"Aunt Emma! Aunt Emma!" shouted Olly, who was so greedy for stories that he could almost listen all day long without being tired.
But Aunt Emma only smiled through her spectacles and pointed to the window. The children ran to look out, and they could hardly believe their eyes when they saw that it had actually stopped raining, and that over the tree-tops was a narrow strip of blue sky, the first they had seen for three whole days.
"Oh you nice blue sky!" exclaimed Milly, dancing up and down before the window with a beaming face. "Mind you stay there and get bigger. We'll get on our hats presently and come out to look at you. Oh! there's John Backhouse coming down the hill with the dogs. Mother, may we go up ourselves and ask Becky and Tiza to come to tea?"
"But Aunt Emma must tell us her story first," persisted Olly, who hated being cheated out of a story by anything or anybody. "She promised."
"You silly boy!" said Aunt Emma, "as if I was going to keep you indoors listening to stories just now, when the sun's shining for the first time for three whole days. I promised you my story on a wet day, and you shall have it—never fear. There'll be plenty more wet days before you go away from Ravensnest, I'm afraid. There goes my knitting, and mother's putting away her work, and father's stretching himself—which means we're all going for a walk."
"To fetch Becky and Tiza, mother?" asked Milly; and when mother said "Yes, if you like," the two children raced off down the long passage to the nursery in the highest possible spirits.
Soon they were all walking along the dripping drive past high banks of wet fern, and under trees which threw down showers of rain-drops at every puff of wind. And when they got into the road beside the river the children shouted with glee to see their brown shallow little river turned into a raging flood of water, which went sweeping and hurrying through the fields, and every now and then spreading itself over them and making great pools among the poor drowned hay. They ran on to look for the stepping-stones, but to their amazement there was not a stone to be seen. The water was rushing over them with a great roar and swirl, and Milly shivered a little bit when she remembered their bathe there a week before.
"Well, old woman," said Mr. Norton, coming up to them, "I don't suppose you'd like, a bathe to-day—quite."
"If we were in there now," said Olly, watching the river with great excitement, "the water would push us down krick! and the fishes would come and etten us all up."
"They'd be a long time gobbling you up, Master Fatty," said his father. "Come, run along; it's too cold to stand about."
But how brilliant and beautiful it was after the rain! Little tiny trickling rivers were running down all the roads, and sparkling in the sun; the wet leaves and grass were glittering, and the great mountains all around stood up green and fresh against the blue sky, as if the rain had washed the dust off them from top to toe, and left them clean and bright. Two things only seemed the worse for the rain—the hay and the wild strawberries. Milly peered into all the banks along the road where she generally found her favourite little red berries, but most of them were washed away, and the few miserable things that were left tasted of nothing but rain water. And as for the hay-fields, they looked so wet and drenched that it was hard to believe any sunshine could ever dry them.
"Poor John Backhouse!" said Aunt Emma; "I'm afraid his hay is a good deal spoilt. Aren't you glad father's not a farmer, Milly?"
"Why, Aunt Emma," said Milly, "I'm always wishing father was a farmer. I want to be like Becky, and call the cows, and mind the baby all by myself. It must be nice feeding the chickens, and making the hay, and taking the milk around."
"Yes, all that's very nice, but how would you like your hay washed away, and your corn beaten down, and your fruit all spoilt? Those are things that are constantly happening to John Backhouse, I expect, in the rainy country."
"Yes, and it won't always be summer," said Milly, considering. "I don't think I should like to stay in that little weeny house all the winter. Is it very cold here in the winter, Aunt Emma?"
"Not very, generally. But last winter was very cold here, and the snow lay on the ground for weeks and weeks. On Christmas eve, do you know, Milly, I wanted to have a children's party in my kitchen, and what do you think I did? The snow was lying deep on the roads, so I sent out two sledges."
"What are sledges?" asked Olly.
"Carriages with the wheels taken off and two long pieces of wood fastened on instead, so that they slip along smoothly over the snow. And my old coachman drove one and my gardener the other, and they went round all the farmhouses near by, and gathered up the children, little and big, into the sledges, till the coachman had got eight in his sledge, and the gardener had got nine in his, and then they came trotting back with the bells round the horses' necks jingling and clattering, and two such merry loads of rosy-faced children. I wish you had been there; I gave them tea in the kitchen, and afterward we had a Christmas tree in the drawing-room."
"Oh what fun," said Milly. "Why didn't you ask us too, Aunt Emma? We could have come quite well in the train, you know. But how did the children get home?"
"We covered them up warm with rugs and blankets, and sent them back in the sledges. And they looked so happy with their toys and buns cuddled up in their arms, that it did one's heart good to see them."
"Mind you ask us next time, Aunt Emma," said Milly, hanging round her neck coaxingly.
"Mind you get two pairs of wings by that time, then," said Aunt Emma, "for mother's not likely to let you come to my Christmas tree unless you promise to fly there and back. But suppose, instead of your coming to me, I come to you next Christmas?"
"Oh yes! yes!" cried Olly, who had just joined Aunt Emma and Milly, "come to our Christmas tree, Aunt Emma. We'll give you ever such nice things—a ball and a top, and a train—perhaps—and—"
"As if Aunt Emma would care for those kind of things!" said Milly. "No, you shall give her some muffetees, you know, to keep her hands warm, and I'll make her a needlebook. But, Aunt Emma, do listen! What can be the matter?"
They were just climbing the little bit of steep road which led to the farm, and suddenly they heard somebody roaring and screaming, and then an angry voice scolding, and then a great clatter, and then louder roaring than ever.
"What is the matter?" cried Milly, running on to the farm door, which was open. But just as she got there, out rushed a tattered little figure with a tear-stained face, and hair flying behind.
"Tiza!" cried Milly, trying to stop her. But Tiza ran past her as quick as lightning down the garden path towards the cherry tree, and in another minute, in spite of the shower of wet she shook down on herself as she climbed up, she was sitting high and safe among the branches, where there was no catching her nor even seeing her.
"Ay, that's the best place for ye," said Mrs. Backhouse, appearing at the door with an angry face, "you'll not get into so much mischief there perhaps as you will indoors. Oh, is that you, Miss Elliot (that was Aunt Emma's surname)? Walk in please, ma'am, though you'll find me sadly untidy this afternoon. Tiza's been at her tricks again; she keeps me sweeping up after her all day. Just look here, if you please, ma'am."
Aunt Emma went in, and the children pressed in after her, full of curiosity to see what crime Tiza had been committing. Poor Mrs. Backhouse! all over her clean kitchen floor there were streams of water running about, with little pieces of cabbage and carrot sticking up in them here and there, while on the kitchen table lay a heap of meat and vegetables, which Mrs. Backhouse had evidently just picked up out of the grate before Aunt Emma and the children arrived.
