"Miserable is no word for what this household has been," said Nurse. "There was Miss Polly—naughty she may have been, dear lamb, but vicious she ain't—there was Miss Polly shut up in her room, and nobody allowed to go near her; and Mrs. Cameron poking her nose into this corner and into that, and ordering me about what I was to do with the babe; and poor Miss Helen following her about, for all the world like a ghost herself, so still and quiet and pitiful looking, but like a dear angel in her efforts to keep the peace; and there was Alice giving warning, and fit to fly out of the house with rage, and Mrs. Power coming back, and lording it over us all, more than is proper for a cook to do. Oh, sir, we has been unhappy! and for the first time we really knew what we had lost in our blessed mistress, and for the first time the children, poor darlings, found out what it was to be really motherless. The meals she'd give 'em, and the way she'd order them—oh, dear! oh, dear! it makes me shiver to think of it!"
"Yes, Nurse," interrupted the Doctor. "It was unfortunate Mrs. Cameron arriving when I was absent. I have come back now, however, and all the troubles you have just mentioned are, of course, at an end. Still you have not explained the extraordinary statement you made to me when I came into the room. Why is it that the children have run away?"
"I'm a-coming to that, sir; that's, so to speak, the crisis—and all brought about by Mrs. Cameron. I said that Miss Polly was kept in her room, and after the first day no one allowed to go near her. Mrs. Cameron herself would take her up her meals, and take the tray away again, and very little the poor dear would eat, for I often saw what come out. It would go to your heart, sir, that it would, for a healthier appetite than Miss Polly's there ain't in the family. Well, sir, Miss Helen had a letter from you this morning, saying as how you'd be back by six o'clock, and after dinner she went up to Miss Polly's door, and I heard her, for I was walking with baby up and down the passage. It was beautiful to hear the loving way Miss Helen spoke, Doctor; she was kneeling down and singing her words through the key-hole. 'Father'll be home to-night, Polly,' she said—'keep up heart, Poll dear—father'll be home to-night, and he'll make everything happy again.' Nothing could have been more tender than Miss Helen's voice, it would have moved anybody. But there was never a sound nor an answer from inside the room, and just then Miss Firefly and Master Bunny came rushing up the stairs as if they were half mad. 'O Nell, come, come quick!' they said, 'there's the step-ladder outside Poll's window, and a bit of rope and two towels fastened together hanging to the sill, and the window is wide open!' Miss Helen ran downstairs with a face like a sheet, and by and by Alice came up and told me the rest. Master Bunny got up on the step-ladder, and by means of the rope and the bedroom towels managed to climb on to the window sill, and then he saw there wasn't ever a Miss Polly at all in the room. Oh, poor dear! he might have broke his own neck searching for her, but—well, there's a Providence over children, and no mistake. Miss Polly had run away, that was plain. When Miss Helen heard it, and knew that it was true, she turned to Alice with her face like a bit of chalk, and tears in her eyes, and, 'Alice,' she said, 'I'm going to look for Polly. You can tell Nurse I'll be back when I have found Polly.' With that she walked down the path as fast as she could, and every one of the others followed her. Alice watched them getting over the little turnstile, and down by the broad meadow, then she came up and let me know. I blamed her for not coming sooner, but—what's the matter, Doctor?"
"I am going to find Polly and the others," said Dr. Maybright. "It's a pity no older person in the house followed them; but so many can scarcely come to harm. It is Polly I am anxious about—they cannot have discovered her, or they would be home before now."
The Doctor left the nursery, ran downstairs, put on his hat, and went out. As he did so, he heard the dubious, questioning kind of cough which Mrs. Cameron was so fond of making—this cough was accompanied by Scorpion's angry snarling little bark. The Doctor prayed inwardly for patience as he hurried down the avenue in search of his family. He was absolutely at a loss where to seek them.
"The broad meadow only leads to the high-road," he said to himself, "and the high-road has many twists and turns. Surely the children cannot have ventured on the moor; surely Polly cannot have been mad enough to try to hide herself there."
It was a starlight night, and the Doctor walked quickly.
"I don't know where they are. I must simply let instinct guide me," he said to himself; and after walking for three quarters of an hour instinct did direct him to where, seated on a little patch of green turf at one side of the king's highway, were three solitary and disreputable-looking little figures.
"Father!" came convulsively from three little parched throats; there was a volume in the cry, a tone of rapture, of longing, of pain, which was almost indescribable. "Father's come back again, it's all right now," sobbed Firefly, and immediately the boys and the little girl had cuddled up to him and were kissing him, each boy taking possession of a hand, and Firefly clasping her arms round his neck.
"I know all about it, children," explained the Doctor. "But tell me quickly, where are the others? where is Polly?"
"Oh, you darling father!" said Firefly, "you darling, you darling! let me kiss you once again. There, now I'm happy!"
"But tell me where the others are, dear child."
"Just a little way off. We did get so tired, and Helen said that Polly must have gone on the moor, and she said she must and would follow her."
"We were so tired," said Bunny.
"And there was a great nail running into my heel," explained Bob.
"So we sat down here, and tried to pretend we were gipsies," continued Firefly. "The moon was shining, and that was a little wee bit of comfort, but we didn't like it much. Father, it isn't much fun being a gipsy, is it?"
"No, dear; but go on. How long is it since you parted from the others?"
"Half an hour; but it's all right. Bunny, you can tell that part."
Bunny puffed himself out, and tried to speak in his most important manner.
"Nell gave me the dog-whistle," he said, "and I was to whistle it if it was real necessary, not by no means else. I didn't fancy that I was a gipsy. I thought perhaps I was the driver of a fly, and that when I blew my whistle Nell would be like another driver coming to me. That's what I thought," concluded Bunny. But as his metaphors were always extremely mixed and confusing, no one listened to him.
"You have a whistle?" said the Doctor. "Give it to me. This is a very dangerous thing that you have done, children. Now, let me see how far I can make the sound go. Oh, that thing! I can make a better whistle than that with my hand."
He did so, making the moor, on the borders of which they stood, resound with a long, shrill, powerful blast. Presently faint sounds came back in answer, and in about a quarter of an hour Helen and her three sisters, very tired and faint, and loitering in their steps, came slowly into view.
Oh, yes; they were all so glad to see father, but they had not seen Polly; no, not a trace nor sound could be discovered to lead to Polly's whereabouts.
"But she must not spend the night alone on the moor," said the Doctor. "No, that cannot be. Children, you must all go home directly. On your way past the lodge, Helen, desire Simpkins and George to come with lanterns to this place. They are to wait for me here, and when they whistle I will answer them. After they have waited here for half an hour, and I do not whistle back, they are to begin to search the moor on their own account. Now go home as fast as you can, my dears. I will return when I have found Polly, not before."
The moon was very brilliant that night, and Helen's wistful face, as she looked full at her father, caused him to bend suddenly and kiss her. "You are my brave child, Nell. Be the bravest of all by taking the others home now. Home, children; and to bed at once, remember. No visiting of the drawing-room for any of you to-night."
The Doctor smiled, and kissed his hand, and a very disconsolate little party turned in the direction of Sleepy Hollow.
THE WIFE OF MICAH JONES.
If ever there was a girl whose mind was in a confused and complex state, that girl was Polly Maybright. Suddenly into her life of sunshine and ease and petting, into her days of love and indulgence, came the cold shadow of would-be justice. Polly had done wrong, and a very stern judge, in the shape of Aunt Maria Cameron, was punishing her.
Polly had often been naughty in her life; she was an independent, quick-tempered child; she had determination, and heaps of courage, but she was always supposed to want ballast. It was the fashion in the house to be a little more lenient to Polly's misdemeanors than to any one else's. When a very little child, Nurse had excused ungovernable fits of rage with the injudicious words, "Poor lamb, she can't help herself!" The sisters, older or younger, yielded to Polly, partly because of a certain fascination which she exercised over them, for she was extremely brilliant and quick of idea, and partly because they did not want her to get into what they called her tantrums. Father, too, made a pet of her, and perhaps slightly spoiled her, but during mother's lifetime all this did not greatly matter, for mother guided the imperious, impetuous, self-willed child, with the exquisite tact of love. During mother's lifetime, when Polly was naughty, she quickly became good again; now matters were very different.
Mrs. Cameron was a woman who, with excellent qualities, and she had many, had not a scrap of the "mother-feel" within her. There are women who never called a child their own who are full of it, but Mrs. Cameron was not one of these. Her rule with regard to the management of young people was simple and severe—she saw no difference between one child and another. "Spare the rod and spoil the child," applied equally in every case, so now, constituting herself Polly's rightful guardian in the absence of her father, she made up her mind on no account to spare the rod. Until Polly humbled herself to the very dust she should go unforgiven. Solitary confinement was a most safe and admirable method of correction. Therefore unrepentant Polly remained in her room.
The effects, as far as the culprit was concerned, were not encouraging. In the first place she would not acknowledge Mrs. Cameron's right to interfere in her life; in the next harshness had a very hardening effect on her.
It was dull in Polly's room. The naughtiest child cannot cry all the time, nor sulk when left quite to herself, and although, whenever Mrs. Cameron appeared on the scene, the sulks and temper both returned in full force, Polly spent many long and miserable hours perfectly distracted with the longing to find something to do. The only books in the room were Helen's little Bible, a copy of "Robinson Crusoe," and the Dictionary. For obvious reasons Polly did not care to read the Bible at present. "Robinson Crusoe" she knew already by heart, but found it slightly amusing trying to make something of the sentences read backwards. The Dictionary was her final resource, and she managed to pass many tedious hours working straight through it page after page. She had got as far as M, and life was becoming insupportable, when about the middle of the day, on Monday, she was startled by a cautious and stealthy noise, and also by a shadow falling directly on her page. She looked up quickly; there was the round and radiant face of Maggie glued to the outside of the window, while her voice came in, cautious but piercing, "Open the window quick, Miss Polly, I'm a-falling down."
