And at last he was successful. In a comfortable sitting-room his father was just in the act of drawing an easy-chair to the window, and the little girl was by his side.
'Did you see him, dad?' she was asking eagerly. 'Did you see your own little boy? And what was he like? Do tell me.'
Mr. Allonby dropped into his seat with a heavy sigh.
'Not a bit like his mother, True. Very like what I was at his age, I'm afraid.'
'I belongs to you, father.'
Bobby could keep silence no longer. Decision and some reproach was in his tone. His father started from his chair as if he had been shot. The little girl laughed and clapped her hands.
'You brought him as a s'prise, dad. You brought him to play with me!'
'On my honour I didn't, True. It's some magic, I think. Come here my boy. How on earth did you get here?'
Bobby marched up to his father. He wanted to show what a man he was, but his lips quivered, and his hand grasping Nobbles quivered too.
'I comed in your carriage under the seat. I didn't tell an untroof. I did walk out on the road to meet you. I've been waiting years and years for you to come for me.'
Then his self-control gave way; he grasped hold of his father's coat and burst into tears.
In an instant his father had lifted him upon his knee, and that was Bobby's happy moment. He tried to check his sobs.
'I belongs to you; I don't want to go back to the House nevermore; me and Nobbles have come to stay.'
Mr. Allonby put his hand on the curly head that was now burrowing itself into his waistcoat pocket.
'This is quite a surprise to me, my sonny. Bobby you're called, are you not? Aren't you happy with your grandmother?'
'I belongs to you,' Bobby repeated pitifully. 'I knewed you would come for me one day. Every day I've expecked you. I told Master Mortimer you couldn't be lost. I knewed you couldn't.'
He raised his face to his father's now, triumphantly, trustingly, and that look decided his fate. 'You do belong to me, Bobby, and we'll find a corner for you somewhere; but I mustn't kidnap you in this fashion. I'll take you back to your grandmother, and talk to her about it. She'll be alarmed about you.'
Bobby began to cry again in an agitated fashion.
'I can't go back! Me and Nobbles won't! If you take me back I'll be punished. The House doesn't want me; and Nurse can come and live with us, father; she'll understand. She know's how I've been looking for you every day.'
'But what made you look for me? Who put such an idea in your head?'
Bobby stopped his tears to consider, and a slow smile spread over his face.
'I reely believe it was Nobbles,' he said, holding up his stick to his father admiringly. 'It was ever so many years ago,' he added hastily. 'Me and Nobbles have always talked about you coming to fetch me away one day. I fink it was Nobbles who told me first.'
Mr. Allonby gazed at his little son with a comical look of dismay. Then he put him down from his knees and took a few quick turns up and down the room. At last he turned to the little girl, who was staring at Bobby in silence.
'I want your mother's advice, True; she says I am always making blunders. I think I'll send a note back to Bobby's grandmother, and instead of staying here the night we'll motor straight back to mother and ask her what we had better do. We'll take Bobby with us. I don't know whether that will be right though. I'm afraid you ought to go back, little chap.'
Mr. Allonby looked very much worried. Bobby shook his head emphatically.
'Me and Nobbles couldn't never go back. We belongs to you.'
'Oh, bring him to mother, dad. She'll love him; he looks so lovely. And isn't he very like that little boy who got nearly tossed with a bull yesterday?'
'He's the same; that's the extraordinary thing. Yes, I'll send the note, and we'll take him along to mother. His grandmother can send for him from there if she wants him.'
Mr. Allonby walked to a writing-table and began to write a letter in furious haste.
True put out her little fingers and stroked Bobby's velvet sleeve.
'What a nice coat you've got on!'
Boy-like, Bobby did not think much of his clothes.
'Who are you?' he asked curiously.
'Dad's little girl.'
'Father has no one but me,' said Bobby, with scarlet cheeks. 'I'm his own proper boy.'
'Yes,' said True meekly, 'I know you are. I don't think I'm quite a proper child, because my own father is dead, but dad is my next one, and mother's my very own. She doesn't belong to you at all, only to me.'
The relationship puzzled Bobby, and did not altogether please him. He had been so accustomed to think of himself and his father quite alone, that this little girl and her mother seemed quite unnecessary.
Conversation languished between them until Mr. Allonby had finished his note; then he left the room, found a messenger to take it at once, and then for the next ten minutes all was bustle and confusion getting ready for the return journey.
'If we are quick we shall get home by nine o'clock, True,' Mr. Allonby said as he wrapped a heavy rug round Bobby and tucked him in by his side in the car.
Five minutes afterwards they were going swiftly up the high-road. To Bobby it all seemed a dream. He grasped Nobbles tightly, but no fear assailed him. He had prepared himself too long for the possibility of going off with an unknown father to be much disturbed now.
And the strangeness of his journey fascinated him. True on one side of him, his father on the other—both strangers to him a few hours ago. They passed in the dusk the identical spot where he had stood confronting the bull that same afternoon. It seemed to be a year ago. True looked out as they passed, rather sleepily.
'That's where dad charged the bull! Oh, it was horrid! I thought we were going to be smashed up!'
Bobby snuggled closer to his father's side, and Mr. Allonby said shortly:
'We won't think any more about that, True.'
It grew darker as they flew along; trees by the roadside began to turn black and grim. A belt of pinewood looked as if it contained a band of robbers ready to spring out upon any unlucky passer-by.
The light from their lamps seemed to cast strange shadows across the road. They passed through two or three villages where the lights from the cottage windows looked to Bobby like fallen stars. True soon went to sleep, but the small boy sat looking out with wide awe-stricken eyes. He had never been out at night before, and everything he saw was absorbing. Mr. Allonby did not speak. He was very doubtful as to whether he had acted wisely in taking Bobby off in such a fashion, and was more than half inclined to turn back and hand him over to his grandmother again. He looked down upon him with a mixture of affection and anxiety. At last, meeting the steadfast gaze of two bright brown eyes, he said:
'Well, what do you think of your father, Bobby?'
'You aren't the same as I finked about,' responded the child readily.
'Tell me how I am different.'
'I finked you would be a big man with a black beard, who would take me to live in a cave in the mountains, or fight with the Red Ingines. Nurse's brother said he expecked you would be like that.'
'You want a life of adventure and travel!'
Mr. Allonby's eyes sparkled, though he was staring in front of him and making his car go beyond the limited speed at this juncture.
'Then you're a proper son of mine, Bobby, and I won't let you go. We'll do some travels together.'
And we'll leave the little girl at home,' suggested Bobby.
His father laughed aloud.
'True? Bless her heart! Do you know where I first met her, Bobby? Careering on a wild prairie; run away on a half-broken colt, and been lost for two days; and when I took her back to her mother——'
He stopped and smiled to himself in the darkness.
'Ah, well! That was a good day in my life, and better ones followed. No, you and True must be friends. Truant is her name by rights, for her mother never could keep her indoors or at home. Now, Bobby, look ahead! Do you see those lights? We go through the town; and just outside is our home—a very tiny one at present, for we move about; but we'll find a corner for you.'
He slackened speed. Slowly they passed through the streets of an old-fashioned cathedral town. Soon the houses became more scarce, and at last they came to a standstill before an iron gate in a wall. True woke up, and she and Bobby were bundled out.
'Go up to the door; I'll take the car into the shed and join you.'
True pulled Bobby after her up a narrow gravel path. It was dark, but there was a sweet smell of mignonette and of roses. Bobby was dimly conscious of two old-fashioned borders of flowers edging their path. A light shone out of a casement window on the ground floor which was open. True ran up to it and put her head in.
'We're back, motherums, and we've brought dad's little boy with us.'
Then she thumped impatiently upon the door till it was opened by an oldish woman.
'Now, Miss True, be quiet; and who's this without a hat?'
'I'm going to take him to Mother, Margot. Let us pass.'
The tiny hall seemed almost like a doll's house to Bobby. He hung back; sudden shyness seized him.
'I think I'll wait for my father,' he said.
True released his hand, and dashed into the front room. Margot looked down upon him in puzzled wonder, but a step outside made her smile.
'Ah! Here's the master,' she murmured; and Mr. Allonby's hand was upon Bobby's shoulder the next instant.
'Now, little chap, come and see your new mother.'
HIS NEW HOME.
Bobby's eyes blinked nervously at his father's words. A 'new mother' had never been in his calculations at all. A mother of any sort meant very little to him; he had never come across one, and vaguely put them in the same category as his grandmother and aunt. He clung hold of his father's hand tightly, and then the door was opened, and Bobby's brain received the first impression of cosy warmth and comfort, which never faded from him in after-life. The room was small compared with his grandmother's rooms, but, oh! so different. There was a tiny fire blazing in the grate, a little black-and-white terrier lay basking on the hearthrug, a lamp in a corner of the room, covered by a rose-coloured shade, shed its light on a pretty pink and white chintz couch underneath it, and upon this couch, leaning back amongst pink cushions, was Bobby's stepmother. True was already sitting upon a footstool, and her head was in her lap, her mother was stroking back her hair gently and tenderly. Mrs. Allonby looked to most people a mere laughing high-spirited girl, with wonderful black hair and mischievous face and eyes, but that was generally the side she showed to outsiders. To her husband and child there was deep, never-dying love in her looks and tones; and Bobby caught a glimpse of this, small boy as he was, when she turned her face towards her husband.
'Come along, wanderer, and confess! Have you been guilty of stealing, and where is your prize? Oh, what a little darling!'
She opened her arms to Bobby, and True made way for him. Bobby found himself smothered with kisses; he was shy no longer, for he felt the atmosphere of love around him.
Standing, with his hand in his stepmother's, he heard his father telling his story, and all the time his eyes were roaming round the room taking everything in with admiration and delight. There was a canary in a cage, a globe of goldfish, bowls of pink and white roses, pictures and books, comfortable easy-chairs, and in the corner a delicious-looking table, spread with a white cloth and shining silver, with a large dish of strawberries in the centre, a junket, and a rich-looking plum-cake. Then his eyes came back to his stepmother. She was clad in a white gown, but a crimson wrapper round her seemed to match in colour the roses pinned to her breast, and her cheeks vied with them in hue.
'And so you have kidnapped your own little son! And he himself helped you to do it! How can you leave your dear old granny, my boy? She has loved you and cared for you all these years. Is it kind to run away from her?'
