It was no credit to Dexter that he got hold of that fish, for the unfortunate roach had hooked itself.
As the float glided away beneath the surface, Dexter gave a tremendous snatch with the rod, and jerked the fish out of the water among the branches of an overhanging tree, where the line caught, and the captive hung suspended about a foot below a cluster of twigs, flapping about and trying to get itself free.
Dexter's fellow-fisherman burst into a roar of laughter, laid down his rod, and stamped about on the opposite bank slapping his knees, while the unlucky fisherman stood with his rod in his hand, jigging the line.
"You'll break it if you don't mind," cried the shabby boy.
"But I want to get it out."
"You shouldn't have struck so hard. Climb up the tree, get out on that branch, and reach down."
Dexter looked at the tree, which hung over the water to such an extent that it seemed as if his weight would tear it from its hold in the bank, while the water looked terribly deep and black beneath.
"I say," cried the shabby boy jeeringly; "who taught you how to fish!"
"Why, old Dimsted did, and he knew."
"Who did!" cried the boy excitedly.
"Yah! That he didn't. Why, he's been in the House these ten years— ever since I was quite a little un."
"Well, I know that," shouted back Dexter. "He taught me all the same."
"Why, how came you to know grandfather!" cried the shabby boy.
Dexter ceased pulling at the line, and looked across at his shabbily-dressed questioner. For the first time he glanced down at his well-made clothes, and compared his personal appearance with that of the boy opposite, and in a curiously subtle way he began to awake to the fact that he was growing ashamed of the workhouse, and the people in it.
"Yah! you didn't know grandfather," cried the boy mockingly; "and you don't know how to fish. Grandfather wouldn't have taught you to chuck a fish up in the tree. You should strike gently, like that."
He gave the top of his rod a slight, quick twitch, and hooked a good-sized roach. Dexter grinning to see him play it till it was feeble enough to be drawn to the side and lifted out.
"That's the way grandfather taught me how to fish," continued the boy, as he took the hook from the captive's mouth, "I say, what's your name!"
"Dexter Grayson," was the answer, for the boy felt keenly already that the names Obed Coleby were ones of which he could not be proud.
"Ever been in the workus!"
"Ever see grandfather there!"
"Yes, I've seen him," said Dexter, who felt no inclination to enlighten the boy further.
"Ah, he could fish," said the boy, baiting and throwing in again. "My name's Dimsted—Bob Dimsted. So's father's. He can fish as well as grandfather. So can I," he added modestly; "there ain't a good place nowheres in the river as we don't know. I could take you where you could ketch fish every swim."
"Could you?" said Dexter, who seemed awed in the presence of so much knowledge.
"Course I could, any day."
"And will you?" said Dexter eagerly.
"Ah dunno," said the boy, striking and missing another fish. "You wouldn't care to go along o' me?"
"Yes, I should—fishing," cried Dexter. "But my line's fast."
"Why don't you climb up and get it then? Ain't afraid, are you!"
"What, to climb that tree?" cried Dexter. "Not I;" and laying the rod down with the butt resting on the bank, he began to climb at once.
"Mind yer don't tumble in," cried Bob Dimsted; "some o' them boughs gets very rotten—like touchwood."
"All right," said Dexter; and he climbed steadily on in happy ignorance of the fact that the greeny lichen and growth was not good for dark cloth trousers and vests. But the bole of the tree was short, for it had been pollarded, and in a minute or two he was in a nest of branches, several of which protruded over the water, the one in particular which had entangled the fishing-line being not even horizontal, but dipping toward the surface.
"That's the way," shouted Bob Dimsted. "Look sharp, they're biting like fun."
"Think it'll bear?" said Dexter.
"Bear? Yes; half a dozen on yer. Sit on it striddling, and work yourself along till you can reach the line. Got a knife?"
"Then go right out, and when you git far enough cut off the little bough, and let it all drop into the water."
"Why, then, I should lose the fish."
"Not you. Ain't he hooked? You do as I say, and then git back, and you can pull all out together."
Dexter bestrode the branch, and worked himself along further and further till an ominous crack made him pause.
"Go on," shouted the boy from the other side.
"He'll think I'm a coward if I don't," said Dexter to himself, and he worked himself along for another three feet, with the silvery fish just before him, seeming to tempt him on.
"There, you can reach him now, can't you?" cried the boy.
"Yes; I think I can reach him now," said Dexter. "Wait till I get out my knife."
It was not so easy to get out that knife, and to open it, as it would have been on land. The position was awkward; the branch dipped at a great slope now toward the water, and Dexter's trousers were not only drawn half-way up his legs, but drawn so tightly by his attitude that he could hardly get his hand into his pocket.
It was done though at last, the thin bough in which the line was tangled seized by the left hand, while the right cut vigorously with the knife.
