"Do let me row, father," begged Olly.
"Not yet, old man—I must get used to the boat first, and find out how to manage her, but presently you shall come and try, and so shall Milly if she likes."
On they rowed, farther and farther from the shore, till Aunt Emma's house began to look quite small, and they could hardly see the gardener working on the lawn.
"Father, what a long way we've come," cried Milly, looking all round. "Where are we going to?"
"Well, presently, Milly, I am going to turn the boat a little bit, so as to make her go over to that side of the lake over there. Do you see a big rock with some trees on it, far away, sticking out into the lake?"
"Yes," said the children, looking very hard.
"Well, that's where we're going to have tea. It's called Birdsnest Point, because the rocks come out in a point into the lake. But first I thought I would bring you right out into the middle of the lake, that you might see how big it is, and look at the mountains all round." "Father," said Olly, "if a big stone fell down out of the sky and made ever such a big hole in the boat, and the water came into the hole, should we all be dead?"
"I daresay we should, Olly, for I don't think I could carry mother, and Aunt Emma, and Milly, and you on my back, safe home again, and you see none of you can swim but me."
"Then I hope a big stone won't come," said Milly, feeling just a little bit frightened at Olly's suggestion.
"Well, big stones don't grow in the sky generally, Milly, if that's any comfort to you. But do you know, one day long ago, when I was out rowing on this lake, I thought all of a sudden I heard some one shouting and screaming, and for a long time I looked and waited, but could see nothing; till at last I fancied I could see, a long distance off, what looked like a pole, with something white tied to it. And I rowed, and rowed, and rowed, as fast as I could, and all the time the shouting and screaming went on, and at last what do you think I saw? I saw a boat, which looked as if something was dragging it down into the water. Part of it had already sunk down into the lake, and in the part which was still above the water there were three people sitting, a gentleman, and two little girls who looked about ten years old. And they were shouting 'Help! help!' at the top of their voices, and waving an oar with a handkerchief tied to it. And the boat in which they sat was sinking farther and farther into the water, and if I had'n't come up just when I did, the gentleman and the two little girls would have been drowned."
"Oh, father!" cried Milly, "what made their boat do like that? And did they get into yours?"
"There was a great hole in the bottom of their boat, Milly, and the water was coming through it, and making the boat so heavy that it was sinking down and down into the lake, just as a stone would sink if you threw it in. How the hole came there we never quite knew: I thought they must have knocked their boat against a sharp rock—in some parts of the lake there are rocks under the water which you can't see—and the rock had made the hole; but other people thought it had happened in some other way. However, there they were, and when I took them all into my boat you never saw such miserable little creatures as the two little girls were. They were wet through, they were as white as little ghosts, and when they were safe in my boat they began to cry and shake so, poor little souls, though their father and I wrapped them up in our coats, that I did want their mother to come and comfort them."
"Oh, but, father, you took them safe home to their mother, didn't you? And do tell me what she said."
"They had no mother, Milly, they had only their father, who was with them. But he was very good to them, and I think on the whole they were happy little girls. The Christmas after that I got a little parcel one morning, and what do you think was in it? Why, two photographs of the same little girls, looking so neat and tidy and happy, I could hardly believe they were really the same as the little drowned rats I had pulled out of the water. Ask mother to show you the pictures when we get home; she has them somewhere. Now, Olly, would you like to row?"
"Oh, father, don't bump against any rocks," said Milly, whose thoughts were very full of the little girls.
"Don't you trouble your head about rocks, old woman. I know a good deal more about this lake than those little girls' father did, and I won't take you into any harm. Come along, Olly."
Olly was helped along the boat by mother and Aunt Emma till his father caught hold of him and pulled him on to his seat, where he let him put his two small paws on one of the oars, and try what he could do with it. Mr. Norton pulled too; but Olly thought it was all his doing, and that it was really he who was making the boat go.
"Don't we go fast, father?" he cried out presently, his little face flushed with pleasure and excitement. "You couldn't row so fast without me, could you, father?"
"You little fly-on-the-wheel," said his father, smiling at him.
"What does that mean, father?"
"Never mind, you'll know when you're bigger. But now look, children, how close we are coming to the shore. And quick, Milly, quick! What do you see over there?"
Mr. Norton pointed over the water to a place where some green rushes were standing up out of the water, not very far from the edge. What were those great white and gold things shining among the rushes; and what were those large round green leaves lying on the water all about them?
"Water-lilies! water-lilies!" cried Milly, stamping her little feet with delight. "Oh, mother, look! it was on one of those leaves that the old toad put little Tiny in my fairy-book, don't you remember? Only the little fishes came and bit off the stalk and set her free. Oh, I wish we could see little Tiny sitting on one of those leaves!"
"Well," said Aunt Emma, "there's no saying what you may find in these parts if you look long enough. This is a very strange country. But now, Milly, look out for the lilies. Father's going to take us in among them, and I'll hold you, while you gather them."
And presently, swish went the boat up against the rushes, and there were the lovely white lilies lying spread out on the water all round them, some quite open and showing their golden middles, and some still buds, with their wet green cases just falling off, and their white petals beginning to unclose. But what slippery stalks they had. Aunt Emma held Milly, and father held Olly, while they dived their hands under the water and pulled hard. And some of the lilies came out with such short bits of stalk you could scarcely hold them, and sometimes, flop! out came a long green stalk, like a long green snake curling and twisting about in the boat. The children dabbled, and splashed, and pulled, to their hearts' content, till at last Mr. Norton told them they had got enough and now they must sit quite still while he rowed them in to the land.
"Oh, father, just those two over there!" pleaded Milly, who could not bear leaving so many beauties behind.
"No, Milly, no more. Look where the sun is now. If we don't make haste and have our tea, we shall never get back to Ravensnest to-night."
Milly's face looked as if it would like to cry, as the boat began to move away from the rushes, and the beautiful lilies were left behind. I told you, to begin with, that Milly was ready to cry oftener than a sensible little girl should. But Aunt Emma was not going to have any crying at her picnic.
"Who's going to gather me sticks to make my fire?" she said suddenly, in a solemn voice.
"I am! I am!" shouted both the children at once, and out came Milly's smiles again, like the sun from behind a cloud.
"And who's going to lay the table-cloth?"
"We are! we are!"
"And who's going to hand the bread and butter?"
"I am!" exclaimed Milly, "and Olly shall hand the cake."
"And who's going to eat the bread and butter?"
"All of us!" shouted the children, and Milly added, "Father will want a big plate of bread and butter, I daresay."
"I should think he would, after all this rowing," said Mr. Norton. "Now then, look out for a bump!"
Bump! Splash! there was the boat scraping along the pebbles near the shore; out sprang Mr. Norton, first on to a big stone, then on to the shore, and with one great pull he brought the boat in till it was close enough for Aunt Emma and Mrs. Norton to step on to the rocks, and for the children to be lifted out.
"Oh! what a nice place!" cried Milly, looking about her, and clapping her hands, as she always did when she was pleased. It was a point of rock running out into the lake, a "peninsula" Milly called it, when she had been all round it, and it was covered with brown heather spread all over the ground, and was delightfully soft and springy to sit upon. In the middle of the bit of rock there were two or three trees standing up together, birch trees with silvery stems, and on every side but one there was shallow brown water, so clear that they could see every stone at the bottom. And when they looked away across the lake, there were the grand old mountains pushing their heads into the clouds on the other side, and far away near the edge of the lake they saw a white dot which they knew was Aunt Emma's house. How the sun shone on everything! How it made the water of the lake sparkle and glitter as if it were alive! And yet the air was not hot, for a little wind was coming to them across the water, and moving the trees gently up and down.
And what was this under the trees? Why, a kind of fireplace made of stones, and in front of it a round green bit of grass, with tufts of heather all round it, just like a table with seats.
"Who put these stones here, Aunt Emma?" asked Olly, as she and mother and Mr. Norton brought up the baskets, and put them in the green place by the stones.
"Well, Olly, long ago, when all your uncles and aunts were little, and they used to come here for picnics, they thought it would be very nice to have a stone fireplace, built up properly, so that they needn't make one every time. It was Uncle Richard's idea, and we had such fun building it up. The little ones brought the stones; and the big ones piled them together till you see we made quite a nice fireplace. And it has lasted ever since. Whenever I come here I mend it up if any of the stones have tumbled down. Numbers of little children come to picnic here every summer, and they always use our fireplace. But now, come along into the woods, children, and gather sticks."
Off they ran after Aunt Emma, and soon they were scrambling about the wood which grew along the shore, picking up the dry sticks and dry fern under the trees. Milly filled her cotton frock full, and gathered it up with both her hands; while Olly of course went straight at the biggest branch he could see, and staggered along with it, puffing and panting.
"You grasshopper, you!" said Mr. Norton, catching hold of him, "don't you think you'd better try a whole tree next time? There, let me break it for you." Father broke it up into short lengths, and then off ran Olly with his little skirts full to Aunt Emma, who was laden too with an armful of sticks. "That'll do to begin with, old man. Come along, and you and I'll light the fire."
What fun it was, heaping up the sticks on the stones, and how they did blaze and crackle away when Aunt Emma put a match to them. Puff! puff! out came the smoke; fizz—crack—sputter—went the dry fir branches, as if they were Christmas fireworks.
"Haven't we made a blazey fire, Aunt Emma?" said Olly, out of breath with dragging up sticks, and standing still to look.
"Splendid," said Mr. Norton, who had just come out of the wood with his bundle. "Now, Olly, let me just put you on the top of it to finish it off. How you would fizz!"
Off ran Olly, with his father after him, and they had a romp among the heather till Mr. Norton caught him, and carried him kicking and laughing under his arm to Aunt Emma.
"Now, Aunt Emma, shall I put him on?"
"Oh dear, no!" said Aunt Emma, "my kettle wouldn't sit straight on him, and it's just boiling beautifully. We'll put him on presently when the fire gets low."
"Olly, do come and help mother and me with the tea-things," cried Milly, who was laying the cloth as busily and gravely as a little housemaid.