Bobby looked up wonderingly.
'I couldn't never be kind to grandmother,' he said; 'she wouldn't like it. And it's only fathers who love anybodies; Nurse told me they always did.'
'And not mothers? Ah! you poor little atom, I forgot that you have not known your mother.'
'How's the back?' asked Mr. Allonby, looking at his wife with a smile.
'Oh! very good to-day; I've been following you in thought all the time. You see, Bobby, I have to lie here on my back, and my truant and wanderer go out to seek adventures, and come back and amuse me by telling me all they have seen and heard. Then I mend them up, and send them out again, and that's how we spend our life.'
'Motherums hasn't always lived on her back,' put in True eagerly. 'She used to gallop everywhere on a lov-elly black horse till she got her fall. That was a dre'fful day!'
'So "dre'fful" that we will never talk of it,' said Mrs. Allonby quickly. 'Now, True, darling, take Bobby to Margot, and she will get a comfy bed for him in dad's dressing-room. And when he is quite tucked up in it he shall have a basin of bread and milk and go fast asleep till to-morrow morning, for I'm sure it is long past his proper bedtime.'
Bobby looked longingly towards the table, and Mrs. Allonby noted it.
'That is for father only; he is going to have some hot meat directly; but I think he can spare you six strawberries. True, you can have six too. Bring a plate over here and eat them together.'
So the two children sat down on the rug together, and Bobby felt he would like to stay there all night. But a little later, when he was going upstairs to bed, he felt very sleepy, and his head had not been upon his pillow for five minutes before he was fast asleep.
He was wakened the next morning by True's voice.
'Oh, do wake up! We've had breakfast already. And oh! you funny boy, you've got your walking-stick in bed with you.'
Bobby resented her tone.
'It isn't a stick, it's Nobbles,' he said. 'Me and Nobbles always sleep together.'
He fingered Nobbles' red cap lovingly, then held him out for True's inspection.
'He comed from over the sea. He's really alive, though he never speaks; but he finks a lot, and whispers to me, but nobody but me can hear him.'
True gazed at Nobbles' smiling face with fascination.
'What does he tell you?' she asked.
Bobby's slow smile came.
'He told me last night he liked this house very much; and—he ran away from me in the night—he very often does—he goes up the chimleys, and the wind takes him journeys. He went to the House to see how Nurse was getting on.'
'Did he? To your grandmother's house? What did she say?'
'She said to Nurse, "I reely can't be troubled with the child, Nurse; it's your place to look after him."'
'And what did your nurse say?'
'She wented down to the kitchen and ate some apple tart. And then Nobbles said he came away "'cause nobody wanted me back," and I'm never going to leave my father no more!'
'Dad is going to see your grandmother now. Motherums told him he ought to. Do get up and come and see my rabbits. Oh! Here is Margot!'
Margot appeared with a breakfast tray, and Bobby lay still and ate an egg and some bread and butter with relish.
'The mistress said you was not to be called, for you were tired out,' said Margot, by way of explanation. 'And when you've had your bath, and dressed, you can go to her room and see her. Can you dress yourself?'
'I'm nearly sure I can,' said Bobby bravely.
But he was forced to let Margot assist him more than once; and when ready at last, paused before leaving the room, looking up into her face with a little uncertainty and doubt.
'Do you think they'll all like me here?' he said.
'Bless the child, this be a real home to everyone, though it be small. I've been with the mistress for twenty years. She were a wild slip of a girl when I took service out in 'Merica. She lost her mother when she were eight, and I mothered her after, for her father were a proper ne'er-do-weel, and were always moving from one ranch to another. Miss Helen took after her mother, and got everyone's love. And then her father got her to marry a rich old settler, so that some of his debts might be paid, and he died within a twelvemonth of the marriage, and Miss Helen kept the property together and did for her father till he broke his neck riding an unbroken horse, and Miss True was all the bit of comfort she had left. She could have married over and over scores of times; but not she; till Mr. Allonby found Miss True one day and brought her home, and then I knew how things would end. And when she would gallop off with him on her big horse, with her laugh and jest, I little thought she'd ever live to lie on her back and never move again.'
The old woman paused. Bobby had not been following her. He only repeated the question, which was an all-important one to him:
'Will they be sure to like me?'
'The mistress has the biggest heart in the world, my dear, and the master never says a cross word to nobody!'
Bobby felt cheered by her tone, and his doubts utterly vanished when he was held in the close clasp of his stepmother.
'We are going to keep you, Bobby, and I must be prepared to see two small children go off every day with my Wanderer. We are going to make this summer a holiday, to build up and strengthen your father, who has been very ill, and next winter, if we are spared, we must all set to work in earnest. Lessons and school for the little ones, real hard writing for your father and me. Now, darling, True is calling to you from the garden. Run out to her, and the air and sunshine will bring colour into those pale cheeks of yours.'
'Me and Nobbles likes to be darlings,' Bobby informed True a short time afterwards. 'We aren't darlings with Nurse or grandmother.'
When his father returned, Bobby approached him, almost trembling to hear his fate.
'Well, little chap,' Mr. Allonby said, 'it has been rather a stormy scene, but I've got you for good and all. And if I had known your grandmother considered children such a trouble I never would have left you with her all this time. Your nurse is going to drive over this afternoon and wish you good-bye. She will bring your clothes. Do you think you will get on with us without a nurse? We are very poor folk, you know, until I write this big book of travels that is going to bring us fame and money, and then—well, you ask True what will happen.'
Bobby smiled contentedly. Things had not turned out quite according to his expectations, but he was well pleased to have a little playfellow in True, and though she adopted a slightly superior and motherly air with him, she was a deferential listener to any of Nobbles' exploits. She had no difficulty in believing that he was alive; in fact she was quite ready to explain his existence in a manner quite new to Bobby.
'You see,' she said, 'a wicked fairy must have turned him into a stick. He really was a very brave good prince, but he set free a beautiful princess, who had been a prisoner in the wicked fairy's house, and the way he did it was dressing in her clothes and staying behind while she put on his and rode away. Then the wicked fairy was so angry when she found out the trick that she turned him into a stick and said he must stay like it till someone broke the spell.'
'What's a spell?' asked Bobby.
'Oh, there are lots of spells. The sleeping beauty was in one, you know. The spell was that she would sleep till a prince kissed her. What we've got to do is to find out the spell for Nobbles, and when we do the right thing to him he'll wake up, and come alive, and be a prince again.'
Bobby thought over this with a perplexed brow.
'But then he might ride away from me to find the princess, and I should be 'fraid of a grand prince. I like Nobbles best like he is!'
'Oh, but wouldn't you like him to be able to run about and take off his little red cap and bow? He wouldn't be any bigger you know; he comes from a country where they are all very tiny, and perhaps he will have forgotten all about the princess and will like to stay with you best.'
'I'll ask him to-night when we're in bed all about it. He'll be sure to tell me.'
And Bobby's face brightened at the thought. After all, Nobbles belonged to him, not to True, and if he didn't choose him to be a prince he need not be one.
Bobby's interview with Nurse was rather a trying one. He could hardly understand why he should be blamed.
'You knewed my father would come one day, Nurse. I had been expecking him every day, and of course I belongs to him, and I had to go after him. I was so 'fraid I might lose him again. And I can go all over father's house and sit in every room, and I've got a new mother and a little girl to play with, and they calls me "darling!"'
Then Nurse astonished him by clasping him in her arms and bursting into tears.
'I never thought you'd have left me. I've been as fond of you as if you'd been my own child. It's put me terrible about, losing you so sudden. Why, I meant to stay with you till you went to school.'
Bobby began to get tearful at once. He had a tender little heart, and to see Nurse cry was a great calamity. He was honestly sorry to part with her; but his father filled his heart, and, childlike, the new scenes and life around him were entirely engrossing him.
When Nurse had gone he was called to his father, who was sitting with his stepmother. True was still playing in the garden.
'I feel I must make acquaintance with my small son,' Mr. Allonby said, perching him on his knee.
'How is it you have thought such a lot about me?'
'I always knewed you would be nice,' said Bobby, with a slow shake of his head. 'I knewed fathers were.'
'How many fathers have you known?'
'Only God,' said Bobby, simply and reverently. 'He is my other Father, isn't He? And He's always good and kind to me.'
Mr. Allonby exchanged glances with his wife.
'You are a little character, I see. Tell me more. Are you a very good little boy?'
'Nurse says no boys are ever good,' said Bobby, not seeing the twinkle in his father's eye. 'I s'pose when I get to be a father I shall be.'
Mr. Allonby began to laugh. His wife shook her head at him.
Bobby knitted his brows, then turned questioner.
'Did you fink I would be like what I am, father?'
His tone was anxious. He added hurriedly:
'I'm not a baby now, I can walk miles and miles, and I'm going to dress myself all alone to-morrow.'
'That's right. I want my son to be plucky and independent and honourable. If you're that sort I shall be quite satisfied. What do you say, Helen?'
Mrs. Allonby looked at Bobby rather tenderly.
'I don't think he needs to be very independent yet,' she said.
'What does it mean?' asked Bobby. 'And what does honourable mean? It's plucky when you hurt yourself and don't cry, isn't it?'
'Independent is doing things for yourself and standing alone. Honourable is everything a gentleman ought to be—truthful, honest, and straight, with right thoughts about everything. I think you're plucky. You're not afraid of anything, I hope.'
Bobby did not answer for a minute. He had heard enough to fill his small brain with fresh thought.
'I'm not afraid of anybody if I have Nobbles with me,' he said.
His father laughed again, then put him off his knee.
'I have letters to write. Run away now and play with True.'
So Bobby went, revolving many things in his mind. And an hour later, when he was getting tired of romping with True, he sat down on the grass underneath an apple-tree.
'I like Nobbles to be good,' he confided to True; 'but I'm 'fraid he can't be ind'pendent. He's plucky, he's afraid of nobody, and loves to give anyone a good beating; and he's quite, quite straight, so he's hon'rable, but he can't stand alone, or do things for himself.'
'Can't he? You give him to me. I'll make him stand up.'
True had seized hold of Nobbles and stuck him triumphantly two inches into the ground, where he stood smiling at them.
Bobby did not approve of this treatment.
'You're not to touch him. He doesn't belong to you.'
'He's only a stick!'
