Hollowdell Grange, by George Manville Fenn.
This is one of Fenn's earliest books. The theme is that a boy from London goes down to stay in the country with his cousins, where the way of life is so very different, and challenging, from all that he had known in the great city. The descriptions of country life of those days are very well done, but we must make one warning—that many of the countrymen we meet in the story speak with a strong Lincolnshire accent, and the author has done his best to represent these sounds with what must very often look like mistakes in transcription.
There are all sorts of country situations to be encountered, from working with animals, to meeting the various village characters, to a near drowning, and even, at the very end to an attempted rescue, one that failed, of a drowning boy caught in a sluice on the beach.
There may well be a few mistakes, because the copy used was very old, and the pages very browned, while at the same time not very well printed. But we have done our best and at least what we offer here is better than what you would have got from the book itself in its aged condition. As so often with this kind of book it makes a very good audio-book, and listening to it is a great pleasure.
HOLLOWDELL GRANGE, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
A FISH OUT OF WATER.
It was such a fine hot Midsummer day at Hollowdell station, that the porter had grown tired of teasing the truck-driver's dog, and fallen fast asleep—an example which the dog had tried to follow, but could not, because there was only one shady spot within the station-gates, and that had been taken possession of by the porter; so the poor dog had tried first one place, and then another, but they were all so hot and stifling, and the flies kept buzzing about him so teasingly, that he grew quite cross, and barked and snapped so at the tiresome insects, that at last he woke Jem Barnes, the porter, who got up, stretched himself, yawned very rudely and loudly, and then, looking in at the station-clock, he saw that the 2:30 train from London was nearly due, so he made up his mind not to go to sleep again until it had passed.
It was a hot day—so hot that the great black tarpaulins over the goods-waggons were quite soft, and came off all black upon Jem Barnes's hands. The air down the road seemed to quiver and dance over the white chalky dust; while all the leaves upon the trees, and the grass in the meadows, drooped beneath the heat of the sun. As to the river, it shone like a band of silver as it wound in and out, and here and there; and when you looked you could see the reflection of the great dragon-flies as they flitted and raced about over the glassy surface. The reeds on the bank were quite motionless; while, out in the middle, the fat old chub could be seen basking in the sunshine, wagging their great broad fantails in the sluggish stream, too lazy even to snap up the flies that passed over their heads. All along the shallows the roach and dace lay in shoals, flashing about, every now and then, in the transparent water like gleams of silver light. Down in the meadows, where the ponds were, and the shady trees grew, the cows were so hot that they stood up to their knees in the muddy water, chewing their grass with half-shut eyes, and whisking their long tails about to keep the flies at a distance. But it was of no use to whisk, for every now and then a nasty, spiteful, hungry fly would get on some poor cow's back, creep beneath the hair, and force its horny trunk into the skin so sharply, that the poor animal would burst out into a doleful lowing, and, sticking its tail up, go galloping and plunging through the meadow in such a clumsy way as only a cow can display. A few fields off the grass was being cut, and the sharp scythes of the mowers went tearing through the tall, rich, green crop, and laid it low in long rows as the men, with their regular strokes, went down the long meadows. Every now and then, too, they would make the wood-side re-echo with the musical ringing sound of the scythes, as the gritty rubbers glided over the keen edges of the bright tools.
Hot, hot, hot!—how the sun glowed in the bright blue sky! and how the down train puffed and panted, while the heat of the weather made even the steam from the funnel transparent as it streamed backwards over the engine's green back! The driver and stoker were melting, for they had the great roaring fire of the engine just in front of them, and the sun scorching their backs; the guard was hot with stopping at so many stations, and putting out so much luggage; while the passengers, in the carriages said they were almost stifled, and looked out with longing eyes at the shady green woods they passed. One passenger in particular, a sharp-featured and rather sallow youth about twelve years old, kept looking at the time-table, and wondering how long it would be before he arrived at Hollowdell, for that was the name printed upon the ticket Fred Morris held in his hand.
But just at this time there were other people travelling towards Hollowdell station, and that too by the long dusty chalky road that came through the woods and over the wooden bridge right up to the railway crossing; and these people were no others than Fred Morris's country cousins, and the old man-servant—half groom, half gardener—who was driving the pony chaise with Harry Inglis by his side, while Fred's other cousin Philip was cantering along upon his donkey close behind— such a donkey! with thin legs, and a thin tail that he kept closely tucked in between the hind pair, as if he was afraid the crupper would pull it off. He wanted no beating, although he could be obstinate enough when he liked, and refuse to pass the green paddock where he grazed; but he wanted no beating, while with his young master on his back: he would trot off with his little hoofs going pitter-patter, twinkle-twinkle over the road, at a rate that it used to puzzle old Dumpling, the fat pony, to keep up with.
Harry and Philip Inglis were rather different-looking boys to their cousin, for, stouter in build, they bore upon their good-tempered faces the brown marks made by many a summer's sun. And now, upon this occasion, they were all impatience to get to the station to meet Cousin Fred, who was coming down to spend the Midsummer holidays. The visit had been long talked about, and now the boys were in a state of the greatest excitement lest any disappointment might take place.
"Oh! do drive faster, Sam," said Harry, making a snatch at the reins; "I know he'll be there first. Tiresome old thing, you! Why didn't you start an hour sooner?"
"What for?" said Sam, grumbling, and holding tightly to the reins; "what was I to come an hour sooner for? Think I don't know how long it takes to drive over to station?"
"But," said Philip, from his donkey, "I'm sure we shall be late. There!" he continued, "I can hear the train now!"
"Nonsense!" said Sam. "Where's the steam? Why, you can see the steam for two miles before the train gets in, and Dumps here could get in long before the train."
But Philip was right, for just then the loud and shrill whistle of the engine was heard as it started again, after setting down one solitary little passenger in the shape of Fred Morris, who looked sadly disappointed to find no one there to receive him but Jem Barnes, the porter, who stared very hard at the young stranger from Lunnun.
Dumpling galloped, and Neddy went off at a double trot, upon hearing the railway-whistle, spinning along at such a rate that before Fred Morris had learned which path he was to take across the fields to go the shortest way to Squire Inglis's, of the Grange, Hollowdell—and all of which information he was getting very slowly out of Jem Barnes—Harry had jumped out of the chaise. Philip leaped off his donkey, and they were one on each side of Fred, heartily shaking hands with him.
"I say, ain't you our cousin?" said Harry, breathlessly.
"Our cousin from London, you know," said Philip, "that was to come by this train?"
"My name is Morris," said the traveller, rather pompously, "and I'm going on a visit to Mr Inglis's at Hollowdell."
"Yes, to be sure!" said Harry. "You're Cousin Fred, and I'm Harry, and that's Phil. Come along into the chaise. Here Sam—Jem! bring the box and let's be off. But I say, Fred, isn't it hot?"
Fred replied that it was, seeming hardly to know what to make of the rough, hearty manners of his cousins, and he looked, if anything, rather disappointed when he was met by the rough grin of Sam, who was of anything but a smooth exterior, and altogether a very different man to his father's well-brushed livery-servant, who had seen him safely off to the station in the morning.
"I've come," said Fred at last, when they were fairly started with Philip and Fred in the chaise, and Harry this time upon the donkey bringing up the rear—"I've come because Papa said you would not like it if I did not; but I'd much rather you had both come up to me in London. One can find something to do there, and there's something to see. I can't think how you people manage to live down here."
"Oh! we find something to do, don't we, Harry?" said Philip, laughing. But Harry was very busy with Neddy, who had taken it into his head to go down a lane which led to the pound—a place where he had been more than once locked up; and it was as much as ever the lad could do to stop him; so Philip's question remained unanswered. "I say," continued Philip at last, after they had been conversing some time, during which Master Fred had been cross-questioning Philip as to his educational knowledge, and giving that young gentleman to understand what a high position he occupied at Saint Paul's School—"I say," said Philip, "can you swim?"
"No," replied Fred.
"Can you play cricket?"
"No," said Fred.
"Fish, row, shoot, rat, and all that sort of thing?" said Philip.
"No!" said the other. "I have always lived in London, where we do not practise that class of amusement."
"Oh! come, then," said Philip, "we shall be able to teach you something. Only wait a bit, and you'll see how we live down here. But here we are; and there's Papa waiting for us under the porch."