"Yes," said Mrs. Backhouse, pointing to the floor, "there's the supper just spoilt. Tiza's never easy but when she's in mischief. I'm sure these wet days I have'nt known what to do with her indoors all day. And what must she do this afternoon but tie her tin mug to the cat's tail, till the poor creature was nearly beside herself with fright, and went rushing about upstairs like a mad thing. And then, just when I happened to be out a minute looking after something, she lets the cat in here, and the poor thing jumps into the saucepan I had just put on with the broth for our supper, and in her fright and all turns it right over. And now look at my grate, and the fender, and the floor, and the meat there all messed! I expect her father'll give Tiza a good beating when he comes in, and I'm sure I shan't stand in the way."
"Oh no, please, Mrs. Backhouse!" said Milly, running up to her with a grave imploring little face. "Don't let Mr. Backhouse beat her; she didn't mean it, she was only in fun, I'm sure."
"Well, missy, it's very troiblesome fun I'm sure," said Mrs. Backhouse, patting Milly kindly on the shoulder, for she was a good-natured woman, and it wasn't her way to be angry long. "I don't know what I'm to give John for his supper, that I don't. I had nothing in the house but just those little odds and ends of meat, that I thought would make a nice bit of broth for supper. And now he'll come in wet and hungry, and there'll be nothing for him. Well, we must do with something else, I suppose, but I expect her father'll beat her."
Milly and Olly looked rather awestruck at the idea of a beating from John Backhouse, that great strong brawny farmer; and Milly, whispering something quickly to Aunt Emma, slipped out into the garden again. By this time father and mother had come up, and Becky appeared from the farmyard, wheeling the baby in a little wooden cart, and radiant with pleasure at the sight of Aunt Emma, whose godchild she was, so that Milly's disappearance was not noticed.
She ran down the garden path to the cherry tree, and as, in the various times they had been together, Becky and Tiza had taught her a good deal of climbing, she too clambered up into the wet branches, and was soon sitting close by Tiza, who had turned her cotton pinafore over her head and wouldn't look at Milly.
"Tiza," said Milly softly, putting her hand on Tiza's lap, "do you feel very bad?"
"We came to take you down to have tea with us," said Milly, "do you think your mother will let you come?"
"Naw," said Tiza shortly, without moving from behind her pinafore.
It certainly wasn't very easy talking to Tiza. Milly thought she'd better try something else.
"Tiza," she began timidly, "do your father and mother tell you stories when it rains?"
"Naw," said Tiza, in a very astonished voice, throwing down her pinafore to stare at Milly.
"Then what do you do, Tiza, when it rains?"
"Nothing," said Tiza. "We has our dinners and tea, and sometimes Becky minds the baby and sometimes I do, and father mostly goes to sleep."
"Tiza," said Milly hurriedly, "did you mean pussy to jump into the saucepan?"
Up went Tiza's pinafore again, and Milly was in dismay because she thought she had made Tiza cry; but to her great surprise Tiza suddenly burst into such fits of laughter, that she nearly tumbled off the cherry tree. "Oh, she did jump so, and the mug made such a rattling! And when she comed out there was just a little bit of carrot sticking to her nose, and her tail was all over cabbage leaf. Oh, she did look funny!"
Milly couldn't help laughing too, till she remembered all that Mrs. Backhouse had been saying.
"Oh, but, Tiza, Mrs. Backhouse says your father won't have anything for his supper. Aren't you sorry you spoilt his supper?"
"Yis," said Tiza, quickly. "I know father'll beat me, he said he would next time I vexed mother."
And this time the pinafore went up in earnest, and Tiza began to cry piteously.
"Don't cry, Tiza," said Milly, her own little cheeks getting wet, too. "I'll beg him not. Can't you make up anyway? Mother says we must always make up if we can when we've done any harm. I wish I had anything to give you to make up."
Tiza suddenly dried her eyes and looked at Milly, with a bright expression which was very puzzling.
"You come with me," she said suddenly, swinging herself down from the tree. "Come here by the hedge, don't let mother see us."
So they ran along the far side of the hedge till they got into the farmyard, and then Tiza led Milly past the hen-house, up to the corner where the hayricks were. In and out of the hayricks they went, till in the very farthest corner of all, where hardly anybody ever came, and which nobody could see into from the yard, Tiza suddenly knelt down and put her hand under the hay at the bottom of the rick.
"You come," she whispered eagerly to Milly, pulling her by the skirt, "you come and look here."
Milly stooped down, and there in a soft little place, just between the hayrick and the ground, what do you think she saw? Three large brownish eggs lying in a sort of rough nest in the hay, and looking so round and fresh and tempting, that Milly gave a little cry of delight.
"Oh, Tiza, how be—utiful! How did they get there?"
"It's old Sally, our white hen you know, laid them. I found them just after dinner. Mother doesn't know nothing about them. I never told Becky, nor nobody. Aren't they beauties?"
And Tiza took one up lovingly in her rough, little brown hands, and laid it against her cheek, to feel how soft and satiny it was.
"Oh, and Tiza, I know," exclaimed Milly eagerly, "you meant these would do for supper. That would be a lovely make up. There's three. One for Mr. Backhouse, one for Mrs. Backhouse, and one for Becky.—There's none for you, Tiza."
"Nor none for Becky neither," answered Tiza shortly. "Father'll want two. Becky and me'll get bread and dripping."
"Well, come along, Tiza, let's take them in."
"No, you take them," said Tiza. "Mother won't want to see me no more, and father'll perhaps be coming in."
"Oh, but, Tiza, you'll come to tea with us?"
"I don't know," said Tiza. "You ask."
And off she ran as quick as lightning, off to her hiding-place in the cherry tree, while Milly was left with the three brown eggs, feeling rather puzzled and anxious. However, she put them gently in the skirt of her frock, and holding it up in both hands she picked her way through the wet yard back to the house.
When she appeared at the kitchen door, Aunt Emma and Mrs. Backhouse were chatting quietly. Mr. and Mrs. Norton, and Olly, had gone on for a little stroll along the Wanwick road, and Becky was sitting on the window-sill with the baby, who seemed very sleepy, but quite determined not to go to sleep in spite of all Becky's rocking and patting.
"Oh, Mrs. Backhouse," began Milly, coming in with a bright flushed face, "just look here, what I've brought. Tiza found them just after dinner to-day. They were under the hayrick right away in the corner, and she wanted to make up, so she showed me where they were, so I brought them in, and there's two for Mr. Backhouse, and one for you, you know. And, please, won't you let Tiza come to tea with us?"