True's tone was scornful. For the first time Bobby began to feel angry with her.
'He's my Nobbles, and I like him much better than you.'
He hugged his stick and walked off. True pursued him.
'He's only a stick,' she repeated. 'I could break him in half if I tried!'
'You're a horrid girl, and I wish my father would send you away. You don't belong to him and me at all!'
'You don't belong to us!' cried True excitedly. 'Dad and me always goes out together, and we'll leave you behind. We don't want you at all. We was ever so happy before you came. You'd better go back to that old House of yours. We don't want you!'
It takes so little to make a quarrel. Fiery little True rushed into her mother in a passion of tears, declaring that she hated Bobby and would never play with him again; and Bobby was found some minutes later by Margot lying face downwards in the garden crying as if his heart would break.
'I'll never be happy again. She says I don't belong here,' he sobbed.
Peace was made at last, for Margot took him straight into Mrs. Allonby, who talked to both children as only she could talk, lovingly, gently, but very firmly. When girl and boy were both safely tucked away in bed that night, she said to her husband:
'Oh, Frank, shall we have a divided house?'
'Never!' he said cheerfully. 'Both these youngsters have had things their own way. Now they will have to give and take, and it will do them each a power of good.'
She smiled, and her anxious look disappeared.
'If we are of one mind it will be easy,' she said.
And her husband replied:
'Your mind and will rule this household, darling. I shall leave my boy's training to you.'
A LETTER FROM ABROAD.
'They look like the gates in the City.'
Bobby and True were lying upon the grass under a shady group of trees. They had been out motoring with their father all the morning, and had stopped to have their lunch up a by-road. They had had a merry meal, and then after it was over Mr. Allonby told them they had better stay where they were whilst he took his motor back to the neighbouring village to get some slight repairs done to it.
'It is very warm, so stay here quietly, and don't wander far from this place, or I shall not find you again.'
He went. For a short time they amused themselves quietly by the roadside. Then they thought they would like to see where the road took them, and walked up it until suddenly they were stopped by some very tall white iron gates. They peeped through the bars of them. There was a small lodge inside, but there seemed no one about. A long, broad, beautifully-kept drive went straight up to a white, turreted house in the distance. It looked almost like a castle. They tried to open the gates, but they were locked. Then they threw themselves down upon the grass outside, and Bobby thoughtfully said, as he eyed the gates in front of them:
'They look like the gates in the City.'
'What city?' asked True.
'It's a Bible city. Do you know about the gates kept by angels? They lead up to heaven, and the road is just like that in there, only there are people walking up them in white dresses. We shall have to get frough them some day.
'It'll be very nice,' said True comfortably.
Bobby looked at her, and his mouth pursed itself up gravely.
'Everybodies don't get frough. Some are shut outside.'
'Because they haven't white dresses on. My grandmother has a beautiful Bible with beautiful picshers in it, and the picsher of the lovely gates says: "Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb, that they may have right to the tree of life, and enter in frough the gates into the City." I learnt that tex'. Lady Isobel teached it to me.'
'What's the tree of life?' asked True.
Bobby pointed inside the gate to a big beech-tree halfway up the drive.
'It's like that, but it has lovely golden apples on it. And the angels stand at the gate, and won't let nobody frough with a dirty dress.'
True glanced at her brown holland frock, which was smeared with green.
'My frocks never keep clean after half an hour,' she said with a little sigh.
'You have to get a nice white frock from Jesus,' went on Bobby, pleased with his role as teacher.
'He washes your dirty one in His blood. You know, when He died on the cross, that's how He shed His blood. And it turns all dirty things white and clean. Lady Is'bel teached me it did.'
'I don't believe Jesus Christ really washes frocks,' said True. 'I've never heard He does. It would be—be like a washerwoman.'
Bobby leant across to her eagerly.
'You don't un'stand prop'ly. It's a inside white frock over our hearts. Nobody sees it but Jesus and the angels at the gate—and God. Our hearts are quite dirty and black till we ask Jesus to wash them and put the white dress on. Why, I had mine done long ago—d'reckly I heard 'bout it. You ought to have yours. You'll never get inside the gates if you don't, and it would be quite dre'fful to be shut out.
'When is it?' asked True, deliberating.
'When is what?'
'The gates being opened.'
'I think it's when you die, you want to get frough,' said Bobby.
'Then I can wait till I die!' said True.
'What a silly girl you are!'
Bobby's tone was almost contemptuous.
'I'm not silly.'
'Yes you are. Fancy waiting when you can have it now. Why, you might die in a hurry, and then Jesus might be doing something else, and mightn't come to you in time. I'm all ready now. The tex' says I've a right to go in at the gates now, if I wanted to.'
He stopped talking, for up the lane came a carriage, and it stopped at the gates.
Both the children sprang to their feet. They saw a woman in a white apron hurry out from the lodge and open the gate; they saw the carriage pass through and the gates close again. Then Bobby spoke very solemnly:
'Did you see who was in the carriage? A lady in a white dress, and she had a right to pass frough.'
'You are a funny boy,' said True with a little laugh. 'She belonged to the house, and she's just going home.'
'Well,' argued Bobby, 'I belong to the golden City, and I shall have a right to go in—the tex' says so; and I shall be going home; because you know, True, God is my other Father, and God lives at home in heaven.'
There was silence, then True said:
'We had better go back to dad. I'll ask mother next Sunday about those gates, and see if you've told me true. She always talks good to me on Sunday afternoon.'
Bobby turned away from the white gates with reluctance.
'Would it be wicked to play at going in at those gates?' he asked. 'We might come another day by ourselves and try to get in.'
'So we will,' said True. 'It couldn't be wicked if we play what's in the Bible, because everything is good there.'
They returned to the spot where Mr. Allonby had arranged to meet them. He was just appearing along the road, and when they were tucked safely in the car again Bobby said:
'Who lives inside the big white gates up that road, father?'
'I don't know, my boy. I don't know this part of the country.'
'How far are we from home?' asked True.
'About twenty miles.'
The children sighed simultaneously. Then True said:
'We'll never get there, Bobby.'
'P'raps we shall pass some other white gates nearer home,' he suggested.
'Why do you want them?' asked their father.
Bobby laid his hand on his coat sleeve impressively.
'They're so like the gates into heaven, father.'
Mr. Allonby looked startled.
'Have you been there, sonny?'
'No; but I've seen them in a picsher.'
'I was splaning to True about them.'
Bobby was a wee bit shy of his father. He could not talk quite freely to him yet. He was so terribly afraid of being laughed at, and Mr. Allonby was not good at hiding his amusement at some of his son's quaint speeches.
'It's kind of Sunday talk,' put in True eagerly, 'about angels, and white dresses, and washing.'
'Ah!' said Mr. Allonby, 'then you must take your puzzles to the angel of our house. She will tell you all you want to know.'
'That's mother,' said True in a whisper to Bobby. 'She's father's angel. He is awful 'fraid she will get some wings and fly away one day.'
Other topics engrossed their small minds; but upon the next Sunday afternoon, when they were both sitting by Mrs. Allonby's sofa and she was giving them a Bible lesson out of her big Bible, True brought up the subject.
'Will you read us about the gates of heaven, mother? Bobby says he'll be let inside, and I shall be shut out.'
'No, I didn't.'
'Yes, you did.'
'We won't have any quarrelling. What do you want to hear about?'
'The gates,' said Bobby, 'the beautiful gates. It's the last page of the Bible. I know it is. Will you read, True, the tex' about having a right to enter? It begins, "Blessed——"'
Mrs. Allonby had no difficulty in finding it. She read very slowly.
'Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the City.'
'There!' said True, 'it doesn't say anything about washing, Bobby.'
Bobby looked sorely perplexed.
'Lady Is'bel teached it to me out of the Talian Bible. "Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in frough the gates into the City." That's my tex', I know it is.'
Mrs. Allonby smiled at his disconsolate face.
'It is another version, Bobby.'
'But isn't it true?' he questioned. 'You see it's so 'ticular to me, 'cause I've had my robe washed. I knows I have, and I thought I was quite ready to go in.'
'You're quite right, darling. Listen to this verse about the City. "There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth." No one can be allowed in if they are stained with sin, no dirt, no impurity. We must have had our hearts washed white before we can go in. Only Jesus can do this; but we must not think that is all we have to do. What makes our hearts dirty and black?'
'Being naughty,' said True.
'Yes. We must ask Jesus to help us do His commandments, so as to keep our hearts clean. The two go together; and it is very important they should. If Bobby says his heart is washed by Jesus, and then quarrels, and loses his temper and wants his own way, I shall know something is not right. Remember you must be washed, and you will want to be washed every day again and again, but you must try to keep clean by doing His commandments. Everyone you break leaves a stain upon your robe, and grieves your Saviour.'
'Oh dear, oh dear!' sighed Bobby, 'He'll get quite tired of me, I know He will. I think I'm much wickeder here than I was at grandmother's.'
'And I'm wickeder since you came to us,' said True, nodding her head at him. 'You do make me so awful angry by things you say!'
Bobby looked quite crushed.
'Isn't it quite certain I'll be let inside?' he asked.
Mrs. Allonby smiled.
'Thank God you can be quite certain of that, Bobby. It doesn't depend on what we do, but upon what Jesus did for us. Let me tell you a little story. Two little girls were going to be taken out to tea one afternoon with their mother. Their names were Nellie and Ada. They were dressed in clean white frocks, and told they might walk up and down the garden path till their mother joined them. "But don't go on the grass," she said, "or you may soil your frocks. It has been raining, and it is wet and muddy." For a short time they walked up and down the path as good as gold. Then Ada saw a frog hop away over the grass. She forgot her mother's command, and ran after it. The grass was slippery; she fell, and her clean frock was all smeared and spoilt by muddy streaks. Her mother came out and was very vexed. "Now, Ada, you will have to stay at home. I can't take you in a dirty frock. It will serve you right for being so disobedient." Ada cried and sobbed, and said she was sorry, and begged to be taken. But her mother said no. Then Nellie, who loved her sister, and was an unselfish little girl, said: "Mother, dear, do take Ada, she is so sorry; let me stay at home, and then she can wear my frock." At first the mother wouldn't hear of this, but Nellie begged so hard that at last she consented. Ada's dirty frock was taken off her and Nellie's clean one put on her. She went to the party and Nellie stayed at home. Now don't you think, as she walked along with her mother, that she would be very careful not to dirty Nellie's clean frock? I think she would be more careful than ever. Jesus Christ kept His robe pure and spotless. He never sinned at all, so His robe is put over us, and we can enter the gates. But oughtn't we to be very careful not to sin, just to show Him how we value our robe, how we love Him for being so kind and good to us?' Mrs. Allonby paused. Bobby nodded his head very solemnly at her.