"Run along, shrimp," said his father, setting him down.
And off ran Olly, while Mr. Norton and Aunt Emma heaped the wood on the fire, and kept the kettle straight, so that it shouldn't tip over and spill.
Laying the cloth was delightful, Milly thought. First of all, they put a heavy stone on each corner of the cloth to keep it down, and prevent the wind from blowing it up, and then they put the little plates all round, and in the middle two piles of bread and butter and cake.
"But we haven't got any flowers," said Milly, looking at it presently, with a dissatisfied face, "you always have flowers on the table at home, mother."
"Why, Milly, have you forgotten your water-lilies; where did you leave them?"
"Down by the water," said Milly. "Father told me just to put their stalks in the water, and he put a stone to keep them safe. Oh! that'll be splendid, mother. Do give me a cup, and we'll get some water for them."
Mother found a cup, and the children scrambled down to the edge of the lake. There lay the lilies with their stalks in the water, close to the boat.
"They look rather sad, mother, don't they?" said Milly, gathering them up. "Perhaps they don't like being taken away from their home."
"They never look so beautiful out of the water," said mother; "but when we get home we'll put them into a soup-plate, and let them swim about in it. They'll look very nice then. Now, Olly, fill the cup with water, and we'll put five or six of the biggest in, and gather some leaves."
"There, look! look! Aunt Emma," shouted Milly, when they had put the lilies and some fern leaves in the middle of the table. "Haven't we made it beautiful?"
"That you have," said Aunt Emma, coming up with the kettle which had just boiled. "Now for the tea, and then we're ready."
"We never had such a nice tea as this before," said Olly, presently looking up from a piece of bread and butter which had kept him quiet for some time. "It's nicer than having dinner at the railway station even."
Aunt Emma and mother laughed; for it doesn't seem so delightful to grown-up people to have dinner at the railway station.
"Well, Olly," said mother, "I hope we shall often have tea out of doors while we are at Ravensnest."
Milly shook her head. "It'll rain, mother. That old gentleman said it would be sure to rain."
"That old gentleman is about right, Milly," said Mr. Norton. "I think it rains dreadfully here, but mother doesn't seem to mind it a bit. Once upon a time when mother was a little girl, there came a funny old fairy and threw some golden dust in her eyes, and ever since then she can't see straight when she comes to the mountains. It's all right everywhere else, but as soon as she comes here, the dust begins to fly about in her eyes, and makes the mountains look quite different to her from what they look to anybody else."
"Let me look, mother," said Olly, pulling her down to him.
Mrs. Norton opened her eyes at him, smiling.
"I can't see any dust, father."
"Ah, that's because it's fairy dust," said Mr. Norton, gravely. "Now, Olly, don't you eat too much cake, else you won't be able to row."
"It'll be my turn first, father," said Milly, "you know I haven't rowed at all yet."
"Well, don't you catch any crabs, Milly," said Aunt Emma.
"Catch crabs, Aunt Emma!" said Milly, very much puzzled. "Crabs are only in the sea, aren't they?"
"There's a very big kind just about here," said Mr. Norton, "and they're always looking out for little children, particularly little girls."
"I don't understand, father," said Milly, opening her eyes very wide.
"Have some more tea, then," said Mr. Norton, "that always makes people feel wiser."
"Father, aren't you talking nonsense?" said Olly, stopping in the middle of a piece of cake to think about what his father was saying.
"Very likely, Olly. People always do at picnics. Aunt Emma, when are you going to tell us your story?"
"When we've washed the things and put them away," said Aunt Emma, "then Olly shall sing us two songs, and I'll tell you my story."
But the children were so hungry that it was a long time before they gave up eating bread and butter, and then, when at last tea was over, what fun it was washing the cups and plates in the lake! Aunt Emma and Olly washed, and mother and Milly dried the things on a towel, and then everything was packed away into the baskets, and mother and Aunt Emma folded up the table-cloth, and put it tidily on the top of everything.
"I did like that," said Milly, sighing as the last basket was fastened down. "I wish you'd let me help Sarah wash up the tea-things at home, mother."
"If Sarah liked to let you, I shouldn't say no, Milly," said Mrs. Norton. "How soon would you get tired of it, old woman, I wonder? But come along, let's put Olly up on a rock, and make him sing, and then we'll have Aunt Emma's story."
So they put Olly up on a tall piece of rock, and he sang "The Minstrel Boy," and "Bonnie Dundee," and "Hot Cross Buns," just as if he were a little musical box, and you had nothing to do but to wind him up. He had a sweet, clear, little voice, and he looked a delightful brown gipsy, as he sat perched up on the rock with his long legs dangling, and his curls blowing about his face.
"There!" said Olly, when he had shouted out the last note of "Hot Cross Buns." "I have singed three whole songs; and now, Aunt Emma, tell us about the king and the fairies. Krick, please."
"It must be 'krick' indeed," said Aunt Emma, "if we want to get home to-night."
For the sun had almost sunk behind the mountains at their back, and the wind blowing across the lake was beginning to get a little cold, while over their heads the rooks went flying, singing "caw, caw," on their way to bed. And how the sun was turning the water to gold! It seemed to be making a great golden pathway across the lake, and the mountains were turning a deep blue, and plash, plash, went the little waves on the rocks, so softly they seemed to be saying "Good-night! good-night!"
"Well," said Aunt Emma, settling herself on a soft piece of heather, and putting her arms round Milly and Olly, "Once upon a time there was a great king. He was a good king and a wise man, and he tried to make all the people round about him wiser and better than they were before he came to rule over them; and for a long time he was very powerful and happy, and he and the brave men who helped him and were his friends did a great deal of good, and kept the savage people who lived all about him in order, and taught them a great many things. But at last some of the savage people got tired of obeying the king, and they said they would not have him to reign over them any more; so they made an army, and they came together against the king to try and kill him and his friends. And the king made an army too, and there was a great battle; and the savage people were the strongest, and they killed nearly all the king's brave men, and the king himself was terribly hurt in the fight. And at last, when night came on, there were left only the king and one of his friends—his knights, as they were called. The king was hurt so much that he could not move, and his friend thought he was dying. They were left alone in a rocky desert place, and close by there was a great lake with mountains round it—like this, Olly. It was very cold, and the moon was shining, and the king lay so still that once or twice his friend almost thought that he was dead. But at last, about the middle of the night, he began to speak, and he told his friend to take his sword that was by his side and to go down to the side of the lake and throw it as far as he could into the water. Now, this sword was a magic sword. Long before, the king was once walking beside this lake, when he suddenly saw an arm in a long white sleeve rising out of the lake, and in the hand at the end of it was a splendid sword with a glistening handle. And the king got into a boat and rowed as fast as he could till he got near enough to take hold of the sword, and then the arm sank down under the water and was seen no more. And with the sword the king won a great many battles, and he loved it, and never would part with it; but now that he was dying, he told his friend to take the sword and throw it back into the lake where he had found it, and see what would happen. And his friend took it, and went away over the rocks till he came to the edge of the lake, and then he took the sword out of its case and swung it above his head that he might throw it far into the water; but as he lifted it up the precious stones in the handle shone so splendidly in the moonlight that he could not make up his mind to throw it into the water, it seemed such a pity. So he hid it away among the rushes by the water side, and went back to the king. And the king said, 'What did you see by the lake?'
"And the knight said, 'I saw nothing except the water, and the mountains, and the rushes.'
"And the king said, 'Oh, unkind friend! Why will you not do as I ask you, now that I am dying and can do nothing for myself? Go back and throw the sword into the lake, as I told you.'
"And the knight went back, and once more he lifted the sword to throw it into the water but it looked so beautiful that he could not throw it away. There would be nothing left, he thought, to remember the king by when he was dead if he threw away the sword; so again he hid it among the rushes, and then he went back to the king. And again the king asked, 'What did you see by the lake?' and again the knight answered, 'I saw nothing except the water and the mountains.'
"'Oh, unkind, false friend!' cried the king, 'you are crueller to me than those who gave me this wound. Go back and throw the sword into the water, or, weak as I am, I will rise up and kill you.'
"Back went the knight, and this time he seized the sword without looking at it, so that he should not see how beautiful it was, and then he swung it once, twice, thrice, round his head, and away it went into the lake. And as it fell, up rose a hand and arm in a long white sleeve out of the water, and the hand caught the sword and drew it down under the water. And then for a moment, all round the lake, the knight fancied he heard a sound of sobbing and weeping, and he thought in his heart that it must be the water-fairies weeping for the king's death.
"'What did you see by the lake?' asked the king again, when he came back, and the knight told him. Then the king told him to lift him up and carry him on his back down to the edge of the lake, and when they got there, what do you think they saw?"
But the children could not guess, and Milly pressed Aunt Emma's hand hard to make her go on.
"They saw a great black ship coming slowly over the water, and on the ship were numbers of people in black, sobbing and crying, so that the air was full of a sound of weeping, and in front sat three queens in long black dresses, and with gold crowns on their heads, and they, too, were weeping and wringing their hands.
"'Lift me up,' said the king, when the ship came close beside them, 'and put me into the ship.' And the knight lifted him up, while the three queens stretched out their hands and drew him into the ship.
"'Oh, king! take me with you,' said the knight, 'take me too. What shall I do all alone without you?' But the ship began to move away, and the knight was left standing on the shore. Only he fancied he heard the king's voice saying, 'Wait for me, I shall come again. Farewell!'
"And the ship went faster and faster away into the darkness, for it was a fairy ship, till at last the knight could see it no more. So then he knew that the king had been carried away by the fairies of the lake—the same fairies who had given him the sword in old days, and who had loved him and watched over him all his life. But what did the king mean by saying, 'I shall come again'?"
Then Aunt Emma stopped and looked at the children.
"What did he mean, auntie?" asked Milly, who had been listening with all her ears, and whose little eyes were wet, "and did he ever come back again?"