Mrs. Backhouse looked in astonishment at the three eggs lying in Milly's print skirt, and at Milly's pleading little face.
"Ay, that's Sally, I suppose. She's always hiding her eggs is Sally, where I can't find them. So it was Tiza found them, was it, Missy? Well, they will come, in very handy for supper as it happens. Thank you kindly for bringing them in."
And Mrs. Backhouse took the eggs and put them safely away in a pie-dish, while Becky secretly pulled Milly by the sleeve, and smiled up at her as much as to say,
"Thank you for helping Tiza out of her scrape."
"And you'll let Becky and Tiza come to tea?" asked Milly again.
"Well, I'm sure, Miss, I don't know," said Mrs. Backhouse, looking puzzled; "Becky may come and welcome, but perhaps it would do Tiza good to stay at home."
"Don't you think she'd better have a little change?" said Aunt Emma in her kind voice, which made Milly want to hug her. "I daresay staying indoors so long made her restless. If you will let me carry them both off, I daresay between us, Mrs. Backhouse, we can give Tiza a talking to, and perhaps she'll come back in a more sensible mood."
"Well, Miss Elliot, she shall go if you wish it. Come Becky, give me the baby, and go and put your things on." And then going to the door, Mrs. Backhouse shouted "Tiza!" After a second or two a little figure dropped down out of the cherry tree and came slowly up the walk. Tiza had shaken her hair about her face so that it could hardly be seen, and she never looked once at Aunt Emma and Milly as she came up to her mother.
"There, go along, Tiza, and get your things on," said Mrs. Backhouse, taking her by the arm. "I wouldn't have let you go out to tea, you know, if Miss Elliot and Missy hadn't asked particular. Mind you don't get into no more mischief. And very like those eggs'll do for father's supper; so, I daresay, I'll not say anything to him this time—just for once. Now go up."
Tiza didn't want to be told twice, and presently, just as Mr. and Mrs. Norton and Olly were coming back from their walk, they met Aunt Emma coming back from the farm holding Becky's hand, while Milly and Tiza walked in front.
"Well, Tiza," said Mr. Norton, patting her curly head, I declare I think you beat Olly for mischief. Olly never spoilt my dinner yet, that I remember. What should I do to him do you think, if he did?"
"Beat him," said Tiza, looking up at Mr. Norton with her quick birdlike eyes.
"Oh dear, no!" said Mr. Norton, "that wouldn't do my dinner any good. I should eat him up instead."
"I don't believe little boys taste good a bit," said Olly, who always believed firmly in his father's various threats. "If you ettened me, father, you'd be ill."
"Oh no," said Mr. Norton, "not if I eat you with plenty of bread-sauce. That's the best way to cook little boys. Now, Milly, which of you three girls can get to that gate first?"
Off ran the three little girls full tilt down the hill leading to Ravensnest, with Olly puffing and panting after them. Milly led the way at first, for she was light and quick, and a very fair runner for her age; but Tiza soon got up to her and passed her, and it was Tiza's little stout legs that arrived first at Ravensnest gate.
"Oh, Becky!" said Milly, putting her arm round Becky's neck as they went into the house together, "I hope you may stay a good long time. What time do you go to bed?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Becky. "We go when fayther goes."
"When fayther goes!" exclaimed Milly. "Why, we go ever so long before father. Why do you stay up so late?"
"Why, it isn't late," said Becky. "Fayther goes to bed, now it's summertime, about half-past eight; but in winter, of course, he goes earlier. And we all goes together, except baby. Mother puts him out of the way before supper."
"Well, but how funny," said Milly, "I can't think why you should be so different from us."
And Milly went on puzzling over Becky and her going to bed, till nurse drove it all out of her head by fetching them to tea. Such a merry tea they had, and after tea a romp in the big kitchen with father, which delighted the little farm children beyond measure. Some time in the evening, I believe, Aunt Emma managed to give Tiza a little talking to, but none of the other children knew anything about it, except perhaps Becky, who generally knew what was happening to Tiza.
Now we have come to a chapter which is going to be half merry and half sad. I have not told you any sad things about Milly and Olly up till now, I think. They were such happy little people, that there was nothing sad to tell you. They cried sometimes, of course—you remember Milly cried when Olly stickied her doll—but generally, by the time they had dried up their tears they had quite forgotten what they were crying about; and as for any real trouble, why they didn't know what it could possibly be like. But now, just as they were going away from Ravensnest, came a real sad thing, and you'll hear very soon how it happened.
After those three wet days it was sometimes fine and sometimes rainy at Ravensnest, but never so rainy as to keep the Nortons in all day. And every now and then there were splendid days, when the children and their father and mother were out all day long, wandering over the mountains, or walking over to Aunt Emma's or tramping along the well-known roads to Wanwick on one side, and the little village of Rydal and Rydal Lake on the other. They had another row on Windermere; and one fine evening Mr. Norton borrowed a friend's boat, and they went out fishing for perch on Rydal Lake, the loveliest little lake in the world, lying softly in a green mountain cup, and dotted with islands, which seemed to the children when they landed on them like little bits of fairyland dropped into the blue water.
And then! crown of delights! came the haymaking. There were long fine days, when the six small creatures—Milly, Olly, Becky, Tiza, Bessie, and Charlie—followed John Backhouse and his men about in the hayfields from early morning till evening, helping to make the hay, or simply rolling about like a parcel of kittens in the flowery fragrant heaps.
Aunt Emma was often at Ravensnest, and the children learned to love her better and better, so that even wild little Olly would remember to bring her stool, and carry her shawl, and change her plate at dinner; and Milly, who was always clinging to somebody, was constantly puzzled to know whose pocket to sit in, mother's or Aunt Emma's.
Then there was the farmyard, the cows, and the milking, and the chickens. Everything about them seemed delightful to Milly and Olly, and the top of everything was reached when one evening John Backhouse mounted both the children on his big carthorse Dobbin, and they and Dobbin together dragged the hay home in triumph.
And now they had only one week more to stay at Ravensnest. But that week was a most important week, for it was to contain no less a day than Milly's birthday. Milly would be seven years old on the 15th of July, and for about a week before the 15th, Milly's little head could think of nothing else. Olly too was very much excited about it, for though Milly of course was the queen of the day, and all the presents were for her, not for him, still it was good times for everybody on Milly's birthday; besides which, he had his own little secret with mother about his present to Milly, a secret which made him very happy, but which he was on the point of telling at least a hundred times a day.
"Father," said Milly, about four days before the birthday, when they were all wandering about after tea one evening in the high garden which was now a paradise of ripe red strawberries and fruit of every kind, "does everybody have birthdays? Do policemen have birthdays?"