Polly flew to the rescue, and in a moment Maggie was standing in the room. In her delight at seeing a more genial face than Aunt Maria's, Polly flung her arms round Maggie and kissed her.
"How good of you to come!" she exclaimed. "And you must not go away again. Where will you hide when Aunt Maria comes to visit me? Under the bed, or in this cupboard?"
"Not in neither place," responded Maggie, who was still gasping and breathless, and whose brown winsey frock showed a disastrous tear from hem to waist.
"Not in neither place," she proceeded, "for I couldn't a-bear it any longer, and you ain't going to stay in this room no longer, Miss Polly; I nearly brained myself a-clinging on to the honeysuckle, and the ivy-roots, but here I be, and now we'll both go down the ladder and run away."
"Run away—oh!" said Polly, clasping her hands, and a great flood of rose-color lighting up her face.
She ran to the window. The housemaid's step-ladder stood below, but Polly's window was two or three feet above.
"We'll manage with a bit of rope and the bedroom towels," said Maggie, eagerly. "It's nothing at all, getting down—it's what I did was the danger. Now, be quick, Miss Polly; let's get away while they're at dinner."
It did not take an instant for Polly to decide. Between the delights of roaming the country with Maggie, and the pleasure of continuing to read through the M's in Webster's Dictionary, there could be little choice. On the side of liberty and freedom alone could the balance fall. The bedroom towels were quickly tied on to the old rope, the rope secured firmly inside the window-sill, and the two girls let themselves swing lightly on to the step-ladder. They were both agile, and the descent did not terrify them in the least. When they reached the ground they took each other's hands, and looked into each other's faces.
"You might have thought of bringing a hat, Miss Polly."
"Oh, never mind, Maggie. You do look shabby; your frock is torn right open."
"Well, Miss, I got it a-coming to save you. Miss Polly, Mrs. Power's back in the kitchen. Hadn't we better run? We'll talk afterwards."
So they did, not meeting any one, for Mrs. Cameron and the children were all at dinner, and the servants were also in the house. They ran through the kitchen garden, vaulted over the sunken fence, and found themselves in the little sheltered green lane, where Polly had lain on her face and hands and caught the thrushes on the July day when her mother died. She stood almost in the same spot now, but her mind was in too great a whirl, and her feelings too excited, to cast back any glances of memory just then.
"Well, Maggie," she said, pulling up short, "now, what are your plans? Where are we going to? Where are we to hide?"
"Eh?" said Maggie.
She had evidently come to the end of her resources, and the intelligent light suddenly left her face.
"I didn't think o' that," she said: "there's mother's."
"No, that wouldn't do," interrupted Polly. "Your mother has only two rooms. I couldn't hide long in her house; and besides, she is poor, I would not put myself on her for anything. I'll tell you what, Maggie, we'll go across Peg-Top Moor, and make straight for the old hut by the belt of fir-trees. You know it, we had a picnic there once, and I made up a story of hermits living in the hut. Well, you and I will be the hermits."
"But what are we to eat?" said Maggie, whose ideas were all practical, and her appetite capacious.
Polly's bright eyes, however, were dancing, and her whole face was radiant. The delight of being a real hermit, and living in a real hut, far surpassed any desire for food.
"We'll eat berries from the trees," she said, "and we'll drink water from the spring. I know there's a spring of delicious water not far from the hut. Oh! come along, Maggie, do; this is delightful!"
An old pony, who went in the family by the stately name of Sultan, had been wont to help the children in their long rambles over the moor. They were never allowed to wander far alone, and had not made one expedition since their mother's death. It was really two years since Polly had been to the hut at the far end of Peg-Top Moor. This moor was particularly lonely, it was interspersed at intervals with thickets of rank undergrowth and belts of trees, and was much frequented on that account by gipsies and other lawless people. Polly, who went last over the moor, carried the greater part of the way on Sultan's friendly back, had very little idea how far the distance was. It was September now, but the sun shone on the heather and fern with great power, and as Polly had no hat on her head, having refused to take Maggie's from her; she was glad to take shelter under friendly trees whenever they came across her path.
At first the little girls walked very quickly, for they were afraid of being overtaken and brought back; but after a time their steps grew slow, their movement decidedly languid, and Maggie at least began to feel that berries from the trees and water from the spring, particularly when neither was to be found anywhere, was by no means a substantial or agreeable diet to dwell upon.
"I don't think I like being a hermit," she began. "I don't know nought what it means, but I fancy it must be very thinning and running down to the constitootion."
Polly looked at her, and burst out laughing.
"It is," she said, "that's what the life was meant for, to subdue the flesh in all possible ways; you'll get as thin as a whipping-post, Mag."
"I don't like it," retorted Maggie. "Maybe we'd best be returning home, now, Miss Polly."
Polly's eyes flashed. She caught Maggie by the shoulder.
"You are a mean girl," she said. "You got me into this scrape, and now you mean to desert me. I was sitting quietly in my room, reading through the M's in Webster's Dictionary, and you came and asked me to run away; it was your doing, Maggie, you know that."
"Yes, miss! yes, Miss!"
Maggie began to sob. "But I never, never thought it meant berries and spring-water; no, that I didn't. Oh, I be so hungry!"
At this moment all angry recriminations were frozen on the lips of both little girls, for rising suddenly, almost as it seemed from the ground at their feet, appeared a gaunt woman of gigantic make.
"Maybe you'll be hungrier," she said in a menacing voice. "What business have you to go through Deadman's Copse without leave?"
Maggie was much too alarmed to make any reply, but Polly, after a moment or two of startled silence, came boldly to the rescue.
"Who are you?" she said. "Maggie and I know nothing of Deadman's Copse; this is a wood, and we are going through it; we have got business on the other side of Peg-Top-Moor."
"That's as it may be," replied the woman, "this wood belongs to me and to my sons, Nathaniel and Patrick, and to our dogs, Cinder and Flinder, and those what goes through Deadman's Copse must pay toll to me, the wife of Micah Jones. My husband is dead, and he left the wood to me, and them as go through it must pay toll."
The woman's voice was very menacing; she was of enormous size, and going up to the little girls, attempted to place one of her brawny arms on Polly's shoulder. But Polly with all her faults possessed a great deal of courage; her eyes flashed, and she sprang aside from the woman's touch.
"You are talking nonsense," she said. "Father has over and over told me that the moor belongs to the Queen, so this little bit couldn't have been given to your husband, Micah Jones, and we are just as free to walk here as you are. Come on, Maggie, we'll be late for our business if we idle any longer."
But the woman with a loud and angry word detained her.
"Highty-tighty!" she said. "Here's spirit for you, and who may your respected papa be, my dear? He seems to be mighty wise. And the wife of Micah Jones would much like to know his name."
"You're a very rude unpleasant woman," said Polly. "Don't hold me, I won't be touched by you. My father is Dr. Maybright, of Sleepy Hollow, you must know his name quite well."
The wife of Micah Jones dropped a supercilious curtsey.
"Will you tell Dr. Maybright, my pretty little dear," she said, "that in these parts might is right, and that when the Queen wants Deadman's Copse, she can come and have a talk with me, and my two sons, and the dogs, Cinder and Flinder. But, there, what am I idling for with a chit like you? You and that other girl there have got to pay toll. You have both of you got to give me your clothes. There's no way out of it, so you needn't think to try words, nor blarney, nor nothing else with me, I have a sack dress each for you, and what you have on is mine. That's the toll, you will have to pay it. My hut is just beyond at the other side of the wood, my sons are away, but Cinder and Flinder will take care of you until I come back, at nine o'clock. Here, follow me, we're close to the hut. No words, or it will be the worse for you. On in front, the two of you, or you, little Miss," shaking her hand angrily at Polly, "will know what it means to bandy words with the wife of Micah Jones."
The woman's face became now very fierce and terrible, and even Polly was sufficiently impressed to walk quietly before her, clutching hold of poor terrified Maggie's hand.
The hut to which the woman took the little girls was the very hermit's hut to which their own steps had been bent. It was a very dirty place, consisting of one room, which was now filled with smoke from a fire made of broken faggots, fir-cones, and withered fern. Two ugly, lean-looking dogs guarded the entrance to the hut. When they saw the woman coming, they jumped up and began to bark savagely; poor Maggie began to scream, and Polly for the first time discovered that there could be a worse state of things than solitary confinement in her room, with Webster's Dictionary for company.
"Sit you there," said the woman, pushing the little girls into the hut. "I'll be back at nine o'clock. I'm off now on some business of my own. When I come back I'll take your clothes, and give you a sack each to wear. Cinder and Flinder will take care of you; they're very savage dogs, and can bite awful, but they won't touch you if you sit very quiet, and don't attempt to run away."
If ever poor little girls found themselves in a sad plight it was the two who now huddled close together in the hermit's hut. Even Polly was thoroughly frightened, and as to Maggie, nothing but the angry growls of Cinder restrained the violence of her sobs.
"Oh, ain't a hermit's life awful!" she whispered more than once to her companion. "Oh! Miss Polly, why did you speak of Peg-Top Moor, and the hermit's hut, and berries and water?"
"Don't be silly, Maggie," said Polly, "I did not mention the wife of Micah Jones, nor these dreadful dogs. This is a misfortune, and we must bear it as best we can. Have you none of the spirit of a heroine in you, Maggie; don't you know that in all the story-books, when the heroines run away, they come to dreadful grief? If we look at it in that light, and think of ourselves as distressed heroines, it will help us to bear up. Indeed," continued Polly, "if it wasn't for my having been naughty a few days ago, and perhaps father coming back to-night, I think I'd enjoy this—I would really. As it is——" Here the brave little voice broke off into a decided quaver. The night was falling, the stars were coming out in the sky, and Polly, standing in the door of the hut, with her arm thrown protectingly round Maggie's neck, found a great rush of loneliness come over her.