'Me and Nobbles will 'member that story. I'll tell him it in bed. You know sometimes I make Nobbles do naughty things, but sometimes'—here the twinkle came into the brown eyes—'sometimes Nobbles puts naughty things in my head. He whispers them to me in bed.'
'That isn't Nobbles,' said True, in her downright fashion, 'that's the Devil, isn't it, motherums?'
'No,' asserted Bobby, 'it's Nobbles, all by himself. P'raps Satan may have whispered to him first. Shall I tell you what he wants me to do to-morrer?'
'Oh, do!' True's eagerness to hear Bobby's inventions got the better of her. Mrs. Allonby said nothing. She liked the children to talk freely before her, and she gained a good deal by being listener sometimes.
'You know those top pears on the wall what won't fall down? Nobbles says if I get on a chair and reach up he'll hit them down, and then I can pick them up. We was finking about doing it first thing before breakfus' to-morrer!'
'But it would be you that would do it; and dad said we weren't to touch them unless they were on the ground.'
'It wouldn't be me, it would be Nobbles,' insisted Bobby. 'I couldn't reach up half so high.'
'Then if Nobbles does it,' said Mrs. Allonby, very quietly, 'I shall have to punish him. I shall shut him up in a cupboard for a whole day.'
Bobby looked quite frightened.
'Me and Nobbles have never been away from each other, never once!'
'Then I should take care he does nothing naughty. After all, Bobby, darling, he can't do anything unless you help him, can he?'
'No,' said Bobby slowly; 'and if him and me knocked those pears down it would make a black mark on my robe, wouldn't it!'
'Indeed it would!'
'Then we'll 'cidedly not do it,' said Bobby with emphasis. 'I'm going to try hard to be always good—for evermore!'
It needed hard trying, poor Bobby found, especially when he and True both wanted their own way at the same time, and they could not make those ways agree. But gradually they learnt lessons of forbearance and patience, and mutually helped each other to be unselfish.
One morning Bobby had a letter brought him by the postman. He turned it over with the greatest pride and interest. It had been redirected to him by his grandmother.
'I've never had a letter from anybody,' he said.
'Oh, be quick and open it,' urged True, dancing round him. 'All sorts of things happen when you get letters. It might be from the King, or from a fairy godmother, or a princess!'
Bobby's fingers trembled as he opened the envelope.
'P'raps,' continued True, who was never wanting for ideas, 'you've got a fortune left you, and a lot of money will tumble out.'
But it was only a letter, and though the writing was very clear and plain, Bobby begged his father to read it to him.
The children had breakfast with their father always. Mrs. Allonby did not leave her room till later in the morning.
Mr. Allonby read the letter through, and Bobby leant forward in his chair listening to it with open eyes and mouth.
'MY DEAREST LITTLE BOBBY—
'Have you forgotten the sad lady in her garden, I wonder? The one you comforted by your sweet quaintness and loving-heartedness? I have often thought of you in this hot country, and now I am feeling rather sad again, I thought I would cheer myself up by writing to my little friend.
'I had such a happy time when I first came out, Bobby. Do you remember the picture of the golden gates? I found the little black children and women here were so interested in hearing about it that I set to work and drew and painted a big picture after the fashion of that beautiful one in your grandmother's Bible. I used to draw a good deal when I was a girl, but my attempt is very poor when I think of the original. Still the children here were so delighted with it that I wondered if you would be too. So I set to work to paint another, and this one is coming to you through the post. Perhaps Nurse will hang it up in your nursery for you. How is Nobbles? Give him my love. I hope he doesn't cut off the heads of the poor flowers now. He will be older and wiser I expect. Are you still sitting up in bed at night and fancying you hear your father's knock? Or do you sit in your apple-tree and think you see him coming along the road? How I hope he will arrive home one day and take you by surprise! I have not forgotten that I am to try to find him for you, and curiously enough I heard his name mentioned the other evening when I was dining with some old friends of mine. And who do you think was talking about him, Bobby? Your Uncle Mortimer. Isn't it funny that I should meet him out here? I knew him when I was a little girl, but of course he did not remember me. There was a Major Knatchbull, who had met your father in South America, but he had not seen him for several years. I told your uncle that I wanted to find your father, and then we discovered that we had both promised the same small boy to do so. How I hope we shall succeed in our quest! Now I must tell you why I am feeling sad. I have not been well since I came out here, and the doctors tell me that I must not stay in India. So that means I must give up my work, which I was beginning to love, and come back to my empty house and home. Will you come and comfort me if I do? It won't be just yet, for I shall stay out here till the rainy season is over. Good-bye, my darling. If you can write me a little letter I shall be so glad to get it. Your Uncle Mortimer has just asked me to go for a ride with him, so I must stop.
Your very loving friend, ISOBEL GRANTHAM.'
'Well,' said Mr. Allonby, 'that letter comes from a nice woman, Bobby. Who is she? And how many people have you set to work looking for your missing father?'
Bobby looked up gravely.
'Only her and Master Mortimer. I likes them both 'normously. Isn't it a long letter? And, oh dear! if she's home I shan't see her.'
'Would you like me to take you back to your grandmother?'
Bobby slipped down from his chair and caught hold of his father's hand with imploring eyes.
'Father, dear, you won't do it, will you? You'll never let me leave you?'
Mr. Allonby took him upon his knee and gave him one of his rare kisses.
'I'm afraid I'm not good enough to be your father, sonny. You expect such a lot from me, and I can only give so little. I shall be a terrible disappointment to you all round.'
But Bobby laid his curly head against his father's shoulder and clasped him round the neck.
'I belongs to you, and you belongs to me,' he said, with infinite satisfaction in his tone, and Mr. Allonby answered, with a little embarrassed laugh:
'And finding's keeping, my little boy. We'll hold together for the present, at any rate.'
'SHE HAS LEFT US!'
Of course Lady Isobel's letter had to be answered, and the wonderful news told of Bobby's change of home. His letter took him a long time to write, and True helped him a great deal. Mrs. Allonby sent it as it was, with all the imperfections of spelling and many a blot and erasure; but she added a little note herself, as Bobby's left much to be explained.
'MY DEAR LADY FREND—
'Me and Nobbles is kite wel, so is True. Father came at last. He tuked me in a motor home. I have a knew mother. She is very nice. We saw sum reel wite gates, but they was loked. We mene to find sum more. Me and Nobbles runned away and hid under the sete. We did not go back no more. Plese come and see me in this house, and giv Master Mort'mer my best luv. I warnt to see him agen. I went in the rode to mete my father and he comed, but I did not no him. Thank you verry much for the piksher. I shall like it wen it comes and so will True. She spells my leter for me.
Your loving boy, BOBBY.'
And when the letter was sent, Bobby set himself to watch for his picture.
It came very soon, and to his eyes was a miracle of beauty.
Mrs. Allonby had it framed for him and hung up over his bed in the dressing-room. He was never tired of looking at it, and what pleased him most was a little boy about his own age just being let inside the gates by a kind faced angel.
'Look at his white dress; not one tiny spot, Nobbles,' he would exclaim. 'That's me going in, and I shall walk right up the street to God like that.'
There was a dark corner in the picture, and two weeping people being turned away. In fact it was as nearly like the original as it could be, only it was much bigger, and the gates were lovely in their gold and white paint.
True admired it as much as he did, and would often come and stand and look at it with delight and awe.
'I wonder if I have a right to go inside,' she said. 'I love having a right to do things, then no one can stop me.'
'It's wearing a white robe gives you right,' said Bobby.
'Yes, and doing the Commandments,' responded True quickly; 'that's the differcult part. But I mean to be inside, not outside, I tell you that!'
Many delightful excursions did the children have with their father, but the summer days began to shorten and the sun appeared less often, and Mrs. Allonby kept them more at home. She herself did not get stronger. Her appetite failed. Gradually she came downstairs less, and kept in bed more. Mr. Allonby grew careworn and anxious, the doctor appeared very often, and still Bobby and True played together gleefully, with little idea of the black shadow that was going to fall upon their happy home.
Then one bright sunny morning True asked Mr. Allonby if he would give them a ride in his car.
He looked at her for an instant in silence, then said slowly:
'No, we must do without motor drives now; I am going to sell it.'
'Sell it! Oh, dad, you mustn't!'
'I must,' he said; 'I want to give your mother all the comfort and ease I can, and we are poor people. Besides, I shall have no heart for anything now.'
'Why?' questioned True.
'Don't ask so many questions,' Mr. Allonby said sharply, and he was so seldom vexed with them that the children looked at each other with dismayed faces.
Later that morning Mr. Allonby was wandering moodily up and down his strip of garden smoking his pipe; his head was bent, his hands loosely clasped behind him. Suddenly he felt a soft little hand take hold of one of his.
'Father, dear, do tell me about your sad finks. I know they're sad from your face.'
It was Bobby. His father looked down upon him for a minute, then without a word led him into a field which ran up at the back of their garden. He paced the whole length of the field with his little son before he spoke again, and then, leaning against a five-barred gate, he said heavily:
'I can't hold up against it, sonny! I was a worthless creature till she took me in hand, and now, when she is making something of me, when we are going to peg away together at the book which is going to make our fortune, she is going to leave me. I can't live without her! I shall go to the dogs!'
'Is it mother you mean? Oh, father, we won't let her leave us! Why does she want to go?'
'She doesn't; it is cruel fate. Bobby, my boy, life is an utter failure. Oh! I don't know what I am saying, or why I am talking like this. Your mother is dying fast, can't you see it? I hoped she was getting stronger, but the doctor says it has only been her strong will that has got her downstairs at all. Oh, Helen, you're too young, too full of life and spirit to be taken! I will not believe it!'
He folded his arms on the top bar of the gate and dropped his head upon them with a groan. Bobby stood perfectly still; the news was so astounding, so bewildering, that he could hardly take it in.