"I expect so, Milly," said Mr. Norton, laughing, "but they haven't any time to remember them."
"But, father, what's the good of having birthdays if you don't keep them, and have presents and all that? And do cats and dogs have birthdays? I should like to find out Spot's birthday. We'd give her cream instead of milk, you know, and I'd tie a blue ribbon round her neck, and one round her tail like the queen's sheep in mother's story."
"I don't suppose Spot would thank you at all," said Mr. Norton. "The cream would make her ill, and the ribbon would fidget her dreadfully till she pulled it off."
"Oh dear!" sighed Milly. "Well, I suppose Spot had better not have any birthday then. But, father, what do you think? Becky and Tiza don't care about their birthdays a bit. Becky could hardly remember when hers was, and they never have any presents unless Aunt Emma gives them one, or people to tea, or anything.'
"Well, you see, Milly, when people have only just pennies and shillings enough to buy bread and meat to eat, and clothes to put on, they can't go spending money on presents; and when they're very anxious and busy all the year round they can't be remembering birthdays and taking pains about them like richer people can, who have less to trouble them, and whose work does not take up quite so much time."
"Well, but why don't the rich people remember the poor people's birthdays for them, father? Then they could give them presents, and ask them to tea and all, you know."
"Yes, that would be a very good arrangement," said Mr. Norton, smiling at her eager little face. "Only, somehow, Milly, things don't come right like that in this world."
"Well, I'm going to try and remember Becky's and Tiza's birthdays," said Milly. "I'll tell mother to put them down in her pocket-book—won't you, mother? Oh, what fun! I'll send them birthday cards, and they'll be so surprised, and wonder why; and then they'll say, 'Oh, why, of course it's our birthday!'—No, not our birthday—but you know what I mean, father."
"Well, but, Milly," asked Mrs. Norton, "have you made up your mind what you want to do this birthday?"
Milly stopped suddenly, with her hands behind her, opposite her mother, with her lips tightly pressed together, her eyes smiling, as if there was a tremendous secret hidden somewhere.
"Well, monkey, out with it. What have you got hidden away in your little head?"
"Well, mother," said Milly, slowly, "I don't want to have anybody to tea. I want to go out to tea with somebody. Now can you guess?"
"With Aunt Emma?"
"Oh no, Aunt Emma's coming over here all day. She promised she would."
"With Becky and Tiza?"
Milly nodded, and screwed up her little lips tighter than ever.
"But I don't expect Mrs. Backhouse will want the trouble of having you two to tea.
"Oh mother, she won't mind a bit. I know she won't; because Becky told me one day her mother would like us very much to come some time if you'd let us. And Nana could come and help Mrs. Backhouse, and we could all wash up the tea-things afterwards, like we did at the picnic."
"Then Tiza mustn't sit next me," said Olly, who had been listening in silence to all the arrangements. "She takes away my bread and butter when I'm not looking, and I don't like it, not a bit."
"No, Olly dear, she shan't," said Milly, taking his hand and fondling it, as if she were at least twenty years older. "I'll sit on one side of you and Becky on the other," a prospect with which Olly was apparently satisfied, for he made no more objections.
"Well, you must ask Mrs. Backhouse yourselves," said Mrs. Norton. "And if it is her washing-day, or inconvenient to her at all, you mustn't think of going, you know."
So early next morning, Milly and Nana and Olly went up to the farm, and came back with the answer that Mrs. Backhouse would be very pleased to see them at tea on Thursday, the 15th, and that John Backhouse would have cut the hay-field by the river by then, and they could have a romp in the hay afterwards.
Wednesday was a deeply interesting day to Olly. He and his mother went over by themselves to Wanwick, and they bought something which the shopwoman at the toy-shop wrapped up in a neat little parcel, and which Olly carried home, looking as important as a little king.
"Milly," he began at dinner, "wouldn't you like to know about your presents? But of course I shan't tell you about mine. Perhaps I'm not going to give you one at all. Oh, mother," in a loud whisper to Mrs. Norton, "did you put it away safe where she can't see?"
"Oh, you silly boy," said Milly, "you'll tell me if you don't take care."
"No, I shan't. I wouldn't tell you if you were to go on asking me all day. It isn't very big, you know, Milly, and—and—it isn't pretty outside—only—"
"Be quiet, chatterbox," said Mr. Norton putting his hand over Olly's mouth, "you'll tell in another minute, and then there'll be no fun to-morrow."
So Olly with great difficulty kept quiet, and began eating up his pudding very fast, as if that was the only way of keeping his little tongue out of mischief.
"Father," he said after dinner, "do take Milly out for a walk, and mother shall take me. Then I can't tell, you know."
So the two went out different ways, and Olly kept away from Milly all day, in great fear lest somehow or other his secret should fly out of him in spite of all his efforts to keep it in. At night the children made nurse hurry them to bed, so that when mother came to tuck them up, as she generally did, she found the pair fast asleep, and nothing left to kiss but two curly heads buried in the pillows.
"Bless their hearts," said nurse to Mrs. Norton, "they can think of nothing but to-morrow. They'll be sadly disappointed if it rains."
But the stars came out, and the new moon shone softly all night on the great fir trees and the rosebuds and the little dancing beck in the Ravensnest garden; and when Milly awoke next morning the sun was shining, and Brownholme was towering up clear and high into the breezy blue sky, and the trees were throwing cool shadows on the dewy lawn around the house.
"Oh dear!" said Milly, jumping up, her face flushing with joy "it's my birthday, and it's fine. Nana, bring me my things, please.—But where's Olly?"
Where indeed was Olly? There was his little bed, but there was a nightdress rolled up in it, and not a wisp of his brown curls was to be seen anywhere.
"Why, Miss Milly, are you woke up at last? I hardly thought you'd have slept so late this morning. Many happy returns of the day to you," said nurse, giving her a hearty hug.
"Thank you, dear nurse. Oh, it is so nice having birthdays. But where can Olly be?"
"Don't you trouble your head about him," said nurse mysteriously, and not another word could Milly get out of her. She had just slipped on her white cotton frock when mother opened the door.
"Well, birthday-girl! The top of the morning to you, and many, many happy returns of the day."
Whereupon Milly and mother went through a great deal of kissing which need not be described, and then mother helped her brush her hair, and put on her ribbon and tie her sash, so that in another minute or two she was quite ready to go down.
"Now, Milly, wait one minute till you hear the bell ring, and then you may come down as fast as you like."
So Milly waited, her little feet dancing with impatience, till the bell began to ring as if it had gone quite mad.