It would have been far easier to have disentangled the line, but Bob Dimsted was a learned fisher, and he had laid down the law. So Dexter cut and cut into the soft green wood till he got through the little bough all but one thin piece of succulent bark, dancing up and down the while over the deep water some fifteen feet from the bank.
That last vigorous cut did it, and the bough, with its summer burden of leaves, dropped with a splash into the water.
"There! What did I tell you!" cried Dexter's mentor. "Now you can get back and pull all out together. Fish won't bite for a bit after this, but they'll be all right soon."
Dexter shut up his knife, thrust it as well as he could into his pocket, and prepared to return.
This was not so easy, for he had to go backwards. What was more, he had to progress up hill. But, nothing daunted, he took tight hold with his hands, bore down upon them, and was in the act of thrusting himself along a few inches, when—Crack!
One loud, sharp, splintering crack, and the branch, which was rotten three parts through, broke short off close to the trunk, and like an echo to the crack came a tremendous—Plash!
That water, as already intimated, was deep, and, as a consequence, there was a tremendous splash, and branch and its rider went down right out of sight, twig after twig disappearing leisurely in the eddying swirl.
"THEM AS IS BORN TO BE HANGED."
It might have been presumed that Bob Dimsted would either have tried to render some assistance or else have raised an alarm.
Bob Dimsted did nothing of the kind.
For certain reasons of his own, and as one who had too frequently been in the hot water of trouble, Master Bob thought only of himself, and catching his line in his hand as he quickly drew it from the water, he hastily gathered up his fishing paraphernalia, and ran off as hard as he could go.
He had time, however, to see Dexter's wet head rise to the surface and then go down again, for the unwilling bather had one leg hooked in the bough, which took him down once more, as it yielded to the current, and the consequence was that when Dexter rose, breathless and half-strangled, he was fifty yards down the stream.
But he was now free, and giving his head a shake, he trod the water for a few moments, and then struck out for the shore, swimming as easily as a frog.
A few sturdy strokes took him out of the sharp current and into an eddy near the bank, by whose help he soon reached the deep still water, swimming so vigorously that before long he was abreast of the doctor's garden, where a group beneath the trees startled him more than his involuntary plunge.
For there, in a state of the greatest excitement, were the doctor and Helen, with Peter Cribb, with a clothes-prop to be used for a different purpose now.
Further behind was Dan'l Copestake, who came panting up with the longest handled rake just as Dexter was nearing the bank.
"Will he be drowned?" whispered Helen, as she held tightly by her father's arm.
"No; he swims like a water-rat," said the doctor.
"No, no," shouted Dexter, beginning to splash the water, and sheering off as he saw Dan'l about to make a dab at him with the rake.
There was more zeal than discretion in the gardener's use of this implement, for it splashed down into the water heavily, the teeth nearly catching the boy's head.
"Here, catch hold of this," cried Peter Cribb.
"No, no; let me be," cried Dexter, declining the offer of the clothes-prop, as he had avoided it before when he was on the top of the wall. "I can swim ashore if you'll let me be."
This was so self-evident that the doctor checked Dan'l as he was about to make another skull-fracturing dash with the rake; and the next minute Dexter's hand clutched the grass on the bank, and he crawled out, with the water streaming down out of his clothes, and his short hair gummed, as it were, to his head.
"Here!" he cried; "where's my fish?"
"Fish, sir!" cried the doctor; "you ought to be very thankful that you've saved your life."
"O Dexter!" cried Helen.
"I say, don't touch me," cried the boy, as she caught at his hand. "I'm so jolly wet."
He was like a sponge just lifted out of a pail, and already about him there was a pool.
"Here, quick, sir; run up to the house and change your clothes," cried the doctor.
"But I must get my fish, sir."
"Fish!" cried the doctor angrily; "that's not the way to fish."
"Yes, it was, sir; and I caught one."
"You caught one!"
"Yes, sir; a beauty."
"Look here, Dexter," cried the doctor, catching him by his wet arm; "do you mean to tell me that you dived into the river like that and caught a fish!"
"No, sir; I fell in when I was getting my line out of the tree."
"Oh, I see."
"Beg pardon, sir," said Dan'l sourly; "but he've broke a great branch off this here tree."
"Well, I couldn't help it," said Dexter, in an ill-used tone. "I caught my line in the tree, and was obliged to get up and fetch it, and—stop a minute. I can see it. All right."
He ran off along the river-bank till they saw him stoop just where the wall dipped down into the river. There he found the rod floating close to the edge, and, securing it, he soon after drew in the loose branch he had cut off the tree, and disentangled his line, with the little roach still on the hook.
"There!" he cried in triumph, as he ran back with rod, line, and fish; "look at that, Miss Grayson, isn't it a beauty, and—What are you laughing at!"
This was at Peter Cribb, who was grinning hugely, but who turned away, followed by Dan'l.
