"Well, but how can that be, Papa?" said Harry. "Has it ever been proved?"
"Oh! yes, my boy; and in no way more simply than by the very people who dug this trench. What did they often do with their dead, Harry?"
"Why, buried them, didn't they?" said Harry. "Oh! no, I know; they used to make a great wicker idol, and put them in and burn them."
"Why, those were the Ancient Britons, who used to do that with their prisoners," said Fred.
"Oh, ah; so it was," said Harry; "I forgot."
"Why, they used to burn them; didn't they, Papa?" said Philip.
"To be sure they did," said his father. "And what were their urns for?"
"Oh! I don't know," said Harry, "if it wasn't to make tea with."
"For shame, Hal," said Mr Inglis, good-humouredly. "Why, the ashes of the dead were collected and preserved in these cinereal urns; and what are ashes but earthy salts? Of course, in the process of burning, the water would be entirely driven off. But, look, Fred has turned up another coin."
For want of more effective tools than walking-sticks, the search for relics was not very successful. Fred found another coin, and Mr Inglis turned out two more; but nothing else was discovered, though it was evident that a protracted search would lead to the discovery of perhaps many curious antiquities; for Mr Inglis said that this had been a very important station in the time of the Roman occupation of Britain; and he regretted that the owner of that property was not a person who took an interest in such matters.
Mr Inglis tried very hard to raise one of the skulls; but although the one that had been in the most perfect state at first seemed hard enough to roll down the slope, yet, upon being touched, it seemed to be nothing else but earth.
At last the signal for starting was given, and, laden with treasures, the little party slowly moved homeward. The walk was lovely, for the sun was sinking behind them, so that the whole landscape and the far-off sea were flooded with the golden light. The heat of the day, too, was passed, and for the most part they walked home in the pleasant shade of the trees, while, one by one, as the golden sunset paled, the moths and bats came out; the night-jar took his hawking flight round the trees; the beetles boomed and whirred; and just as they left the wood, as if to say farewell, an owl cried out, "Tu—whoo—oo!" and then was perfectly silent again. The evening now seemed so cool and fresh that the boys forgot their fatigue, and kept on chatting and planning for future excursions till they reached the gates of the Grange, just as the sun ceased to gild the weathercock at the top of the church spire.
"Now, boys, be quick," said Mr Inglis, "for I'm sure we all want tea after such a walk as we have had; so hurry, hurry, and come down again quickly; and after tea we will see whether we can find out to what period the coins belong."
If ever Mr Inglis was quickly obeyed it was upon this occasion, and, as to making a meal, I think no boys ever could—but, there—it is not fair to talk about it, for anybody would have felt hungry after such a ramble through the woods and over the hills. But at last the meal was ended, and Mr Inglis brought out his coins, and one or two books of reference. His first movement was to try and clean off the rust of about fifteen centuries—which time must have elapsed since they were last employed as "current money of the merchant:" but the efforts were not very successful, neither were the attempts at deciphering the inscriptions, which were very faint and illegible; so he gave up the task for that evening; for, if the truth must be told, Mr Inglis was, like the boys, very tired, and not much disposed for study. As to Harry, he expressed an opinion to his cousin in a very low tone, that the Romans were all bother, and so was their language. But, by way of excuse, it must be said that Harry was very tired; and when people are very tired, they often say very cross and very stupid things; and this must have been the case at this particular moment, or Harry would never have made such a remark to his cousin Fred.
Mr Inglis afterwards had a long correspondence with the owner of the property, relative to the advisability of making excavations in the old intrenchment; but nothing satisfactory came of it, for there did not seem to be any disposition to grant Mr Inglis's request; and, therefore, the place remained unexamined.
The next morning the boys had their regular run in the garden before breakfast, and then Harry divulged the plan of their morning's amusement—for the next day was to be devoted to fishing at Lord Copsedale's lake, when they hoped to persuade Mr Inglis to accompany them; the present day, which was first chosen, not being considered suitable, as Mr Inglis was going from home. Directly after breakfast, they set about the first part of Harry's plan, which was to get all the baits and tackle ready for the next day—a most business-like proceeding, but quite in opposition to Harry and Philip's general habit, for they in most cases left their preparations to the last moment. But not so now, for, as I said before, they wanted Papa to accompany them, and they well knew that he would not go unless there were plenty of good baits, and the tackle all in order. The first thing to be done seemed to be to get some good worms from down by the cucumber-frames, and then put them in some cool damp moss; but Philip opposed this, and showed some little degree of foresight, for, said he—
"We have never had the wasps' nest out of the tree yet; and we shall want the grubs, for Papa likes them for the trout and chub, and we shall want old Sam to split the tree up with his big wedges; while, if we go poking about round the cucumber-frames first, he'll turn grumpy, and won't split the old willow-tree for us."
"That's right, Phil, so let's go and get the tree split first; and then we'll turn up the old cucumber bed in fine style," said Harry.
Sam was soon found, but Sam was busy. Sam was weeding the "inguns," and "inguns was more consekens than the nasty wopses." So Sam had to be coaxed and cajoled; but Sam would not be either coaxed or cajoled, for he was very grumpy indeed; and the reason was, that he had had the lawn to mow that morning, and there had been no dew, and the consequence was, the grass, instead of being easy to cut from its crispness and dampness, was very limp and wiry, so that poor Sam had a very hard and unsatisfactory job, and the effect of it all was that he was as limp and wiry as the grass had been. It was of no use to say, "Do, Sam," or "Do, please, Sam," or "That's a good old chap, now," or anything of that kind; for Sam weeded away viciously amongst the onions, and turned a deaf ear to everything; so Harry, the impetuous, was beginning to grow cross too, and to repent that they had not obtained the worms at first, when Sam showed the weak side of his nature, and from that moment he was a conquered man.
"Ugh!" said Sam, straightening himself with a groan, and rubbing his back where it ached, "Ugh! how blazing hot the sun is—always does shine like that when I be weeding. Oh, my back! Oh, dear!" And then Sam groaned, and stooped to his work again, saying, "And nobody never asks nobody to have so much as a drop o' beer."
"I'll fetch you some beer, Sam, if you'll go with us," said Harry.
But Sam didn't want any beer. Oh, no! He could do his work without beer. He never did do more than wet his lips; and so on. But Sam had given up the key of his fortress, and very soon Harry had been up to the house to fetch a jug of foaming, country, home-brewed ale, such as would really refresh the old man in his toil; for the day had set in excessively hot, and bade fair to become worse—if such an expression is not a contradiction. So Harry took the cool jug up to the old man, but "No! he didn't want beer!"
But he did, though he would not own to it, and what was more, he wanted coaxing; and until he was coaxed, Sam growled away as much as ever, and weeded his onions.
"I say, Sam," said Harry, with a knowing grin upon his countenance, and pushing the jug just under the old man's nose, "I say, how good it smells!"
Sam couldn't help it, he got a good whiff of the foaming ale in his nostrils, and he surrendered, sighed, and stretched out his hand for the jug, and then took such a hearty draught, that it seemed as though he never wanted to breathe again.
"Ha-a-a-a," said Sam at last, with a comical look at Harry.
"Shall I fetch you the wedges, Sam?" said Harry.
"Eh?" said Sam.
"Shall I fetch the wedges?" said Harry again.
Sam did not answer for a minute, for his face was buried in the beer jug; but when he took it away again, he gave another sigh, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and then said in a very different tone of voice to the one he had spoken in before—
"Well, I 'spose you may as well."
So the wedges and the great mallet were soon fetched, when they all went off to the fallen willow, which soon gave way to the blows bestowed upon it, and displayed a large hollow containing the papery nest of the wasps.
Fred gazed with astonishment at the curious structure, with its innumerable cells, many of which contained the grubs mentioned in connection with the fishing excursion. The poor wasps were lying dead by the hundred, and were shaken out, brushed into a heap, and then buried by Sam, who seemed to have an idea that, if this latter process were not attended to, they would most probably come to life again. There was no fear of that, however, for the suffocating had been most effectually performed, and not a living wasp was visible.
By means of a little careful cutting, the nest was removed from the hollow tree almost entire, and, without remembering to say "thank you" to old Sam, the boys carried the nest up to the house, and then went in search of their worms. Harry soon fetched a fork, and Philip carried the moss-bag, while Fred, who hardly liked to touch the wriggling, "nasty things," as he called them, looked on.