"Oh, that's Olly ringing," cried Milly, rushing off. And sure enough when she got to the hall there was Olly ringing as if he meant to bring the house down. He dropped the bell when he saw Milly, and dragged her breathlessly into the dining-room.
And what did Milly see there I wonder? Why, a heap of red and white roses lying on the breakfast table, a big heap, with odd corners and points sticking up all over it, and under the roses a white napkin, and under the napkin treasures of all sorts—a book from father, a little work-box from mother, with a picture of Windermere on the outside, and inside the most delightful cottons and needles and bits of bright-coloured stuffs; a china doll's dinner-service from Aunt Emma, a mug from nurse, a little dish full of big red strawberries from gardener, and last, but not least, Olly's present—a black paint-box, with colours and brushes and all complete, and tied up with a little drawing-book which mother had added to make it really useful. At the top of the heap, too, lay two letters addressed in very big round hand to "Miss Milly Norton," and one was signed Jacky and the other signed Francis. Each of these presents had neat little labels fastened on to them, and they were smothered in roses—deep red and pale pink roses, with the morning dew sprinkled over them.
"We got all those roses, mother and me, this morning, when you was fast asleep, Milly," shouted Olly, who was capering about like a mad creature. "Mother pulled me out of bed ever so early, and I putted on my goloshes, and didn't we get wet just! Milly, isn't my paint-box a beauty?"
But it's no good trying to describe what Milly felt. She felt as every happy little girl feels on a happy birthday, just a little bit bewitched, as if she had got into another kind of world altogether.
"Now," said father, after breakfast, "I'm yours, Milly, for all this morning. What are you going to do with me?"
"Make you into a tiger, father, and shoot you," said Olly, who would have liked to play at hunting and shooting games all day long.
"I didn't ask you, sir," said Mr. Norton, "I'm not yours, I'm Milly's. Now, Milly, what shall we do?"
"Will you take us right to the top of Brownholme, father? You know we haven't been to the very top yet."
"Very well, we'll go if your legs will carry you. But you must ask them very particularly first how they feel, for it'll be stiff work for them."
Not very long after breakfast, and before they started for their walk, Aunt Emma's pony carriage came rattling up the drive, and she, too, brought flowers for Milly, above all a bunch of water-lilies all wet from the lake; and then she and mother settled under the trees with their books and work while the children started on their walk.
But first Milly had drawn mother into a corner where no one could see, and there, with a couple of tears in her two blue eyes, she had whispered in a great hurry, so that Mrs. Norton could scarcely hear, "I don't want to have everything just as I like, to-day, mother. Can't I do what somebody else likes? I'd rather."
Which means that Milly was a good deal excited, and her heart very full, and that she was thinking of how, a year before, her birthday had been rather spoilt toward the end of it by a little bit of crossness and self-will, that she remembered afterward with a pang for many a long day. Since then, Milly had learnt a good deal more of that long, long lesson, which we go on learning, big people and little people, all our lives—the lesson of self-forgetting—of how love brings joy, and to be selfish is to be sad; and her birthday seemed to bring back to her all that she had been learning.
"Dear little woman," said Mrs. Norton, putting back her tangled hair from her anxious little face, "go and be happy. That's what we all like to-day. Besides, you'll find plenty of ways of doing what other people like before the end of the day without my inventing any. Run along now, and climb away. Mind you don't let Olly tumble into bogs, and mind you bring me a bunch of ferns for the dinner-table—and there'll be two things done at any rate."
So away ran Milly; and all the morning she and Olly and father scrambled and climbed, and raced and chatted, on the green back of old Brownholme. They went to say good-morning to John Backhouse's cows in the "intake," as he called his top field, and they just peeped over the wall at the fierce young bull he had bought at Penrith fair a few days before, and which looked as if, birthdays or no birthdays, he could have eaten Milly at two mouthfuls, and swallowed Olly down afterwards without knowing it.
Then they climbed and climbed after father, till, just as Olly was beginning to feel his legs to make sure they weren't falling off, they were so tired and shaky—there they were standing on the great pile of stones which marks the top of the mountain—the very tip-top of all its green points and rocks and grassy stretches. By this time the children knew the names of most of the mountains around, and of all the lakes. They went through them now like a lesson with their father; and even Olly remembered a great many, and could chatter about Helvellyn, and Fairfield, and Langdale Pikes, as if he had trudged to the top of them all himself.
Then came the getting down again. Father and Milly and Olly hand-in-hand, racing over the short fine grass, startling the little black-faced sheep, and racing down the steep bits, where Milly and Olly generally tumbled over in some sort of a heap at the bottom. As for the flowers they gathered, there were so many I have no time to tell you about them—wood-flowers and bog-flowers and grass-flowers, and ferns of all sizes to mix with them, from the great Osmunda, which grew along the Ravensnest Beck, down to the tiny little parsley fern. It was all delightful—the sights and the sounds, and the fresh mountain wind that blew them about on the top so that long afterward Milly used to look back to that walk on Brownholme when she was seven years old as one of the merriest times she ever spent.
Dinner was very welcome after all this scrambling; and after dinner came a quiet time in the garden, when father read aloud to mother and Aunt Emma, and the children kept still and listened to as much as they could understand, at least until they went to sleep, which they both did lying on a rug at Aunt Emma's feet. Milly couldn't understand how this had happened at all, when she found herself waking up and rubbing her eyes, but I think it was natural enough after their long walk in the sun and wind.
At four o'clock nurse came for them, and when they had been put into clean frocks and pinafores, she took them up to the farm. Milly and Olly felt that this was a very solemn occasion, and they walked up to the farmhouse door hand-in-hand, feeling as shy as if they had never been there before. But at the door were Becky and Tiza waiting for them, as smart as new pins, with shining hair, and red ribbons under their little white collars; and the children no sooner caught sight of one another than all their shyness flew away, and they began to chatter as usual.
In the farmhouse kitchen were Bessie and Charlie, and such a comfortable tea spread out on a long table, covered with a red and black woollen table-cloth instead of a white one. Becky and Tiza had filled two tumblers with meadow-sweet and blue campanula, which stood up grandly in the middle, and there were two home-made cakes at each end, and some of Sally's brown eggs, and piles of tempting bread and butter.
Each of the children had their gift for Milly too: Becky had plaited her a basket of rushes, a thing she had often tried to teach Milly how to make for herself, and Tiza pushed a bunch of wild raspberries into her hand, and ran away before Milly could say thank you; Bessie shyly produced a Christmas card that somebody had once sent to her; and even Charlie had managed to provide himself with a bunch of the wild yellow poppies which grew on the wall of the Ravensnest garden, and were a joy to all beholders.