"Not while the knight lived, Milly. He grew to be quite an old man, and was always hoping that the fairies would bring the king again. But the king never came, and his friend died without seeing him."
"But did he ever come again?" asked Olly.
"I don't know, Olly. Some people think that he is still hidden away somewhere by the kind water-fairies, and that some day, when the world wants him very much, he will come back again."
"Do you think he is here in this lake?" whispered Milly, looking at the water.
"How can we tell what's at the bottom of the lake?" said Aunt Emma, smiling. "But no, I don't think the king is hidden in this lake. He didn't live near here."
"What was his name?" asked Milly.
"His name was King Arthur. But now, children, hurry; there is father putting all the baskets into the boat. We must get home as quick as we can."
They rowed home very quickly, except just for a little time when Milly rowed, and they did not go quite so fast as if father were rowing alone. It was quite evening now on the lake, and there were great shadows from the mountains lying across the water. Somehow the children felt much quieter now than when they started in the afternoon. Milly had curled herself up inside mother's arm, and was thinking a great deal about King Arthur and the fairy ship, while Olly was quite taken up with watching the oars as they dipped in and out of the water, and occasionally asking his father when he should be big enough to row quite by himself. It seemed a very little time after all before they were stepping out of the boat at Aunt Emma's boathouse, and the picnic and the row were both over.
"Good-bye, dear lake," said Milly, turning with her hands full of water-lilies to look back before they went up to the house. "Good-night, mountains; good-night, Birdsnest Point. I shall soon come and see you again."
A few minutes more, and they were safely packed into a carriage which drove them back to Ravensnest, and Aunt Emma was saying good-bye to them.
"Next time, I shall come and see you, Milly," she said, as she kissed Milly's little sleepy face. "Don't forget me till then."
"Then you'll tell us about old Mother Quiverquake," said Olly, hugging her with his small arms. "Aunt Emma, I haven't given Johnny back his stockings. They did tickle me so in the boat."
"We'll get them some time," said Aunt Emma. "Good-night, good-night."
It was a sleepy pair of children that nurse lifted out of the carriage at Ravensnest. And though they tried to tell her something about it, she had to wait till next morning before she could really understand anything about their wonderful day at Aunt Emma's house.
WET DAYS AT RAVENSNEST
For about a week after the row on the lake the weather was lovely, and Milly wondered more than ever what the old gentleman who warned them of the rain in the mountains could have been thinking about. She and Olly were out all day, and nearly every afternoon nurse lifted the tea-table through the low nursery window on to the lawn, and let them have their tea out of doors among the flowers and trees and twittering birds. They had found out a fly-catcher's nest in the ivy above the front door, and every evening the two children used to fetch out their father to watch the parent birds catching flies and carrying them to the hungry little ones, whom they could just hear chirping up above the ivy. Olly was wild to get the gardener's ladder that he might climb up and look into the nest, but Mr. Norton would not have it lest it should frighten away the old birds.
One delicious warm morning, too, the children had their long-promised bathe, and what fun it was. Nurse woke them up at five o'clock in the morning—fancy waking up as early as that!—and they slipped on their little blue bathing gowns, and their sand shoes that mother had bought them in Cromer the year before, and then nurse wrapped them up in shawls, and she and they and father went down and opened the front door while everybody else in the house was asleep, and slipped out. What a quiet strange world it seemed, the grass and the flowers dripping with dew, and overhead such a blue sky with white clouds sailing slowly about in it.
"Why don't we always get up at five o'clock, father?" asked Olly, as he and Milly skipped along—such an odd little pair of figures—beside Mr. Norton. "Isn't it nice and funny?"
"Very," said Mr. Norton. "Still, I imagine Olly, if you had to get up every day at five o'clock, you might think it funny, but I'm sure you wouldn't always think it nice."
"Oh! I'm sure we should," said Milly, seriously. "Why, father, it's just as if everything was ours and nobody else's, the garden and the river I mean. Is there anybody up yet do you think—in those houses?" And Milly pointed to the few houses they could see from the Ravensnest garden.
"I can't tell, Milly. But I'll tell you who's sure to be up now, and that's John Backhouse. I should think he's just beginning to milk the cows."
"Oh then, Becky and Tiza'll be up too," cried Milly, dancing about. "I wish we could see them. Somehow it would be quite different seeing them now, father. I feel so queer, as if I was somebody else."
If you have ever been up very early on a summer morning, you will know what Milly meant, but if not I can hardly explain it. Such a pretty quiet little walk they had down to the river. Nobody on the road, nobody in the fields, but the birds chattering and the sun shining, as if they were having a good time all to themselves, before anybody woke up to interrupt them. Mr. Norton took the children down to the stepping-stones, and then, while Milly and nurse stayed on the bank he lifted Olly up, and carried him to the middle of the stepping-stones, where the water would about come up to his chest. Mr. Norton had already taken off his own shoes and stockings, and when they came to the middle stone, he put Olly down on the stone, and stepped into the water himself. "Now, Olly, give me your hands and jump in. Mind, it'll feel very cold."
Olly shut his eyes, and opened his mouth, as he always did when he felt just a little frightened, and then in he went; splash! ugh! it was so cold—much colder than the sea used to feel—but after a few splashes Olly began to get used to it, and to think it fine fun.
"Oh, father, fetch Milly, and then we'll all dance about," entreated Olly.
"Come, Milly," called Mr. Norton. "Try whether you can manage the stepping-stones by yourself." So Milly came, holding up her bathing dress, and stepping from one big stone to another with a very grave face, as if she felt that there would be an end of her altogether if she tumbled in. And then, splash! In she jumped by the side of Olly, and after a little shiver or two she also began to think that the river was a delightful bathing place, almost as nice as the sea, perhaps in some ways nicer, because it was such a strange and funny one. They danced and splashed about in the brown sparkling water till they were tired, and at last Olly stopped to take breath.
"I should think the fishes must be frightened of us," he said, peering down into the river. "I can't see any, father."
"Well, they wouldn't choose to swim about just where little children are shouting and capering. The fishes are hidden safe away under the banks and the big stones. Besides, it's going to be a very hot day, and they like the shady bits of the river. Just here there's no shade."
Suddenly there was a great commotion in the river, and when Mr. Norton looked round for a second he could see nothing of Milly, till up came a dripping head and a pair of hands, and there was Milly kneeling on the stones at the bottom of the river, with just her head above water, looking very much astonished and rather frightened.
"Why, what happened, old woman?" said Mr. Norton, holding out his hand to help her up.
"I—I—don't quite know, father; I was standing on a big stone, and all of a sudden it tipped up, and I tumbled right in."
"First of all I thought you was a big fish, and then I thought you was going to be drowned," said Olly, cheerfully. "I'm glad you wasn't drowned."
"Miss Milly! Miss Milly!" shouted nurse from the bank, "it's quite time you came out now. If you stay in so long you'll get cold, and you, too, Master Olly."
Olly was not inclined to come. He would have liked to go on dabbling and splashing till breakfast-time, but Mr. Norton hurried him out, and the two dripping little creatures were well wrapped up in large shawls which nurse had brought with her. Then nurse took up Olly in her arms, and father took up Milly, who was small and light for her age, and they set off up the bit of road to the house. By this time it was past six o'clock, and whom should they meet at the Ravensnest gate but John Backhouse, with Becky and Tiza, and his two dogs. He was just bringing the milk, and both he and his children looked as brisk and wide awake as if they had been up and about for hours.
Milly and Olly were very much excited at the sight of them, and Olly struggled hard to get down, but nurse held him tight.
"Oh, Becky! we've had such a nice bathe," cried Milly, as she passed them muffled up in her shawl, her little wet feet dangling out.
Becky and Tiza looked longingly after them as they disappeared into the house. They wished they could have had a bathe too, but they knew very well that their hard-worked father and mother had something else to do on a fine summer's morning than to take them to bathe, and in a few minutes they had forgotten all about it, and were busy playing with the dogs, or chattering to their father about the hay-making, which was soon to begin now.
That evening there were strange clouds at sunset time, and Mr. Norton shook his head as he heard Mrs. Norton arrange to take the children next day to a small mountain village near Ravensnest, to call on some old friends of hers.
"I wouldn't make much of a plan for to-morrow if I were you," he said to his wife, "the weather doesn't look promising."
"Oh, father!" said Milly, protesting. "There are some red clouds over there—look! and Nana always says it's going to be fine when there are red clouds."
"Well, Milly, your red clouds may be right and I may be wrong. We shall see."
But, alas! father was quite right. When Milly woke up next morning there was no nice sunshine creeping on to her bed as it had done almost ever since they came to Ravensnest; but instead there was rain beating steadily against the window, coming down out of a heavy gray sky, and looking as if it meant to go on for ever.
"Oh dear!" sighed Milly, as she began to dress, "we can't go out, and the wild strawberries will get so wet. I meant to have gathered some for mother to-day. There would have been such nice ones in the wood."
But it was no use thinking about woods or strawberries, and when Mrs. Norton came into the children's room just as they were finishing breakfast, she found a pair of dull little faces staring out at the rain, as if looking at it would make it stop.
"Nasty rain," said Olly, climbing up on his mother's knee. "Go to Spain. I don't want you to come and spoil my nicey time."
"I am afraid scolding the rain won't make it go away," said his mother, smiling into his brown face as he knelt on her lap, with his arms round her neck. "Now what are we going to do to-day?"
"I don't know," said Milly, sitting down opposite her mother, and resting her face gravely on her hands. "Well, we brought some toys, you know, mother. Olly's got his top; I can help him spin it, and I can play with Katie a bit."
"That won't take very long," said Mrs. Norton. "Suppose we do some lessons first of all."
"Oh, mother, lessons!" said Milly, in a very doubtful voice.
"It's holidays, mother, it's holidays," cried Olly. "I don't like lessons—not a bit."