Now Fred was not much of a student of nature after all, or he would not have called worms "nasty things," but have taken more notice of them as they were turned out of their damp bed, and seen that they were clothed with a skin whose surface reflected colours of prismatic hue, as bright and perfect as those seen upon some pearly shells. He would have seen how wonderfully the worms were constructed for the fulfilment of their apportioned position in the animal kingdom; how, without legs, or the peculiar twist of the snake, they crept swiftly over the ground by means of their many-ringed bodies; and also learned that, by their constant tunnelling of the ground, they prevented the water that sank from the surface from lying stagnant amidst the roots of the trees, and thus rotting them, but enabled it to fertilise larger spaces. Then, too, by their peculiar habit of drawing down dead leaves and straws, and small twigs, how all these rotted beneath the surface, and helped to renew the strength of the earth. Their casts, too, those peculiar little heaps which they throw up at the mouth of their dwellings, formed another source of fertility to the earth, by bringing up from beneath the surface unspent soil, and spreading it upon the top.
However, I must say, that I believe the boys thought of nothing else then, but of getting the finest red worms, and those marked with yellow rings round the body, as being especial favourites with the perch at the great lake.
At last a sufficiency had been obtained and put on one side in a cool place; and now a tin box with a pierced lid was brought out half filled with sand, and the boys started off to the village butcher's, to get some gentles or maggots. This time they did not choose the path by Water Lane, as on the morning when they went to buy the new water-bottle, but strolled round by the road, talking earnestly of the sports of the following day. Fred listened very attentively as they trudged along, and rather strange were the ideas he had stored up respecting the big lake by the time they reached the butcher's; it contained fish of wonderful size—monsters, which always lay snugly at the bottom of deep holes beneath overhanging trees—such profoundly deep holes! and when, by a wonderful chance, one of these enormous fellows was hooked, down he went to the bottom and struck his tail into the mud, so that it was impossible to draw him out, and then of course the line broke.
"Ah," Harry said, "there were wonderful fish in that great clear-watered lake, with its bright gurgling stream, that came dashing down from the hills, and entered one end to leave it at the other in a cascade, that went plashing down the mossy stones, and along in a chain of streamlets and pools through the dark recesses of the wood, till it joined the river half a mile below. There never could have been such beautiful golden-scaled carp anywhere else, nor such finely-marked perch; while, as for eels, they were enormous. The pike, too, were said to be so large and so tame, that they would come to the side to be fed, and therefore would have been easy to capture; but his lordship forbade any one pike-fishing in his lake, this being a luxury he retained for himself, except on special occasions, when he invited a friend to join him."
By listening to such a glowing account of the place, Fred's mind grew so excited that he would have liked to have started at once for the lake, and feasted his eyes upon the wonders; but the butcher's was now reached, and the fat dame in the shop having been told of the cause of their visit, "Willum," the boy, was called, who armed himself with a skewer, and then took the lads to a vile-smelling shed, where lay a heap of sheepskins and a bullock's hide, and from the insides of these, and, by poking out from amongst tendons of an old shin bone, the little tin box was soon filled with the great, fat, white maggots, the end of whose life, the beginning, and the middle, and all the rest of it, seemed to be to keep continually in motion with one incessant wriggle. The boy was recompensed with twopence, which he acknowledged by a tug at his greasy hair with his dirty fingers; and then a visit was paid to the shop, where Harry bought a sixpenny ball of twine, and three sheets of white and blue tea paper for some particular purpose, which Philip seemed to be alive to, but which they would not reveal to their cousin until they returned home.
Only one more visit had to be paid, and that was to a pretty whitewashed and thatched cottage, standing in its little garden, which teemed with fruit and flowers,—bright crimson Prince of Wales's feathers, cockscombs, stocks, wallflowers, and roses; while gooseberries and currants were bending the trees down to the earth with the weight heaped upon the boughs. The window of this cottage was decorated with about half a dozen glass jars, wherein reposed, in all their sticky richness, the toffee, lemon stick, and candy which old Mrs Birch used to make for the delectation of the boys and girls round. She had no brilliantly-coloured sweets; no sticks veined with blue, green, yellow, and red upon pure white ground; no crystallised drops, or those of clear rose-colour, for all her "suckers," as they were called in the neighbourhood, were home-made, and she used to show all her customers the golden bright brass pan which hung upon the wall by the fire, as the one in which all her succulent sweets were made. And where indeed were there such others? Even town-bred Fred, who had feasted on Parisian bonbons, and made himself ill by eating strange fruits off Christmas-trees, owned to the purity and delectability of old Mrs Birch's "butterscotch;" while, as to the brown lemon stick, it was beyond praise. Capital customers were the boys to the dame, who was a wonderful business-like old body in her spotted blue print dress, and clean white muslin handkerchief pinned tightly over her neck; and she told the boys in confidence what a wonderfully extended trade she might do if she gave credit; but how determined she was never to carry on business except upon ready-money principles; which had been her intention ever since William, the butcher's boy, ran up a score of tenpence three-farthings,—a score that had never been paid to that day, and, what was more, the old lady expected that it never would be.
The boys then returned in a state of cloyey stickiness, and very soon finished their preparations for the following day; and at last, by dint of coaxing, Philip persuaded Cook to make a little paste; Harry borrowed the housemaid's scissors, and then obtained from the tool-shed a couple of straight laths. These he fashioned to his required size, and then, by means of a piece of waxed twine, securely bound one to the other in the form of a Latin cross, the upright limb being about eight inches longer than the others. These were now kept in their places by a tightly-tied string passing from one extremity to the other of the limbs of the cross; and then by means of a loop of string the whole was balanced, and found to be equal in weight as far as the two side limbs of the cross were concerned.
"Why, you are going to make a kite," said Fred.
"To be sure we are," said Harry.
"But the top ought to be round, and not made like that. That won't be half a kite."
"Won't it?" said Harry: "it will be more than that, for it will be a whole one."
"But it won't fly," said Fred.
"Fly!" said Philip. "It will fly twice as well as your stupid London-made kites; you see if it don't."
Harry was not a bit disturbed by his cousin's criticism, but continued his job to the end, pasting away in the most spirited manner, till he had made a very respectable-looking kite, half blue and half white, which he then stood on one side to dry, just as the dinner-bell rang.
Directly after dinner the boys set to work to make a tail for the kite, and also fitted it with wings—Fred being employed meanwhile in winding the string off the ball on to a stick, and joining any pieces that might exist, in case of an accident when the kite was up, as it would have been no joke for it to have broken loose. But Fred was not very well up in his task, and somehow or other made a perfect Laocoon of himself with the string, and got at last into a regular tangle, so that fully half an hour was taken up in endeavours to get it right again, which was only done at last with a knife, and at the expense of many yards of string.
At length all was in readiness, and away they went into the fields to fly the machine that had taken so much time to manufacture.
"Now, I shall get it up," said Harry, "because I made it; so you go and hold up down at the bottom of the field."
Away went Philip with the kite, Harry unwinding the string as he went; when they found out that they had got to the wrong way of the wind, and must change places. This was at length done, and then, when all was ready—
"Now then," cried Harry, starting off to run, but Philip held the kite too tightly, and the consequence was the sudden check snapped the string, and down went the kite again upon the grass. The string was tied, and a fresh trial made, and this time with rather better success, for up went the kite at a great rate for thirty or forty yards, when over it tipped, and came down head first, with what Philip termed a "great pitch," to the ground.
"She wants more tail," said Harry; so, by way of balance, two pocket handkerchiefs were tied to the end of the paper tail, and another attempt was made, but still without success, for on starting again, although the kite ascended capitally, yet when a little way in the air, Harry turned round to loosen out more string as he went, and running backwards, went down head over heels upon the grass, let go of the string, and away went the kite in a similar way to Harry, but with the stick of string bobbing along the ground, and every now and then checking the kite by catching in the grassy strands.
Philip and Fred tried hard to cut it off and catch it, but it was of no use, for before they reached the string the kite had lodged in the cedar, and was ignominiously napping about as it hung by its tail.
"Now, there's a bore," said Harry, coming up, puffing and panting; "we shan't get it down without a ladder."
"Pull the string and try," said Philip.
Harry did as his brother said, and pulled, and pulled, and at last set the kite at liberty, but with the loss of half its tail, which hung in the tree, with the two pocket handkerchiefs fluttering about.
"Why, I can climb up and get that," said Harry, "I know."
"Well, why don't you try?" said Fred; for he had lost much of the nervous feeling which used to affect him when anything of this kind was in progress.
"He can't get it," said Philip. "He couldn't get the sparrow's nest."
