Having enjoyed a good roar, and feeling wonderfully refreshed thereby—for Bab was too proud to have shed a tear in Aunt Anastasia's and Miss Strictham's presence—the poor little thing got hold of her lesson-books and prepared to learn a French verb, some questions and answers in English history, and to do a sum in compound addition, and write a copy.
"As if it mattered to such a little thing as I am whether King John was a good man or a bad one, or what sort of a thing Magna Charta was!" said she, reproachfully, to her book; "as if it mattered to anybody, indeed, when it was such an extremely long time ago! Eleven hundred and ninety-nine he came to the throne; and who'd care if he had never been born or never come to the throne? And we're not barons, and we've not got Magna Charta; and it's all nothing at all, but a great pity it ever happened, for if it hadn't happened, poor little children living hundreds and hundreds of years afterwards would not be troubled about it. I call it rubbish!" and with the word rubbish she tossed the little book up, and down it came with a broken back.
Bab picked it up and held it with one corner. When she saw the melancholy scrambling way in which the cover and the pages hung, she went off into irresistible shouts of laughter—for Bab's laugh was as loud and as hearty as her cry. Then she did her sums and wrote her copy, and after that Maria brought in her dinner.
Bab clapped her hands for joy when she saw what the tray contained, and then she began her dinner.
But now the lessons were over, the dinner was finished, and what was poor little Bab to do for the rest of the time?
She went round the room, casting out first her right hand and then her left, touching thus in turn everything in the apartment, but there was nothing more interesting than a pen-wiper, a schoolroom inkstand, or a grammar, so she called out "No, no, no" to everything, and then all of a sudden down came her hand on a big book with scarlet and white binding, and she gave a loud scream, a pirouet, and then said "Yes!"
Yes; I should think so. Why, it was Mr. Beresford's fairy book—the beautiful book he was showing them last night.
Then she seized on the precious book, brought it over with quite a struggle to the school desk, opened it there, and with elbows on table and cheeks on hands, gave herself over to perfect enjoyment. And so it was that we saw Miss Bab when our story began, sitting before the great book enjoying herself.
Such beautiful, lovely pictures went round every page, with a little verse set down right in the middle of the pictures. Fairies gorgeously coloured, all twining together or mixing themselves up with butterflies till you scarcely knew which was which, and not one bit of white paper to be seen through or mid the brilliant creatures—actually a wide border of fairies and butterflies, and nothing else, and the verse in the middle was also in illuminated letters.
In her eagerness, hanging over the book to read it, Bab happened to lean on the end of a pen standing up in art inkstand. She was too much interested to know what it was, but it came spluttering out, and a little speck of ink splashed on the white paper beyond the border.
"Oh, oh!" cried excited Bab; "is it not like some little bad fairy running along to hurt them?"
It was very hot, and Bab's eyes shut after she had said that, and when she opened them again she forgot the bad fairy, she was so shocked to see the splash of ink on the paper. And then she felt the sun warmer and warmer, and she shut her eyes once more.
"Look again," said a very little voice, but very sweet, oh, so sweet!
So she did look again. She saw all the beautiful painted fairies and butterflies had risen up alive from the page, and were dancing and gliding round and round it, never passing off the border to the outside or the inside. It was a lovely sight to see, and little Bab laughed and clapped her hands. Then a very grand and proud-looking fairy slipped out of the dance, and stationed herself in front, where she could take a good look at Bab.
"Little girl, why did you do that?" said the fairy, severely.
"Oh, what, please?" Bab was a brave child, but she did feel a little shaky and nohow just then.
"Brought the bad fairy Blackame to creep in among us and eat up our butterflies."
And had Bab really the power to bring a fairy Blackame over there when she thought it was only a splash of ink? And she looked with a sort of terror on the bad fairy Blackame when she thought she had brought her, and could not send her away.
"Oh, fairy, fairy!" she cried, "do forgive me. But can that wretched little black splashy thing—for you really can't call it a splash—eat your butterflies when there are so many of you to fight for them, and they've got heaps and heaps of wings to fly away with?"
"But how can we manage that?" replied the fairy, sharply, "when we are too timid to fight and the butterflies are too brave to fly away."
"Well, that is inconvenient," sighed Bab; "but don't you think, since the butterflies are so brave—how I do like them for being so brave!—don't you think they might fight a little?"
"Butterflies fight!" screamed the fairy. "Were butterflies ever seen to fight since the first butterfly? What will you say next? I think you are a very disagreeable little girl. First you bring down Blackame, and then you want to set all our dear pretty butterflies fighting."
"It was you who said they were so brave," murmured Bab, half penitent and half injured.
"And pray, is there any reason why I should not be permitted to say that butterflies are brave?" asked the fairy, with a sort of deadly politeness.
"And so much as I used to long to see a fairy!" sighed Bab to herself; "and now I really wish she would go away.
"What are you prepared to do about Blackame?—tell me," demanded the fairy, suddenly.
She made Bab jump, but Bab did not mind that; she was a straightforward child, and liked to go direct at a thing. She reflected, and then she faced the difficulty she had got into bravely, and replied in a grave, resolute way, "Anything you wish."
The fairy looked at her. "Why couldn't you say so before?" she said, very sharply. "It would have saved all this trouble."
Again Bab felt that it was not fair—she thought the fairy was unfairer even than Selina; but she was a fairy, and besides that, Bab had brought Blackame down upon them; so she said instantly, not meekly and humbly; for that was not her way—but in a resolute, hearty manner, that gave one confidence to see—"Just tell me, and I'll do it."
"I'll tell you," said the fairy quite good-naturedly, "and you'll do it. That's quite fair. Well now, the thing to do is this: go out in the evening with a long pole, and knock up high into the branches of the trees, and glance up and down, holding your dress out, and singing:—
'I'm the girl that brought him in, Blackame! What a rout! Little birds that cannot sin. Drive the wretched fellow out, Blackame;'
And then you'll see——" but what she was to see Bab never knew; something touched her, and then rushed with headlong sound through the window. The fairy was gone, and, stranger still, the bright beautiful book, with its butterflies and fairies, was gone too.
She looked lazily round her, and, to her surprise, saw Selina standing at the other end of the table.
"Why are you home so early?"
"Home so early! It's half-past five, if you please. Why, you lazy little thing, you've been asleep all the time!"
Bab looked at the clock on the mantel-piece, and saw it was a quarter to six. How quickly the time passes when you are with fairies! She knew she had not been asleep, because she knew she had had the visit from the fairy, and she was so anxious to know what would happen next. About seven o'clock she thought she might go out with a long pole to the tree; and she supposed the fairies had put the book somewhere, till the birds should come and drive Blackame out of it, and she hoped very much Mr. Beresford would not miss his beautiful book till then, when it would be clear from the black splotch which she now knew was not Blackame.
"Where is Robert?" asked Miss Selina. "He dashed out of the carriage and through here, and he must have gone out by the window. And you must have been asleep, or you would have heard him."
Bab remembered the sound of the rush through the window, and she saw now a spill of ink just by the place where the book had been. But Robert could not have been there, because she was talking to the fairy at the very time, and she must have noticed him, and felt him greatly in the way.
When it was past seven o'clock, Bab slipped away, and took Mr. Beresford's alpenstock out of the stand in the hall, and beat about the branches of the elms and horse-chestnuts, and danced and sang, holding her dress up, and did everything exactly as the fairy had told her to do, and as you will see her doing in the picture.
But she had not been dancing and singing (Bab often recalled the scene, when she was older, with pleasure) more than about twenty minutes before Aunt Anastasia put her head out of the window, and told her to come in.
It was much pleasanter to be dancing for the fairies up and down, with outstretched frock, than to go into the house and find Blackame still on the page, and have to confess she brought him there, and be in disgrace for it.
Mr. Beresford held out a kind hand to her, and drew her to his side.
The book, when Mr. Beresford took it in his hands, naturally opened at the page where it had been lying open that morning so long, and there were all the fairies and butterflies lying flat and beautiful, and the verses in the middle of the page. But there, instead of Blackame, were five or six Blackames perhaps, intertwining together like the fairies and the butterflies, but bearing to mortal eyes nothing but the appearance of a thick smudge of ink.
"Oh, I didn't do that!" cried poor little Bab, and burst into tears.
"Who did, then?" inquired Mr. Beresford, quickly.
"Why, I saw Robert with the book in the hall soon after we came home," cried Selina, on impulse.
"Did you do it, Robert?" asked Mr. Beresford.
"Why does she say she didn't do it, and begin to blubber?" cried Robert, politely designating Bab over his shoulder. "Wasn't she left at home? Who could do it but she?"
"Because I saw you do it," replied Mr. Beresford, and Robert's white face became scarlet—the mean little fellow as he stood there before them, who had committed a fault, and then tried to lay the blame on a girl. "Bab was lying back in her chair fast asleep, and with bright smiles on her face, that showed that she was having happy dreams, when in you ran, jumped over desk, book, and all; threw a little of the ink across the page by a kick with your foot, then looking with dismay at your work, tucked the book under your arm, and jumped through the window with it."