During those weary days spent in her bedroom, repentance, even in the most transient guise, had scarcely come near her. She was too much oppressed with a sense of injustice done to herself to be sorry about the feast in the attic. In short, all her time was spent in blaming Aunt Maria.
Now with the lonely feeling came a great soreness of heart, and an intense and painful longing for her mother. Those fits of longing which came to Polly now and then heralded in, as a rule, a tempest of grief. Wherever she was she would fling herself on the ground, and give way to most passionate weeping. Her eyes swam in tears now, she trembled slightly, but controlled herself. On Maggie's account it would never do for her to give way. The ugly dogs came up and sniffed at her hands, and smelt her dress. Maggie screamed when they approached her, but Polly patted their heads. She was not really afraid of them, neither was she greatly alarmed at the thought of the wife of Micah Jones. What oppressed her, and brought that feeling of tightness to her throat, and that smarting weight of tears to her eyes, were the great multitude of stars in the dark-blue heavens, and the infinite and grand solitude of the moors which lay around.
The night grew darker; poor Maggie, worn out, crouched down on the ground; Polly, who had now quite made friends with Cinder, sat by Maggie's side, and when the poor hungry little girl fell asleep, Polly let her rest her head in her lap. The dogs and the two children were all collected in the doorway of the hut, and now Polly could look more calmly up at the stars, and the tears rolled silently down her cheeks.
It was in this position that, at about a quarter to nine, Dr. Maybright found her. Some instinct seemed to lead him to Peg-Top Moor—a sudden recollection brought the hut to his memory, a ringing voice, and gay laugh came back to him. The laugh was Polly's, the words were hers. "Oh, if there could be a delightful thing, it would be to live as a hermit in the hut at the other side of Peg-Top Moor!"
"The child is there," he said to himself. And when this thought came to him he felt so sure that it was a true and guiding thought that he whistled for the men who were to help him in the search, and together they went to the hut.
Cinder and Flinder had got accustomed to Polly, whom they rather liked; Maggie they barely tolerated; but the firm steps of three strangers approaching the hut caused them to bristle up, to call all their canine ferocity to their aid, and to bark furiously.
But all their show of enmity mattered nothing in such a supreme moment as this to Polly. No dogs, however fierce, should keep her from the arms of her father. In an instant she was there, cuddling up close to him, while the men he had brought with him took care of Maggie, and beat off the angry dogs.
"Father, there never was any one as naughty as I have been!"
"My darling, you have found that out?"
"Yes, yes, yes! and you may punish me just whatever way you like best, only let me kiss you now. Punish me, but don't be angry."
"I'm going to take you home," said Doctor, who feared mischief from Polly's present state of strong excitement. "I expect you have gone through a fright and have had some punishment. The minute, too, we find out that we are really naughty, our punishment begins, as well as our forgiveness. I shall very likely punish you, child, but be satisfied, I forgive you freely. Now home, and to bed, and no talk of anything to-night, except a good supper, and a long restful sleep. Come, Polly, what's the matter? Do you object to be carried?"
"But not in your arms, father. I am so big and heavy, it will half kill you."
"You are tall, but not heavy, you are as light as a reed. Listen! I forbid you to walk a step. When I am tired there are two men to help me. Simpkins, will you and George give Maggie a hand, and keep close to us. Now, we had better all get home as fast as possible."
It was more than half-past ten that night before Polly and the Doctor returned to Sleepy Hollow. But what a journey home she had! how comforting were the arms that supported her, how restful was the shoulder, on which now and then in an ecstasy to love and repentance, she laid her tired head! The stars were no longer terrible, far-off, and lonely, but near and friendly, like the faces of well-known friends. The moor ceased to be a great, vast, awful solitude, it smelt of heather, and was alive with the innumerable sounds of happy living creatures—and best of all, mother herself seemed to come back out of the infinite, to comfort the heart of the sorrowful child.
"And now, Maria, I want to know what is the meaning of all this," said the Doctor.
It was late that night, very late. Polly was in bed, and Helen lay in her little white bed also close to Polly's side, so close that the sisters could hold each other's hands. They lay asleep now, breathing peacefully, and the Doctor, being satisfied that no serious mischief had happened to any of his family, meant to have it out with his sister-in-law.
Mrs. Cameron was a very brave woman, or at least she considered herself so; it was perfectly natural that people should fear her, she did not object to a little wholesome awe on the parts of those who looked up to her and depended on her words of wisdom. To be afraid on her own part was certainly not her custom, and yet that evening, as she sat alone in the deserted old drawing-room, and listened to the wind as it rose fitfully and moaned through the belt of fir-trees that sheltered the lawn; as she sat there, pretending to knit, but listening all the time for footsteps which did not come, she did own to a feeling which she would not describe as fear, but which certainly kept her from going to bed, and made her feel somewhat uncomfortable.
It was about eleven o'clock that night when Dr. Maybright entered the drawing-room. He was a tall man with a slight stoop, and his eyes looked somewhat short-sighted. To-night, however, he walked in quickly, holding himself erect. His eyes, too, had lost their peculiar expression of nearness of vision, and Mrs. Cameron knew at once that she was in for a bad time.
"And now, Maria, I want to know what is the meaning of all this," he said, coming up close to her.
She was standing, having gathered up her knitting preparatory to retiring.
"I don't understand you, Andrew," she answered, in a somewhat complaining, but also slightly alarmed voice. "I think it is I who have to ask for an explanation. How is it that I have been left alone this entire evening? I had much to say to you—I came here on purpose, and yet you left me to myself all these hours."
"Sit down, Maria," said the Doctor, more gently. "I can give you as much time as you can desire now, and as you will be leaving in the morning it is as well that we should have our talk out to-night."
Mrs. Cameron's face became now really crimson with anger.
"You can say words like that to me?" she said—"your wife's sister."
"My dear wife's half-sister, and until now my very good friend," retorted the Doctor. "But, however well you have meant it, you have sown dissension and unhappiness in the midst of a number of motherless children, and for the present at least, for all parties, I must ask you, Maria, to return to Bath."
Mrs. Cameron sank now plump down into her chair. She was too deeply offended for a moment to speak. Then she said, shortly:
"I will certainly return, but from this moment I wash my hands of you all."
"I hope not," said the Doctor. "I trust another time you will come to me as my welcome and invited guest. You see, Maria"—here his eyes twinkled with that sly humor which characterized him—"it was a mistake—it always is a mistake to take the full reins of government in any house uninvited."
"But, Andrew, you were making such a fool of yourself. After that letter of yours I felt almost hopeless, so for poor Helen's sake I came, at great personal inconvenience. Your home is most dreary, the surroundings appalling in their solitude. No wonder Helen died! Andrew, I thought it but right to do my best for those poor children. I came, the house was in a state of riot, you have not an idea what Polly's conduct was. Disrespectful, insolent, impertinent. I consider her an almost wicked girl."
"Stop," said the Doctor. "We are not going to discuss Polly. She behaved badly, I grant. But I think, Maria, when you locked her up in her room, and forbade Helen to go to her, and treated her without a spark of affection or a vestige of sympathy; when you kept up this line of conduct for four long days, you yourself in God's sight were not blameless. You at least forgot that you, too, were once fourteen, or perhaps you never were; no, I am sure you never were what that child is with all her faults—noble."
"That is enough, Andrew, we will, as you say, not discuss Polly further. I leave by the first train that can take me away in the morning. You are a very much mistaking and ill-judging man; you were never worthy to be Helen's husband, and I bitterly grieve that her children must be brought up by you. For Helen's sake alone, I must now give you one parting piece of advice, it is this: When Miss Grinsted comes, treat her with kindness and consideration. Keep Miss Grinsted in this house at all hazards, and there may be a chance for your family."
"Miss Grinsted!" said the Doctor. "Who, and what do you mean?"
"Andrew, when I introduce you to such a lady I heap coals of fire on your head. Miss Grinsted alone can bring order out of chaos, peace out of strife. In short, when she is established here, I shall feel at rest as far as my dear sister's memory is concerned."
"Miss Grinsted is not going to be established in this house," said the Doctor. "But who is she? I never heard of her before."
"She is the lady-housekeeper and governess whom I have selected for you. She arrives at mid-day to-morrow."
"How queerly you look at me, Andrew. Nobody would suppose you were just delivered from a load of household care and confusion. Such a treasure, too, the best of disciplinarians. She is fifty, a little angular, but capital at breaking in. What is the matter, Andrew?"
"What is Miss Grinsted's address?"
"Well, well; really your manners are bearish. She is staying with an invalid sister at Exeter at present."
"Will you oblige me with the street and number of the house?"
"Certainly; but she can scarcely get here before mid-day now. Her trains are all arranged."
"The name of the street and number of the house, if you please, Maria."
"Vere Street, No. 30. But she can't be here before twelve or one to-morrow, Andrew."
"She is never to come here. I shall go into the village the first thing in the morning, and send her a telegram. She is never to come here. Maria, you made a mistake, you went too far. If you and I are to speak to each other in the future, don't let it occur again. Good-night; I will see that you are called in good time in the morning."
It was useless either to argue or to fight. Dr. Maybright had, as the children sometimes described it, a shut-up look on his face. No one was ever yet known to interfere seriously with the Doctor when he wore that expression, and Aunt Maria, with Scorpion under her arm, hobbled upstairs, tired, weary, and defeated.