But Harry stripped off his jacket, and, by means of a lift from Fred, got upon one of the great horizontal boughs, and soon contrived to reach the one to which the kite tail was fluttering. But Harry was at the thick end, by the tree trunk, and the tail was twenty feet further off, at the thin end; and, as those who have tested the wood in their lead pencils well know, cedar is very brittle. Now, Harry was no coward, but he knew that he would be laughed at if he did not succeed, so, in spite of the danger, he prepared to creep along the branch, a very awkward thing to do from the numbers of small projecting twigs, and the prickly nature of the spiny leaves. Still he persevered, and crept along a foot at a time, and nearer and nearer to the kite tail, till at last the branch began to bend terribly, bringing his feet almost in contact with the bough below him. Still he went on, and stretching forth his hand snapped off the twig which held the kite tail, and threw it down.
"Snip—snap—crish—crash—hurry—rustle—bump—bump—Bump!" went a noise; and, in less time than it takes to tell it, down came Harry, fully twenty feet, on to the grass at his brother's and cousin's feet, where he remained, looking very white, frightened, and confused; when all at once he got up, and making a wry face, said—
"There, I told you I could get it."
Poor Harry! He was much quicker in his descent than ascent, for the branch upon which he sat had snapped in two and let him down from bough to bough of the thickly-limbed tree till he bumped on the last, which was not above five feet from the ground, and at its extremities almost touched. It was a most fortunate thing that he was not injured seriously; but a few bruises and scratches were the full extent of the damages done to his skin, though his trousers and shirt told a very different tale.
"There," said Harry again, rubbing the green off his trousers, "I told you I could get the tail, didn't I?"
His companions both acquiesced in the ability, but did not seem to admire the plan of execution any more than Harry, who walked with a kind of limp, and contented himself with holding the kite up when the repairs were completed, and letting Philip run with the string, which he did so successfully that the kite shot up into the air and seemed to be most evenly balanced, for it rose and rose as the string was slowly let out, till it attained a great height, and then seemed to be quite stationary in that soft and gentle breeze; but all the while pulling hardly at the string as though alive, and desirous to fly away and escape to some far-off region—though its destination would most probably have been the first tree, or, escaping that, the ground some quarter of a mile further on.
The boys sat down in the long grass, and took it in turns to hold the stick, amusing themselves by sending disks of paper up to the kite as messengers,—watching the paper circles as they skimmed lightly along the string. But they were very untrustworthy messengers as a rule, for some of them stopped half, quarter, or three-quarters of the distance up the string, sometimes for a long time, until an extra puff of wind started them again, and, what was worst of all, they none of them brought back any person.
They were sitting down, dreamily watching the kite and the great white silvery clouds floating across the blue sky, looking like mountains in some far-off land; some with snowy peaks, some with deep valleys; but all with a background of that deep clear blue so little noticed by us because so frequently to be seen. All at once came from the field on the right, rising and falling, now apparently close at hand, then as though far-off, a peculiar cry—
"Creek—creek; creek—creek," for about a dozen times, when there was a pause. Then again, the peculiarly harsh creaking cry was heard.
"There's an old meadow-crake," said Harry, who was holding the kite: "let's go and hunt him up; perhaps we could catch it."
"But who's to hold the kite?" said Philip.
"Put the stick in the ground, and leave it," said Harry, at once setting to work to put his project into execution, by thrusting one end of the stick to which the string was tied deeply into a crack in the ground.
"That won't be safe," said Fred, trying the stick.
"Oh yes, it will," said Harry, giving it a stamp on the top with his foot; "come along."
"Creek—creek," sang the landrail or meadow-crake, apparently a quarter of a mile off.
"Come on, boys," said Harry again, running off with a half limp, closely followed by Philip and Fred.
"Creek—creek," said the landrail, far enough down, away from where it had been heard at first.
"There's an old stupid," said Philip; "why, where are you?" he continued.
"Creek—creek; creek—creek," said the landrail again, as though just over the hedge, and not more than twenty yards from them.
"Here's a gap," said Harry, creeping through the hedge; "look sharp; we'll have him."
Philip and Fred crept through, and stood with Harry, looking for the bird they were to catch; but all was silent, except the hum of the insects amidst the hedge flowers.
"Now, there's an artful thing," said Philip.
"Creek—creek; creek—creek," came from the bottom of the field again.
"He's down at the bottom," said Harry, running along by the hedgerow toward the bottom of the field.
"Creck-creck; creek-creek," said the bird again, and away started Philip in the opposite direction.
"Creek—creek; creek—creek," said the bird again, close at hand.
"Why, I shall catch it," said Fred to himself, for he had stayed behind; and now started off into the middle of the field in quest of the mysterious stranger.
"Creek—creek; creek—creek; creek—creek," cried the bird, apparently here, there, and everywhere, but always invisible; and up and down, and round and round, ran the boys, until they all stood together at last, wiping the perspiration from their faces, and fanning themselves with their caps; while the provoking "Creek-creek" kept on as bad as ever for a while, and then all at once stopped; and, though they waited and listened attentively for a long while, not another sound could they hear.
"Ain't it funny," said Philip, "that you never can tell where those things are?"
"I think they must run very fast through the grass, so as to keep seeming to be in different places," said Harry.
"Perhaps there's more than one," said Fred; "and they keep calling to one another."
"Ah! perhaps there may be; but I think there's only one. Did you ever read the 'Boys' Country Book,' Fred? It's the jolliest book that was ever written, ever so much better than 'Sandford and Merton.' There's a bit in it about some boys playing truant from school, and they go hunting after a corncrake, as they call it there, and get into no end of trouble, and jump over a hedge into a garden, and break the glass, and get taken before a magistrate. Oh! I did like that book so. Phil and I always have had a hunt after the corncrakes since we read that; but we don't get taken before the magistrates for it."
The lads now returned towards their play-field to let the kite down, for it was growing towards tea-time; but they walked along, very slowly, for they were hot and tired with their exertions. They were walking along by the hedge-side, when something took Harry's attention, and made him leap over the great bed of nettles, which rose from the ditch, to the further bank.
"Look here, boys," he shouted; "here's a jolly nest, full of eggs; only look."
The others were at his side in a moment, and, sure enough, Harry had found a nest in the bottom of the hedge worth finding, for it was the nest of one of the hens, which had been laying astray till there were fifteen eggs collected together, from which the old truant no doubt meant to have a fine brood of chickens; and perhaps would have done so but for Harry's discovery.
The eggs were put in Fred's handkerchief, for Harry's and Philip's were left a hundred yards high in the air, when they went in chase of the meadow-crake; and then they went across the field to where the kite stick was left. They were at first too intent upon the eggs,—which they counted three or four times over,—to think of the kite; but when they did, and came to look, the stick was gone; the string was gone; The Kite Was Gone! There was no mistake about it; and though, as a matter of course, if the stick went, the string and kite must go too, yet the boys seemed to make the discovery in the above order, and thus have I recorded the facts.
"It's blown away," said Fred; "let's go and find it;" and off he started in the teeth of the wind.
"What's the good of that?" said Philip, shouting after his cousin; "it will be this way."
Fred returned as hard as he could; and off the boys started in, as nearly as possible, a line with the direction in which they left the kite flying. Every now and then they had to make a deviation, but still they persevered, looking into every garden, peering into every tree, till they were about a mile from home. Nobody had seen the kite, nor yet heard of it; so nothing remained but to trudge wearily back—hot, fagged, and low-spirited, for, as Fred said, "It was such a beauty!"
"And then there were our two little white silk handkerchiefs," said Philip.
"And all that great ball of string," said Harry.
And then they trudged on again in silence.
"Oh! do carry these eggs a bit, somebody," said Fred; "they are so heavy."
But they were not so heavy as they were at first, for Fred had managed to give them a rap up against something, and broken two or three,—the rich yolks having filtered through the handkerchief, and left only the shells behind.
"Yah!" said Harry, as he took hold of the handkerchief, and placed one hand underneath to steady it while he got fast hold. "Yah! how nasty," he said, holding up his sticky hand, and then rubbing it upon the grass.
In spite of the disappointment they had just met with, they all laughed heartily at Harry and the broken eggs, and soon after turned into the gate, and went in at the side-door—hurrying in, for it was past tea-time; when the boys stared, for the first thing that met their gaze upon entering the hall was the blue and white kite, with the ball of string neatly wound up, and the tail arranged carefully from top to bottom, and all leaning up against the wall as though it had never been used. The cheer the boys gave at the discovery brought out Mr and Mrs Inglis, when it came out that the Squire had strolled into the field to speak to the boys, and found the kite flying itself, with the breeze rather on the increase; and not seeing anybody, and at the same time thinking the kite might break loose, he had wound it in, and taken it with him to the house. As may be supposed, the tired and dispirited feeling that oppressed the boys left them in a moment; and then they displayed the riches of the nest they had found in the bottom of the hedge, of course making exception of the three eggs Master Fred had demolished during their search for the kite.
