had not meant to be naughty," said Grandmamma, "but we were not fit to manage for ourselves. Each of us wanted to do a different way, and we were like a flock of poor little sheep without a shepherd. You do not know, children, what a comfort it is to have rules one must obey."
"But big people don't have to obey," said Duke.
"Ah yes, they have; and when they try to think they have not, then it is that everything goes wrong with them;" and seeing by the look in the two little faces that they were still puzzled—"People have to obey all their lives if they want to be happy," she went on. "Long after they have no more nurses or fathers and mothers—or grandpapas and grandmammas," with a little smile, which somehow made the corners of Duke's and Pamela's mouths go down. "The use of all those when we are young is only to teach us what obeying means—to teach us to listen to the voice we should always obey——" and Grandmamma stopped a minute and looked at "us."
"God," said the two very solemnly.
"Yes; but God speaks to us in different ways, and we have to learn to know His voice. And the way of all in which we most need to know it is when it speaks to us in our own hearts—in ourselves. It would be a very poor sort of being good or obeying if it was only so long as somebody else was beside us telling us what to do and looking to see that we did it."
"Yes," said the two little voices together, lower and still more solemn.
"As, for instance, this morning if, just because Nurse was not with you, you had done anything you would not have done had she been there," said Grandmamma, looking keenly at the two flushed faces.
"Or," went on the old lady, speaking more slowly, "a worse kind of disobeying—the telling what is not really true; lots of people, big as well as little, do that, and sometimes they try to make themselves think, by all sorts of twistings and turnings, that they have not done so when their own hearts know they have. For the voice inside us is very hard to silence or deceive—I think sometimes indeed it never is silenced, but that our ears grow deaf to it—that we make them so. But this is very grave talk for you, my dear children—too grave and difficult perhaps. I am getting so old that I suppose I sometimes forget how very young you are! And here come your own little cups and saucers, nicely rinsed out, and waiting to be wiped dry."
"Thank you, Grandmamma," said Duke.
"Fank you, Grandmamma," said Pamela.
And the two small pairs of hands set to work carefully at their daily task. But they did not speak or ask Grandmamma any questions, and somehow the old lady felt a little uneasy, for, even though they were on the whole quiet children, this morning there was a sort of constraint about them which she did not understand. And they, on their side, felt glad when the "washing-up" was over and Grandmamma sent them upstairs to their nursery, where they had lessons every morning for two hours with a young girl whose mother had a sort of dame school in the village.
"... they are what their birth And breeding suffer them to be— Wild outcasts of society." Gypsies—WORDSWORTH.
Miss Mitten, the young governess, had not yet come when the children got to the nursery, though all was in order for her—the table cleared, the three chairs set round it ready. There was nothing to do but to get out the books and slates. Duke went to the window and stood there staring out silently; Pamela, who always liked to be busy, dragged forward a chair, meaning to climb on to it so as to reach up to the high shelf where the lesson things were kept. But, as she drew out the chair, something that had been hidden from view in a corner near which stood a small side-table caught her eye. She let go the chair, stooping down to examine this something, and in a moment a cry escaped her.
"Bruvver! oh, bruvver," she exclaimed, "just see! How can it have got brokened?" and she held up the bowl—or what had been the bowl rather—out of which Toby had gobbled up his unexpected breakfast,—broken, hopelessly broken, into several pieces!
In an instant Duke was beside her, and together they set to work to examine the damage, as if, alas! any examining could have made it better. It was far past mending, for, besides the two or three large pieces Pamela had seized, there lay on the ground a mass of smaller fragments, down to mere crumbs of china.
"Toby couldn't have done it, could he?" said Pamela. "He stayed in here when us went down to prayers."
"No, oh no! Toby couldn't have broken it," said Duke; "and even if he had, it would not have been his fault. He didn't put it down on the floor. It was near here he ate the bread and milk up—perhaps he rolled the bowl behind the table."
"And Biddy pushed the table against it when she was taking away the things. Yes, that must have been it," said Pamela. "Biddy couldn't have noticed there was only one bowl on the tray."
"Anyway she didn't look for it," said Duke. "She is very careless; Nurse often says so."
"But us can't put the blame on her," said Pamela. "Us must tell, Duke."
Duke had the pieces of china in his hand, and was carefully considering them.
"Will Grandmamma be vexed, do you think, sister?"
"Grandmamma doesn't like things being brokened," said Pamela. "And Nurse said one day these bowls was very good china."
"And Grandmamma will ask all about how it was broken," added Duke dolefully; "and then us'll have to tell about giving Toby our bread and milk, and oh, sister, I said the bowls was quite empty, to make her think us had emptied them!"
