He turned on his heel, shambled on in front, and Flower followed.
In this manner the two walked for some time. Suddenly they mounted a ridge, and then the man pointed to where the Doctor's house stood, snug in its own inclosure.
"Thank you," said Flower.
She took a little twist of gold off her smallest finger, dropped it into the man's dirty, open palm, and began quickly to descend the ridge in the direction of the Hollow. It was nearly three o'clock when she entered the cool, wide entrance-hall. The house felt still and restful. Flower acknowledged to herself that she was both tired and hungry, but her main idea to revenge herself on Polly was stronger than either fatigue or hunger. She walked into the dining-room, cut a thick slice from a home-made loaf of bread, broke off a small piece to eat at once, and put the rest into her pocket. A dish of apples stood near; she helped herself to two, stowed them away with the bread in the capacious pocket of her green cloth dress, and then looked around her. She had got to Polly's home, but how was she to accomplish her revenge? How strike Polly through her most vulnerable point?
She walked slowly upstairs, meditating as she went. Her own little bower-like room stood open; she entered it. Polly's hands had been mainly instrumental in giving choice touches to this room; Polly's favorite blue vase stood filled with flowers on the dressing-table, and a lovely photograph of the Sistine Madonna which belonged to Polly hung over the mantelpiece. Flower did not look at any of these things. She unlocked a small drawer in a dainty inlaid cabinet, which she had brought with her from Ballarat, took out two magnificent diamond rings, a little watch set with jewels, and a small purse, very dainty in itself, but which only held a few shillings. She put all these treasures into a small black velvet bag, fastened the bag round her neck by a narrow gold chain, and then leaving her room, stood once more in a contemplative attitude on the landing.
She was ready now for flight herself, for when she had revenged herself on Polly, she must certainly fly. But how should she accomplish her revenge? what should she do? She thought hard. She knew she had but little time, for the Doctor and the children might return at any moment.
In the distance she heard the merry laugh of Polly's little sister, Pearl. Flower suddenly colored, her eyes brightened, and she said to herself:
"That is a good idea; I will go and have a talk with Nurse. I can find out somehow from Nurse what Polly likes best."
She ran at once to the nurseries.
"My dear Miss Flower," exclaimed Nurse. "Why, wherever have you been, Miss? I thought you was with the others. Well! you do look tired and fagged."
"I have walked home," said Flower, carelessly. "I didn't care to be out so long; picnics are nothing to me; I'm accustomed to that sort of thing on a big scale at Ballarat, you know. I walked home, and then I thought I'd have a chat with you, if you didn't mind."
"For sure, dear. Sit you down in that easy chair, Miss Flower; and would you like to hold baby for a bit? Isn't she sweet to-day? I must say I never saw a more knowing child for her age."
"She is very pretty," said Flower, carelessly. "But I don't think I'll hold her, Nurse. I'm not accustomed to babies, and I'm afraid she might break or something. Do you know I never had a baby in my arms in my life? I don't remember David when he was tiny. No, I never saw anything so young and soft and tiny as this little Pearl; she is very pretty."
"Eh, dear lamb," said Nurse, squeezing the baby to her heart, "she's the very sweetest of the sweet. Now you surprise me, Miss Flower, for I'd have said you'd be took up tremendous with babies, you has them winsome ways. Why, look at the little dear, she's laughing even now to see you. She quite takes to you, Miss—the same as she does to Miss Polly."
"She takes to Polly, does she?" said Flower.
"Take to her? I should say so, Miss; and as to Miss Polly, she just worships baby. Two or three times a day she comes into the nursery, and many and many a time she coaxes me to let her bathe her. The fact is, Miss Flower, we was all in a dreadful taking about Miss Polly when her mamma died. She was quite in a stunned sort of state, and it was baby here brought her round. Ever since then our little Miss Pearl has been first of all with Miss Polly."
"Give her to me," said Flower, in a queer, changed voice. "I've altered my mind—I'd like to hold her. See, is she not friendly? Yes, baby, kiss me, baby, with your pretty mouth. Does she not coo—isn't she perfect? You are quite right, Nurse. I do like to hold her, very much indeed."
"I said she'd take to you, Miss," said Nurse, in a gratified voice.
"So she does, and I take to her. Nurse, I wonder if you'd do something for me?"
"Of course I will, my dear."
"I am so awfully hungry. Would you go down' to the kitchen and choose a nice little dinner for me?"
"I'll ring the bell, Miss Dalrymple. Alice shall bring it to you on a tray here, if you've a mind to eat it in the nursery."
"But I do want you to choose something; do go yourself, and find something dainty. Do, Nursie, please Nursie. I want to be spoiled a little bit; no one ever spoils me now that my mamma is dead."
"Bless the child!" said good-natured and unsuspicious Nurse. "Of course I'll go, if you put it that way, Missy. Well, take care of baby, Miss Flower. Don't attempt to carry her; hold her steady with your arm firm round her back. I'll bring you your dinner in ten minutes at latest, Miss."
The moment Nurse's footsteps died away Flower sprang to her feet, snatched up a white wool shawl, which lay over the baby's cot, wrapped it round her, and flew downstairs with the little creature in her arms.
Out through a side door which stood open ran Flower, down by the shrubbery, over the stile, and in a few moments she was out again on the wide, wild, lonely moor with Polly's pet pressed close to her beating heart. Long before Nurse had returned to the nursery Flower had reached the moor, and when poor, distracted Nurse discovered her loss, Flower had wriggled herself into the middle of a clump of young oak-trees, and was fondling and petting little Pearl, who sat upright on her knee. From her hiding-place Flower could presently hear footsteps and voices, but none of them came near her, and for the present baby was contented, and did not cry. After a time the footsteps moved further off, and Flower peeped from her shelter.
"Now, baby, come on," she said. She wrapped the shawl again firmly round the little one, and started with a kind of trotting motion over the outskirts of the moor. She was intensely excited, and her cheeks were flushed with the first delicious glow of victory. Oh, how sorry Polly would be now for having attempted to oppose her. Yes, Polly would know now that Flower Dalrymple was not a person to be trifled with.
She was really a strong girl, though she had a peculiarly fragile look. The weight of the three months' old baby was not very great, and for a time she made quite rapid progress. After she had walked about a mile she stood still to consider and to make her plans. No more ignorant girl in all England could perhaps be found than this same poor silly, revengeful Flower; but even she, with all her ideas Australian, and her knowledge of English life and ways simply null and void, even she knew that the baby could not live for a long time without food and shelter on the wide common land which lay around. She did not mean to steal baby for always, but she thought she would keep her for a month or two, until Polly was well frightened and repentant, and then she would send her back by some kind, motherly woman whom she was sure to come across. As to herself, she had fully made up her mind never again to enter the doors of Sleepy Hollow, for it would be impossible for her, she felt, to associate with any people who had sat down to dinner with the kitchen-maid. Holding the baby firmly in her arms, Flower stood and hesitated. The warm fleecy white shawl sheltered little Pearl from all cold, and for the present she slept peacefully.
"I must try and find some town," thought Flower. "I must walk to some town—the nearest, I suppose—with baby. Then I will sell one of my rings, and try to get a nice woman to give me a lodging. If she is a motherly person—and I shall certainly look out for some one that is—I can give her little Pearl when I get tired of her, and she can take her back to Sleepy Hollow. But I won't give Pearl up for the present; for, in the first place she amuses me, and in the next I wish Polly to be well punished. Now I wonder which is the nearest way to the town? If I were at Ballarat, I should know quickly enough by the sign-posts placed at intervals all over the country, but they don't seem to have anything of the sort here in barbarous England. Now, how shall I get to the nearest town without meeting any one who would be likely to tell Dr. Maybright?"
Flower had scarcely expressed herself in this fashion before once again the rough-looking man crossed her path. She greeted him quite joyfully.
"Oh! you're just the person I want," she exclaimed. "I've got my purse now, and a little money in it. Would you like to earn a shilling?"
"Sure-ly," said the man. "But I'd a sight rather 'arn two," he added.
"I'll give you two. I have not got much money, but I'll certainly give you two shillings if you'll help me now. I have got a little baby here—a dear little baby, but she's rather heavy. I am running away with her to revenge myself on somebody. I don't mind telling you that, for you look like an outlaw yourself, and you'll sympathize with me. I want you to carry baby for me, and to take us both to the nearest town. Do you hear? Will you do it?"
"Sure-ly," said the man, favoring Flower with a long, peculiar glance.
"Well, here's baby; you must be very careful of her. I'll give you three shillings after you have taken her and me to the nearest town; and if you are really kind, and walk quickly, and take us to a nice restaurant where I can have a good dinner—for I am awfully hungry—you shall have something to eat yourself as well. Now walk on in front of me, please, and don't waste any more time, for it would be dreadful if we were discovered."
The man shambled on at once in front of Flower; his strong arms supported little Pearl comfortably, and she slumbered on in an unbroken dream.
The bright sunlight had now faded, the short October day was drawing in, the glory and heat of the morning had long departed, and Flower, whose green cloth dress was very light in texture, felt herself shivering in the sudden cold.
"Are you certain you are going to the nearest town?" she called out to the man.
"Sure-ly," he responded back to her. He was stepping along at a swinging pace, and Flower was very tired, and found it difficult to keep up with him. Having begged of him so emphatically to hurry, she did not like to ask him now to moderate his steps. To keep up with him at all she had almost to run; and she was now not only hungry, cold, and tired, but the constant quick motion took her breath away. They had left the border of the moor, and were now in the middle of a most desolate piece of country. As Flower looked around her she shivered with the first real sensation of loneliness she had ever known. The moor seemed to fill the whole horizon. Desolate moor and lowering sky—there seemed to be nothing else in all the world.