A DAY'S FISHING AT THE LAKE.
Somehow or another nearly all my chapters begin with what the boys were doing in the early morning; and, after all, I do not know that I could begin them at a better time, for really and truly these chapters were begun early in the bright summer mornings, when the dew was sparkling on the grass, and all the birds warbling away as though they had a certain amount of singing to do, and wanted to have it finished before the heat of the day set in. And now on this particular morning, which, for a summer morn, is all that can be desired—I mean the morning that I am about to describe, not this one upon which I am writing—up jumped Harry, and, as though in dread of some trick being played, up, almost simultaneously, sprang Philip and Fred; had a good souse in their cold water basins; and, having hastily dressed, ran down to see that everything was ready for the projected fishing trip.
There the things were: rods, lines, hooks, winches, landing-net, baits, ground-bait; in short, everything, from the basket that was to hold the fish, down to the tiny hook that was to catch them.
Breakfast finished, the dog-cart was brought round to the door and soon packed with tackle, baits, and baskets; for beside the fish-basket, there was another one that seemed to go by the rules of contrary, for whereas the fish-basket went out empty and came back, or ought rather to have come back, full,—this other basket invariably went out fall, and as invariably came back empty. There were no half measures about it, for it always came back according to the same rule. But then it was not a fish-basket; I don't think it ever did have fish in but once, and then the fish was pickled—pickled salmon. But it was a capital basket, a regular cornucopia of a basket, and used to disclose when opened such treasures as would have gratified any hungry person; and as for the scent that it exhaled, why the very flies from far enough used to come buzz-buzzing about, so ravished were they by the rich odour.
Harry brought the basket out to put in the cart, and he gave such a satisfied grin as he did so, and smelt at one corner of the lid, smacking his lips afterwards with quite a hungry sound, as though he had not just had a regular hearty breakfast, and left off eating last of everybody at the table. But I have said before that Harry was a terrible trencherman; and I almost wonder that the school authorities where he went did not insist upon a higher rate of pay for him.
Mr Inglis took the reins and mounted to his seat, and the boys to theirs. "Good-byes" were waved to Mrs Inglis in the porch, and then away started the horse, with such a vigorous leap, that the two boys, Harry and Fred, who were behind, nearly rolled out of their places, and only held on by grasping the iron side-rail pretty tightly.
What a delightful affair a country ride is on a bright morning before the sun has attained to sufficient height to render his beams oppressive! There's a soft breeze plays upon the cheek, and rustles through the hair; the distant view looks more beautiful than later in the day, for the shades are deeper, and there is generally a soft haze lingering by the wood-side, where the sun has not yet driven it away; soft and shady look the great horse-chestnut trees, although the blossom-spikes have given way to little prickly seed-vessels, but the great fingered fronds droop gracefully towards the ground, and form one of the thickest of leafy shades. At this hour the sun has not drunk up all the dew-drops, and bright they look wherever they hang in little pearly rows, reflecting the sun in the most dazzling of colours; and yet how often we pass all these, and hundreds of other beauties of the country, either unnoticing or merely regarding the way in which they blend into one beautiful whole.
Mr Inglis had been persuaded into making one of the party, and delighted the boys were with the success of their coaxing, each being ready to take the credit of the success to himself: though the real cause of Mr Inglis's agreeing to accompany them was that he thought they would be better taken care of, and less likely to get into any scrape.
The wheels spun round merrily, and all congratulated themselves upon the glorious day they had for their excursion, a day that lent its brightness to everything, and would, no doubt, have sent the party home quite happy if not a fish had been caught. It was a pretty drive, between waving cornfields and oak-groves, and over a golden furzy common, where Harry had to jump down and hold a gate open for the car to pass through, and again on the far side; and then down in a valley where a rivulet crossed the road, at the sight of which the horse pretended to be dreadfully alarmed, and capered and frisked about as much as to say he dared not wet his feet, nor attempt to cross; until Mr Inglis was reduced to one of two expedients,—to get down and lead the horse across, or to give him a little wholesome punishment with the whip. Now bright sparkling water is delightful and cool in the summer-time, but, as the pleasure is lost when the feet are bathed with boots and trousers on, Mr Inglis gave up all idea of walking through the water, so he gathered up the reins, and taking the whip, which had stuck unused by his side, gave Mr Obstinate a sharp cut, when away he darted to one side of the road, and expressed himself by his actions as ready to leap over the hedge. But this was not required, so he was backed, and another smart application of the whip administered, when away he darted to the other side, and even placed his forefeet upon the bank; but now Mr Inglis took him regularly in hand, and, turning round, trotted him back for a hundred yards, and then, tightening the reins, drove straight at the rivulet, which was only a few inches deep. But it was of no use, for the stupid thing had evidently taken it into its head that it must be drowned if the stream were forded; so, stopping short, it stood up on its hind legs and began to beat the air with its fore feet as though dancing. A smart crack from the whip brought the tiresome animal down again upon all-fours, and, reluctant as the driver was to punish the poor brute, he now found that it was absolutely necessary, and sharply and vigorously applied the lash to its sides.
For a minute or so the question seemed to be—"Who shall be master?" and then the horse gave in, as much as to say, "Oh! don't; it hurts," and, starting forward, gave a leap that cleared the dreadful stream, and nearly upset the dog-cart into the bargain; and then, as though fearfully alarmed at what it had left behind, the horse tried hard to break into a gallop to get away as fast as possible; but a strong hand was at the reins, and very soon old Tom settled down again into an easy trot, although dreadfully ruffled in his nerves by the late dread adventure.
And now Harry had to get down again to open another gate, which he did before they saw that a woman was coming out of a pretty lodge just inside, and then, for a quarter of a mile, they drove through a fine avenue of shady trees, to look down which seemed to be like peering through a long leafy green tunnel, at the end of which could be seen portions of the noble castellated mansion of Lord Copsedale, built in imitation of the feudal homes of former days, but with a greater attention to comfort and the admission of light and air.
Mr Inglis drove into the large court, and, leaving the horse with one of the stablemen, the party strolled down past the great walled garden and the quaint parterre, past the head of the lake, where the water rushed bubbling and foaming in, and where they could see the roach lying by hundreds; and then along by the green edge of the lake to where, in a semicircular sweep, a well-kept piece of lawn-like turf, backed up with a mighty hedge of evergreens, formed about as delightfully retired a spot as could be found anywhere for a fishing-party to make their resting-place, and dip their lines in the deep water,—here and there overshadowed with trees, down beneath whose roots, in the great holes, the finest fish were said to lie. The water looked in beautiful condition for fishing, not being too clear; and pushing about amidst the lilies and great water weeds that occupied the surface, in many places could be seen great chub and carp, snapping every now and then at the flies, but in a lazy, half-hungry sort of manner.
The spots Mr Inglis chose for fishing were three, reserving one for himself, and all these were well clear of weeds, and at a few yards' distance the one from the other, so as to insure quiet,—about the greatest requisite for making a basket of fish; for the finny denizens of the water seem to be as keenly alive to strange sounds as they are to strange sights, and the unlucky youngster who laughs, and talks, and shows himself freely upon the bank of the place where he is fishing, may fully expect that the fish near him will all be on the move, and seek for quiet lodgings in some other part of the pond, lake, or river. They don't seem to mind seeing one of their relations hooked, and then dart frantically about in all directions, as though seized with a mad exploring fit, till, panting and tired out, he is dragged to the side and landed. They do not seem to mind this, for they will follow the example of the hooked fish, and eagerly take the bait one after another, until, perhaps, the greater part of a shoal is captured; but the angler must be upon his guard, and mind that the wary fish do not catch sight of him.
And now rods and lines were fitted together; hooks baited; ground-bait lightly thrown in, and the business of the day commenced; though, for my part, I could have wished for no pleasanter business than to have sat in the shade watching the fish and water insects darting about in the lake, and the myriads of insects in the air, to whom the lake seemed to possess so great an attraction that they kept falling in, and every now and then were captured by some hungry fish. I could, I say, have wished for no pleasanter business than watching all this, and the flecked clouds far up in the sky, so fine and soft, that they seemed almost melting away into the delicate blue above them. But there was other business for the visitors, for the fish fed well that day, and roach and carp of small size were freely landed. This was not all that was wanted, however, for the desire of the anglers was to hook one of the great carp that every now and then kept springing almost out of the water, far out in the middle of the lake, and making a splash that of itself alone whispered of pounds weight. But, no; the old fellows would not be caught,—they left that to the younger branches of their family, who fell in tolerable numbers into the basket brought from Hollowdell.
