Then there was Helen's conservatory, always full of sweet-scented flowers, and the vinery and pits, where the great purple and amber bunches hung and ripened, and the long green cucumber and melon came in their good time.
But Dan'l grumbled, as gardeners will.
"Blights is offle," he said. "It's the blightiest garden I ever see, and a man might spend all his life keeping the birds down with a gun."
But Dan'l did not spend any part of his life, let alone all, keeping the birds down with a gun. The doctor caught him shooting one day, and nearly shot him out of the place.
"How dare you, sir?" he cried. "I will not have a single bird destroyed."
"Then you won't get no peace, sir, nor not a bit of fruit."
"I shall have the place overrun with slugs and snails, and all kinds of injurious blight, sir, if you use that gun. No, sir, you'll put nets over the fruit when it's beginning to ripen. That will do."
The doctor walked away with Helen, and as soon as they were out of sight, behind the great laurustinus clump, Helen threw her arms about his neck, and kissed him for saving her pet birds.
Consequently, in addition to abundance of fruit, and although it was so close in the town, there was always a chorus of song in the season; and even the nightingale came from the woodlands across the river and sang within the orchard, through which the river ran.
That river alone half made the place, for it was one of those useless rivers, so commercial men called it, where the most you could do was pleasure-boating; barges only being able to ascend to Coleby Bridge, a sort of busy colony from the town, two miles nearer the sea.
"Yes, sir," Sir James Danby had been known to say, "if the river could be deepened right through the town it would be the making of the place."
"And the spoiling of my grounds," said the doctor, "so I'm glad it runs over the solid rock."
This paradise of a garden was the one into which Dexter darted, and in which Dan'l Copestake was grumbling that morning—
"Like a bear with a sore head, that's what I say," said Peter Cribb to the under-gardener. "Nothing never suits him."
"Yes, it do," said Dan'l, showing a very red face over a clump of rhododendron. "Master said you was to come into the garden three days a week, and last week I only set eyes on you twice, and here's half the week gone and you've only been once."
"Look here," said Peter Cribb, a hard-looking bullet-headed man of five-and-twenty; and he leaned on his broom, and twisted one very tightly trousered leg round the other, "do you think I can sit upon the box o' that there wagginette, drivin' miles away, and be sweeping this here lawn same time!"
"Master said as it was your dooty to be in this garden three days a week; and t'other three days you was to do your stable-work—there."
"Didn't I go out with the carriage every day this week?"
"I don't know when you went out with the carriage, and when you didn't," said Dan'l; "all I know is as my lawn didn't get swept; and how the doctor expects a garden like this here to be kept tidy without help, I should be glad to know."
"Well, you'd better go and grumble at him, and not worry me, and—pst! Lookye there."
He pointed with his broom, and both men remained paralysed at the sight which met their eyes.
It was not so much from its extraordinary nature as from what Dan'l afterwards spoke of as its "imperence." That last, he said, was what staggered him, that any human boy should, in the very middle of the day, dare to do such a thing in his garden.
He said his garden, for when speaking of it the doctor seemed to be only some one who was allowed to walk through it for a treat.
What the two men gazed at was the figure of a boy, in shirt and trousers, going up the vinery roof, between where the early and the late houses joined and there was a sloping brick coping. From this they saw him reach the big wall against which the vinery was built, and there he sat for a few moments motionless.
"Why, who is he?" said Peter, in a whisper. "He went up that vinery just like a monkey."
Peter had never seen a monkey go up the roof of a vinery, but Dan'l did not notice that.
"Hold your row," said Dan'l, in a low voice; "don't speak, and we'll ketch my nabs. Now we know where my peaches went last year."
"But who is he!" whispered Peter.
"I don't know, and I don't care, but I mean to have him as sure as he's there. Now if master hadn't been so precious 'tickler about a gun, I could ha' brought him down like a bird."
"Lookye there," cried Peter. "See that?"
"Oh yes, I see him," said Dan'l, as the figure ran easily along the top of the twelve-foot wall on all-fours. "I see my gentleman. Nice little game he's having. I'll bet a shilling he's about gorged with grapes, and now he's on the look-out for something else. But let him alone; wait a bit and we'll put salt on his tail before he can say what's what. I knowed some grapes was a-going. I could about feel it, like."
"Well, I never!" whispered Peter, peering through the laurustinus, and watching the boy. "See that?"
"Oh yes, I see him. Nice un he is."
This last was consequent upon the boy running a few yards, and then holding tightly with his hands, and kicking both legs in the air two or three times before trotting on along the wall again as easily as a tomcat.
"See that?" said Peter.
"Oh yes, I can see," said Dan'l. "He's so full o' grapes it makes him lively," and he stared at the boy, who had suddenly stopped, and planting his hands firmly, stood up on them, balancing himself, with his legs spread wide in the air.
"He'll break his neck, that's what he'll do," said Peter.
"Good job too, I says," grumbled Dan'l. "Boys like that ought to be done away with. He's one on 'em out o' the town. Now look here, Peter, we've got to get him, that's what we've got to do."
"Ah, that's better," said Peter, who had been nervous ever since a horse ran away with him. "I don't like to see a boy doing dangerous things that how."
"Don't call a thing like that a boy, do yer!" said Dan'l. "I calls it monkey rubbidge. Now you step round the house, and through the stable, and get down that side o' the wall, and I'll go this. Don't you seem to see him till you hear me whistle. Then grab."
"But how am I to grab when he's up there!" said Peter.
"Ah! 'tis high up," said Dan'l. "Wish I'd got one o' them grappling-irons as hangs down by the bridge; I'd fetch him off pretty quick."
"Shall I get a fruit-ladder?" suggested Peter.
"Nay, we don't want no fruit-ladders," grumbled Dan'l. "We'll soon fetch his lordship down. Now then, you be off."
"Stop a moment," said Peter, as he watched the boy intently. "Look at him! Well, I never did!"
It was a very true remark. Peter certainly never did, and very few boys would have cunning enough to perform such a feat with so much ease. For, after running about fifty yards along the top of the wall, the little fellow turned quickly and ran back again, made offers as if he were going to leap down, and then suddenly squatted down in exact imitation of a cat, and began licking his arms, and passing them over his head.
"Well, he caps me!" cried Peter. "I never see a boy do anything like that since I was at a show at Exeter, and then it was a bigger chap than him."
"Look here," said Dan'l; "I've got it. You get a big strong clothes-prop, and I'll get another, and we'll poke him off. If he comes down your side, mind this: he'll be like a rat, and off as quick as quick; but don't you let him go. Drop your prop, and throw yourself on him; we'll ketch him, and take him in to the gov'nor, and he'll know now where the fruit goes. You couldn't net chaps like this."
In happy ignorance of the doctor's plans, Peter and Dan'l each provided himself with a clothes-prop, and in due time made for the appointed sides of the wall; but no sooner did the boy catch sight of his pursuers than he started off on another all-fours run; but this took him away from the house, and before he had gone far he turned and ran back.
Dan'l whistled, and Peter made a poke at the runner from one side of the wall, while Dan'l made a savage poke from the other.
The boy, who seemed as active as a squirrel, dodged them both, ran along toward the vinery, and as fast as the various trees would allow the two men followed.
Peter was soon out of the race, for a lean-to shed on his side of the wall put a stop to further pursuit, and Dan'l, who looked as malicious as a savage after a wild beast, had the hunt all to himself.
"Ah!" he shouted, as he stopped panting, "now I've got you, my fine fellow."
This was untrue, for he was as far off his quarry as ever, he being at the front of the vinery, and the boy on the top of the wall right at the back of the glass slope.
"Now, then, none o' yer nonsense, and down yer come."
Down the boy did not come, for he squatted there at the top, in a sitting position, with his arms round his knees, gazing coolly but watchfully at the gardener.
"D'yer hear? come down!"
The Yankee 'coon in the tree, when he saw the celebrated Colonel Crockett taking aim at him, and in full possession of the hunter's reputation as a dead shot, is reported to have said, "Don't shoot; I'll come down;" and the boy might have said something of the kind to Dan'l Copestake. But he had no faith in the gardener, and it is expecting too much of a boy who is seated in a safe place, to conclude that he will surrender at the first summons, especially to a fierce-looking man, who is armed with a very big stick.
This boy had not the least intention of giving himself up as a prisoner, and he sat and stared at Dan'l, and Dan'l stared at him.
"Do you hear me?" cried Dan'l; but the boy did not move a muscle, he only stared.
"Are you over there, Peter?" shouted Dan'l.
"Ay! All right!"
"You stop there, then, and nip him if he comes your way. I'll get a ladder, and will soon have him down."
"All right!" came from Peter again; and the boy's eyes watched keenly the old gardener's movements.
"Do you hear what I say!" continued Dan'l. "Am I to fetch that ladder, or will you come down without!"
The boy did not move.
"Let's see: I can reach you with this here, though," Dan'l went on. "Not going to have any more of your nonsense, my fine fellow, so now then."
The boy's eyes flashed as he saw the gardener come close up to the foot of the glass slope, and reach toward him with the long ash clothes-prop; but he measured mentally the length of that prop, and sat still, for, as he had quickly concluded, the gardener could not, even with his arm fully extended, reach to within some feet of where he sat.
Dan'l pushed and poked about, and nearly broke a pane of glass, but the boy did not stir.
"Oh, very well: only you'd better get down; you'll have it all the worse if I do fetch that ladder."
Still the boy made no sign. He merely glanced to right and left, and could have dashed along the wall at once, but that would have taken him down the garden, toward the river, and that was the direction in which he did not want to go.
To his left there was a portion of the house, the wall rising a good height, so that there was no escape in that direction. His way was either by the garden wall, or else down the slope of the vinery, as he had gone up.
But, like a lion in his path, there at the foot of this slope stood Dan'l, with the great clothes-prop, and the boy, concluding that he was best where he was, sat and stared at the gardener, and waited.
"Oh, very well then, my fine fellow: ladder it is," cried Dan'l; and, sticking the prop into the ground with a savage dig, he turned and ran off.