"I wash my hands of him and his," she muttered; and the unhappy lady shed some bitter tears of wounded mortification and vanity as she laid her head on her pillow.
"I know I was severe with her," murmured the Doctor to himself, "but there are some women who must be put down with a firm hand. Yes, I can bear a great deal, but to have Maria Cameron punishing Polly, and establishing a housekeeper and governess of her own choosing in this family is beyond my patience. As I said before, there are limits."
THE HIGH MOUNTAINS.
Helen and Polly slept late on the following morning. They were both awakened simultaneously by Nurse, who, holding baby in her arms, came briskly into the room. Nurse was immediately followed by Alice, bearing a tray with an appetizing breakfast for both the little girls.
"The Doctor says you are neither of you to get up until you have had a good meal," said Nurse. "And, Miss Polly, he'd like to have a word with you, darling, in his study about eleven o'clock. Eh, dear, but it's blessed and comforting to have the dear man home again; the house feels like itself, and we may breathe now."
"And it's blessed and comforting to have one we wot of away again," retorted Alice. "The young ladies will be pleased, won't they, Nurse?"
"To be sure they will. You needn't look so startled, loveys, either of you. It's only your aunt and the dog what is well quit of the house. They're on their road to Bath now, and long may they stay there."
At this news Helen looked a little puzzled, and not very joyful, but Polly instantly sat up in bed and spoke in very bright tones.
"What a darling father is! I'm as hungry as possible. Give me my breakfast, please, Alice; and oh, Nurse, mightn't baby sit between us for a little in bed?"
"You must support her back well with pillows," said Nurse. "And see as you don't spill any coffee on her white dress. Eh! then, isn't she the sweetest and prettiest lamb in all the world?"
The baby, whose little white face had not a tinge of color, and whose very large velvety brown eyes always wore a gentle, heavenly calm about them, smiled in a slow way. When she smiled she showed dimples, but she was a wonderfully grave baby, as though she knew something of the great loss which had accompanied her birth.
"She is lovely," said Polly. "It makes me feel good even to look at her."
"Then be good, for her sake, darling," said Nurse, suddenly stooping and kissing the bright, vivacious girl, and then bestowing another and tenderer kiss on the motherless baby. "She's for all the world like Peace itself," said Nurse. "There ain't no sort of naughtiness or crossness in her."
"Oh, she makes me feel good!" said Polly, hugging the little creature fondly to her side.
Two hours later Polly stood with her father's arm round her neck: a slanting ray of sunlight was falling across the old faded carpet in the study, and mother's eyes smiled out of their picture at Polly from the wall.
"You have been punished enough," said the Doctor. "I have sent for you now just to say a word or two. You are a very young climber, Polly, but if this kind of thing is often repeated, you will never make any way."
"I don't understand you, father."
The Doctor patted Polly's curly head.
"Child," he said, "we have all of us to go up mountains, and if you choose a higher one, with peaks nearer to the sky than others, you have all the more need for the necessary helps for ascent."
"Father is always delightful when he is allegorical," Polly had once said.
Now she threw back her head, looked full into his dearly-loved face, clasped his hands tightly in both her own, and said with tears filling her eyes, "I am glad you are going to teach me through a kind of story, and I think I know what you mean by my trying to climb the highest mountain. I always did long to do whatever I did a little better than any one else."
"Exactly so, Polly; go on wishing that. Still try to climb the highest mountain, only take with you humility instead of self-confidence, and then, child, you will succeed, for you will be very glad to avail yourself of the necessary helps."
"The helps? What are they, father? I partly know what you mean, but I am not sure that I quite know."
"Oh, yes, you quite know. You have known ever since you knelt at your mother's knee, and whispered your prayers all the better to God because she was listening too. But I will explain myself by the commonest of illustrations. A shepherd wanted to rescue one of his flock from a most perilous situation. The straying sheep had come to a ledge of rock, from where it could not move either backwards or forwards. It had climbed up thousands of feet. How was the shepherd to get it? There was one way. His friends went by another road to the top of the mountain. From there they threw down ropes, which he bound firmly round him, and then they drew him slowly up. He reached the ledge, he rescued the sheep, and it was saved. He could have done nothing without the ropes. So you, too, Polly, can do nothing worthy; you can never climb your high mountain without the aid of that prayer which links you to your Father in heaven. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand," said Polly; "I see. I won't housekeep any more for the present, father."
"You had better not, dear; you have plenty of talent for this, as well as for anything else you like to undertake, but you lack experience now, and discretion. It was just all this, and that self-confidence which I alluded to just now, which got my little girl into all this trouble, and caused Aunt Maria to think very badly of her. Aunt Maria has gone, so we will say nothing about her just at present. I may be a foolish old father, Polly, but I own I have a great desire to keep my children to myself just now. So I shall give Sleepy Hollow another chance of doing without a grown-up housekeeper. Your governesses and masters shall come to teach you as arranged, but Helen must be housekeeper, with Mrs. Power, who is a very managing person, to help her. Helen, too, must have a certain amount of authority over you all, with the power to appeal to me in any emergency. This you must submit to, Polly, and I shall expect you to do so with a good grace."
"I have acceded to your wishes in the matter of bringing the Australian children here for at least six months. So you see you will have a good deal on your hands; and as I have done so at the express wish of Helen and yourself, I shall expect you both to take a good deal of responsibility, and to be in every sense of the word, extra good."
Polly's eyes danced with pleasure. Then she looked up into her father's face, and something she saw there caused her to clasp her arms round his neck, and whisper eagerly and impulsively:
"Father, dear, what Helen told me is not true—is it?"
"You mean about my eyes, Polly? So Helen knows, and has spoken about it, poor girl?"
"Yes, yes, but it isn't true, it can't be?"
"Don't tremble, Polly. I am quite willing to tell you how things really are. I don't wish it to be spoken of, but it is a relief to trust some one. I saw Sir James Dawson when in town. He is the first oculist in England. He told me that my sight was in a precarious state, and that if matters turned out unfavorably it is possible, nay probable, that I may become quite blind. On the other hand, he gives me a prescription which he thinks and hopes will avert the danger."
"What is it? Oh! father, you will surely try it?"
"If you and the others will help me."
"But what is it?"
Dr. Maybright stroked back Polly's curls.
"Very little anxiety," he said. "As much rest as possible, worries forbidden, home peace and rest largely insisted upon. Now run away, my dear. I hear the tramp of my poor people. This is their morning, you remember."
Polly kissed her father, and quietly left the room.
"See if I'm not good after that," she murmured. "Wild horses shouldn't drag me into naughtiness after what father has just said."
A COUPLE OF BARBARIANS.
All the young Maybrights, with the exception of the baby, were collected in the morning-room. It was the middle of October. The summer heat had long departed, the trees were shedding their leaves fast, the sky had an appearance of coming wind and showers; the great stretch of moorland which could be seen best in winter when the oaks and elms were bare, was distinctly visible. The moor had broad shadows on it, also tracts of intense light; the bracken was changing from green to brown and yellow color—brilliant color was everywhere. At this time of year the moors in many ways looked their best.
The Maybright children, however, were not thinking of the landscape, or the fast approach of winter, they were busily engaged chattering and consulting together. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, and they knew that the time left for them to prepare was short, consequently their busy fingers worked as well as their tongues. Helen was helping the twins and the little boys to make up a wreath of enormous dimensions, and Polly, as usual, was flitting about the room, followed by her satellite Firefly. As usual, too, Polly was first to remark and quickest to censure. She looked very much like the old Polly; no outward change was in the least visible, although now she yielded a kind of obedience to the most gentle and unexacting of sisters, and although she still vowed daily to herself, that she, Polly, would certainly climb the highest mountain, and for father's sake would be the best of all his children.
"How slow you are, Nell," she now exclaimed, impatiently; "and look what a crooked 'E' you have made to the end of 'WELCOME.' Oh, don't be so slow, boys! Paul and Virginia will be here before we are half ready."
"They can't come before six o'clock," said Helen. "We have two hours yet left to work in. Do, dear, pretty Polly, find something else to take up your time, and let the twins and the boys help me to finish this wreath."
"Oh, if you don't want me," said Polly, in a slightly offended voice. "Come along, Fly, we'll go up and see if Virginia's room is ready, and then we'll pay a visit to our baby. You and I won't stay where we are not wanted. Come along."
Fly trotted off by her elder sister's side, a great light of contentment filling her big eyes. The two scampered upstairs, saw that a cozy nest was all ready for the Australian girl, while a smaller room at the other side of the passage was in equal readiness for the boy.
"Oh, what darling flowers!" said Firefly, running up to the dressing table in the principal bedroom, and sniffing at the contents of a dainty blue jar. "Why, Polly, these buds must be from your own pet tea-rose."
"Yes," said Polly, in a careless voice, "they are; I picked them for Virginia this morning. I'd do anything for Virginia. I'm greatly excited about her coming."
"You never saw her," said Firefly, in an aggrieved voice. "You wouldn't give me your tea-roses. I don't think it's nice of you to be fonder of her than you are of me. And Nursie says her name isn't Virginia."
"Never mind, she's Virginia to me, and the boy is Paul. Why, Fly, what a jealous little piece you are. Come here, and sit on my lap. Of course I'm fond of you, Fly, but I'm not excited about you. I know just the kind of nose you have, and the kind of mouth, and the kind of big, scarecrow eyes, but you see I don't know anything at all about Virginia, so I'm making up stories about her, and pictures, all day long. I expect she's something of a barbarian, both she and her brother, and isn't it delicious to think of having two real live barbarians in the house?"
"Yes," said Firefly, in a dubious voice. "I suppose if they are real barbarians, they won't know a bit how to behave, and we'll have to teach them. I'll rather like that."