"Where is the nearest town?" she gasped at last. "Oh, what a long, long way off it is!"
"It's miles away!" said the man, suddenly stopping and turning round fiercely upon her; "but ef you're hungry, there's a hut yer to the left where my mother lives. She'll give you a bit of supper and a rest, ef so be as you can pay her well."
"Oh, yes, I can pay her," responded Flower. The thought of any shelter or any food was grateful to the fastidious girl now.
"I am very hungry and very tired," she said. "I will gladly rest in your mother's cottage. Where is it?"
"I said as it wor a hut. There are two dawgs there: be you afeard?"
"Of dogs? I am not afraid of anything!" said Flower, curling her short lip disdainfully.
"You be a girl!" responded the man. He shambled on again in front, and presently they came in sight of the deserted hermit's hut, where Polly and Maggie a few weeks before had been led captive. A woman was standing in the doorway, and by her side, sitting up on their haunches, were two ugly, lean-looking dogs.
"Down, Cinder and Flinder!" said the woman. "Down you brutes! Now, Patrick, what have you been up to? Whatever's that in your arms, and who's a-follering of yer?"
"This yer's a babby," said the man, "and this yer's a girl. She," pointing to Flower, "wants to be took to the nearest town, and she have money to pay, she says."
"Oh! she have money to pay?" said the wife of Micah Jones—for it was she. "Them as has money to pay is oilers and oilers welcome. Come in, and set you down by the fire, hinney. Well, well, and so you has brought a babby with you! Give it to me, Pat. What do you know, you great hulking feller! about the tending of babbies?"
The man gladly relinquished his charge, then pointed backwards with his finger at Flower.
"She's cold and 'ungry, and she has money to pay," he said.
"Come in, then, Missy, come in; yer's a good fire, and a hunk of cheese, and some brown bread, and there'll be soup by-and-by. Yes," winking at her son, "there'll be good strong soup by-and-by."
Flower, who had come up close to the threshold of the hut, now drew back a step or two. At sight of the woman her courage had revived, her feeling of extreme loneliness had vanished, and a good deal of the insolence which often marked her bearing had in consequence returned to her.
"I won't go in," she said. "It looks dirty in there and I hate dirt. No, I won't go in! Bring me some food out here, please. Of course I'll pay you."
"Highty-tighty!" said the woman. "And is wee babby to stay out in the cold night air?"
"I forgot about the baby," said Flower. "Give her to me. Is the night air bad for babies?" she asked, looking up inquiringly at the great rough woman who stood by her side.
Flower's utter and fearless indifference to even the possibility of danger had much the same effect on Mrs. Jones that it had upon her son. They both owned to a latent feeling of uneasiness in her presence. Had she showed the least trace of fear; had she dreaded them, or tried in any way to soften them, they would have known how to manage her. But Flower addressed them much as she would have done menials in her kitchen at home. The mother, as well as the son, muttered under her breath—"Never see'd such a gel!" She dropped the baby into Flower's outstretched arms, and answered her query in a less surly tone than usual.
"For sure night air is bad for babes, and this little 'un is young. Yes, werry young and purty."
The woman pulled aside the white fluffy shawl; two soft clear brown eyes looked up at her, and a little mouth was curved to a radiant smile.
"Fore sure she's purty," said the woman. "Look, Patrick. She minds me o'—well, never mind. Missy, it ain't good for a babe like that to be out in the night air. You're best in the house, and so is the babe. The dawgs shan't touch yer. Come into the house, and I'll give yer what supper's going, and the babe, pretty crittur, shall have a drink of milk."
"I would not injure the baby," said Flower. She held both arms firm round it, and entered the smoky, dismal hut.
The wife of Micah Jones moved a stool in front of the fire, pushed Flower rather roughly down on it, and then proceeded to cut thick hunches of sour bread and cheese. This was quite the coarsest food Flower had ever eaten, and yet she never thought anything more delicious. While she ate the woman sat down opposite her.
"I'll take the babe now and feed it," she said. "The pretty dear must be hungry."
It was not little Pearl's way to cry. It was her fashion to look tranquilly into all faces, and to take calmly every event, whether adverse or otherwise. When she looked at Flower she smiled, and she smiled again into the face of the rough woman who, in consequence, fed her tenderly with the best she had to give.
"Is the soup done?" said the rough man, suddenly coming forward. "It's soup I'm arter. It's soup as'll put life into Miss, and give her a mind to walk them miles to the nearest town."
The woman laughed back at her son.
"The soup's in the pot," she said. "You can give it a stir, Pat, if you will. Nathaniel will be in by-and-by, and he'll want his share. But you can take a bowl now, if you like, and give one to Missy."
"Ay," said the man, "soup's good; puts life into a body."
He fetched two little yellow bowls filled one for Flower, stirring it first with a pewter spoon.
"This'll put life into you, Miss," he said.
He handed the bowl of soup to the young girl. All this time the woman was bending over the baby. Suddenly she raised her head.
"'Tis a bonny babe," she said. "Ef I was you, Pat, I wouldn't stir Missy's soup. I'd give her your own bowl. I has no quarrel with Miss, and the babe is fair. Give her your own soup, Patrick."
"It's all right, mother, Miss wouldn't eat as much as in my bowl. You ain't 'ungry enough for that, be you, Miss?"
"I am very hungry," said Flower, who was gratefully drinking the hot liquid. "I could not touch this food if I was not very hungry. If I want more soup I suppose I can have some more from the pot where this was taken. What is the matter, woman? What are you staring at me for?"
"I think nought at all of you," said the woman, frowning, and drawing back, for Flower's tone was very rude. "But the babe is bonny. Here, take her back, she's like—but never mind. You'll be sleepy, maybe, and 'ud like to rest a bit. I meant yer no harm, but Patrick's powerful, and he and Nat, they does what they likes. They're the sons of Micah Jones, and he was a strong man in his day. You'd like to sleep, maybe, Missy. Here, Patrick, take the bowl from the girl's hand."
"I do feel very drowsy," said Flower. "I suppose it is from being out all day. This hut is smoky and dirty, but I'll just have a doze for five minutes. Please, Patrick, wake me at the end of five minutes, for I must, whatever happens, reach the nearest town before night."
As Flower spoke her eyes closed, and the woman, laying her back on some straw, put the baby into her arms.
"She'll sleep sound, pretty dear," she said. "Ef I was you I wouldn't harm her, just for the sake of the babe," she concluded.
"Why, mother, what's took you? I won't hurt Missy. It's her own fault ef she runs away, and steals the baby. That baby belongs to the doctor what lives in the Hollow; it's nought special, and you needn't be took up with it. Ah, here comes Nathaniel. Nat, I've found a lass wandering on the moor, and I brought her home, and now the mother don't want us to share the booty."
Nathaniel Jones was a man of very few words indeed. He had a fiercer, wilder eye than his brother, and his evidently was the dominant and ruling spirit.
"The moon's rising," he said; "she'll be at her full in half an hour. Do your dooty, mother, for we must be out of this, bag and baggage, in half an hour."
Without a word or a sigh, or even a glance of remorse, Mrs. Jones took the cap from Flower's head, and feeling around her neck discovered the gold chain which held the little bag of valuables. Without opening this she slipped it into her pocket. Flower's dainty shoes were then removed, and the woman looked covetously at the long, fine, cloth dress, but shook her head over it.
"I'd wake her if I took it," she said.
"No, you wouldn't, I drugged the soup well," said Pat.
"Well, anyhow, I'll leave her her dress. There's nought more but a handkerchief with a bit of lace on it."
"Take the baby's shawl," said Nathaniel, "and let us be off. If the moon goes down we won't see the track. Here, mother, I'll help myself to the wrap."
"No, you won't," said the woman. "You don't touch the babe with the pale face and the smile of Heaven. I'm ready; let's go."
The dogs were called, and the entire party strode in single file along a narrow path, which led away in a westerly direction over Peg-Top Moor.
WITHOUT HER TREASURE.
"There is a great fuss made about it all," said Polly.
This was her remark when her father left the pleasant picnic dinner and drove away over the moor in search of Flower.
"There is a great fuss made over it all. What is Flower more than any other girl? Why should she rule us all, and try to make things uncomfortable for us? No, David, you need not look at me like that. If Flower has got silly Australian notions in her head, she had better get rid of them as fast as possible. She is living with English people now, and English people all the world over won't put up with nonsense."
"It isn't Flower's ways I mean," said David. "Her ways and her thoughts aren't much, but it's—it's when she gets into a passion. There's no use talking about it—you have done it now, Polly!—but Flower's passions are awful."
David's eyes filled slowly with tears.
"Oh, you are a cry-baby," said Polly. She knew she was making herself disagreeable all round. In her heart she admired and even loved David; but nothing would induce her to say she was sorry for any part she had taken in Flower's disappearance.
"Everything is as tiresome as possible," she said, addressing her special ally, Maggie. "There, Mag, you need not stare at me. Your brain will get as small as ever again if you don't take care, and I know staring in that stupid way you have is particularly weakening to the brain. You had better help George to pack up, for I suppose Nell is right, and we must all begin to think of getting home. Oh, dear, what a worry it is to have to put up with the whims of other people. Yes, I understand at last why father hesitated to allow the strangers to come here."