It was only a feint, and he turned sharply at the end of a dozen steps, to find, as he expected, that the boy had moved, and begun to descend.
Dan'l ran back, and the boy slipped into his former place, and sat like a monument of stone.
"Oh, that's your game, is it!" said Dan'l. "But it won't do, my fine fellow. Now, are you coming down?"
If he went off to fetch the ladder from the stable-yard, the boy would slide down the top of the vinery and escape.
That would not do.
If he called to Peter to fetch the ladder, the boy would wait till the groom was gone, and slip over the wall, drop, and escape that way.
That would not do either.
Hah! There was the labourer. He could call him.
It was past twelve, and he had gone to his dinner, Dan'l, like Peter, taking his at the more aristocratic hour of one.
Dan'l was in a fix. He meant to have that boy, and make an example of him, but a great difficulty stared him in the face.
There was no one to call, unless he waited till the doctor came. If the doctor came, he would perhaps take a lenient view of the matter, and let the boy go, and, unless Dan'l could first give the prisoner a sound thrashing with a hazel stick, one of a bundle which he had in his tool-shed, all his trouble would have been in vain.
So he would not call the doctor.
He made two or three more feints of going, and each time the boy began to descend, but only to dart back as the gardener turned.
"Oh, that's your game, is it!" said Dan'l. "Very well; come down, but you can't get out of the garden if you do."
The next time, after a few minutes' thought, Dan'l turned and ran as hard as he could, with every appearance now of going right off for the ladder. But he had made his plans with no little calculation of probabilities; and his idea was now to go right on till he had given the boy time to descend, and make for one of the entrances, when he meant to return, run him down, and seize him, before the young scamp, as he called him, had time to clamber up any other place.
Dan'l ran on, and the boy watched him; and as soon as the gardener showed by his movements that he was evidently going away, began to descend.
Hardly, however, had he reached the ground than Dan'l turned, saw him, and made a fresh dash to capture him.
If the gardener had waited a couple more minutes he would have had a better chance. As it was, the boy had time to reach the dividing wall of the vinery wall again, but just as he was scrambling up, Dan'l was upon him, and was in the act of grasping one arm, when it was snatched away.
In the effort the boy lost his composure, and the steady easy-going confidence which had enabled him to trot along with such facility; and the consequence was that as he made a final bound to reach the back wall his right foot slipped, went through a pane of glass, and as this startled him more, he made another ill-judged attempt, and, slipping, went through the top of the vinery, only saving himself from dropping down inside by spreading his arms across the rafters, and hanging, caught as if in a trap.
"Here, just you come down!"
Directly after the doctor appeared in the study window, and, closely followed by Helen, hurried toward the front of the vinery, where the gardener stood.
"Glad you've come, sir," said the old gardener, telling a tremendous fib. "Got one on 'em at last."
"Got one of them?" cried the doctor.
"O papa dear! look!" cried Helen.
"One of them nippers as is always stealing our fruit," continued Dan'l.
"Why, Dexter," cried the doctor; "you there!" He stared wildly at the boy, who, with his legs kicking to and fro in the vinery in search of support, looked down from the roof of the building like a sculptured cherub, with arms instead of wings.
"Yes, it's all right," said the boy coolly. "Ain't much on it broken," while Dan'l stared and scratched his head, as he felt that he had made some mistake.
"You wicked boy!" cried Helen, with a good deal of excitement. "How did you get in such a position!"
"I couldn't help it," said Dexter. "He chivied me all along the top o' the wall with that great stick, and there's another chap t'other side. He was at me too."
"Is this true, Copestake!" cried the doctor angrily.
"Well, yes, sir; I s'pose it is," said the gardener. "Me and Peter see him a-cuttin' his capers atop o' that wall, and when we told him to come down, he wouldn't, and fell through our vinery."
"Who was going to come down when you was hitting at him with that big stick?" said Dexter indignantly.
"You had no business atop of our wall," said the gardener stoutly. "And now look at the mischief you've done."
"Tut—tut—tut—tut!" ejaculated the doctor.
"Please, sir, I didn't know as he was any one you knew."
"No, no, of course not," said the doctor pettishly. "Tut—tut—tut! Dear me! dear me!"
"I say, ain't some one coming to help me down?" said Dexter, in an ill-used tone.
"Yes, yes, of course," said the doctor. "Keep still, sir, or you'll cut yourself."
"I have cut myself, and it's a-bleeding," said the boy. "Look here, if one of you goes inside this place, and holds up that big long prop, I can put my foot in the fork at the end, and climb up again."
"Get a ladder quickly, Copestake, and call the groom."
"Yes, sir," said Dan'l; and he went off grumbling, while the doctor seized the prop, and went into the vinery.
"Are you much hurt, Dexter?" said Helen sympathisingly.
"I d'know," he replied. "It hurts a bit. I slipped, and went through."
"Now, sir, keep your legs still," cried the doctor from inside, as he raised the prop.
"All right," said the boy, and the next moment one of his feet rested in the fork of the ash prop; but, though the prisoner struggled, and the doctor pushed, there was no result.
"I wants some one to lend a hand up here," said Dexter.
"If I try I shall break some more glass. Is that old chap coming back— him as poked me!"
"Yes, yes," cried Helen. "Keep still; there's a good boy."
"No, I ain't," he said, smiling down at her in the most ludicrous way. "I ain't a good boy. I wish I was. Will he give it me very much?"
He tapped with his hand on the glass, as he pointed down at the doctor, who was still supporting the boy's foot with the prop.
Helen did not reply, for the simple reason that she did not know what to say; and the boy, feeling bound, was making a fresh struggle to free himself, when Dan'l came in sight, round the end of the house, with a light ladder, and just behind him came Peter, with a board used when glass was being repaired.
"Here they come," said Dexter, watching the approach eagerly. "I am glad. It's beginning to hurt ever so."
Dan'l laid the ladder against the vinery at some distance from the front, so that it should lie upon the roof at the same angle, and then, holding it steady, Peter, who was grinning largely, mounted with the board, which he placed across the rafters, so that he could kneel down, and, taking hold of Dexter, who clasped his hands about his neck, he bodily drew him out, and would have carried him down had the boy not preferred to get down by himself.
As he reached the foot of the ladder the doctor was standing ready for him, armed with the clothes-prop, which he held in his hand, as if it were a weapon intended for punishment.
The boy looked up in the stern face before him, and the doctor put on a tremendous frown.
"Please, sir, I'm very sorry, sir," said Dexter.
"You young rascal!" began the doctor, seizing his arm.
"Oh, I say, please, sir, don't hit a fellow with a thing like that."
"Bah!" ejaculated the doctor, throwing down the prop, which fell on the grass with a loud thud. "Copestake!—Peter!—take those things away, and send for the glazier to put in those squares. Here, Dexter; this way."
The doctor strode away half a dozen steps, and then stopped and gazed down.
"Where is your jacket, sir? and where are your boots?"
"I tucked 'em under that tree there that lies on the grass," said the boy, pointing to a small cedar.
"Fetch them out, sir."
Dexter went toward the tree, and his first instinct was to make a dash and escape, anywhere, so as to avoid punishment, but as he stooped down and drew his articles of attire from beneath the broad frond-like branches, he caught sight of Helen's eyes fixed upon him, so full of trouble and amusement that he walked back, put his hand in the doctor's, and walked with him into the house.
Helen followed, and as she passed through the window Dan'l turned to Peter with—
"I say, who is he?"
"I dunno. Looks like a young invalid."
"Ay, that's it," said the gardener. "Hair cut short, and looks very white. He's a young luneattic come for the governor to cure. Well, if that's going to be it, I shall resign my place."
"Oh, I wouldn't do that," said Peter, who was moved to say it from the same feeling which induced the old woman to pray for long life to the tyrant—for fear they might get a worse to rule over them. "Doctor'll make him better. Rum-looking little chap."
As they spoke, they were carrying the ladder and board round to the back of the house, and, in doing so, they had to pass the kitchen door, where Maria was standing.
"See that game!" said Peter.
"Oh yes. I saw him out of one of the bedroom windows."
"Young patient, ain't he?" said Peter.
"Patient! Why, he's a young workhouse boy as master's took a fancy to. I never see such games, for my part."
Peter whistled, and the head-gardener repeated his determination to resign.
"And he'll never get another gardener like me," he said.
"That's a true word, Mr Copestake, sir," said Peter seriously. And then to himself: "No, there never was another made like you, you old tyrant. I wish you would go, and then we should have a little peace."
DEXTER IS VERY SORRY.
Dexter walked into the doctor's study, and Helen came as rearguard behind.
"Now, sir," said the doctor sternly, "I suppose you know that I'm very much displeased with you."
"Yes, sir, of course you are," said the boy seriously. "I don't wonder at it."
Dr Grayson bit his lip.
"Are you going to cane me?"
"Wait and see, sir. Now, first thing, you go up to your room and wash your hands, and dress yourself properly. Then come down to me."
Dexter glanced at Helen, but she kept her eyes averted, and the boy went slowly out, keeping his gaze fixed upon her all the time.
"A young scamp!" said the doctor, as soon as they were alone. "I'm afraid I shall have to send him back."
Helen looked at him.
"I expected him to be a little wild," continued the doctor; "but he is beyond bearing. What do you say, my dear? Too bad, is he not?"
Helen was silent for a few moments.
"It is too soon to say that, papa," she replied at last. "There is a great deal in the boy that is most distasteful, but, on the other hand, I cannot help liking the little fellow."
"Yes; that's just it," cried the doctor. "I feel as if I should like to give him a sound thrashing, but, at the same time, I feel that I could not raise a hand against him. What's to be done? Shall I send him back, and choose another?"
"No, no, papa. If you intend to adopt a boy, let us keep this one, and see what he turns out."
Just then the bell rang for lunch, and a minute after Dexter came running down into the room, with a smile, as if nothing was the matter, shining out of his eyes.
"I say, wasn't that the dinner-bell?" he cried. "I am so precious hungry."
"And have you no apologies to make, sir? Aren't you sorry you were so mischievous, and broke the top of my vinery?"