"Oh, you'll have to be awfully good, Fly, for they'll copy you in every way; no sulking or sitting crooked, or having untidy hair, or you'll have a couple of barbarians just doing the very same thing. Now, jump off my lap, I want to go to Nurse, and you may come with me as a great treat. I'm going to undress baby. I do it every night; and you may see how I manage. Nurse says I'm very clever about the way I manage babies."
"Oh, you're clever about everything," said Fly, with a prolonged, deep-drawn breath. "Well, Polly, I do hope one thing."
"I do hope that the barbarians will be very, very ugly, for after you've seen them you won't be curious any more, and after you know them there won't be any stories to make up, and then you won't love them better than me."
"What a silly you are, Fly," responded Polly.
But she gave her little sister's hand an affectionate squeeze, which satisfied the hungry and exacting heart of its small owner for the present.
Meanwhile the enormous wreath progressed well, and presently took upon important position over the house doorway. As the daylight was getting dim, and as it would, in the estimation of the children, be the cruellest thing possible if the full glories of the wreath were not visible to the eyes of the strangers when they approached Sleepy Hollow, lamps were cunningly placed in positions where their full light could fall on the large "Welcome," which was almost the unaided work of the twins and their small brothers.
But now six o'clock was drawing near, and Polly and Firefly joined the rest of the children in the hall. The whole house was in perfect order; an excellent supper would be ready at any moment, and there was little doubt that when the strangers did appear they would receive a most hearty welcome.
"Wheels at last!" said Bunny, turning a somersault in the air.
"Hurrah! Three cheers for the barbarians!" sang out Firefly.
"I do hope Virginia will be beautiful," whispered Polly, under her breath.
Helen went and stood on the doorsteps. Polly suddenly raised a colored lamp, and waved it above her head.
"Welcome" smiled down from the enormous wreath, and shone on the features of each Maybright as the Doctor opened the door of the carriage, and helped a tall, slender girl, and a little boy in a black velvet suit, to get out.
"Our travelers are very hungry, Polly," he said, "and—and—very tired. Yes, I see you have prepared things nicely for them. But first of all they must have supper, and after that I shall prescribe bed. Welcome, my dear children, to Sleepy Hollow! May it be a happy home to you both."
"Thank you," said the girl.
She had a pale face, a quantity of long light hair, and dreamy, sleepy eyes; the boy, on the contrary, had an alert and watchful expression; he clung to his sister, and looked in her face when she spoke.
"Do tell us what you are called," said Polly. "We are all just dying to know. Oh! I trust, I do trust that you are really Paul and Virginia. How perfectly lovely it would be if those were your real names."
The tall girl looked full into Polly's eyes, a strange, sweet, wistful light filled her own, her words came out musically.
"I am Flower," she said, "and this is David. I am thirteen years old, and David is eight. Father sent us away because after mother died there was no one to take care of us."
A sigh of intense interest and sympathy fell from the lips of all the young Maybrights.
"Come upstairs, Flower; we know quite well how to be sorry for you," said Helen.
She took the strange girl's hand, and led her up the broad staircase.
"I'll stay below," said David. "I'm not the least tired, and my hands don't want washing. Who's the jolliest here? Couldn't we have a game of ball? I haven't played ball since I left Ballarat. Flower wouldn't let me. She said I might when I came here. She spoke about coming here all the time, and she always wanted to see your mother. She cried the whole of last night because your mother was dead. Now has nobody got a ball, and won't the jolliest begin?"
"I'll play with you, David," said Polly. "Now catch; there! once, twice, thrice. Aren't you starving? I want my tea, if you don't."
"Flower said I wasn't to ask for anything to eat now that your mother is dead," responded David. "She said it wasn't likely we'd stay, but that while we did I was to be on my good behavior. I hate being on my good behavior; but Flower's an awful mistress. Yes, of course, I'm starving."
"Well, come in to tea, then," said Polly, laughing. "Perhaps you will stay, and anyhow we are glad to have you for a little. Children, please don't stare so hard."
"I don't mind," said David. "They may stare if it pleases them; I rather like it."
"Like being stared at!" repeated Firefly, whose own sensitive little nature resented the most transient glance.
"Yes," responded David, calmly; "it shows that I'm admired; and I know that I'm a very handsome boy."
So he was, with dark eyes like a gipsy, and a splendid upright figure and bearing. Far from being the barbarian of Polly's imagination, he had some of the airs and graces of a born aristocrat. His calm remarks and utter coolness astonished the little Maybrights, who rather shrank away from him, and left him altogether to Polly's patronage.
At this moment Helen and the young Australian girl came down together. David instantly trotted up to his sister.
"She thinks that perhaps we'll stay, Flower," pointing with his finger at Polly, "and in that case I needn't keep up my company manners, need I?"
"But you must behave well, David," responded Flower, "or the English nation will fancy we are not civilized."
She smiled in a lovely languid way at her brother, and looked round with calm indifference at the boys and girls who pressed close to her.
"Come and have tea," said Helen.
She placed Flower at her right hand. The Doctor took the head of the table, and the meal progressed more or less in silence. Flower was too lazy or too delicate to eat much. David spent all his time in trying to make Firefly laugh, and in avoiding the Doctor's penetrating glance. The Maybrights were too astonished at the appearance of their guests to feel thoroughly at ease. Polly had a sensation of things being somehow rather flat, and the Doctor wondered much in his inward soul how this new experiment would work.
A YOUNG QUEEN.
It did not work well as far as Polly was concerned. Whatever she was at home, whatever her faults and failings, whatever her wild vagaries, or unreasonable moods, she somehow or other always managed to be first. First in play, first in naughtiness, first at her lessons, the best musician, the best artist, the best housekeeper, the best originator of sports and frolics on all occasions, was Polly Maybright. From this position, however, she was suddenly dethroned. It was quite impossible for Polly to be first when Flower was in the room.
Flower Dalrymple had the ways and manners of a young queen. She was imperious, often ungracious, seldom obliging, but she had a knack of getting people to think first of her, of saying the sort of things which drew attention, and of putting every other little girl with whom she came into contact completely in the shade.
In reality, Polly was a prettier girl than Flower. Her eyes were brighter, her features more regular. But just as much in reality Polly could not hold a candle to Flower, for she had a sort of a languorous, slumberous, grace, which exactly suited her name; there was a kind of etherealness about her, an absolutely out-of-the-common look, which made people glance at her again and again, each time to discover how very lovely she was.
Flower was a perfect contrast to David, being as fair as he was dark. Her face had a delicate, creamy shade, her eyes were large and light blue, the lashes and eyebrows being only a shade or two darker than her long, straight rather dull-looking, yellow hair. She always wore her hair straight down her back; she was very willowy and pliant in figure, and had something of the grace and coloring of a daffodil.
Flower had not been a week in the Maybright family before she contrived that all the arrangements in the house should be more or less altered to suit her convenience. She made no apparent complaint, and never put her wishes into words, still she contrived to have things done to please her. For instance, long before that week was out, Polly found herself deprived of the seat she had always occupied at meals by her father's side. Flower liked to sit near the Doctor, therefore she did so; she liked to slip her hand into his between the courses, and to look into his face with her wide-open, pathetic, sweet eyes. Flower could not touch coffee at breakfast, therefore by common consent the whole family adopted tea. In the morning-room Flower established herself in mother's deep arm-chair, hitherto consecrated by all rights and usages to Helen. As to Polly, she was simply dethroned from her pedestal, her wittiest remarks fell flat, her raciest stories were received with languid interest. What were they compared to the thrilling adventures which the young Australian could tell when she pleased! Not, indeed, that Flower often pleased, she was not given to many words, her nature was thoroughly indolent and selfish, and only for one person would she ever really rouse and exert herself. This person was David; he worshipped her, and she loved him as deeply as it was in her nature to love any one. To all appearance, however, it mattered very little who, or how Flower loved. On all hands, every one fell in love with her. Even Polly resigned her favorite seat for her, even Helen looked without pain at mother's beloved chair when Flower's lissome figure filled it. The younger children were forever offering flowers and fruit at her shrine. Nurse declared her a bonny, winsome thing, and greatest honor of all, allowed her to play with little Pearl, the baby, for a few minutes, when the inclination seized her. Before she was a week in the house, not a servant in the place but would have done anything for her, and even the Doctor so far succumbed to her charms as to pronounce her a gracious and lovable creature.
"Although I can't make her out," he often said to himself, "I have an odd instinct which tells me that there is the sleeping lioness or the wild-cat hidden somewhere beneath all that languid, gracious carelessness. Poor little girl! she has managed to captivate us all, but I should not be surprised if she turned out more difficult and troublesome to manage than the whole of my seven daughters put together."
As Flower and David had been sent from Australia especially to be under the care and guidance of Mrs. Maybright, the Doctor felt more and more uncertain as to the expediency of keeping the children.
"It is difficult enough to manage a girl like Polly," he said to himself; "but when another girl comes to the house who is equally audacious and untamed—for my Polly is an untamed creature when all's said and done—how is a poor half-blind old doctor like myself to keep these two turbulent spirits in order? I am dreadfully afraid the experiment won't work; and yet—and yet L400 a year is sadly needed to add to the family purse just now."
The Doctor was pacing up and down his library while he meditated. The carpet in this part of the room was quite worn from the many times he walked up and down it. Like many another man, when he was perplexed or anxious he could not keep still. There came a light tap at the library door.
"Come in!" said the Doctor; and to his surprise Flower, looking more like a tall yellow daffodil than ever, in a soft dress of creamy Indian silk, opened the door and took a step or two into the room.
She looked half-shy, half-bold—a word would have sent her flying, or a word drawn her close to the kind Doctor's side.