All at once Fred called out that he had caught a big one, and, from the way his rod bent, this was evidently the case—the fish seeming to be making determined efforts to perform the feat described by Harry and Philip—namely, that of sticking his tail into the mud and there anchoring himself. Mr Inglis and the boys came up to lend him assistance, when his uncle smiled, for he knew what it was that Fred had hooked.
"Isn't it a big one, Papa?" said Harry; "look how he pulls."
"Don't I wish I had him," said Philip.
"Land it, Fred," said Mr Inglis; "and mind it does not tangle your line,—pull away."
Fred did as his uncle told him, and pulled away, so that he soon had twisting upon the grass a very tolerably sized eel, writhing and twining and running in beneath the strands; slipping through the hands that tried to grasp it; and seeming quite as much at home on land as in the muddy water at the bottom of the pond. As for Fred, he stood aloof holding his rod, and leaving all the catching to his cousins; the snaky eel presenting no temptation to him—in fact, he felt rather afraid of the slimy wide-mouthed monster.
At last the eel was freed from the hook, and lay quietly coiled round the bottom of the basket, turning several small fish out of their places, and making a considerable hubbub amongst the occupants of the wicker prison, the excitement being principally displayed by flappings of tails and short spring-back leaps.
All this time Mr Inglis was quietly landing a good many fish, most of which were very fair-sized roach, with an occasional perch; but, soon after Fred's exploit with the eel, he called gently to Harry for the landing-net, and this summons caused the other members of the party to come up as well, when they saw that Mr Inglis had evidently hooked a large fish, and was playing him—many yards of his running line being taken out. The fish, however, seemed to be rather sluggish in its movements, keeping low down as though seeking the bottom; upon which Fred declared it was a great eel. But it was no eel, though a mud-loving fish, as was shown when he became ready for the landing-net, Harry deftly placing it beneath the fish's slimy side, and lifting it upon the grass.—And now its golden sides glittered in the sun as it lay upon the bright green daisy-sprinkled bank, in all the glory, as a fisherman would term it, of a noble tench of nearly four pounds' weight—a great slimy fellow, with tiny golden scales and dark olive-green back, huge thick leathery fins, and a mouth that looked as though the great fish had lived upon pap all its lifetime. He had been a cowardly fish in the water, and yielded himself up a prisoner with very little struggling—nothing like that displayed by a perch about a quarter his size, which Mr Inglis next hooked and played, and then lost through its darting into a bed of strong weeds and entangling the line, so that the heavy clearing ring sent down towards the hook proved inadequate to the task of releasing it, and the line broke, and the fish escaped with at least a yard of shotted silkworm gut hanging to the hook.
Fred was very fortunate, for he, sitting quietly beneath a tree, caught two or three very nice carp, independently of about a dozen roach and perch; while Harry, the impetuous, first on one side, then on another, caught scarcely anything, and would have hindered his brother and cousin from the success which rewarded their patience, if Mr Inglis had not kept to a rule which he made, that no one angler should fish close to another; for Master Hal, directly a fish was caught on either side immediately concluded that where the fish was caught would be a better place for him, and accordingly began to trespass.
All at once, just as Philip had hooked a perch and was drawing it to shore, there was a mighty rush through the water, and something seized the fish and began sailing with it backwards and forwards, bending Philip's light rod nearly double, for he had no running tackle, and only a thin line.
"Papa! Papa!" shouted Harry, "look here; Phil has such a bite!"
Mr Inglis came up to see what sort of a bite it was that Philip had, and at once perceived that a good-sized pike had taken his prize, and was holding on fast, as though he did not intend to let go, although there was a pretty good strain kept up by Philip. Of course, capturing the pike would have been out of the question with Philip's light tackle, even if it were not forbidden; so there was nothing left for it but to wait and see if the pike would leave the perch, for Philip did not feel disposed to give his fish up if he could help it, for it was what Harry called a regular robbery; so, for three or four minutes, it was—pull pike—pull Philip,—till at last, quite in disgust, the pike let go, gave one swoop with his tail, and was gone.
Philip then landed his perch, which seemed quite dead, and a piece was bitten completely out of its side.
"What a savage!" said Philip; "only look what a bite he has taken out of my poor fish! Don't I wish I could have caught him!"
"Ah, Philip," said his father, "you did not expect to have hold of such a fish as that; but it is not at all an unusual incident, for the pike is a most ravenous fellow, and will take anything that comes in his way. On one occasion I caught a small pike with a piece of paste, and another with a worm,—both very unusual baits for there to take, as their prey is small fish, while most people are of opinion that they will not touch perch on account of their sharp back fin; but we had proof this afternoon that they will. But the most curious thing that I ever knew a pike to take was a leaden plummet, which it seized one day when I was plumbing the depth in a canal previous to bottom fishing, as we have been to-day. As a matter of course I was much surprised, as no doubt the pike was also, when he felt himself hooked, and, after a struggle, I drew him to land. But come, boys, I think it is time to start; so let's be for packing up."
"Oh! Pa," said Harry.
"Oh-h-h-h! Pa-a-a-a," said Philip.
And "Oh-h-h! Uncle," remonstrated Fred.
But Mr Inglis was inexorable, for the afternoon was passing away, and the evening closing in; so the spoils were collected and placed in the basket, when it was found that Fred's eel had disappeared, having crawled out, and, no doubt, wriggled through the grass into the lake again. However, there was a very fair basket of fish to take home; and, when all the tackle had been packed up, and they returned to the yard and placed the things in the dog-cart, the horse was put to, and, freshened with his long rest, he made the wheels spin merrily round, and the dust fly back in a cloud from his heels, as he trotted homeward as fast as he could, well knowing that there was a snug, clean stable waiting for him, and plenty of fresh hay and sweet corn to enjoy after his long journey.
The sport of the day formed a never-tiring theme for conversation during the ride home; every finny captive being exalted into almost the importance of a whale. The only person at all dissatisfied with the day's proceedings was Harry, who rather felt that his want of success was owing to the lack of perseverance. However, he made vows of future attention to everything he attempted, and was drawing a very brightly-coloured plan for the future, when home was reached, and Mrs Inglis seen waiting in the porch to view the fruits of their day's angling.
OLD SAM'S TROUBLES.—A SAD STORY.
"Now, I don't care whether you gets punished or not; but I means to tell master, for you all oughter know better, and it ain't right."
"But I tell you we didn't do it, Sam," said Harry.
"Ah! don't tell me; I knows you did. There's footmarks all along from the gap, right across the potato piece, and everybody else will begin to go the same way, and make a regular path of it."
"But we didn't go that way," chorussed the boys.
"Why, what an old stupid it is," said Philip; "he won't believe anything."
Sam's trouble was a trampled track across a newly-enclosed piece of ground, which Mr Inglis had lately purchased near the village, and Sam had planted with potatoes for home consumption. It certainly was annoying, for a ditch had been cut round it, a bank made, and, on the top, a neat little hedge of hawthorn planted; but some idle people were in the habit of jumping across the ditch, trampling down the little hedge, and then making a track right across the corner of the field to the other side, where, in getting out, they trampled the hedge and bank down again, and all just to save themselves a walk of about fifty yards round, where there was a good path. But so it was: the property had lain in dispute for many years, during which time people had cut off the corner, and made themselves a track; and now that it was purchased, and had become private property, it seemed that there were some two or three obstinate, unpleasant people, who would not alter their plans, but took delight in the paltry piece of mischief of destroying what had been so carefully put in order. But Sam had always one complaint string upon which he fiddled or harped; and so sure as anything like mischief was done anywhere, he always declared it was "them boys," who were "always up to suthin, drat 'em." It was so when the walnuts were stolen, and the tree, broken about. Sam was sure it was "them boys," and he went and told his master of Harry and Philip's "capers," as he called them. But Sam was wrong then, as upon many other occasions, and also upon this one, for a sad story hangs to that affair about the walnuts; and I do not think it will be out of place if I go back about a year and nine months, and leave the trampled path for the present, while I take up another.
Mr Inglis had standing in one of his fields, about fifty yards from the lane which led down to the mill, a very fine walnut-tree. The tree was not only fine in size, but noble in appearance, and the walnuts that it bore were of the largest and sweetest grown anywhere for miles round, and Mr Inglis rather prized these nuts, for they kept well, and might be seen upon his dessert-table long after Christmas time.