Then Mrs. Backhouse put Milly at one end of the table, while she began to pour out tea at the other, and the feast began. Certainly, Milly thought, it was much more exciting going out to tea at a farmhouse than having children to tea with you at home, just as you might anywhere, on any day in the year. There were the big hens coming up to the door and poking in their long necks to take a look at them; there were the pigeons circling round and round in the yard; there was the sound of milking going on in the shed close by, and many other sights and sounds which were new and strange and delightful.
As for Olly, he was very much taken up for a time with the red and black table-cloth, and could not be kept from peering underneath it from time to time, as if he suspected that the white table-cloth he was generally accustomed to had been hidden away underneath for a joke. But when the time for cake came, Olly forgot the table-cloth altogether. He had never seen a cake quite like the bun-loaf, which kind Mrs. Backhouse had made herself for the occasion, and of which she had given him a hunch, so in his usual inquisitive way he began to turn it over and over, as if by looking at it long enough he could find out how it was made and all about it. Presently, when the others were all quietly enjoying their bun-loaf, Olly's shrill little voice was heard saying—while he put two separate fingers on two out of the few currants in his piece:
"This currant says to that currant, 'I'm here, where are you? You're so far off I can't see you nowhere.'"
"Olly, be quiet," said Milly.
"Well, but, Milly, I can't help it; it's so funny. There's only three currants in my bit, and cookie puts such a lot in at home. I'm pretending they're little children wanting to play, only they can't, they're so far off. There, I've etten one up. Now there's only two. That's you and me, Milly. I'll eat you up first—krick!"
"Never mind about the currants, little master," said Mrs. Backhouse, laughing at him. "It's nice and sweet any way, and you can eat as much of it as you like, which is more than you can of rich cakes."
Olly thought there was something in this, and by the time he had got through his second bit of bun-loaf he had quite made up his mind that he would get Susan to make bun-loaves at home too.
They were just finishing tea when there was a great clatter outside, and by came the hay-cart with John Backhouse leading the horse, and two men walking beside it.
"We're going to carry all the hay in yon lower field presently," he shouted to his wife as he passed. "Send the young 'uns down to see."
Up they all started, and presently the whole party were racing down the hill to the riverfield, with Mrs. Backhouse and her baby walking soberly with nurse behind them. Yes, there lay the hay piled up in large cocks on the fresh clean-swept carpet of bright green grass, and in the middle of the field stood the hay-cart with two horses harnessed, one man standing in it to press down and settle the hay as John Backhouse and two other men handed it up to him on pitchforks. Olly went head over heels into the middle of one of the cocks, followed by Charlie, and would have liked to go head over heels into all the rest, but Mr. Norton, who had come into the field with mother and Aunt Emma, told him he must be content to play with two cocks in one of the far corners of the field without disturbing the others, which were all ready for carrying, and that if he and Charlie strewed the hay about they must tidy it up before John Backhouse wanted to put it on the cart. So Olly and Charlie went off to their corner, and for a little while all the other children played there too. Milly had invented a game called the "Babes in the Wood," in which two children were the babes and pretended to die on the grass, and all the rest were the robins, and covered them up with hay instead of leaves. She and Tiza made beautiful babes: they put their handkerchiefs over their faces and lay as still as mice, till Olly had piled so much hay on the top of them that there was not a bit of them to be seen anywhere, while Bessie began to cry out as if she was suffocated before they had put two good armfuls over her.
Presently, however, Milly got tired; and she and Tiza walked off by themselves and sat down by the river to get cool. The water in the river was quite low again now, and the children could watch the tiny minnows darting and flashing about by the bank, and even amuse themselves by fancying every now and then that they saw a trout shooting across the clear brown water. Tiza had quite left off being shy now with Milly, and the two chattered away, Milly telling Tiza all about her school, and Jacky and Francis, and Spot and the garden at home; and Tiza telling Milly about her father's new bull, how frightened she and Becky were of him, and how father meant to make the fence stronger for fear he should get out and toss people.
"What a happy little party," said Aunt Emma to mother looking round the field; "there's nothing like hay for children."
By this time the hay-cart was quite full, and crack went John Backhouse's whip, as he took hold of the first horse's head and gave him a pull forward to start the cart on its way to the farm.
"Gee-up," shouted John in his loud cheery voice, and the horse made a step forward, while the children round cried "Hurrah!" and waved their hands. But suddenly there was a loud piteous cry which made John give the horse a sudden push back and drop his whip, and then, from where they sat, Milly and Tiza heard a sound of crying and screaming, while everybody in the field ran toward the hay-cart. They ran too; what could have happened?
Just as they came up to the crowd of people round the cart, Milly saw her father with something in his arms. And this something was Becky—poor little Becky, with a great mark on her temple, and her eyes quite shut, and such a white face!
"Oh, mother! mother!" cried Milly, rushing up to her, "tell me, mother, what is the matter with Becky?"
But Mrs. Norton had no time to attend to her. She was running to meet Mrs. Backhouse, who had come hurrying up from another part of the field with the baby in her arms.
"She was under the cart when it moved on," said Mrs. Norton, taking the baby from her. "We none of us know how it happened. She must have been trying to hand up some hay at the last moment and tumbled under. I don't think her head is much hurt."
On ran Mrs. Backhouse, and Milly and her mother followed.
"Better let me carry her up now without moving her," said Mr. Norton, as Mrs. Backhouse tried to take the little bundle from him. "She has fainted, I think. We must get some water at the stream." So on he went, with the pale frightened mother, while the others followed. Aunt Emma had got Tiza and Milly by the hand, and was trying to comfort them.
"We hope she is not much hurt, darlings; the wheel did not go over her, thank God. It was just upon her when her father backed the horse. But it must have crushed her I'm afraid, and there was something hanging under the cart which gave her that knock on the temple. Look, there is one of the men starting off for the doctor."
Whereupon Tiza, who had kept quiet till then, burst into a loud fit of crying, and threw herself down on the grass.
"Nurse," called Aunt Emma, "stay here with these two poor little ones while I go and see if I can be of any use."
So nurse came and sat beside them, and Milly crept up to her for comfort. But poor little Tiza lay with her face buried in the grass and nothing they could say to her seemed to reach her little deaf ears.
Meanwhile, Aunt Emma hurried after the others, and presently caught them up at a stream where Mr. Norton had stopped to bathe Becky's head and face. The cold water had just revived her when Aunt Emma came up, and for one moment she opened her heavy blue eyes and looked at her mother, who was bending over her, and then they shut again. But her little hand went feebly searching for her mother, who caught it up and kissed it.
"Oh, Miss Emma, Miss Emma," she said, pointing to the child, "I'm afeard but she's badly hurt."