"Well, but, Olly, think a bit; you can't spin your top and look at picture-books all day, and I'm afraid it's going to rain all day—it looks very like it. If you come and do some reading and counting with me this morning, I can give you some spills to make, or some letters to tear up for me afterwards. That will save the toys for this afternoon; and some time this afternoon, if it doesn't stop raining, we'll all have a romp. And as for you, Milly, don't you think it's quite time Katie had a new frock? I believe I can find a beautiful bit of blue silk in my bag, and I'm sure nurse will show you how to make it."
Milly's face brightened up very much at this, and the two children went skipping upstairs to the drawing-room after their mother, in very fair spirits again. Olly did some reading, while Milly wrote in her copybook, and then Olly had his counting-slate and tried to find out what 6 and 4 made, and 5 and 3, and other little sums of the same kind. He yawned a good deal over his reading, and was quite sure several times that h-a-y spelt "ham," and s-a-w spelt "was," but still, on the whole, he got through very well. Milly wrote her copy, then she learnt some verses of a poem called "Lucy Gray," and last of all mother found her a big map of Westmoreland, the county in which the mountains are, and they had a most delightful geography lesson. Mother pretended to take Milly a drive all about the mountains, and made her find out their names, and the names of the towns and the lakes, beginning with Lake Windermere. Olly was interested too, for Mrs. Norton told them a great many things about the places, and made quite a story out of it.
"Why, mother, I never could go all that long way all at once—really, could I?" asked Milly, when they had been all round the mountains, in and out and round about.
"No, Milly, not quite," said Mrs. Norton, laughing, "but it's very easy to go a long way in a pretendy drive. It would only take us about ten minutes that way to get to the other side of the world."
"How long would it take really?" asked Olly.
"About three months."
"If we could fly up, and up, ever so far," said Olly, standing on tiptoe, and stretching out his little arms as high as they would reach, "it wouldn't take us long. Mother, don't you wish you was a bird?"
"No, I don't think so, Olly; why do you?"
"Because I should like to go so krick. Mother, the fly-catchers do fly so krick; I can't see them sometimes when they're flying, they go so fast. Oh, I do wish father would let me get up a ladder to look at them."
"No Olly, you'll frighten them," said Milly, putting on her wise face. "Besides, father says you're too little, and you'd tumble down."
Olly looked as if he didn't believe a word of it, as he generally did when Milly talked wisely to him; but just then he found that mother had put into his lap a whole basketful of letters to tear up, and that interested him so much that he forgot the fly-catchers. Nurse cut out a most fashionable blue dress for Katie, and Milly was quite happy all the rest of the morning in running up the seams and hemming the bottom. So the morning passed away. After dinner there were the toys to play with, and Katie's frock to try on, for nurse had taken a turn at the body while Milly had been making the skirt. It fitted very well, and Milly had only the band to put on and the sleeves to make before it would be quite finished. Then nurse promised to put a little white lace round the neck, and cut out a blue sash, that Katie might be quite turned into an elegant young lady. Tea came very soon, and when it was cleared away father and mother came into the big kitchen without a fireplace, next to the children's room, and they all had a splendid romp. Mr. Norton made himself into a tiger, with a tiger-skin in the hall, that Uncle Richard had brought home from India, and Olly shot him all over with a walking-stick from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. When they were tired of this, mother set them to play hide-and-seek, and Milly hid herself in such out-of-the-way cupboards, and squeezed herself into such small corners, that mother said she was like a needle in a bundle of hay—there was no finding her.
Seven o'clock came before they had time to think about it, and the children went chattering and skipping up to bed, though on fine evenings they had been staying up much later. How the rain did rattle on the window while they were undressing.
"Oh, you tiresome rain," said Milly, standing by the window in her nightdress, and gazing up into the sky. "Where does it all come from, I wonder? Won't it be wet to-morrow, Nana? and oh, what is that roaring over there?"
"That's the beck," said nurse, who was brushing Olly's hair, and trying hard to make him stand still for two minutes.
"The beck! why, what's the matter with it?"
"It's the rain has made it so full I suppose," said nurse. "To-morrow, gardener says, it'll be over the lawn if the rain goes on."
"Oh, but it mustn't go on," said Milly. "Now, rain, dear rain, good rain, do go away to-night, right away up into the mountains. There's plenty of room for you up there, and down here we don't want you a bit. So do be polite and go away."
But the rain didn't see any good reason for going away, in spite of Milly's pretty speeches, and next morning there was the same patter on the window, the same gray sky and dripping garden. After breakfast there was just a hope of its clearing up. For about an hour the rain seemed to get less and the clouds a little brighter. But it soon came on again as fast as ever, and the poor children were very much disappointed.
"Mother," said Milly, when they had settled down to their lessons again in the drawing-room, "when we get back to Willingham, do you know what I shall do?"
"I shall ask you to take me to see that old gentleman—you know who I mean—who told you about the rain. And I shall say to him, 'please, Mr. Old Gentleman, at first I thought you were quite wrong about the rain, but afterwards I thought you were quite right, and it does rain dreadfully much in the mountains.'"
"Very well, Milly. But you have only just had a taste of what the rain can do in the lakes you know, so far. Father and I have been here sometimes when it has rained two or three weeks without stopping."
"Oh dear!" said Milly, looking extremely melancholy. "I like the mountains very much, mother; but do you think we'd better come to Ravensnest again after this year?"
"Oh you ungrateful little woman!" said Mrs. Norton, whose love for the place was so real that Milly's speech gave her quite a pang. "Have you forgotten all your happy sunshiny days here, just because it has rained for two? Why, when I was a little girl, and used to come here, the rainy days never made me love the place a bit the less. I always used to think the fine days made up."
"But then, mother, you were a nice little girl," said Milly, throwing her arms round her mother's neck and kissing her. "Now, I don't feel a bit nice this morning. It makes me so cross not to be able to go out and get flowers and wild strawberries. And you know at home it hardly ever rains all day."
"Gardener says sometimes it rains all over the road," interrupted Olly, "and people can't walk along, and they have to go right up on the mountains to get past the water place. And sometimes they have to get a boat to take people across. Do you think we shall have to go in a boat to church on Sunday, mother?"
"Well, we're a long way off that yet, Olly. It will take a good many days' rain to flood the roads so deep that we can't get along them, and this is only the second rainy day. Come, I don't think we've got much to complain of. Now suppose, instead of doing all your lessons this morning, you were presently to write to Jacky and Francis—you write to Jacky, Milly, and Olly to Francis. Don't you think that would be a good thing?"
"Oh yes, yes!" cried Milly, shutting up her copybook in a great hurry. "They'll be so much astonished, mother, for we didn't promise to write to them. I don't believe they ever get any letters."
The children had a great deal of affection and some secret pity for these playfellows of theirs, who had a sick mother, and who did not get half the pleasures and amusements that they did. And, as I have already told you, they could not bear Miss Chesterton, the little boys' aunt, who lived with them. They felt sure that Jacky and Francis must be unhappy, only because they had to live with Miss Chesterton.
This was Milly's letter when it was done. Milly could only write very slowly, in rather big hand, so that her letters were never very long:
MY DEAR JACKY—Don't you think it very odd getting a letter from me? It is nearly a fortnight since we came here. At first it was very nice. We went up the mountains, and Aunt Emma took us in a boat on the lake. And we gathered some wild strawberries, only some of them were quite white—not red a bit. But now it has begun to rain, and we don't like it at all. Perhaps we sha'n't be able to get home because the rain will cover up the roads. It is very dull staying in, only mother makes us such nice plays. Good-bye, Jacky. I send my love to Francis. Mind you don't forget us.
Your loving little friend, MILLY.
Olly wrote a much longer letter, that is to say, mother wrote for him, and he told her what to say, and as this was a much easier way of writing than Milly's way, he got on very fast, and Mrs. Norton had to write as quickly as she could, to keep up with him. And this was what Olly had to say:
MY DEAR FRANCIS—I wonder what you'll say to-morrow morning when the postman brings you this letter. I hope you'll write back, because it won't be fair if you don't. It isn't such fun here now because it does rain so. Milly and I are always telling the rain to go away, but it won't—though it did at home. Last week we went out in a boat, and I rowed. I rowed a great way, much farther than Milly. We went very slow when Milly rowed. It was very jolly at the picnic. Aunt Emma gave me some cake, and mother gave me some bread and jam. Nana won't let us have cake and jam both, when we have tea at home. Aunt Emma told us a story about King Arthur. I don't believe you ever heard it. The water-fairies took him away, and his friend wanted to go too, but the king said 'No! you must stop behind.' Milly cried because she felt sad about the king. I didn't cry, because I'm a little boy. Mother says you won't understand about the story, and she says we must tell it you when we get home. So we will, only perhaps we sha'n't remember. Do you do lessons now? We don't do any—only when it rains. Milly's writing a letter to Jacky—mine's much longer than hers.
Your little friend, OLLY.
Then came the putting up the letters, addressing them, and stamping them, all of which the children enjoyed very much, and by the time they were laid on the hall table ready to go to the post it was nearly dinner-time.
How the beck did roar that afternoon. And when the children looked out from the drawing-room window they could see a little flood on the lawn, where the water had come over the side of the stream. While they were having their tea, with mother sitting by, working and chattering to them, they heard a knock at the door, and when they opened it there was father standing in the unused kitchen, with the water running off his waterproof coat, making little streams all over the stone floor.
"I have been down to look at the river," he said to Mrs. Norton. "Keep off, children! I'm much too wet to touch. Such rain! It does know how to come down here! The water's over the road just by the stepping-stones. John Backhouse says if it goes on another twenty-four hours like this, there'll be no getting to Wanwick by the road, on foot."
"Father," said Milly, looking at him with a very solemn face, "wouldn't it be dreadful if it went on raining and raining, and if the river came up and up, right up to the drive and into the hall, and we all had to sit upstairs, and the butcher couldn't bring us any meat, and John Backhouse couldn't bring us any milk, and we all died of hunger."
"Then they would put us into some black boxes," said Olly, cheerfully, with his mouth full of bread and butter, "and they would put the black boxes into some boats, and take us right away and bury us krick—wouldn't they, mother?"