'Is mother going through the golden gate now?' he asked.
There was no answer. Then Bobby climbed up on the gate with a longing desire to comfort his father. He had never seen a grown-up person in trouble before, and it was with the greatest effort he prevented himself from bursting into tears.
'Father, dear, don't cry! It's a lovely thing when God calls people. Mother tolded us herself last Sunday it was. And p'raps God will take her for a visit, and then send her back again. Is she reely going into heaven soon? Oh, wouldn't it be nice if we could all go with her! May I run and tell True; and may we just ask mother about it a little?'
'Leave me, child! Run away!' And when his pattering footsteps had died away Bobby's father said in bitterness of spirit: 'Heartless little scamp! He is enjoying the sensation of it!'
But he misunderstood Bobby. The child had never seen death, and did not understand it in the least; his vision was steadfastly fixed on the life hereafter. What wonder that the glories of it eclipsed the present shadow!
True received his news first incredulously, then stamped and stormed in helpless passion.
'Mother shan't die! She shan't be put in the ground! Bobby, we'll keep her from going. Oh, mother, mother! we couldn't live without you!'
A burst of tears followed, in which Bobby joined her from very sympathy. Then softly they stole up the steep narrow stairs to their mother's room. They met Margot at the door.
'Oh dear!' she sighed, as she saw their faces, 'I s'ppose your father has been and told you. The missis is quite nicely this morning, and wants to see you. Now if you go in, no tears, mind—nothing to make her sad. You must make believe you're glad she's going, same as I do.'
A husky sob broke in the faithful servant's voice. She signed to the children to go in, and turned away abruptly herself.
Hand in hand, on tiptoe, they stole to their mother's bedside.
Surely she was better with such a pink colour in her cheeks! She smiled brightly at them, but her voice was weak and low.
'I haven't seen you for two days, darlings! Tell me what you've been doing.'
'I've been in the field with father,' said Bobby, taking one of Mrs. Allonby's hands in his, and very gently raising it to his lips to kiss. 'We've comed to tell you that we are very glad you're going through the gates, but we would like you to ask God to let you come back to us very soon.'
Sudden tears came to Mrs. Allonby's eyes.
'I think you must come to me,' she said almost in a whisper.
'We should like to do that very much, said Bobby bravely. 'True and me are ready, we fink.'
'But, darlings,' went on Mrs. Allonby, 'you must not feel impatient if God does not send for you just yet. I want my little daughter to grow up to be a comfort to her father, to keep the house tidy, do his mending, have comfortable little meals for him, and let him always feel he has a home and a little daughter waiting for him.'
'And me?' questioned Bobby eagerly. 'What must I do for him? I belongs to him besides True.'
'You belong to him more than True does. I want you to be his little companion. Go out with him, talk to him, tell him about your lovely picture, let him feel he cannot get on without you. Oh, Bobby, dear, you love your father with all your heart and soul! Show it to him by your life. I want you two to be inseparable. I shall pray you may be.'
A glorious light dawned in Bobby's eyes. He caught Mrs. Allonby's meaning.
'I'll die for him if I can,' he said fervently; and deep down in his heart he meant what he said.
True stood looking at her mother with sadly pathetic eyes.
'When are you going, mother? Oh, I think God might do without you a little longer. I won't pretend I want you to go; I won't.'
'My little girl, I know you don't want me to leave you; and at first I felt just like you do. But I have been lying here talking to God, and He has been talking to me, and now I know that He makes no mistakes, and is doing the very best for all of us by taking me now. I shall look for you and father, and one day we shall be all together again, I hope, in that beautiful country that now seems so far away.'
There was a little silence in the room; then Mrs. Allonby turned to Bobby.
'Bobby, dear, will you say me that verse in that old Italian Bible of your grandmother's? Somehow, now I am so near the gates, it seems to bring me more comfort than our English version. I have so often broken God's commandments. But the other—is so simple—so comforting!'
Bobby repeated his favourite verse with glad assurance.
'"Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb, that they may have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the City."'
'Yes,' said Mrs. Allonby when he had finished, 'when we come near the gates, Bobby, and all our life rises before us with all our sins, it is the thought of the Lamb's precious blood that brings us peace and courage. I like the verse about doing His commandments for life; but for death your verse is far and away the best.'
The children could hardly follow this. True climbed upon the bed and sat close to her mother.
'Is it a very nice thing to die, mother?' she asked.
'My darling, it is nice to feel that our dear Saviour is holding me tight. "Lo, I am with you alway," He says to me. And so I am content.'
'Oh,' said Bobby, 'I should like to see the gates open and let you in. Will you walk up the street by those lovely trees? And will you come to the gates to meet us when it's our time?'
Mrs. Allonby smiled her answer, and Margot now crept softly in and told the children they must go.
'I must have a kiss from each of them,' Mrs. Allonby said feebly. 'I don't think—I never know, Margot, whether I shall get through another night.'
So they kissed her, and reluctantly left the room. That was a strange, long day to them. Mr. Allonby came in and spent the rest of the day in his wife's room. The children had to go to bed without wishing him good-night. Bobby unhung his picture and placed it on the dressing-table opposite his bed, where he could look at it. In the early morning he lay gazing at it with fascinated eyes. He followed in thought his mother's arrival there, her entrance through the gates, and her triumphal march up to the shining, golden throne in the distance. He seemed to hear the blast of trumpets, the rapt singing of the angels attending her, and he was completely lost in his vision when he was suddenly roused by his father's entrance. He looked strangely untidy and wretched, his little boy thought. Bobby was peculiarly susceptible to outside appearances. His father was dressed in his ordinary tweed suit, but his eyes were haggard, his hair rough, his white collar crumpled, and his face heated and tear-stained.
He came in impulsively and threw himself on his knees by his child's bed.
'Oh, Bobby, little chap, she has gone, she has left me, and I've promised to meet her again! We must help each other. May God Himself teach me, for I'm not fit to teach you. I don't know how I shall get through life without her. I always felt that since her accident she has been too good to live. She never made one murmur.'
Bobby opened his mouth to speak, then stopped, and tears crowded into his eyes.
'Is she really gone, father? Oh, how could God take her so quick? I did want to say a proper good-bye. Look, father, dear, at my picsher. Is she inside by this time, do you think? How long does it take to go to heaven?'
Mr. Allonby took up his little son's picture and gazed at it with keen interest, then he put it down with a heavy sigh.
'Yes, she's there right enough, sonny. I don't doubt that. Shall we say a little prayer together—you and I—for I feel quite unable for what is before me.'
So the grown-up man knelt by the small bed, and Bobby jumped up and knelt by his side, and in very broken, faltering accents he prayed:
'Merciful God, have pity on me and my children; be with us now she has left us. Help me to do my duty; forgive my selfish life. I want to be different; change me; set me right; make me what she wanted me to be. Bless this boy here, make him a better man than his father. And the little motherless girl—how can I take care of her? Have pity and help us all for Christ's sake. Amen.'
It was a prayer that Bobby never forgot all his life, and he never spoke of it to anyone. Childlike, he kept it wrapped up in his heart. He was puzzled at his father's distress; he thought no grown-up person ever cried; but his whole being quivered afresh with loving devotion to the father who now had only himself and True to comfort him.
'WE'RE GOING TO FIND A GOVERNESS!'
Those were strange sad days to Bobby and True. But one engrossing thought helped them along, and that was how they could be a comfort to their father. Margot ordered the household. Mr. Allonby came in and out, speaking little to anyone. He took long walks by himself, and would shut himself up for hours in his den writing, or trying to write, the book that was going to bring him a fortune.
Autumn crept on; the days grew short, and dark, and at last Margot ventured to have a talk with her master.
'It will be about the children's schooling,' she said hesitatingly. 'Miss True is getting a big girl—and Master Bobby——'
'Oh!' groaned her master, 'how am I to send them away from me? But I am thinking over plans, Margot. I want to get away from this tiny house. I think of going to London, and perhaps going abroad again. Let the children run wild a little longer, then when we move to London I can settle something.'
Margot withdrew. She had said her say, and dreaded any change herself.
One evening after their tea was over, Mr. Allonby broached the subject to the children himself. The little sitting-room was very cosy in the firelight. True was sitting with an air of immense importance trying to darn a worsted sock of her father's. Margot had been giving her lessons, and with a very big needle, and a thread that was so long that it continually got itself into knots, she worked away at an alarming looking hole in the heel.
Bobby and Nobbles were lying on the hearthrug; they had been looking at a picture-book together; but directly Mr. Allonby spoke, the book was shut and Bobby was all attention.
'I'm afraid your idle time must soon come to an end,' he said. 'Margot is reminding me what little dunces you are. Can either of you read a book properly yet?'
'I can,' said True. 'I read to Bobby often; but I'm rather tired of my books. I know them all by heart.'
'I can nearly read,' said Bobby. 'I reads to Nobbles often.'
'Oh, that's only your make up!' said True, a little scornfully. 'You can't read long words at all; you know you can't. But, dad, you won't send us to school, will you—not away from you?'
'I'm afraid I must.'
Bobby's look of horror made his father smile. He lifted him upon his knee.
'Every boy goes to school, Bobby. You don't want to be a baby always, do you?'
'Mother said,' asserted Bobby gravely, 'that I was to be your little kerpanion; she didn't want me never to leave you.'
'You're a first-rate little companion, sonny. I shall miss you very much; but I must think of your good first. There don't seem to be any nice schools near here, nor do I know of anyone who would come and teach you for an hour or two. And I can't afford to live on here. I must go to London, I think, and set to work at something. I heard to-day from an old friend of mine who wants me to join another exploring party. Perhaps I may do this. In any case I fear our little home will be broken up.'
Bobby looked up into his father's face with a quivering under lip.
'Are you going to send me back to grandmother? I've had such a tiny, weeny time with you. I reely don't think I'll live away from you, father, again. I couldn't expeck and expeck every day for you to come back to me, and then have you never come. And I'll promise true and faithful to be good if you'll take me with you.'
'And I promised mother faithful I'd have a comf'able home for you always, dad. She told me I was to. I don't think she'd like it at all if we was sent away from you.'
Mr. Allonby looked at the eager children's faces thoughtfully.