"I'm afraid Grandmamma will fink us is very naughty," agreed Pamela; "she'll fink us don't listen to that—that speaking inside us that she was telling us about,—for it's quite true, bruvver; I felt it was quite true when she was talking. It does speak. I heard it this morning when us was planning about not telling. Only I didn't listen," and the tears rolled slowly down the little girl's face.
"I heard it too, sister. Yes, it's quite true," said Duke, beginning to sob. "But I can't go and tell Grandmamma now. There's such a great deal to tell; it isn't only about Toby. It's about having said the bowls was empty," and Duke's sobs redoubled. "Supposing—supposing, sister, us didn't tell Grandmamma just this time, and us would never, never not listen to that speaking inside us again?"
Pamela hesitated. She stood quite quite still, her eyes gazing before her, but as if seeing nothing—she seemed to be listening.
"Bruvver," she said at last, "I can't tell you yet. I must fink. But I'm almost sure it's speaking now. I'm almost sure it's saying us must tell."
"Oh don't, don't, Pamela," cried poor Duke; "you mustn't say that. For I can't—I am sure I can't—tell Grandmamma. And you won't tell without me knowing, will you, sister?"
"For sure not," replied Pamela indignantly. "Us must do it togevver like always. But there's Miss Mitten coming—I hear her. Wait till after she's gone, bruvver, and then I'll tell you what I've been finking."
With this Duke was obliged to content himself. But he and Pamela took care to put away in a shelf of the toy cupboard, where they would not be seen, the remains of the broken bowl.
Miss Mitten had two very quiet and subdued little pupils that morning. She noticed Duke's red eyes, but, not being on very intimate terms with the children, for she was rather a formal young person, she said nothing about them. Only when lessons were quite finished she told her pupils they might tell their Grandmamma that they had been very good and attentive.
"Your good Grandmamma will be pleased to hear this," she said, "for she must be troubled about poor Nurse's being ill. I hope you will do your best to give her no trouble you can possibly avoid," and with these words Miss Mitten took her leave.
She had scarcely left when Biddy came to take the children out a walk, and after that it was their dinner-time, so that it was not till the afternoon that they found themselves quite alone and able to talk over their troubles. They had not seen Grandmamma since the morning, for she had gone out in the pony-carriage with Grandpapa to pay some visits, which in those days were really "morning calls"! and she had left word that after their dinner Duke and Pamela might play in the garden till she and Grandpapa came home.
"And when us sees them coming us'll ask Grandpapa to tell Walters to drive us round to the stable in the pony-carriage," said Duke, jumping up and down in great excitement, quite forgetting his troubles for the moment. But his forgetfulness did not last long. Biddy began looking about the room as if in search of something; she seemed vexed and uneasy.
"What's the matter, Biddy?" said Duke, stopping in the midst of his gymnastics.
"Have you seen one of the china bowls anywhere about, you or Miss Pamela, Master Duke?" asked the girl. "Cook is so angry with me, and she will have it I've broken it and won't tell," and poor Biddy looked ready to cry.
"Didn't you miss it when you took the tray down?" said Pamela, and Duke was astonished she could speak so quietly.
"No," replied Biddy, "and then I was at fault, for sure I gathered up the things quickly, and never noticed there was but one bowl. And they must have been both there, for you both had your breakfast. The only thing I can think of is that some one took it out of the room after you were downstairs, master and missy," for it never occurred to Biddy to think Duke or Pamela would have concealed it had they broken the bowl, "but I'm afeared Cook will lay it all on me."
"Do you fink they cost much—bowls like these?" asked Pamela.
"Not so very much perhaps, but I don't think I've ever seen any quite like them in any shop. Besides, if even I could get to Sandle'ham to see, it's a thing I daren't do. It's one of your Grandmamma's strictest rules that if anything's broke we're to tell. And I'm sure if I had broke it I would tell."
"Perhaps Cook won't say anything more about it," said Duke, but Biddy shook her head.
"Not to-day perhaps. She's busy to-day, for two ladies and two gentlemen are coming to dinner. But she'll be very angry with me when she comes to send up your bread and milk to-morrow morning if so be as the bowl isn't there."
"Are there only two like that?" asked Pamela.
"Your Grandmamma has some others, I think, but they're kept locked up in a cupboard in the china closet," said Biddy dolefully. "I'd tell my mistress myself in a minute if I had broke it, but the worst is, it will seem as if I have broke it and won't tell, and that will make her very vexed with me. But you must make haste to go out into the garden, master and missy. It's such a fine day, and if you stayed here it might wake Nurse. She's just fallen asleep, and the doctor said she might be better to-morrow if she got some sleep."