"Yes; I'm very sorry, sir; but it was that old chap's fault. He made me run and slip. I say, what would he have done if he had caught me?"
"Punished you, or brought you in to me, sir. Now, then, I've been talking about sending you back to the workhouse. You are too mischievous for me."
"Send me back!"
"Yes, of course. I want a boy who will be good."
"Well, I will."
"So you said before, but you are not good. You are about as mischievous a young rascal as I ever saw in my life."
"Yes, sir; that's what Mr Sibery used to say," replied the boy quietly. "I don't want to be."
"Then why are you, sir?"
The boy shook his head, and looked up at the doctor thoughtfully.
"I suppose it's in me," he said.
Helen bit her lip, and turned away, while her father gave his head a fierce rub, as if he was extremely vexed.
"Shall you send me back, sir!" said Dexter at last; and his look was full of wistful appeal.
"Well, I shall think about it," said the doctor.
"I don't want to go," said the boy thoughtfully. "You don't want me to go, do you?" he continued, turning to Helen.
"Here, the lunch is getting cold," said the doctor. "Come along."
As he spoke he half-pushed Dexter before him, and pointed to a chair.
The boy hesitated, but a sharp command from the doctor made him scuffle into his place, after which the grace was said, and the dinner commenced for Dexter—the lunch for his patron and friend.
Roast fowl most delicately cooked, with a delicious sauce; in addition to that made with bread; and there was an ornamentation round the dish of tempting sausages.
The odour from the steaming dishes was enough to have attracted any coarsely-fed workhouse boy, just as a flower, brings a bee from afar.
Helen was helped to a couple of choice slices from the breast, and then the doctor, looking stern all the while, carved off the liver wing, with a fine long piece of juicy breast adhering, and laid it on a plate, with the biggest sausage, gravy, and sauce, Maria carrying the plate afterwards to Helen to be well supplied with vegetables.
Then, according to custom, Maria departed with her nose in the air, and her bosom overcharged with indignant remonstrances, which she was going to let off at Mrs Millett.
The meal was commenced in silence, Dexter taking up his knife and fork, and watching by turns the doctor and Helen, to see how they handled theirs. Then he cut the sausage in half, just as the doctor had cut his, and looked hard at him, but the doctor was gazing down at his plate and frowning.
Dexter looked at Helen, but she was gazing at her father, and everything was very still in the dining-room, while from without, faintly heard, there came the rippling song of a lark, far away over the meadow across the river.
That fowl smelt delicious, and looked good in the extreme, but Dexter laid down his knife and fork, and sat perfectly still.
Helen saw everything, but she did not speak, and the annoyance she had felt began to diminish, for the boy was evidently suffering keenly.
"Hallo!" said the doctor. "Don't you like chicken!"
The boy started, and looked up at him with a troubled face.
"I say, don't you like chicken, sir!"
Dexter tried to answer, but the words would not come; and he sat there with the tears gathering in his eyes, though he tried hard to choke his emotion down.
The doctor was very angry, and sadly disappointed; but he said no more, only went on with his lunch.
"Eat your dinner," said Helen, after a time; and she leant over toward the boy, and whispered the words kindly.
He gave her a quick, grateful look, but he could not speak.
"Come, sir, eat your dinner," said the doctor at last.
"Please, sir, I can't," the boy faltered.
Dexter had to make another fight to keep down his tears before he could say—
"Please, sir, I never could eat my breakfast when I knew I was going to have the cane."
The doctor grunted, frowned, and went on eating, while the boy directed a pitiful appealing look at Helen.
"Yes," she said at last, "what do you want?"
"May I go up to that place where I slept last night?"
Helen glanced at her father, who nodded shortly, and went on with his dinner, while the required permission being given by Helen, the boy rose hastily, and hurried out of the room.
Doctor Grayson was silent for a few minutes, and then he took a glass of sherry.
"A young scoundrel!" he said. "It's not pleasant to have to say so, but I've made a mistake."
"And are you going to give up your project, papa?" said Helen.
"No," he thundered. "Certainly not. It's very awkward, for that bullet-headed drill-sergeant Hippetts will laugh at me, and say 'I told you so,' but I shall have to take the boy back."
Helen was silent.
"He told me I should," he continued; "but I would not believe him. The young dog's face attracted me. He looked so frank and ingenuous. But I'll soon pick out another. My theory is right, and if I have ten thousand obstacles, I'll carry it out, and prove to the world that I knew what I was at."
Helen went on slowly with her lunch, thinking deeply the while.
"Well?" said the doctor angrily, "why don't you speak? Are you triumphing over my first downfall!"
Helen looked up at her father, and smiled reproachfully.
"I was thinking about Dexter," she said softly.
"A confounded ungrateful young dog! Taken him from that wretched place, clothed him, offered him a home of which he might be proud, and he turns upon me like that!"
"It was the act of a high-spirited, mischievous boy," said Helen quietly.
"Mischievous! I should think it was. Confound him! But I'll have no more of his tricks. Back he goes to the Union, and I'll have one without so much spirit."
Helen continued her lunch, and the doctor went on with his, but only to turn pettishly upon his child.
"I wish to goodness you'd say something, Helen," he cried. "It's so exasperating to have every one keeping silence like that."
Helen looked up and smiled.
"Yes, and that's just as aggravating," said the doctor. "Now you are laughing at me."
"No, no; I was thinking very seriously about your project."
"One which I mean to carry out, madam."
"Of course, papa," said Helen quietly; "but I would not be damped at the outset."
"What do you mean, Helen?"
"I mean that I should not take that poor boy back to the life from which you have rescued him, just because he has displayed a few pranks, all due to the exuberance of his nature. Coming from such a place, and making such a change, he is sure to feel it strongly. He is, so to speak, bubbling over with excitement and—"
"Here, stop a moment," said the doctor, in astonishment. "I give up. You had better write that book."
"Not I, papa dear," said Helen, smiling. "And if you are really bent upon this experiment—"
"And I am," said the doctor. "Nothing shall change me."
"Then I think you have selected the very boy."
"You do!" said the doctor excitedly.
"Yes. He is just the wild little savage for you to reclaim."
"But—but a little too bad, Helen?"
"No, papa, I think not; and I think you are not justified in saying bad. I believe he is a very good boy."
"Yes; full of mischief as a boy can be, but very, very affectionate."
"Yes. I think he is," assented the doctor.
"I think he will be very teachable."
"And it was plain to see that he was touched to the heart with grief at our anger."
"Or is it all his artfulness!"
"Oh no, papa! Certainly not that. The boy is frank and affectionate as can be."
"Then you think it is possible to make a gentleman of him?"
"If it is possible of any boy whom you could get from the Union, papa."
"And you really think he is frank and tender-hearted?"
Helen pointed to the boy's untouched plate.
"And you would not exchange him for something a little more tractable?"
"I don't think you could. I really begin to like the mischievous little fellow, and I believe that in a very short time we should see a great change."
"Yes; but of course we must be prepared for a great many more outbreaks of this kind."
"Unless I stop them."
"No, no, you must not stop them," said Helen quietly. "These little ebullitions must not be suppressed in that way—I mean with undue severity."
"Then you really would not take—I mean send him back?"
"No," said Helen. "I think, perhaps, I could help you in all this."
"My dear Helen," cried the doctor eagerly. "My dear child, you don't know how pleased you make me. I felt that for your sake I must take him back."
"For my sake?" exclaimed Helen.
"Yes; that it was too bad to expose you to the petty annoyances and troubles likely to come from keeping him. But if you feel that you could put up with it till we have tamed him down—"
Helen rose from her chair, and went behind her father's, to lay her hands upon his shoulders, when he took them in his, and crossed them upon his breast, so as to draw her face down over his shoulder.
"My dear father," she said, as she laid her cheek against his, "I don't know—I cannot explain, but this boy seems to have won his way with me very strangely, and I should be deeply grieved if you sent him away."
"My dear Helen, you've taken a load off my mind. There, go and fetch the poor fellow down. He wanted his dinner two hours ago, and he must be starved."
Helen kissed her father's forehead, and went quietly up to Dexter's room, listened for a few moments, heard a low sob, and then, softly turning the handle of the door, she entered, to stand there, quite taken aback.
The boy was crouched in a heap on the floor, sobbing silently, and with his breast heaving with the agony of spirit he suffered.
For that she was prepared, but the tears rose in her eyes as she grasped another fact. There, neatly folded and arranged, just as the Union teaching had prompted him, were the clothes the boy had worn that day, even to the boots placed under the chair, upon which they lay, while the boy had taken out and dressed himself again in his old workhouse livery, his cap lying on the floor by his side.
Helen crossed to him softly, bent over him, and laid her little white hand upon his head.
The boy sprang to his feet as if he had felt a blow, and stood before her with one arm laid across his eyes, as, in shame for his tears, he bent his head.
"Dexter," she said again, "what are you going to do?"
"Going back again," he said hoarsely. "I'm such a bad un. They always said I was."
"And is that the way to make yourself better?"
"I can't help it," he said, half defiantly. "It's no use to try, and I'm going back."
"To grieve me, and make me sorry that I have been mistaken?"
"Yes," he said huskily, and with his arm still across his eyes. "I'm going back, and old Sibery may cut me to pieces," he added passionately. "I don't care."
"Look up at me, Dexter," said Helen gently, as she laid her hand upon the boy's arm. "Tell me," she continued, "which will you do?—go back, or try to be a good boy, and do what you know I wish you to do, and stay!"
He let her arm fall, gazed wildly in her eyes, and then caught her hand and dropped upon his knees, sobbing passionately.
"I will try; I will try," he cried, as soon as he could speak. "Take me down to him, and let him cane me, and I won't cry out a bit. I'll take it all like Bill Jones does, and never make a sound, but don't, don't send me away."
Helen Grayson softly sank upon her knees beside the boy, and took him in her arms to kiss him once upon the forehead.
"There, Dexter," she said gently, as she rose. "Now bathe your eyes, dress yourself again, and come downstairs to me in the dining-room, as quickly as you can."