"I wouldn't grumble any more, if I were you, Polly," said Helen. "See how miserable David looks. I do hope father will soon find Flower. I did not know that David was so very fond of her."
"David is nervous," retorted Polly, shortly. Then she turned to and packed in a vigorous manner, and very soon after the little party started on their return walk home. It was decidedly a dull walk. Polly's gay spirits were fitful and forced; the rest of the party did not attempt to enjoy themselves. David lagged quite behind the others; and poor Maggie confided to George that somehow or other, she could not tell why, they were all turning their eyes reproachful-like on her. The sun had gone in now in the heavens, and the children, who had no sunshine in their hearts just then, had a vivid consciousness that it was late autumn, and that the summer was quite at an end.
As they neared the rise in the moor which hid Sleepy Hollow from view, David suddenly changed his position from the rear to the van. As they approached the house he stooped down, picked up a small piece of paper, looked at it, uttered a cry of fear and recognition, and ran off as fast as ever he could to the house.
"What a queer boy David is!" was on Polly's lips; but she could scarcely say the words before he came out again. His face was deadly white, he shook all over, and the words he tried to say only trembled on his lips.
"What is it, David?" said the twins, running up to him.
"She'll believe me now," said David.
He panted violently, his teeth chattered.
"Oh! David, you frighten us! What can be the matter? Polly, come here! Nell, come and tell us what is the matter with David."
The elder girls, and the rest of the children, collected in the porch. Polly, the tallest of all, looked over the heads of the others. She caught sight of David's face, and a sudden pain, a queer sense of fear, and the awakening of a late remorse, filled her breast.
"What is it, David?" she asked, with the others; but her voice shook, and was scarcely audible.
"She's done it!" said David. "The baby's gone! It's Flower! She was in one of her passions, and she has taken the baby away. I said she wasn't like other girls. Nurse thinks perhaps the baby'll die. What is it?—oh, Polly! what is it!" For Polly had given one short scream, and, pushing David and every one aside, rushed wildly into the house.
She did not hear the others calling after her; she heard nothing but a surging as of great waves in her ears, and David's words echoing along the passages and up the stairs "Perhaps the baby will die!" She did not see her father, who held out his arms to detain her. She pushed Alice aside without knowing that she touched her. In a twinkling she was at the nursery door; in a twinkling she was kneeling by the empty cot, and clasping the little frilled pillow on which baby's head used to rest passionately to her lips.
"It's true, then!" she gasped, at last. "I know now what David meant; I know now why he warned me. Oh Nursie! Nursie! it's my fault!"
"No, no, my darling!" said Nurse; "it's that dreadful young lady. But she'll bring her back. Sure, what else could she do, lovey? She'll bring the little one back, and, by the blessing of the good God, she'll be none the worse for this. Don't take on so, Miss Polly! Don't look like that, dear! Why, your looks fairly scare me."
"I'll be better in a minute," said Polly. "This is no time for feelings. I'll be quiet in a minute. Have you got any cold water? There's such a horrid loud noise in my ears."
She rushed across the room, poured a quantity of water into a basin, and laved her face and head.
"Now I can think," she said. "What did Flower do, Nurse? Tell me everything; tell me in very few words, please, for there isn't a moment—there isn't half a moment—to lose."
"It was this way, dear: she came into the room, and took baby into her arms, and asked for some dinner. She didn't seem no way taken with baby at first, but when I told her how much you loved our little Miss Pearl, she asked me to give her to her quite greedy-like, and ordered me to fetch some dinner for herself, for she was starving, she said. I offered that Alice should bring it; but no, she was all that I should choose something as would tempt her appetite, and she coaxed with that pretty way she have, and I went down to the kitchen myself to please her. I'll never forgive myself, never, to the longest day I live. I wasn't ten minutes gone, but when I come back with a nice little tray of curry, and some custard pie, Miss Flower and the baby were away. That's all—they hasn't been seen since."
"How long ago is that, Nurse?"
"I couldn't rightly tell you, dearie—maybe two hours back. I ran all round the moor anywhere near, and so did every servant in the house, but since the Doctor come in they has done the thing properly. Now where are you going, Miss Polly, love?"
"To my father. I wish this horrid noise wouldn't go on in my head. Don't worry me, Nurse. I know it was my fault. I wouldn't listen to the warning, and I would provoke her, but don't scold me now until I have done my work."
Polly rushed downstairs.
"Where's father?" she asked of Bunny, who was sobbing violently, and clinging in a frantic manner to Firefly's skirts.
"I—I don't know. He's out."
"He's away on the moor," said Fly. "Polly, are you really anxious about baby Pearl?"
"I have no time to be anxious," said Polly. "I must find her first. I'll tell you then if I'm anxious. Where's Nell, where are the twins?"
"On the moor; they all went out with father."
"Which moor, the South or Peg-Top?"
"I think the South moor."
"All right, I'm going out too. What's the matter, Fly? Oh, you're not to come."
"Please, please, it's so horrid in the house, and Bunny does make my dress so soppy with crying into it."
"You're not to come. You are to stay here and do your best, your very best, for father and the others when they come home. If they don't meet me, say I've gone to look for baby and for Flower. I'll come back when I've found them. If they find baby and Flower, they might ask to have the church bells rung, then I'll know. Don't stare at me like that, Fly; it was my fault, so I must search until I find them."
Polly ran out of the house and down the lawn. Once again she was out on the moor. The great solitary commons stretched to right and left; they were everywhere, they filled the whole horizon, except just where Sleepy Hollow lay, with its belt of trees, its cultivated gardens, and just beyond the little village and the church with the square, gray tower. There was a great lump in Polly's throat, and a mist before her eyes. The dreadful beating was still going on in her heart, and the surging, ceaseless waves of sound in her ears.
Suddenly she fell on her knees.
"Please, God, give me back little Pearl. Please, God, save little Pearl. I don't want anything else; I don't even want father to forgive me, if You will save little Pearl."
Most earnest prayers bring a sense of comfort, and Polly did not feel quite so lonely when she stood again on her feet, with the bracken and the fern all round her.
She tried hard now to collect her thoughts; she made a valiant effort to feel calm and reasonable.
"I can do nothing if I get so excited," she said to herself. "I must just fight with my anxious spirit. My heart must stay quiet, for my brain has got to work now. Let me see! where has Flower taken baby? Father and Nell and the others are all searching the South moor, so I will go on to Peg-Top. I will walk slowly, and I will look behind every clump of trees, and I will call Flower's name now and then; for I am sure, I am quite, quite sure that, however dreadful her passion may have been, if Flower is the least like me, she will be dreadfully sorry by now—dreadfully sorry and dreadfully frightened—so if she hears me calling she will be sure to answer. Oh, dear! oh, dear! here is my heart speaking again, and my head is in a whirl, and the noises are coming back into my ears. Oh! how fearfully I hate Flower! How could she, how could she have taken our darling little baby away? And yet—and yet I think I'd forgive Flower; I think I'd try to love her; I think I'd even tell her that I was the one who had done most wrong; I think I'd even go on my knees and beg Flower's pardon, if only I could hold baby to my heart again!"
By this time Polly was crying bitterly. These tears did the poor child good, relieving the pressure on her brain, and enabling her to think calmly and coherently. While this tempest of grief, however, effected these good results, it certainly did not improve her powers of observation; the fast-flowing tears blinded her eyes, and she stumbled along, completely forgetting the dangerous and uneven character of the ground over which she walked.
It was now growing dusk, and the dim light also added to poor Polly's dangers. Peg-Top Moor had many tracks leading in all directions. Polly knew several of these, and where they led, but she had now left all the beaten paths, and the consequence was that she presently found herself uttering a sharp and frightened cry, and discovered that she had fallen down a fairly steep descent. She was slightly stunned by her fall, and for a moment or two did not attempt to move. Then a dull pain in her ankle caused her to put her hand to it, and to struggle giddily to a sitting position.
"I'll be able to stand in a minute," she said to herself; and she pressed her hand to her forehead, and struggled bravely against the surging, waving sounds which had returned to her head.
"I can't sit here!" she murmured; and she tried to get to her feet.
In vain!—a sharp agony brought her, trembling and almost fainting, once more to a sitting posture. What was she to do?—how was she now to find Flower and the baby? She was alone on the moor, unable to stir. Perhaps her ankle was broken; certainly, it was sprained very badly.
MAGGIE TO THE RESCUE.
When the Maybrights returned home from their disastrous picnic at Troublous Times Castle, Maggie and George brought up the rear. In consequence of their being some little way behind the others, Maggie did not at once know of the fact of Flower's disappearance with the baby. She was naturally a slow girl; ideas came to her at rare intervals; she even received startling and terrible news with a certain outward stolidity and calm. Still, Maggie was not an altogether purposeless and thoughtless maiden; thoughts occasionally drifted her way; ideas, when once born in her heart, were slow to die. When affection took root there it became a very sturdy plant. If there was any one in the world whom Maggie adored, it was her dear young mistress, Miss Polly Maybright. Often at night Maggie awoke, and thought, with feelings of almost worship, of this bright, impulsive young lady. How delightful that week had been when she and Polly had cooked, and housekeeped, and made cakes and puddings together! Would any one but Polly have forgiven her for taking that pound to save her mother's furniture? Would any one in all the world, except that dear, warm-hearted, impulsive Polly, have promised to do without a winter jacket in order to return that money to the housekeeping fund? Maggie felt that, stupid as she knew herself to be, slow as she undoubtedly was, she could really do great things for Polly. In Polly's cause her brain could awake, the inertia which more or less characterized her could depart. For Polly she could undoubtedly become a brave and active young person.