"Out in the garden" to-day it was lovely, for though only April it was unusually bright and warm. And the garden of Arbitt Lodge matched the house. It was so quaint and neat, and yet such a very delightful garden to play in, full of queer little unexpected paths between high stiff hedges that quite hid such small people as "us," leading to tiny bits of lawn, where one was sure to find, if not a summer-house, at least a rustic bench in a nice corner beside some old tree whose foliage made a pleasant shade. Duke and Pamela had given names of their own to some of the seats and arbours, as they found this a great convenience for their games, especially that of paying visits. I think their favourite bench was one placed on what they called "the hill;" that was a part of the garden banked up very high against the wall, from which you could look down on the passers-by without being seen by them, and the name of this one was "Spy Tower." It was a nice place on a sunny day, for the high trees made it shady, and when they had no particular game they cared to play it was always amusing to watch who passed.
This afternoon they did not feel in good enough spirits to play, and almost without speaking they walked quietly in the direction of "the hill."
"Us can see when Grandpapa and Grandmamma are coming in time to run round and meet them at the gate," said Pamela, as they climbed up the bank.
"I don't think I want to see them coming, and I don't want them to see us," said Duke. "Sister, I am so midderable that I think if there was a big sea near here I would go into it and be drowned."
"Bruvver!" ejaculated Pamela.
"Yes, sister," he continued, "it would be the best thing. For if I was drownded quite dead, they'd all be so sorry that then you could tell them about the bowl, and Biddy would not be scolded. And—and—you could say it was far most my fault, you know, for it was, and then they wouldn't be very angry with you. Yes," he repeated solemnly, "it would be the best thing."
By this time Pamela was completely dissolved in tears—tears of indignation as well as of grief.
"Bruvver," she began again, "how can you say that? Us has always been togevver. How can you fink I would ever say it was most your fault, not if you was ever so drownded. But oh, bruvver, don't frighten me so."
Duke's own tears were flowing too.
"There isn't any big sea near here," he said; "I only said if there was. It's just that I am so very midderable. I wish Nurse hadn't got ill."
"Oh, so do I," said Pamela fervently.
By this time they had reached Spy Tower. Pamela seated herself discreetly on the bench, though it was so much too high for her that her short legs dangled in the air. Duke established himself on the ground in front of her. It was a very still day—more like late summer than spring—hardly a leaf stirred, and in the distance various sounds, the far-off barking of a dog, the faint crowing and cackling of cocks and hens, the voices, subdued to softness, "of the village boys and girls at play," all mingled together pleasantly. The children were too young to explain to themselves the pleasant influences about them, of the soft sunshine and the cloudless sky, seen through the network of branches overhead, of the balmy air and sweet murmurs of bird and insect life rejoicing in the spring-time; but they felt them nevertheless.
"How very happy us would have been to-day if it hadn't been for the bowl being brokened," said Duke.
"No, it began before that," said Pamela. "It was the not telling Grandmamma. I fink that was the real naughty, bruvver. I don't fink Grandmamma would have minded so much us giving the bread and milk to Toby."
"Her wouldn't have given us any treat," objected Duke.
"Well, that wouldn't have mattered very much for once. And perhaps it would have been a good fing; perhaps Grandmamma would have told Cook not to send up quite so much, and——"
"Why do you say that now?" said Duke rather crossly; "it's only making it all worser and worser. I wish——"
But what Duke wished was never to be known, for just at that moment sounds coming down the lane, evidently drawing nearer and nearer, made him start up and peep out from behind the few thin low-growing shrubs at the top of the wall.
"Hush, sister," he said, quite forgetting that it was himself and not "sister" who had been speaking,—"there are such funny people coming down the lane. Come here, close by me; there, you can see them—don't they look funny?"
Pamela squeezed herself forward between Duke and a bush, and looked where he pointed to. A little group of people was to be seen making their way slowly along the lane. There were a man, two women, and two boys—the women with red kerchiefs over their heads, and something picturesque about their dress and bearing, though they were dirty and ragged. They, as well as the man, had very dark skins, black hair, and bright piercing eyes, and the elder of the two boys, a great loose-limbed fellow of sixteen or so, was just like them. But the other boy, who did not look more than nine or ten, though his skin was tanned by the weather nearly as brown as his companion's, had lighter hair and eyes. He followed the others at a little distance, not seeming to attend to what they were saying, though they were all talking eagerly, and rather loudly, in a queer kind of language, which Duke and Pamela could not understand at all. The younger boy whistled as he came along, and he held a stout branch in his hand, from which, with a short rough knife, he was cutting away the twigs and bark. He did not seem unhappy though he looked thin, and his clothes hardly held together they were so ragged.
All these particulars became visible to the children, as the party of gipsies—for such they were, though of a low class—came nearer and nearer. I forgot to say that the sixth member of the party was a donkey, a poor half-starved looking creature, with roughly-made panniers, stuffed with crockery apparently, for basins and jugs and pots of various kinds were to be seen sticking out of them in all directions. And besides the donkey's load there was a good deal more to carry, for the man and the women and the big boy were all loaded with bundles of different shapes and sizes, and the little fellow had a sort of knapsack on his back. They would probably have passed on their way without dreaming of the two small people in Spy Tower up above their heads, had not Duke, suddenly catching sight of the donkey's burden, exclaimed loudly to Pamela:
"See, see, sister; they have jugs and dishes. Perhaps us could get a bowl like ours."
