'Don't distress yourselves, my dears,' said Miss Livesay; 'depend upon it, the culprit is not very far off. Nurse and cook will look after him.'
And so the dinner proceeded, though Mabel would much rather have gone without, had she been permitted. All at once a thought struck her, and she exclaimed: 'I'll tell you where I think he is, aunt; where we once found him before!' and Mabel rose up and went to the window which looked on the side of the house where there was a large dog-kennel, and over it a wooden shed with a window in it, to which shed access was gained by a ladder. 'Yes!' exclaimed Mabel, 'I see the key is in the door where the apples are kept. We once found Fred there asleep on the straw; perhaps he is there now!' and the anxious girl was making her way out of the room, when a loud scream brought her back to the window, from which she beheld Freddy with his foot caught in the top step of the ladder, and his head ignominiously resting on the hard step.
Mabel was off in an instant, but quick as she was, cook was there before her, and Fred had been turned right side upwards, and his blubbered face wiped with that towel of all work, Susan's apron; while his forehead presented a lump sufficiently large to account for the explosion they had been treated to.
No doubt it had been Master Freddy's intentions, when he went into this hiding-place, to remain there all day, until Aunt Mary should take her leave; he did not know of her intention to remain at Camden Terrace until his papa came home, or perhaps he might have hit upon some other expedient. His idea was, that they would all be so frightened at having lost him, that when he did make his appearance, he would be received joyfully.
Whether it was that the sound of the dinner-bell had created a sensation of hunger not to be resisted, or the savoury smell of the nicely cooked viands had stimulated the stomach to rebellion, we cannot say; but Freddy roused himself from his recumbent position, and, as we have seen, came (very unintentionally) head foremost down the steps. Alas, there is no one to sympathise with him in his self-made trouble, Aunt Mary won't permit it; and Master Frederick Ellis has to dine in the kitchen, a most humiliating necessity which would not have been submitted to, but for the inward cravings which would not be resisted.
It was with the greatest satisfaction that Mr. Ellis, when he came home, heard of the kind proposal of his sister-in-law to take Freddy home with her; he said that he could never sufficiently thank her for the good she had done to Mabel, but he feared that Freddy would prove a more troublesome inmate to Oak Villa than ever she had been. Aunt Mary declared, however, to the great astonishment of Freddy, who was in the room at the time, that Oak Villa would not hold naughty people, whether they were men, women, or children; and that as soon as Fred had slept there one night, he would find himself quite another boy, and be ready to do anything that he was desired. Fred heard all this with 'wonder-working eyes;' we don't know whether he really believed it. But as he trudged silently along by his aunt's side, with the little basket in one hand, and her hand clasping his other, he thought what a strange place Oak Villa must be to make people good, whether they liked it or not.
Mr. Ellis wished very much to accompany his sister home, but she would not permit this.
'How can you think that I want a protector when I have Fred with me, papa?' she inquired. 'I know very well,' she added, 'that we shall soon be the best friends in the world; and Freddy will take all the trouble off my hands of feeding cousin Clara's chickens while she is away.'
I should have stated that Clara had gone on a short visit to her mamma.
The reference to the chickens was an excellent stroke of policy of aunt's; she felt the small hand, which she held, tighten in hers, and an inward feeling of satisfaction came over her spirit, as she said within herself, 'Love is a constraining power.'
THE NEW INMATE OF OAK VILLA.
And now a new sort of life began, both at Oak Villa, and at Camden Terrace.
Mabel had promised her aunt (and she meant faithfully to fulfil that promise) to give what portion of the time she could spare from her attendance on mamma, to the lessons of her sister Julia, who was now far behind Mabel, and sadly needed a preceptress.
Well and amicably the two girls worked together; though there were trials of temper at times, when Julia did not seem to make such progress as her youthful instructress had anticipated. This, however, was only a trifling matter; there was peace in the house, and papa came home, not to be burdened with complaints, by domestic irregularities, but to be solaced by the loving attentions of his two girls, and amused by the sententious sayings of little prudish Gertrude, or the high spirits and happy gleefulness of Willie.
It was also a source of great comfort to him to know that Fred was in such good keeping; he could not doubt this, when he had practical proof before him daily, in the change that had been wrought in his eldest daughter. But how do they get on at Oak Villa, I wonder?