Helen went to her own room for a few moments to bathe her own eyes, and wonder how it was that she should be so much moved, and in so short a time.
The doctor was anxiously awaiting her return.
"Well!" he said; "where is the young scamp!"
"In his room," replied Helen, "and—"
"Well—well!" said the doctor impatiently.
"Oh no, father dear," said Helen quietly, but with more emotion in her voice than even she knew. "We must not send him back."
Then she told what had passed, and the doctor nodded his head.
"No," he said; "we must not send him back."
Just then there was a knock at the door, and Maria entered to clear away.
"Not yet, Maria," said Helen quietly. "Take that chicken back, and ask Mrs Millett to make it hot again."
"And the vegetables, ma'am!"
"Yes. I will ring when we want them."
Maria took the various dishes away with a very ill grace, and dabbed them down on the kitchen table, almost hard enough to produce cracks, as she delivered her message to Mrs Millett, who looked annoyed.
"You can do as you please, Mrs Millett," said Maria, giving herself a jerk as if a string inside her had been pulled; "but I'm a-going to look out for a new place."
MASTER GRAYSON GOES FOR A WALK.
"Couldn't have believed it," said the doctor one evening, when a week had passed away. "It's wonderful." Helen smiled.
"A whole week, and the young dog's behaviour has been even better than I could wish. Well, it's very hopeful, and I am extremely glad, Helen, extremely glad."
Helen said nothing, but she thought a good deal, and, among other things, she wondered how Dexter would have behaved if he had been left to himself. Consequently, she felt less sanguine than the doctor.
The fact was that she had given up everything to devote the whole of her time to the boy, thus taking care that he was hardly ever left to himself.
She read to him, and made him read to her, and battled hard to get him out of his schoolboy twang.
Taken by his bright, handsome face, and being clever with her brush, she had made him sit while she painted his likeness; that is, she tried to make him sit, but it was like dealing with so much quicksilver, and she was fain to give up the task as an impossibility after scolding, coaxing, and bribing, coming to the conclusion that the boy could not keep still.
She played games with him; and at last risked public opinion very bravely by taking the boy out with her for a walk, when one of the first persons she met was Lady Danby.
"I say, what did she mean!" said Dexter, as they walked away.
"That lady—Lady Danby!"
"Yes. Why did she look sorry for me, and call me a protege?"
"Oh," said Helen, smiling; "it is only a French word for any one who is adopted or protected, as papa is protecting you."
"But is it a funny word!"
"Funny? Oh dear no!"
"Then why did she laugh, curious like?"
Helen could not answer that question.
"She looked at me," said Dexter, "as if she didn't like me. I've seen ladies look like that when they've come to see the schools, and us boy's used to feel as if we'd like to throw slates at them."
"You have no occasion to trouble yourself about other people's opinions, Dexter," said Helen quietly; "and of course now you couldn't throw stones or anything else at a lady."
"No; but I could at a boy. I could hit that chap ever so far off. Him as was with that Lady Danby."
"Oh, nonsense! come along; we'll go down by the river."
"Yes; come along," cried Dexter excitedly; "but I don't see why he should sneer at me for nothing."
"What? Master Danby!"
"Yes, him. All the time you two were talking, he kept walking round me, and making faces as if I was physic."
"You fancied it, Dexter."
"Oh no, I didn't. I know when anybody likes me, and when anybody doesn't. Lady Danby didn't like me, and she give a sneery laugh when she called me a protege, and when you weren't looking that chap made an offer at me with the black cane he carried, that one with a silver top and black tassels."
"Didn't he just! I only wish he had. I'd ha' given him such a oner. Why, I could fight two like him with one hand tied behind me."
Helen's face grew cloudy with trouble, but she said nothing then, only hurried the boy along toward the river.
In spite of her determination she avoided the town main street, and struck off by the narrow turning which led through the old churchyard, with its grand lime-tree avenue and venerable church, whose crocketed spire was a landmark for all the southern part of the county.
"Look, look!" cried Dexter. "See those jackdaws fly out? There's one sitting on that old stone face. See me fetch him down."
"No, no," cried Helen, catching his arm. "You might break a window."
"No, I wouldn't. You see."
"But why throw at the poor bird? It has done you no harm."
"No, but it's a jackdaw, and you always want to throw stones at jackdaws."
"And at blackbirds and thrushes and starlings too, Dexter?" said Helen.
The boy looked guilty.
"You didn't see me throw at them?"
"Yes, I did, and I thought it very cruel."
"Don't you like me to throw stones at the birds?"
"Certainly I do not."
"Then I won't," said Dexter; and he took aim with the round stone he carried at the stone urn on the top of a tomb, hitting it with a sounding crack.
"There, wasn't that a good aim!" he said, with a smile of triumph. "It couldn't hurt that. That wasn't cruel."
Helen turned crimson with annoyance, for she had suddenly become aware of the fact that a gentleman, whom she recognised as the Vicar, was coming along the path quickly, having evidently seen the stone-throwing.
She was quite right in her surmise. It was the Vicar; and not recognising her with her veil down, he strode toward them, making up an angry speech.
"Ah, Miss Grayson," he said, raising his hat, and ceasing to make his stick quiver in his hand, "I did not recognise you."
Then followed the customary hand-shakings and inquiries, during which Dexter hung back, and gazed up at the crocketed spire, and at the jackdaws flying in and out of the slits which lit the stone staircase within.
"And who is this?" said the Vicar, raising his glasses to his eyes, but knowing perfectly well all the time, he having been one of the first to learn of the doctor's eccentricity. "Ah, to be sure; Doctor Grayson's protege. Yes, I remember him perfectly well, and I suppose you remember me!"
"Yes, I remember you," said Dexter. "You called me a stupid boy because I couldn't say all of I desire."
"Did I? Ah, to be sure, I remember. Well, but you are not stupid now. I dare say, if I asked you, you would remember every word."
"Don't think I could," said the boy; "it's the hardest bit in the Cat."
"But I'm not going to ask you," said the Vicar. "Miss Grayson here will examine you, I'm sure. There, good day. Good day, Miss Grayson;" and, to Helen's great relief, he shook hands with both. "And I'm to ask you not to throw stones in the churchyard," he added, shaking his stick playfully. "My windows easily break."
He nodded and smiled again, as Helen and her young companion went on, watching them till they had passed through the further gate and disappeared.
"A mischievous young rascal!" he said to himself. "I believe I should have given him the stick if it had been anybody else."
As he said this, he walked down a side path which led past the tomb that had formed Dexter's target.
"I dare say he has chipped the urn," he continued, feeling exceedingly vexed, as a Vicar always does when he finds any wanton defacement of the building and surroundings in his charge.
"No," he said aloud, and in a satisfied tone, "unhurt. But tut—tut— tut—tut! what tiresome young monkeys boys are!"
He turned back, and went thoughtfully toward the town.
"Singular freak on the part of Grayson. Most eccentric man," he continued. "Danby tells me—now really what a coincidence! Sir James, by all that is singular! Ah, my dear Sir James, I was thinking about you. Ah, Edgar, my boy, how are you?"
He shook hands warmly with the magistrate and his son.
"Thinking about me, eh!" said Sir James, rather pompously. "Then I'll be bound to say that I can tell you what you are thinking."
"No, I believe I may say for certain you cannot," said the Vicar, smiling.
"Of calling on me for a subscription."
"Wrong this time," said the Vicar good-humouredly. "No; I have just met Miss Grayson with that boy."
"Yes; very eccentric of Grayson, is it not!"
"Whim for a week or two. Soon get tired of it," said Sir James, laughing.
"Sure of it, sir; sure of it."
"Well, I hope not," said the Vicar thoughtfully. "Fine thing for the poor boy. Make a man of him."
"Ah, but he is not content with that. He means to make a gentleman of him, and that's an impossibility."
"Ah, well," said the Vicar good-humouredly; "we shall see."
"Yes, sir," said Sir James; "we shall see—we shall see; but it's a most unpleasant episode in our midst. Of course, being such near neighbours, I have been on the most intimate terms with the Graysons, and Lady Danby is warmly attached to Helen Grayson; but now they have this boy there, they want us to know him too."
"Indeed!" said the Vicar, looking half-amused, half puzzled.
"Yes, sir," said Sir James; "and they want—at least Grayson does—Edgar here to become his playmate."
"Ah!" ejaculated the Vicar.
"Sent word yesterday that they should be glad if Edgar would go and spend the afternoon. Awkward, sir; extremely awkward."
"Did he go?"
"Go? no, sir; decidedly not. Edgar refused to go, point-blank."
Master Edgar was walking a little way in front, looking like a small edition of his father in a short jacket, for he imitated Sir James's stride, put on his tall hat at the same angle, and carried his black cane with its two silken tassels in front of him, as a verger in church carries a wand.
"I wasn't going," said Master Edgar importantly. "I don't want to know a boy like that."
"What would you do under the circumstances?" said Sir James.
"Do?" said the Vicar; "why I should—I beg your pardon—will you excuse me? I am wanted."
He pointed to a lady who was signalling to him with a parasol, and hurried off.
"How lucky!" he said to himself. "I don't want to offend Sir James; but 'pon my word, knowing what I do of his young cub, I would rather have Grayson's protege on spec."
"Where are we going for a walk, pa!" said Master Edgar importantly.
"Through the quarry there, and by the windmill, and back home."
"No; I meant to go down by the river, pa, to see if there are any fish."
"Another day will do for that, Eddy."
"No, it won't. I want to go now."
"Oh, very well," said Sir James; and they took the way to the meadows.
Meanwhile Helen and Dexter had gone on some distance ahead.
"There, you see, Dexter; how easy it is to do wrong," said Helen, as, feeling greatly relieved, she hurried on toward the meadows.
"I didn't know it was doing wrong to have a cockshy," said Dexter. "Seems to me that nearly everything nice that you want to do is wrong."
"Oh no," said Helen, smiling at the boy's puzzled face.
"Seems like it," said Dexter. "I say, he was going to scold me, only he found I was with you, and that made him stop. Wish I hadn't thrown the stone."