At the sound of the child's voice the man stopped short in what he was saying to his companions, and looked up.
"Good day, my little master, and my pretty missy too," he said in a smooth voice, not the least like the rather harsh tones in which he had been speaking a moment before in the strange language. "At your service, and is there anything I can do for you?"
"Oh the pretty dears," exclaimed one of the two women, while the other turned away with a rough laugh, muttering something the children could not distinguish the meaning of. "Oh the pretty dears! Like two sweet birds up in a nest. And wouldn't you like your fortunes told, my honeys?"
"I don't know what that means," replied Duke, feeling very valiant at the top of the wall. "I want to know if you've got any china bowls to sell—bowls for bread and milk, with little blue leaves running over them."
"To be sure, to be sure," said the man. "We've the very thing—it is strange, to be sure, that I should have just what the little master wants, isn't it?" he went on, turning to the woman.
"If the gentleman and lady could come down and look at them, they would see better," said she, seizing the panniers with a great show of getting out the crockery they contained.
"Us can't come down there," said Duke. "You must come in at the gate, and us will meet you at the back door."
The man and woman hesitated.
"Will the servants let us come so far, d'ye think?" asked the man. "Are there no dogs about? Must we say the little master and missy told us to come for that they want to buy a bowl?"
"Oh no," cried Pamela hastily, "that wouldn't do. The servants mustn't know."
The man glanced at the woman with a meaning look.
"To be sure, to be sure," she said. "Master and missy must please themselves. It's no business of the servants. Perhaps it's for a little present to their mamma they want one of our pretty bowls?"
"Us hasn't any mamma," said Duke, "and it isn't for a present, but still us doesn't want any one to know. Are you sure you've got any bowls just like ours?"
"Certain sure," said the woman; "you see we've such a many—if I was to get them all out you'd see. Yours is blue—with leaves all over it—we've some, sweet and pretty, with pink roses and green leaves."
"No, no," said the children, shaking their heads, "that wouldn't do. It must be just the same."
"And have you got it there, then?" asked the woman. "But that won't matter. You'll soon see what beauties ours are. And so cheap! Not to everybody of course as cheap as to you, but it isn't often we see so pretty spoken a little gentleman and lady as you. And you shall have them as cheap as we can give them."
"Then us must get our money-box," said Duke. "It's in the nursery cupboard. Will you go round to near the back gate," and he pointed in the direction he named, "and sister will go through the garden to meet you, and I'll run in for our money-box."
The man peered about him, and again a sort of meaning look passed between him and the woman.
"To be sure, to be sure," he said. "And pretty missy will wait with us till you come. But don't be long, master, for we've a weary way to go afore night."
"Poor things," said Pamela, "are you tired and hungry? I wish us could ask you to come in and rest, but you see Grandpapa and Grandmamma are out and Nurse is ill, and there's no one to ask."
"Dear me, what a pity!" said the woman. "To be sure we're tired and hungry, and it's not an easy business to unpack the panniers, but anything to please master and missy."
Just then the other woman, who had been standing apart with the big boy all this time, called out something in the same strange-sounding language. And, apparently forgetting the children's presence, the man roared out at her with such brutal roughness that Duke and Pamela shrank back trembling. The first woman hastened to reassure them.
"For shame, Mick," she said, and then with a laugh she turned to the children. "It's just a way he has. You must excuse him, master and missy. And if little master will go quick for the money-box it would be better. There won't be much in it, I suppose, but it isn't much we'd want to take."
"Oh but there's a great deal," said Duke. "One big guinea—that's between us, and two little ones, one each, and three shillings and a fourpenny of mine——"
"And five sixpences and seven pennies of mine," said Pamela.
"Who'd a-thought it?" said the woman admiringly. "I'd be pleased to see so much money for once."
"Well, I'll show it you," said Duke, and off he started. Pamela looked after him for a moment.
"Wouldn't it be better," she said to the woman, "if you saw a bit of the bowl, then you could find the ones like it in a minute?"
"What a clever missy!" exclaimed the woman, bent on flattery.
"Then I'll run after bruvver and fetch the bits," said Pamela, and, not heeding the woman's calling after her that there was no need to give herself the trouble, off she set too, overtaking Duke just before he reached the house.
"I've come after you!" she exclaimed, breathless; "I want to get the broken bits and then they'll see what the bowl was like. And, bruvver,"—and the little girl hesitated a little,—"I was raver frightened to stay alone wif those people. The man did speak so rough, didn't he?"
Duke had felt very brave on the top of the wall, and rather proud of himself for feeling so.