'I shouldn't be going abroad till the spring. If I could find someone to teach you we might be together for the winter. But I can't stay here. I must be nearer town. We never meant to stay here after the autumn. We came down because of my health. I am well now. Perhaps I can get some cheap lodgings just out of town, where Margot would look after you. We will see.'
'That will be very nice,' said True, darning away with increased speed and importance. 'I'm growing awfully fast, dad, and I'll be able to look after the lodgings for you.'
'And you won't never send me back to grandmother's?' said Bobby anxiously.
No, indeed, I won't. I heard to-day, by-the-bye, that your grandmother was very ill.'
Bobby did not speak for a minute. Then he said slowly:
'I wonder if she'd like to see me afore she dies.'
'Oh, we won't think she is as bad as that,' said his father cheerfully.
He went up to London the next day, and stayed away three whole days. True and Bobby felt very forlorn. They quarrelled a good deal, and Margot at last lost patience with them.
'Ain't you ashamed of yourselves? And the grass not green yet on your mother's grave. What must she think if she's allowed to get a glimpse of you?'
'It's all Bobby; he's so mastering,' said True; 'and I'm the oldest; and he ought to do what I tell him.'
'And you angerise me,' said Bobby, determined to use as long words as True did; 'and you make my white dress all dirty. I try to be ever so good; but you go on and on, and I'm getting wickeder and wickeder!'
A little sob came up in his throat. Bobby had the sincere desire to be good, but he found it very hard to knock under to True, who was quite determined in her own mind that she ought to be the ruler.
They welcomed their father back joyfully. He seemed very tired, but more cheerful than he had been for a long time.
'I have found some rooms in West Kensington quite cheap, and I really think we shall be very comfortable there. It will be cheaper than living out of town. I can only manage three rooms; but Margot will have one with you, True, and Bobby and I will have the other; and there's quite a nice front sitting-room. You will be able to watch all the traffic in the street from its window.
'Are you very, very poor, dad?' asked True.
'I have enough to keep you in food and clothes,' said Mr. Allonby, 'and for schooling, I hope; but it will be a tight fit until I get my book written.'
Margot sighed when she heard they were to go to London, but True and Bobby were delighted. They enjoyed the bustle of packing; and when, one dull November day, they were whirled away in the train towards their new home they were beside themselves with delight. It was dark when they got out of the train. The drive across London in a cab through the brilliantly lighted streets was enchanting to them; and when they reached their lodgings, and were allowed to sit up to a late supper with their father, consisting of mutton-chops and cheese and pickles, Bobby informed his father that it was better than any birthday treat.
They went to bed very happy but very tired, and for the next few days the novelty of their surroundings kept them quiet and good. Bobby had a real thirst for information, and, when his father took him out, proved a very interesting little companion. True was delighted to go shopping with Margot, who was so disgusted with the landlady's cooking, and so miserable at having so little housework to do, that she never gave Mr. Allonby any rest till he arranged that she should have the use of the kitchen stove for a part of the day.
It was about the second week after their arrival that Bobby heard of his grandmother's death. It awed him, but did not affect him much. She had never shown any love for him, and was almost a stranger to him. But he was surprised when he had a letter from his old nurse telling him that his uncle and aunt were going to leave the house, and his Uncle Mortimer coming home from India to take possession of it.
'I should like to see Master Mortimer again,' Bobby said; 'me and Nobbles was so very fond of him.'
'I don't know what he will do with himself in that big house,' said Mr. Allonby. 'He ought to get married if he settles down there.'
'It is not a very nice house,' Bobby asserted gravely; 'it's so stiff and partic'lar, and all the chairs and furnesher are so proper. I always have to go on tiptoe. But Master Mortimer did used to play hide-and-seek with me in the garden. But I don't want never to go back again.'
'It's time you were at school, sonny; your grammar doesn't improve. I wish I could hear of someone who would teach you; but I'm afraid it must be school.'
Now True and Bobby had decided together that school was a horrible place, and at all costs they must try to keep from going to it. They had many an anxious talk about it, and at last, one morning after Mr. Allonby had gone out for the day and left them to their own devices, True announced her plan.
'We'll find a nice kind of governess ourselves, Bobby. Come and look out of the window. Why, there must be millions and billions of governesses in London! We'll go out by ourselves and find one. Wait till Margot has gone down to the kitchen, and then we won't say anything to anyone, but will go out and get one.'
Bobby clapped his hands. 'I should fink they would keep some in a shop,' he said; but True did not feel at all sure about this.
They accomplished their design most satisfactorily, and, wrapped up in their warm coats, they slipped downstairs and down into the street without being noticed.
'Now where shall we find one?' enquired Bobby.
'We'll go in a 'bus,' said True. 'I've brought some pennies, and the 'busman will tell us where to go.'
'Let Nobbles call one,' said Bobby eagerly; 'that's what father always does, holds up his stick, and they waits till we get in.'
So Nobbles was waved frantically in the air when the first 'bus appeared.
And though it was not at the proper starting point, the driver saw the two small children and good-naturedly pulled up for them. They were helped in by the conductor. There were only three other people inside, an old lady, a young girl, and a man. The shining, radiant faces of True and Bobby attracted attention; still more their whispered conversation.
'She must be very cheap. Dad has so little money.'
This from True, with great emphasis.
'And she must be very smiling, and 'stremely fond of me and Nobbles.'
This from Bobby, with a wise nod of his curly head.
'We'll choose the one we like best,' said True.
And then they were asked by the conductor for their money.
'We'll have a white ticket please,' said True grandly.
'Oh, I likes the pink ones best,' exclaimed Bobby eagerly.
The conductor eyed them with some amusement.
'Where do you want to go?'
Bobby was silent, and so was True for a minute, then she said:
'We want to go to the place where they keep governesses.'
The three other passengers looked at the children in astonishment; the conductor laughed.
'Did your mother send you?' he asked.
True looked down upon her black frock and then up at him.
'Don't you know that mother is dead?' she said. 'That's what I wear my black frock for.'
'Do you know your way about London, little girl? You are very small to be out alone.'
It was the old lady who spoke.
'The 'busmen and policemen always know,' said True cheerfully. 'Dad told us so.'
'Oh, you have a father——'
'Come,' said the conductor, interrupting, 'give me your pennies; you'd best get out at the next stop and go home again.'
'We're going to find a gov'ness,' said Bobby, glaring at the conductor rather angrily.
The young girl looked at him over the book she was reading.
'You want a registry,' she said. 'There's a good one in Kensington High Street. I'll show it to you if you get out with me.'
True looked relieved.
'Is that the place where you find them?' she asked.
'I never heard of such a thing as children looking for a governess!' ejaculated the old lady. 'Poor little motherless things, their father ought to be ashamed of himself sending them out on such an errand!'
'Dad didn't send us,' said True, feeling she must defend her father at all costs. 'We knew he wanted us to have one, so we came ourselves.'
'And then we won't be sent to school,' put in Bobby.
True gave him a sharp nudge with her elbow.
'Don't talk so much,' she said.
Bobby subsided meekly. He felt this strange experience was rather bewildering, and wondered at True's calm composure.
'I'll help you to find one,' said the young girl. 'I'm studying to be one myself, so I know the sort you ought to have.'
True looked at her with interest. She was in a shabby blue serge coat and skirt, but she wore a bunch of violets in her buttonhole. Her hat was dark blue, her gloves were white worsted ones, and her face was bright and smiling. Her whole appearance was pleasant. When she got up to go, she held out her hands to them.
'Come on. I'll show you where governesses can be found, and perhaps help you choose one. It will be great fun!'
True and Bobby followed her delightedly. The old lady shook her head after them with a sigh.
'The irresponsibility of men! It's to be hoped that young person won't decoy them away and rob them. I think we ought to have handed them over to the police to see them safely home.'
The man at the farther end of the 'bus spoke for the first time. As the old lady addressed him he was obliged to do so.
'The rising generation can soon dispense with their fathers,' he said. 'Those are small specimens of a type.'
Meanwhile the girl in blue serge had walked True and Bobby up a side street, and in at an office door.
'This is one of the best registries in this part of the world,' she said. 'Now we'll tell Mrs. Marsh what you want, and see if she knows of one. When I get the certificates I am working for, I mean to come to her to find me a situation.'
An elderly woman behind a table looked up at them as they entered. The girl spoke to her brightly.
'Good morning, Mrs. Marsh. I have brought you two young people who want a governess. I don't know whether they can pay your fees. But perhaps you can make that right with their father.'
'We want a very cheap governess,' said True, looking up anxiously into Mrs. Marsh's face. 'Dad is very poor, but he'll pay her something.'
'I think your father will have to write me some particulars,' said Mrs. Marsh, looking at the small children with some amusement.
Oh, we'll be able to choose her,' cried Bobby. 'She must be 'ticularly kind and nice.'
'And what will she have to do?'
Bobby looked at True.
'You say. She'll teach me to read, won't she?'
True tried hard to put on a grown-up air. She did not like Mrs. Marsh's amused smile at all.
'Margot says we ought to have a governess to teach us in the morning, and we shan't do any lessons in the afternoon; and she mustn't stay to dinner, because Margot says she doesn't know how to cook for us; we seem to eat more than we ought to. And she mustn't have a cross face, and mustn't wear spectacles.'
'And she must be 'normously fond of Nobbles,' said Bobby, thrusting Nobbles' ugly little face up close to Mrs. Marsh's.
'And we're to learn French and sums—and—dancing,' said True, suddenly struck with a bright thought.
'Yes,' exclaimed Bobby, with a beaming smile, 'dancing, o' course, mostly dancing, me and Nobbles finks!'
The young lady in a blue serge broke into a rippling laugh.
'Oh, Mrs. Marsh, I wish I could teach them myself. Aren't they delicious!'
'Well, why shouldn't you?' said Mrs. Marsh, looking at the speaker with good-natured interest.
'But you were the one to advise me to stick to my studies,' said the girl. 'You said I could never command any salary worth having till I was thoroughly certificated.'
'Yes, I did say so, Miss Robsart; but you could give these children a couple of hours every morning and still pursue your studies.'
The girl turned to the children.
'Do you think I would do?' she said, a pink colour coming into her cheeks and making her look very pretty. 'I could come to you from ten o'clock to half-past twelve every day. We could get through a lot of lessons in that time.'
True looked up at her with rapturous eyes.