"So do I," said Helen quickly. "Come, you have broken yourself off several bad habits this last week, and I shall hope soon to find that you have stopped throwing stones."
"But mayn't I throw anything else?"
"Oh yes; your ball."
"But I haven't got a ball."
"Then you shall have one," said Helen. "We'll buy one as we go back. There, it was a mistake, Dexter, so remember not to do it again."
They were now on the banks of the glancing river, the hay having been lately cut, and the way open right to the water's edge.
"Yes, I'll remember," said Dexter. "Look—look at the fish. Oh, don't I wish I had a rod and line! Here, wait a moment."
He was down on his chest, reaching with his hand in the shallow water.
"Why, Dexter," said Helen, laughing, "you surely did not think that you could catch fishes with your hand!"
"No," said the boy, going cautiously forward and striking an attitude; "but you see me hit one."
As he spoke he threw a large round pebble which he had picked out of the river-bed with great force, making the water splash up, while, instead of sinking, the stone skipped from the surface, dipped again, and then disappeared.
As the stone made its last splash, the reality of what he had done seemed to come to him, and he turned scarlet as he met Helen's eyes.
"Dexter!" she said reproachfully.
The boy took off his cap, looked in it, rubbed his closely cropped head in a puzzled way, and put his cap slowly on again, to stand once more gazing at his companion.
"I can't tell how it is," he said dolefully. "I think there must be something wrong in my head. It don't go right. I never mean to do what you don't like, but somehow I always do."
"Look there, Dexter," said Helen quickly; "those bullocks seem vicious; we had better go back."
She pointed to a drove of bullocks which had been put in the newly-cut meadows by one of the butchers in the town, and the actions of the animals were enough to startle any woman, for, being teased by the flies, they were careering round the field with heads down and tails up, in a lumbering gallop, and approaching the spot where the couple stood.
They were down by the water, both the stile they had crossed and that by which they would leave the meadow about equidistant, while, as the bullocks were making straight for the river to wade in, and try to rid themselves of their torment, it seemed as if they were charging down with serious intent.
"Come: quick! let us run," cried Helen in alarm, and she caught at Dexter's hand.
"What! run away from them!" cried the boy stoutly. "Don't you be afraid of them. You come along."
"No, no," cried Helen; "it is not safe."
But, to her horror, Dexter shook himself free, snatched off his cap, and rushed straight at the leading bullock, a great heavy beast with long horns, and now only fifty yards away, while the drove were close at its heels.
The effect was magical.
No sooner did the great animal see the boy running forward than it stopped short, and began to paw up the ground and shake its head, the drove following the example of their leader, while, to Helen, as she stood motionless with horror, it seemed as if the boy's fate was sealed.
For a few moments the bullock stood fast, but by the time Dexter was within half a dozen yards, he flung his cap right in the animal's face, and, with a loud snort, it turned as on a pivot, and dashed off toward the upper part of the field, now driving the whole of the rest before it.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Dexter, picking up his cap, and coming back panting. "That's the way to serve them. Come along."
Helen was very white, but the colour began to come in her cheeks again as she saw the boy's bright, frank, animated face; and, as they crossed the second stile, and rambled on through the pleasant meads, it began to dawn upon her that perhaps it would not prove to be so unpleasant a task after all to tame the young savage placed in her hands.
A PLEASANT LESSON.
One minute Helen Grayson was delighted at the freshness of nature, and the genuine delight and enthusiasm displayed by her companion, the next there came quite a cloud over everything, for it seemed to her that here was a bright young spirit corroded and spoiled by the surroundings to which it had been accustomed.
"What's that? What flower's this? Oh, look at that butterfly! Here, Miss Grayson, see here—a long thin fly with his body all blue; and such lovely wings. There's another with purple edges to it. Oh, how lovely!"
Helen's eyes brightened, and she began to enjoy her walk, and forget the stone-throwing, when Dexter damped her enjoyment.
"Oh, here's a lark!" he cried, plunging down into a ditch, and reappearing after a hunt in the long wet grass with a large greenish frog.
"What have you found, Dexter!"
"A jolly old frog. Look here; I'll show you how the boys do up there at the House."
"I think you had better not," said Helen, wincing.
"But it's such a game. You get a flat piece of wood, about so long, and you lay it across a stone. Then you set the frog on one end, and perhaps he hops off. If he does, you catch him again, and put him on the end of the wood over and over again till he sits still, and he does when he is tired. Then you have a stick ready, as if you were going to play at cat, and you hit the end of the stick—"
"Oh!" ejaculated Helen.
"I don't mean the end where the frog is," cried Dexter quickly, as he saw Helen's look of disgust; "I mean the other end; and then the frog flies up in the air ever so high, and kicks out his legs as if he was swimming, and—"
Dexter began his description in a bright, animated way, full of gesticulation; but as he went on the expression in his companion's face seemed to chill him. He did not understand what it meant, only he felt that he was doing or saying something which was distasteful; and he gradually trailed off, and stood staring with his narrative unfinished, and the frog in his hand.
"Could you do that now, Dexter!" said Helen suddenly.
"Do it?" he faltered.
"Yes; with the frog."
"I haven't got a bit of flat wood, and I have no stick, and if I had— I—you—I—"
He stopped short, with his head on one side, and his brows puckered up, gazing into Helen's eyes. Then he looked down, at the frog, and back at Helen.
"You don't mean it?" he said sharply. "You don't want me to? I know: you mean it would hurt the frog."
"Would it hurt you, Dexter, if somebody put you on one end of a plank, and then struck the other end!"
The boy took off his cap and scratched his head with his little finger, the others being closed round the frog, which was turned upside down.
"The boys always used to do it up at the House," he said apologetically.
"Why!" said Helen gravely.
"Because it was such fun; but they always made them hop well first. They'd begin by taking great long jumps, and then, as the boys hunted them, the jumps would get shorter and shorter, and they'd be so tired that it was easy to make them sit still on the piece of wood."
"And when they had struck the wood, and driven it into the air, what did they do to the poor thing then?"
"Sent it up again."
"Oh, they caught it—some of the boys did—caught it like a ball."
"Have you ever done so?"
Dexter shuffled about from foot to foot, and looked at the prospect, then at the frog, and then slowly up at the clear, searching eyes watching him.
"Yes," he said, with a sigh; "lots of times."
"And was it to save the poor thing from being hurt by the fall on the hard ground!"
Dexter tried hard to tell a lie, but somehow he could not.
"No," he said slowly. "It was to put it back on the stick, so as the other boys could not catch it first."
"What was done then!"
Dexter was silent, and he seemed to be taking a wonderful deal of interest in the frog, which was panting hard in his hot hand, with only its comical face peeping out between his finger and thumb, the bright golden irised eyes seeming to stare into his, and the loose skin of its throat quivering.
"Well, Dexter, why don't you tell me!"
"Am I to?" said the boy slowly.
There were a few more moments of hesitation, and then the boy said with an effort—
He paused again.
"We used to get lots of stones and shy at 'em till they was dead."
There was a long silence here, during which Helen Grayson watched the play in the boy's countenance, and told herself that there was a struggle going on between the good and evil in the young nature, and once more she asked herself how she could hesitate in the task before her.
Meanwhile it was very uncomfortable for the frog. The day was hot; Dexter's hand was hotter still; and though there was the deliciously cool gurgling river close at hand, with plenty of sedge, and the roots of water grasses, where it might hide and enjoy its brief span of life, it was a prisoner; and if frogs can think and know anything about the chronicles of their race, it was thinking of its approaching fate, and wondering how many of its young tadpoles would survive to be as big as its parent, and whether it was worth while after all.
"Dexter," said Helen suddenly, and her voice sounded so clear and thrilling that the boy started, and looked at her in a shame-faced manner. "Suppose you saw a boy—say like—like—"
"That chap we saw with the hat and stick? him who sneered at me?"
Helen winced in turn. She had young Edgar Danby in her mind, but was about to propose some other young lad for her illustration; but the boy had divined her thought, and she did not shrink now from the feeling that above all things she must be frank if she wished her companion to be.
"Yes; young Danby. Suppose you saw him torturing a frog, a lowly reptile, but one of God's creatures, in that cruel way, what would you say, now?"
"I should say he was a beast."
Helen winced again, for the declaration was more emphatic and to the point than she had anticipated.
"And what would you do?" he continued.
"I'd punch his head, and take the frog away from him. Please, Miss Grayson," he continued earnestly; "I didn't ever think it was like that. We always used to do it—we boys always did, and—and—"
"You did not know then what you know now. Surely, Dexter, you will never be so cruel again."
"If you don't want me to, I won't," he said quickly.
"Ah, but I want you to be frank and manly for a higher motive than that, Dexter," she said, laying her hand upon his shoulder. "There, I will not say any more now. What are you going to do!"
"Put him in the river, and let him swim away."
The boy darted to the side of the rippling stream, stooped down, and lowered the hand containing the frog into the water, opened it, and for a moment or two the half-dead reptile sat there motionless. Then there was a vigorous kick, and it shot off into the clear water, diving right down among the water weeds, and disappearing from their view.
"There!" said Dexter, jumping up and looking relieved. "You are not cross with me now!"
"I have not been cross with you," she said; "only a little grieved."
"Couldn't he swim!" cried the boy, who was anxious to turn the conversation. "I can swim like that, and dive too. We learned in our great bath, and—Oh, I say, hark at the bullocks."
Helen listened, and could hear a low, muttering bellow in the next meadow, accompanied by the dull sounds of galloping hoofs, which were near enough to make the earth of the low, marshy bottom through which the river ran quiver slightly where they stood.
Just then there was a piercing shriek, as of a woman in peril, and directly after a man's voice heard shouting for help.
"Here's something the matter!" cried Dexter; and, forgetting everything in the excitement of the moment, he ran back as hard as he could tear to the footpath leading to the stile they had crossed, the high untrimmed hedge between the fields concealing what was taking place.
Helen followed quickly, feeling certain the while that the drove of bullocks in the next meadow were the cause of the trouble and alarm.