"You needn't be afraid when I'm there, sister," he said. "Besides they can't hurt us—us'll just buy the bowl and run back with it. Us needn't go farther than just by the back gate."
"Do you fink you should take all the money?" asked Pamela doubtfully. "It can't cost all that."
"I'll not take the gold guineas, then," said Duke. "At least," he went on, sorely divided between caution and the wish to show off his riches, "I'll only take one—just to let them see it. And one shilling and one sixpence to let them see, and all the pennies. You needn't be frightened, sister," he repeated encouragingly, as the two trotted across the garden again, "I won't let the man speak rude to you."
BABES IN A WOOD.
"Out of this wood do not desire to go; Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no." Midsummer Night's Dream.
There was no one to be seen when they got to the back gate. The children stood and looked about—Pamela with the bits of broken crockery in her apron held up in front, Duke tightly clasping the precious money-box. They looked this way and that way, up the lane and down the lane, but could see nothing or nobody save Farmer Riggs' very old horse turned out at the side of the hedge, and two or three ducks who had perversely chosen to wander out to grub about in a small pool of stagnant water instead of gratefully enjoying their own nice clean pond, as Grandmamma's ducks might have been expected to do. At another time Duke and Pamela would certainly have chased the stray ducks home again, with many pertinent remarks on their naughty disobedience, but just now they had no thought or attention to give to anything but their own concerns.
A sudden feeling came over Pamela, and she turned to Duke.
"Bruvver," she said, "those people hasn't come. I fink they're not good people, and they won't come near the house. I daresay they're somewhere down the lane, not far off—but don't you fink perhaps us had better not look for them any more, but just go home, and when Grandmamma comes in tell her everyfing. Even if she is raver angry, wouldn't it be better, bruvver? I'm almost sure my little voice inside is telling me so," and Pamela stood for a moment with a look of intent listening on her face. "Yes, I'm sure that's what it's trying to say. Can you hear yours, bruvver?"
Duke looked undecided.
"I can't listen just now, sister," he replied. "I'm full of thinking how nice it would be to buy a bowl just the same, and take it in and give it to poor Biddy, and then she wouldn't be scolded. I don't think I'd mind telling Grandmamma once us had got the bowl. She'd be so pleased to have one the same."
"I fink she'd be most pleased for us to tell her everyfing," maintained Pamela stoutly.
And Duke, always impressed by her opinion, wavered, and no doubt he would have wavered back into the right way, had not, just at that moment, a low whistle been heard some way to the left down the lane; and, looking in the direction from whence it came, the little boy and girl caught sight of a head quickly poked out and as quickly drawn back again into the shade of the hedge. But not too quickly for them to have recognised the sharp black eyes and rough black hair of the gipsy pedlar.
Without replying to Pamela Duke darted off, and, though much against her will, the little girl felt she could not but follow him. Before they had quite reached the spot the head was poked out again.
"I've had to wait here for you, master and missy," said the man. "There were some farmers men down that way, round the corner," and he jerked his thumb—for he had by this time come out of his hole—in an imaginary direction, "as said this were a private road, and they'd set dogs on us if we came on. I'm a peaceable fellow, and not fond o' fightin', so I'd just have gone on my way out of their road but for promisin' you to come round this way."
"It's very strange," said Duke; "I don't know what it means about a private road, but I know everybody always passes this way—that's why us likes Spy Tower so much, there's so many people passing."
"It's all along of our being poor folk," said the man; "there's no fair play for poor folk. But I'm one as keeps his word, so here I am. And the donkey and the missus are down the road there waiting—there's a little wood where we thought nobody would disturb us for a bit, if you and missy will come so far—the missus said she'd unpack the pots. But you must be quick—I dursn't hang about here, and if you can't come there's no more to be said," and he turned as if to go.
"Just wait one instant, please," said Pamela hastily, extracting one of the fragments from her apron; "just look at this. It's no use our going to see the bowls if you've none the same—do you fink you have any like this?"
The man pretended to start.
"Well, that is cur'ous," he said. "If my eyes is not deceivin' me, that's the very pattern we've a whole set on—the bowls shouldn't ought to be sold separate, but to oblige you we'll see what the missus will do," and again he turned to go.
The children looked at each other. They had never before in their lives been outside the gates alone; of this back road and where it led to they knew very little, as it was always on the other road—that leading to Sandlingham—that Nurse liked to walk. They did not remember the little wood the man spoke of, but they did not like to contradict him; then, if it was only such a little way, they could run back in a minute when they had got the bowl, and all would be right. So they took each other's hands and followed the man, who was already striding some steps in front down the lane, glancing behind him over his shoulder from time to time to see if the little couple had made up their minds.