Robert blubbered at this. "I wanted to take the ink out."
"You have been a very bad boy," said his father. "You deserve a flogging, and shall have it. I am very much grieved about your book, Beresford."
Robert almost screamed.
"I think more of his laying the fault on this little girl," replied Mr. Beresford, his hand among Bab's curls, "than of the book."
Bab sidled up to him. He sat at the table looking so kindly at her, and she stood by him, her elbow on it, and with her pretty modest eyes fixed on him. "But it doesn't seem quite as if he did that, does it?" she asked; "he took the book away to make it well. If he had left it with me, everybody would have believed I did it, and he knew that quite well."
"No, he had not laid a plot, but at the moment he put the blame on you."
"That was because he is such a coward. Pray, he couldn't help it; he was too frightened. You were too frightened, weren't you, Robert? You are such a coward!" Bab said plainly.
Robert, still crying, she made his excuses.
"And I am very sorry. I'd quite forgotten; but I did it too."
Mr. Beresford smiled.
"Did what, little Bab?"
"Ah, perhaps you'll be angry, and I shall be so very sorry; but I must tell. I did it too."
She sidled up a little nearer, and looked gently at him.
"Did what too?"
"I spurted a little—leetle ink by a spluttering pen, and it was a bad fairy called Blackame; and another fairy was just telling me how to set it right, when Robert must have rushed in and did it all; but if I hadn't put the book on the desk near the ink, nothing would have happened, and Robert would be happy. Oh, please, Uncle Jem, don't flog Robert."
"Very well; you are a good little thing, Bab. Go to bed this moment, sir; perhaps I may let you off, as your cousin is so kind."
Robert left the room, and his father followed to at least give him a good scolding. Bab was left alone with Mr. Beresford. She stood near him, with a wistful expression about both her face and her figure.
"Will it spoil the book? And it has all happened because I was naughty and couldn't be taken. I think they had better take me next time, Mr. Beresford, whatever I've done;" and a humorous look sparkled into Bab's eyes.
"And the fairies came and talked to you? But do you know it was not really a fairy, Bab? You were fast asleep, for I saw you myself; you must have been dreaming."
"Oh dear! And was not it a fairy? then it was just a common dance I had under the tree. But do you know I'm not quite sorry, for she was not half as nice as fairies are; and that was not really a Blackame, was it? Well, I'm sorry I could call up a bad fairy, only I do wish I had really been dancing for birds."
"I wish you were not so often in disgrace, little Bab."
"So do I; but I don't think I shall be next year. Father and mother are coming home then from the Mauritius, and I shall be an own little girl again."
Mr. Beresford kissed Bab affectionately when she said that, but Bab did not know why he kissed her.
A HELPING HAND.
Frank's road to school leads over ways Where yet no trains approach, And past the Yellow Dragon Inn, Where stops the Dirleton coach: Here the old horses, Duke and Ned, Are daily watered, changed, and fed.
Frank knows them well, and one hot day, As whistling home he sped, He saw the patched old feeding-bag That hung at Neddy's head Fell too far down—Ned vainly tried To reach the yellow corn inside.
No one was near—Ned tossed his head, And strove, but still in vain, Hungry as any horse might be, To seize the tempting grain; Frank checked his headlong homeward course, And then approached the wearied horse.
With quick light hands he raised the bag, And made the strappings tight; Ned hid his nose among the corn, And softly neighed delight. For Frank it was sufficient prize To read his thanks in Ned's bright eyes.
SOME FAMOUS RAILWAY TRAINS AND THEIR STORY.
By HENRY FRITH.
IV.—THE CONTINENTAL MAIL AND "TIDAL" TRAINS.
We have to travel in two important trains now, and within twenty-four hours will make two trips, the one by night, the other by day. Hitherto, we have been standing with our drivers in full daylight, looking at the pleasant country, and thinking of many historical events as we pass. Now we have to mount our engine at night, and go all the way to Dover without stopping.
We will start from Cannon Street this time, at ten minutes past eight p.m. We could go at a quarter to eight or ten o'clock in the morning, but it will be quite a new experience for us to travel on an engine by night, and return from Folkestone, on another occasion, by daylight and see the country as we fly along. Now let us start.
What a short train! Yes, it is, but then the Charing Cross portion with the West-end passengers has not yet arrived. Before it comes in we shall draw out to the bridge and back down upon the newly-arrived carriages. Then the train will be complete, and we shall start punctually as possible with "Her Majesty's Mails." Oh, what bags and sacks and vans full of letters have been, and are being, thrown into the mail-train! How roughly our poor little letters seem to be treated; tumbled out on the ground, tossed into the carriage which seems already full, and then hurriedly untied and sorted, by quick-fingered clerks, into the various pigeon-holes, and tied up in the local bags, to be dropped, perhaps, as the train flies past the various stations.
But the engine is waiting. We must turn away from the well-lighted sorting-van, bright even in the gleam of the electric light, which illuminates the great echoing station with its winking glare. On a platform just outside are numerous arms and signals—one arm is lowered; then another. The Charing-Cross portion of the mail is in now. It is thirteen minutes past eight p.m.—no doubt the "official" time for starting—and with a shriek we pass from the brilliant station to the darkness of the river.
The Thames flows sullenly down in the lamplight, swirling under the piers of the railway, and shimmering under the lights of London Bridge as we curve round above Tooley Street; but we do not stop at London Bridge Station on this occasion. We peep through the glasses in the weatherboard and see such a number of red and green signals, that it reminds us of the Crystal Palace devices in lamps, and even as we look some turn green (is it with envy at our speed?) or red (is it with anger at our passing on without saying good-night?) but our engine-driver, who never moves his head or speaks to us, looks in front—we are nearly in darkness now—and we look about us.
We feel warm about the feet and knees—the wind whistles around our waist. We stand near the fireman, looking through his glass, and near a hand-lamp, which shines on a water-gauge glass to tell the driver when the boiler needs replenishing. We rush past Bermondsey all lighted up, and we see in the distance blazing chimneys, down Deptford way, and red lights on the Brighton Railway rushing at us in the air, and white and green lights of engines rushing at us on the rails. We overtake and pass a train whose passengers look nice and warm, and one little boy is flattening his nose against the window, to see us pass, and no doubt thinks his train a very slow one, and his engine-driver a "muff," for being beaten in the "race."
So we leave the ancient "Beormund's Eye" where many hundred years ago was an abbey, and where now are tanneries and many trades with accompanying and peculiar odours. Away we go in a direct line over the Surrey Canal—the river and the ships we cannot see. We get a glimpse of the lighted Crystal Palace and rush into Chislehurst, where the late Emperor of the French and his son lie buried.
Puffing up hill as if it were short of breath the engine goes, and is suddenly swallowed up in a great tunnel! Oh, the roaring, the clattering, the clamp, clamp, clamp, the "dickery-dickery-dock" tune which the wheels play upon the metals and chairs and joints of the line! Suddenly we are out again under a starry sky; all the mist and fog and smoke are gone. The light which surrounded us in the tunnel, the flickering gleam which shone on us from roof and walls, is as suddenly dispersed and hangs now overhead in the white curling steam, as the fireman opens the furnace door, and the gleam dashes along with us like a halo.
From Sevenoaks our speed increases; the driver slackens off the steam, but we rush on faster and faster. Through another long tunnel, then into the open air round a curve, flying along an embankment until we think we must go over it. Rush, roar, and rattle! Speed slackens, bump, thump, whizz, a long whistle; green and red lights above and below, a big station, engines beside us, people like phantoms on the platforms, crash, bang! Tunbridge is passed, and we are running on level ground, in a straight line for full twenty miles, to Ashford. Ah, we can breathe again now. It did seem rather alarming just then.
So on we go towards Folkestone and Dover. Now the salt-laden breeze tells us we are near our destination. The sorting-clerks work harder and faster. The Continental mail-bags, Indian mail-bags, Mediterranean and China mail-bags, all are ready for transmission to the steamer. Into the tunnel through the
"... Cliff, whose high and bending head Looks fearfully on the confined deep"—
known as the Shakespeare cliff, in consequence of that description in "King Lear."
We quickly reach Dover, so well known as the resting-place of Queen Elizabeth's "Pocket Pistol," twenty-four feet long, on which is the legend—
"Load me well and keep me clean And I'll carry a ball to Calais Green."
The train glides down the pier, the carriage-doors are opened, mail-bags and muffled travellers are hurried on board. The lights are extinguished, the engine retreats into the darkness, then we jump off and go to bed.
Next time we meet our engine it is waiting for the Tidal train at Folkestone. This train starts from Charing Cross and from Paris daily, each way, at hours when the Channel passage can be accomplished at or near high water. We shall soon have a still faster service, and eight hours between London and Paris will be the usual time.
The run up to London need not be dwelt upon. The pace is not excessive, but punctuality is well observed, and the train runs in safety. We remember one bad accident, though, to the Tidal train.