"Well, but—" said Mr. Norton, who had by this time got rid of his wet coat, and was seated by Milly, helping himself to some tea, "suppose we got into the boats before we were dead, and rowed away to Windermere station?"
"Oh no! father," said Milly, who always liked her stories to be as gloomy as possible, "they wouldn't know anything about us till we were dead you know, and then they'd come and find us, and be very sorry for us, and say, 'Oh dear! oh dear! what a pity!'"
Olly began to look so dismal as Milly's fancies grew more and more melancholy, that Mrs. Norton took to laughing at them all. What did they know about Westmoreland rain indeed. This was nothing—just nothing at all; she could remember some floods in the wintertime, when she was a little girl, and used to stay with Aunt Emma and great-grandmamma; but as for this, why, it was a good summer wetting, and that was all.
A romp sent the children to bed in excellent spirits again. This time both Milly and Olly stood at the window together, and told the rain to be sure to go to Spain that night, and never come back again while they were at Ravensnest.
"Or you might go to Willingham, you know, dear Mr. Rain," said Milly; "I daresay mother's flowers want a good watering. And there's Spot—you might give her a good washing—she can wash herself, but she won't. Only we don't want you here, Mr. Rain."
But what an obstinate disagreeable Mr. Rain it was! All that night it went on pouring, till the little beck in the garden was so full it was almost choked, and could only get along by sputtering and foaming as if some wicked water-fairies were driving it along and tormenting it. And all the little pools on the mountain, the "tarns," as Becky and Tiza called them, filled up, and the rain made the mountain itself so wet that it was like one big bog all over.
When the children woke up the flood on the lawn was growing bigger, and it seemed to them as if the house and garden were all wrapped up in a wet white cloud-blanket. They could not see the mountain at all from the window, it was all covered with a thick white mist, and the dark fir trees in the garden looked sad and drooping, as if the weight of raindrops was too much for them to carry.
The children had made up their minds so completely the night before that it couldn't rain more than two days running, that they felt as if they could hardly be expected to bear this third wet morning cheerfully. Nurse found them cross and out of spirits at breakfast. Even a prospect of asking Becky and Tiza to tea did not bring any smiles to their forlorn little faces. It would be no fun having anybody to tea. They couldn't go out, and there was nothing amusing indoors.
After breakfast, Olly set to work to get into mischief, as he generally did when he felt dull. Nurse discovered him smearing Katie's cheeks with raspberry jam "to make them get red kricker" as he said, and alas! some of the jam had stuck to the new silk frock, and spoilt all its smart fresh look.
When Milly found it out she began to cry, and when Mrs. Norton came in she saw a heap on the floor, which was Milly, sobbing, while Olly sat beside her with his mouth wide open, as if he was a good deal astonished at the result of his first attempt at doctoring.
"Pick up the pieces, old woman," said Mrs. Norton, taking hold of the heap and lifting it up. "What's the matter with you both?"
"Olly's spoilt my doll," sobbed Milly, "and it will go on raining—and I feel so—so—dull."
"I didn't spoil her doll, mother," cried Olly, eagerly. "I only rubbed some jam on its cheeks to make them a nicey pink—only some of it would sticky her dress—I didn't mean to."
"How would you like some jam rubbed on your cheeks, sir?" said Mrs. Norton, who could scarcely help laughing at poor Katie's appearance when nurse handed the doll to her. "Suppose you leave Milly's dolls alone for the future; but cheer up, Milly! I think I can make Katie very nearly right again. Come upstairs to my room and we'll try."
After a good deal of sponging and rubbing, and careful drying by the kitchen fire, Katie came very nearly right again, and then Mrs. Norton tried whether some lessons would drive the rain out of the children's heads. But the lessons did not go well. It was all Milly could do to help crying every time she got a figure wrong in her sum, and Olly took about ten minutes to read two lines of his reading-book. Olly had just begun his sums, and Milly was standing up to say some poetry to her mother, looking a woebegone little figure, with pale cheeks and heavy eyes, when suddenly there was a noise of wheels outside, and both the children turned to look out of the window.
"A carriage! a carriage!" shouted Olly, jumping down, and running to the window.
There, indeed, was one of the shut-up "cars," as the Westmoreland people call them, coming up the Ravensnest drive.
"It's Aunt Emma," said Mrs. Norton, starting up, "how good of her to come over on such a day. Run, children, and open the front door."
Down flew Milly and Olly, tumbling over one another in their hurry; but father had already thrown the door open, and who should they see stepping down the carriage-steps but Aunt Emma herself, with her soft gray hair shining under her veil, and her dear kind face as gentle and cheery as ever.
"Aunt Emma! Aunt Emma!" shouted Olly, dancing up to her, and throwing his arms round her, "are you come to tell us about old Mother Quiverquake?"
"You gipsy, don't strangle me! Well, Lucy dear, here I am. Will you have me to dinner? I thought we'd all be company for each other this bad day. Why, Milly, what have you been doing to your cheeks?"
"She's been crying," said Olly, in spite of Milly's pulling him by the sleeve to be quiet, "because I stickened her doll."
"Well, and quite right too. Dolls weren't made to be stickied. But now, who's going to carry my bag upstairs? Take it gently, Milly, it's got my cap inside, and if you crumple my cap I shall have to sit with my head in a bandbox at dinner. Old ladies are never seen without their caps you know. The most dreadful things would happen if they were! Olly, you may put my umbrella away. There now, I'll go to mother's room and take off my things."
A STORY-TELLING GAME
When Aunt Emma was safely settled, cap and all, in one of the drawing-room arm-chairs, it seemed to the children as if the rain and the gray sky did not matter nearly so much as they had done half an hour before. In the first place, her coming made something new and interesting to think about; and in the second place, they felt quite sure that Aunt Emma hadn't brought her little black bag into the drawing-room with her for nothing. If only her cap had been in it, why of course she would have left it in mother's bedroom. But here it was in her lap, with her two hands folded tight over it, as if it contained something precious! How very puzzling and interesting!
However, for a long time it seemed as if Aunt Emma had nothing at all to say about her bag. She began to tell them about her drive—how in two places the horse had to go splashing through the water, and how once, when they were crossing a little river that ran across the road, the water came so far up the wheels that "I put my head out of the window," said Aunt Emma, "and said to my old coachman, 'Now, John, if it's going to get any deeper than this, you'd better turn him round and go home, for I'm an old woman, not a fish, and I can't swim. Of course, if the horse can swim with the carriage behind him it's all right, but I have my doubts.' Now John, my dears, has been with me a great many years, and he knows very well that I'm rather a nervous old woman. It's very sad, but it is so. Don't you be nervous when you're old people. So all he said was 'All right, ma'am. Bless you, he can swim like a trout.' And crack went the whip, splash went the water! It seemed to me it was just going to come in under the door, when, lo and behold! there we were safe and sound on dry ground again. But whether my old horse swam through or walked through I can't tell you. I like to believe he swam, because I'm so fond of him, and one likes to believe the creatures one loves can do clever things."
"I'll ask John when he comes to take you away, Aunt Emma," said Olly. "I don't believe horses can swim when they're in a carriage."
"You're a matter-of-fact monkey," said Aunt Emma. "Dear me, what's that?"
For a loud squeak had suddenly startled the children, who were now looking about them everywhere in vain, to find out where it came from. Squeak! again. This time the voice certainly came from near Aunt Emma's chair, but there was nothing to be seen.
"What a strange house you live in," said Aunt Emma, with a perfectly grave face. "You must have caught a magician somehow. That's a magician's squeak."
Again came the noise!
"I know, I know!" shouted Olly. "It's Aunt Emma's bag! I'm sure it came out of the bag."
"My bag!"—holding it up and looking at it. "Now does it look like a bag that squeaks? It's a perfectly well-behaved bag, and never did such a thing in its life."
"I know, Aunt Emma," said Olly, dancing round her in great excitement. "You've got the parrot in there!"
"Well now," said Aunt Emma. "This is really serious. If you think I am such a cruel old woman as to shut up a poor poll-parrot in a bag, there's no help for it, we must open the bag. But it's a very curious bag—I wouldn't stand too near it if I were you."
Click! went the fastening of the bag, and out jumped—what do you think? Why, the very biggest frog that was ever seen, in this part of the world at any rate, a green speckled frog, that hopped on to Aunt Emma's knee, and then on to the floor, where it went hopping and squeaking along the carpet, till all of a sudden, when it got to the door, it turned over on its back, and lay there quite quiet with its legs in the air.
The children followed it with looks half of horror, half of amazement.
"What is it, Aunt Emma? Is it alive?" asked Milly, jumping on to a chair as the frog came near her, and drawing her little skirts tight round her legs, while Olly went cautiously after it, with his hands on his knees, one step at a time.
"You'd better ask it," said Aunt Emma, who had at last begun to laugh a little, as if it was impossible to keep grave any longer. "I'm sure it looks very peaceable just now, poor thing."
So the children crept up to it, and examined it closely. Yes, it was a green speckled frog, but what it was made of, and whether it was alive, and if it was not alive how it managed to hop and squeak—these were the puzzles.
"Take hold of it, Milly," said Mr. Norton, who had just come up from his work, and was standing laughing near the door. "Turn it over on its legs again."
"No, I'll turn it," cried Olly, making a dash, and turning it over in a great hurry, keeping his legs and feet well out of the way. Hop! squeak! there it was off again, right down the room with the children after it, till it suddenly came up against a table leg, and once more turned over on its back and lay quite still.
"Oh, Aunt Emma, is it a toy?" asked Milly, who now felt brave enough to take it up and look at it.
"Well, Milly, I believe so—a very lively one. Bring it here, and I'll tell you something about it."
So the children brought it very cautiously, as if they were not quite sure what it would do next, and then Aunt Emma explained to them that she had once paid a visit to a shop in London where Japanese toys—toys made in the country of Japan—far away on the other side of the world—were sold, and that there she found master froggy.