"I hope not, with all my heart," said Aunt Emma, gently taking her arm. "But the doctor will soon be here; we must get her home before he comes."
So on they went again, Mr. Norton still carrying Becky, and Mr. Backhouse helping his wife along. Mrs. Norton had got the baby safe in her motherly arms, and so they all toiled up the hill to the farmhouse. What a difference from the merry party that ran down the hill only an hour before!
They laid Becky down on her mother's bed, and then Aunt Emma, finding that Mrs. Norton wished to stay till the doctor came, went back to the children. She found a sad little group sitting in the hay-field; Milly in nurse's lap crying quietly every now and then; Tiza still sobbing on the grass, and Olly who had just crept down from the farmhouse, where he and Charlie had seen Becky carried in, talking to nurse in eager whispers, as if he daren't talk out loud.
"Oh, Aunt Emma," cried Milly, when she opened the gate, "is she better?"
"A little, I think, Milly, but the doctor will soon be here, and then we shall know all about it. Tiza, you poor little woman, Mrs. Wheeler says you must sleep with them to-night. Your mother will want the house very quiet, and to-morrow, you know, you can go and see Becky if the doctor says you may."
At this Tiza began to cry again more piteously than ever. It seemed so dreary and terrible to her to be shut out from home without Becky. But Aunt Emma sat down on the grass beside her, and lifted her up and talked to her; with anybody else Tiza would have kicked and struggled, for she was a curious, passionate child, and her grief was always wild and angry, but nobody could struggle with Aunt Emma, and at last she let herself be comforted a little by the tender voice and soft caressing hand. She stopped crying, and then they all took her up to the Wheelers's cottage, where Mrs. Wheeler, a kind motherly body, took her in, and promised that she should know everything there was to be known about Becky.
"Aunt Emma," said Milly, presently, when they were all sitting in the conservatory which ran round the house, waiting for Mr. Norton to bring them news from the farm, "how did Becky tumble under the cart?"
"She was lifting up some hay, I think, which had fallen off, and one of the men was stooping down to take it on his fork, and then she must have slipped and fallen right under the cart, just as John Backhouse told the horse to go on."
"Oh, if the wheel had gone over!" said Milly, shuddering. "Isn't it a sad birthday, Aunt Emma, and we were so happy a little while ago? And then I can't understand. I don't know why it happens like this."
"Like what, Milly?"
"Why, Aunt Emma, always in stories, you know, it's the bad people get hurt and die. And now it's poor little Becky that's hurt. And she's such a dear little girl, and helps her mother so. I don't think she ought to have been hurt."
"We don't know anything about 'oughts,' Milly, darling, you and I. God knows, we trust, and that helps many people who love God to be patient when they are in trouble or pain. But think if it had been poor mischievous little Tiza who had been hurt, how she would have fretted. And now very likely Becky will bear it beautifully, and so, without knowing it, she will be teaching Tiza to be patient, and it will do Tiza good to have to help Becky and take care of her for a bit, instead of letting Becky always look after her and get her out of scrapes."
"Oh, and Aunt Emma, can't we all take care of Becky? What can Olly and I do?" said Milly, imploringly.
"I can go and sing all my songs to Becky," said Olly, looking up brightly.
"By-and-by, perhaps," said Aunt Emma, smiling and patting his head. "But hark! isn't that father's step?"
It had grown so dark that they could hardly see who it was opening the gate.
"Oh yes, it is," cried Milly. "It's father and mother." Away they ran to meet them, and Mrs. Norton took Milly's little pale face in both her hands and kissed it.
"She's not very badly hurt, darling. The doctor says she must lie quite quiet for two or three weeks, and then he hopes she'll be all right. The wheel gave her a squeeze, which jarred her poor little back and head very much, but it didn't break anything, and if she lies very quite the doctor thinks she'll get quite well again." "Oh mother! and does Tiza know?"
"Yes, we have just been to tell her. Mrs. Wheeler had put her to bed, but she went up to give her our message, and she said poor little Tiza began to cry again, and wanted us to tell her mother she would be so quiet if only they would let her come back to Becky."
"Will they, mother?"
"In a few days, perhaps. But she is not to see anybody but Mrs. Backhouse for a little while."
"Oh dear!" sighed Milly, while the tears came into her eyes again. "We shall be going away so soon, and we can't say good-bye. Isn't it sad, mother, just happening last thing? and we've been so happy all the time."
"Yes, Milly," said Mr. Norton, lifting her on to his knee. "This is the first really sad thing that ever happened to you in your little life I think. Mother, and I, and Aunt Emma, tell you stories about sad things, but that's very different, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Milly, thinking. "Father, are there as many sad things really as there are in stories?—you know what I mean."
"There are a great many sad things and sad people in the world, Milly. We don't have monsters plaguing us like King Hrothgar, but every day there is trouble and grief going on somewhere, and we happy and strong people must care for the sad ones if we want to do our duty and help to straighten the world a little."
"Father," whispered Milly, softly, "will you tell us how—Olly and me? We would if we knew how."
"Well, Milly, suppose you begin with Becky, and poor Tiza too, indeed. I wonder whether a pair of little people could make a scrap-book for Becky to look at when she is getting better?"
"Oh yes, yes!" said Milly, joyfully, "I've got ever so many pictures in mother's writing-book, she let me cut out of her 'Graphics,' and Olly can help paste; can't you, Olly?"
"Olly generally pastes his face more than anything else," said Mr. Norton, giving a sly pull at his brown curls. "If I'm not very much mistaken, there is a little fairy pasting up your eyes, old man."
"I'm not sleepy, not a bit," said Olly, sitting bolt upright and blinking very fast.
"I think you're not sleepy, but just asleep," said Mr. Norton, catching him up in his arms, and carrying him to his mother to say good-night.
Milly went very soberly and quietly up to bed, and for some little time she lay awake, her little heart feeling very sore and heavy about the "sad things" in the world. Then with her thoughts full of Becky she fell asleep.
So ended Milly's birthday, a happy day and a sorrowful day, all in one. When Milly grew older there was no birthday just before or after it she remembered half so clearly as that on which she was seven years old.
LAST DAYS AT RAVENSNEST
On Friday morning the children and their father trudged up very early to the farm to get news of Becky. She had had a bad night Mr. Backhouse said, but she had taken some milk and beef-tea; she knew her father and mother quite well, and she had asked twice for Tiza. The doctor said they must just be patient. Quiet and rest would make her well again, and nothing else, and Tiza was not to go home for a day or two.
As for poor Tiza, a long sleep had cheered her up greatly, and when Milly and Olly went to take her out with them after breakfast, they found her almost as merry and chatty as usual. But she didn't like being kept at the Wheelers's, though they were very kind to her; and it was all Mrs. Wheeler could do to prevent her from slipping up to the farm unknown to anybody.