"Come here, my little girl," he said, "and tell me what you want."
Flower would have hated any one else to speak of her as a little girl, but she pushed back her hair now, and looked with less hesitation and more longing at the Doctor.
"I thought you'd be here—I ventured to come," she said.
"Yes, yes; there's no venturing in the matter. Take my arm, and walk up and down with me."
"May I, really?"
"Of course you may, puss. Now I'll warrant anything you have walked many a carpet bare with your own father. See! this is almost in holes; those are Polly's steps, these are mine."
"Oh—yes—well, father isn't that sort of man. I'll take your arm if I may, Doctor. Thank you. I didn't think—I don't exactly know how to say what I want to say."
"Take time, my dear child; and it is no matter how you put the words."
"When I heard that there was no mother here, I did not want to stay long. That was before I knew you. Now—I came to say it—I do want to stay, and so does David."
"But you don't really know me at all, Flower."
"Perhaps not really; but still enough to want to stay. May I stay?"
Flower's charming face looked up inquiringly.
"May I stay?" she repeated, earnestly. "I do wish it!—very much indeed."
Dr. Maybright was silent for a moment.
"I was thinking about this very point when you knocked at the door," he said, presently. "I was wondering if you two children could stay. I want to keep you, and yet I own I am rather fearful of the result. You see, there are so many motherless girls and boys in this house."
"But we are motherless, too; you should be sorry for us; you should wish to keep us."
"I am very sorry for you. I have grown to a certain extent already to love you. You interest me much; still, I must be just to you and to my own children. You are not a common, everyday sort of girl, Flower. I don't wish to flatter you, and I am not going to say whether you are nice or the reverse. But there is no harm in my telling you that you are out of the common. It is probable that you may be extremely difficult to manage, and it is possible that your disposition may—may clash with those of some of the members of my own household. I don't say that this will be the case, mind, only it is possible. In that case, what would you expect me to do?"
"To keep me," said Flower, boldly, "and, if necessary, send away the member of the household, for I am a motherless girl, and I have come from a long way off to be with you."
"I don't quite think I can do that, Flower. There are many good mothers in England who would train you and love you, and there are many homes where you might do better than here. My own children are placed here by God himself, and I cannot turn them out. Still—what is the matter, my dear child?"
"I think you are unjust; I thought you would be so glad when I said I wanted to stay."
"So I am glad; and for the present you are here. How long you remain depends on yourself. I have no intention of sending you away at present. I earnestly wish to keep you."
Another tap came to the study door.
"If you please, sir," said Alice, "blind Mrs. Jones is in the kitchen, and wants to know most particular if she can see you."
"How ridiculous!" said Flower, laughing.
"Show Mrs. Jones in here, Alice," said the Doctor.
His own face had grown a shade or two paler.
"Blind people often speak in that way, Flower," he said, with a certain intonation in his voice which made her regard him earnestly.
The memory of a rumor which had reached her ears with regard to the Doctor's own sight flashed before her. She stooped suddenly, and with an impulsive, passionate gesture kissed his hand.
Outside the room David was waiting.
"Well, Flower, well?" he asked, with intense eagerness.
"I spoke to him," said Flower. "We are here on sufferance, that's all. He is the dearest man in all the world, but he is actually afraid of me."
"You are rather fierce at times, you know, Flower. Did you tell him about—about——"
"About what, silly boy?"
"About the passions. You know, Flower, we agreed that he had better know."
A queer steely light came into Flower's blue eyes.
"I didn't speak of them," she said. "If I said anything of that sort I'd soon be packed away. I expect he's in an awful fright about that precious Polly of his."
"But Polly is nice," interposed David.
"Oh, yes, just because she has a rather good-looking face you go over to her side. I'm not at all sure that I like her. Anyhow, I'm not going to play second fiddle to her. There now, Dave, go and play. We're here on sufferance, so be on your good behavior. As to me, you need not be the least uneasy. I wish to remain at Sleepy Hollow, so, of course, the passions won't come. Go and play, Dave."
Firefly called across the lawn. David bounded out of the open window, and Flower went slowly up to her own room.
There came a lovely day toward the end of October; St. Martin's summer was abroad, and the children, with the Doctor's permission, had arranged to take a long expedition across one of the southern moors in search of late blackberries. They took their dinner with them, and George, the under-gardener, accompanied the little party for protection. Nurse elected, as usual, to stay at home with baby, for nothing would induce her to allow this treasured little mortal out of her own keeping; but the Doctor promised, if possible, to join the children at Troublous Times Castle at two o'clock for dinner. This old ruin was at the extreme corner of one of the great commons, and was a very favorite resort for picnics, as it still contained the remains of a fine old banqueting-hall, where in stormy or uncertain weather a certain amount of shelter could be secured.
The children started off early, in capital spirits. A light wind was blowing; the sky was almost cloudless. The tints of late autumn were still abroad in great glory, and the young faces looked fresh, careless, and happy.
Just at the last moment, as they were leaving the house, an idea darted through Polly's brain.
"Let's have Maggie," she said. "I'll go round by the village and fetch her. She would enjoy coming with us so much, and it would take off her terror of the moor. Do you know, Helen, she is such a silly thing that she has been quite in a state of alarm ever since the day we went to the hermit's hut. I won't be a moment running to fetch Mag; do let's have her. Firefly, you can come with me."
Maggie, who now resided with her mother, not having yet found another situation—for Mrs. Power had absolutely declined to have her back in the kitchen—was a favorite with all the children. They were pleased with Polly's proposal, and a chorus of "Yes, by all means, let's have Maggie!" rose in the air.
Flower was standing a little apart; she wore a dark green close-fitting cloth dress; on her graceful golden head was a small green velvet cap. She was picking a late rose to pieces, and waiting for the others with a look of languid indifference on her face. Now she roused herself, and asked in a slightly weary voice:
"Who is Maggie?"
"Maggie?" responded Helen, "she was our kitchen-maid; we are all very fond of her—Polly especially."
"Fond of a kitchen-maid? I don't suppose you mean that, Helen," said Flower. "A kitchen-maid's only a servant."
"I certainly mean it," said Helen, with a little warmth. "I am more or less fond of all our servants, and Maggie used to be a special favorite."
"How extraordinary!" said Flower. "The English nation have very queer and plebeian ways about them; it's very plebeian to take the least notice of servants, except to order them to obey you."
"On the contrary," retorted Polly; "it's the sign of a true lady or gentleman to be perfectly courteous to their dependents, and if they deserve love, to give it to them. I'm fond of Maggie; she's a good little girl, and she shall come to our picnic. Come along, Firefly."
"I certainly will have nothing to say to Polly while she associates with a servant," said Flower, slowly, and with great apparent calmness. "I don't suppose we need all wait for her here. She can follow with the servant when she gets her. I suppose Polly's whims are not to upset the whole party."
"Polly will very likely catch us up at the cross-roads," said Helen, in a pleasant voice. "Come, Flower, you won't really be troubled with poor little Maggie; she will spend her day probably with George, and will help him to wash up our dinner-things after we have eaten. Come, don't be vexed, Flower."
"I vexed!" said Flower. "You are quite mistaken. I don't intend to have anything to say to Polly while she chooses a kitchen-maid for her friend, but I dare say the rest of you can entertain me. Now, Mabel and Dolly, shall I tell you what we did that dark night when David and I stole out through the pantry window?"
"Oh, yes, yes!" exclaimed the twins. The others all clustered round eagerly.
Flower had a very distinct voice, and when she roused herself she could really be eloquent. A daring little adventure which she and her brother had experienced lost nothing in the telling, and when Polly, Firefly, and Maggie, joined the group, they found themselves taken very little notice of, for all the other children, even Helen, were hanging on Flower's words.
"Oh, I say, that isn't fair!" exclaimed Polly, whose spirits were excellent. "You're telling a story, Flower, and Firefly and I have missed it. Maggie loves stories, too; don't you, Mag? Do begin again, please, Flower, please do!"
Flower did not even pretend to hear Polly's words—she walked straight on, gesticulating a little now and then, now and then raising her hand in a slightly dramatic manner. Her clear voice floated back to Polly as she walked forward, the center of an eager, worshipping, entranced audience.
Polly's own temper was rather hasty, she felt her face flushing, angry words were bubbling to her lips, and she would have flown after the little party who were so utterly ignoring her, if David had not suddenly slipped back and put his hand on her arm.
"I know the story," he said; "so I needn't stay to listen. She's adding to it awfully. We didn't use any ropes, the window is only three feet from the ground, and the awful howling and barking of the mastiff was made by the shabbiest little cur. Flower is lovely, but she does dress up her stories. I love Flower, but I'll walk with you now, if you'll let me, Polly."
"You're very kind, David," said Polly. "But I don't know that I want any one to walk with me, except Maggie. I think Flower was very rude just now. Oh, you can stay if you like, David—I don't mind, one way or another. Isn't this south moor lovely, Maggie? Aren't you glad I asked you to come with us?"
"Well, yes, Miss, I be. It was good-natured of you, Miss Polly, only if there's stories a-going, I'd like to be in at them. I does love narrations of outlandish places, Miss. Oh, my word, and is that the little foreign gentleman? It is a disappointment as I can't 'ear what the young lady's a-telling of."
"Well, Maggie, you needn't be discontented. I am not hearing this wonderful story, either. David, what are you nudging me for?"
"Send her to walk with George," whispered David. "I want to say something to you so badly, Polly."
Polly frowned. She did not feel particularly inclined to oblige any one just now, but David had a pleading way of his own; he squeezed her arm affectionately, and looked into her face with a world of beseeching in his big black eyes. After all it was no very difficult matter to get at Polly's warm heart. She looked over her shoulder.