As Philip said this, Sam had crawled down from his seat, opened a swing gate, and led the pony into a garden through which wound a carriage drive up to a long low house, all along the front of which extended a verandah, the supports and sloping roof being completely covered with roses, clematis, and jasmine, which hung in the wildest profusion amongst the light trellis-work, and then ran up the sides of the bedroom windows, peeping in at the lattice panes, and seeming to be in competition with the ivy as to which should do most towards covering up the brickwork of the pretty place; for it really was a pretty place,—so pretty, that even Fred, who thought that there was nothing anywhere to compare with London, could not help casting admiring looks around him. All along one side of the gravel drive there was a tall, smoothly-clipped hedge of laurels; while on the left the velvet lawn, dotted all over with beds of scarlet geranium, verbena, and calceolaria, with here and there rustic vases brimming over with blooming creepers, swept down in a slope towards the park-like fields, from which it was separated by a light ring fence. Right in front was another mighty laurel hedge, that looked to be almost centuries old; and on the other side was what was called the kitchen garden, though, I think, it might have been called the parlour garden just as rightly, from the rich banquets it used to supply of all kinds of luscious fruits—peaches, nectarines, plums, strawberries, apples, pears, currants; and as to gooseberries, the trees used to be so loaded with great rough golden and crimson fellows, that they would lay their branches down on the ground to rest them, because the weight was greater than they could bear. But the greatest beauty of the house at Hollowdell, or, as it was called in the neighbourhood, "The Grange," was the ivy, which did not creep there, but ran, and ran all over the place—sides, roof, and all—even twining, and twisting, and growing right up amongst the two great old-fashioned chimney-stacks, round the pots, and some shoots even drooping in them, and getting black and dry amongst the smoke that came curling and wreathing out. For Squire Inglis would not have the ivy cut anywhere excepting in the front, where he used to superintend while Sam cleared it away now and then, so as to give the roses and creeping plants a chance to show their beauties in the bright summer-time. And there the Grange stood, with flowers blooming around it in every direction, as sweet and pretty a place as could welcome any one just come from the great desert of bricks and mortar called London, in which people who are not compelled are so foolish as to go and spend their time in the sunniest and brightest days of the year.
And, as Philip said, there stood Papa beneath the porch; and directly after there stood Mamma too, to welcome their sister's child, whom they had not seen since he was almost a baby.
"Now, boys," said the Squire, after all the handshaking had been finished, "I've nothing to do with this. Fred is your visitor for a month, so I leave you to make him happy and comfortable, and mind you see that he enjoys himself."
Philip and Harry promised readily enough that they would. "But, Papa," said Harry, "Dr Edwards said, when we broke up, that we were to do a little work every day during the holidays, and—and—"
"And what?" said his father. "Eh, now," said he, good-humouredly; "I think I can make a good guess at what you would like. You'd like me to write to the Doctor to let you off, wouldn't you?"
"Oh! yes, yes, yes, Papa," shouted the boys, clapping their hands. "Hurrah, that's capital!"
"Well, but would it be right?" said their father, seriously.
"Oh! yes, Papa," said Harry; "for we will do so much after the holidays, and work ever so hard to make up for it; and it is so very, very hard to learn lessons away from school. I never can get on half so well, for one can't help thinking of the games we want to play at, and then one don't feel to be obliged to learn, and it does make such a difference: so do please write, there's a good, good father," said Harry, coaxingly.
The Squire laughed, and that laugh was quite sufficient to satisfy the lads, who gave two or three frisks, and tossed their caps in the air; when Philip's fell on the top of the verandah, and had to be hooked down with a long hay-rake.
Dinner was nearly ready, so Fred followed his box up to the pretty little bedroom he was to occupy—one which opened out of the room set apart for Harry and Philip; and soon after he was down in the dining-room eating a meal that called forth the remarks and comparisons of his cousins, who were dreadful trencher-men. They told him that he must learn what a country appetite meant, and so, by way of teaching him, they dragged him off, as soon as dinner was over, to look at all the wonders of the place. First over the flower-garden, and round by the aviary, where Mamma's gold and silver pheasants were kept; and then into the green-house, where Poll, the parrot, hung in her great gilt cage, swinging about amongst the flowers, dancing up and down, and shrieking out whenever anybody came by; then swaying backwards and forwards in the ring in the cage, and climbing up and down all over the bars, this way and that way, head up and head down, and all the time looking as wicked and cunning as a hook-beaked old grey parrot can look.
"Sam, Sam, where's the master?" shouted Poll, in a reedy-weedy tone, like a cracked clarionet, as soon as the lads came in sight. "Stealing the grapes. Stealing the grapes," she shouted again. "Rogues, rogues, rogues! Two in the morning, hi! hi!" And then she gave a shrill whistle, and burst out into a loud hearty laugh, that made Fred stare, it was so natural.
"There," said Philip, proudly, "you haven't got such birds as that in London."
"Oh yes, we have," said Fred, "but Papa don't care about buying them. Poor Polly," he continued, putting his finger in to stroke the parrot.
"Don't do that," shouted the boys together; but it was too late, for almost at the same moment Fred gave utterance to a most doleful "Oh-h-h!" Poll had made a snap at his finger, and hooked a piece of flesh out sufficient to make it bleed pretty freely.
"What a beast!" said Fred, angrily, and binding his handkerchief round the place; "I'd kill it if I had my way."
"But it was your fault," said Harry, quietly, "for trying to touch it; wasn't it?"
"Ah! but he didn't know it would bite," said Philip, "or he would not have done so: but never mind, come along, and let's go down the garden."
The abundance of the fruit made Fred forget his pain; and, having seen the boys' gardens, the next thing was to have a look at the little pond with the rock-work fountain, which they had made, and which played by means of a barrel of water hid in the shrubbery behind, the stream being conveyed through a piece of small piping. Here it was that Harry and Philip kept all the finny treasures they captured, and the little pond was rich in carp, roach, dace, and perch; while, amongst other valuables, Fred was informed of the existence of an eel a foot long, which had been put in two months before, and never seen since, but was no doubt fattening in the mud at the bottom.
Neddy had been seen, but round in the stable-yard there was Dick, the terrier, who could catch rats, rabbits, or anything, so Harry said; and then there was Tib, the one-eyed, one-winged raven, which hopped about with his head on one side, and barked at the visitors, and then began to dig his beak into Fred's leg, and could only be kept at a distance by Philip poking at him with the handle of the stable broom, when he hopped off, and sat upon the dog-kennel, every now and then giving a short angry bark; but nothing like such a bark as Dick the terrier gave when he found that, in spite of all his leaping, whining, and howling, he was not to be let out that afternoon, but left straining at the end of his chain, with his eyes starting out of his head, while the boys went to see Harry's pigeons and Philip's rabbits.
Just then Harry went to a box in the stable, and pulled out a long, lithe, scratching and twisting thing, that looked more like a short snake than a quadruped, and offered it to Philip to hold.
"No; I won't hold it," said Philip; "I'm afraid of it. Perhaps Fred will."
"No, that I won't," said Fred, shrinking back; "I never saw such a nasty-looking thing in my life. What do you keep it for?"
"Keep it for? you cowards," said Harry, stuffing the animal into his pocket; "you'll see to-morrow, when we are off rabbiting: why, it's the best ferret for miles round." And Harry really believed it was, for the old keeper that he bought it of had told him so, which was quite enough for Harry; but although it was such a good ferret, it had a nasty habit of stopping in a hole as long as it liked, which was sometimes very tiresome when any one was waiting outside upon a cold cutting day.
"Well, I wouldn't touch it for sixpence," said Fred; "but I ain't afraid, only I don't want to be bitten again by any of your nasty country bumpkin things, else I'd touch it fast enough."
"I never do," said Philip; "I hate it, it twines about so. It's worse than an eel ever so much."
"Hark at Mrs Phil," said Harry, grinning. "I say, Fred, he is such a coward; worse than you are a great deal."
"I'm not a coward," said Fred, colouring up, and setting his teeth.
"Oh yes, you are!" said Harry, teasing him; "why, all you London boys are cowards. I wouldn't be a Londoner for ever so much."
And then, as if prompted by a mischievous inclination, he pulled out the ferret, and pitched it right upon Fred's shoulders as he stood with his back half turned. Fred gave a cry of fear and anger, and darting at Harry, struck him full in the face a blow that made him stagger backwards.
In a moment Harry recovered himself, and rushed at his assailant; and while Philip, pale and breathless, looked on, the two boys pummelled away at each other like the bitterest enemies.
From the very offset the struggle was all in favour of Harry, for he was of a stronger and sturdier build than his cousin; but it was not until Harry's nose was bleeding, and Fred's lug cut, and they had been up and down half-a-dozen times, that Fred gave in, evidently bitterly humbled and mortified at his conquest, and suffering more from his defeat than from the pain of the blows he had received.
"Come here inside the stable, Fred," said Philip, half in a whisper, and with the tears brimming in his eyes. "Come in here and wash your face and hands; I'll pump some water." Saying which the boy fetched some water in the stable pail, and, giving a reproachful look at his brother, took it into the stable where Fred was sitting upon a truss of straw, trying manfully to choke down a sob which sadly wanted to gain a vent.