It was at Staplehurst in 1865. The Whitsuntide series of accidents which disfigured that holiday season was closed by the terrible catastrophe that happened to the Tidal train on its way from Folkestone to London. This train is an erratic one. It travels at different hours each week, and changes daily. On the 9th June in that year (1865), the railway near Staplehurst was under repair. The men were working, and had taken up two rails when the Tidal train was seen approaching.
The foreman had mistaken the time. There was no chance of avoiding an accident. The express came dashing into the gap, and eight carriages were flung over a bridge into a little stream beneath. The engine and the tender jumped the vacant space of rail, and ran into the hedge, but the carriages toppled over, leaving only two of them on the line at the back, and the engine and luggage vans in front. So the eight other carriages hung down and crushed into each other. Ten persons were killed and many injured.
In the train was the late Charles Dickens, who was travelling to London. He had with him the MS. (or proofs) of a tale he was then engaged upon, and in the preface to the work he mentioned the occurrence. He was most useful to the injured passengers, and with other gentlemen exerted himself greatly to alleviate their sufferings. We need not dwell upon the painful scene of the accident, which created quite a sensation, as it occurred to the Continental express, by which so many holiday-makers travel.
We have not mentioned many accidents in the few papers we have put before you, for there is a sameness in them unfortunately; but we remember one terrible accident which occurred in consequence of a little boy playing on an engine, which ran away and caused a bad collision by dashing into a train which it overtook in its wild race.
Perhaps you little readers of LITTLE FOLKS are not aware that boys begin at a very early age to learn the mysteries of the locomotive engine. These lads are "cleaners" first, and have to rub up the bright parts of the engines, and clear out the fire-boxes. Accidents have happened to the lads, even boys have been killed by going to sleep in the fire-boxes, and when the fire was lighted next morning they have been suffocated. The engine-driver expects his fire lighted and steam got up for him when he comes down to the engine-shed, or "stable." You may, perhaps, have noticed the round houses near the railway—say at York Road, Battersea—those are the engine-"stables." Every engine is placed in its "stall," so that its chimney is just under an opening, or flue. It is also over a "pit," so that the fire can be raked out, or the working examined from underneath before the engine goes into the station next day to take the train away to the seaside, or to carry you to school, or home for the holidays. The engine-driver or the fireman examines the rods, cranks, and all the different joints, nuts, and screws; oiling or "packing," "easing off," or "tightening up" the various parts, so that the machinery may run easily and without heating. One tiny bit of grit may wreck a train.
But our allotted space is now filled, and will not permit us to tell you more concerning engine-boys. So we must say "good-bye" to you all.
Oh, Father is coming! Through all the long day We thought of him often, When he was away; We knew he was working While we were at play.
He'll be tired, I think; I have set him a chair In his own cosy corner— He likes to sit there— And we'll bring him his slippers, His old favourite pair.
I think it's the nicest To watch at the gate; And Dolly sits by us While thus we all wait. He'll be here very soon— It's so seldom he's late.
See, Baby knows too Who is coming to-night; She is crowing, and clapping Her hands with delight! There's his footstep at last! Oh, hurrah! he's in sight.
THEIR ROAD TO FORTUNE.
THE STORY OF TWO BROTHERS.
By the Author of "The Heir of Elmdale," &c. &c.
CHAPTER XVI.—"THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY."
"Tell me everything, Aunt Amy," Bertie said, as soon as he could find a voice. "When did it happen? Was it an accident? Oh! why didn't you send for me sooner?"
"It was very sudden, darling," Mrs. Clair replied. "I telegraphed for you at once, for your uncle wished it, and asked for you as long as he was conscious. But the doctor said from the first that there was no hope, and even wondered how he had lived so long. I fancy your uncle knew from the first that the attack would be fatal whenever it came. Do you know why he asked for you so often, Bertie?"
"No, aunt, except that he always loved me, and was very, very good to me."
"Yes, dear, and he trusted you too; almost his last words were, 'Tell Bertie he must take care of you and Agnes: he must be the "head of the family" now!' Uncle Harry's death will make a great difference to us, dear."
"I'm so glad he said that, Aunt Amy; and I will take care of you all," his glance including even Eddie, who sat silent in a corner. "It was good of him to trust me!" and then the remembrance of his other uncle's want of confidence and harshness rushed back on Bertie, and he sobbed bitterly. Aunt Amy made him sit beside her, and comforted him tenderly till his sobs ceased, and then listened with patient, loving sympathy to all his troubles, which Eddie now confided in her.
"Do you think I did very wrong, Aunt Amy? do you think Uncle Gregory should have been so unkind?" he asked, looking at her wistfully.
"I think, dear, that you behaved very well indeed, under the circumstances. Of course, if you could have asked permission it might have been better, but then you would have missed the owner of the bag. What troubles me most is your having slept on the damp grass. I fear you have caught cold."
"Not much, auntie; my throat is a little sore, but it'll be all right again presently. When I wanted to see you so badly yesterday, I did not dream I should be here to-day, and find you all so sad. I was only selfishly thinking of my own trouble, and what a poor, pitiful affair it seems, compared to yours. Oh! auntie, how good and patient you are!"
"No, no, Bertie, I'm very far from good, and not nearly so patient as you think; but as we grow older, dear, we learn to suffer in silence, and some griefs are too deep for words or tears. If we had only our own strength to support us, how could we endure such sudden incurable losses as mine?"
Bertie was silent for a few moments, then he stood up, and laid both his hands on his aunt's shoulders and looked earnestly at her.
"I will take care of you; I will remember every word dear Uncle Harry said. Can I begin now? Can I do anything at all, Aunt Amy, this very day?"
"No, dear, except to lie down and rest, and get rid of your cold. I have thought of nothing yet, except to telegraph for Nancy to come down and take the children home, and to Mr. Williams. I have not another friend in the world now, Bertie. We poor Rivers's are left to ourselves!"
"You forget Mr. Murray," Bertie said. "You can't think how kind and generous he is; he will help us in every way; and surely Uncle Gregory will come!"
"I fear not, dear. Uncle Gregory and Uncle Harry were not related, and never very intimate; but indeed, there is nothing any one can do for us. Besides, Uncle Harry's wishes are very plain; his will is not a dozen lines," and Mrs Clair sighed deeply. She knew her husband had died poor—not worth a couple of hundred pounds, perhaps—but she did not know of the many small debts contracted through thoughtlessness, and left unpaid through carelessness, or she would have been still more anxious about the future. It was the sudden feeling of loneliness and desolation, the sudden sense of responsibility and helplessness combined, that seemed almost to stupefy her.
The worst of that first day of her bereavement was that she had nothing to do: strangers performed all needful offices; but it was a comfort to pet and nurse Bertie, because they had all been left in his care—a circumstance Eddie bitterly resented, though he was quite silent on the subject. Though reluctant to lie down, Bertie had not been many minutes on the sofa before he was sound asleep, and when he awoke, he found Nancy, the old housekeeper from Fitzroy Square, had arrived, and was busy making preparations for their departure. Aunt Amy was with her, and just at that moment Mr. Murray entered the room, holding a telegram in his hand, and looking very much excited. As soon as she heard his voice, Mrs. Clair came in, looking very pale, but quite composed. After a few inquiries about Bertie, he placed the message in her hand, and as she read it she smiled sadly.
"Just what I thought, Mr. Murray. Why should Mr. Gregory trouble himself about us in our affliction? Because his sister married my brother gives me no claim on him," she said gently.
"Perhaps not; but sorrow, friendlessness, death, give you a claim on every man who deserves the name. I'm disappointed in Gregory, and I'll take an early opportunity of telling him so."
"I can scarcely blame him, Mr. Murray, when my husband's oldest and dearest friend fails me now; but he says if I let him know when the funeral takes place he will try to attend."
"Very kind and truly considerate of him," Mr. Murray cried, scornfully. "Will you be so good as to tell me the name of this true old friend?"
"It cannot matter much to you, Mr. Murray; but he's called Arthur Williams, a well-known sculptor."
"Hum! I'll see if I can't give him a famous order some day, selfish fellow!" he added, in an undertone. "And now, dear Mrs. Clair, may I ask what you are going to do?"
"I do not know; I have not thought yet. I am so sorely disappointed."
"Then allow me to think for you," Mr. Murray interrupted; "but first answer me one or two painful questions. Did your husband leave a will, or express any wishes?"
Mrs. Clair handed him the half-sheet of note-paper, and he read it twice carefully, then placed it in his pocket-book. "Simple and complete, Mrs. Clair, your husband must have had a great capacity for business. Is there anything else?"
"Nothing, except that he left us all to the care of Bertie. He's to be 'head of the family,' poor child;" and Aunt Amy stroked his hair tenderly. "My husband had great faith in Bertie."
"Perhaps he was right: we shall see some day. Now I suggest that you go up to town this evening, and take those two children with you. Bertie and I will follow by the first train to-morrow morning. We will go direct to Fitzroy Square, and I'll give all necessary instructions for the funeral. Mr. Clair was a gentleman and an artist, and must go to his long rest as such. After that you may tell me as much or as little of your circumstances as you please; but always remember that I am able and willing to help you."