A few minutes' quick walking on his part, necessitating something between a trot and a run on theirs, brought them out of the lane into the high road. Here the man stopped short for a moment and looked about him—the children supposed in search of his companions and the donkey. But there was no one and nothing to be seen.
"I don't think us can come any farther," said Duke rather timidly. The man turned round with a scowl on his face, but in a moment he had smoothed it away and spoke in the same oily tones.
"It's just a step farther," he said, "and I can take you a shorter way through the fields than the missus could go with the donkey. This way, master and missy," and he quickly crossed the road, still glancing up and down, and, climbing over a stile, stood beckoning for the children to follow.
They had never noticed this stile before; they had not the slightest idea where it led to, but somehow they felt more afraid now to turn back than to go on; and, indeed, it would not have been any use, for, had he cared to do so, the man could have overtaken them in a moment. The stile was hard for their short legs to climb, but they had a great dislike to the idea of his touching them, and would not ask for help. And once he had got them on the other side of it he seemed to feel he had them in his power, and did not take much notice of them, but strode on through the rough brushwood—for they were by this time in a sort of little coppice—as if he cared for nothing but to get over the ground as fast as possible. And still the two followed him—through the coppice, across one or two ploughed fields, down a bit of lane where they had never been before, plunging at last into a wood where the trees grew thick and dark—a forest of gloom it seemed to Duke and Pamela—and all this time they never met a creature, or passed any little cottage such as they were accustomed to see on the cheerful Sandlingham road. The pedlar knew the country, and had chosen the least frequented way. Had they by any chance met a carriage or cart, even when crossing the high road, he would not have dared to risk being seen with the children, but in that case he would no doubt have hurried off, leaving them to find their way home as best they might. But no such good fortune having befallen them, on they trotted—hand-in-hand for the most part, though by this time several stumbles had scratched and bruised them, and their flying hair, flushed faces and tumbled clothes made them look very different from the little "master and missy" Biddy had sent out into the peaceful garden to play that sweet April afternoon.
Why they went on, they could not themselves have told. Often in after years, and when they had grown older and wiser, they asked themselves the question. It was not exactly fear, for as yet the man had not actually spoken roughly to them, nor was it altogether a feeling of shame at giving in—it was a mixture of both perhaps, and some strange sort of fascination that even very wise people might not find it easy to explain. For every time their steps lagged, and they felt as if they could go no farther, a glance over his shoulder of the man in front seemed to force them on again. And as the wood grew closer and darker this feeling increased. They felt as if they were miles and miles from home, in some strange and distant country they had never before seen or heard of; they seemed to be going on and on, as in a dream. And though poor little Pamela still, through all her stumbles and tumbles, held tightly up before her the corners of her apron, containing the bits of the unlucky bowl, and Duke, on his side, still firmly clutched his precious money-box, I do not believe either of them had by this time any very clear remembrance of why they were laden with these queer burdens, or what was the object of the strange and painful expedition.
And still on strode the piercing-eyed gipsy, as sure of his prey now apparently as a fowler who watches unmoved the fruitless struggles of some poor little birds in the net from which they have no chance of escaping.
It would be impossible to say how far they had gone—perhaps not so very far after all, though their panting breath and trembling little legs showed that the gipsy's purpose of tiring them out was pretty well accomplished—when at last a sharp cry from Pamela forced the pedlar to look round. She had caught her foot on a stone or a root, and fallen, and in falling one of the jagged bits of the broken crockery had cut her leg pretty deeply; the blood was already streaming from it, her little white sock was deeply stained, and she lay on the ground almost fainting with terror and pain.
"Stop that screaming, will ye?" said the man, and then, with a half return to his former tone, "There's nothing to cry about, missy. It's just a scratch—I'll tie it up with a bit of rag," and he began fumbling about in his dirty pockets as he spoke. "There's the donkey and the others waiting for us just five minutes farther;" and for once the gipsy spoke the truth. The way he had brought the children was in reality a great round, chosen on purpose to bewilder them, so that the rest of his party had been able to reach the meeting-place he had appointed very much more quickly by the road.
But Pamela, once thoroughly upset and frightened, was not to be so easily calmed down.
"No, no," she screamed, "I won't let him touch me. Go away, go away, you ugly man," she cried, pushing him back with her tiny hands when he tried to come near. "I won't let you touch me or carry me," for that now seemed to be the gipsy's intention, "leave me here with Duke; we don't want you any more."
The man's dark face grew darker with the scowl that came over it. For half a moment he seemed on the point of seizing Pamela in his arms in spite of her cries and resistance. But there was Duke too to be considered; Pamela alone it would be easy to cover up, so that her cries should not be heard; but he could not carry both, and if the boy ran after them screaming, or if he tried to run home, to ask for help—for "home" was really not far off—there was no knowing what trouble the anything but blessed "brats" might bring upon worthy Mick and his horde! So that respectable gentleman decided on different tactics.