"I'm so sorry, Fred," he said, dipping his handkerchief into the pail, and bathing his cousin's blood-besmeared countenance. "I can't think how Harry could do so. Oh! what would Papa say if he came? Pray don't tell him."
"No, I shan't tell," said Fred, stoutly, with his face half in the pail, and the words all the time half choked by that sob which would keep rising from his overburdened heart. "But I'm not a coward, though, am I? Is my face cut much?"
Upon inspection it proved that with the exception of the damaged lip, and an ugly cut on the back of his head where he had fallen upon the paving stones in the yard, Fred was not much hurt; and when Philip had well rubbed down his clothes, and polished him off with Sam's spoke-brush, the marks of the conflict were hardly perceptible.
Just then Harry came sneaking into the stable, looking dreadfully ashamed of himself, with his face smeared all over with blood from his bleeding nose, and carrying in his hand the body of the poor ferret: for it would frighten no more poor rats or rabbits to death, having met with its own by being trampled upon during the fray.
"Will you shake hands?" said Harry, half sulkily, half sheepishly, to Fred.
Fred gave a sort of gulp, but he held out his hand, which was heartily shaken; and directly after Harry was sitting on the truss of straw, and being sponged and cleaned by his late adversary and his brother.
"I say, you know," said Harry, "I am sorry, but you shouldn't have hit me; no fellow could stand that. But then I was wrong first I say, though, don't be hard on a fellow, for I do want to be jolly with you, and make you comfortable; but I'm such a vicious beast, and always getting into a row, ain't I, Phil?"
Phil nodded assent, but added directly after, "He won't let any one crow over me, though, at school, and he whacked Bill Sims, the biggest chap in the first class last half, for hitting a little un."
"But I say, though," said Harry, wiping his face with his pocket handkerchief, "it's all right again, ain't it? We've made it up again, haven't we?"
"Yes, to be sure," said Fred, smiling. "But who killed the poor ferret?"
"Why, you did," said Harry; "you put your foot on his head; but it serves me right, it was all my fault."
"Never mind, now," said Philip; "let's go down the garden again till tea-time; there's a linnet's nest in the hedge."
"Ah! so there is," said Harry; "come on."
And away they went, for the storm had blown over, and to have looked at the lads no one could have imagined that the slightest disagreement had occurred to mar the harmony of their afternoon.
As they went down the garden Harry fetched a spade from the tool-shed; and when the little patch that he owned was reached, the boy, with something very like a tear in each eye, dug a hole, and laid his ferret in it, and had just filled it in when they were summoned to tea; but they did not go until the spade was put away, and they had shaken hands all round in the tool-house, and vowed friendship for evermore.
OLD SAM—CATCHING THE CARP.
"Come, Fred, get up, it's such jolly weather. Make haste, and then we can go down the garden before breakfast," said Harry, the next morning.
"Aw-aw-yaw-aw-aw," said Fred, gaping dreadfully, and so sleepily that he forgot to place his hand before his mouth.
"Oh! come, I say, that won't do down in the country; here, it's seven o'clock, and we're going to have such a stinging hot day. Do get up and dress. There is Phil down the garden now."
"Ah-aw-aw—yes, I'll get up," said Fred, yawning again. "But what early folks you are; we don't get up so soon at home. What time do you have breakfast?"
"Eight o'clock, and Papa never waits for anybody; so make haste down, or we shan't have time to do anything before it's breakfast bell."
"I want some hot water," said Fred, grumpily.
"What for?" said Harry.
"Why, to wash in, of course," said Fred.
"Ho! ho! ho!" burst out Harry, laughing, "hot water to wash with in July! Why, we never use any all through the winter, when it's ever so cold, and the jugs get frozen over. You try cold water, it's ever so much better, and makes you have red cheeks like Phil's."
"Hi, hallo-o-o!" shouted somebody front out of doors.
"There's Phil," said Harry, going to the window and throwing it open, when in came gushing the sweet morning air, laden with the dew sweetness of a thousand flowers. The roses and jasmine nodded round the casement, and from almost every tree within reach of hearing, right down to the coppice, came ringing forth the merry morning songs of the birds.
"Oh!" said Fred, in a burst of admiration as he went to the window, half dressed; "oh! isn't it beautiful? I never thought the country half so pretty. I wish I had got up sooner."
"Do you?" said Harry. "Won't we have you up, then, to-morrow morning! But only look; Phil has found an old 'bottle washer.' Do make haste and come down, and we'll put him in the ferret's cage."
"Oh! do stop," said Fred, splashing his face about in the cold water, and hurrying to get finished; "do stop for me, there's a good fellow."
Five minutes after the three lads were together upon the lawn, rolling a prickly, spiky hedgehog over and over in the vain hope of getting him to open out and show his black, bright little eyes, and sharp piggy like snout; all which time old Sam was busy at work, making his keen bright scythe shave off the little yellow-eyed daisies that seemed sprinkled all over the green turf that was so soft and elastic to the feet.
"Chinkle chingle, chinkle chingle," rang out the scythe, as he held it over his shoulder, and sharpened it with his gritty rubber, and then again shave, shave, shave, over the velvet grass, till long rows of the little strands lay across the lawn.
A comical old fellow was Sam, and he used to say that no one loved the young masters so well as he did; but somehow or another Sam never used to see them out in the garden without finding something to grumble about. His complaints were generally without foundation; but Sam used to think he had cause to complain; and, being rather an old man, he used to consider he had a right so to do.
"Now then, Master Harry, you're at it again! What's the use of my trying to keep the garden nice if you will keep racing about over it like that? I wish you'd keep indoors, I do."
"We ain't going to, though, are we, Phil?" said Harry, laughing. "Old Sam would be sure to fetch us out again if we did; wouldn't you, Sam?"
Old Sam grinned, and shook his head, and just then eight o'clock struck by the village church, which was about a mile off, so Sam wiped his scythe, and, shouldering it, walked off to his breakfast, just as a cheery cry of—"Now, boys," came from out of the verandah, where Mr and Mrs Inglis were standing, watching the lads upon the lawn.
The pretty breakfast-room looked so bright and cheerful; there was such an odorous bunch of dew-wet roses in a vase; such sweet scents, too, came through the open window, and such country farm-house bounty spread upon the breakfast-table, that Fred told his cousins after the meal that he had never enjoyed anything before half so well in his life.
"Now, boys, what are you going to do to-day?" said Mr Inglis.
"Going fishing, Papa, in Trencher Pond," said Harry.
"Why, there's nothing there worth catching," said Mr Inglis.
"Oh yes, Papa!" said Phil. "It's full of sticklebacks, and such beauties! Some are all gold and green and scarlet; the most beautiful little creatures you ever saw, and it is so easy to catch them; and, besides, it is so pretty there now."
"Oh, very well!" said their father; "only I've got leave for you to fish in Lord Copsedale's lake next week."
"Hooray!" said Harry; "that's capital."
After breakfast Fred was all in a state of ferment to be off to Trencher Pond. All was new to him, for he did not even know what a stickleback might be, and he longed to see some of these gorgeous fellows that were all over "gold and green and scarlet." They were not long in getting equipped for their trip, for Harry soon produced three willow wands, some twine, worms, and a tin can to hold the spoil; and, thus provided, away they started, with the full understanding that their dinner would be ready at one o'clock precisely.
They had only about a mile to walk down a green lane, and then to turn off on the little common which contained the pond, but that mile took a long time to get over, there was so much to do, to see, and to listen to; there was the hole where the wasps had a nest to look at; there were the nimble squirrels to watch as they darted across the road, and, scampering up the trees, peeped down at the visitors to their domains. Ah, how Fred longed to have one of the little bushy-tailed fellows, as he watched their nimble tricks, scampering and leaping from bough to bough as easily and fearlessly as a cat would upon the ground. Then there were so many pretty wildflowers in the banks and hedge-rows; so many birds to learn the names of, for they were all strangers to Fred, who only knew sparrows—and they were different to the sparrows down here at Hollowdell—and canaries and parrots. There was a hedge-sparrow's nest, too, to peep at, with its tiny little blue eggs; but not to touch, for, though Fred wanted to take it, Harry and Phil said "No;" for Papa did not approve of the birds being disturbed. Then there was a beautifully-formed mossy little cup-shaped nest in the fork of a tree, just inside the coppice, smooth, round, and soft-edged, with the horsehair and wool lining all plaited together, and made as even as possible. It was so low down that, by bending the branch, the boys could look at it, which they did, while the poor chaffinches, in the horse-chestnut tree close by, cried "pink-pink-pink" in a state of the greatest alarm lest their work should be destroyed; and the pretty cock bird, with his crested head, pinky breast, and white-marked wings, burst out into a loud and joyous song, short but sweet, as the three young travellers journeyed on. And what a horse-chestnut tree that was all one mass of pinky white blossoms, the tree itself one mighty green pyramid of graceful leaves, and then, from top to bottom, hundreds and hundreds of the blossom-spikes standing like little floral trees themselves; while from every part of it came a continuous hum, as the bees and other insects rifled the honeyed treasures and bore them away.