She was delighted with herself when she assisted Miss Maybright to descend from her bedroom window, and to escape with her on to the moor, but her delight and sense of triumph had not been proof against the solitude of the sad moor, against the hunger which was only to be satisfied with berries and spring water, and, above all, against the terrible apparition of the wife of Micah Jones. What Maggie went, through in the hermit's hut, what terrors she experienced, were only known to Maggie's own heart. When, however, Mrs. Ricketts got back her daughter from that terrible evening's experience, she emphatically declared that "Mag were worse nor useless; that she seemed daft-like, and a'most silly, and that never, never to her dying day, would she allow Mag to set foot on them awful lonely commons again."
Mrs. Ricketts, however, was not a particularly obstinate character, and when Polly's bright face peeped round her door, and Polly eagerly, and almost curtly, demanded that Maggie should that very moment accompany her on a delightful picnic to Troublous Times Castle, and Maggie herself, with sparkling eyes and burning cheeks, was all agog to go, and was now inclined to pooh-pooh the terrors she had endured in the hermit's hut, there was nothing for Mrs. Ricketts to do but to forget her vow and send off the two young people with her blessing.
"Eh, but she's a dear young lady," she said, under her breath, apostrophizing Miss Maybright. "And Mag do set wonderful store by her, and no mistake. It ain't every young lady as 'ud think of my Maggie when she's going out pleasuring; but bless Miss Polly! she seems fairly took up with my poor gel."
No face could look more radiant than Maggie's when she started for the picnic, but, on the other hand, no young person could look more thoroughly sulky and downcast than she did on her return. Mrs. Ricketts was just dishing up some potatoes for supper when Maggie flung open the door of the tiny cottage, walked across the room, and flung herself on a little settle by the fire.
"You're hungry, Mag," said Mrs. Ricketts, without looking up.
"No, I bean't," replied Maggie, shortly.
"Eh, I suppose you got your fill of good things out with the young ladies and gentlemen. It ain't your poor mother's way to have a bit of luck like that, and you never thought, I suppose, of putting a slice or two of plum cake, or maybe the half of a chicken, in your pocket, as a bit of a relish for your mother's supper. No, no, that ain't your way, Mag; you're all for self, and that I will say."
"No, I ain't mother. You has no call to talk so. How could I hide away chicken and plum cake, under Miss Polly's nose, so to speak. I was setting nigh to Miss Polly, mother, jest about the very middle of the feast. I had a place of honor close up to Miss Polly, mother."
"Eh, to be sure!" exclaimed Mrs. Ricketts.
She stopped dishing up the potatoes, wiped her brow, and turned to look at her daughter, with a slow expression of admiration in her gaze.
"Eh," she continued, "you has a way about you, Mag, with all your contrariness. Miss Polly Maybright thinks a sight on you, Mag; seems to me as if maybe she'd adopt you, and turn you into a real lady. My word, I have read of such things in story-books."
"You had better go on dishing up your supper, mother and not be talking nonsense like that. Miss Polly is a very good young lady, but she hasn't no thought of folly of that sort. Eh, dear me," continued Maggie, yawning prodigiously "I'm a bit tired, and no mistake."
"That's always the way," responded Mrs. Ricketts. "Tired and not a word to say after your pleasuring; no talking about what happened, and what Miss Helen wore, and if Miss Firefly has got on her winter worsted stockings yet, and not a mention of them foreigners as we're all dying to hear of, and not a word of what victuals you ate, nor nothing. You're a selfish girl, Maggie Ricketts, and that I will say, though I am your mother."
"I'm sleepy," responded Maggie, who seemed by no means put out by this tirade on the part of her mother. "I'll go up to bed if you don't mind, mother. No, I said afore as I wasn't hungry."
She left the room, crept up the step-ladder to the loft, where the family slept, and opening the tiny dormer window, put her elbows on the sill and gazed out on the gathering gloom which was settling on the moor.
The news of the calamity which had befallen Polly had reached Maggie's ears. Maggie thought only of Polly in this trouble; it was Polly's baby who was lost, it was Polly whose heart would be broken. She did not consider the others in the matter. It was Polly, the Polly whom she so devotedly loved, who filled her whole horizon. When the news was told her she scarcely said a word; a heavy, "Eh!—you don't say!" dropped from her lips. Even George, who was her informer, wondered if she had really taken in the extent of the catastrophe; then she had turned on her heel and walked down to her mother's cottage.
She was not all thoughtless and all indifferent, however. While she looked so stoical and heavy she was patiently working out an idea, and was nerving herself for an act of heroism.
Now as she leant her elbows on the sill by the open window, cold Fear came and stood by her side. She was awfully frightened, but her resolve did not falter. She meant to slip away in the dusk and walk across Peg-Top Moor to the hermit's hut. An instinct, which she did not try either to explain away or prove, led her to feel sure that she should find Polly's baby in the hermit's hut. She would herself, unaided and alone, bring little Pearl back to her sister.
It would have been quite possible for Maggie to have imparted her ideas to George, to her mother, or to some of the neighbors. There was not a person in the village who would not go to the rescue of the Doctor's child. Maggie might have accompanied a multitude, had she so willed it, to the hermit's hut. But then the honor and glory would not have been hers; a little reflection of it might shine upon her, but she would not bask, as she now hoped to do, in its full rays.
She determined to go across the lonely moor which she so dreaded alone, for she alone must bring back Pearl to Polly.
Shortly before the moon arose, and long after sunset, Maggie crept down the attic stairs, unlatched the house door, and stepped out into the quiet village street. Her fear was that some neighbors would see her, and either insist on accompanying her on her errand, or bring her home. The village, however, was very quiet that night, and at nine o'clock, when Maggie started on her search, there were very few people out.
She came quickly to the top of the small street, crossed a field, squeezed through a gap in the hedge, and found herself on the borders of Peg-Top Moor. The moon was bright by this time, and there was no fear of Maggie not seeing. She stepped over the ground briskly, a solitary little figure with a long shadow ever stalking before her, and a beating, defiant heart in her breast. She had quite determined that whatever agony she went through, her fears should not conquer her; she would fight them down with a strong hand, she would go forward on her road, come what might.
Maggie was an ignorant little cottager, and there were many folk-lore tales abroad with regard to the moor which might have frightened a stouter heart than hers. She believed fully in the ghost who was to be seen when the moon was at the full, pacing slowly up and down, through that plantation of trees at her right; she had unswerving faith in the bogey who uttered terrific cries, and terrified the people who were brave enough to walk at night through Deadman's Glen. But she believed more fully still in Polly, in Polly's love and despair, and in the sacredness of the errand which she was now undertaking to deliver her from her trouble.
From Mrs. Ricketts' cottage to the hermit's hut there lay a stretch of moorland covering some miles in extent, and Maggie knew that the lonely journey she was taking could not come to a speedy end.
She knew, however, that she had got on the right track and that by putting one foot up and one foot down, as the children do who want to reach London town, she also at last would come to her destination.
The moon shone brightly, and the little maid, her shadow always going before her, stepped along bravely.
Now and then that same shadow seemed to assume gigantic and unearthly proportions, but at other times it wore a friendly aspect, and somewhat comforted the young traveler.
"It's more or less part of me," quoth Maggie, "and I must say as I'm glad I have it, it's better nor nought; but oh ain't the moon fearsome, and don't my heart a-flutter, and a pit-a-pat! I'm quite sure now, yes, I'm quite gospel sure that ef I was to meet the wife of Micah Jones, I'd fall flat down dead at her feet. Oh, how fearsome is this moor! Well, ef I gets hold of Miss Pearl I'll never set foot an it again. No, not even for a picnic, and the grandest seat at the feast, and the best of the victuals."
The moon shone on, and presently the interminable walk came to a conclusion. Maggie reached the hermit's hut, listened with painful intentness for the baying of some angry dogs, pressed her nose against the one pane of glass in the one tiny window, saw nothing, heard nothing, finally lifted the latch, and went in.
THE HERMIT'S HUT.
It was perfectly dark inside the hut, for the little window, through which the moon might have shone, was well shrouded with a piece of old rug. It was perfectly dark, and Maggie, although she had stumbled a good deal in lifting the latch, and having to descend a step without knowing it, had all but tumbled headlong into the tiny abode, had evoked no answering sound or stir of any sort.
She stood still for a moment in the complete darkness to recover breath, and to consider what she was to do. Strange to say, she did not feel at all frightened now; the shelter of the four walls gave her confidence. There were no dogs about, and Maggie felt pretty sure that the wife of Micah Jones was also absent, for if she were in the hut, and awake, she would be sure to say, "Who's there?" quoth Maggie, to her own heart; "and ef she's in the hut, and asleep, why it wouldn't be like her not to snore."
The little girl stood still for a full minute; during this time she was collecting her faculties, and that brain, which Polly was pleased to call so small, was revolving some practical schemes.
"Ef I could only lay my hand on a match, now," she thought.
She suddenly remembered that in her mother's cottage the match-box was generally placed behind a certain brick near the fireplace; it was a handy spot, both safe and dry, and Maggie, since her earliest days, had known that if there was such a luxury as a box of matches in the house, it would be found in this corner. She wondered if the wife of Micah Jones could also have adopted so excellent a practice. She stepped across the little hut, felt with her hands right and left, poked about all round the open fireplace, and at last, joy of joys, not only discovered a box with a few matches in it, but an end of candle besides.