And then Mr. Murray hurried away, and Bertie began his duties as "head of the family" by telegraphing to Fitzroy Square to have fires lighted in the rooms; but even in that Mr. Murray, who seemed to think of everything, had been beforehand with him.
"I am so glad you have called, Mr. Murray. I do so want a long chat with you," Mrs. Clair said one day, about a month after her husband's death. "You have been such a kind friend, that I feel I may ask your advice."
"And I'll be very glad to give it, if you will only follow it. What's the matter now?"
"First of all, I'm unhappy about Bertie; he is worked very hard, and I am afraid his uncle is not very kind to him; I am grieved to see how thin and pale he has grown. Then Mr. Gregory declares Eddie must do something for himself, and suggests his entering a timber-merchant's office, as there is no money to continue his artistic education. Of course, my husband did everything for Eddie; and if there is any income from Riversdale after paying the mortgages, he never heard anything of it. I ventured to ask Mr. Gregory if he would pay for Eddie's classes, and I'm sorry to say he refused, and declares that the lad must work like other people. It will break poor Eddie's heart to go into that timber place."
"Oh no, Mrs. Clair; boys' hearts are tough things. Is that all your trouble?"
"No, indeed. I am perplexed about myself; this house is far too large for me, and far too expensive. My husband was always a poor man: that is, he lived up to his income; and his health was such that he could not insure his life. A few hundred pounds and the lease and furniture of this house were all he left; but every day I find bills unpaid, many of them long-standing accounts, and my stock of money is diminishing rapidly. I think I should have an auction, dispose of the lease if I could, and go into cheap lodgings with Agnes and Eddie; but I fear I shall not be able to pay for his classes and colours. Can you suggest anything for me to do?"
"No; I think your ideas are very sensible. But would it not be better to try to let this house furnished? I fancy I can find you a tenant, and then you will have a certain, even if small, income. Then if both boys are willing to work they will bring you in something every week."
"But, Mr. Murray, Eddie is to have no salary for three years, and Bertie must remain with his Uncle Gregory," Mrs. Clair said, sadly. "Oh, how I wish he could come and live with me! he is a dear boy!"
"Yes, yes; a good straight up-and-down lad, with plenty of backbone, though his uncle does not quite understand him. However, I think Eddie should do something at once, though I don't entirely approve of the timber-yard; still, anything for a beginning. Now, Mrs. Clair, when would you like to leave here?"
"As soon as possible; every day only lessens our little fund."
"I think I know a person who would take this house, if he could get it at once. This is Wednesday; could you manage to leave if I found you suitable lodgings by next Monday?"
"Quite easily, Mr. Murray; but are you sure you can let it? I do not want the house to remain on your hands."
"Never mind that. In the name of a person I know intimately, I offer you 180 pounds a year for it: and it's cheap too. Of course there are a great many things you can take away with you, such as plate, linen, pictures: they will make your lodgings more comfortable."
"But the person who takes the house?"
"Has a great many things of his own—unconsidered trifles—that he must find room for. It's a great comfort to give advice to a reasonable person who is willing to follow it. As for the boys, don't worry about them. Just as soon as you are settled, I'll have a talk with Eddie, and then go and see Mr. Gregory."
Mr. Murray was no half-hearted friend; when he undertook to do a thing, it was done well and promptly, so that before a week from her first mentioning the matter Mrs. Clair was settled in very pleasant lodgings not far from Hampstead Heath.
The rooms seemed very small at first, but they soon became used to that, and the garden, with its prim walks, edged on either side with old-fashioned autumn flowers, was delightful. Even Eddie looked happier, and Agnes declared Hampstead was nearly as good as Brighton. When Bertie came to see them, he could hardly keep from crying, it was all so cosy, pretty, and homelike, compared with the gloomy grandeur of Gore House; and, worst of all, his uncle was becoming more exacting and severe every day. The secret of Mr. Gregory's unkindness to Bertie was the open interest taken in him by Mr. Murray, who, in spite of many hints, refused to have anything to do with Dick Gregory, and told his father plainly that the boy had no taste or capacity for business. Poor Bertie had to suffer for that disappointment: he was scolded, overworked, reproved, but he bore it all patiently; never complained, never answered, but he was plainly unhappy. And Eddie was a worry to him too: he should be working for himself and Aunt Amy, instead of being a burden to them. As "head of the family," he said so, and even went so far as to say he thought Riversdale now a secondary consideration, and his own savings in future would not go to the bank, but to buy little delicacies for his aunt and cousin. When he heard about the timber-yard, he said at once that Eddie should accept the situation. "One office is just like another, Eddie," he cried; "tea or timber, what does it matter? one has to go through the same routine to begin with. Besides, we must do something to help Aunt Amy."
So Eddie agreed to accept Uncle Gregory's proposal.
"Bravo, Eddie, old fellow! I knew when it came to the point that you would act rightly and generously," Bertie cried earnestly. "And if we're both very saving, you may still be able to have classes in the evening, and when I get a little rich you shall return to your painting; but we must both put our shoulders to the wheel now, old boy, and be as saving as ever we can."
"I've nothing to save," Eddie replied. "I've no salary for three years. Still, I'll write to Uncle Gregory to-night: the sooner I begin the better."
No one knew what an effort it cost Eddie to give in; still, in spite of his pride and vanity, he was a right-hearted, independent lad at heart, and the idea of being a burden to Aunt Amy was simply intolerable. When Mr. Murray heard of his resolution, he puckered up his eyebrows, and talked to himself for fully five minutes, then he patted Eddie on the shoulder, and said he was glad he had sufficient real pride to enable him to put his false pride in his pocket, and declared that he would never lose his self-respect and the respect of others by honest hard work. "But work for three years you shall not!" he cried, suddenly. "They must give you a small salary to begin with." So Eddie, the lofty, the haughty, the often intolerant Eddie, went to the timber-yard with a tolerably good grace, and when, at the end of the first week, he placed his earnings in Aunt Amy's hands, he felt positively happy. Very soon after, owing to the kind intervention of Mr. Murray, Bertie got permission to live with Aunt Amy, his uncle paying ten shillings a week extra for his board and lodgings, so that in all he had a pound, and it seemed quite a large sum of money. Of course he had a long way to go to the City; but what of that, when loving hands waved him an adieu from the window? What did any extra amount of labour matter now that the stiff formal dinners, and the terribly chilling evenings in the library at Gore House were at an end for ever.
Mr. Murray often paid a visit to the little cottage at Hampstead, and whenever he came he was always warmly welcomed, both by Agnes and Mrs. Clair.
The tenant of the house in Fitzroy Square was behaving very well indeed: the rent would be ready by quarter-day, and there were several things in the house that he would be pleased if Mrs. Clair could take away: the piano, for instance; he would consider it a real kindness if she could remove that, he had no use whatever for it, and had a case of rare butterflies that would stand very comfortably in its place. So the instrument arrived one day at the lodgings, and gave the children more enjoyment than anything else, for the evenings were drawing in, and it was too dark for a run on the Heath after the boys returned from the City.
They all sang and played by instinct, and Aunt Amy gave them a lesson each every evening, and as the evenings became longer, and winter crept towards them with "stealthy steps and slow," they settled down to a regular course of study.
Bertie devoted most of his time to music; Eddie to reading up his French and German—for he found both those languages would be very useful to him in the City; while Agnes was busy over her drawing-board, tracing designs for Christmas and Easter cards. She declared she was not going to be the only drone in the hive, and bade fair to be successful later on, for two of her little cards had already been accepted by a great City publishing firm. When Mr. Murray dropped in of an evening he used to have a long look from one to the other of their cheerful, contented faces, and then he would have a little private conversation with himself in a corner.
"They're too happy," he would mutter, "too content, too well occupied. Good fortune would only spoil them now. I'll wait and watch a little longer; and yet, people who bear poverty with such equanimity should bear the accession of riches with humility; still, I'll wait a little. My old friend's children are bearing their probation bravely." For to Mr. Murray Mrs. Clair's income seemed absolute poverty: he paid some of his own servants nearly as much; and the great City merchant was learning, for the first time, that it is not the actual amount of income one has, but the way it's spent, that constitutes poverty and wealth.
CHAPTER XVIII.—THE FORTUNE FOUND.
Mr. Gregory did not consent to Bertie Rivers leaving Gore House with a very good grace, and he bitterly resented the interest Mr. Murray took in both boys. He wished to keep them entirely under his own control—as, indeed, he had the power to do, being their sole guardian since Mr. Clair's death; but, on the other hand, he was not in a position to refuse Mr. Murray a trifling favour, as he had just begged a very heavy one from him. Things had been going on very badly in Mincing Lane for some time, and Mr. Gregory had been peculiarly unfortunate in his business transactions: he kept on losing large sums of money without in the least retrenching his expenditure, and at length it became painfully clear, even to himself, that nothing short of a large sum of ready money could save him from failure and disgrace and ruin, and that there was only one man in London who could and would assist him—for Mr. Gregory was more respected than liked by his brother merchants. Mr. Murray was willing to do all that he wanted, on certain conditions. First of all, he wished Mr. Gregory to give up the guardianship of Eddie and Bertie Rivers, and that their uncle willingly consented to, for he feared that when Eddie came of age there might be some awkward questions to answer about the management—or rather, mismanagement—of the property, if he were called to give an account of his stewardship. Then Mr. Gregory, Mr. Murray said, was too extravagant: he should curtail his expenses, and live according to his income: cut down his establishment, and put the boys to some profession or work of some sort, for he declared he had no intention that his honestly and hard-earned money should be squandered in unnecessary luxury. Mr. Gregory agreed to all Mr. Murray's conditions, and at the time meant fully to perform his promises, but the immediate pressure of his difficulties being removed, he went on in much the same way, and Mr. Murray, who was observing closely, resolved never again to advance money to maintain such senseless extravagance.