"Oh!" at last burst out Fred, in perfect rapture; "oh! don't I wish Mamma and Papa were here! I never did know how beautiful the country was."
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed his cousins, each holding one of his hands; "come along, that's nothing to what we are going to show you."
And away they raced through the gate, and across the little common to the pond in the corner, where the golden furze-bushes hung over the side.
Philip was right: it was a pretty pond. Such water—clear, bright, and deep, with all kinds of water-plants growing therein; golden lilies, silvery water buttercups, tall reeds, short thin rushes with their little cottony tufts, taller ones with brown tassels; and stout bulrushes, with their brown pokery seed-stems, growing tantalisingly out of reach. Such silvery bright smooth water, with bright blue beetles skimming about over the surface; and that skating spider that skims about over water with his long legs as easily as if it were ice, without giving a thought as to the possibility of sinking. Then down in the clear depths where Fred was peering, every now and then boatman beetles could be seen rowing about with their little pairs of oars, lying upon their backs to make boats of themselves—curious little fellows that by night come out of the water, and, opening a pair of cases, send out a bright and beautiful pair of wings, and fly about through the air till the morning.
"Oh! look at the little crocodiles!" cried Fred, to the intense delight of his cousins, as the showily-dressed newts went sailing easily through the clear water, with waving crests and lithe tails—such gay little fellows, with orange throats; while swimming about in chase of one another by myriads were the sticklebacks, of which the lads had come in quest.
Darting about over the pond were hundreds of dragon-flies, thin-bodied blue or green fellows, with bright transparent wings, that seemed invisible at times, so rapid was their vibration; while every now and then, rustling upon the wing as they dashed about in chase of one another, came the larger dragon-flies, to make brighter the scene.
And now began the fishing—fishing without hooks; for the voracious little sticklebacks seized the worm as soon as it was dropped into the pond, sometimes two together, one at each end, so that the tin can the boys had brought soon had several dozens of the fish inside. The first to draw out a painted "tiddler" was Fred, and a gorgeous little fellow it was, with a throat of the most brilliant scarlet, shaded off into orange; while gold and green of the most dazzling lustres shone in the sun.
"Mind his prickles!" cried Harry, by way of warning to Fred; but it was too late, for poor Fred's fingers were already bleeding from the effects of the spines with which the fish bristled.
Fred was in a high state of delight, and, novice though he was in fishing, he succeeded in pulling out nearly as many as his cousins. Both he and Philip fished by means of tying a piece of twine round the middle of a worm, and letting the ends dangle down; but Harry had brought a float and line, and secured his worm by hooking one end of it.
The sport grew fast and furious, and might have been continued for any length of time, but for a sudden alarm that was raised respecting worms, for Harry had just abstracted the last unfortunate wriggler from the tin box.
"Never mind," said Philip, "I'll soon find some more;" and he directly set to work, pulling up tufts of grass and kicking down pieces of the bank wherever it looked at all damp; but all in vain, not a worm could he find; and he was just about giving up his task in despair, when a shout from Harry took his attention.
"Here, come here!" said Harry, "I've got such a thumper."
Fred and Philip both ran up to him, and sure enough he seemed to have got hold of a "thumper," as he called it, for his line was running about backwards and forwards through the water, while the willow wand which served him for a rod was bent half double.
"Pull him to the side, and I'll get hold of the line," said Philip.
"But he won't come," said Harry, trying to play his fish to the bank, but without success, for just then it made a dart right out towards the middle of the pond. Harry's wand bent more and more, and, just as the greatest strain occurred, the line divided about two feet above the float, the wand gave a smart rebound, and poor Harry, the picture of disappointment, stood with a short piece of line waving about at the end of his stick, gazing woefully after his lost fish.
"Oh—oh—oh—h—h!" groaned Philip and Fred together, "what a pity!"
Harry continued to look most rueful, but said nothing.
"It must have been a jack," said Philip. "What a big one! Why didn't you pull it out when I told you?"
"How could I," said Harry, "when it was dragging so?"
"I am sorry," said Fred; "it must have been a great stickleback to pull the line in half."
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the cousins, "it wasn't a stickler. They never grow any bigger than these."
"Look! look!" said Fred, pointing to something that was bobbing up and down in the pond, "there's Harry's floater."
"So there is," said Harry; "perhaps it will come in close enough to get hold of."
But, instead of coming in any closer, the little coloured cork kept working away towards a deep, dark-looking part, right under a large beech-tree, whose arms hung over that portion of the pond.
"Get up the tree, Hal," said Philip, "and creep along that bough. You'll get it then."
"No, don't," said Fred, "you'll fall in; I'm sure you will. Don't, pray don't," he continued, as Harry ran towards the tree.
"I shan't fall," said Harry; "don't you be a goose. I've climbed harder trees than that, haven't I, Phil?"
"I should think so," said Philip; "but don't go too far, Hal, so as to get in, for it's ever so deep there!"
"All right," said Harry; "give me a bump up."
Philip laid hold of his brother's leg, and gave him a lift just as he grasped the tree with both arms, and then, taking advantage of the inequalities of the bark with his boots, Harry managed to climb slowly and laboriously to where the tree forked, and the branch reached forth from the parent stem over the deep pool, while Fred stood half aghast at what seemed to him the most daring act he ever beheld.
"Oh! take care," he exclaimed, looking quite pale, while the palms of his hands grew moist and hot with excitement.
"I'm all right," said Harry, creeping slowly out upon the branch; and then, seating himself astride, he began to work himself out over the water, while the bough quivered and bent at every movement. "Can you see it, Phil?" said the adventurer. "Just under the bough, now, and coming nearer. It's gone!" he exclaimed, in dismay, as the float sank down out of sight. "But keep on, Harry; perhaps it will come up again."
Harry kept on till he was about twenty feet away from the trunk of the tree, and about three feet from the surface of the water, and then sat watching where Philip threw a stone at the place where the float disappeared. He could see some distance down into the black-looking water, which report said was here ten feet deep; there were weeds and dead branches sticking up here and there, but no float, and no fish.
"It's of no use; do come back," said Fred, "or I know you will fall."
"Whoof!" said Harry, giving himself a kind of jump, so that the bough swung up and down, and his feet dipped the water, while his head nearly rose to the branch above him. "Here's such a jolly ride; come and have a turn, boys."
"Pray don't," said Fred, "I know you'll fall." And then—but not in obedience to Fred's request—Harry became motionless; for just beneath his feet he saw, rising from the depth of the pond, the white top of his float. Fred gave a half shriek at what he saw, for to him it seemed a feat of unsurpassed daring, as Harry clasped the bough with his legs, and swinging himself head downwards, he plunged his hands into the water and grasped his truant line.
There was a moment's struggle, for the fish was still at the end, but it was beaten: and the effort of keeping the cork-float down so long, and its previous struggles, made it an easy prey. Tightly twisting the line round his finger, Harry swung himself up again, and began carefully to make the retrograde journey after the manner of a sloth, with his back downwards, and arms and legs clasping the bough. The small twigs and branches made this no easy task, but, to the great delight and admiration of Fred, he soon reached the tree, where he passed the line to Philip, who was elevated in his turn by Fred, till he could reach Harry's extended hand.
"Now you won't pull him out till I come down," said Harry.
"Oh, no," said Philip.
"Honour bright," said Harry.
"Honour bright," said Philip.
Then, and only then, did the climber loose his hold of the line and proceed to make his descent. He contrived to get into the fork of the tree, and then let himself down until he hung by his hands, and tried to clasp the trunk with his legs, but somehow or other the tree seemed to keep gliding away from him, and the more he tried the more tired he grew, till at last his hands slipped, and down he came upon the ground in a sitting position.
Happily, the distance was only small, and there was too much excitement awaiting him for Harry to spare time for anything more than a terrible grimace.
"Now, then," he said, taking hold of the line and drawing it gently, "look out, boys," and then, with his beautiful golden scales glittering in the sun, and his strength completely gone, a carp of about a pound and a half weight rose to the surface, and, turning on his side, was drawn inshore.
"Now hold the line, and I'll land him," said Harry to his brother, who took his post while the speaker went down upon his knees to grasp the fish.
"Flip, flap, plish, plash," went the carp, when Harry's hand came in contact with its shiny sides.
"Oh!" groaned all the boys, "he's gone;" for the fish was free from the line, the hook having, broken out of his mouth.
But he was not quite gone, for he lay in a shallow on some weeds, feebly opening and shutting his gills. The next flap of his tail, however, would have taken him into deep water, but in went Harry into the mud up to his knees, and with one scoop of his hand sent the golden treasure flying out on to the grass, yards away from the pond edge.