Admirably, I must say, considering that this is Aunt Mary's first attempt at taming an embryo lord of the creation. Is she very severe? By no means! Fred finds, to his great surprise, that 'this nasty old thing' works by love! and he is positively so full of employment and enjoyment, that he has no time to think of himself or to give way to evil temper. It must be owned (for there was no miracle in the case) that kind Aunt Mary had determined to give up this week, while Clara was away, to the instruction, amusement, and management of the Camden Terrace rebel; and though no outward sign betrayed the good lady's inward trials, it really was a week of trial to her. But she had succeeded to a wonder, so far as outward appearance testified, and worthy Bridget, who, by her good-nature helped on the reformation, declared herself astonished to find Master Freddy such a different boy to what she expected.
And so the weeks passed by. Fred still lived on at Oak Villa, a happy and a loving inmate. Clara had come home, and contributed not a little to Fred's enjoyment; they went out together to see all the poor people, and particularly the Simmons family, who were getting on very well, now that the father was recovered. Fred had a wheelbarrow and a nice box that Simmons had made him, and Clara and he worked away famously in the garden, weeding, or planting, or picking up stones. Aunt Mary says, 'This is what we have been trying to do for you, dear Freddy. Weeding out the naughty bitter weeds, putting in seeds that we hope will spring up, and grow to be beautiful flowers, and picking up the stones, that the soil may look smooth, and show that it is well taken care of.'
We must not forget the visits paid to dear mamma, twice a week, when that good lady was moved, even to tears, to see the great change, both in appearance and manner, that had taken place in her beloved child. She was much better, and the doctor thought that change of air would be the very best thing to restore her to health; but there were many things to be considered in the carrying out of such a proposal. Time may do wonders, but that time had not yet come; and we have travelled on a little too fast, I think, so we will go back to the first morning of Master Freddy's advent at Oak Villa. The first bell had rung, but Bridget was not satisfied to let the little boy's getting up depend on that, so she went and knocked at his door, and then peeped in.
'Why, bless me, Master Fred, are you not up yet?' exclaimed the good woman in pretended surprise. 'Why, the sun has been up a long time, and the birds are a-singing; and the fowls I know are wanting their breakfast, so I hope you will not keep them waiting very long. You must wash yourself well, and dress yourself nicely, and brush your hair, for I know your aunt can't abide to see slovenly children.'
After these instructions, Bridget made her exit; and Fred, the tiresome Fred, who when at home would only get up when he thought proper, jumped out of bed, put on his socks and shoes, performed his ablutions, and finished his dressing in a most satisfactory manner. Then he went down, and joined his aunt in the breakfast-room.
'Well, my dear Fred,' said the kind lady, taking her nephew by the hand and kissing him, 'I hope you are no worse for your fall yesterday, and that you have had a good night's rest?'
'Oh, I slept so well, aunt. It is such a nice little bed, I like it so much!'
'And have you, my child,' said his aunt, 'thanked the good God who gave you sleep, and rest, and kind friends?'
'I haven't said my prayers, aunt,' replied Freddy; 'I don't always say them.'
'But you always wish to have kind friends, and a nice bed, and peaceful sleep, don't you, dear Fred?' said Aunt Mary.
'Yes, aunt, I do,' replied the boy.
'And don't you think you ought to be thankful when you have them?' was the next question.
Freddy hung down his head, but he whispered 'Yes.'
'Well, go then, my dear, and thank your heavenly Father for His goodness, and ask Him to bless you, and keep you from all evil to-day.'
And Freddy went back to his room, and knelt beside his little bed, and repeated the same prayer that he had said so many times before, without thinking even of what he was saying; but this time he did think.
After breakfast Fred went to feed the fowls, though this ought to have been done before; but this was a beginning, so it did not much matter. At ten o'clock he was called to his books, and Aunt Mary expected a trial, for Freddy had never been at school, and his teaching at home had been only such as he chose to receive from his mamma or his sisters, when he happened to be in the humour. Yet he was naturally a quick child, and but for temper, his aunt did not at all contemplate any difficulty; indeed, she had no reason to do so, with her method of teaching. She was never harsh, but she was strict in discipline. She knew, that to make children happy, it was not at all necessary that they should have their own way, though she never contradicted them without occasion. She, in short, treated them as reasonable creatures, as loving creatures, who required love to draw them out; and she had seen, and felt, the happy results of this treatment. After the first week there was no more trouble about lessons; and with the assistance of Bridget and Clara, who were both now really fond of the boy, and did many little things to contribute to his pleasure, Aunt Mary found that she need no longer have any dread of having taken into her happy domicile an inmate, who would destroy its hitherto peaceful character; and Fred never once expressed a wish to go and live at home again.