'Me and Bobby would love you!' she said. 'Oh, please come straight back with us, and tell dad you'll come.'
Two other ladies entered the office at this juncture. Mrs. Marsh dismissed the children hurriedly.
'There, run along, my dears. There'll be no fees; and you couldn't have a kinder lady than Miss Robsart to teach you; and tell your father that her father was vicar of our church near here many years ago, and she's the nicest young lady I know.'
The children hurried out with their new friend.
'There, Bobby!' True said, a little triumphantly. 'See how easy it is to find a governess!'
And Bobby took hold of Miss Robsart's hand confidingly.
'Me and Nobbles likes you 'ticularly,' he said.
Mr. Allonby had been considerably startled by many things that the children had said and done, but he was never more so than when they appeared before him in the sitting-room with a strange young lady. He had not been in long, and thought they were with Margot. Miss Robsart began to feel a little uncomfortable when she realised her position.
'It's a guv'ness,' Bobby said eagerly; 'me and True went out and finded her ourselves, and she'll come to teach us all the morning.'
'We do so hope you'll like her, dad, because we do. We thought we'd get her as a surprise for you.'
'I really——' began Mr. Allonby, then his eyes met Miss Robsart's and they both laughed aloud.
'I must explain myself,' she said, checking her laugh and speaking hastily and nervously 'I met your little boy and girl in a 'bus and heard them say they had come out to look for a governess. Of course they had not the smallest idea how to set about it, so I took them to a very good registry. I fancied you must have been wanting to have one from what they said, and then, as we were all talking about it, I wondered if I could undertake the situation myself. I am very anxious to earn something, as I have an invalid sister at home, and we are very badly off. I can give you good references. My father was a clergyman. I have been educated in the Kensington High School.
She stopped. Mr. Allonby drew a chair forward for her, then turned to the children.
'I don't know what you two scamps have been doing,' he said; 'something of which I had no conception, I know; but I should like to have a talk with this lady, and you can both go off to Margot, who must be wondering where you are.'
True and Bobby obeyed instantly. They were extremely pleased with themselves, and burst in upon Margot, who was in the bedroom tidying herself to bring in dinner.
'We've got ourselves a governess, Margot.'
'We finded her in a 'bus.'
'She has a smiling face and doesn't wear spectacles or grey hair.'
'She'll teach us to dance round the room.'
'She's talking to dad now; and I believe she will be cheap, because we told her she must be.'
'And me and Nobbles loves her already.'
Margot put her hands up to her ears.
'I think you're quite demented!' she said. 'You've never been out in the streets alone?'
'We went in a 'bus.'
They told their tale. Margot was horrified at their daring.
'You've picked up a strange young woman in the streets and brought her here? She'll maybe belong to a band of burglars! Your poor father is too easy-going. To think of his talking to her at all! Let me see the young hussy, and I'll send her packing! To trade on your innocence in such a fashion!'
Margot grew quite vehement.
True tried to soothe her.
'You don't understand. You haven't seen her. Oh, come downstairs and just look at her.'
'I'm going this very minute. I have to lay the cloth for dinner. 'Tis time she was off; and it's well you've got one person who's wide awake to look after you all in this wicked London!'
Margot stumped down the stairs, her cap quivering with excitement. The children hung over the banisters watching her. They saw the sitting-room door open, and Miss Robsart came out.
'Then I will send you my references tomorrow morning. I shall prefer to do so. Good morning.'
'Margot, show this lady out.'
It was their father who spoke, and Margot moved down the passage slowly. She opened the hall door and eyed Miss Robsart up and down with grim eyes and lips, then she suddenly followed her out on the door-step and half closed the door behind her.
'She's scolding her,' said True.
They waited anxiously. Presently Margot came in and shut the door. She shook her head doubtfully, then went into the sitting-room, and the children heard a long conversation going on between her and their father. When they came to the dinner-table with him, True asked him, 'Did Margot say nasty things about our governess?'
'Our governess, indeed!'
Mr. Allonby leant back in his chair and gave one of his hearty laughs.
'Margot told her she was a wolf in sheep's clothing, I believe. I don't know what she'll say when she knows. I have practically engaged her on the strength of her frank honest face and gentle voice. Fortune favoured you, young pickles, for you tumbled against the right sort. She may not be very learned or experienced, but she knows enough to teach you, and I am glad to have the thing settled.'
The children clapped their hands.
'She's coming, and we won't have to go to school.'
'I'll keep you with me this winter, but I shall really have to take an extra room for my writing; this one sitting-room will never hold us all.'
A few letters with references passed between Miss Robsart and Mr. Allonby, and then, in spite of Margot's prejudice, she came every morning and gave the children their lessons.
The novelty kept them good. Miss Robsart was young and bright, and had a real love for children, and a gift for imparting knowledge, so things went smoothly. Mr. Allonby took himself and his writing into a small back room, which was the delight of True's heart. She dusted it, and tidied it, and cleaned everything she could lay her hands upon. Bobby was jealous of the time she spent in there.
'I ought to be there more than you,' he argued; 'it's a man's room.'
'Mother told me I was to keep dad's rooms tidy, and I will, and dad likes me to do it.'
'I could clean his brass fender, I'm sure.'
'No you couldn't; only girls can clean; boys can't, never!'
'Boys clean shop windows and sweep floors, I've seen them.'
'Well, anyhow you can't, you don't know how, and mother said I was to.'
This unanswerable argument always crushed Bobby.
Saturday afternoons were a great delight to the children, for Mr. Allonby always gave himself up to them then, and took them out with him sight-seeing. They visited the Zoo in this way, the Tower, Madame Tussaud's, the British Museum, St. Paul's, and Westminster Abbey, and many other places of interest and amusement.
On Sunday morning their father always took them to church. In the afternoon he would smoke in his little study; and they were allowed to be with him, and have their tea there as a treat. Occasionally Mr. Allonby would try to give them a Bible lesson; very often they would tell him a Bible story.
'I want to bring you up as your mother would have done,' he said to True one day.
'We'll bring ourselves along, dad,' she responded cheerfully; 'we're trying hard to be good, and we pray to God to manage us when we can't remember in time.'
'Father,' said Bobby one Sunday afternoon, 'do you fink I could ever save your life?'
'I don't know, I'm sure, sonny. What makes you ask?'
'In my reading lesson yesterday—it was about the mouse who saved a lion—it was very difficult to think how he could; but he reely did it, didn't he?'
'Yes, and I suppose you think it applies to you. Well, now, let us think. I must be put in prison somewhere, and you must come and let me out.'
'But you'd have to be wicked to be put in prison,' objected True. 'You couldn't be wicked, dad.'
'I hope I couldn't, but I don't know. I think I would rather not get into such a scrape, Bobby.'
'I should like to do somefing for you,' said Bobby with wistful eyes.
'Why?' asked his father.
Bobby coloured up. If he had followed his natural instinct he would have flung himself into his father's arms and exclaimed, 'Because I love you so.'
But Mr. Allonby was not a demonstrative father, and Bobby was learning to control and hide his feelings.
'Well, I promise you, sonny, to call upon you when I do get into trouble,' said Mr. Allonby, with a twinkle in his eye.
And Bobby hugged this promise to his heart and waited in content.
One afternoon True and he were looking out of the sitting-room window very disconsolately. It was raining fast, and Mr. Allonby had that day gone away to see a friend in the country. He was not coming back for two or three days. Margot was in one of her cross moods. She had taken the opportunity to have a thorough clean and turn out of the two bedrooms, and had forbidden the children to leave the sitting-room for the whole afternoon.
'It's like a prison,' said True rebelliously. 'I hate being shut up in one room. Mother never did. I could run in and out all day long. I hate this old London. I should like to be in the country. I'll run away one day if Margot keeps shutting me up.'
'Where will you go?' asked Bobby, with interest.
'I'll go to the railway station and get into a railway train and stay in it till it gets quite to the end of the journey, and then I'd get out.'
'And where would that be?'
'The very end of England, I s'pose—near the sea.'
'I've never seen the sea,' said Bobby.
'Fancy! Why we came right through it all the way from 'Merica. I'll ask dad to take us to the seashore one day. He loves a day out, and so do I. I wish he had his motor.'
'Yes,' sighed Bobby, 'we never does nothing nice now, and if it hadn't been for this horrid old rain we'd have gone to tea with Miss Robsart.'
'Well, p'raps she'll ask us to-morrow. Look at that funny old woman, Bobby, she's trying to hold up her umbrella and drag her dog with a string and hold up her dress with the same hand. There! Now look, the dog has got between her legs! Oh, there she goes! Oh, look! she's tumbled right over, and there's a gentleman picking her up!'
Bobby pressed his face against the glass to see the catastrophe. Then he started.
'It—it strikes me that's Master Mortimer.'
'Oh, where? Isn't he your uncle?'
'Yes, it's him! It's him! Oh, True, let's run out and bring him in!'
'Is it the gentleman who picked the old lady up? He's looking across at this house now. He's coming, Bobby, he's coming to see us!'
Bobby rushed to the hall door. He was so excited that he hardly knew if he was on his head or heels, and he literally tumbled down off the doorsteps into his uncle's arms.
'Well, well! This is a welcome! Hold on little man, you'll have me over if you don't take care. Let's come inside and do the affectionate, or we shall be collecting a crowd. Why, who is this?'
'She's True, she's a kind of sister,' explained Bobby, pulling his uncle breathlessly into the sitting-room and shutting the door. 'Oh, we do want you to sit down and talk to us; me and Nobbles is 'normously glad to see you!'
'Ah! where is that young gentleman? I see he looks gayer than ever. Now give an account of yourself and this wonderful father of yours.'
Mr. Mortimer Egerton was taking off his great-coat as he spoke. He stepped out into the narrow hall and hung it up deliberately on the hall pegs there; then he returned to the sitting-room and sat down in the one easy-chair that it possessed, and pulled Bobby in between his knees.
'Let us see what freedom and fatherly care has done for you,' he said. 'Now, then, tell your story. Did your father come to you in the good old style? Is he here now?'
Bobby began to tell his tale very rapidly and eagerly, with shining eyes and burning cheeks. Occasionally True corrected or added to his statements.
Mr. Egerton listened with laughter in his eyes; gravity settled there when he heard of Mrs. Allonby's death; but when he heard of the find of the governess he was enchanted.