"George, will you give Maggie a seat beside you," she said. "No, none of the rest of us want to drive. Come on, David. Now, David, what is it?"
"It's about Flower," said David. "She—she—you don't none of you know Flower yet."
"Oh, I am not sure of that," replied Polly, speaking on purpose in a very careless tone. "I suppose she's much like other girls. She's rather pretty, of course, and has nice ways with her. I made stories about you both, but you're not a bit like anything I thought of. In some ways you're nicer, in some not so nice. Why, what is the matter, David? What are you staring at me so hard for?"
"Because you're all wrong," responded David. "You don't know Flower. She's not like other girls; not a bit. There were girls at Ballarat, and she wasn't like them. But no one wondered at that, for they were rough, and not like real ladies. And there were girls on board the big ship we came over in, and they weren't rough, but Flower wasn't a bit like them either. And she's not like any of you, Polly, although I'm sure you are nice, and Helen is sweet, and Fly is a little brick. Flower is not like any other girl I have ever seen."
"She must be an oddity, then," said Polly. "I hate oddities. Do let's walk a little faster, David."
"You are wrong again," persisted David, quickening his steps. "An oddity is some one to laugh at, but no one has ever dreamed of laughing at Flower. She is just herself, like no one else in the world. No, you don't any of you know her yet. I suppose you are every one of you thinking that she's the very nicest and cleverest and perfectest girl you ever met?"
"I'm sure we are not," said Polly. "I think, for my part, there has been a great deal too much fuss made about her. I'm getting tired of her airs, and I think she was very rude just now."
"Oh, don't, Polly, you frighten me. I want to tell you something so badly. Will you treat it as a great, enormous secret? will you never reveal it, Polly?"
"What a queer boy you are," said Polly. "No, I won't tell. What's the mystery?"
"It's this. Flower is sometimes—sometimes—oh, it's dreadful to have to tell!—Flower is sometimes not nice."
Polly's eyes danced.
"You're a darling, David!" she said. "Of course, that sister of yours is not perfect. I'd hate her if she was."
"But it isn't that," said David. "It's so difficult to tell. When Flower isn't nice, it's not a small thing, it's—oh, she's awful! Polly, I don't want any of you ever to see Flower in a passion; you'd be frightened, oh, you would indeed. We were all dreadfully unhappy at Ballarat when Flower was in a passion, and lately we tried not to get her into one. That's what I want you to do, Polly; I want you to try; I want you to see that she is not vexed."
"I like that," said Polly. "Am I to be on my 'P's and Q's' for this Miss Flower of yours? Now, David, what do you mean by a great passion? I'm rather hot myself. Come, you saw me very cross about the lemonade yesterday; is Flower worse than that? What fun it must be to see her!"
"Don't!" said David, turning pale. "You wouldn't speak in that way, Polly, if you knew. What you did yesterday like Flower? Why, I didn't notice you at all. Flower's passions are—are—— But I can't speak of them, Polly."
"Then why did you tell me?" said Polly. "I can't help her getting into rages, if she's so silly."
"Oh, yes, you can, and that's why I spoke to you. She's a little vexed now, about your having brought the—the kitchen-maid here. I know well she's vexed, because she's extra polite with every one else. That's a way she has at first. I don't suppose she'll speak to you, Polly; but oh, Polly, I will love you so much, I'll do anything in all the world for you, if only you'll send Maggie home!"
"What are you dreaming of?" said Polly. "Because Flower is an ill tempered, proud, silly girl, am I to send poor little Maggie away? No, David, if your sister has a bad temper, she must learn to control it. She is living in England now, and she must put up with our English ways; we are always kind to our servants."
"Then it can't be helped," said David. "You'll remember that I warned you—you'll be sorry afterwards! Hullo, Flower—yes, Flower, I'm coming."
He flew from Polly's side, going boldly over to what the little girl was now pleased to call the ranks of the enemy. She felt sorry for a moment, for Firefly had long since deserted her. Then she retraced her steps, and walked by Maggie's side for the rest of the time.
NOT LIKE OTHERS.
It was still early when the children reached Troublous Times Castle. Dr. Maybright would not be likely to join them for nearly an hour. They had walked fast, and Polly, at least, felt both tired and cross. When the twins ran up to her and assured her with much enthusiasm that they had never had a more delightful walk, she turned from them with a little muttered "Pshaw!" Polly's attentions now to Maggie were most marked, and if this young person were not quite one of the most obtuse in existence, it is possible she might have felt slightly embarrassed.
"While we're waiting for father," exclaimed Polly, speaking aloud, and in that aggressive tone which had not been heard from her lips since the night of the supper in the attic—"while we're waiting for father we'll get the banqueting-hall ready. Maggie and I will see to this, but any one who likes to join us can. We don't require any assistance, but if it gives pleasure to any of the others to see us unpack the baskets, now is the time for them to say the word."
"But, of course, we're all going to get the dinner ready," exclaimed Dolly and Katie, in voices of consternation. "What a ridiculous way you are talking, Polly! This is all our affair; half the fun is getting the dinner ready. Isn't it, Nell?"
"Yes, of course," said Helen, in her pleasant, bright voice. "We'll all do as much as we can do to make the banqueting-hall ready for father. Now, let's get George to take the hampers there at once; and, Flower, I thought, perhaps, you would help me to touch up the creepers here and there, they do look so lovely falling over that ruined west window. Come, Flower, now let's all of us set to work without any more delay."
"Yes, Flower, and you know you have such a way of making things look sweet," said David, taking his sister's hand and kissing it.
She put her arm carelessly round his neck, stooped down, and pressed her lips to his brow, then said in that light, arch tone, which she had used all day, "David is mistaken. I can't make things look sweet, and I'm not coming to the banqueting-hall at present."
There was a pointed satire in the two last words. Flower's big blue eyes rested carelessly on Maggie, then they traveled to where Polly stood, and a fine scorn curled her short, sensitive upper lip. The words she had used were nothing, but her expressive glance meant a good deal. Polly refused to see the world of entreaty on David's face—she threw down her challenge with equal scorn and a good deal of comic dignity.
"It's a very good thing, then, you're not coming to the banqueting-hall, Flower," she said. "For we don't want people there who have no taste. I suppose it's because you are an Australian, for in England even the cottagers know a little about how to make picnics look pretty. Maggie is a cottager at present, as she's out of a situation, so it's lucky we've brought her. Now, as every one else wants to come, let them, and don't let's waste any more time, or when father comes, we really will have nothing ready for him to eat."
"Very well," said Flower. "Then I shall take a walk by myself. I wish to be by myself. No, David you are not to come with me, I forbid it."
For a quarter of a second a queer steely light filled her blue eyes. David shrank from her glance, and followed the rest of the party down a flight of steps which led also into the old banqueting-hall.
"You've done it now," he whispered to Polly. "You'll be very, very sorry by-and-by, and you'll remember then that I warned you."
"I really think you're the most tiresome boy," said Polly. "You want to make mysteries out of nothing. I don't see that Flower is particularly passionate; she's a little bit sarcastic, and she likes to say nasty, scathing things, but you don't suppose I mind her! She'll soon come to her senses when she sees that we are none of us petting her, or bowing down to her. I expect that you and your father have spoiled that Flower of yours over in Ballarat."
"You don't know Flower a bit," responded David. "I warned you. You'll remember that presently. Flower not passionate! Why, she was white with passion when she went away. Well, you wait and see."
"I wish you'd stop talking," responded Polly, crossly. "We'll never have things ready if you chatter so, and try to perplex me. There's poor Fly almost crying over that big hamper. Please, David, go and help her to get the knives, and forks, and glasses out, and don't break any glasses, for we're always fined if we break glasses at picnics."
David moved away slowly. He was an active little fellow as a rule, but now there seemed to be a weight over him. The vivaciousness had left his handsome dark little face; once he turned round and looked at Polly with a volume of reproach in his eyes.
She would not meet his eyes, she was bending over her own hamper, and was laughing and chatting gayly with every one who came within her reach. The moment Flower's influence was removed Polly became once more the ringleader of all the fun. Once more she was appealed to, her advice asked, her directions followed. She could not help admitting to herself that she liked the change, and for the first time a conscious feeling of active dislike to Flower took possession of her. What right had this strange girl to come and take the lead in everything? No, she was neither very pretty nor very agreeable; she was a conceited, ill-tempered, proud creature, and it was Polly's duty, of course it was Polly's duty, to see that she was not humored. Was there anything so unreasonable and monstrous as her dislike to poor little Maggie? Poor little harmless Maggie, who had never done her an ill-turn in her life. Really David had been too absurd when he proposed that Maggie should be sent home. David was a nice boy enough, but he was not to suppose that every one was to bow down to his Queen Flower. Ridiculous! let her go into passions if she liked, she would soon be tamed and brought to her senses when she had been long enough in England.
Polly worked herself up into quite a genuine little temper of her own, as she thought, and she now resolved, simply and solely for the purpose of teasing Flower, that Maggie should dine with them all, and have a seat of honor near herself. When she had carelessly thought of her coming to the picnic, she, of course, like all the others, had intended that Maggie and George should eat their dinner together after the great meal was over; and even Helen shook her head now when Polly proposed in her bright audacious way that Maggie should sit near her, in one of the best positions, where she could see the light flickering through the ivy, which nearly covered the beautiful west window.
"As you like, of course, Polly," responded Helen. "But I do think it is putting Maggie a little out of her place. Perhaps father won't like it, and I'm sure Flower won't."
"I'll ask father myself, when he arrives," answered Polly, choosing to ignore the latter part of Helen's speech.