THE OAK AND THE LAUREL UNITED.
More than four months had elapsed since Mabel had left Oak Villa to attend to her mamma, and Freddy had found a happy and delightful home in that very desirable locality. The days were shortening now, and the splendid autumn sunsets threw their gorgeous colouring over the trees, that had already put on their russet mantles, as if in anticipation of some great change. In human affairs it often happens that great changes come very unexpectedly, and so it occurred in the families with whom we have been the most familiar.
It was the beginning of October, when Aunt Mary received a letter from her friend Mrs. Maitland which greatly surprised, and at first grieved her not a little. It contained the startling intelligence that Mr. Maitland wished to let their pretty homes, the Laurels, as the very precarious state of health Mrs. Maitland's mother was in, rendered it absolutely necessary that they should remain with her for perhaps a very long time.
'Oh, Clara dear,' said her aunt, 'is not this sad news for us? I can scarcely believe it. Mrs. Maitland says they are not coming back; but are going to let the Laurels.
'How we shall miss them all, I fear we shall never get such good neighbours again,' said the lady, in a much more dolorous tone than was usual with her.
'Oh, I am so sorry!' exclaimed Clara, 'and so will Mabel be I know, for Dora and Annie were our very best friends. But who is that other letter from?' inquired the niece; 'I hope that does not contain bad news, aunt!'
Miss Livesay took up the letter spoken of; she had been so taken by surprise with the information contained in the first letter, that she had almost forgotten the other, which she now opened, and a glad exclamation which she uttered on reading the first line convinced Clara that there was salve for the wound which had been inflicted.
She was not kept in a state of suspense, the letter was from Irene (Mrs. Gordon), and the first line was: 'We are coming home to you, dear Mary!'
'Oh, when, aunt, when?' cried Clara.
'Wait, my dear, and you shall hear all,' replied Miss Livesay. '"Captain Gordon has got leave of absence for six months; will you, can you, dear Mary, let me come again to the dear old home? there is no place like it!" Dear Irene,' cried Aunt Mary, she little thinks how I long to see her, and the quick tears testified the melting heart.
Freddy all this time had stood an amazed listener; he could not at all make it out why the breakfast should be delayed, but he remembered Aunt Irene, and Captain Gordon, too, and he could somewhat enter into the pleasure manifested at the idea of their coming to see them, only he wished, notwithstanding, that Aunt Mary would pour the tea out, and allow him to begin his breakfast. This was done almost mechanically by Aunt Mary, her mind was already so full of projects, which, however, must be explained some time hence.
'Now the first thing we do, dear Clara, after breakfast,' said the kind aunt, 'must be to go to Camden Terrace; I hope your uncle will not have gone out, as I have a message for him from Mr. Maitland.'
'Oh then, do let Freddy and me go at once,' entreated Clara; 'we can be so quick, and we can tell Uncle Ellis that you are coming immediately, so that you need not hurry yourself, dear aunt.'
'Not a bad proposition, my little girl,' said her aunt; 'and Freddy, is he ready to go?'
'Oh yes, I am quite ready, and we can run all the way, and we can tell mamma that Aunt Irene is coming to see her; won't she be pleased? and so will Mabel and Julia. Oh, I am so glad, and Fred gave a remarkable caper, which not only threw himself down, but overthrew the gravity of both aunt and cousin, who laughed heartily at the grotesque way in which he exhibited his joy.
'We won't say anything about Aunt Irene's letter till you come,' whispered Clara to her aunt, but that lady said:
'Depend upon it, dear Clara, your mamma has got a letter, as well as myself, so this will be no news to her, though the Maitlands' communications will, and of this you need not say anything.'
Mr. Ellis was just preparing to leave home when Clara and Fred made their appearance.
'Why, you are early visitors this morning,' said that gentleman, kissing, and shaking hands with the fresh, healthy looking messengers, and adding; 'has the postman's news made you run off in such a hurry?'
'Yes, it is the postman's news, uncle, that sent us here so soon,' said Clara, 'because Aunt Mary wants to see, and talk with you, before you go out; she will be here in less than half an hour, if you will kindly wait.'
'That I will do with pleasure, my little girl, and you and Fred can go and find out mamma, and Mabel, and Julia, and Gertrude, and Willie, for I can hear them all making a noise; this news about Aunt Irene has caused a great commotion in the house,' said Mr. Ellis.