Didn't they cheer, and didn't Harry dance about, on the grass with his black muddy legs dripping about, and the water going "suck, suck," in his boots, and squeezing out at every step. How they gloated over the poor panting prize; so much, that it was ever so long before they could stop to rub Harry's legs down with bunches of grass; and it was no easy matter for Fred and Philip to do, for the wet boy kept dancing, and cheering, and skipping about like a mad thing, slapping his brother's back; and at last, when they were half finished—
"Bring the tiddlers along, and let's keep carpy alive," he shouted; and running to the edge of the pond, soaked his handkerchief therein, wrapped up the carp, and away they all ran homewards, to put the fish in their little pond. Philip, who was carrying the can of little fish— which had now become almost insignificant in the eyes of their captors— kept splashing his legs at every step, till they were nearly as wet as his brother's; while Fred, who bore the rods, had to stop more than once to disentangle the lines from the overhanging branches as they went down the lane.
At last they reached home, to find Mary carrying in the dinner, after Mr Inglis had been waiting about an hour for the truants, and at last, exhausted in patience, had ordered it in.
"Look! look! Papa, Mamma," shouted Harry, rushing in through the French window; "look, here's a fish!"
"Soak, soak," went his boots as he went in.
"Take him outside," said his father to the two other boys, who were just coming breathlessly in, only Fred was entangled by the rods crossing the window. "Take him outside, the young rascal is spoiling the carpet with his wet boots."
It was no use to think of dinner then, so Papa and Mamma both had to come outside the window to see and admire the carp, and hear how it was captured, before the mid-day meal could be gone on with.
"Ah!" said the Squire at last, "there used to be plenty of fine carp in Trencher Pond down the deep hole under the tree, but I did not know there were any left, for the dry summers killed them when the railway cutting was made and took off so much water. But come, boys, dinner."
And then he drove them off, and made them enter the hall-door so as to make themselves fit for the repast that awaited them. But he was not quite successful, for Harry made a double, and ran off to pop his carp in the pond, but was back directly, and shortly after in the dining-room, feasting away with a country boy's appetite—an appetite, too, that Fred already began to show symptoms of possessing, as the fruit of his visit to Hollowdell.
Dinner had not been finished above an hour before the sky became overcast; and, all at once, a rushing, sweeping wind came over the country. Far-off in the distance where the hills could be seen, a thick, misty appearance almost hid them from sight. There was a low, muttering sound, then another, seemingly nearer; then came a dazzling blue flash of lightning that made all the party stationed at the dining-room window start back; and then came a long, rolling, rattling peal of thunder, that sounded as though it had come bellowing through great metal pipes; while before it had died away in the distance, splashing and plunging down came the rain in torrents, ploughing up the flower-beds, and making little rivers run along each side of the gravel-walks. Out in the home-fields the cows and horses were running to get under shelter of the trees, and looked evidently frightened as flash succeeded flash of lightning, and peal after peal of thunder seemed to make the very heavens vibrate as they rolled round and round, east, west, north, and south. The rain kept streaming down so fast that out of doors seemed one great watery mist that could have been almost swum through.
All at once, just in the middle of a clap of thunder, Mary, the housemaid, opened the dining-room door, and hurriedly said something, but what no one could tell, for her voice was drowned by the rumbling peal.
"Oh! my poor verbenas," said Mrs Inglis.
"Oh! won't this fill up the carp-pond, jolly!" said Harry.
"Come in, Mary," said Mrs Inglis; "what's the matter? Are all the upstairs windows shut?"
"Oh! yes, mem," said Mary; "but the drain's stopped in the yard, and Dick's kennel's floating, and the water's all coming into the kitchen."
"Oh! come and see," said Harry; and away the whole party went, to be just in time to see the water taking its departure, and Dick's kennel wrecked, down by the gates where the yard was highest, for Old Sam, in spite of the pelting rain, was punching away at the sink-hole with the stump of an old birch broom, and the water was rushing down it like a little maelstrom; while the bits of straw and twigs that floated near, represented the unfortunate vessels that get caught in that famous whirlpool.
And still the rain kept pelting down, although the lightning ceased to flash, and the thunder grew more and more distant, till it could only be heard to mutter occasionally afar off. And still the rain kept pouring down, even after cook had made up a roaring fire and wiped up all the water, trundling her mop outside the scullery door till it seemed to go off like a wet firework, as she spun and twisted it upon her great red arms. And still it kept raining, after cook had smeared mason's dust all over the stone floor with the wet mop, and when it had dried up and the floor looked beautiful and white—white like the clean dresser and table that cook used to scrub with soap and sand as though she meant to scrub all the top off. And still it kept on raining, till tea was brought in, and the urn hissed and sputtered upon the table, and at last it became very plain that there would be no more going out that night, to the great disappointment of the boys; for though in London Fred hardly went out at all except for a walk, yet now the liberty of the morning made him feel like a caged bird, and a melancholy feeling seemed to come over all three boys as they sat watching the leaden sky, the dripping leaves, the beaten down flowers, the sandbanks by the walks, and the great drops of water that formed upon the edge of the verandah and porch, and then came down plash upon the stone pavement.
"Oh! come along," said Harry at last; "I know what we'll do."
"What?" said Philip and Fred together.
"Oh! come along, you'll see," said the other.
Mrs Inglis was busy over some needlework, and the Squire deep in a book, so the boys slipped out of the room without any notice being taken, and perhaps half an hour passed away, when all of a sudden Mrs Inglis dropped her work and jumped out of her chair, while the Squire, leaping up, overturned his little reading-table, and with it the screened candle-lamp, breaking the glass and setting fire to the green crimped shade.
"Whatever is the matter?" said the Squire, when he had extinguished the burning paper; "whatever is the matter?" he continued, as they heard another scream similar to one that had caused the first start.
Mrs Inglis ran out of the room, and through the passage into the kitchen, from whence the sound seemed to have proceeded; and, on entering, there stood cook upon the dresser, while Mary, having knocked off the brass kitchen candlestick on to the floor, was balancing herself upon the top of the little round table, which creaked and groaned and threatened to break with the weight that had been put upon it.
"What's the matter?" said Mrs Inglis.
"Oh! do look, mem," said cook, "do look; there it goes again!"
And Mrs Inglis herself started, for a gritting, grinding, scraping noise was heard, and then by the light of the fire she saw one of the large tin dish covers go creeping along the kitchen floor, till it reached the wall underneath the place where it generally hung.
Mrs Inglis could not help feeling a little startled, but, knowing well that some trick must have been played, she told Mary to get down and pick up the cover and hang it in its place.
"Oh! please 'm, I dussn't," said Mary.
"Then I must," said Mrs Inglis, and stepping across the kitchen, she lifted up the cover, when out popped the great black tom cat, that was generally toasting his back before the fire, but who now seemed dreadfully put out with being shut up so long under such an unpleasant prison-house.
Just then an uncontrollable burst of merriment came ringing out of the passage, where it was all dark; which gave Mrs Inglis a very good clue as to who were the authors of the mischief.
The next morning at breakfast time all the trees, flowers, buds, lawns, and hedge-rows looked soaking wet, and the rain kept pouring down,—not so heavily, certainly, as on the previous night, but quite enough to do away with all prospect of going out that day.
"A bad job, as there's so much hay down," said Mr Inglis; "but I think it will be fine again to-morrow, and it will swell out the corn beautifully."
"But how wet it will be," said Philip, "when it leaves off raining! We shan't be able to play."
"Oh, yes, you will," said his father. "Why, boys, you ought to go down to the mill early to-morrow morning. Old Peagrim will have had the fish-traps open to-night, for the river will be flooded, and then you will be able to see some sport,—that is if it leaves off raining."
"Oh! that will be capital," said Harry; who then had to enter into a long dissertation, explaining to Fred what a fish-trap was; and how watermills went round; and which was the dam, and the tail, and the waste-water, and all the rest of it. After this they helped the Squire to arrange his cabinet of birds' eggs; and Fred learned the difference between sparrows' eggs, and finches', and tits', and larks', etc, from the tiniest tom-tit's egg right up to that of the wild swan, which had been known to breed in the marsh, five miles from Hollowdell; and so interested did the boys get with the work they had in hand, that the dinner-bell rang before they could believe it was more than half-past eleven.
After dinner there was the vivarium to clean out in the conservatory; and a nice job it was, for there were the globes and glass jars to bring full of clean water, and the gold fish to catch with the little net, and to place in the globes; all of which duties Mr Inglis set the boys to do, while he superintended. Then there was the syphon to draw all the water off into the pails, which Sam had to come and empty; and this syphon puzzled Fred a great deal, for he could not understand how the water could run up, and then down the other side.