Dexter reached the stile far in advance; and when at last Helen attained to the same post of observation, it was to see Sir James Danby at the far side standing upon the next stile toward the town, shouting, and frantically waving his hat and stick, while between her and the stout baronet there was the drove of bullocks, and Dexter approaching them fast.
For a few moments Helen could not understand what was the matter, but directly after, to her horror, she saw that young Edgar Danby was on the ground, with one of the bullocks standing over him, smelling at the prostrate boy, and apparently trying to turn him over with one of its horns.
"Here! Hi!" shouted Dexter; "bring me your stick."
But Sir James, who had been chased by the leading bullock, was breathless, exhausted, and too nervous to attempt his son's rescue. All he seemed capable of doing was to shout hoarsely, and this he did more feebly every moment.
Dexter made a rush at the bullocks, and the greater part of the drove turned tail; but, evidently encouraged by its success, the leader of the little herd stood firm, tossed its head on high, shook its horns, and uttered a defiant bellow.
"Here, I can't do anything without a stick," said Dexter, in an ill-used tone, and he turned and ran toward Sir James, while, still more encouraged by what must have seemed to its dense brain like a fresh triumph, the bullock placed one of its horns under Edgar Danby and cleverly turned him right over.
"Here, give me your stick!" shouted Dexter, as he ran up to Sir James. "You shouldn't be afraid o' them."
"The boy will be killed," cried Sir James, in agony; and he shouted again, "Help! help!"
"No, he won't," cried Dexter, snatching the magistrate's heavy ebony stick from his hand. "I'll make 'em run."
Raising the stick in the air, Dexter ran toward where the whole drove were trotting back, and gathering round their leader, who now began to sing its war-song, throwing up its muzzle so as to straighten its throat, and emitting a bellow that was, in spite of its size, but a poor, feeble imitation of the roar of a lion.
As Dexter ran up, the drove stood firm for a few moments; then the nearest to him arched its back, curved its tail, executed a clumsy gambol, turned, and fled, the rest taking their cues from this, the most timid in the herd, and going off in a lumbering gallop, their heads now down, and their tails rigid, excepting a few inches, and the hairy tuft at the end.
But the leader stood fast, and shaking its head, bellowed, looked threatening, and lowering one of its long horns, thrust it into the earth, and began to plough up the soft, moist soil.
"Oh, you would, would you?" cried Dexter, who did not feel in the slightest degree alarmed, from ignorance probably more than bravery; and, dashing in, he struck out with the ebony stick so heavy a blow upon the end of the horn raised in the air that the ebony snapped in two, and the bullock, uttering a roar of astonishment and pain, swung round, and galloped after its companions, which were now facing round at the top of the field.
"Broke his old stick," said Dexter, as he bent over Edgar. "Here, I say; get up. They're gone now. You ain't hurt."
Hurt or no, Edgar did not hear him, but lay there with his clothes soiled, and his tall hat trampled on by the drove, and crushed out of shape.
"I say," said Dexter, shaking him; "why don't you get up?"
Poor Edgar made no reply, for he was perfectly insensible and cadaverous of hue.
"Here! Hi! Come here!" cried Dexter, rising and waving his hands, first to Helen, and then to Sir James. "They won't hurt you. Come on."
The effect of the boy's shout was to make the spot where he now knelt down by Edgar Danby the centre upon which the spectators sought to gather. Helen set off first; Sir James, feeling very nervous, followed her example; and the drove of bullocks, with quivering tails and moistening nostrils, also began to trot back, while Dexter got one arm beneath the insensible boy, and tried hard to lift him, and carry him to the stile nearest the town.
But the Union diet had not supplied him with sufficient muscle, and after getting the boy well on his shoulder, and staggering along a few paces, he stopped.
"Oh, I say," he muttered; "ain't he jolly heavy?"
A bellow from the leader of the bullocks made Dexter look round, and take in the position, which was that the drove were again approaching, and that this combined movement had had the effect of making Helen and Sir James both stop some forty yards away.
"Here, come on!" cried Dexter. "I'll see as they don't hurt you." And Helen obeyed; but Sir James hesitated, till, having somewhat recovered his nerve, and moved by shame at seeing a young girl and a boy perform what was naturally his duty, he came on slowly, and with no little trepidation, toward where Dexter was waiting with his son.
"That's right!" cried Dexter. "Come along. You come and carry him. I ain't strong enough. I'll soon send them off."
The situation was ludicrous enough, and Sir James was angry with himself; but all the same there was the nervous trepidation to overcome, and it was a very hard fight.
"Let me try and help you carry him," said Helen quickly.
"No, no; you can't," cried the boy. "Let him. Oh, don't I wish I'd got a stick. Here, ketch hold."
This last was to Sir James, whose face looked mottled as he came up. He obeyed the boy's command, though: took his son in his arms, and began to retreat with Helen toward the stile.
Meanwhile the bullocks were coming on in their customary stupid way.
"That's right; you go, sir," cried Dexter. "I'll talk to them," and, to Helen's horror, he went down on his hands and knees and ran at the drove, imitating the barking of a dog, not very naturally, but sufficiently true to life to make the drove turn tail again and gallop off, their flight being hastened by the flight of Edgar's damaged hat, which Dexter picked up and sent flying after them, and spinning through the air like a black firework till it dropped.
"'Tain't no good now," said the boy, laughing to himself; "and never was much good. Only done for a cockshy. I'll take them back, though."
This last was in allusion to the broken stick, which he picked up, and directly after found Master Edgar's tasselled cane, armed with which he beat a retreat toward the group making for the stile, with Helen beckoning to him to come.
The bullocks made one more clumsy charge down, but the imitation dog got up by Dexter was enough to check them, and the stile was crossed in safety just as a butcher's man in blue, followed by a big rough dog, came in sight.
Sir James was at first too indignant and too much upset to speak to the man.
"It's of no use, Miss Grayson," he said, "but his master shall certainly be summoned for this. How dare he place those ferocious bulls in a field through which there is a right of way? O my poor boy! my poor boy! He's dead!—he's dead!"
"He ain't," said Dexter sharply.
"Shall I carry him, sir?" said the butcher's man, forgetful of the fact that he would come off terribly greasy on the helpless boy's black clothes.
"No, man," cried Sir James. "Go and watch over those ferocious beasts, and see that they do not injure any one else."
"Did they hurt him, sir!" said the man eagerly.
"Hurt him! Look," cried Sir James indignantly.
"He ain't hurt," said Dexter sturdily. "Only frightened. There was a chap at our school used to go like that. He's fainting, that's what he is doing. You lay him down, and wait till I come back."
Dexter ran to the river, and, without a moment's hesitation, plunged in his new cap, and brought it back, streaming and dripping, with as much water as he could scoop up.
Too nervous even to oppose the boy's order, Sir James had lowered his son to the ground, and, as he lay on the grass, Helen bathed and splashed his face with the water, till it was gone.
"I'll soon fetch some more," cried Dexter.
But it was not needed, for just then Edgar opened his eyes, looked wildly round, as if not comprehending where he was, and then exclaimed with a sob—
"Where's the bull?"
"Hush! hush! my boy; you are safe now; thanks to the bravery of this gallant lad."
Dexter puckered up his forehead and stared.
"Where's my hat!" cried Edgar piteously.
"Scrunched," said Dexter shortly. "Bullocks trod on it."
"And my silver-topped cane!"
"There it lies on the grass," said Dexter, stooping down and picking it up.
"Oh, look at my jacket and my trousers," cried Edgar. "What a mess I'm in!"
"Never mind, my boy; we will soon set that right," said Sir James. "There, try and stand up. If you can walk home it will be all the better now."
"The brutes!" cried Edgar, with a passionate burst of tears.
"Do you feel hurt anywhere?" said Helen kindly.
"I don't know," said the boy faintly, as he rose and took his father's arm.
"Can I help you, Sir James?" said Helen.
"No, no, my dear Miss Grayson, we are so near home, and we will go in by the back way, so as not to call attention. I can never thank you sufficiently for your kindness, nor this brave boy for his gallantry. Good-bye. Edgar is better now. Good-bye."
He shook hands warmly with both.
"Shake hands with Miss Grayson, Eddy," said Sir James, while the butcher's man sat on the stile and lit his pipe.
"Now with your gallant preserver," said Sir James.
Edgar, who looked extremely damp and limp, put out a hand unwillingly, and Dexter just touched it, and let his own fall.
"You shall hear from me again, my man," said Sir James, now once more himself; and he spoke with great dignity. "Good day, Miss Grayson, and thanks."
He went on quickly with his son, while Helen and Dexter took another footpath, leading to a stile which opened upon the road.
As they reached this, Dexter laid his arm upon the top rail, and his forehead upon his wrist.
"What is the matter, Dexter?" cried Helen, in alarm.
"Nothing: I was only laughing," said the boy, whose shoulders were shaking with suppressed mirth.
"Yes. What a game! They were both afraid of the bullocks, and you've only got to go right at 'em, and they're sure to run."
"I think you behaved very bravely, Dexter," said Helen warmly; "and as I've scolded you sometimes, it is only fair that when I can I ought to praise. You were very brave indeed."
"Tchah! that isn't being brave," said the boy, whose face was scarlet. "Why, anybody could scare a few bullocks."
"Yes, but anybody would not," said Helen, smiling. "There, let's make haste home. I was very much frightened too."
"Were you!" said Dexter, with wide open eyes.
"Yes; weren't you?"
"No," said Dexter; "there wasn't anything to be frightened about then. But I'm frightened now."
"Indeed! What, now the danger is past?"
"No, not about that."
"What then, Dexter?"
"Look at my new cap."
He held up his drenched head-covering, all wet, muddy at the bottom, and out of shape.
"'Tain't so bad as his chimney-pot hat, but it's awful, ain't it? What will he say?"
"Papa? Only that you behaved exceedingly well, Dexter. He will be very pleased."
"Think he will?"
"Yes; and you shall have a new cap at once."
"Let's make haste back, then," cried the boy eagerly, "for I'm as hungry as never was. But you're sure he won't be cross?"