In a moment she had struck a match, had applied it to the candle, and then, holding the flickering light high, looked around the little hut.
A girl, crouched up against the wall on some straw, was gazing at her with wide-open terrified eyes; the girl was perfectly still, not a muscle in her body moved, only her big frightened eyes gazed fixedly at Maggie. She wore no hat on her head; her long yellow hair lay in confusion over her shoulders; her feet were shoeless, and one arm was laid with a certain air of protection on a wee white bundle on the straw by her side.
"Who are you?" said Flower, at last. "Are you a ghost, or are you the daughter of the dreadful woman who lives in this hut? See! I had a long sleep. She put me to sleep, I know she did; and while I was asleep she stole my purse and rings, and my hat and shoes. But that's nothing, that's nothing at all. While I was asleep, baby here died. I know she's quite dead, she has not stirred nor moved for hours, at least it seems like hours. What are you staring at me in that rude way for, girl? I'm quite sure the baby, Polly's little sister, is dead."
Nobody could speak in a more utterly apathetic way than Flower. Her voice neither rose nor fell. She poured out her dreary words in a wailing monotone.
"I know that it's my fault," she added; "Polly's little sister has died because of me."
She still held her hand over the white bundle.
"I'm terrified, but not of you," she added; "you may be a ghost, stealing in here in the dark; or you may be the daughter of that dreadful woman. But whoever you are, it's all alike to me. I got into one of my passions. I promised my mother when she died that I'd never get into another, but I did, I got into one to-day. I was angry with Polly Maybright; I stole her little sister away, and now she's dead. I am so terrified at what I have done that I never can be afraid of anything else. You need not stare so at me, girl; whoever you are I'm not afraid of you."
Maggie had now found an old bottle to stick her candle into.
"I am Miss Polly's little kitchen-maid, Maggie Ricketts," she replied. "I ain't a ghost, and I haven't nothing to say to the wife of Micah Jones. As to the baby, let me look at it. You're a very bad young lady, Miss Flower, but I has come to fetch away the baby, ef you please, so let me look at it this minute. Oh, my, how my legs do ache; that moor is heavy walking! Give me the baby, please, Miss Flower. It ain't your baby, it's Miss Polly's."
"So, you're Maggie?" said Flower. There was a queer shake in her voice. "It was about you I was so angry. Yes, you may look at the baby; take it and look at it, but I don't want to see it, not if it's dead."
Maggie instantly lifted the little white bundle into her arms, removed a portion of the shawl, and pressed her cheek against the cheek of the baby.
The little white cheek was cold, but not deadly cold, and some faint, faint breath still came from the slightly parted lips.
When Maggie had anything to do, no one could be less nervous and more practical.
"The baby ain't dead at all," she explained. "She's took with a chill, and she's very bad, but she ain't dead. Mother has had heaps of babies, and I know what to do. Little Miss Pearl must have a hot bath this minute."
"Oh, Maggie," said Flower. "Oh, Maggie, Maggie!"
Her frozen indifference, her apathy, had departed. She rose from her recumbent position, pushed back her hair and stood beside the other young girl, with eyes that glowed, and yet brimmed over with tears.
"Oh, what a load you have taken off my heart!" she exclaimed. "Oh, what a darling you are! Kiss me, Maggie, kiss me, dear, dear Maggie."
"All right, Miss. You was angry with me afore, and now you're a-hugging of me, and I don't see no more sense in one than t'other. Ef you'll hold the baby up warm to you, Miss, and breathe ag'in her cheek werry gentle-like, you'll be a-doing more good than a-kissing of me. I must find sticks, and I must light up a fire, and I must do it this minute, or we won't have no baby to talk about, nor fuss over."
Maggie's rough and practical words were perhaps the best possible tonic for Flower at this moment. She had been on the verge of a fit of hysterics, which might have been as terrible in its consequences as either her passion or her despair. Now trembling slightly, she sat down on the little stool which Maggie had pulled forward for her, took the baby in her arms, and partly opening the shawl which covered it, breathed on its white face.
The little one certainly was alive, and when Flower's breath warmed it, its own breathing became stronger.
Meanwhile, Maggie bustled about. The hermit's hut, now that she had something to do in it, seemed no longer at all terrible. After a good search round she found some sticks, and soon a bright fire blazed and crackled, and filled the tiny house with light and warmth. A pot of water was put on the fire to warm, and then Maggie looked round for a vessel to bathe the baby in. She found a little wooden tub, which she placed ready in front of the fire.
"So far, so good!" she exclaimed; "but never a sight of a towel is there to be seen. Ef you'll give me the baby now, Miss, I'll warm her limbs a bit afore I put her in the bath. I don't know how I'm to dry her, I'm sure, but a hot bath she must have."
"I have got a white petticoat on," said Flower. "Would that be any use?"
"Off with it this minute, then, Miss; it's better nor nought. Now, then, my lamb! my pretty! see ef Maggie don't pull you round in a twinkling!"
She rubbed and chafed the little creature's limbs, and soon baby opened her eyes, and gave a weak, piteous cry.
"I wish I had something to give her afore I put her in the bath," said Maggie. "There's sure to be sperits of some sort in a house like this. You look round you and see ef you can't find something, Miss Flower."
Flower obediently searched in the four corners of the hut.
"I can't see anything!" she exclaimed. "The place seems quite empty."
"Eh, dear!" said Maggie: "you don't know how to search. Take the baby, and let me."
She walked across the cabin, thrust her hand into some straw which was pressed against the rafters, pulled out an old tin can and opened it.
"Eh, what's this?" she exclaimed. "Sperits? Now we'll do. Give me the baby back again, Miss Flower, and fetch a cup, ef you please."
Flower did so.
"Put some hot water into it. Why, you ain't very handy! Miss Polly's worth a dozen of you! Now pour in a little of the sperit from the tin can—not too much. Let me taste it. That will do. Now, baby—now, Miss Polly's darling baby!—I'll wet your lips with this, and you'll have your bath, and you'll do fine!"
The mixture was rubbed on the blue lips of the infant, and Maggie even managed to get her to swallow a few drops. Then, the bath being prepared by Flower, under a shower of scathing ridicule from Maggie, who had very small respect, in any sense of the word, for her assistant, the baby was put into it, thoroughly warmed, rubbed up, and comforted, and then, with the white fleecy shawl wrapped well around her, she fell asleep in Maggie's arms.
"She'll do for the present," said the kitchen-maid, leaning back and mopping a little moisture from her own brow. "She'll do for a time, but she won't do for long, for she'll want milk and all kinds of comforts. And I tell you what it is, Miss Flower, that my master and Miss Polly can't be kept a-fretting for this child until the morning. Some one must go at once, and tell 'em where she is, and put 'em out of their misery, and the thing is this: is it you, or is it me, that's to do the job?"
"But," said Flower—she had scarcely spoken at all until now—"cannot we both go? Cannot we both walk home, and take the baby with us?"
"No, Miss, not by no means. Not a breath of night air must touch the cheeks of this blessed lamb. Either you or me, Miss Flower, must walk back to Sleepy Hollow, and tell 'em about the baby, and bring back Nurse, and what's wanted for the child. Will you hold her, Miss? and shall I trot off at once?—for there ain't a minute to be lost."
"No," said Flower, "I won't stay in the hut. It is dreadful to me. I will go and tell the Doctor and Polly."
"As you please, Miss. Maybe it is best as I should stay with little Missy. You'll find it awful lonesome out on the moor, Miss Flower, and I expect when you get near Deadman's Glen as you'll scream out with terror; there's a bogey there with a head three times as big as his body, and long arms, twice as long as they ought to be, and he tears up bits of moss and fern, and flings them at yer, and if any of them, even the tiniest bit, touches yer, why you're dead before the year is out. Then there's the walking ghost and the shadowy maid, and the brown lady, the same color as the bracken when it's withering up, and—and—why, what's the matter, Miss Flower?"
"Only I respected you before you talked in that way," said Flower. "I respected you very much, and I was awfully ashamed of not being able to eat my dinner with you. But when you talk in such an awfully silly way I don't respect you, so you had better not go on. Please tell me, as well as you can, how I'm to get to Sleepy Hollow, and I'll start off at once."
"You must beware of the brown lady, all the same."
"No, I won't beware of her; I'll spring right into her arms."
"And the bogey in Deadman's Glen. For Heaven's sake, Miss Flower, keep to the west of Deadman's Glen."
"If Deadman's Glen is a short cut to Sleepy Hollow, I'll walk through it. Maggie, do you want Nurse to come for little Pearl, or not? I don't mind waiting here till morning; it does not greatly matter to me. I was running away, you know."
"You must go at once," said Maggie, recalled to common sense by another glance at the sleeping child. "The baby's but weakly, and there ain't nothing here as I can give her, except the sperits and water, until Nurse comes. I'll lay her just for a minute on the straw here, and go out with you and put you on the track. You follow the track right on until you see the lights in the village. Sleepy Hollow's right in the village, and most likely there'll be a light in the Doctor's study window; be quick, for Heaven's sake, Miss Flower?"
"Yes, I'm off. Oh, Maggie, Maggie! what do you think? That dreadful woman has stolen my shoes. I forgot all about it until this minute. What shall I do? I can't walk far in my stockings."
"Have my boots, Miss; they're hob-nailed, and shaped after my foot, which is broad, as it should be, seeing as I'm only a kitchen-maid. But they're strong, and they are sure to fit you fine."