"Them as is born to be hanged'll never be drowned," grumbled the old gardener sourly, as the two men went away.
"No fear of him being drowned," said Peter. "Swims like a cork."
"It's disgusting; that's what I say it is," growled Dan'l; "disgusting."
"What's disgusting?" said Peter.
"Why, they cuddles and makes a fuss over a boy as is a reg'lar noosance about the place, just as any other varmint would be. Wish he had drowned himself. What call was there for me to come and bring a rake!"
"Ah, he's a rum un, that he is," said Peter. "And master's a rum un; and how they can take to that boy, Miss Helen specially, and have him here's more'n I can understand. It caps me, that it do."
"Wait a bit, my lad, and you'll see," cried the old gardener. "He's begun his games just as such a boy would, and afore long this here garden will be turned into such a wreck as'll make the doctor tear his hair, and wish as he'd never seen the young rascal. He's a bad un; you can see it in his eye. He's got bad blood in him, and bad blood allus comes out sooner or later. Peter Cribb, my lad—"
"We're getting old fellow-servants, though you're only young. Peter, my lad, I'm beginning to tremble for my fruit."
"Yes; that I am, my lad," said Dan'l in a whisper. "Just as I expected—I was watching of him—that rip's took up with bad company, Poacher Dimsted's boy; and that means evil. They was talking together, and then young Dimsted see me, and run away."
"Did he? Yes, he just did; and you mark my words, Peter Cribb, it will not be long before the gov'ner gets rid of him."
"Oh yes; it's a very beautiful fish," said the doctor testily; "but make haste in. There, run and get all your wet things off as quickly as you can."
Dexter was so deeply interested in the silvery scales and graceful shape of his fish that he hardly heard the doctor's words, which had to be repeated before the boy started, nodded shortly, and ran off toward the house, while his patron walked to a garden chair, sat down, and gazed up at Helen in a perplexed way.
Helen did not speak, but gazed back at her father with a suppressed laugh twinkling about the corners of her lips.
"You're laughing at me, my dear," said the doctor at last; "but you mark my words—what I say is true. All this is merely the froth of the boy's nature, of which he is getting rid. But tut, tut, tut! All this must be stopped. First a new cap destroyed by being turned into a bucket, and now a suit of clothes gone."
"They will do for a garden suit, papa," said Helen, speaking as if she had had charge of boys for years.
"Well, yes: I suppose so," said the doctor. "But there: I am not going to worry myself about trifles. The cost of a few suits of clothes are as nothing compared to the success of my scheme. Now let's go in and see if the young dog has gone to work to change his things."
The doctor rose and walked up the garden, making comments to his daughter about the course of instruction he intended to pursue with Dexter, and on reaching the house and finding that the object of his thoughts was in his bedroom, he went on to the study just as Maria came from the front door with a letter.
"Letter, eh? Oh, I see. From Lady Danby!"
The doctor opened the letter.
"Any one waiting!" he said.
"Yes, sir. Groom waiting for an answer."
"I'll ring, Maria," said the doctor, and then he smiled and looked pleased. "There, my deaf," he cried, tossing the note to his daughter. "Now I call that very kind and neighbourly. You see, Sir James and Lady Danby feel and appreciate the fine manly conduct of Dexter over that cattle, and they very wisely think that he not only deserves great commendation, but that the present is a favourable opportunity for beginning an intimacy and companionship."
"Yes, papa," said Helen, with rather a troubled look.
"Danby sees that he was wrong, and is holding out the right hand of good fellowship. Depend upon it that we shall have a strong tie between those two boys. They will go to a public school together, help one another with their studies, and become friends for life. Hah! Yes. Sit down, my dear," continued the doctor, rubbing his hands. "My kind regards to Sir James and Lady Danby, that I greatly appreciate their kindness, and that Dexter shall come and spend the day with Edgar on Friday."
Helen wrote the note, which was despatched, and the doctor smiled, and looked highly satisfied.
"You remember how obstinate Sir James was about boys?"
"Yes, papa. I heard a part of the conversation, and you told me the rest."
"To be sure. You see my selection was right. Dexter behaved like a little hero over that adventure."
"Yes," said Helen; "he was as brave as could be."
"Exactly. All justification of my choice. I don't want to prophesy, Helen, but there will be a strong friendship between those boys from that day. Edgar, the weak, well-born boy, will always recognise the manly confidence of Dexter, the er—er, well, low-born boy, who in turn will have his sympathies aroused by his companion's want of—er—well, say, ballast."
"My dear Helen, don't speak like that," said the doctor pettishly. "You are so fond of playing wet blanket to all my plans."
"Oh no, papa; I am sure I will help you, and am helping you, in all this, but it is not in my nature to be so sanguine."
"Ah, well, never mind that. But you do like Dexter!"