"They don't have porridge for breakfast," said Tiza, tossing her head, when she and Milly were out together. "Mother always gives us porridge. And I won't sit next Charlie. He's always dirtying hisself. He stickied hisself just all over this morning with treacle. Mother would have given him a clout."
However, on the whole, she was as good as such a wild creature could be, and the children and she had some capital times together. Wheeler the gardener let them gather strawberries and currants for making jam, a delightful piece of work, which helped to keep Tiza out of mischief and make her contented with staying away from home more than anything else. At last, after three days, the doctor said she might come home if she would promise to be quiet in the house. So one bright evening Tiza slipped into the farmhouse and squeezed in after her mother to the little room where Becky was lying, a white-faced feverish little creature, low down among the pillows.
"Becky," said Tiza, sitting down beside her sister, as if nothing had happened, "here's some strawberries. Wheeler gave me some. You can have some if you want."
"Just one," said Becky, in her weak shaky voice, smiling at her; and Tiza knelt on the bed and stuffed one softly into her mouth.
"You'll have to nurse baby now, Tiza," said Becky presently; "he's been under mother's feet terrible. Mind you don't let him eat nasty things. He'll get at the coals if you don't mind him."
"I'll not let him," said Tiza shortly, setting to work on her own strawberries.
All this didn't sound very affectionate; but I think all the same Tiza did love Becky, and I believe she tried to do her best in her own funny way while Becky was ill. Baby screamed a good deal certainly when she nursed him, and it was quite impossible of course for Tiza to keep out of mischief altogether for two or three weeks. Still, on the whole, she was a help to her mother; while as for Becky she was never quite happy when Tiza was out of the house. Becky, like Milly, had a way of loving everybody about her, and next to her mother she loved Tiza best of anybody.
After all, the children were able to say good-bye to Becky. Just the day before they were to go away Mr. Backhouse came down to say that Becky would like to see them very much if they could come, and the doctor said they might.
So up they went; Milly a good deal excited, and Olly very curious to see what Becky would look like. Mr. Backhouse took them in, and they found Becky lying comfortably on a little bed, with a patchwork counterpane, and her shoulders and arms covered up in a red flannel dressing-gown that Aunt Emma had sent her.
Milly kissed her, and Olly shook her hand, and they didn't all quite know what to say.
"Is your back better?" said Milly at last. "I'm so glad the doctor let us come."
"Haven't you got a bump?" asked Olly, looking at her with all his eyes. "We thought you'd have a great black bump on your fore-head, you know—ever so big."
"No, it's a cut," said Becky; "there now, you can see how it's plastered up."
"Did it hurt?" said Olly, "did you kick? I should have kicked. And does the doctor give you nasty medicine?"
"No," said Becky, "I don't have any now. And it wasn't nasty at all what I had first. And now I may have strawberries and raspberries, and Mr. Wheeler sends mother a plate everyday."
"I don't think it's fair that little boys shouldn't never be ill," said Olly, with his eyes fastened on Becky's plate of strawberries, which was on the chest of drawers.
"Oh, you funny boy," said Milly, "why, mother gives you some every day though you aren't ill; and I'm sure you wouldn't like staying in bed."
"Yes, I should," said Olly, just for the sake of contradicting. "Do you know, Becky, we've got a secret, and we're not to tell it you, only Milly and I are going to—"
"Don't!" said Milly, putting her hand over, his mouth. "You'll tell in a minute. You're always telling secrets."
"Well, just half, Milly, I won't tell it all you know. It's just like something burning inside my mouth. We're going to make you something, Becky, when we get home. Something be—ootiful, you know. And you can look at it in bed, and we won't make it big, so you can turn over the pages, and—"
"Be quiet, Olly," said Milly, "I should think Becky'll guess now. It'll come by post, Becky. Mother's going to help us make it. You'll like it I know."
"It's—it's—a picture-book!" said Olly, in a loud whisper, putting his head down to Becky. "You won't tell, will you?"
"Oh, you unkind boy," said Milly, pouting. "I'll never have a secret with you again."
But Becky looked very pleased, and said she would like a picture-book she thought very much, for it was dull sometimes when mother was busy and Tiza was nursing baby. So perhaps, after all, it didn't matter having told her.
"I'm going to write to you, Becky," said Milly, when the time came to go away, "and at Christmas I'll send you a Christmas card, and perhaps some day we'll come here again you know."
"And then we'll milk the cows," said Olly, "won't we, Becky? And I'll ride on your big horse. Mr. Backhouse says I may ride all alone some day when I'm big; when I'm sixty—no, when I'm ninety-five you know."
And then Milly and Olly kissed Becky's pale little face and went away, while poor little Becky looked after them as if she was very sorry to see the last of them; and outside there were Tiza and baby and Mrs. Backhouse and even John Backhouse himself, waiting to say good-bye to them. It made Milly cry a little bit, and she ran away fast down the hill, while Tiza and Olly were still trying which could squeeze hands hardest.
"Oh, you dear mountains," said Milly, as she and nurse walked along together. "Look Nana, aren't they lovely?"
They did look beautiful this last evening. The sun was shining on them so brightly that everything on them, up to the very top, was clear and plain, and high up, ever so far away, were little white dots moving, which Milly knew were cows feeding.
"Good-bye river, good-bye stepping-stones, good-bye doves, good-bye fly-catchers! Mind you don't any of you go away till we come back again."
But I should find it very hard to tell you all the good-byes that Milly and Olly said to the places and people at Ravensnest, to the woods and the hay-fields, and the beck, to Aunt Emma's parrot, John Backhouse's cows, to Windermere Lake and Rydal Lake, above all to dear Aunt Emma herself.
"Mind you come at Christmas," shouted both the children, as the train moved away from Windermere station and left Aunt Emma standing on the platform; and Aunt Emma nodded and smiled and waved her handkerchief to them till they were quite out of sight.
"Mother," said Milly, when they could not see Aunt Emma any more, and the last bit of Brownholme was slipping away, away, quite out of sight, "I think Ravensnest is the nicest place we ever stopped at. And I don't think the rain matters either. I'm going to tell your old gentleman so. He said it rained in the mountains, and it does, mother—doesn't it? but he said the rain spoilt everything, and it doesn't—not a bit."
"Why, there's that curious old fairy been sprinkling dust in your eyes too, Milly!"
But something or other had been sprinkling tears in mother's. For to the old people there is nothing sweeter than to see the young ones opening their hearts to all that they themselves have loved and rejoiced over. So the chain of life goes on, and joy gives birth to joy and love to love.