"I could put my two feet into one of them," responded Flower, curling her proud lip once again disdainfully. But then she glanced at the baby, and a queer shiver passed over her; her eyes grew moist, her hands trembled.
"I will put the boots on," she said. And she slipped her little feet, in their dainty fine silk stockings, into Maggie's shoes.
"Good-by, Miss; come back as soon as you can," called out the faithful waiting-maid, and Flower set off across the lonely moor.
AN OLD SONG.
It took a great deal to frighten Polly Maybright; no discipline, no hard words, no punishments, had ever been able to induce the smallest sensation of fear in her breast. As to the moor, she had been brought up on it; she had drank in its air, and felt its kindly breath on her cheeks from her earliest days. The moors were to Polly like dear, valued, but somewhat stern, friends. To be alone, even at night, in one of the small ravines of Peg-Top Moor had little in itself to alarm the moorland child.
It took Polly some time to realize that she was absolutely unable to stir a step. Struggle as she might, she could not put that badly-injured foot to the ground. Even she, brave and plucky as she was, had not the nerve to undergo this agony. She could not move, therefore she could do nothing at present to recover little Pearl. This was really the thought which distressed her. As to sleeping with her head pressed against the friendly bracken, or staying on Peg-Top Moor all night, these were small considerations. But not to be able to stir a step to find the baby, to feel that Flower was carrying the baby farther and farther away, and that Polly's chance of ever seeing her again was growing less and less, became at last a thought of such agony that the poor little girl could scarcely keep from screaming aloud.
"And it was all my fault!" she moaned. "I forgot what father said about climbing the highest mountain. When David came to me, and told me that Flower was subject to those awful passions, I forgot all about my mountain-climbing. I did not recognize that I had come to a dangerous bit, so that I wanted the ropes of prayer and the memory of mother to pull me over it. No, I did nothing but rejoice in the knowledge that I didn't much like Flower, and that I was very, very glad to tease her. Now I am punished. Oh, oh, what shall I do? Oh, if baby is lost! If baby dies, I shall die too! Oh, I think I'm the most miserable girl in all the world! What shall I do? Why did mother go away? Why did Flower come here? Why did I want her to come? I made a mess of the housekeeping, and now I have made a mess of the visit of the strangers. Oh, I'm the sort of girl who oughtn't to go a step alone!—I really, really am! I think I'm the very weakest sort of girl in all the world!"
Polly sobbed and sobbed. It was not her custom to give way thus utterly, but she was in severe pain of body, and she had got a great shock when the loss of little Pearl had been announced by David.
"What shall I do?" she moaned and sobbed. "Oh, I'm the sort of girl who oughtn't to go a step alone."
While she cried all by herself on the moor, and the friendly stars looked down at her, and the moon came out and shone on her poor forsaken little figure, an old verse she used to say in her early childhood returned to her memory. It was the verse of a hymn—a hymn her mother was fond of, and used often to sing, particularly about the time of the New Year, to the children.
Mrs. Maybright had a beautiful voice, and on Sunday evenings she sang many hymns, with wonderful pathos and feeling, to her children. Polly, who cared for music on her own account, had loved to listen. At these times she always looked hungrily into her mother's face, and a longing and a desire for the best things of all awoke in her breast. It was at such times as these that she made resolves, and thought of climbing high and being better than others.
Since her mother's death, Polly could not bear to listen to hymns. In church she had tried to shut her ears; her lips were closed tight, and she diligently read to herself some other part of the service. For her mother's sake, the hymns, with that one beautiful voice silent, were torture to her; but Polly was a very proud girl, and no one, not even her father, who now came nearest to her in all the world, guessed what she suffered.
Now, lying on the moor, her mother's favorite hymn seemed to float down from the stars to her ears:
"I know not the way I am going, But well do I know my Guide; With a trusting faith I give my hand To the loving Friend at my side."
"The only thing that I say to Him As He takes it is, 'Hold it fast! Suffer me not to lose my way, And bring me home at last!'"
It did not seem at all to Polly that she was repeating these words herself; rather they seemed to be said to her gently, slowly, distinctly, by a well-loved and familiar voice.
It was true, then, there was a Guide, and those who were afraid to go alone could hold a Hand which would never lead them astray.
Her bitter sobs came more quietly as she thought of this. Gradually her eyes closed, and she fell asleep.
When Flower started across the moor it was quite true that she was not in the least afraid. A great terror had come to her that night; during those awful minutes when she feared the baby was dead, the terror of the deed she had done had almost stunned her; but when Maggie came and relieved her of her worst agony, a good deal of her old manner and a considerable amount of her old haughty, defiant spirit had returned.
Flower was more or less uncivilized; there was a good deal of the wild and of the untamed about her; and now that the baby was alive, and likely to do well, overwhelming contrition for the deed she had done no longer oppressed her.
She stepped along as quickly as her uncomfortable boots would admit. The moonlight fell full on her slender figure, and cast a cold radiance over her uncovered head. Her long, yellow hair floated down over her shoulders; she looked wonderfully ethereal, almost unearthly, and had any of the villagers been abroad, they might well have taken her for one of the ghosts of the moor.
Flower had a natural instinct for finding her way, and, aided by Maggie's directions, she steered in a straight course for the village. Not a soul was abroad; she was alone, in a great solitude.
The feeling gave her a certain sense of exhilaration. From the depths of her despair her easily influenced spirits sprang again to hope and confidence. After all, nothing very dreadful had happened. She must struggle not to give way to intemperate feelings. She must bear with Polly! she must put up with Maggie. It was all very trying, of course, but it was the English way. She walked along faster and faster, and now her lips rose in a light song, and now again she ran, eager to get over the ground. When she ran her light hair floated behind her, and she looked less and less like a living creature.
Polly had slept for nearly two hours. She awoke to hear a voice singing, not the sweet, touching, high notes which had seemed to fall from the stars to comfort her, but a wild song:
"Oh, who will up and follow me? Oh, who will with me ride? Oh, who will up and follow me To win a bonny bride?"
For a moment Polly's heart stood still; then she started forward with a glad and joyful cry.
"It is Flower! Flower coming back again with little Pearl!" she said, in a voice of rapture. "That is Flower's song and Flower's voice, and she wouldn't sing so gayly if baby was not quite, quite well, and if she was not bringing her home."
Polly rose, as well as she could, to a sitting posture, and shouted out in return:
"Here I am, Flower. Come to me. Bring me baby at once."
Even Flower, who in many respects had nerves of iron, was startled by this sudden apparition among the bracken. For a brief instant she pressed her hand to her heart. Were Maggie's tales true? Were there really queer and unnatural creatures to be found on the moor?
"Come here, Flower, here! I have sprained my ankle. What are you afraid of?" shouted Polly again. Then Flower sprang to her side, knelt down by her, and took her cold hand in hers. Flower's slight fingers were warm; she was glowing all over with life and exercise.
"Where's baby?" said Polly, a sickly fear stealing over her again when she saw that the queer girl was alone.
"Baby? She's in the hermit's hut with Maggie. Don't scold me, Polly. I'm very sorry I got into a passion."
Polly pushed Flower's fingers a little away.
"I don't want to be angry," she said. "I've been asking God to keep me from being angry. I did wrong myself, I did very wrong, only you did worse; you did worse than I did, Flower."
"I don't see that at all. At any rate, I have said I am sorry. No one is expected to beg pardon twice. How is it you are out here, lying on the moor, Polly? Are you mad?"
"No. I came out to look for baby, and for you."
"But why are you here? You could not find us in that lazy fashion."
"Look at my foot; the moonlight shines on it. See, it is twisted all round. I fell from a height and hurt myself. I have been lying here for hours."
"Poor Polly! I am really sorry. I once strained my foot like that. The pain was very bad—very, very bad. Mother kept my foot on her knee all night; she bathed it all night long; in the morning it was better."
"Please, Flower, don't mind about my foot now. Tell me about baby. Is she ill? Have you injured her?"
"I don't know. I suppose I did wrong to take her out like that. I said before, I was sorry. I was frightened about her, awfully frightened, until Maggie came in. I was really afraid baby was dead. I don't want to speak of it. It wasn't true. Don't look at me like that. Maggie came, and said that little Pearl lived. I was so relieved that I kissed Maggie, yes, actually, although she is only a kitchen-maid. Maggie got a warm bath ready, and put baby in, and when I left the hut she was sound asleep. Maggie knew exactly what to do for her. Fancy my kissing her, although she is only a kitchen-maid!"
"She is the dearest girl in the world!" said Polly. "I think she is noble. Think of her going to the hermit's hut, and finding baby, and saving baby's life. Oh, she is the noblest girl in the world, miles and miles above you and me!"
"You can speak for yourself. I said she behaved very well. It is unnecessary to compare her to people in a different rank of life. Now, do you think you can lean on me, and so get back to Sleepy Hollow?"
"No, Flower. I cannot possibly stir. Look at my foot; it is twisted the wrong way."
"Then I must leave you, for Maggie has sent me in a great hurry to get milk, and comforts of all sorts, for baby."
"Please don't stay an instant. Run, Flower. Why did you stay talking so long? If father is in the house, you can tell him, and he will come, I know, and carry me home. But, oh! get everything that is wanted for baby first of all. I am not of the smallest consequence compared to baby. Do run, Flower; do be quick. It frets me so awfully to see you lingering here when baby wants her comforts."