"You're a very naughty little girl," he said—speaking, however, not roughly, but more as if Pamela's behaviour really shocked and hurt him. "After all the trouble I've give myself for you—a-goin' out of my road, and a-unpackin' all the pots and crocks down there, for to please you. Not even to let me tie up your foot or carry you to the missus for her to do it! Well, if you lie there till you bleed to death, it's no fault o' mine."
But Duke's presence of mind had returned by this time.
"I'll tie up her foot with my hankercher," he said, producing the little twelve-inch square of linen, which for a wonder he found in his pocket, on the whole much cleaner than could have been expected. And though he grew white and sick with the sight of the streaming blood, he managed without any opposition from his sister to strap it up after a fashion, the gipsy looking on in silence.
"You can go now, thank you," said Duke, his voice trembling in spite of himself. "Us don't mind about the bowl—it's too far to go. Us will tell Grandmamma all about it—Oh how I do wish us had told her at first," he broke off suddenly. "Please go," he went on again to the pedlar; "sister's frightened. I'll stay here with her till her foot's better, and then us'll go home."
"And how will ye do that, I'd like to know, my young master?" said the pedlar, and there was a mocking tone in his voice that made the boy look up at him with fresh alarm. "Ye're furder from 'home' than ye think for. No, no; here ye'll have to stay till I fetch the donkey to carry you both. And to think of all that trouble and time lost for nothing."
"They'll give you something at home for bringing us back; they will indeed," said Duke. "Grandpapa and Grandmamma will be so pleased to see us safe again, I know they'll give you something," he repeated, while a sob rose in his throat at the thought that already perhaps dear Grandpapa and Grandmamma—never had they seemed so dear!—were wondering and troubled about their absence. And somehow he quite forgot that he himself could reward the gipsy, for in attending to Pamela's wounded foot he had laid down the money-box, and no longer remembered that he had it with him.
The gipsy grunted, and muttered something about "making sure" that Duke scarcely heard. Then he turned to go.
"I'm off for the donkey then. But mind you the stiller you stays in this here wood the better," he added impressively. "That's why I didn't like missy crying out so loud. It's a queer place—a very queer place. I'se warrant your Nurse never brought you this way when you were out a-walking."
"No, never," said Duke, startled, and even Pamela left off sobbing to stare up at him with her tearful blue eyes, as if fascinated by these mysterious hints.
"Ah, I thought not," he said, nodding his head. "Well, stay where you are, and make no sound whatsumnever, and no harm'll come to ye. But if you stir or speak even above a whisper," and he lowered his own voice, "there's no saying. There's beasts you never heard tell of in this wood—worsest of all, snakes, that think nothing of twisting round a child and off with it for their supper afore one could cry out. But if you stop quite still they'll not find you out before I'm back with the donkey. It's about their time o' day for sleeping just now, I'm thinking," and with this crumb of consolation the cruel-hearted gipsy turned on his heel.
Words would fail me to describe the terror of the two poor little children: a cry of appeal to the pedlar to stay beside them, not to leave them to the dreadful creatures he spoke of, rose to their lips, but stopped there. For were they not almost as terrified of him as of the snakes? Pamela forgot all about her wounded foot, though it was growing stiff with pain, and the blood, which Duke's unskilful binding had not succeeded in checking, was still flowing in a way that would have alarmed more experienced eyes. It was cold too—and terror made them colder—for the evening was drawing on, and it was only April. Yet they dared not move—Pamela indeed could not have stood up—and so there they stayed, Duke crouched beside his sister, who lay almost at full length on the short tufty grass, among the roots and stumps, for just here a good deal of wood had been cut down. There was no fear of their moving—the shivers and sobs that they could not control added to their fears—they would have left off breathing even, if they could have managed it, rather than risk betraying their presence to the snakes!
But after some minutes—not more than five probably, though it seemed more like five hours—had passed the silence and strain grew unbearable to Duke. He peeped at Pamela; her eyes were closed, she looked so dreadfully white!—his heart gave such a thump that he looked round for a moment in terror, it seemed to him such a loud noise,—what could make her look so? Could the fear and the pain have killed her?
"Pamela," he whispered, in what he meant to be a very low whisper indeed; "Oh, sister, are you dead?"
Her eyelids fluttered a little, and she half opened them.
"No, bruvver; at least I don't fink so," she said, and her whisper was very faint without her trying to make it so, for she was really quite exhausted. "I wasn't sure a minute ago, but I fink now I'm only dying. But don't speak, for the snakes might hear."
"They're asleep, he said," returned Duke, with a sob of anguish at Pamela's words.
"But some might be awake. If it wasn't for that, oh, bruvver, you might run away, and perhaps you'd get safe home. Couldn't you try, bruvver?" and Pamela half raised herself on her arm.