Now, it so happened that just as the nuts were getting ripe, and the first ones began to fall, breaking their green husk when they touched the ground, and setting the clean pale-brown shell at liberty,—it was just at this time that Sam found out that some one had been up the tree picking the walnuts, for not only were a great number missing, but the ground beneath was strewed with leaves, broken twigs, and walnut husks, with here and there a brown-shelled nut which the plunderer had looked over in his hurry.
No sooner did Sam see the mischief than he hurried off to the house, and bursting breathlessly into the breakfast-room, announced that Masters Harry and Philip had been taking all the walnuts.
Mr Inglis frowned, and told Sam, rather sharply, to knock before entering another time, and then turned to his sons, and asked them if what Sam said was true.
"No, Papa," they both exclaimed indignantly, "we have not touched them."
"Only," said Harry, recollecting himself, "I did throw a stone in the tree yesterday, as we went down the lane, but it didn't knock any down, and I should not have thrown only Phil said I couldn't throw so far."
"Ah! but I'm sure it was them," said Sam.
"Hush! Sam," said Mr Inglis; "and now leave the room. I'll investigate the affair after breakfast."
Sam left the room anything but pleased, for he thought that he ought to have been praised for his energy, and so he told Cook in the kitchen when he went through, and then stopped and told her all about it; when Cook declared it was a shame, and gave Sam a cup of tea to mollify him, for Cook and Mary were just having breakfast. As soon as Sam had closed the door, Mr Inglis turned to his sons, and asked them if they knew anything about the tree, or who was likely to have taken the walnuts; for in this quiet district an act of theft was of such rare occurrence, that it caused great excitement; besides which, Mr Inglis was deservedly so well respected by the poor people round, that, sooner than touch anything belonging to him, they would have formed themselves into special constables to protect his property.
But neither Harry nor Philip could give the slightest information, so the breakfast was finished, and, in the course of the day, Mr Inglis had his suspicions directed towards the scapegrace son of an old woman in the village. This young man had been employed in the neighbouring town, but for a most flagrant act had been tried, and sentenced to five years' penal servitude. He was at this time at home upon what is called a "ticket of leave;" that is, he had a portion of his sentence remitted for good conduct in prison, and he was now in the village. But Mr Inglis was averse to proceed upon suspicion; in fact, he was averse to punishing the culprit at all, even if he brought the theft home to him; and therefore he took no steps in the matter.
Two nights after, a quantity of the walnuts were again stolen; and on Mr Inglis being informed of this new attack upon his crop, he told Sam that he would have them all thrashed on the following day, and place them under lock and key.
"Hum!" said Sam to himself; "and then they'll have a go at the apples. I knows it's them youngsters. Now, then," he said, for Harry and Philip just came up in the midst of the old man's soliloquy, "now, then, where's all them nuts?"
"Get out," said Harry, "we never touched them. But it's no use to tell such an old unbeliever as you are. We didn't touch them; did we, Phil?"
Phil followed his brother's example, and strenuously denied the impeachment; but Sam would not be convinced, and went muttering and grumbling away to his work, while Philip stood with tears in his eyes, for he could not bear the idea of his word being doubted. Harry did not mind it much; but Philip was obliged to go behind the large clump of laurustinus and pull out his handkerchief and blow his nose a great deal, and wipe the eyes that would brim over.
"What's the matter, Philip?" said his father, who had come up unobserved.
Philip could not speak for a moment, for the tears would come faster, and a round sob seemed to stick in his throat, and would not go either up or down. At last, however, he told his father the cause of his tears; and Mr Inglis was very angry, saying that he would not have the honour of his boys doubted, for he had perfect reliance in their word, knowing that they had always been truthful; and therefore he would not have another word said about the walnuts; and the consequence was, that Mr Sam came in for a very sharp reprimand that morning; but, for all that, he looked at the boys the next half-hour, when he met them, as much as to say, "I know you got the walnuts," though he did not say so.
But old Sam was wrong, as was, sad to state, very soon proved; for the next day being very wet, the walnuts were not thrashed, the weather necessitating the nut harvest being deferred for another day.
Upon the following morning, while Mr and Mrs Inglis and their sons were sitting at breakfast, Mr Inglis knit his brows, for old Sam, without studying the lesson upon decorum that his master had given him but a few days before, burst into the breakfast-room again, but this time through the French window opening on the lawn.
"Sam," said Mr Inglis, sternly, "what can—" but he interrupted himself upon seeing that the old man was all in a tremble, and that the perspiration stood in great drops upon his forehead. "Why, what is it, man, speak out!"
But Sam could not speak out, for he was too excited, and though his lips moved no sound came from them. However, he caught his master by the sleeve, drawing him towards the window, and Mr Inglis followed him. Harry and Philip rose from their seats, but Mr Inglis motioned Mrs Inglis and them to keep their places, and closed the window as he went out. Sam led the way down the garden towards the fields, and said something to his master which made him quicken his steps until they reached the great walnut-tree, where, beneath one of the largest boughs, lay the body of a man, with his head turned in a very unnatural position, and one of his arms bent under him.
Upon first looking at the figure, Mr Inglis thought the man was dead; but on touching him he gave a slight groan upon which Sam was despatched for assistance, while his master placed the sufferer in an easier position, during which he moved slightly and groaned again, but remained perfectly insensible. While waiting for the return of Sam, Mr Inglis saw but too plainly the cause of the accident: scattered about upon the grass were walnuts, twigs, and leaves; while tightly clutched in the man's hand was a red cotton handkerchief nearly full of the fruit; and his trousers and jacket pockets were filled as full as they could hold. There was no doubt now as to who was the culprit, but Mr Inglis felt a sinking at the heart as he thought of the severe punishment that had fallen upon the offender, who proved to be none other than the man home with a ticket of leave, but who had not been cured of his dishonest propensity.
Sam soon returned with two or three farming men, who, under the direction of Mr Inglis, lifted a gate off its hinges, and laid the man as gently as they could upon it, and then, one at each corner, bore him out through the open gateway into the lane, and so to the village inn, a boy in the meantime being despatched for the doctor. Mr Inglis would have taken the poor fellow to the Grange, but for the reflection that it would only be a great shock to Mrs Inglis, and the ends of humanity would not in any way be served, for assistance could not be obtained a bit sooner, but rather the reverse.
With some difficulty the man was carried into a room at the inn, and it being found impossible to carry him upstairs, a mattress was brought down, and he was laid upon it. He groaned slightly upon being moved, tenderly as the men handled him, but remained quite still upon the mattress upon being laid there.
He was a fine-looking, sun-browned young fellow, but his face was now disfigured by the fall and contracted with pain; and Mr Inglis could not but feel sad to look upon so pitiable a sight—a fine, hearty young man stricken with death through the act of petty theft of which he had been guilty.
At length the doctor arrived—the same gentleman who had attended poor Fred in his narrow escape from drowning. He made his examination, and found that one arm was broken, and the neck so injured that he shook his head, and whispered to Mr Inglis that the bones were dislocated; and in reply to the inquiry whether there was any hope, he shook his head again. He then did all that was possible in such an extreme case, and sat down in company with Mr Inglis to see if the poor fellow would revive; but they waited in vain, for after about an hour had passed, during which the doctor had watched every change, he suddenly rose up from leaning over the injured man, laid his hand upon Mr Inglis's shoulder, and walked out of the room with him, whispering some words that caused Mr Inglis to sigh, and then to slip a sovereign into the hands of the poor old woman, the mother, who was sobbing upon the settle in the common room of the inn.
The death caused a great stir in the village, and many people said that it was a judgment upon the man for his sin; but Mr Inglis was deeply grieved, and said that he would rather that all the fruit in the garden had been stolen than such an awful punishment should have befallen the man.
And now to return to the beaten path: Sam persisted that it was our young friends, so they went to look at the trampled place, and one and all declared it was a shame.
All at once Harry made a proposition which caused old Sam's mouth to expand into a grin, after which he gave a series of hearty chuckles, and slapping the boy on the shoulder, exclaimed, "Well, it couldn't a been you arter all, Master Harry—(chuckle, chuckle, chuckle)—we'll do it this very night, we will."
What they did that very night will come out in due course.
MR JONES'S MISHAP.
About eleven o'clock the next morning, Mr Inglis was sitting in his study, writing; Mrs Inglis was working at the open window, and occasionally watching the boys, who were amusing themselves upon the lawn, when all at once a knock came at the study-door.