"I shan't be long," said Flower. She gathered up her skirts, and sped down the path, and Polly gave a sigh of real relief.
LOOKING AT HERSELF.
That night, which was long remembered in the annals of the Maybright family as one of the dreariest and most terrible they had ever passed through, came to an end at last. With the early dawn Polly was brought home, and about the same time Nurse and Maggie reappeared with baby on the scene.
Flower, after she had briefly told her tidings, went straight up to her own room, where she locked the door, and remained deaf to all entreaties on David's part that he might come in and console her.
"She's always dreadful after she has had a real bad passion," he explained to Fly, who was following him about like a little ghost. "I wish she would let me in. She spends herself so when she is in a passion that she is quite weak afterwards. She ought to have a cup of tea; I know she ought."
But it was in vain that David knocked, and that little Fly herself, even though she felt that she hated Flower, brought the tea. There was no sound at the other side of the locked door, and after a time the anxious watchers went away.
At that moment, however, had anybody been outside, they might have seen pressed against the window-pane in that same room a pale but eager face. Had they looked, too, they might have wondered at the hard lines round the young, finely-cut lips, and yet the eager, pleading watching in the eyes.
There was a stir in the distance—the far-off sound of wheels. Flower started to her feet, slipped the bolt of her door, ran downstairs, and was off and away to meet the covered carriage which was bringing baby home.
She called to George, who was driving it, to stop. She got in, and seated herself beside Nurse and baby.
"How is she? Will she live?" she asked, her voice trembling.
"God grant it!" replied the Nurse. "What are you doing, Miss Flower? No, you shan't touch her."
"I must! Give her to me this moment. There is Dr. Maybright. Give me baby this moment. I must, I will, have her!"
She almost snatched the little creature out of Nurse's astonished arms, and as the carriage drew up at the entrance steps sprang out, and put the baby into Dr. Maybright's arms.
"There!" she said; "I took her away, but I give her back. I was in a passion and angry when I took her away; now I repent, and am sorry, and I give her back to you? Don't you see, I can't do more than give her back to you? That is our way out in Victoria. Don't you slow English people understand? I was angry; now I am sorry. Why do you all stand round and stare at me like that? Can anybody be more than sorry, or do more than give back what they took?"
"It is sometimes impossible to give back what we took away, Flower," replied the Doctor, very gravely.
He was standing in the midst of his children; his face was white; his eyes had a strained look in them; the strong hands with which he clasped little Pearl trembled. He did not look again at Flower, who shrank away as if she had received a blow, and crept upstairs.
For the rest of the day she was lost sight of; there was a great deal of commotion and excitement. Polly, when she was brought home, was sufficiently ill and suffering to require the presence of a doctor; little Pearl showed symptoms of cold, and for her, too, a physician prescribed.
Why not Dr. Maybright? The children were not accustomed to strange faces and unfamiliar voices when they were ill or in pain. Polly had a curious feeling when the new doctor came to see her; he prescribed and went away. Polly wondered if the world was coming to an end; she was in greater pain than she had ever endured in her life, and yet she felt quiet and peaceful. Had she gone up a step or two of the mountain she so longed to climb? Did she hear the words of her mother's favorite song, and was a Guide—the Guide—holding her childish hand?
The hour of the long day passed somehow.
If there was calm in Polly's room, and despair more or less in poor Flower's, the rest of the house was kept in a state of constant excitement. The same doctor came back again; doors were shut and opened quickly; people whispered in the corridors. As the hours flew on, no one thought of Flower in her enforced captivity, and even Polly, but for Maggie's ceaseless devotion, might have fared badly.
All day Flower Dalrymple remained in her room. She was forgotten at meal-times. Had David been at home, this would not have been the case; but Helen had sent David and her own little brothers to spend the day at Mrs. Jones's farm. Even the wildest spirits can be tamed and brought to submission by the wonderful power of hunger, and so it came to pass that in the evening a disheveled-looking girl opened the door of her pretty room over the porch, and slipped along the passages and downstairs. Flower went straight to the dining-room; she intended to provide herself with bread and any other food she could find, then to return to her solitary musings. She thought herself extremely neglected, and the repentance and sense of shame which she had more or less experienced in the morning and the memory of Dr. Maybright's words and the look in has grave eyes had faded under a feeling of being unloved, forsaken, forgotten. Even David had never come near her—David, who lived for her. Was she not his queen as well as sister? Was he not her dutiful subject as well as her little brother?
All the long day that Flower had spent in solitude her thoughts grew more and more bitter, and only hunger made her now forsake her room. She went into the dining-room; it was a long, low room, almost entirely lined with oak. There was a white cloth on the long center table, in the middle of which a lamp burnt dimly; the French windows were open; the blinds were not drawn down. As Flower opened the door, a strong cold breeze caused the lamp to flare up and smoke, the curtains to shake, and a child to move in a restless, fretful fashion on her chair. The child was Firefly; her eyes were so swollen with crying that they were almost invisible under their heavy red lids; her hair was tossed; the rest of her little thin face was ghastly pale.
"Is that you, Flower?" she exclaimed. "Are you going to stay here? If you are, I'll go away."
"What do you mean?" said Flower. "You go away? You can go or stay, just as you please. I have come here because I want some food, and because I've been shamefully neglected and starved all day. Ring the bell, please, Fly. I really must order up something to eat."
Fly rose from her chair. She had long, lanky legs and very short petticoats, and as she stood half leaning against the wall, she looked so forlorn, pathetic, and yet comical, that Flower, notwithstanding her own anger and distress, could not help bursting out laughing.
"What is the matter?" she said. "What an extraordinary little being you are! You look at me as if you were quite afraid of me. For pity's sake, child, don't stare at me in that grewsome fashion. Ring the bell, as I tell you, and then if you please you can leave the room."
There was a very deep leather arm-chair near the fireplace. Into this now Flower sank. She leant her head comfortably against its cushions, and gazed at Firefly with a slightly sarcastic expression.
"Then you don't know!" said Fly, suddenly. "You sit there and look at me, and you talk of eating, as if any one could eat. You don't know. You wouldn't sit there like that if you really knew."
"I think you are the stupidest little creature I ever met!" responded Flower. "I'm to know something, and it's wonderful that I care to eat. I tell you, child, I haven't touched food all day, and I'm starving. What's the matter? Speak! I'll slap you if you don't."
"There's bread on the sideboard," said Fly. "I'm sorry you're starving. It's only that father is ill; that—that he's very ill. I don't suppose it is anything to you, or you wouldn't have done it."
"Give me that bread," said Flower. She turned very white, snatched a piece out of Fly's hand, and put it to her lips. She did not swallow it, however. A lump seemed to rise in her throat.
"I'm faint for want of food," she said in a minute. "I'd like some wine. If David was here, he'd give it to me. What's that about your father? Ill? He was quite well this morning; he spoke to me."
"I'm awfully faint," she said in a moment. "Please, Fly, be merciful. Give me half a glass of sherry."
Fly started, rushed to the sideboard, poured a little wine into a glass, and brought it to Flower.
"There!" she said in a cold though broken-hearted voice. "But you needn't faint; he's not your father; you wouldn't have done it if he was your father."
Flower tossed off the wine.
"I'm better now," she said.
Then she rose from the deep arm-chair, stood up, and put her two hands on Fly's shoulder.
"What have I done? What do you accuse me of?"
"Don't! You hurt me, Flower; your hands are so hard."
"I'll take them off. What have I done?"
"We are awfully sorry you came here. We all are; we all are."
"Yes? you can be sorry or glad, just as you please! What have I done?"
"You have made father, our own father—you have made him ill. The doctor thinks perhaps he'll die, and in any case he will be blind."
"What horrid things you say, child! I haven't done this."
"Yes. Father was out all last night. You took baby away, and he went to look for her, and he wasn't well before, and he got a chill. It was a bad chill, and he has been ill all day. You did it, but he wasn't your father. We are all so dreadfully sorry that you came here."
Flower's hands dropped to her sides. Her eyes curiously dilated, looked past Fly, gazing so intently at something which her imagination conjured up that the child glanced in a frightened way over her shoulder.
"What's the matter, Flower? What are you looking at?"
"But you can't see yourself."
"I can. Never mind. Is this true what you have been telling me?"
"Yes, it's quite true. I wish it was a dream, and I might wake up out of it."
"And you all put this thing at my door?"
"Yes, of course. Dr. Strong said—Dr. Strong has been here twice this evening—he said it was because of last night."
"Sometimes we can never give back what we take away." These few words came back to Flower now.
"And you all hate me?" she said, after a pause.
"We don't love you, Flower; how could we?"
"You hate me?"
"I don't know. Father wouldn't like us to hate anybody."
"She's in father's room."
"Polly is in bed. She's ill, too, but not in danger, like father. The doctor says that Polly is not to know about father for at any rate a day, so please be careful not to mention this to her, Flower."
"Polly is suffering a good deal, but she's not unhappy, for she doesn't know about father."
"Is baby very ill, too?"
"No. Nurse says that baby has escaped quite wonderfully. She was laughing when I saw her last. She has only a little cold."
"I am glad that I gave her to your father myself," said Flower, in a queer, still voice. "I'm glad of that. Is David anywhere about?"
"No. He's at the farm. He's to sleep there to-night with Bob and Bunny, for there mustn't be a stir of noise in the house."
"Well, well, I'd have liked to say good-by to David. You're quite sure, Fly, that you all think it was I made your father ill?"
"Why, of course. You know it was."
"Yes, I know. Good-by, Fly."