"And leave you, sister!" cried Duke indignantly, forgetting to whisper; "how could you think I'd ever do such a thing? If I could carry you—oh what a pity it is I'm not much bigger than you!" "You couldn't carry me," said Pamela feebly, and her head sank back again; "and the snakes would hear us and catch us. But oh, bruvver, I'm afraid I'll be quite dead before the man comes back again, and yet I don't want him to come."
Almost in despair Duke sat up and looked round for any possibility of help. It was nearer than he thought; and yet when a voice, apparently a very little way off, called out, as if in answer to his unspoken appeal—
"I'm a-coming. Don't ye be afeared," he started with new terror.
"A snake!—Oh, sister, can it be a snake?" he cried wildly, for there was nothing to be seen.
"Snakes don't talk, as ever I heard on," said the voice again, and this time it was accompanied by a merry laugh, which brought great comfort to poor Duke. And in another moment the mystery was explained.
From behind some stubble a few yards off rose the figure of the young boy whom the children had seen walking behind the gipsies—whistling while he cut at a branch he held in his hand—from their point of observation in Spy Tower. His face was tanned and freckled by the sun, but his fair hair and bright blue eyes showed that he was not by birth one of the dark-skinned tribe; and something in the bright smile, showing a row of teeth as white and even as Duke's own, and in the cheerful voice, at once gained the little boy's confidence.
"I've been looking for ye," he said, speaking in a rather lower tone. "I knew he was a-going to bring ye round this way, so I hid in the bushes till I see'd him go by. And I crep' along on my hands and knees for fear he should look back. But he's out o' the way for a few minutes. It's only a bit of a step to where the others is, but he said something about the donkey, didn't he? It'll take him a bit to unload it. An' what's he been a-doing to ye?" he went on, glancing round till his eyes for the first time caught sight clearly of the little figure stretched on the ground. "He's never gone and dared to hit the little lady?" and the good-humoured face grew dark and almost fierce as he stooped down close to Pamela. She looked pitiable enough; her face had grown whiter and whiter, her eyes were still closed, and the blood from her foot had crept about her as she lay till it had soiled the frills of her little white skirts.
"No," said Duke; "no, it's her foot. The bits of the bowl cut it when she felled down. I tied it up with my hankercher, but it hasn't left off bleeding."
The boy did not speak, he was too busy examining the poor foot, which he handled so tenderly that Pamela did not shrink from his touch. At last he looked up.
"I say, master," he said, "we must have some water for this 'ere foot. Just you sit down where I am and hold it so; it won't bleed so bad that way, and I'll get some water. There's some hard by," and he looked round. "If I had but something to fetch some in."
"There's my money-box," said Duke, with a sudden flash of recollection, "it would hold a little," and in his turn he looked round. But no money-box was to be seen. "Oh where can it be?" he cried. "I know I had it when sister felled."
"Was there summat in it?" asked the boy.
"Oh yes," replied Duke; "one of the little gold guineas, and one of my shillings, and one of sister's sixpennies, and all the pennies."
"Ah," said the boy, "then I'm afeared you've said good-bye to the lot o' them. Catch Mick let fish like that out of his net. But," he added—for Duke seemed to be stunned by the loss—"sit ye down, and I'll fetch what water I can in my cap, or we'll have missy's foot very bad, and that 'ud be worser than losin' the money."
He was back in a moment with water enough to soak the diminutive handkerchief, with which he gently bathed away some of the blood, so that he could see the wound. It was a bad cut, but it was not now bleeding so much. The little surgeon pressed the sides gently together, which made Pamela give a little scream of pain.
"Don't cry, missy dear," he said. "It'll not hurt so much when I've tied it up. Ye've not another hankerwich? I'd like to lay this one over the cut—it's nice and wet—and tie it on with summat else."
"I fink there's one in my pocket," said Pamela, and when Duke had extracted it, and with its help the poor foot was tied up much more scientifically than before, she sat up and looked about her, less white and miserable by a good deal, thanks to their new friend.
"What a nice boy you are," she said condescendingly. "What's your name? Is that—— ugly man" she was going to have said, but she hesitated, afraid of hurting the boy's feelings—"is the man your father?" and she dropped her voice.
"Bless yer, no," he replied with real fervency, "and that's one thing I'm thankful for. Mick my father; no, thank you, missy. My name's Tim, leastways so I'm called. Diana she says it's short for Timothy, but Tim's long enough."
"And who's Diana?" asked the children, beginning to forget their own troubles in curiosity.
"Her as he roared out at so—yonder—when you was up at the top o' the wall. She's a deal better than him and the missus is Diana. But listen, master and missy. He'll be back in a minute, and——"
"Oh let us run away before he comes! oh do help us to run away!" they exclaimed, all their terrors returning. "Us doesn't want the bowl now. Oh Tim, can't us all run away, quick, before he comes?"