Though old Mr. Murray had quite made up his mind what he would do for Eddie and Bertie Rivers, he determined to make sure first that they deserved his kindness. It was good to see Mrs. Clair's cheerful face, and hear her pleasant voice, as she recounted many instances of the children's kindness and consideration: Bertie's hearty resolution not to be daunted by anything; Eddie's supreme patience at the office and steady work at home; and the untiring efforts of little Agnes to add her mite to the general fund, though of course she often failed to dispose of her cards, some of which, nevertheless, were adapting themselves to other circumstances, and forming a very handsome screen to keep the draughts from Aunt Amy's chair.
"We are not only living within our income, but saving something for the proverbial 'rainy day,'" Mrs. Clair said one evening, when Mr. Murray dropped in. "We have been here only three months, and have done ever so much better than I expected, thanks to your good advice; and we are all ever so much happier than I ever hoped to be again, which shows that sorrow is but a short-lived suffering if we do not nurse and cherish it. And then Eddie is so polite and attentive to every one now, and he used to be so proud and haughty. I really can't understand the change in him."
"'Sweet are the uses of adversity,'" Mr. Murray quoted, with a peculiar smile. "There was talent and good sense in Eddie after all, though I sometimes half doubted it. Some day he will see the wisdom of his choice, and be glad to feel that he laboured with his hands to do the thing that is right."
Winter came and went; spring broadened into summer; and still the boys worked on bravely: Bertie at Mr. Gregory's office, Eddie at the timber-yard, Agnes working pretty crewel mats and toilet-covers, by way of change from painting; and Mrs. Clair, loving, guiding, counselling them all. The fund for the "rainy day" had increased remarkably, so that when November, "chill and drear," came round again, the boys were able to have new warm overcoats and thick gloves, and even Agnes was armed against the sudden changes of weather by a nice soft fur cape, and the whole winter months passed so pleasantly, that they were all astonished when Christmas was, so to speak, at the door.
One day, towards the middle of December, Mr. Murray came bustling in, his whole face full of importance.
"Mrs. Clair, I've called to ask you all to spend Christmas with me at a country house. I'm a lonely old man, with no near relations and few friends; but I like young people about me whose hearts are gay and green, even though circumstances may have aged their heads a little. I like the boys; I like the demure little maiden; I like you. Will you all come and cheer up a lonely old man for a week?"
"I shall be delighted indeed, Mr. Murray; and I can answer for each one of the children, if the boys can only get so long a holiday. It's such a very, very long time since I've really been in the country."
"Then promise to meet me at twelve o'clock at Paddington Station on Christmas Eve: promise me, Mrs. Clair; I'll make it all right for the boys. Just say you will come. I wanted to ask you all last Christmas; I'm glad I did not now."
"I will come with pleasure and gratitude," Mrs. Clair replied, "if you can make it right for the boys."
"I'll see to that. Remember, twelve o'clock on Christmas Eve—twelve sharp, Paddington!" and then Mr. Murray vanished, his face puckered up out of all recognition.
The probation of Eddie and Bertie Rivers had lasted a whole year, and Mr. Murray was more than satisfied with them. He meant to keep their destination a little secret, and so fairly ran away before Mrs. Clair could ask any questions.
It wanted just two weeks to Christmas when Mr. Murray gave his instructions, and during most of the waking hours of that time the children spoke of little else. Bertie endeavoured to explain and describe the grandeur and magnificence of Mr. Murray's town house, and of course his country mansion would be still more splendid.
"I hope there will be plenty of frost," he said, with a very grave glance at the sky, just as if the state of the sky in London ever could be an index to what the weather might be anywhere else, "for there's sure to be a pond, or mere, or something to skate on."
Eddie sighed as he thought of the beautiful lake at Riversdale, and then said he hoped Mr. Murray might have some ponies, as he was longing for a good canter.
Agnes wanted some pretty places to sketch, and Aunt Amy declared she would give anything to see a good farm and poultry-yard again, just as they had at home.
"You may be sure Mr. Murray will have everything," Bertie said, confidently; "and a Christmas-tree too, with lots of presents: he always did give us splendid things," remembering the steam-engine. "Oh! I say, auntie, we're bound to have a glorious time;" and Bertie tossed his hat in the air, and skilfully caught it coming down—a habit of his when unusually excited.
At the appointed time Mrs. Clair and the children arrived at Paddington Station, and there they found Mr. Murray pacing up and down, "just like a lion in a cage," Bertie whispered irreverently. He paid the cabman while they got out, and then hurried them across the platform and into a first-class carriage that he had engaged; the door was shut with a loud bang, and in another moment the engine whistled shrilly, and the train went out of the station. Mr. Murray held all their tickets in his hand, and in such a way that even Bertie's keen eyes could not detect their destination, but as they got completely into the country the places seemed strangely familiar. At last Eddie drew nearer Bertie, and took his hand. "Look, Bert! that's Linkworth Station; the next will be Riversdale," he whispered, his eyes filling with tears. "Oh! I do hope we shall not stop there!" Even as he spoke the train seemed to slacken speed again. The engine shrieked, and stopped at dear old Riversdale.
Mr. Murray sprang out briskly, and assisted Mrs. Clair; the others followed; and in a few moments they were all driving along the familiar road towards the old home of the Rivers's. As the carriage turned in at the lodge gate, Bertie cried out, unable to restrain himself, "Oh! Aunt Amy, we're really going home to Riversdale. Hurrah!"
Eddie was perfectly silent: he could not trust himself to speak. Little Agnes clung to her aunt, whose eyes were full of tears, and Mr. Murray chatted away briskly about the weather, the beauty of the country in its winter mantle—everything, in fact, but their destination. They arrived at the hall door, where several of the old servants were waiting, amongst them Mittens, the housekeeper, who kissed the children individually and collectively, and laughed and cried at the same time.
"Come in! come in!" Mr. Murray cried, leading the way to the library; "it's too cold to stand about. And now, children, how do you like your old home?" he added, as they all stood silent and confused round the blazing wood fire. Then he suddenly grew very serious, and turning to Mrs. Clair, placed his hand on her arm. "This was your father's house; now, through the variations of fortune, it is mine, Mrs. Clair; but one day it will belong to one of those boys: I won't say which; but Eddie is the elder, and I think he will deserve to be heir of Riversdale. Bertie I know I can trust. Meantime, Mrs. Clair, it is your home, and the little maiden's, and Eddie's. If he cares to continue his artistic profession, he can have a master here to conduct his studies. If he is worthy, he shall have Riversdale on his twenty-first birthday free from all incumbrance; till then, Mrs. Clair, the home is yours, and I know how happy Eddie will be with you. As for Bertie, he belongs to me for the present; he is not to return to Mr. Gregory, and will try how he likes Murray and Co. instead. Now I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a glad new year, and welcome back to Riversdale."
It was a long speech for Mr. Murray, especially as they were all clinging to him, sobbing, laughing, trying in vain to thank him; but he broke away from them, rushing to the dining-room, where luncheon was waiting, and laughing heartily at their surprise and pleasure. Then he installed Mrs. Clair formally as mistress, treated Eddie with a good deal of consideration as the heir-apparent, and looked at Bertie for approval.
"I think it is better than waiting till I got rich in Mincing Lane, sir," he replied, his eyes sparkling. "I don't believe Uncle Gregory's office is the real road to fortune, after all."
"The Road to Fortune, boy, is honesty and industry, not anybody's office," Mr. Murray said, gently. "However, you will have a try at mine, and then, like regular City men, we'll come down from Saturday till Monday, if they will have us. We can't afford to give up work yet, can we?"
"No, sir; and I shouldn't care to."
"That's right, Bertie. Work is worship: that's one of Eddie's favourite author's sayings."
"I've learned the truth of it, Mr. Murray," Eddie said gravely, "and in future I shall practise it, and, I hope, prove to you that your great kindness has not been wasted on us. If I had never left Riversdale and become acquainted with so many troubles and sorrows, I never could feel as happy as I am now."
And in that happiness we will leave Eddie and Bertie Rivers, trusting that all who bear adversity so well may find fortune as kind and friends as true.
HEDWIG'S CHRISTMAS PRESENTS.
Supposing you had two brothers and two sisters, a father, a mother, and no money, how would you get Christmas presents for them all? That is what Hedwig wanted to know. You see, she was the eldest of the family, and felt it her duty to look after the others; and in this case it so happened that looking after them meant getting them Christmas presents.