"And there never was such a toy as froggy for a wet day," said Aunt Emma. "I have tried him on all sorts of boys and girls, and he never fails. He's as good a cure for a cross face as a poultice is for a sore finger. But, Milly, listen! I declare there's something else going on in my bag. I really think, my dear bag, you might be quiet now that you have got rid of froggy! What can all this chattering be about? Sh! sh!" and Aunt Emma held up her finger at the children, while she held the bag up to her ear, and listened carefully. Olly was almost beside himself with excitement, but Milly had got his little brown hands tight in hers for fear he should make a jump at the bag. "Yes," said Aunt Emma. "It's just as I thought. The bag declares it's not his fault at all, but that if I will give him such noisy creatures to carry I must take the consequences. He says there's a whole family now inside him, making such a noise he can hardly hear himself speak. It's enough, he says, to drive a respectable bag mad, and he must blow up if it goes on. Dear me! I must look into this. Milly, come here!"
Milly came near, and Aunt Emma opened the bag solemnly.
"Now, Milly, I'll hold it for fear it should take it into its poor head to blow up, and you put your hand in and see what you can find."
So Milly put her hand in, feeling a good deal excited as to what might happen—and what do you think she brought out? A whole handful of the most delicious dolls:—cardboard dolls of all sorts and kinds, like those in mother's drawer at home; paper dolls, mamma dolls, little boy dolls and little girl dolls, baby dolls and nurse dolls; dolls in suits and dolls in frocks; dolls in hats and dolls in nightgowns; a papa in trousers and a mamma in a magnificent blue dress with flounces and a train; a nurse in white cap and apron and the most bewitching baby doll you ever saw, with a frilled paper cap that slipped on and off, and a white frock with pink ribbons. And the best of these dolls was, that each of them had a piece of cardboard fastened on behind and a little bit of cardboard to stand on, so that when you spread out the piece behind they stood up as naturally as possible, and looked as if they were going to talk to you.
"Oh, Aunt Emma, dear Aunt Emma!" cried Milly, beside herself with delight as she spread them all out in her lap. "They're just like mother's at home, mother's that you made for her when she was a little girl—only ever so many more."
"Well, Milly, I made mother's for her long ago, when it rained for days and days without stopping, and she had grown tired of pretty nearly everything and everybody indoors; and now I have been spending part of these rainy days in making a new set for mother's little girl. There, dear little woman, I think you must have given me a kiss for each of them by this time. Suppose you try and make them stand up."
"But, Aunt Emma," said Olly, who was busy examining the mysterious bag—how could the dolls talk? they're only paper."
"I know nothing about it," answered Aunt Emma, rescuing the bag, and putting it safely under her chair. "You might ask the bag—but it wouldn't answer you. Magical bags never do talk except to their masters or mistresses."
So Olly had to puzzle it out for himself while he played with the Japanese frog. That was an extraordinary frog! You should have seen nurse's start when Olly hid himself in the passage and sent the frog hopping and squeaking through the open door of the night nursery, where nurse was sitting sewing; and as for cook, when the creature came flopping over her kitchen floor she very nearly spoilt the hash she was making for dinner by dropping a whole pepper-box into the middle of it! There was no end to the fun to be got out of froggy, and Olly amused himself with it the whole of the morning, while Milly went through long stories with her dolls upstairs, helped every now and then by Aunt Emma, who sat knitting and talking to mother.
At dinner the children had to sit quiet while Mr. and Mrs. Norton and Aunt Emma talked. Father and mother had been almost as much cheered up by Aunt Emma's coming as the children themselves, and now the dinner-table was lively with pleasant talk; talk about books, and talk about pictures, and talk about foreign places, and talk about the mountains and the people living near Ravensnest, many of whom mother had known when she was a little girl. Milly, who was old enough to listen, could only understand a little bit here and there; but there was always Aunt Emma's friendly gentle face to look at, and her soft old hand in its black mitten, to slip her own little fingers into; while Olly was so taken up with the prospects of the black-currant pudding which he had seen cook making in the morning, and the delight of it when it came, that it seemed no trouble to him to sit still.
As for the rain, there was not much difference. Perhaps there were a few breaks in the clouds, and it might be beating a little less heavily on the glass conservatory outside the dining-room, still, on the whole, the weather was much the same as it had been. It was wonderful to see how little notice the children had taken of it since Aunt Emma came, and when they escorted her upstairs after dinner, they quite forgot to rush to the window and look out, as they had been doing the last three days at every possible opportunity.
The children got her safe into a chair, and then Olly brought a stool to one side of her, and Milly brought a stool to the other.
"Now, can you remember about old Mother Quiverquake?" said Olly, resting his little sunburnt chin on Aunt Emma's knee, and looking up to her with eager eyes.
"Well, I daresay I shall begin to remember about her presently; but suppose, children, we have a story-telling game. We'll tell stories—you and Olly, father, mother, and everybody. That's much fairer than that one person should do all the telling."
"We couldn't," said Milly, shaking her head gravely, "we are only little children. Little children can't make up stories."
"Suppose little children try," said mother. "I think Aunt Emma's is an excellent plan. Now, father, you'll have to tell one too."
"Father's lazy," said Mr. Norton, coming out from behind his newspaper. "But, perhaps, if you all of you tell very exciting stories you may stir him up."
"Oh, father!" cried Olly, who had a vivid remembrance of his father's stories, though they only came very seldom, "tell us about the rat with three tails, and the dog that walked on its nose."
"Oh dear, no!" said Mr. Norton, "those won't do for such a grand story-telling as this. I must think of some story which is all long words and good children."
"Don't father," said Milly, imploringly, "it's ever so much nicer when they get into scrapes, you know, and tumble down, and all that."
"Who's to begin?" said Aunt Emma. "I think mother had better begin. Afterwards it will be your turn, Olly; then father, then Milly, and then me."
"I don't believe I've got a scrap of a story in my head," said Mrs. Norton. "It's weeks since I caught one last."
"Then look here, Olly," said Aunt Emma, "I'll tell you what to do. Go up gently behind mother, and kiss her three times on the top of the head. That's the way to send the stories in. Mother will soon begin to feel one fidgeting inside her head after that."
So Olly went gently up behind his mother, climbed on a stool at the back of her chair, and kissed her softly three times at the back of her head. Mrs. Norton lay still for a few moments after the kisses, with closed eyes.
"Ah!" she said at last. "Now I think I've caught one. But it's a very little one, poor little thing. And yet, strange to say, though it's very little, it's very old. Now, children, you must be kind to my story. I caught him first a great many years ago in an old book, but I am afraid you will hardly care for him as much as I did. Well, once upon a time there was a great king."
"Was it King Arthur, mother?" interrupted Olly, eagerly.
"Oh no! this king lived in a different country altogether. He lived in a beautiful hot country over the sea, called Spain."
"Oh, mother! a hot country!" protested Milly, "that's where the rain goes to."
"Well, Milly, I don't think you know any more about it, except that you tell the rain to go there. Don't you know by this time that the rain never does what it's told? Really, very little rain goes to Spain, and in some parts of the country the people would be very glad indeed if we could send them some of the rain we don't want at Ravensnest. But now, you mustn't interrupt me, or I shall forget my story—Well there was once a king who lived in a very hot part of Spain, where they don't have much rain, and where it hardly ever snows or freezes. And this king had a beautiful wife, whom he loved very much. But, unluckily, this beautiful wife had one great fault. She was always wishing for the most unreasonable and impossible things, and though the king was always trying to get her what she wanted she was never satisfied, and every day she seemed to grow more and more discontented and exacting. At last, one day in the winter, a most extraordinary thing happened. A shower of snow fell in Cordova, which was the name of the town where the king and queen lived, and it whitened the hills all around the town, so that they looked as if somebody had been dusting white sugar over them. Now snow was hardly ever seen in Cordova, and the people in the town wondered at it, and talked about it a great deal. But after she had looked at it a little-while the queen began to cry bitterly. None of her ladies could comfort her, nor would she tell any of them what was the matter. There she sat at her window, weeping, till the king came to see her. When he came he could not imagine what she was crying about, and begged her to tell him why. 'I am weeping,' she said, sobbing all the time, 'because the hills—are not always—covered with snow. See how pretty they look! And yet—I have never, till now, seen them look like that. If you really loved me, you would manage some way or other that it should snow once a year at any rate.'
"'But how can I make it snow?' cried the king in great trouble, because she would go on weeping and weeping, and spoiling her pretty eyes.
"'I'm sure I don't know,' said the queen, crossly, 'but you can't love me a bit, or you'd certainly try.'
"Well, the king thought and thought, and at last he hit upon a beautiful plan. He sent into all parts of Spain to buy almond trees, and planted them on the hills all round the town. Now the almond tree, as you know, has a lovely pinky-white blossom, so when the next spring arrived all these thousands of almond trees came out into bloom all over the hills round Cordova, so that they looked at a distance as if they were covered with white snow. And for once the queen was delighted, and could not help saying a nice 'Thank you' to the king for all the trouble he had taken to please her. But it was not very long before she grew discontented again, and began once more to wish for all kinds of ridiculous things. One day she was sitting at her window, and she saw some ragged little children playing by the river that ran round the palace. They were dabbling in the mud at the side, sticking their little bare feet into it, or scooping up pieces which they rolled into balls and threw at one another. The queen watched them for some time, and at last she began to weep bitterly. One of her maidens ran and told the king that the queen was weeping, and he came in a great hurry to see what was the matter.
"'Just look at those children down there!' said the queen, sobbing and pointing to them. 'Did you ever see anybody so happy? Why can't I have mud to dabble in too, and why can't I take off my shoes and stockings, and amuse myself like the children do, instead of being so dull and stuck-up all day long?'
"'Because it isn't proper for queens to dabble in the mud,' said the poor king in great perplexity, for he didn't at all like the idea of his beautiful queen dabbling in the mud with the little ragged children.
"'That's just like you,' said the queen, beginning to cry faster than ever,' you never do anything to please me. What's the good of being proper? What's the good of being a queen at all?'