"Well, but," said Mr Inglis, "have you not learnt that at school in your lessons on physics? Do you not know that it is by atmospheric pressure; the air being exhausted from the pipe, the water is forced through?"
Fred said he had learned all these things, but never understood them well. And then, when the water was all drawn off, there was no end of little, things to pop into the glass jars of clean water. Snails, and beetles, and caddis worms; newts, frogs, toads, tadpoles, tiny crayfish, and about a dozen tiny eels; while the grandest fellow in the whole glass kingdom was a little jack, about five inches long, who wouldn't be caught in the net, but dodged round the rock-work, and had at last to be taken out by hand. Then the bottom was all renewed with fresh gravel and stones; fresh-water plants put in; and all the inhabitants restored to their glass home to dash about with delight; while, as soon as he felt himself in fresh-water, a great mussel, that lay down at the side, put out his pretty white mantle; the snails began sailing up and down, and the water spiders began to pop in and out among the fresh plants and weave webs, just as if they were out of the water, and did not have to carry their supply of air down in a bright silvery-looking bubble attached to their bodies.
Mr Inglis said he had hard work with all his pets, for they were so fond of eating one another, and the jack was the worst of the whole party, and always in mischief; but he was such a handsome green and gold fellow, and so tame, that he could not be turned out, even though he bit off the tiny gold fish's tail one day, and made him so bad that he died.
So what with getting the aquarium to rights, assisting to rearrange the plants in the conservatory, and helping to water them, so that they should not be teased by seeing the rain fall outside whilst they were kept dry within doors, it got to be tea-time; and, dull as the day had been, Fred declared he had enjoyed it wonderfully, and only wanted tea to be over for Mr Inglis to fulfil his promise, and show them the pictures of the sea anemones, and the other wondrous things that were found on the seashore, where they were to go one afternoon before Fred went back.
Mr Inglis used to say that he liked his boys to learn scientific things, but not after the fashion of parrots; so he used to bring before their notice the wonders of animal and vegetable life, that are spread around us waiting to be noticed; and then, in reply to their questions, give them the information they sought. The consequence was, that the lads gained a vast amount of information through having their interest excited, and what they learned in this way was never forgotten.
VISITING THE FISH-TRAPS.
Fred's first act the next morning on waking, which he did before six, was to jump out of bed and ran to the window. It was dull, certainly, and a great heavy mist was rising from the soaked earth; but the ram had ceased, and there were hopes that it might turn out a fine day. Having satisfied himself upon this point, he went on tiptoe to his cousins' room, where the lads were in their beds, one on each side of the window, fast asleep, and looking as though they would not wake up for another hour.
Fred was so proud of his achievement in being up first that he stood for a moment considering what he should do, when, pulling a piece of string from his pocket, he wetted it in the jug, and, twisting up one end, proceeded to tickle Harry's nose with the soft point. Harry gave a vicious rub at the irritated organ, and then another, and another, but without opening his eyes. Fred then drew the string gently over eyes, cheeks, and forehead, making the tormented boy twist and turn in his bed, muttering something about "bothering flies." The next place of attack was the ear, which was directly protected by the insertion of one of Harry's fingers; so that Fred was obliged to return to the nose again, all the time hardly driven to keep from laughing aloud; and this time he titillated the poor fellow so unmercifully that he burst out with a violent sneeze, and sitting up in bed was face to face with his tormentor.
"Er-tchishew, er-tchishew!" said Harry, bouncing out of bed with his pillow in his hand. "Phil! Phil!" he shouted, "here's a trespasser."
Philip jumped up and followed his brother's example, and between the two poor Fred got so bolstered, or rather pillowed, that he was fain to cry out for mercy, just as a sharp rapping at the wall told the boys that they had disturbed the Squire.
Directly after breakfast the lads started to go to the mill, which was the property of Mr Inglis, but held by one of his tenants, Mr Pollard.
"Oh! he has got such a rum fellow there for a man," said Harry; "we call him Dusty Bob; but he's such a good chap, and will tell you all sorts of tales about catching fish in mills; for he's always lived in watermills ever since he was a boy. But his proper name's Peagrim."
The anxiety to see the "rum fellow"—Dusty Bob—made the boys hurry on, but there were again so many attractions by the wayside that stoppages were very frequent. The sandy roads had soaked up all the rain, but on every leaf and spray heavy dew-drops were hanging and glittering in the morning sun; while the birds were singing as though to make up for lost time. The road wound, along by the old mossy palings which bounded Mr Inglis's property, and the grove on the other side seemed to be the special resort of all the sweetest warblers in that part of the country. On every sunny bit of paling the flies were buzzing and humming; beetles and little sun-shiners were crawling about; while great variegated spiders were mending their nets, ready for the trade they hoped to do in flies on that bright July day.
Such a scent came up from the freshened earth; and bright and golden green looked every leaf, washed clear of the dust that had rested upon it a day or two before; while the hedge-side flowers, although nodding with the watery weight they bore, had turned their opening petals to the sun, and seemed to laugh out their welcome to his warm bright beams.
"There goes a peacock-eye," said Philip, dashing after a lovely butterfly, which kept on gently just before him for a time, and then settled nicely in reach upon a robin-run-rake by the hedge-side. Philip stole cautiously forward, cap in hand, and then made a dab down to secure the brightly-painted prize; but, with one or two flaps from those gorgeous wings, it was out of reach, over the palings, and away across the buttercup-gilded meadow on the other side.
Directly after, Harry was off after a great sulphur-coloured butterfly, which led him a long chase down the lane—Fred joining in at first, but afterwards taking up a chase on his own account after a large blue dragon fly. The butterflies would not be caught that morning, but the chase had one good effect, for it led the lads down to the banks of the little river, now very full and muddy in its waters, which were rushing along with great haste, and evidently in a hurry to get down to the mill, and go tumbling and foaming over the muddy sluice at the head of the waste-water. The tops of the reeds were nearly covered, and in some places the water was out over the road; while down where the foot-plank crossed the wide ditch that brought down the waters from Beaker Hill to empty into the river, the water had risen so that it touched the board, and supplied capital amusement to Harry, who danced in the middle of it, sending the water flashing and splashing about in all directions, and wetting everything around but himself.
At last he grew tired, and Philip crossed too, but Fred hardly dared venture, for the board was muddy and slippery, and at last Harry had to come back and half lead him over; but it was a new feat to him. And now they reached the mill, which stood upon a little island right in the river—an island that stretched up the stream right to a point, with a stout post driven in to break the force of the river, which now seemed quite angry at being divided, and rushed round on both sides, foaming and roaring as though it was determined to carry island, mill, and everything else away.
"Come along, Fred," said Harry; but Fred felt nervous; it was all new to him, and he could hardly summon up courage to cross the frail bridge over the foaming waters that rushed down the sluice, and formed a cataract on the other side—the waters plunging down in a muddy torrent, and then boiling up in the maddest way. But he grasped his cousin's hand tightly, and, crossing the bridge, walked round the mill to the other side. And now he could feel the whole place tremble and vibrate as the water rushed under the dark arches to the mill wheels, which were going swiftly round; while inside the tall wooden building, pair after pair of stones were spinning round and round, turning the hard, firm corn into white nutritious flour.
Philip led the way, and they entered the mill, where the warning bells were ringing to give notice that the corn was flowing down rightly; and the mill-hoppers kept on "ruttle, ruttle;" the water hissed, seethed, and rushed under their feet; the millstones rumbled round and round; and there on the top of the sacks, with which the place was half filled, sat the two great white cats belonging to the miller, fast asleep; while in a corner, upon a heap of empty corn bags, sat Dusty Bob himself, nodding and nodding as though he meant to shake his head off.
"Hallo, Bob, hoy!" shouted Harry in a voice which was hardly heard above the din in the mill.
"Hullo!" said Bob, gruffly, jumping up. "Oh, it's you, young masters, is it? Well, I expect I've been asleep. I was up half the night, for we were so busy, and had so much water."
"Here's our cousin from London; and Papa said we might bring him to see the fish-traps; and he said you were to have that for showing us," said Philip, pulling out a shilling from his pocket; which action made Bob's eyes twinkle, and removed all sleepiness.
"Stop a minute, young genelmen," said he, going to a cupboard in a corner, and taking out a black teapot—at least what should have been black, but it was all over flour. "There," he said, "that's what I always keeps there to drink when too much dust gets down my throat." Saying which Bob took a long drink of cold tea out of the spout, and then generously offered it to all the visitors, who declared that it was such a little time since they had had breakfast that they would rather not.
"More left for me then," said Bob; "and now for the fish-traps. I opened them last night, but I forgot to look this morning; so you're just right, my lads—just right. Shouldn't wonder if there was a whale down in the big trap after all this water; should you, Master Harry, eh?"