You can't think what a trouble this was to little Hedwig. The worst of it was, she couldn't ask her mother's advice. It must be kept a dark secret. At last the twenty-fourth of December arrived, and in the evening the gifts must all be ready, and Hedwig had not one.
When evening came, however, Hedwig's presents were there, and I will tell you how she managed it.
Little Hedwig was a German girl. She lived in a small village in the north of Germany. Her father and mother had not very much money. They could buy black bread and meat for their children, but there was little money left for playthings. Though they were not rich, they were a happy family; and if they had not toys they had one another, and that was quite enough.
Hedwig was a busy little girl; there were so many things she could do for mother. The baby always was happy with his big sister, and his big sister was very fond of him.
On the morning of the day before Christmas, Hedwig got up earlier than usual. She dressed baby, gave him his breakfast, and then, putting on her things, asked what she should buy in the town.
"Now, Hedwig, get all the things carefully; take the big basket to carry everything; and be sure not to forget to take the soup to Aunt Molly." These were her mother's last words.
"All right, mother, dear; I will be back in good time," said Hedwig, and, shutting the door, downstairs she ran and out into the street.
"Now, then," she said to herself, as she pushed her way bravely along, "presents I must have; but how I am to get them I really don't know. Auntie is sure to give me a groschen (a penny) for bringing the soup, and that will buy a cake for Karl and a cake for baby. But then there are mother, father, and the twins. Mother and father might share a present, but how about the twins?"
The twins certainly were rather a trouble. They were six years old, just four years younger than Hedwig, and insisted on having everything alike.
It was a very cold day and a long walk from the village to the town; but Hedwig, trotting along in her warm cloak and hood, was so busy thinking of her presents that she was not cold. Just as she was entering the town gates, she met her playmate Anna. Hedwig was very pleased, and determined to tell her dear friend all her troubles.
"Anna," she began, "I haven't a present for——"
But here she was interrupted, for Anna exclaimed, "Isn't it a shame. Hedwig? You know our big barn; well, a cat has made her home there, and has two beautiful kittens. Aunt Ottilia found it out this morning, and she says the kittens must be drowned."
Hedwig was quite as indignant as her friend.
"I know what I'll do," said Hedwig; "we'll capture the kittens, and then I will take them home as my present for the twins."
"That will do very well, Hedwig. You go and buy the things for your mother, and then we will get the kittens, and you can carry them home."
Hedwig set off and bought all the things at the shops, and took the soup to her aunt. She seemed to be very fortunate that morning, for the old lady at the grocer's gave her some odds and ends of ribbon. These she intended to make into a bow for her mother, but she saved two long pieces to tie round the kittens' necks.
Then, her shopping finished, she made her way back to Anna, who lived at a farm a little distance out of town. Carefully and slowly they made their way through the yard. It would not do for any one to see them, for they might be stopped.
"Come along this way," said Anna; "there they are; now, are not they sweet little things?"
For a few seconds Hedwig was lost in admiration, but then she remembered that she must hurry, for it was time for her to be home again.
"Now, then, Anna, you take one, and I'll take the other; hide it under your apron."
The two children set out with their burdens, but it was not easy work getting back again into the garden, where Hedwig had left her basket.
As they were leaving the barn, they had forgotten to shut the door, and a curious old hen had marched in. After some chasing they got the hen out; but in the hurry to escape from the children, the bird tumbled into a tub full of water.
Hedwig and Anna both dropped their kittens in order to rescue the unfortunate hen. Anna screamed at the top of her voice, "Oh, she'll drown! she'll drown!"
Just then the farmyard gate opened, and Anna, seeing that her old aunt was coming, called to Hedwig to run and hide.
Hedwig had only just time to get back into the barn before Aunt Ottilia appeared, and inquired what was the matter. She got the hen out of the water, scolded Anna, and threatened to send her indoors. After the aunt had returned to the house, Hedwig came out of her hiding-place. The two kittens had of course disappeared by this time, and the two girls had a difficulty in finding them.
After hunting for half an hour they were captured once more, and carried to the basket. Then there was another hindrance. There was not room for both kittens. One was placed in, and Hedwig agreed to carry the other in her arms.
"Now, Hedwig, you had better be off; it is getting quite late," said Anna.
"But can't you get me something to eat first; I am so hungry?"
"If I do I shall meet aunt. Haven't you anything with you? Why, there is aunt coming; I must run." Anna did run, too, without thinking any more of her friend. Hedwig had to set off without waiting longer, for it was getting very late. She determined to spend her money in buying some bread for herself, hoping to find something else for the boys. After eating her bread she set off for home.
It seemed such a long walk now, and the basket and kittens were very heavy. Twice a kitten escaped, and she had to give chase, so that by the time she reached home she was tired and hungry, for it was getting late in the afternoon.
She took the kittens up into the loft and fastened them in, after giving them a saucerful of milk. Then down she went to tell her mother about her purchases.
"Why are you so late, Hedwig?" said her mother. "I have been expecting you a very long time. Baby has been so tiresome, and the twins have made themselves so untidy. They wanted to be black people, and I found Gretchen painting Sophie black with ink. Fortunately they had not done very much, but I am so tired with the worry that I think you must get the Christmas tree ready."
Hedwig was sorry her mother was tired, but glad to get the tree ready. She spread a white tablecloth on the little round table in the big room, placed the tree on it, and then made the other tables ready. When all was ready, the tree, decorated with candles and sweetmeats, was placed in the centre of the room. The little gifts were arranged on small tables. Then Hedwig ran upstairs to fetch the ribbon for her mother, and the kittens. She found the latter scampering about the loft, and having fine fun. She placed them in two baskets, and then carried them down. Now all was ready, and Hedwig felt satisfied. The twins would have the kittens, mother and father the ribbon, and she had found two small balls of her own for Karl and baby. Very pleased with her work, she locked the door and ran away to get tidied.
Half an hour afterwards the doors were thrown open, the candles lighted, and the whole family entered. But what a state of confusion the room was in! for everything was upset and disarranged.
"Oh, the kittens! the kittens!" cried Hedwig; "they must have done it."
Of course, immediately there was a cry of "Which kittens?"
This was soon answered by Gretchen suddenly calling out, in a tone of great astonishment—
"There they are, the darlings, fast asleep on my new frock!"
Hedwig then explained everything. The twins were delighted with their present; but her mother had to tell Hedwig how naughty it was of her to take anything without having first asked leave.
"But, mother dear, they were going to be killed, and I could not bear that," said Hedwig.
"Then you should have asked for them, dearie," said mother; "but never mind now, to-morrow I will walk over with you, and we will explain everything, and give them back again."
Hearing this, the twins began to cry bitterly. They did not want their present to be taken from them, and they were not quiet until their mother promised to see what she could do.
Then the whole family set to work to tidy up the room. Everything was quickly in order, and the presents were given away. Everybody got just what they wanted; and Hedwig's mother was very pleased with her ribbon, and promised to let father share it. Next day her mother went over to the farm with Hedwig, who begged Aunt Ottilia's pardon, and received the kittens as a token of her forgiveness.
So, after all the trouble, Hedwig's presents were a great success.
THE LEGEND OF THE REEDS.
What are the river reeds whispering, In music so sweet and low? Ah, these are the words they murmur, "My tale would you like to know?"
"O reeds by the shining water, I'll listen all day, all day, If you will tell me your story Whilst the river rolls away."
Spake the reed—"I'm a maid named Syrinx, And there once lived a god named Pan; He liked me, but I didn't like him, So away to the woods I ran.
"I ran very swiftly, but swifter The rough god Pan did pursue, Then I cried to the gods, on Olympus, 'There are none to help me but you!'
"I came to a shining river, And thirsty I stooped to drink, And the kindly gods changed me into A reed on the river's brink.
"Then Pan grew quite melancholy, And gathered the reeds, and made A pipe; and he thought of me ever When he on his pan-pipe played."
A FEW WORDS ABOUT TATTOOING.
Some of the readers of these pages, I dare say, saw King Tawhiao, the Maori chief, who visited England in the summer of 1884. If so, they could not have failed to notice the curious designs that were traced upon his face. These scroll-like marks were the result of an operation which lasted for six weeks, and which was attended with extreme pain. The process is called tattooing, and a person who has undergone it is said to be tattooed. It is practised very extensively amongst the natives of New Zealand and the South Sea Islands generally, women as well as men, whose bodies are covered with patterns of an elaborate, or fantastic, or picturesque description, though sometimes the design is of a comparatively simple sort. Nearly every British sailor has tattoo-marks on his arm—an anchor, ship, initials, or what not—and unless I am much mistaken, some of the lads now perusing these sentences have now and then ornamented (or disfigured) their hands and arms with similar signs.