"Good-night, you mean. Don't you want something to eat?"
"No. I'm not hungry now. It isn't good-night; it's good-by."
Flower walked slowly down the long, low, dark room, opened the door, shut it after her, and disappeared.
Fly stood for a moment in an indifferent attitude at the table. She was relieved that Flower had at last left her, and took no notice of her words.
Flower went back to her room. Again she shut and locked her door. The queer mood which had been on her all day, half repentance, half petulance, had completely changed. It takes a great deal to make some people repent, but Flower Dalrymple was now indeed and in truth facing the consequences of her own actions. The words she had said to Fly were quite true. She had looked at herself. Sometimes that sight is very terrible. Her fingers trembled, her whole body shook, but she did not take a moment to make up her mind. They all hated her, but not more than she hated herself. They were quite right to hate her, quite right to feel horror at her presence. Her mother had often spoken to her of the consequences of unbridled passion, but no words that her mother could ever have used came up to the grim reality. Of course, she must go away, and at once. She sat down on the side of her bed, pressed her hand to her forehead, and reflected. In the starved state she was in, the little drop of wine she had taken had brought on a violent headache. For a time she found it difficult to collect her thoughts.
THE WORTH OF A DIAMOND.
Flower quite made up her mind to go away again. Her mood, however, had completely changed. She was no longer in a passion; on the contrary, she felt stricken and wounded. She would go away now to hide herself, because her face, her form, the sound of her step, the echo of her voice, must be painful to those whom she had injured. She shuddered as she recalled Firefly's sad words:
"Father says it is wrong to hate any one, but, of course, we cannot love you."
She felt that she could never look Polly in the face again, that Helen's gentle smile would be torture to her. Oh, of course she must go away; she must go to-night.
She was very tired, for she had really scarcely rested since her fit of mad passion, and the previous night she had never gone to bed. Still all this mattered nothing. There was a beating in her heart, there was a burning sting of remorse awakened within her, which made even the thought of rest impossible.
Flower was a very wild and untaught creature; her ideas of right and wrong were of the crudest. It seemed to her now that the only right thing was to run away.
When the house was quiet, she once more opened her little cabinet, and took from thence the last great treasure which it contained. It was one solitary splendid unset diamond. She had not the least idea of its value, but she knew that it would probably fetch a pound or two. She had not the least notion of the value of money or of the preciousness of the gem which she held in her hand, but she thought it likely that it would supply her immediate needs.
The house was quite still now. She took off her green cloth dress, put on a very plain one of black cashmere, slipped a little velvet cap on her head, wrapped a long white shawl round her, and thus equipped opened her door, and went downstairs.
She was startled at the foot of the stairs to encounter Maggie. Maggie was coming slowly upwards as Flower descended, and the two girls paused to look at one another. The lamps in the passages were turned low, and Maggie held a candle above her head; its light fell full on Flower.
"You mustn't go to Miss Polly on no account, Miss Flower," said Maggie, adopting the somewhat peremptory manner she had already used to Flower in the hermit's hut. "Miss Polly is not to be frightened or put out in any way, leastways not to-night."
"You mean that you think I would tell her about Dr. Maybright?"
"Perhaps you would, Miss; you're none too sensible."
Flower was too crushed even to reply to this uncomplimentary speech. After a pause, she said:
"I'm not going to Polly. I'm going away. Maggie, is it true that the—that Dr. Maybright is very ill?"
"Yes, Miss, the Doctor's despert bad."
Maggie's face worked; her candle shook; she put up her other hand to wipe away the fast-flowing tears.
"Oh, don't cry!" said Flower, stamping her foot impatiently. "Tears do no good, and it wasn't you who did it."
"No, Miss, no, Miss; that's a bit of a comfort. I wouldn't be you, Miss Flower, for all the wide world. Well, I must go now; I'm a-sleeping in Miss Polly's room to-night, Miss."
"Why, is Polly ill, too?"
"Only her foot's bad. I mustn't stay, really, Miss Flower."
"Look here," said Flower, struck by a sudden thought, "before you go tell me something. Your mother lives in the village, does she not?"
"Why, yes, Miss, just in the main street, down round by the corner. There's the baker's shop and the butcher's, and you turn round a sharp corner, and mother's cottage is by your side."
"I've a fancy to go and see her. Good-night."
"But not at this hour, surely, Miss?"
"Why not? I was out later last night."
"That's true. Well, I must go to Miss Polly now. Don't you make any noise when you're coming in, Miss! Oh, my word!" continued Maggie to herself, "what can Miss Flower want with mother? Well, she is a contrairy young lady mischievous, and all that, and hasn't she wrought a sight of harm in this yer house! But, for all that, mother'll be mighty took up with her, for she's all for romance, mother is, and Miss Flower's very uncommon. Well, it ain't nought to do with me, and I'll take care to tell no tales to Miss Polly, poor dear."
The night was still and calm; the stars shone peacefully; the wind, which had come in gusts earlier in the evening, had died down. It took Flower a very few minutes to reach the village, and she wasn't long in discovering Mrs. Ricketts' humble abode.
That good woman had long retired to rest, but Flower's peremptory summons on the door soon caused a night-capped head to protrude out of a window, a burst of astonishment to issue from a wonder-struck pair of lips, and a moment later the young lady was standing by Mrs. Ricketts' fireside.
"I'm proud to see you, Miss, and that I will say. Set down, Miss, do now, and I'll light up the fire in a twinkling."
"No, you needn't," said Flower. "I'm hot; I'm burning. Feel me; a fire would drive me wild."
"To be sure, so you are, all in a fever like," said Mrs. Ricketts, laying her rough hand for a moment on Flower's dainty arm. "You'll let me light up the bit of a paraffin lamp, then, Miss, for it ain't often as I have the chance of seeing a young lady come all the way from Australy."
"You can light the lamp, if you like," said Flower. "And you can stare at me as much as you please. I'm just like any one else, only wickeder. I've come to you, Mrs. Ricketts, because you're Maggie's mother, and Maggie's a good girl, and I thought perhaps you would help me."
"I'm obligated for the words of praise about my daughter, Miss. Yes, she don't mean bad, Maggie don't. What can I do to help you, Miss? Anything in my power you are kindly welcome to."
"Have you ever seen a diamond, Mrs. Ricketts?"
"I don't know, I'm sure, Miss."
"Diamonds are very valuable stones, you know."
"Maybe, Miss. They ain't in my way. I wish you'd let me light you a bit of fire, Miss Flower. You'll have the chills presently, Miss, for you're all of a burning fever now."
"You can do anything you like in the way of fire by-and-by. I have a diamond here. Shall I show it to you?"
"Oh, law, Miss, I'm sure you are condescending."
"Come over close to the paraffin lamp. Now you shall see. Doesn't it sparkle!"
Mrs. Ricketts dropped a curtsey to the gem, which, unpolished as it was, cast forth strange reflections, giving her, as she afterwards explained, a "queer feel" and a sense of chill down the marrow of her back.
"This is very valuable," said Flower. "I don't know what it is worth, but my father gave it to my mother, and she gave it to me. She said it would be well for me to have it in case of emergency. Emergency has come, and I want to sell this stone. It is very likely that whoever buys it from me will become rich. Would you like it? You shall have it for what money you have in the house."
"Oh, law, Miss! but I'm a very poor woman, Miss."
Mrs. Ricketts curtseyed again, and drew closer. "For all the world, it looks as if it were alive, Miss."
"All valuable diamonds look as if they lived. If this were cut and polished it would dazzle you."
"And if I had it, I could sell it for a good bit of money?"
"I am sure you could. I don't know for how much, but for more than I am likely to get from you."
"I'd like to pay Miss Polly back that pound as Maggie took from her."
"Don't worry me about your debts. Will you have this beautiful uncut diamond for the money you have in the house?"
Mrs. Ricketts did not reply for a moment.
"I have nine shillings and fourpence-halfpenny," she said at last, "and to-morrow is rent day. Rent will be eight shillings; that leaves me one-and-fourpence-half penny for food. Ef I give you all my money, Miss, how am I to pay rent? And how are the children to have food to-morrow?"
"But you can sell the diamond. Why are you so dreadfully stupid? You can sell the diamond for one, two, or perhaps three pounds. Then how rich you will be."
"Oh, Miss! there's no one in this yer village 'ud give away good money for a bit of a stone like that; they'd know better. My word! it do send out a sort of a flame, though; it's wondrous to look upon!"
"People will buy it from you in a town. Go to the nearest town, take it to a jeweler, and see how rich you will be when you come out of his shop. There, I will give it to you for your nine-and-fourpence-half penny."
Flower laid the diamond in the woman's hand.
"It seems to burn me like," she said. But all the same her fingers closed over it, and a look of greed and satisfaction filled her face.
"I don't know if I'm a-doin' right," she said, "for perhaps this ain't worth sixpence, and then where's the rent and the food? But, all the same, I don't like to say no to a pretty lady when she's in trouble. Here's the nine-and-fourpence-halfpenny, Miss. I earned it bit by bit by washing the neighbors' clothes; it wasn't easy come by; there's labor in it, and aches and dead-tiredness about it. You take it, Miss. I only trust the diamond will repay what I loses on that nine-and-fourpence-half penny."
Flower handled the money as if she thought it dirty.
Without a word she slipped it into the pocket of her dress.
"I am going away," she said. "They are angry with me at Sleepy Hollow. I have done wrong. I am not a bit surprised. I'm going away, so as not to cause them any more trouble."