"Certain, Dexter. I will answer for that."
"All right. Come along. I was afraid I was in for it again."
MR. DENGATE IS INDIGNANT, AND DEXTER WANTS SOME "WUMS."
Mr Grayson was delighted when he heard the narrative from Helen.
"There! what did I tell you!" he cried. "Proofs of my theory."
"Do you think so, papa?"
"Think, my dear? I'm sure. Why, there it all was; what could have been better? Young Danby has breed in him, and what did he do? Lay down like a girl, and fainted. No, my dear, you cannot get over it. Pick your subject if you will, but you may make what you like of a boy."
"I hope so, papa."
"That's right, my dear. Brave little fellow! Afraid I should scold him about his cap? Thoughtless young dog, but it was all chivalrous. Couldn't have been better. He shall have a hundred caps if he likes. Hah! I'm on the right track, I'm sure."
The doctor rubbed his hands and chuckled, and Helen went to bed that night better pleased with her task.
Sir James Danby, who was the magnate of Coleby, sent a very furious letter to Dengate the butcher, threatening proceedings against him for allowing a herd of dangerous bullocks to be at large in one of his fields, and ordering him to remove them at once.
Dengate the butcher read the letter, grew red in the face, and, after buttoning up that letter in his breast-pocket, he put on his greasy cap, and went to Topley the barber to get shaved.
Dengate's cap was greasy because, though he was a wealthy man, he worked hard at his trade, calling for orders, delivering meat, and always twice a week, to use his own words, "killing hisself."
Topley lathered Dengate's red round face, and scraped it perfectly clean, feeling it all over with his soapy fingers, as well as carefully inspecting it with his eye, to make sure that none of the very bristly stubble was left.
While Topley shaved, Dengate made plans, and as soon as the operation was over he went back home, and what he called "cleaned hisself." That is to say, he put on his best clothes, stuck a large showy flower in his button-hole, cocked his rather broad-brimmed hat on one side of his head, and went straight to Dr Grayson's.
Maria opened the door, stared at the butcher, who generally came to the back entrance, admitted him, received his message, and went into the study, where the doctor was writing, and Dexter busily copying a letter in a fairly neat round hand, but could only on an average get one word and a half in a line, a fact which looked awkward, especially as Dexter cut his words anywhere without studying the syllables.
Dexter had just left off at the end of a line, and finished the first letters of the word toothache, leaving "toot" as his division, and taking a fresh dip of ink ready for writing "hache."
"Don't put your tongue out, Dexter, my boy."
"All right," said Dexter.
"And I would not suck the pen. Ink is not wholesome."
"All right, I won't," said Dexter; and he put the nibs between his lips.
"Mr Dengate, sir," said Maria.
"Dengate? What does he want, Maria? Let him see Mrs Millett or Miss Helen."
Maria looked scornfully at Dexter, as if he had injured her in some way.
"Which is what I said to him, sir. 'Master's busy writing,' I says; but he says his dooty, sir, and if you would see him five minutes he would be greatly obligated."
The doctor said, "Send him in."
Maria left the room, and there was a tremendous sound of wiping shoes all over the mat, although it was a dry day without, and the butcher's boots were speckless.
Then there was another burst of wiping on the mat by the study door as a finish off, a loud muttering of instructions to Maria, and the door was opened to admit the butcher, looking hot and red, with his hat in one hand, a glaring orange handkerchief in the other, with which he dabbed himself from time to time.
"Good morning, Dengate," said the doctor; "what can I do for you?"
"Good morning, sir; hope you're quite well, sir. If you wouldn't mind, sir, reading this letter, sir. Received this morning, sir. Sir James, sir."
"Read it? ah, yes," said the doctor.
He ran through the missive and frowned.
"Well, Dengate," he said, "Sir James is a near neighbour and friend of mine, and I don't like to interfere in these matters."
"No, sir, of course you wouldn't, sir, but as a gentleman, sir, as I holds in the highest respect—a gentleman as runs a heavy bill with me."
"Hasn't your account been paid, Dengate!" said the doctor, frowning, while Dexter looked hard at the butcher, and wondered why his face was so red, and why little drops like beads formed all over his forehead.
"No, sir, it hasn't, sir," said the butcher, with a chuckle, "and I'm glad of it. I never ask for your account, sir, till it gets lumpy. I always leave it till I want it, for it's good as the bank to me, and I know I've only to give you a hint like, and there it is."
"Humph!" ejaculated the doctor.
"What I have come about is them bullocks, sir, hearing as your young lady, sir, and young shaver here—"
"Mr Dengate," said the doctor, frowning, "this young gentleman is my adopted son."
"Beg pardon, sir, I'm sure," said the butcher obsequiously. "I had heared as you'd had taken a boy from the—"
"Never mind that, Dengate," said the doctor shortly, as the butcher dabbed himself hurriedly,—"business."
"Exactly, sir. Well, sir, it's like this here: I'm the last man in the world to put dangerous beasts in any one's way, and if I knowed that any one o' them was the least bit risky to a human being, he'd be bullock to-day and beef to-morrow. D'yer see?"
"Yes, of course," said the doctor, "and very proper."
"But what I holds is, sir, and my man too says is, that there ain't a bit o' danger in any on 'em, though if there was nobody ought to complain."
"Well, there I don't agree with you, Dengate," said the doctor haughtily, as Dexter came and stood by him, having grown deeply interested.
"Don't you, sir? Well, then, look here," said the butcher, rolling his yellow handkerchief into a cannon ball and ramming it into his hat, as if it were a cannon that he now held beneath his left arm. "There's a path certainly from stile to stile, but it only leads to my farrest medder, and though I never says nothing to nobody who thinks it's a nice walk down there by the river to fish or pick flowers or what not, though they often tramples my medder grass in a way as is sorrowful to see, they're my medders, and the writing's in my strong-box, and not a shilling on 'em. All freehold, seven-and-twenty acres, and everybody as goes on is a trespasser, so what do you say to that?"
The butcher unloaded the imaginary cannon as he said this triumphantly, and dabbed his face with the ball.
"Say?" said the doctor, smiling; "why, that I'm a trespasser sometimes, for I like to go down there for a walk. It's the prettiest bit out of the town."
"Proud to hear you say so, sir," said the butcher eagerly. "It is, isn't it? and I'm proud to have you go for a walk there, sir. Honoured, I'm sure, and if the—er—the young gentleman likes to pick a spot out to keep ground baited for a bit o' fishing, why, he's hearty welcome, and my man shall save him as many maddicks for bait as ever he likes."
"I'll come," cried Dexter eagerly. "May I go?" he added.
"Yes, yes; we'll see," said the doctor; "and it's very kind of Mr Dengate to give you leave."
"Oh, that's nothing, sir. He's welcome as the flowers in May; but what I wanted to say, sir, was that as they're my fields, and people who comes is only trespassers, I've a right to put anything I like there. I don't put danger for the public: they comes to the danger."
"Yes; that's true," said the doctor. "Of course, now you mention it, there's no right of way."
"Not a bit, sir, and I might turn out old Billy, if I liked."
"I say, who is old Billy?" said Dexter.
"Hush, my boy! Don't interpose when people are speaking."
"Oh, let him talk, sir," said the butcher, good-naturedly. "I like to hear a boy want to know. It's what my boy won't do. He's asleep half his time, and I feed him well too."
"Humph!" ejaculated the doctor.
"Billy's my old bull, as I always keeps shut up close in my yard, because he is dangerous."
"And very properly," said the doctor.
"Quite right, sir, quite right; and I want to know then what right Sir James has to come ordering me about. He's no customer of mine. Took it all away and give it to Mossetts, because he said the mutton was woolly, when I give you my word, sir, that it was as good a bit o' mutton as I ever killed."
"Yes, yes, Dengate, but what has all this to do with me?" said the doctor testily.
"Well, sir, begging your pardon, only this: your young lady and young gentleman was there, and I want to know the rights of it all. My man says the beasts are quiet enough, only playful, and I say the same; but I may be making a mistake. I went in the medder this morning, with my boy Ezry, and he could drive 'em anywheres, and he's only ten. Did they trouble your young folks, sir?"
"Well, Dexter: you can answer that," said the doctor.
"Trouble us?—no!" said Dexter, laughing. "Miss Grayson was a bit afraid of 'em, but I ran the big one, and he galloped off across the fields."
"There," said the butcher; "what did I say? Bit playful, that's all."
"And when we heard a noise, and found one of 'em standing over that young Danby, he was only turning him over, that's all."
"Yes; he was running away, and fell down, and the beasts came to look at him," said Dengate, laughing.
"And Sir James was over on the stile calling for help. Why, as soon as I ran at the bullocks they all galloped off, all but the big one, and I give him a crack on the horn, and soon made him go."
"Of course. Why, a child would make 'em run. That's all, sir, I only wanted to know whether they really was dangerous, because if they had been, as I said afore, bullock it is now, but beef it should be. Good morning, sir."
"What are you going to do!" said the doctor.
"Do, sir? I'm a-going to let Sir James do his worst. My beasts ain't dangerous, and they ain't on a public road, so there they stay till I want 'em for the shop. Morning, young—er—gentleman. You're not afraid of a bullock?"
"No," said Dexter quietly, "I don't think I am."
"I'm sure you ain't, my lad, if you'll 'scuse me calling you so. Morning, sir, morning."
The butcher backed out, smiling triumphantly, but only to put his head in again—
"Beg pardon, sir, only to say that if he'd asked me polite like, I'd ha' done it directly; but he didn't, and I'll stand upon my medder like a man."
"Humph!" said the doctor, as soon as they were alone; "and so you were not afraid of the bullocks, Dexter?"
"There wasn't anything to be afraid of," said the boy. "I'm ever so much more afraid of you."
"Yes, when you look cross, sir, only then."
"Well, you must not make me look cross, Dexter; and now get on with your copying. When you've done that you may go in the garden if you'll keep out of mischief."
"And when may I go fishing?"
"When you like."
"Down the meadows!"
"Why not fish down the garden; there's a capital place."