In New Zealand the tattoo-marks run in unbroken lines, while in the South Sea Islands they are in dotted lines. The pain of the process in both cases is most acute, especially in the former. In New Zealand the figures are formed by driving little chisels, which have been dipped in some colouring-matter, through the skin. In the South Sea Islands a series of punctures are made with a fish-bone, which is, however, sometimes used as a needle. Every variety of design is employed—trees, flowers, animals, weapons, and so forth. It is considered a disgrace for the person being tattooed to give way to any sign of suffering, but as the pain is so exquisite, cries of torture occasionally rise to the lips. In order, therefore, to drown such cries, and so preserve the patient's reputation for bravery, it is usual for a number of his female friends to sing songs throughout the operation. Some tattooers acquire great skill in their art, and will form a design which shall be beautiful, elaborate, or otherwise, according to the fee. But in any case it is well to deal liberally with the artist, lest he should allow the chisel to slip "accidentally on purpose," and produce a permanent disfigurement instead of a fine design. The colouring-matter in which the tool is dipped is a thick mixture, prepared by rubbing down charcoal in oil or water. The pattern appears black on a brown skin, and dark blue on the skin of a white man, and is of course indelible.
Since the process is so painful, why do the Maoris and others submit themselves to it? They look upon the tattooing as a kind of personal adornment; and, you know, there is no accounting for tastes. The ways of savage and civilised races are past finding out. Some wear articles in their noses, ears, and lips; others flatten the heads of their babies. Chinese ladies' feet are compressed to such an extent that they wobble when they walk. The Zulus and other peoples arrange their hair in the most extraordinary styles. These peculiar fashions are no doubt indulged in under the impression that they add to the beauty of those who adopt them. And so we find it in the case of tattooing, though the custom is also supposed—in the case of men—to mark the transition from youth to manhood, being performed usually at that period. To a small extent it is also believed to be employed as a badge of mourning or sign of respect for a departed friend. The tattoo is regarded as an honour, and is reserved for free men only, slaves in New Zealand not being permitted to undergo the operation. Oddly enough, those who are accustomed to see tattooed people think that natives without it look bare and "unfinished." Tattooing is said to be on the wane. If it be so, it is quite possible that Macaulay's famous New Zealander may present none of those marks which distinguished the features of King Tawhiao.
THE CHILDREN'S OWN GARDEN IN DECEMBER.
The present month undoubtedly presents fewer floral attractions than any other in the whole year. Everything is in a torpid state of existence, and the combined forces of frost, snow, wind, and rain render December unpleasant both indoors and out. The only kinds of vegetation which seem to flourish just now are the insignificant, but wonderfully beautiful, mosses and lichens which everywhere clothe the rock and tree and hedge with their diverse forms and hues. Unlike flowering plants, they do not require culture of any sort, their beauty being wholly of a more or less microscopic nature, and their nourishment is derived from the atmosphere rather than by means of roots.
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It is during such dull and lifeless months as December that our attention becomes more engrossed with individual floral beauty, than it does when the display is both extensive and varied. To obtain even a few flowers at this time of the year much previous care and attention must have been expended. Where one plant is detected in making more headway than others its flowering-period may be greatly facilitated by carefully guarding it from the evil effects of excessive rains and strong winds; this may be easily done by placing an inverted bell-glass over the plants, invariably lifting this off on fine and warm days, and whenever there is no fear of damage from sudden winds or rains. Stifling hardy plants by keeping them in a confined atmosphere, whether indoors or out, is the worst possible plan to follow in order to procure early blooms.
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An important feature in connection with next summer's display must now be considered, and the preliminary arrangements carried out as far as possible during the present month; it consists in the formation of new shapes of beds, and a general reconstruction of design. But, as we have previously intimated, it is most undesirable to have a small garden chopped up into a number of beds, as then the greater part of space will be needlessly taken up by walks. Too much uniformity is just as undesirable as an excess of irregularities. No change of any sort should be carried out without well considering whether such would be for the better, and also whether the garden in its altered state would yield a correspondingly greater amount of real pleasure, tantamount to the time and trouble involved in effecting the change. Presupposing that some change or other is to be done, great care must be taken not to destroy the roots of various perennials, which may be hidden beneath the surface, as many a rare and beautiful plant is in this manner often destroyed.
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The amount of planting to be done now is by no means extensive, but it should only be done in dry weather. Narcissus, crocus, hyacinths, and tulips should be all in the ground by the end of this month at the very latest, and will produce bloom in very desirable succession to those planted a month or two previously. A surfacing of cocoanut-fibre refuse, which may be obtained from most seedsmen or nurserymen, will be found an excellent protection against frosts, and also against the ravages of slugs. The curious roots of ranunculus should be at once planted; these roots consist of small, fleshy, spindle-shaped claws, which are united at the crown. In planting, the claws should point downwards. Few late spring flowering plants excel the ranunculus in richness of colour; and to be grown with any degree of success a rich soil is essential, one of light loam, leaf-mould, and spent hot-bed materials forming the best compost. A distance of six inches apart each way, and a depth of about two inches will suffice for these plants, and a warm sunny spot is most suitable. The roots are very cheap, a dozen of various colours costing only threepence or fourpence.
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Anemones constitute a race of very pretty, delicate, and showy spring flowers, having varieties of nearly every hue, both single and double, but the former class is much preferable. They thrive best in good loamy soil, which has been well manured the year previous to planting. Roots should be obtained and planted—at about 4 in. apart—as soon as possible, the sooner the better, so that the plants will be sturdy and well grown before the very severe weather commences. Roots cost about nine-pence or one shilling per dozen. Unless the charming lily of the valley be already an inmate of our Children's Own Garden, a few "crowns" should be now purchased and placed in almost any part of the garden, but thorough drainage is most essential. Whilst thriving in any ordinary soil, they produce very fine bloom when in a rich porous compost. The roots should be taken up, divided, and replanted separately once in every four years.
A RACE FOR A CAT.
A FAIRY STORY.
"Too small! too small!" so the birds sang, so the roses whispered, so the bees hummed.
"She will creep in at the window," said the mother, who was kneeling beside a little child. "Only a small child can do that."
But the window shut down suddenly with a bang, and the house to which it belonged began to move away, slowly at first, then quicker and quicker, until it was out of sight altogether. The child began to sob, and said—
"Nan will run after it."
Ah! such a flutter among the roses, and such a twittering amongst the birds, whilst the bees hummed—
"Too small, too small! She should be tall, If she would catch the house at all."
And the birds sang—
"She must grow, We all do know; And that's a process very slow."
"It will be years," said the mother, "before she grows tall."
"Pooh! porridge!" said a toy dog that was lying on the ground.
The mother turned round.
The little dog was standing upright, and had pricked up his ears.
"Porridge, porridge!" he said, and he kept saying it over so many times that at last the mother thought there must be something in it.
So the mother made some porridge, and Nan began to eat it.
At the first plateful she could look over the table; at the second she reached up to her mother's shoulder; at the third she was taller than her mother.
"Stop! stop!" said the mother, as Nan began upon the fourth plate; "you'll be a giantess; and your legs are so thin, I am afraid they will break in two. You look as if you were on stilts."
"One must have long legs," said Nan, "in order to run fast. It was the woolly dog that thought of it," she added, and she would have stooped down to pat the toy dog, with its red morocco collar, but she was so high up that she found it a difficult matter to bend down. "I am as stiff as a poker," said she.
The woolly dog, however, understood what she wanted, and he jumped upon a chair, then upon the table, and finally into Nan's arms.
She would have given him some porridge, but her mother said—
"No; if he should grow as tall as you, we should not know what to do with him."
Then the little dog laughed.
"Perhaps he will run away with the spoon," said Nan.
But no; he was an honest little dog, and did not think of doing anything of the kind.
On the opposite side of the house was an old gentleman in a velvet cap. He had a paper in his hand, and was trying to teach something to a boy who was on the other side of the trellis. But the boy was not attending to him, though he kept his eyes fixed upon the paper.
No; he was muttering—
"The little cat was in the house, and the house moved away. It must have been an enchanted house and an enchanted cat."
"What are you saying?" asked the old gentleman. "That is not on the paper."
Then the boy looked up and said—
"If I'd seven-leagued boots, I'd go after them."
"That is certainly not written down there," answered the old gentleman. "Of what are you thinking, Ulick?"
"Of the house that stood close by this house. I had a dream last night that it moved away, and that the little cat with which I played had also gone, and I want to go after them."
"You talk nonsense, Ulick. How can a house made of bricks and mortar and heavy beams of wood move away?"
"That I know not; but it is gone. I hear it now rumbling away in the distance, as if it were on great wheels—I do really," answered Ulick.
The old gentleman, who often came to chat with Ulick, and to try to teach him various things, felt quite vexed, and he folded up his paper, and shut up his camp-stool and went away.
When he had gone an old hen turned round and spoke to Ulick.
"You can hear us, for you have the right sort of ears, but the old man cannot. It is quite true: the house has gone."
The rabbits were listening, with their long ears erect.
"That I cannot tell, but Nan is going after it."
"Nan! but she is so small."
"Is she?" exclaimed the hen. "You should see her now that she has eaten the porridge: she is much taller than her mother, and her legs are so long that she can skim over the ground like an ostrich."
"Then she will get the cat."
"Perhaps. One does not know," answered the hen.
"I hope she will," said a young rabbit.