"None of your gammon, Bob. Think I don't know better than that? Why don't you come and look at the traps?"
"'Cos I ain't in such a hurry as you are," replied Bob. "You'd like me to run, wouldn't you, eh?"
"Do come, Bob," said Philip, putting in his appeal to the rough and dusty object before him—an appeal not without its effect, for Bob gave a very dusty smile; and then, reaching down a bunch of keys from a nail in the wall, proceeded with one of them to open a door which led down a dark flight of damp stairs to the under regions of the mill, where the two great toothed wheels were swiftly revolving—dripping with water, and looking horribly wet, slimy, and muddy; while between them, and on each side, were what Harry had called the fish-traps: large contrivances of strong laths about half an inch apart, forming very wide and deep cages, down into which, in a torrent, the water rushed and passed through—of course leaving therein everything in the shape of fish that had been brought down by the swiftly speeding current.
At the first sight of the gloomy cellar-like place and the sound of the rushing stream, mingled with the hollow cavernous plashing noise of the water running from the wheels as they rose from out the deep well-like chasms where they did their duty, Fred shrunk back and hardly liked to descend; but, seeing how coolly and confidently his cousins went down, he summoned up courage and followed, while Bob proceeded to inspect trap number one.
"Well! that's a pretty go," said Bob; "shan't catch many fish that a way, anyhow."
"Why, what's the matter?" said Harry, looking at the great wooden fish cage.
"Matter!" said Bob; "why, some one's left the door open."
"I know who it was," said Harry, laughing, as he inspected the opening at the bottom of the trap, through which everything that had entered must have escaped. "I know who it was," said Harry, again.
"Who?" said Philip, innocently.
"Who? why, old Bob!"
"You are right," said Bob, grinning. "I did leave it open, because some one came in the mill, and then I had to go. Never mind, I couldn't help forgetting to come down again, could I?"
On going to the next trap they found that the force of the water had broken two of the bottom laths away, leaving room for any sized fish to get out; but for all that there was a great black-backed slimy-looking monster of an eel, nearly a yard long, gently gliding about over one side of the cage, close to the hole.
"Now, Bob," said Harry, "here he is, such a stomper; get him out quick."
But Bob did not get him out quick, for upon the first touch of the barred door, the eel gave a glide, went through the broken bottom of the trap, and was gone.
"Oh—oh—oh!" chorused the boys, "what a pity!"
"Why didn't you be quicker, Bob?" said Harry, "I know I could have caught him. How jolly tiresome! Do be careful next time."
"Why, wasn't I careful?" said Bob. "There ain't a slipperier thing anywheres, than one of them big eels. There ain't no holding of them at all when there are no holes in the bottom of the traps; and of course I couldn't stop that un without any salt to put on his tail."
"Don't talk such stuff," said Philip; "we are not children, and you don't think we believe all that rubbish about salt on tails, do you?"
Bob indulged in a long low chuckle, and then led the way to the last trap under the mill, though there was one at the head of the waste-water outside. It was very dark in the corner where they now went, but in spite of the darkness the boys could see the silvery gleam of something moving behind the bars, while Bob suddenly grinned out—
"Now then, young gents, here they are; but stop while I fetches a pail."
Bob went upon his errand, and slowly ascended the steps that led into the mill, while the boys crept as close as possible to the trap, through which the water was rushing swiftly. It was very evident that there were several good-sized fish in; but while they looked, something seemed to dart down from above, there was a great splashing and flapping about, and then it grew pretty evident that a new-comer had joined the prisoners—who had all commenced bobbing and flopping about, as though to remonstrate against his arrival.
And now came Bob with a great pail, which he held under the sliding door of the trap, telling Harry to pull it open. He did so, and into it glided the pailful of different kinds of fish, while one monster of an eel got half his body over the side and slipped out on to the damp floor, where he began to wriggle and twist, evidently meaning to get down one of the wheel channels. But Bob had seen one fine fellow slip away that morning, and did not mean to lose this one; for he knew it would be worth shillings to him, either to sell, or to send by his young visitors up to Squire Inglis's; so at it he dashed, nearly upsetting the pail as he hastily banged it down. And now began a regular battle, the eel making for the water, and the eel-catcher keeping him away. It was one of those monsters that are rarely caught by hook and line, but which lie in the deep muddy holes of rivers, out of which places they mostly sally when there is a flood.
Strong! it was as strong, Bob said, as a horse, and writhed and twisted about so that he could not retain his grasp upon its slippery shiny skin.
Twice he got it up in a corner, tight up against the brick wall, and away it went again close to the water's edge and was nearly lost, but for a lucky kick from Harry which saved it. No one else cared about touching the monster, and at last it appeared as though the prize would escape after all, for Bob was trying to retain it with one hand only— the other appearing to be disabled in some way or another; but it was not so, for Bob meant mischief, and his hand reappeared with his great bread and cheese knife, which he opened with his teeth, and then, with one great gash, nearly severed the unfortunate eel's head from his snaky body.
"There!" said Bob, triumphantly; "that are the biggest eel I ever caught in this here water. Why, he weighs six pound, I know he do. Shut the door of that ere trap again, Master Harry, and there'll be some more to-night, I know."
Saying this, Bob made a commotion in the pail by laying his great prize on the top of the other captives, and then carried them all carefully up into the mill, where the visitors proceeded to gloat over the spoil.
Two or three sacks were laid upon the mill floor, and then Bob emptied the pail, and there they were, flapping, leaping, and writhing about; such a collection of fish as would have made any angler glow and feel proud to carry home. First there was the great eel—such a monster, with body as thick as Bob's wrist: then there was a beautiful trout about two pounds' weight; a little jack about half the size; about two dozen of fine roach; and about thirty eels of all sizes—one so small, that the wonder was that he had not got through the bars; and the largest so big, that it would have almost passed for the big one's brother; while all of them seemed to consider that it was their duty to get off the sacks as soon as possible, and therefore wriggled and twisted towards the edges, giving the boys plenty of occupation to turn them back, which Fred did with a piece of stick, wisely keeping the uncouth creatures at a distance.
"Now, what's to be done with them all?" said Bob.
"I should like to have the little jack to put in our pond," said Harry.
"Why, he'd kill all the roach," said Philip.
"So he would," said his brother; "but then he's a nicer-looking fellow than any there."
"Well, I'll tell you what," said Bob, "we'll put the six biggest eels and the trout into a basket, and you shall take 'em home—young jack and all; and them tothers I shall send up into the village to sell."
This was considered to be a capital arrangement; and soon after, off the boys started with their basket tied tightly down to keep the eels from getting out during the journey. Fred declined to help carry on account of the eels, so Harry and Philip took a handle each and swung it between them—a nice easy way for them, but very uncomfortable for the poor eels, for every now and then Master Harry would swing so hard that the basket would make a complete revolution, twist Philip's wrist, and, making him leave go, the basket would come down bump upon the gravel path. On they went, however, till they came to the little plank bridge, over which Fred tripped lightly; and stood on the other side, laughing, out of the reach of any splashing that Harry might feel disposed to favour him with.
The water had sunk a few inches lower during their visit to the mill; and when Harry and Philip stood in the middle of the plank, which could not of course be passed without having a splash, Harry began to spring up and down, and the board being tolerably elastic, he and his brother had a pretty good ride; but although there was double weight now upon it, the plank would not touch the water.
"Try again, Phil," said Harry. And up and down went the brothers for a minute, but still clear of the water.
"Come along, now," said Philip, "it's no use."
"One more try, and a good one," said Harry; and then they began again. "Now," he continued, "both together. One: that was a good one. Two: better still. Three: and a—"
Just as they gave the last spring, there was a sharp crack from the plank; a shriek from all the boys simultaneously; and Harry and Philip were struggling in the deep water, for the plank bridge had divided in two just in the centre.
Fred ran to the edge, and, by kneeling down, managed to catch Philip's hand, which was the only portion of him visible, as he was being swept out of the broad ditch, which was running swiftly, into the river, for fear and excitement had robbed him of his swimming powers; while Harry, who could swim well, had given two or three strokes, and then, catching the long grass, climbed out upon the opposite side. The next thing they all did was to stand and stare at each other in blank amazement, from which Harry was the first to recover, for he jumped about, shook himself like a Newfoundland dog, and then said bluntly:—
"Don't you cry, Phil, we're quite wet enough. Never mind; Papa won't be very cross if we go and tell him directly. I'm coming across now," and in spite of the protestations of Philip and Fred, he got sloth fashion— hanging hands and legs—upon the pole that had served as a hand rail to the broken plank, and which maintained its own bearings, and in spite of its bending beneath his weight, he shuffled across, and stood wet and dripping beside his companions.
"Come on," said Harry, shaking himself again, and addressing the others, who were still standing with long faces by the broken bridge: "let's run; we shall soon be home, and nobody will meet us in Park Lane."