"This made the king very unhappy, and again he thought and thought, till at last he hit upon a plan. He ordered a very large shallow bath of white marble to be made in the palace-garden. Then he poured into it all kinds of precious stones, and chips of sweet-smelling wood, besides a thousand cartloads of rose-leaves and a thousand cartloads of orange flowers. All these he ordered to be stirred up together with a great ivory spoon, till they made a kind of wonderful mud, and then he had the bath filled up with scented water.
"'Now then,' he said to the queen, when he had brought her down to look at it, 'you may take off your shoes and stockings and paddle about in this mud as much as you like.' You may imagine that this was a very pleasant kind of mud to dabble in, and the queen and her ladies amused themselves with it immensely for some time. But nothing could keep this tiresome queen amused for long together, and in about a fortnight she had grown quite tired of her wonderful bath. It seemed as if the king's pains had been all thrown away. She grew cross and discontented again, and her ladies began to say to each other, 'What will she wish for next, I wonder? The king might as well try to drink up the sea as try to get her all she wants.' At last, one day, when she and her ladies were walking near the palace, they met a shepherdess driving a flock of sheep up into the hills. The shepherdess looked so pretty and bright in her red petticoat and tall yellow cap, that the queen stopped to speak to her.
"'Where are you going, pretty maiden, with your woolly white sheep?' she asked.
"'I am going up to the hills,' said the shepherdess. 'Now the sun has scorched up the fields down below we must take our sheep up to the cool hills, where the grass is still fresh and green. Good-day, good-day, the sheep are going so fast I cannot wait.' So on she tripped, singing and calling to her sheep, who came every now and then to rub their soft coats against her, as if they loved her. The queen looked after her, and her face began to pucker up.
"'Why am I not a shepherdess?' she exclaimed, bursting into tears. 'I hate being a queen! I never sang as merrily as that little maiden in all my life. I must and will be a shepherdess, and drive sheep up into the mountain, or I shall die!"
"And all that night the foolish queen sat at her window crying, and when the morning came she had made herself look quite old and ugly. When the king came to see her he was dreadfully troubled, and begged her to tell him what was the matter now.
"'I want to be a shepherdess, and drive sheep up into the mountains,' sobbed the queen. 'Why should the little shepherdess girls look always so happy and merry, while I am dying of dulness?'
"The king thought it was very unkind of her to say she was dying of dulness when he had taken so much trouble to get her all she wanted; but he knew it was no good talking to her while she was in such a temper. So all he said was:
"'How can I turn you into a shepherdess? These shepherdesses stay out all night with their sheep on the hills, and live on water and a crust of bread. How would you like that?'
"'Of course I-should like it,' said the queen, 'anything for a change. Besides, nothing could be nicer than staying out of doors these lovely nights. And as for food, you know very well that I am never hungry here, and that it doesn't matter in the least to me what I eat!'
"'Well,' said the king, 'you shall go up to the hills, if you promise to take your ladies with you, and if you will let me send a tent to shelter you at night, and some servants to look after you.'
"'As if that would give me any pleasure!' said the queen, 'to be followed about and waited upon is just what I detest. I will go alone; just like that pretty little shepherdess, if I go at all.'
"But the king declared that nothing would induce him to let her go alone. So the queen set to work to cry, and she cried for two days and two nights without stopping, and at the end of that time the poor king was ready to let her go anywhere or do anything for the sake of a little peace.
"So she had her own way. They found her a flock of the loveliest white sheep, all with blue ribbons round their necks, and blue rosettes on their little white tails; and the queen dressed herself up in a red silk petticoat and a cap embroidered in gold and silver, and then she set out by herself.
"At first it was all delightful. She drove the sheep up the soft green hillsides, and laughed with delight to see them nibbling the fresh grass, and running hither and thither after her, and after each other. The evening sun shone brightly, and she sat herself down on a rock and sang all the tunes she knew, that she might be just like the little shepherdess. But while she was singing the sheep strayed away, and she had to run after them as fast as she could, to catch them up. This made her hot and tired, so she tried to make them lie down under a chestnut tree, that she might rest beside them. But the sheep were not a bit tired, and had no mind to rest at all. While she was calling one set of them together the other set ran scampering off, and the queen found out that she must just give up her way for once and follow theirs. On went the sheep, up hill and down dale, nibbling and frisking and trotting to their hearts' content, till the queen was worn out.
"At last, by the time the sun was setting, the poor queen was so tired that she could walk no longer. Down she sat, and the ungrateful sheep kicked up their little hind legs and trotted away out of sight as fast as they could trot. There she was left on the hillside all alone. It began to get dark, and the sky, instead of being blue and clear as it had been, filled with black clouds.
"'Oh dear! oh dear!' sighed the queen, 'here is a storm coming. If I could only find my way down the hill, if I could only see the town!'
"But there were trees all about her, which hid the view, and soon it was so dark there was nothing to be seen, not even the stars. And presently, crash came the thunder, and after the thunder the rain—such rain! It soaked the queen's golden cap till it was so heavy with water she was obliged to throw it away, and her silk petticoat was as wet as if she had been taking a bath in it. In vain she ran hither and thither, trying to find a way through the trees, while the rain blinded her, and the thunder deafened her, till at last she was forced to sink down on the ground, feeling more wretched and frightened and cold than any queen ever felt before. Oh, if she were only safe back in her beautiful palace! If only she had the tent the king wanted to send with her! But there all night she had to stay, and all night the storm went on, till the queen was lying in a flood, and the owls and bats, startled out of their holes, went flying past her in the dark, and frightening her out of her senses. When the morning came there was such a shivering, crumpled up queen sitting on the grass, that even her own ladies would scarcely have known her.
"'Oh, husband! husband!' she cried, getting up and wringing her cold little hands. 'You will never find me, and your poor wicked wife will die of cold and hunger.'
"Tirra-lirra! tirra-lirra! What was that sounding in the forest? Surely—surely—it was a hunting horn. But who could be blowing it so early in the cold gray morning, when it was scarcely light? On ran the queen toward where the sound came from. Over rocks and grass she ran, till, all of a sudden, stepping out from behind a tree, came the king himself, who had been looking for her for hours. And then what do you think the discontented queen did? She folded her hands, and hung her head, and said, quite sadly and simply:
"'Oh, my lord king, make me a shepherdess really. I don't deserve to be a queen. Send me away, and let me knit and spin for my living. I have plagued you long enough.'
"And suddenly it seemed to the king as if there had been a black speck in the queen's heart, which had been all washed away by the rain; and he took her hands, and led her home to the palace in joy and gladness. And so they lived happy ever afterward."
"Thank you very much, mother," said Milly, stretching up her arms and drawing down Mrs. Norton's face to kiss her. "Do you really think the queen was never discontented any more?"
"I can't tell you any more than the story does," said Mrs. Norton. "You see there would always be that dreadful night to think about, if she ever felt inclined to be; but I daresay the queen didn't find it very easy at first."
"I would have made her be a shepherdess," said Olly, shaking his head gravely. "She wasn't nice, not a bit."
"Little Mr. Severity!" said Aunt Emma, pulling his brown curls. "It's your turn next, Olly."
"Then Milly must kiss me first," said Olly, looking rather scared, as if something he didn't quite understand was going to happen to him.
So Milly went through the operation of kissing him three times on the back of the head, and then Olly's eyes, finding it did no good to stare at Aunt Emma or mother, went wandering all round the room in search of something else to help him. Suddenly they came to the window, where a brown speck was dancing up and down, and then Olly's face brightened, and he began in a great hurry:
"Once upon a time there was a daddy-long-legs—"
"Well," said Milly, when they had waited a little while, and nothing more came.
"I don't know any more," said Olly.
"Oh, that is silly," said Milly, "why, that isn't a story at all. Shut your eyes tight, that's much the best way of making a story."
So Olly shut his eyes, and pressed his two hands tightly over them, and then he began again:
"Once upon a time there was a daddy-long-legs—"
"Was it a good daddy-long-legs?" asked Milly, anxious to help him on.
"Yes," said Olly, "that's it, Milly. Once upon a time there was a good daddy-long-legs—"
"Well, what did he do?" asked Milly, impatiently.
"He—he—flewed on to father's nose!" said Olly, keeping his hands tight over his eyes, while his little white teeth appeared below in a broad grin.
"And father said, 'Who's that on my nose?' and the daddy-long-legs said, 'It's me, don't you know?' And father said, 'Get away off my nose, I don't like you a bit.' And the daddy-long-legs said, 'I shan't go away. It's hot on the window, the sun gets in my eyes. I like sitting up here best.' So father took a big sofa-cushion and gave his nose ever such a bang! And the daddy-long-legs tumbled down dead. And the cushion tumbled down dead. And father tumbled down dead. And that's all," said Olly opening his eyes, and looking extremely proud of himself.
"Oh, you silly boy!" cried Milly, "that isn't a bit like a real story."
But Aunt Emma and father and mother laughed a good deal at Olly's story, and Aunt Emma said it would do very well for such a small boy.
Whose turn was it next?
"Father's turn! father's turn!" cried the children, in great glee, looking round for him; but while Olly's story had been going on, Mr. Norton, who was sitting behind them in a big arm-chair, had been covering himself up with sofa cushions and newspapers, till there was only the tip of one of his boots to be seen, coming out from under the heap. The children were a long time dragging him out, for he pelted them with cushions, and crumpled the newspapers over their heads, till they were so tired with laughing and struggling they had no strength left.
"Father, it isn't fair, I don't think," said Milly at last, sitting a breathless heap on the floor. "Of course little people can't make big people do things, so the big people ought to do them without making."
"That's not at all good reasoning, Milly," said Mr. Norton, who could not resist the temptation of throwing one more sofa cushion at her laughing face. "You can't make nurse stand on her head, but that's no reason why nurse should stand on her head."
Just then Olly, moving up a stool behind his father's chair, brought his little mouth suddenly down on his father's head, and gave him three kisses in a great hurry, with a shout of triumph at the end.