"I hope she won't," said an old rabbit, "for then she will bring her back here."
There was a groan amongst the rabbits and the poultry. And then the Virginian creeper, that was twisting and turning and throwing its leaves about all over the trellis, began to quiver and shake as if it were trying to say something, and at last a very tiny voice came from one of the shoots, and said—
"Should Nan the flying house o'ertake, She will with it long journeys make, And come back here no more."
The fowls and rabbits were glad to hear this, but Ulick said—
"Nan shall not overtake the house; Nan shall not have the dear little cat."
"Nan will soon be tired," said Ulick; "besides, she does not know where to go."
Ulick started, for he could see no one. Still he was not surprised, for since the rabbits and fowls and Virginian creeper had begun to talk there was no reason why other things should not also. It must have been some sensible creature; and he began to consider the point.
No, he did not know where the house had gone; he did not suppose that even the top of the tallest chimney would be visible, or even the smoke from it. The house might have gone along the straight road, or have turned to the right or left, he could not tell. And Ulick sat down upon a large moss-covered stone, and felt very despondent.
"What's the matter, little man?" asked his big brother Ben, who happened to come up at the moment. And Ulick told him of his difficulty.
"Oh! if that is all," said big Ben, "I will start you on your journey, for I know which way the house went. I saw it rumbling along the road, and then it turned off to the right and kept a straight line over the country; nothing stopped it, hedges, ditches, or anything else."
And he took Ulick's hand, and went out upon the road with him. Ulick half turned and kissed his hand to his own home.
"What is that for?" asked Ben.
"For 'good-bye,' if I don't come back again. The house might take me away altogether, you know."
"Well, then, boy, start off, for there in the distance over the corn-fields you can just see the house. There, there—do you see it—moving along?"
"No—yes—no—yes, yes I do. But what is that?"
"What is that? why, a pole with a flag on the top," said Ben.
"No, no," said Ulick, "that——"
"Why, it's Nan flying along. What long legs she has! She goes so fast that she seems as if she were in two places at once."
"There are two girls running," said Ulick, "and one seems to be overtaking the other all the time."
"No, there is but one," answered Ben, "but she is here and there so quickly that you seem to see her in two places at once—you understand what I mean. And it looks exactly like two people."
"I don't know," said Ulick; "I am sure there are two Nans. What long legs!"
"Yes, porridge has done that. You should have had some porridge. You'll never overtake her."
But Ulick started off. Ben watched him out of sight, and then went home.
Now, all this time a cat was lying comfortably upon a chair in the house that was running away.
The chair was covered with red velvet, and there was a bright fire in the room, that sparkled and glowed and made all the furniture in it shine.
The cat looked up and then she purred, saying—
"Till there is a place Where gamekeepers are not, My house shall not stay In any spot."
And the house with the cat in it went on and on, until it came to a far-off place where there were no houses and no gamekeepers, and no fear of traps. Then it stopped with such a jerk that the front door flew open, and a woolly dog, with a red morocco collar and very stiff legs, came in, crying out—
"She is coming, she is coming, She will like a cup of tea. She must be quite hot with running, She is coming after me."
"Who is she?" asked the cat.
Then said the dog—
"Little Nan, she ate the porridge, And she grew quite tall, But when she has reached your cottage She will be quite small."
"Why?" asked the cat.
"Because the effect of the porridge only lasts whilst she is running."
"Oh!" responded the cat.
Upon which Nan herself came running in, and she was no larger than when her mother was kneeling beside her in the garden.
"O my dear, dearest, darling, little pussy-cat! I have found you again, and we will live together always, and you will let me play with you. I am so glad to see you again."
The cat purred and rubbed her head against Nan, as much as to say "Yes."
And the woolly dog barked for joy.
So Nan had won the race.
Nan looked out of the window and nodded to Ulick, who was panting in the distance. She also held up the cat for him to see.
There was no longer any need for Ulick to run, for everything round him was shouting—
"Nan has won the race!"
Yes, he knew that she had, and he wept bitterly and went home again. Perhaps if he had also eaten the porridge he might have outstripped Nan.
No one ever saw the house again, though once it returned to the spot upon which it had stood near Ulick's home. It did not stay long there, only just long enough for Nan's mother to pack up her clothes and join her little girl, who was too small to live by herself.
Then the front door shut quite tightly, and the house fled away faster than ever, and never stopped until it had reached a beautiful island far, far away in the middle of the sea. There it paused, for no gamekeepers, or traps, or cruel boys were to be found there. And in the house on the beautiful island Nan and her mother, and the cat, and the toy dog lived peacefully and happily for ever and ever.
ETHEL'S PINK PLANT;
AND WHAT HAPPENED TO IT.
Ethel was always trying to write poetry, but it was so hard to find rhymes. When the cat killed the big pink begonia, she did manage to find a rhyme; and she thought the epitaph looked beautiful printed in violet ink on a piece of paper—
"Here my poor begonia lies. Drop a tear and wipe your eyes."
These were the only verses Ethel ever made. Perhaps we are beginning near the end of the story. You may want to know what the big pink begonia was, and how the cat killed it.
The beginning of this sad story was a red ribbon bow with a kitten behind it: the bow was so big and the cat was so little, that the ribbon looked much more important than the kitten that wore it. Ethel called the kitten Kafoozalum: Tom talked of the bow with the cat behind it; to which Ethel retorted: "The ribbon becomes her very much, Tom. Boys have no taste."
Early in the summer—about the time that the kitten was a weak little squeaker in a basket of straw with the cat of the house next door—Ethel was given a plant as a present. There had never before been a begonia in her mother's greenhouse; and Ethel knew very little about it, except that any rough treatment would kill it. The begonia grew very fast. It became a tall plant, with beautiful large reddish-veined leaves, and it was covered with a cloud of pink blossoms.
One day Ethel ran out of the conservatory in a hurry and left the door open; and Kafoozalum—the red bow with the kitten behind it—ran into the conservatory in a hurry, as she had never had the chance before. Tom, coming home from school, went, watering-pot in hand, to attend to his geranium-slips; he found the door open, and the kitten nearly on its head in frantic attempts to roll in the begonia pot.
A few weeks after, all the pink bloom was gone. The begonia, branch and leaf, died away. There was nothing left but a dry brown stump.
"It is dead!" cried Ethel. "A knock or a rub kills the young shoots. Mrs. Smith told me so. Kafoozalum rubbed and knocked it enough to kill it all."
"Tears! tears for the begonia!" laughed Tom. "Why, Ethel, I thought nothing but the death of Kafoozalum would reduce you to tears."
"Ah! Tom, but you don't know how fond I was of that plant. It was the only one I ever had. I feel almost as if it was really alive once, and dead now! I shall make it a grave and bury it."
Tom seemed very much amused at this idea—because the begonia was buried already in its own pot—and Ethel could not bear his making fun about it. So she ran away to her mother's room, with tears in her eyes.
"Mother, how do you spell 'begonia'?"
"Why, dear? who are you writing to?"
"My poor begonia is quite dead," sobbed Ethel, with a gulp of grief. "I want to write its epitaph."
"You mustn't cry about it now, Ethel dear. It could not feel. I shall get you another next summer."
But the only consolation Ethel could get was the writing of the epitaph. She worked at this for half an hour, and smeared herself very much with violet ink.
"Here is laid my pink begonia," was her first attempt.
Tom came into the room to learn his lessons at the other side of the table.
"Tom," she said, "please don't say your verbs out loud. I can't write poetry when you do. Tell me a rhyme for begonia. 'Here is laid my pink begonia.'"
"'Toss it over the wall, or let it alone-will-you?' That is the only rhyme in the English language," said Tom.
"You are very unkind," said Ethel, leaning her cheek on an inky hand, and rubbing her hair till it was a wild black mane. Then she tried what would happen if she began in quite a different way. At last she read out in sad tones:—
"Here my poor begonia lies, Drop a tear and wipe your eyes."
To which Tom only answered in a jaunty tone, throwing his penknife out of his pocket.
"Here's my knife to bury your roots, Lock the greenhouse, and wipe your boots."
Ethel's mouth gave a little twitch; but she would not laugh when Tom made fun of her poetry.
She went into the greenhouse, carrying a piece of black stuff and a pair of scissors, the penknife, and her verses printed in violet.
Then she dug a hole in the earthen floor, under the greenhouse shelf, in a warm corner near the pipes. Next she dug her begonia root out of the pot, popped it into the hole, and covered it up, and left a bit of stick standing upright, holding in a notch the wonderful epitaph.
Tom found her there, drying and smearing her face with an earthy corner of her pinafore. Tom had Kafoozalum peeping out from under his jacket-front; but Ethel sobbed afresh at the sight of the red bow with the kitten behind it.
"Come and take care of my geraniums with me, Ethel," said Tom.
"Oh! boo-hoo-no-no! You are very unkind."
"Why, what have I done? I didn't roll on my head in the begonia pot, did I, pussy?"
"Oh! boo-hoo—go 'way!"
So Tom went away. But the next time Ethel went into the greenhouse with a bright face, she could not help laughing at Tom's addition to her verses. She read:—