"Come in," said Mr Inglis, and in came Mary, trying to look very serious, but evidently struggling with a laugh which would keep crinkling up the corners of her mouth, although she kept smoothing them out with her apron.
"Well, Mary?" said her mistress.
"If you p-p-please 'M," said Mary, who then stopped short, for something seemed to have got in her throat.
"Mary!" exclaimed Mrs Inglis, severely.
Poor Mary looked as serious directly, as if she were going to lose her situation, and making an effort she began again.
"If you please, 'M, here's Mr— Oh! dear; oh!—hoo—hoo—guggle— guggle—gug—gug—gug; choke—choke; cough—cough," went Mary, burying her face in her apron, and completely losing her breath, and turning almost black in the face with, her efforts to stifle her laughter. "Oh! dear; oh! dear," she said, trying to run out of the room, but Mrs Inglis stopped her, and insisted upon knowing what was the cause of her mirth.
"Oh, 'M, please, 'M, here's Mr Jones come, and wants to see Master; and oh, 'M, please, 'M—he—he—he—he—he—he's in such a mess. Oh! dear; oh! dear; what shall I do!"
"Do," said Mrs Inglis, at last, quite angrily. "Why, go and ask Mr Jones to step in here; or no, tell him to step into the drawing-room."
"Oh, please, 'M, don't," said Mary, serious in a moment. "Please, 'M, don't; he ain't fit, and he'll come off black over everything he comes a-nigh."
"Well, send him here, then," said Mrs Inglis; and away went Mary back into the hall, and directly after she ushered in Mr Jones, who presented such an appearance that both Mr and Mrs Inglis at once excused poor Mary's laughter, for they had hard work to restrain their own mirth.
Mr Jones was a retired exciseman, and of the description of man known as dapper; he was a little, fat, chubby fellow, who dressed very smartly, always wearing white trousers in the summer, and a buff waistcoat, made so as to show as much shirt-front and as little waistcoat as possible. He was a man who always used to labour under, the idea that he looked very fierce, and, to make himself look fiercer, he used to brush his hair all up into a pyramid over the barren place on the top of his head, so that the hair used to form a regular pomatumed spike. But he did not look at all fierce, for his fat round face, dull eyes, and tenchy mouth would not let him; but he used to speak very loudly, and thump his Malacca cane down on the ground, and strut and look as important as many more people do who have not brains enough to teach them their insignificance as parts of creation, or how very little value they are in the world, which could go on just as well without them.
Now, Mr Jones did not like Mr Inglis; he used to say that Mr Inglis was pompous, and purse-proud, and vain; and, what was more, Mr Inglis had given the little man dreadful offence in buying the two-acre field where the potato piece was that used to be so trampled down.
But I have been keeping Mr Jones waiting, for I said, a little way back, that Mary ushered him into the study, and Mr and Mrs Inglis could hardly keep from laughing; for a droll appearance did Mr Jones present as he strutted into the room, with his hat on, but seeing Mrs Inglis there, he took it off, and made a most pompous bow. But he did not look in bowing trim, his face, buff waistcoat, and shirt, presenting a currant-dumpling appearance rather ludicrous to gaze upon, for they were specked and spotted all over; while his white duck trousers, far above his knees, were dyed of a pitchy black hue, and covered with abominably smelling black mud.
"Now, sir," said Mr Jones; "pray, sir, what have you to say to this, sir?"
"Nothing at all, Mr Jones," said Mr Inglis quietly. "But may I inquire why I am favoured with this visit?"
"Favoured, sir? Visit, sir? What the ten thousand furies do you mean, sir? Look at my trousers, sir. Do you see them, sir?"
"Of course I see them," said Mr Inglis, "and I am sorry to see that you have met with so unfortunate an accident; but pray what has it to do with me?"
"To do with you, sir?" shrieked Mr Jones; "why, you laid traps for me, sir; snares and pitfalls, sir; but I'll be recompensed, sir, if there's law in England, sir. I won't stand it, sir. I'll—I'll—I'll—I'll— Confound it, sir; you shall hear from my solicitor, sir."
And then the little man bounced out of the study, banging the door after him; thumped his stick down on the marble floor of the hall at every step, and strode out of the house, and along the gravel-walk, almost beside himself with passion; for he felt convinced that Mr Inglis had been the cause of his mishap. But Mr Inglis was as innocent as his companion, who replied to his interrogative gaze with a look of astonishment so ludicrous that they both laughed long and heartily.
At last Mr Inglis said—"It must be some trick those boys have played. I must find it out, or we shall be having no end of unpleasantness about it." And the Squire leaned back in his chair, and laughed till the tears stood in his eyes.
But all this while Mr Jones was fuming worse than ever, for he had passed old Sam, Philip, Harry and Fred, standing at the gate of the stable-yard, and no sooner did they catch sight of the strange figure advancing towards them, than they rushed off laughing at such a boisterous rate that Mr Jones felt as though he could have strangled them all.
And now it is only fair that the reader should know how it was that Mr Jones had got into such a pickle, for he certainly was in a very nasty mess indeed. Mr Jones, as I said before, had been very much annoyed because Squire Inglis purchased the little corner field; so, from a petty feeling of spite, he always made a point of walking across the corner, kicking down the bank, and treading heavily upon the young quickset plants. Now, of course the example set by such a big little man as Mr Jones, would be sure to find followers; and this was the case here, for many of the boys of the village used to slip across as well. But on the evening previous to what has been above related, old Sam took his tools down with him, and had soon dug out a hole about three feet deep just in the centre of the field, and right in the middle of the track; he then borrowed an old tin pail from a cottage near, and filled the hole full of black mud from a filthy drain ditch, which ran along the backs of some of the cottages in the village street, the smell from which was so bad that Fred and his cousins kept their distance while the hole was being filled.
When the pit was about full, Sam carefully sprinkled it over with the earth he had dug out, till it looked like the surrounding surface, when he levelled the place all round, and made it all so much alike that, to the ineffable delight of the boys, he could hardly tell where the pitfall was exactly, and put one of his own feet in above the ankle. Harry fairly danced with delight, but, seeing that the old man was turning cross, he helped to cover the place again, and then they left the pail at the cottage, and walked back to the Grange. As for the people living close at hand, they were so much accustomed to seeing old Sam working in the field that they took no notice of what he was doing; so there the trap lay, all ready baited for the first man.
Now, it so happened that no one crossed the corner that night, as Sam could readily see when he went down directly after breakfast next morning, for all was just as he left it the night before; but Sam had not gone many yards on his way back, when whom should he meet but Mr Jones, looking very clean and dapper, and most terribly important. He scorned to take any notice of old Sam, but strode on his way till he came to the potato piece, when he deliberately crossed the little dry ditch, trod down the tiny hedge, and then sticking his nose up in the air, as much as to say, "I'll teach old Inglis to stop up old tracks," he stamped along more pompously than ever, while Sam stopped by a turn in the road and watched him with eyes that seemed fascinated, so eagerly did they follow the old excise officer.
"Stamp—stamp," went the pompous little man; and "brog—brog," went his stick in the soft earth. "He'll miss it," said Sam to himself, for Mr Jones had apparently reached the centre of the field, and turned round to look about him, walking backwards. "Dear, dear," said Sam, "if he only would—"
"Plosh!" went Mr Jones right in backwards; and "spatter" went the foul mud all over his face and shirt-front, and then the poor little man tried to scramble out, but slipped in again, making himself worse than ever; but his next effort was more successful; and when Sam saw him standing amongst the potatoes looking all piebald, his heart was joyful within him, as he hurried home to tell the boys the success of their plot.
Mr Inglis very soon learned from the boys what was the cause of Mr Jones's visit, and for the moment he felt rather disposed to be cross; but on looking at the laughing eyes before him, and the mirthful countenance of Mrs Inglis, he was obliged to join in the merriment himself; for as Philip very sagely remarked,—"You know, papa, he had no business there." As for Mr Jones, he was nearly red-hot with fury when he reached home, for he had been laughed at by more than one person on his way; so when the door was opened, and his pet dog—a disagreeable terrier—came smelling about his legs, his master kicked him savagely, upon which the dog retorted by sticking his teeth into his assailant's leg, and then running off howling as loudly as he could.