Away ran Clara and Freddy, to find, as papa had said, a glad and rather noisy company in mamma's room. The invalid herself seeming evidently better for this piece of joyous excitement.
We may well believe that the noise was not lessened in the room by the advent of Clara and Freddy; the latter having, since his departure from home, and the good accounts received of him from Aunt Mary, become somewhat of a hero in the estimation of the little people and even of his sisters. But here are other visitors, Aunt Mary and Mr. Ellis appear upon the scene, and they both stand for a moment in silent astonishment at the uproar that is made.
'Well,' said Aunt Mary, after a moment's pause, 'this is not much like the chamber of an invalid; and yet you look wonderfully bright, my dear Ada,' she said to her sister, putting her arms round and kissing Mrs. Ellis, who was already up, and seated in her arm-chair.
'Oh, I am so much better, dear Mary; Irene's letter has acted like a cordial to me this morning; of course you have received one from her?' said Mrs. Ellis.
'Yes; and I have also had one from our friend Mrs. Maitland, which, as it requires advice and consideration, will also require a little peace and quietness, so we had better dismiss the joyous young party; they can finish off, and talk over pleasant affairs, in the nursery. What do you say to this, my dears?' inquired Aunt Mary.
'We all say yes, yes, aunt!' replied Mabel, catching up Willie, and making a speedy exit, followed by the whole troop of rejoicing spirits, who were not at all sorry to leave grave discussions to their seniors.
'And now,' said Miss Livesay, after the young tribe had left the room, 'let us proceed to business. I have had a letter this morning from our friends the Maitlands, and in it, a request from Mr. Maitland to you, dear brother, to help him in the letting of his house, as they do not intend to return.'
'Oh, how I wish we could take the Laurels, Arthur!' said Mrs. Ellis, eagerly; 'it would be so delightful to be near dear Mary; the thought almost makes me well, I declare,' she continued, as the colour mounted to her pale cheeks.
'It was the very idea that entered my head when I read the letter,' said Miss Livesay. 'I do think, dear Ada, that such a change of air and scene would be very beneficial to you; but, of course, it will require consideration, which, I know, your husband will give it.'
'I don't think that we should find any difficulty in letting this house,' observed Mr. Ellis; 'and I assure you, I am as anxious for a change as my wife is; though the distance from my office will be greater, I should not mind that; I think we should all be greatly benefited in health. I will myself write to Mr. Maitland this very day, and run the risk of letting our own house, rather than lose such a golden opportunity.'
My young readers, I dare say, know nothing about the troubles of a removal; I do, and I am not at all disposed to inflict details on them. All I have to say on the subject is, that matters were so speedily and amicably arranged, that the Laurels or Laurel Villa, received its new occupants before the month of November had commenced, and that so great an improvement had taken place in the health of Mrs. Ellis, as made the doctor, aye, and Aunt Mary too, suspect that the nerves had received a great deal too much consideration, and that henceforth they were not to claim more than their due share. We may imagine how busy Mabel, and Clara, and Julia, and even Freddy had been; and, oh! what a comfort it was to all parties, that now, neither Laurel Villa, nor Oak Villa, would receive ill-conditioned men, women, or children, for did not the kind and benevolent fairy preside over both houses?
Yes, she did; and I am bound to say that there was no opposition, for Aunt Mary's ways and doings had worked such wonders as disinterested love alone can work, and her heart was filled with joy and thankfulness at the success achieved.
Captain Gordon and Aunt Irene did not arrive in England so soon as had been expected, but they put in an appearance before Christmas, and were quite delighted with the change that had been made; and, oh! what a joyous party helped to make the splendid wreath for the decoration of Mr. Norton's church, at Christmas time; plenty of laurels, we know, they had close at hand, so that though there were other kind workers in this delightful employ, I think we may say that none excelled in design or quantity the productions of the two villas.
Our former friend, Harry Maitland, was on a visit to Mr. Newlove, and not a day passed during the Christmas week in which there was not an interchange of visits with the young people; and when on Christmas Day they all assembled at church, I don't think there could have been in England a happier or more thankful family party than that which came from the intertwined Oak and Laurel!
'Order is Heaven's first law!'
But Love is the elastic, all-embracing band, which, wreathed with amaranthine flowers, endures when time shall be no more!
* * * * *
BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
The Story of a Mouse. The Story of a Cat. The Village School. The Story of a Penny. Our Poor Neighbours. The Three Sisters. Ellen and Frank. The Twin Brothers. Lilian Seacroft.
BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS AND ELECTROTYPERS, GUILDFORD.