"All right," said Dexter. "I'll go there. But I want a rod and line."
"There is an old rod in the hall, and you can buy a line. No, Helen is going out, and she will buy you one."
Dexter's eyes glistened at the idea of going fishing, and he set to work most industriously at the copying, which in due time he handed over to the Doctor, who expressed himself as highly satisfied: though if he really was, he was easily pleased.
Helen had received her instructions, and she soon afterwards returned with the fishing-line, and a fair supply of extra hooks, and odds and ends, which the doctor, as an old angler, had suggested.
"These—all for me!" cried the boy joyfully.
The doctor nodded.
"Recollect: no mischief, and don't tumble in."
"All right, sir," cried the boy, who was gloating over the new silk line, with its cork float glistening in blue and white paint brought well up with varnish.
"Do you know how to fish!"
"Yes, I know all about it, sir."
"How's that? You never went fishing at the workhouse."
"No, sir; but old Dimsted in the House used to tell us boys all about it, and how he used to catch jack and eels, and roach and perch, in the river."
"Very well, then," said the doctor. "Now you can go."
Dexter went off in high glee, recalling divers instructions given by the venerable old pauper who had been a fishing idler all his life, the river always having more attractions for him than work. His son followed in his steps, and he again had a son with the imitative faculty, and spending every hour he could find at the river-side.
It was a well-known fact in Coleby that the Dimsteds always knew where fish was to be found, and the baskets they made took the place of meat that other fathers and sons of families would have earned.
Rod, line, and hooks are prime necessaries for fishing; but a fish rarely bites at a bare hook, so one of Dexter's first proceedings was to obtain some bait.
Mr Dengate had said that his man should save plenty of gentles for him; but Dexter resolved not to wait for them that day, but to try what he could do with worms and paste. So his first proceeding was to appeal to Mrs Millett for a slice or two of bread.
Mrs Millett was not in the kitchen, but Maria was, and on being appealed to, she said sharply that she was not the cook.
Dexter looked puzzled, and he flushed a little as he wondered why it was that the maid looked so cross, and always answered him so snappishly.
Just then Mrs Millett, who was a plump elderly female with a pleasant countenance and expression, appeared in the doorway, and to her Dexter appealed in turn.
Mrs Millett had been disposed to look at Dexter from the point of view suggested by Maria, who had been making unpleasant allusions to the boy's birth and parentage, and above all to "Master's strange goings on," ever since Dexter's coming. Hence, then, the old lady, who looked upon herself as queen of the kitchen, had a sharp reproof on her tongue, and was about to ask the boy why he hadn't stopped in his own place, and rung for what he wanted. The frank happy expression on his face disarmed her, and she smiled and cut the required bread.
"Well, I never!" said Maria.
"Ah, my dear," said Mrs Millett; "I was young once, and I didn't like to be scolded. He isn't such a bad-looking boy after all, only he will keep apples in his bedroom, and make it smell."
"What's looks!" said Maria tartly, as she gave a candlestick she was cleaning a fierce rub.
"A deal, my dear, sometimes," said the old housekeeper. "Specially if they're sweet ones, and that's what yours are not now."
Dexter was not yet armed with all he wanted, for he was off down the kitchen-garden in search of worms.
His first idea was to get a spade and dig for himself; but the stern countenance of Dan'l Copestake rose up before him, and set him wondering what would be the consequences if he were to be found turning over some bed.
On second thoughts he determined to find the gardener and ask for permission, the dread of not succeeding in his mission making him for the moment more thoughtful.
Dan'l did not need much looking for. He had caught sight of Dexter as soon as he entered the garden, and gave vent to a grunt.
"Now, what mischief's he up to now?" he grumbled; and he set to and watched the boy while making believe to be busy cutting the dead leaves and flowers off certain plants.
He soon became aware of the fact that Dexter was searching for him, and this altered the case, for he changed his tactics, and kept on moving here and there, so as to avoid the boy.
"Here! Hi! Mr Copestake!" cried Dexter; but the old man had been suddenly smitten with that worst form of deafness peculiar to those who will not hear; and it was not until Dexter had pursued him round three or four beds, during which he seemed to be blind as well as deaf, that the old man was able to see him.
"Eh!" he said. "Master want me?"
"No. I'm going fishing; and, please, I want some worms."
"Wums? Did you say wums!" said Dan'l, affecting deafness, and holding his hand to his ear.
"Ay, you're right; they are," grumbled Dan'l. "Deal o' trouble, wums. Gets inter the flower-pots, and makes wum castesses all over the lawn, and they all has to be swept up."
"Yes; but I want some for fishing."
"'Ficient? Quite right, not sufficient help to get 'em swep' away."
"Will you dig a few worms for me, please?" shouted Dexter in the old man's ear.
"Dig wums? What for? Oh, I see, thou'rt going fishing. No; I can't stop."
"May I dig some!" cried Dexter; but Dan'l affected not to hear him, and went hurriedly away.
"He knew what I wanted all the time," said the boy to himself. "He don't like me no more than Maria does."
Just then he caught sight of Peter Cribb, who, whenever he was not busy in the stable, seemed to be chained to a birch broom.
"Will you dig a few worms for me, please?" said Dexter; "red ones."
"No; I'm sweeping," said the groom gruffly; and then, in the most inconsistent way, he changed his tone, for he had a weakness for the rod and line himself. "Going fishing!"
"Yes, if I can get some worms."
"Where's old Copestake!"
"Gone into the yard over there," said Dexter.
"All right. I'll dig you some. Go behind the wall there, by the cucumber frames. Got a pot!"
Dexter shook his head.
"All right. I'll bring one."
Dexter went to the appointed place, and in a few minutes Peter appeared, free from the broom now, and bearing a five-pronged fork and a small flower-pot; for the fact that the boy was a brother angler superseded the feeling of animosity against one who had so suddenly been raised from a lowly position and placed over his head.
Peter winked one eye as he scraped away some of the dry straw, and then turned over a quantity of the moist, rotten soil, displaying plenty of the glistening red worms suitable for the capture of roach and perch.
"There you are," he said, after putting an ample supply in the flower-pot, whose hole he had stopped with a piece of clay; "there's as many as you'll want; and now, you go and fish down in the deep hole, where the wall ends in the water, and I wish you luck."
DEXTER MAKES A FRIEND.
"I like him," said Dexter to himself, as he hurried down the garden, found the place, and for the next ten minutes he was busy fitting up his tackle, watching a boy on the other side of the river the while, as he sat in the meadow beneath a willow-tree fishing away, and every now and then capturing a small gudgeon or roach.
The river was about thirty yards broad at this spot, and as Dexter prepared his tackle and watched the boy opposite, the boy opposite fished and furtively watched Dexter.
He was a dark, snub-nosed boy, shabbily-dressed, and instead of being furnished with a bamboo rod and a new line with glistening float, he had a rough home-made hazel affair in three pieces, spliced together, but fairly elastic; his float was a common quill, and his line of so many hairs pulled out of a horse's tail, and joined together with a peculiarly fast knot.
Before Dexter was ready the shabby-looking boy on the other side had caught two more silvery roach, and Dexter's heart beat fast as he at last baited his hook and threw in the line as far as he could.
He was pretty successful in that effort, but his cork float and the shot made a loud splash, while the boy opposite uttered a chuckle.
"He's laughing at me," said Dexter to himself; and he tried the experiment of watching his float with one eye and the boy with the other, but the plan did not succeed, and he found himself gazing from one to the other, always hurriedly glancing back from the boy to the float, under the impression that it bobbed.
He knew it all by heart, having many a time drunk in old Dimsted's words, and he remembered that he could tell what fish was biting by the way the float moved. If it was a bream, it would throw the float up so that it lay flat on the water. If it was a roach, it would give a short quick bob. If it was a perch, it would give a bob, and then a series of sharp quick bobs, the last of which would be right under, while if it was a tench, it would glide slowly away.
But the float did nothing but float, and nothing in the way of bobbing, while the shabby boy on the other side kept on striking, and every now and then hooking a fish.
"Isn't he lucky!" thought Dexter, and he pulled out his line to find that the bait had gone.
He began busily renewing it in a very nonchalant manner, as he was conscious of the fact that the boy was watching him keenly with critical eyes.
Dexter threw in again; but there was no bite, and as the time went on, it seemed as if all the fish had been attracted to the other side of the river, where the shabby-looking boy, who fished skilfully and well, kept on capturing something at the rate of about one every five minutes.
They were not large, but still they were fish, and it was most tantalising to one to be patiently waiting, while the other was busy landing and rebaiting and throwing in again.
At last a happy thought struck Dexter, and after shifting his float about from place to place, he waited till he saw the boy looking at him, and he said—
"Hullo!" came back, the voices easily passing across the water.
"What are you baiting with?"
Then there was a pause, and more fishing on one side, waiting on the other. At last the shabby boy said—
"You're baiting with worms, ain't you?"
"Ah, they won't bite at worms much this time o' day."
"Won't they?" said Dexter, putting out his line.
"No. And you ain't fishing deep enough."
"No. Not by three foot."
"I wish I'd got some gentles," said Dexter at last.
"Shall I shy some over in the box?"
"Can you throw so far?"
"Yers!" cried the shabby boy. "You'll give me the box again, won't you?"
"Yes; I'll throw it back."
The boy on the other side divided his bait by putting some in a piece of paper. Then putting a stone in his little round tin box, he walked back a few yards so as to give himself room, stepped forward, and threw the box right across, Dexter catching it easily.
"Now, you try one o' them," said the donor of the fresh bait.
Dexter eagerly did as was suggested, and five minutes after there was a sharp tug, which half drew his float below the surface.
"Why, you didn't strike," said the boy sharply.
"Well, you can't strike 'em till you've got hold of them," retorted Dexter; and the shabby-looking boy laughed.
"Yah!" he said; "you don't know how to fish."
"Don't I! Why, I was taught to fish by some one who knows all about it."
"So it seems," said the boy jeeringly. "Don't even know how to strike a fish. There, you've got another bite. Look at him; he's running away with it."