'And now,' he said, 'would you like to hear my news? Do you remember Lady Isobel, Bobby?'
'Of course I do. She sended me a beautiful picsher of the gates. She's coming home from India very soon.'
'Very soon, indeed! She arrived yesterday.'
'Oh, Master Mortimer!'
Bobby's rapt tone made his uncle laugh.
'Why does Bobby always call you Master Mortimer? Aren't you his uncle?' enquired True.
'It's a way he has. We understand each other. Well, I'll go on with my news. Lady Isobel thinks it would be very nice to live in the old house, Bobby, where we saw each other first, so we've arranged to live there together.'
'In grandmother's house?' questioned Bobby, with perplexed eyes. 'I don't fink it's a nice house enough for Lady Is'bel.'
'Oh, we'll make it nice; we'll have boys and girls to stay with us to play hide-and-seek with. We'll chase each other round every room.'
'And knock over the big chairs,' cried Bobby, 'and slide the banisters, and make as much noise as ever they likes? Oh, Master Mortimer, will you ask me to spend a day?'
'A good many days after we're settled in.'
'And when will that be?'
'Well, you see, we shall have to get married first, and that takes time. I think you'll have to come to the wedding.'
Bobby's face was a picture of shining joy.
'I finks your news is lovely. Me and Nobbles have never been to a wedding.'
'Will you ask me, too?' asked True.
'Yes, I will. I want to have it very soon, and here in London; but Lady Isobel wants to wait a little. If you persuade her to let me have my way, Bobby, I'll give you seven slices of our wedding cake—one to be taken every day for a week!'
'When shall I see her?'
'I'll bring her to see you to-morrow.'
'How did you find us out?'
'I got your address from your aunt. Any more questions?'
'Do you know Margot?'
'I have not that pleasure.'
Bobby looked at True apprehensively, and True said hastily:
'He's afraid Margot will come in and find you here. She'll be coming in with our tea soon, and she said Miss Robsart was a burglar. Margot thinks everybody is a burglar in London!'
Mr. Egerton got up from his chair, and pretended to be seized with a fit of trembling.
'Can you hide me anywhere? I'm so frightened of her. Tell me if you hear her coming.'
'Oh, let's hide him, True! It will be such fun. I hear her thumping downstairs. Oh, where shall we put him?'
True looked wildly round the room.
'There are no big cupboards. Under the table, quick! Quick, or she'll see you!'
'I'm afraid I couldn't crumple up small enough,' said Mr. Egerton, looking at his long legs and the small round table in front of him.
'Behind the door!' cried Bobby. 'Oh, make haste; she's coming!'
When Margot came into the room three minutes later she said:
'What a noise you children have been making. I thought you must have someone with you; it sounded like a man's voice.'
Bobby's cheeks were scarlet. True began to laugh nervously.
'Give us something very nice for tea, Margot, in case a visitor comes to see us,' she said.
'Why, who would come, you silly children, a wet day like this?'
Margot was producing a white cloth from the chiffonier drawer, and taking out cups and saucers from the cupboard below it.
'And you'll have no visitors whilst your father is away, you may be pretty sure,' Margot continued. 'Give me London for loneliness, I say.'
She went out of the room and down to the kitchen. Bobby and True burst into peals of happy childish laughter.
'You are a good hider; she never saw you.'
'No,' said Mr. Egerton, coming out from behind the door and sitting down in the easy-chair; 'I know how to keep quiet when I'm hiding, but I can't keep it up for long. She'll get you some cake for tea if she sees me, so I won't hide any more.'
Margot's face was a picture when she returned.
'I haven't the pleasure of knowing you, sir!' she said sternly, after a severe scrutiny.
The children kept a breathless silence. They felt that 'Master Mortimer' would be quite equal to Margot. His very coolness inspired them with confidence.
'I'm not a burglar,' he said smiling; 'I'm a genuine relation. Bobby and I are old friends. I'm his mother's brother.'
Margot dropped an old-fashioned curtsy, but she looked rather puzzled; and then Bobby took courage and explained.
'He's my uncle Mortimer, Margot; and he's comed to see me, and we sawed him out of the window and opened the door to him, and then we was afraid you wouldn't like him, so we put him to hide behind the door. And he's come from India, and we're asked to the wedding, and Lady Is'bel will be here to see us tomorrow. Isn't it all puffickly splendid!'
'And we thought you might give us cake for tea, please,' said Mr. Egerton, with twinkling eyes.
'Oh,' whispered True to Bobby, 'he's the most 'licious man I've ever seen!'
And Bobby nodded emphatically to such a statement.
Margot lost her suspicious look when Mr. Egerton turned to her and talked to her. She knew a gentleman when she saw him, and she produced cakes and hot-buttered toast, and smiled as she waited upon the merry little party.
Bobby was in the seventh heaven of delight, and when he went to bed he confided to Nobbles, 'I even feel, Nobbles dear, that I wouldn't mind if me and you wented back to the House, for with Master Mortimer and Lady Is'bel there, we shouldn't have to step on tiptoes any more.'
'A DELIGHTFUL TIME.'
When Miss Robsart came the next morning she found her pupils in a great state of excitement, and she seemed quite as interested as they were in their news.
'I wish I could give you a holiday,' she said; 'and I should like one myself, but it wouldn't be right, so we'll set to work and get lessons done as quickly as possible, and then you'll be ready for your uncle if he comes again.'
'And,' suggested Bobby earnestly, 'you'll put down a nice short little sum for me to do, mostly twos and fours; me and Nobbles does not like the figures past six, they want such a lot of finking about.'
Miss Robsart laughed, but promised she would do the best she could, and lessons went very smoothly on the whole. When they were finished she said a little wistfully:
'I was hoping you would come to tea with me this afternoon, my sister wants to see you; but now your uncle and this Lady Isobel has arrived, you will be occupied with them.'
'I expecks we shall have tea with them today,' said Bobby.
'Will you ask us another day?' asked True. 'Isn't it funny? Yesterday we were quite miserable because nothing nice was happening, and to-day we're too full. But Bobby and I want to come to tea with you very much, we reely do, and we'll ask if you may come to the wedding.'
She jumped up from her chair and gave Miss Robsart a loving hug as she spoke, and Bobby forthwith followed her example. Miss Robsart went away from them with a cheerful face.
Margot dressed them in their best clothes directly their dinner was over. It was in honour of Lady Isobel's expected visit.
'We haven't had a lady of title to the house since we've been in England,' said Margot reflectively. I can't say I've run up much against them, but I believe they're pretty much the same as other folks; still a lady is a lady, and I wants her to see you looking like your dear mother would have you, and you just sit still, now you're clean, and don't dirty yourselves up with playing about.'
'It's like the story mother told us of the two little girls with their clean frocks,' said True.
'Yes,' responded Bobby; 'I wonder how our inside frocks are to-day, True.'
True shook her head doubtfully.
'I s'pose God has such very good eyes He always sees spots and stains; but I don't think mine is very bad to-day. I can't remember anything just now.'
'Oh, I can. You stamped when the comb pulled your hair!'
'A stamp wouldn't make a very black mark,' said True. 'You were beating the sofa with Nobbles this morning, and Mrs. Dodds would be awful angry if she knew.'
'That was Nobbles.'
'Ah, that's another spot on your dress; you're making 'scuses, and blaming Nobbles when it was reely you.'
Bobby hastily changed the conversation, and then there was a knock and ring at the hall door, and in another moment Mr. Egerton and Lady Isobel were in the room, and Bobby was in the arms of his friend. She looked younger and prettier than when he saw her last. She was in a long white coat and black hat. A big bunch of violets was in her button-hole.
'Oh, Bobby, you darling, how glad I am to see you again! I can hardly believe I may one day be your aunt.'
'That day will very soon be here,' said Mr. Egerton.
She laughed, and a pink colour stole into her cheeks.
Bobby's arms were tightly clasped round her neck.
'I never did forget you,' he assured her, 'not before your letter came; and my picsher is lovelly.'
'And who is this little girl? Is she your little step-sister? How delightful to have a playfellow. May I have a kiss, dear?'
True willingly submitted to be embraced.
This sweet looking lady won her heart at once.
Then Nobbles was brought forward, and Lady Isobel kissed his little ugly face.
'Oh, how often have I thought of you and Nobbles when I was so far away from you!' she said, sitting down and drawing Bobby to her. 'And do you know, I think it was you who brought your uncle to me. He wanted to hear about you——'
'Oh, come,' interrupted Mr. Egerton, 'we were old friends; you stole my best caterpillar when you were a girl. I remember to this day my wrath when you made your confession.'
'Yes,' said Lady Isobel laughing; 'and I remember why I did it. Because you tied my best doll round the neck of our old gander, and he drowned her in a pond.'
The children were enchanted at these reminiscences, but a shadow almost immediately fell on Lady Isobel's face.
'Ah,' she said with a little sigh, 'that was many years ago. I have been through a good deal since then.'
'And are you reely going to live in grandmother's house?' questioned Bobby.
'Your uncle wants to,' said Lady Isobel softly, looking across at Mr. Egerton as she spoke. 'It is his old home, Bobby; he played in your nursery many years ago.'
'Yes, I know,' said Bobby. 'Tom said "Master Mortimer be a merry young gentleman."'
'Ah,' said Mr. Egerton, knitting his brows fiercely, 'wait till I catch Tom cutting some of my shrubs, he won't find me very merry then.'
'Don't you think you will like to pay us a visit one day, Bobby?'
'I mustn't leave father,' said Bobby promptly. 'May he come too?'
'If he likes; we shall be delighted to see him,' said Mr. Egerton. 'How I wish he was here. Does he have a big beard, Bobby?'
'No, not a little bit of one.'
'But that is quite wrong. You always told me he would wear a beard and carry an axe and pistol in his belt.'
'Yes,' said Bobby; 'me and Nobbles finked quite wrong about him; only he's nicer and better and gooder than anybody else. And we sometimes finks'—he dropped his voice and spoke in a hushed whisper—'that he is nearly as kind as my Father—God.'
No one spoke for a moment. Lady Isobel bent down and kissed the curly head.
'My little Bobby,' she said; 'how happy your father must be to have you with him!'
They talked for some time, and then the children were told that they were going to be driven round to the hotel where Lady Isobel was staying, and have tea with her.