Mr Jones then set to work and washed himself, a process of which he stood greatly in need; and by the time he had made himself dapper again, he felt cooler and more comfortable; and he also began to wish he had not told Mr Inglis that he should hear from his solicitor. But he had told him to, and therefore he felt that he must go to his solicitor at once, or he would very soon have made up his mind to say no more about it. So off Mr Jones trotted to his lawyer; that is to say, his pony trotted, carrying Mr Jones in the little chaise, in which was a carefully tied-up bundle containing the blackened and damaged suit of clothes, which looked worse than ever by the time he reached the town, for the trousers had communicated a vast amount of their filth to the waistcoat and shirt-front, not forgetting to administer their odour at the same time. When Mr Jones arrived at the lawyer's he found him at home, and was soon closeted with him in his mouldy room, all amongst the dust, papers, parchments, and tin boxes; and then and there Mr Jones told his tale, and finished by drawing out the black garments, for there was very little white to be seen on the trousers.
"But you did not tell me where the pitfall was made," said Mr De Vellum, the solicitor.
"Made, sir?" said Mr Jones excitedly; "why, in that corner piece of land, where the road makes the sharp turn, on the other side of the village."
"What, where the finger-post stands at the corner?"
"To be sure," said Mr Jones; "the very place."
"Well, but," said Mr De Vellum, "that's the piece Mr Inglis bought at the sale last year, when I bid for you."
"Just so," said Mr Jones; "I was walking across it, as I have done hundreds of times before."
"Ah!" said Mr De Vellum, "but it has been enclosed, and you know, my dear sir, you were trespassing. Let me order in a glass of wine," he continued, for Mr Jones had luckily come for advice to a sensible man; "let me order in a glass of wine, and then I'll give you my advice."
The wine was brought in, and then Mr Jones received his advice, which cost him six shillings and eightpence, but would have been cheap at a guinea, for the advice was to go home and take no more notice of the matter.
Mr Jones was quite cool when he heard the solicitor's opinion; and it was so much in agreement with his own, that he immediately shook hands, said "good-day," and made the best of his way home.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
Mr Jones used to have a man, who was a jobbing gardener, come once a week "to put him a bit straight," as the man called it; and this gardener used sometimes to meet old Sam at the Red Lion, when they would have a pint of beer together, and compare cabbages and gooseberries; talk about peas and plums; and relate how many snails they had each killed, by putting salt on their tails, during the past week. Now, it so happened that Sam went to the Red Lion on the very night that closed in upon the day when Mr Jones muddied his white trousers; and it also so happened that Ikey Fogger, the jobbing gardener, thought that he too should like a half-pint at the Red Lion. The consequence was, that the two tillers of the soil began to compare notes, and very soon the history of Mr Jones's misfortune was talked over, and so heartily laughed at by every one present, that old Sam grew quite proud of the feat; and at last let out that Master Harry and he had done it, and it "sarved old Jones right."
Next morning, Ikey Fogger was putting Mr Jones's garden "a bit straight," which was done by means of the rake, scythe, hoe, spade, and broom, when Mr Jones came out to superintend as usual, for he had his own particular way of having things done; and in the course of the conversation that followed, Ikey Fogger told him what had been said at the Red Lion by old Sam; the fruit of which was that Ikey had an extra sixpence to "drink master's health," and Mr Jones sat down in his best parlour to see whether he could not devise some plan of attack upon Harry and the other boys,—for he considered all bad alike,—so as to enjoy what he called the "sweets of vengeance."
Just then he happened to look up and see the three boys, accompanied by their dog, go strolling past on the other side of the road, when a thought struck him which he hastened to put into execution.
The boys were going out for a stroll till tea-time, for they scarcely knew what to do with themselves, having no particular object in view, one and all having declared it too hot for cricket. They therefore loosened the dog, and went off to see what would turn up in the way of amusement. They strolled past the end of the village, and down a lane that led to a bend of the river, and at last sat down upon the bank, and amused themselves by throwing sticks and stones in the water for the dog to fetch out,—a feat, by the way, that he never accomplished, for he was not well broken in to the task. He would run in fast enough, and pretend to make a dash at the stick or stone, but that was all he did, save bark and yelp as he stood up to his middle in the water. At last they grew tired of even this effort, for the heat made them languid and idle; so they sprawled about on the grass, lazily watching the flies that skimmed about and flitted over the surface of the water in such rapid motion that they looked like strings of flies.
All at once there was a splash in the river close to their feet.
"There's a great fish," said Fred.
"It was a stone, I think," said Philip.
"But who was to have thrown it?" said Harry; "there's no one about."
Just then a great stone splashed up the water, and another struck the poor dog such a blow upon the head that it gave a sharp howl, and rolled right down the bank into the river, from whence it crawled with its eye swelling up fast, and a cut in the skin bleeding profusely.
The boys now saw that the stones were thrown from behind a hedge on the right, and three more came directly, one of which hit Philip a smart blow in the back and made him wince again. Just then three big lads made their appearance, and began to pick up more stones.
"Let's run," said Fred, "or we shall be hurt."
"Yes, come along," said Philip, rubbing his back and twisting with pain.
"No, I shan't run," said Harry; "the cowards have half killed poor Dick, or I'd set him at them. I know who they are,—there's Bill Jenkins, and the two Stapleses. Don't I wish I was bigger, I'd give it them;" and Harry ground his teeth together, and clenched his fists tightly.
"Yah; yah-ha; go home!" shouted the assailants. But Harry wouldn't budge an inch, but stooped down and began to tie his pocket handkerchief round the dog's bleeding head.
"Yah-ah! yah-ah-ah-ah; go home wi' yer!" shouted the lads again, running up, evidently meaning to chevy the Grange boys away; and this seemed an easy task, for the new-comers were all bigger and stronger. "Yah-ah-ah-ah; go home!" they shouted again; and then one, who seemed to be the leader, said to his comrades,—"Let's pitch the dog in, come on."
"You'd better not touch him, Bill Jenkins," said Harry, turning very white, either with fear or rage. "We did not interfere with you, so leave us alone."
"Yah-ah-ah-ah; go home with yer!" shouted the boys again, for this seemed to be a kind of battle-cry with which they warmed themselves to attack the inoffensive party. Philip half-screwed himself behind Harry, while Fred, who felt dreadfully alarmed, stood behind Philip.
"Let us go home quietly, please," said Fred, "and I'll give you a shilling."
"Give us the shilling, then," said the boy called Jenkins, who, upon its being produced, snatched it away from Fred, put it in his pocket, and then laid hold of the dog's hind leg and dragged it towards the river.
"You let him go now, come," whimpered Harry.
"Wow—wow—wow—wow—wow—wow," said the boys, mocking Harry's whimper, and in another moment poor Dick would have been plunged in, when Harry, pushing back one of the Stapleses, who tried to stop him, planted such a well-directed blow in Bill Jenkins's ear that he dropped the dog in a moment, and shook his head as though something was buzzing inside it, as no doubt there was, for the blow was a smart one, Master Harry having had boxing gloves on more than once at school.
But this was the signal for a combined attack from the enemy upon Harry, who struck out manfully, but was getting terribly knocked about, when Philip dashed into the fray, and relieved his brother of one assailant. But two were too many for Harry, and seeing Fred doing nothing, he shouted to him for help.
Poor Fred! He felt terribly alarmed, and would gladly have run away; but he saw Philip punching away at his adversary like a Trojan, while Harry, with the blood streaming down his face, was being beaten back step by step towards the river by his two formidable opponents. This was too much for Fred, who threw off his cap and jacket and then crept cautiously up to try and aid his cousin, who was getting rapidly worsted. Now Fred afterwards confessed that he felt dreadfully alarmed, and Bill Jenkins evidently saw this, and tried to frighten him away; but he went the wrong way to work, for as Fred came timidly up, Bill swung round one of his long arms, and gave the new-comer a back-handed smack in his mouth that made the blood spurt out in a moment, and then, by a clever thrust of his leg, tripped him up so that he lay sprawling on the grass. But this blow, instead of frightening the town-bred lad, knocked all the fear out of him; for, to Bill Jenkins's great astonishment, he leapt up as though made of springs, and dashed at him like a fury.
From that moment, Harry had only one enemy to deal with, for Bill Jenkins began to find that he was getting such a thrashing as he never before had in his life. Fred's fists battered him about the face like a shower of blows, and in the scuffles that ensued the big lad was more than once completely knocked off his feet. He had very soon had enough of it, and began to show it; but Fred had not, for he warmed with the fray, and, in spite of the other's cries for quarter, hammered and battered away at him with greater fury than ever, till at last they closed together, wrestled backwards, forwards, this way, that way, and at last, seizing his opportunity, Fred gave a regular spring off the ground, and drove his enemy backwards, but, as it happened, not on to the ground, but dash, splash into the river, where they both sank, but came up again directly, Bill Jenkins roaring for help, and Fred holding on to him like a tiger.