"But where's the basket?" exclaimed Fred.
"Oh!" cried Harry, aghast.
"Why, it's gone," said Fred, "and the fish can't get out, though they are in the water."
Gone it was; there was not even a handle of the basket to be seen above the water, though they looked long and anxiously up and down the river, and everywhere that seemed impossible for it to have got to. But it was gone, and no doubt the poor eels were drinking in their natural element and twisting about in their little wicker prison; turning their companions, the decapitated eel and the dead trout, over and over, and up and down, in their efforts to escape.
At last the trio started off, but with anything but light hearts, for their appearance was far from being as neat as when they set off in the morning. Fred was all over flour, through kneeling in the mill and lolling up against the sacks; while his cousins looked as wet, muddy, and pitiable, as two unfortunate, half-drowned young monkeys could look. The butterflies flitted before them and danced up and down in the sunny air, displaying their gorgeous wings; the yellowhammer flew out from amongst the nettles, and betrayed the place where his sober-hued little mate was sitting upon her grassy nest; a stoat ran across the road with a bird in his mouth, and disappeared in the bank unchased; the corncrake sang his harsh song in the park, seemingly close beneath the pales; and two squirrels ran along the road right in front of them, and then sat down with their little bushy tails cocked up, watching the boys ever so long before they darted up the beech-tree bole, and hid behind the great branches. But it was of no use; there was no tempting the boys out of their solid sombre moodiness; and on they tramped, fishless and disconsolate, for their young spirits were not damped, but literally drenched; and then, too, they had lost their wicker idol, full of captives—captives which, like those of the ancient Britons, were to have been roasted; but now, alas! were in danger of being drowned; if, as old anglers tell us, fish can be drowned.
The day was brighter than ever, but for them it had lost its brightness; and sadly and slowly they crossed the stile, crept across the home-field, round to the stable-yard, and in by the back door; and, no one seeing them, hurried up to their bedrooms, so that Harry and Philip were able to make a decent appearance at dinner-time, without frightening Mr and Mrs Inglis by their half-drowned aspect.
It took a long time before it came to the surface, and a great amount of determination before Harry could speak out respecting the morning's mishap; for he, though the younger, was always the chief speaker; but at last out it came with a rush, while Papa was helping the pudding, making him give such a start that he put the wedge-shaped piece of rhubarb pudding right upon the snowy white tablecloth instead of Fred's plate.
"I say, Papa, Philip and I tumbled into Whaley Dyke, coming home from the mill to-day; and it was so full that Phil would have been drowned, for he was too much afraid to swim, only Fred pulled him out."
And then, as the ice was broken, Harry told the whole tale, not omitting the loss of the basket; and, though both Papa and Mamma looked serious as they thought of the danger their boys had run, yet, as Harry had prophesied, Papa was not very cross about it; and, after a little serious admonition, shook hands with them all round, and said how proud he was to think he could always trust his boys to tell the truth, for now he could always have confidence in their word, and feel that he could depend upon them in everything.
"But, papa," said Harry at last, breaking out into a regular whimper, "they were such eels!"
"And such a trout!" said Philip. "And such a jack!" said Fred. "And they've all gone back to the river again," said Harry; "and I did want the jack for the little pond, and old Bob will be sure to come up to-night to see if you will give him something for the eels, and we didn't get them."
"Never mind, boys," said Mr Inglis; "I dare say we can make it all right with Bob, the miller; and no doubt there are as fine eels in the river as ever came out of it."
As for Mrs Inglis, she seemed to take a more loving fancy to Fred than she had before accorded to her sister's child; for had he not saved her boy's life?
Sure enough, Bob came down to the house that very evening, grinning and smirking, and looking as pleasant as if he felt sure that he was going to have some of the squire's home-brewed ale, and half-a-crown as well. But Bob grinned a little more than he would have done in general upon such an occasion; and when he caught sight of the boys he kept grinning more than ever, and beckoning them in his uncouth way to come to him; but Harry and Philip did not feel much disposed to go to Bob, for there was all the dissatisfaction of the loss of the fish, and they did not like Bob being paid for what they did not profit by. But at last Bob's demonstrations were so violent that the three boys went into the kitchen together, and then and there the dusty old rascal drew from behind him, all the while grinning and showing his teeth more than ever, the very basket they had lost, tied-up as though it had never been opened, and with all the fish inside.
Fred looked upon Bob as though he was a mighty conjurer.
"Why, they came down the stream to the mill," said Harry, beaming with his discovery. "So they did, Master Harry; you're right."
"And you found them up against the grating?"
"So I did, Master Harry; I did find 'em there."
"And then you brought them here?"
"So I did, Master Harry; you're right, I did."
"Oh! hooray!" shouted Harry. "Hooray!" shouted Phil.
"Hurray!" said Fred, hardly knowing why, but cheering because the others did. And then out came the Squire, and out came Mrs Inglis, and out came the eels, and out came the praises, and out came Bob's half-crown; and the next day when those fish were cooked, the Squire declared that this was the best trout he had ever tasted; and as to the eels, why they were the richest, nicest, and best eels that were ever eaten, and no one enjoyed them better than the boys who had had so much difficulty in gaining them for a prize.
BUYING A NEW WATER-BOTTLE.
And now one morning, as soon as it was daylight, Harry jumped out of bed and ran to his brother's, and with one whisk dragged everything off— sheet, blankets, counterpane, and almost Philip, and then the young ruffian rushed into Fred's room, served him in the same way, and narrowly escaped a crack on the head from his cousin's boot, which was sent flying after him as he ran, but hit the wall instead, and then fell toe foremost into the big wash hand jug, that seemed as if it stood there on purpose to catch it.
"Jump up, boys; why it's ever so late, I believe," said Harry. "I'll go and see what time it is. Shrimping day!"
Directly after Harry reappeared in Fred's room, and found Philip there.
"I say, the clock's stopped in the night; it wants a quarter to four by that old stupid thing on the staircase. I'll go down to the dining-room and see there; I know it's half-past seven, and everybody is lying in bed because Papa said we should all start in good time for the sands. Don't I wish I was behind old Sam! Shouldn't I like to put a wasp in his bed!"
He then slipped quietly down to the dining-room. All was still; the blinds drawn down, but the room was light enough for him to see the hands upon the face of the little timepiece over the fireplace.
"Ten minutes to four," said the clock.
"All the clocks are wrong," said Harry, pettishly. "It must be late. I know it is. I'll go in the kitchen."
So off he went, pat, pat, with his bare feet over the oilcloth, and then upon the sandy stones in the kitchen. Plenty of light there, and the old Dutch clock plainly to be seen, only the pendulum stood still, and the weights had run down; for cook had forgotten to draw them up on the previous night. "Quarter to twelve," said the clock.
"Oh! come, that won't do," said Harry. "I know it's late. Don't I wish I had a watch of my own; I should know what the real time was then."
Up he went to Fred's room with the same tale upon his lips respecting the time, but as unbelieving as ever.
"Why, it is only four o'clock," said Philip, looking out of the window; "and there's the sun just rising. Well, you are a chap, Hal, to wake one up at this time of the morning and say it's late. I shall go to bed again."
"So shall I," said Fred.
"No, you won't," said Harry; dragging the clothes together and making a bundle, with which he ran off into his own room with both the others in full chase. And then began a regular scrimmage, French and English fashion, and Harry, having two enemies, was pulled down sprawling over a rushbottom chair, and then nearly kicked over the washstand, making such a clatter that the Squire knocked angrily at the wall; when off the noisy ones ran back into Fred's room, Harry this time being the pursuer, armed with his bolster, "Bang, crash—crash, bang—whiz—wuz—rush." Fred went backwards upon his bed, hors de combat, from a well-directed blow from Harry's bolster; and then at it went Harry and Phil—the latter being armed with a pillow, down whose front a ghastly slit soon showed itself; but Philip fought well, and Harry was getting worsted and driven into the corner amongst the boots, where the footing was rather bad for bare feet "Flop!" Harry caught it then and staggered back. "Flop" again, for Philip was surpassing himself, and Harry having received the last blow full upon the top of his head went down upon one knee; but he rallied again, ducked to avoid the next blow, and diving under Philip's arm came up behind, and "Whooz!" went the bolster bang upon Phil's back, and "Crash!" went Philip forward, ram fashion, with his head into the wardrobe door.
At it again: "whop—whop—flip—flop—bang," went pillow and bolster, while Fred, sitting tailor fashion upon his bed, was rolling with laughter. At last Philip began to shew signs of being beaten, and Harry whirled his bolster round his head in order to administer the coup de grace, when "crash!"—the water-bottle and tumbler were swept off the dressing-table, splintering to pieces on the floor, and covering the carpet with feet-piercing fragments and puddles of cold water.