The banqueting-hall, which was a perfect ruin at one end, was still covered over at the other. And it was in this portion, full of picturesque half-lights and fascinating dark corners, that the children had laid out their repast. The west window was more than fifty feet distant. It was nearly closed in with an exquisite tracery of ivy; but as plenty of light poured into the ruin from the open sky overhead, this mattered very little, and but added to the general effect. The whole little party were very busy, and no one worked harder than Polly, and no one's laugh was more merry. Now and then, it is true, an odd memory and a queer sensation of failure came over her. Was she really—really to-day, at least—trying to climb successfully the highest mountain? She stifled the little voice speaking in her heart, delighted her brothers and sisters, and even caused a smile to play round David's grave lips as she made one witty remark after another. Firefly in particular was in ecstasies with her beloved sister, and when the Doctor at last appeared on the scene the fun was at its height.
The moment he entered the banqueting-hall Polly went up to him, put on her archest and most pleading expression, and said in a tone of inquiry:
"It's all so delightful, and such a treat for her. And you don't mind, do you father?"
"I don't know that I mind anything at this moment, Polly, for I am hungry, and your viands look tempting of the tempting. Unless you bid me not to come to the feast, I shall quarrel with no other suggestion."
"Oh! you darlingest of fathers; then you won't be angry if poor Maggie sits next me; and has her dinner with us? She is a little afraid of the moor, and I wanted to cure her, so I brought her to-day, and she will be so happy if she can sit next me at dinner."
"Put her where you please, my dear; we are not sitting on forms or standing on ceremony at present. And now to dinner, to dinner, children, for I must be off again in an hour."
No one noticed, not even David, that while the Doctor was speaking a shadow stole up and remained motionless by the crumbling stairs of the old banqueting-hall; no one either saw when it glided away. Polly laughed, and almost shouted; every one, Flower excepted, took their places as best they could on the uneven floor of the hall; the white tablecloth was spread neatly in the middle. Every one present was exceedingly uncomfortable physically, and yet each person expressed him or herself in tones of rapture, and said never was such food eaten, or such a delightful dinner served.
For a long time Flower was not even missed; then David's grave face attracted the Doctor's attention.
"What is the matter, my lad?" he said. "Have you a headache? Don't you enjoy this al fresco sort of entertainment? And, by the way, I don't see your sister. Helen, my dear, do you know where Flower is? Did not she come with you?"
"Of course she did, father; how stupid and careless of me never to have missed her."
Helen jumped up from the tailor-like position she was occupying on the floor.
"Flower said she would take a little walk," she continued. "And I must say I forgot all about her. She ought to have been back ages ago."
"Flower went by herself for a walk on the moor!" echoed the Doctor. "But that isn't safe; she may lose her way, or get frightened. Why did you let her go, children?"
No one answered; a little cloud seemed to have fallen on the merry party. Polly again had a pinprick of uneasiness in her heart, and a vivid recollection of the highest mountain which she was certainly not trying to climb.
The Doctor said he would go at once to look for Flower.
A YOUNG AUSTRALIAN.
David was quite right when he said his sister was not like other girls. There was a certain element of wildness in her; she had sweet manners, a gracious bearing, an attractive face; but in some particulars she was untamed. Never had that terrible strong temper of hers been curbed. More than one of the servants in the old home at Ballarat had learnt to dread it. When Flower stormed, her father invariably left home, and David shut himself up in his own room. Her mother, an affectionate but not particularly strong-minded woman, alone possessed sufficient courage to approach the storm-tossed little fury. Mrs. Dalrymple had a certain power of soothing the little girl, but even she never attempted to teach the child the smallest lessons of self-control.
This unchecked, unbridled temper grew and strengthened with Flower's growth. When under its influence she was a transformed being, and David had good reason to be afraid of her.
In addition to an ungovernable temper, Flower was proud; she possessed the greatest pride of all, that of absolute ignorance. She believed firmly in caste; had she lived in olden days in America, she would have been a very cruel mistress of slaves. Yet with it all Flower had an affectionate heart; she was generous, loyal, but she was so thoroughly a spoiled and untrained creature that her good qualities were nearly lost under the stronger sway of her bad ones.
After her mother's death Flower had fretted so much that she had grown shadowy and ill. It was then her father conceived the idea of sending her and David to an English family to train and educate. He could not manage Flower, he could not educate David. The Maybrights were heard of through a mutual friend, and Flower was reconciled to the thought of leaving the land and home of her birth because she was told she was going to another mother. She dried her eyes at this thought, and was tolerably cheerful during the voyage over. On reaching England the news of Mrs. Maybright's death was broken to her. Again Flower stormed and raged; she gave poor little David a dreadful night, but in the morning her tears were dried, her smile had returned, and she went down to Sleepy Hollow with the Doctor in fairly good spirits.
The young Maybrights were all on their best behavior—Flower was on hers, and until the day of the picnic all went well.
It did not take a great deal to rouse first the obstinate pride of this young Australian, and then her unbridled passions. Associate with a servant? No, that she would never, never do. Show Polly that she approved of her conduct? Not while her own name was Flower Dalrymple. She let all the other happy children go down to the banqueting-hall without her, and strode away, miserable at heart, choking with rage and fury.
The Dalrymples were very wealthy people, and Flower's home in Ballarat was furnished with every luxury. Notwithstanding this, the little girl had never been in a truly refined dwelling-house until she took up her abode in old-fashioned Sleepy Hollow. Flower had taken a great fancy to Helen, and she already warmly loved Dr. Maybright. She was wandering over the moor now, a miserable, storm-tossed little personage, when she saw his old-fashioned gig and white pony "Rowney" approaching. That old gig and the person who sat in it—for Dr. Maybright drove himself—began to act on the heart of the child with a curious magnetic force. Step by step they caused her to turn, until she reached Troublous Times Castle almost as soon as the Doctor. She did not know why she was coming back, for she had not the remotest idea of yielding her will to Polly's. Still she had a kind of instinct that the Doctor would set things right. By this she meant that he would give her her own way and banish Maggie from the scene of festivity.
The banqueting-hall at the old castle could be reached by two ways: you might approach it quite easily over the green sward, or you might enter a higher part of the castle, and come to it down broken steps.
The Doctor chose one way of approaching the scene of the feast, Flower another. She was about to descend when she heard voices: Polly was eagerly asking permission for Maggie to dine with them; the Doctor, in his easy, genial tones, was giving it to her. That was enough. If Flower had never known before what absolute hatred was like, she knew it now. She hated Polly; ungovernable passion mounted to her brain, filled her eyes, lent wings to her feet; she turned and fled.
Although the month was October, it was still very hot in the middle of the day on the open moor. Flower, however, was accustomed to great heat in her native home, and the full rays of the sun did not impede her flight. She was so tall and slight and willowy that she was a splendid runner, but the moor was broken and rough, interspersed here and there with deep bracken, here and there with heather, here and there again with rank clumps of undergrowth. The young girl, half blinded with rage and passion, did not see the sharp points of the rocks or the brambles in her path. Once or twice she fell. After her second fall she was so much bruised and hurt, that she was absolutely forced to sit still in the midst of the yellow-and-brown bracken. It was in a bristling, withered state, but it still stood thick and high, and formed a kind of screen all round Flower as she sat in it. She took off her cap, and idly fanned her hot face with it; her yellow head could scarcely be distinguished from the orange-and-gold tints of the bracken which surrounded her.
In this way the Doctor, who was now anxiously looking for Flower, missed her, for he drove slowly by, not a hundred yards from her hiding-place.
As Flower sat and tried to cool herself, she began to reflect. Her passion was not in the least over; on the contrary, its most dangerous stage had now begun. As she thought, there grew up stronger and stronger in her heart a great hatred for Polly. From the first, Flower had not taken so warmly to Polly as she had done to Helen. The fact was, these girls were in many ways too much alike. Had it been Polly's fate to be born and brought up in Ballarat, she might have been Flower over again. She might have been even worse than Flower, for she was cleverer; on the other hand, had Flower been trained by Polly's wise and loving mother, she might have been a better girl than Polly.
As it was, however, these two must inevitably clash. They were like two queen bees in the same hive; they each wanted the same place. It only needed a trifle to bring Flower's uneasy, latent feeling against Polly to perfection. The occasion arose, the match had fired the easily ignited fuel, and Flower sat now and wondered how she could best revenge herself on Polly.
After a time, stiff and limping, for she had hurt her ankle, she recommenced her walk across the moor. She had not the least idea where her steps were leading her. She was tired, her feet ached, and her great rage had sufficiently cooled to make her remember distinctly that she had eaten no dinner; still, she plodded on. From the time she had left Troublous Times Castle she had not encountered an individual, but now, as she stepped forward, a man suddenly arose from his lair in the grass and confronted her. He was a black-eyed, unkempt, uncouth-looking person, and any other girl would have been very much afraid of him. He put his arms akimbo, a disagreeable smile crossed his face, and he instantly placed himself in such a position as completely to bar the girl's path.
An English girl would have turned pale at such an apparition in so lonely a place, but Flower had seen bushmen in her day, and did not perceive anything barbarous or outlandish in the man's appearance.
"I'm glad I've met you," she said, in her clear dulcet voice, "for you can tell me where I am. I want to get to Sleepy Hollow, Dr. Maybright's place—am I far away?"
"Two miles, as the crow flies," responded the man.
"But I can't go as the crow flies. What is the best way to walk? Can't you show me?"
"No-a. I be sleepy. Have you got a coin about you, Miss?"
"Money? No. I left my purse at home. I have not got a watch either, nor a chain, but I have got a little ring. It is very thin, but it is pure gold, and I am fond of it. I will give it to you if you will take me the very nearest way to Sleepy Hollow."
The man grinned again. "You be a girl!" he said, in a tone of admiration. "Yes, I'll take you; come."