"Dear me!" said Mr. Norton, shutting his eyes and falling back as if something had happened to him. "This is very serious. Aunt Emma, that spell of yours is really too strong. My poor head! It will certainly burst if I don't get this story out directly! Come, jump up, children—quick!"
Up jumped the children, one on each knee, and Mr. Norton began at once.
THE STORY OF BEOWULF
Once upon a time there was a great—"
"Father," interrupted Milly, "I shall soon be getting tired of 'Once upon a time there was a great king.'"
"Don't cry till you're hurt, Milly; which means, wait till I get to the end of my sentence. Well, once upon a time there was a great—hero."
"What is a hero?" asked Olly.
"I know," said Milly, eagerly, "it's a brave man that's always fighting and killing giants and dragons and cruel people."
"That'll do to begin with," said Mr. Norton, "though, when you grow older, you will find that people can be heroes without fighting or killing. However, the man I am going to tell you about was just the kind of hero you're thinking of, Milly. He loved fighting with giants and dragons and wild people, and my story is going to be about two of his fights—the greatest he ever fought. The name of this hero was Beowulf, and he lived in a country called Sweden (Milly knows all about Sweden, Olly, and you must get her to show it you on the map), with a number of other brave men who were his friends, and helped him in his battles. And one day a messenger came over the sea from another country close by, called Denmark, and the messenger said, 'Which of all you brave men will come over and help my master, King Hrothgar, who is in sore trouble?' And the messenger told them how Hrothgar, for many years past, had been plagued by a monster—the hateful monster Grendel—half a man and half a beast, who lived at the bottom of a great bog near the king's palace. Every night, he said, Grendel the monster came out of the bog with his horrible mother beside him—a wolf-like creature, fearful to look upon—and he and she would roam about the country, killing and slaying all whom they met. Sometimes they would come stalking to the king's palace, where his brave men were sleeping round the fire in the big hall, and before anyone could withstand him Grendel would fall upon the king's warriors, kill them by tens and twenties, and carry off their dead bodies to his bog. Many a brave man had tried to slay the monster, but none had been able so much as to wound him.
"When Beowulf and his friends had heard this story they thought a while, and then each said to the other, 'Let us go across the sea and rid King Hrothgar of this monster.' So they took ship and went across the sea to Hrothgar's country, and Hrothgar welcomed them royally, and made a great feast in their honour. And after the feast Hrothgar said to Beowulf, 'Now, I give over to you the hall of my palace, that you may guard it against the monster.' So Beowulf and the brave men who had come over with him made a great fire in the hall, and they all lay down to sleep beside it. You may imagine that they did not find it very easy to get to sleep, and some of them thought as they lay there that very likely they should never see their homes in Sweden again. But they were tired with journeying and feasting, and one after another they all fell asleep. Then in the dead of the night, when all was still, Grendel rose up out of the bog, and came stalking over the moor to the palace. His eyes flamed with a kind of horrible light in the darkness, and his steps seemed to shake the earth; but those inside the palace were sleeping so heavily that they heard nothing, not even when Grendel burst open the door of the hall and came in among them. Before anyone had wakened, the monster had seized one of the sleeping men and torn him to pieces. Then he came to Beowulf; but Beowulf sprang up out of his sleep and laid hold upon him boldly. He used no sword to strike him, for there was no sword which men could make was strong enough to hurt Grendel; but he seized him with his strong hands, and the two struggled together in the palace. And they fought till the benches were torn from the walls, and everything in the hall was smashed and broken. The brave men, springing up all round, seized their swords and would gladly have helped their lord, but there was no one but Beowulf could harm Grendel.
"So they fought, till at last Beowulf tore away Grendel's hand and arm, and the monster fled away howling into the darkness. Over the moor he rushed till he came to his bog, and there he sank down into the middle of the bog, wailing and shrieking like one whose last hour was come. Then there was great rejoicing at Heorot, the palace, and King Hrothgar, when he saw Grendel's hand which Beowulf had torn away, embraced him and blessed him, and he and all his friends were laden with splendid gifts.
"But all was not over yet. When the next night came, and Hrothgar's men and Beowulf's men were asleep together in the great hall, Grendel's horrible mother, half a woman and half a wolf, came rushing to the palace and while they were all asleep she carried off one of Hrothgar's dearest friends—a young noble whom he loved best of all his nobles. And she killed him, and carried his body back to the bog. Then the next morning there was grief and weeping in Heorot; but Beowulf said to the king, 'Grieve not, O king! till we have found out Grendel's mother and punished her for her evil deeds. I promise you she shall give an account for this. She shall not be able to hide herself in the water, nor under the earth, nor in the forest, nor at the bottom of the sea; let her go where she will, I will find a way after her.'
"So Beowulf and his friends put on their armour and mounted their horses, and set out to look for her. And when they had ridden a long and weary way over steep lonely paths and past caves where dragons and serpents lived, they came at last to Grendel's bog—a fearful place indeed. There in the middle of it lay a pool of black water, and over the water hung withered trees, which seemed as if they had been poisoned by the air rising from the water beneath them. No bird or beast would ever come near Grendel's pool. If the hounds were hunting a stag, and they drove him down to the edge, he would sooner let them tear him to pieces than hide himself in the water. And every night the black water seemed to burn and flame, and it hissed and bubbled and groaned as if there were evil creatures tossing underneath. And now when Beowulf and his men came near it, they saw fierce water dragons lying near the edge or swimming about the pool. There also, beside the water, they found the dead body of Hrothgar's friend, who had been killed by Grendel's mother, and they took it up, and mourned over him afresh.
"But Beowulf took an old and splendid sword that Hrothgar had given him, and he put on his golden helmet and his iron war shirt that no sword could cut through, and when he had bade his friends farewell he leapt straight into the middle of the bog. Down he sank, deeper and deeper into the water, among strange water beasts that struck at him with their tusks as he passed them, till at last Grendel's mother, the water-wolf, looked up from the bottom and saw him coming. Then she sprang upon him, and seized him, and dragged him down, and he found himself in a sort of hall under the water, with a pale strange light in it. And then he turned from the horrible water-wolf and raised his sword and struck her on the head; but his blow did her no harm. No sword made by mortal men could harm Grendel or his mother; and as he struck her Beowulf stumbled and fell. Then the water-wolf rushed forward and sat upon him as he lay there, and raised aloft her own sharp dagger to drive it into his breast; but Beowulf shook her off, and sprang up, and there, on the wall, he saw hanging a strange old sword that had been made in the old times, long, long ago, when the world was full of giants. So he threw his own sword aside and took down the old sword, and once more he smote the water-wolf. And this time his sword did him good service, and Grendel's fierce mother sank down dead upon the ground.
"Then Beowulf looked round him, and he saw lying in a corner the body of Grendel himself. He cut off the monster's head, and lo and behold! when he had cut it off the blade of the old sword melted away, and there was nothing left in his hands but the hilt, with strange letters on it, telling how it was made in old days by the giants for a great king. So with that, and Hrothgar's sword and Grendel's head, Beowulf rose up again through the bog, and just as his brave men had begun to think they should never see their dear lord more he came swimming to land, bearing the great head with him.
"Then Hrothgar and all his people rejoiced greatly, for they knew that the land would never more be troubled by these hateful monsters, but that the ploughers might plough, and the shepherds might lead their sheep, and brave men might sleep at night, without fear any more of Grendel and his mother."
"Oh, father!" said Milly, breathlessly, when he stopped. "Is that all?"
But Olly sat quite still, without speaking, gazing at his father with wide open brown eyes, and a face as grave and terrified as if Grendel were actually beside him.
"That's all for this time," said Mr. Norton. "Why, Olly, where are your little wits gone to? Did it frighten you, old man?"
"Oh!" said Olly, drawing a long breath. "I did think he would never have comed up out of that bog!"
"It was splendid," said Milly. "But, father, I don't understand about that pool. Why didn't Beowulf get drowned when he went down under the water?"
"The story doesn't tell us anything about that," said Mr. Norton. "But heroes in those days, Milly, must have had something magical about them so that they were able to do things that men and women can't do now. Do you know, children, that this story that you have been listening to is more than a thousand years old? Can you fancy that?"
"No," said Milly, shaking her head. "I can't fancy it a bit, father. It's too long. It makes me puzzled to think of so many years."
"Years and years and years and years!" said Olly. "When father's grandfather was a little boy."
Mr. Norton laughed. "Can't you think of anything farther back than that, Olly? It would take a great many grandfathers, and grandfathers' grandfathers, to get back to the time when the story of Beowulf was made. And here am I telling it to you just in the same way as fathers used to tell it to their children a thousand years ago."
"I suppose the children liked it so, they wouldn't let their fathers forget it," said Milly. "And then when they grew up they told it to their children. I shall tell it to my children when I grow up. I think I shall tell it to Katie to-morrow."
"Father," said Olly, "did Beowulf die—ever?"
"Yes. When he was quite an old man he had another great fight with a dragon, who was guarding a cave full of golden treasure on the sea-shore; and though he killed the dragon, the dragon gave him a terrible wound, so that when his friends came to look for him they found him lying all but dead in the cave. He was just able to tell them to make a great mound of earth over him when he was dead, on a high rock close by, that sailors might see it from their ships and think of him when they saw it, and then he died. And when he was dead they carried him up to the rock, and there they burned his body, and then they built up a great high mound of earth, and they put Beowulf's bones inside, and all the treasure from the dragon's cave. They were ten days building up the mound. Then when it was all done they rode around it weeping and chanting sorrowful songs, and at last they left him there, saying as they went away that never should they see so good a king or so true a master any more. And for hundreds of years afterwards, when the sailors out at sea saw the high mound rising on its point of rock, they said one to another, 'There is Beowulf's Mount,' and they began to tell each other of Beowulf's brave deeds—how he lived and how he died, and how he fought with Grendel and the wild sea dragons. There, now, I have told you all I know about Beowulf," said Mr. Norton, getting up and turning the children off his knee, "and if it isn't somebody else's turn now it ought to be."