"Yes; I am beginning to like him more and more."
"That's right. I'm very, very glad, and I feel quite grateful to the Danbys. You must give Dexter a few hints about behaving himself, and, so to speak, keeping down his exuberance when he is there."
"May I say a word, papa!"
"Certainly, my dear; of course."
"Well, then, I have an idea of my own with respect to Dexter."
"Ah, that's right," said the doctor, smiling and rubbing his hands. "What is it!"
"I have been thinking over it all a great deal, dear," said Helen, going to her father's side and resting her hand upon his shoulder; "and it seems to me that the way to alter and improve Dexter will be by example."
"Ah yes, I see; example better than precept, eh!"
"Yes. So far his life has been one of repression and the severest discipline."
"Yes, of course. Cut down; tied down, and his natural growth stopped. Consequently wild young shoots have thrust themselves out of his nature."
"That is what I mean."
"Quite right, my dear; then we will give him as much freedom as we can. You will give him a hint or two, though."
"I will do everything I can, papa, to make him presentable."
"Thank you, my dear. Yes, these boys will become great companions, I can see. Brave little fellow! I am very, very much pleased."
The doctor forgot all about the broken branch, and Dexter's spoiled suit of clothes, and Helen went to see whether the boy had obeyed the last command.
DAN'L IS TOO ATTENTIVE.
Things were not quite so smooth as Dr Grayson thought, for there had been stormy weather at Sir James's.
"Well, my dear, you are my husband, and it is my duty to obey," said Lady Danby; "but I do protest against my darling son being forced to associate with a boy of an exceedingly low type."
"Allow me, my dear," said Sir James importantly. "By Dr Grayson's act, in taking that boy into his house, he has wiped away any stigma which may cling to him; and I must say that the lad displayed a great deal of animal courage—that kind of brute courage which comes from an ignorance of danger."
"Is it animal courage not to be afraid of animals, ma?" said Master Edgar.
"Yes, my dear, of course," said Lady Danby.
"I wish Edgar would display courage of any kind," said Sir James.
"Why, you ran away from the bulls too, papa," said Master Edgar.
"I am a great sufferer from nervousness, Edgar," said Sir James reprovingly; "but we were not discussing that question. Dr Grayson has accepted the invitation for his adopted son. It is his whim for the moment, and it is only becoming on my part to show that we are grateful for the way in which the boy behaved. By the time a month has gone by, I have no doubt that the boy will be back at the—the place from which he came; but while he is at Dr Grayson's I desire that he be treated as if he were Dr Grayson's son."
"Very well, James," said Lady Danby, in an ill-used tone of voice. "You are master here, and we must obey."
The day of the invitation arrived. Dexter was to be at Sir James's in time for lunch, and directly after breakfast he watched his opportunity and followed Helen into the drawing-room.
"I say," he said; "I can't go there, can I?"
"Why not?" said Helen.
"Why, Dexter!" cried Helen, laughing merrily; "what have you been doing!"
"Don't I look a guy!"
There was a change already in the boy's aspect; his face, short as the time had been, was beginning to show what fresh air and good feeding could achieve. His hair had altered very slightly, but still there was an alteration for the better, and his eyes looked brighter, but his general appearance was comical all the same.
Directly after breakfast he had rushed up to his room and put on the clothes in which he had taken his involuntary bath. These garments, as will be remembered, had been obtained in haste, and were of the kind known in the trade as "ready-mades," and in this case composed of a well-glazed and pressed material, containing just enough wool to hold together a great deal of shoddy.
The dip in the river had been too severe a test for the suit, especially as Maria had been put a little more out of temper than usual by having the garments handed to her to dry.
Maria's mother was a washerwoman who lived outside Coleby on the common, and gained her income by acting as laundress generally for all who would intrust her with their family linen; but she called herself in yellow letters on a brilliant scarlet ground a "clear starcher."
During Maria's early life at home she had had much experience in the ways of washing. She knew the smell of boiled soap. She had often watched the steam rising from the copper, and played among the clouds, and she well knew that the quickest way to dry anything that has been soaked is to give it a good wringing.
She had therefore given Dexter's new suit a good wringing, and wrung out of it a vast quantity of sticky dye which stained her hands. Then she had—grumbling bitterly all the time—given the jacket, vest, and trousers a good shake, and hung them over a clothes-horse as near to the fire as she could get them without singeing.
Mrs Millett told her to be sure and get them nice and dry, and Maria did get them "nice and dry."
And now Dexter had put them on and presented himself before Helen, suggesting that he looked a guy.
Certainly his appearance was suggestive of the stuffed effigy borne about on the fifth of November, for the garments were shrunken so that his arms and legs showed to a terrible extent, and Maria's wringing had given them curves and hollows never intended by the cutter, the worst one being in the form of a hump between the wearer's shoulders.
"The things are completely spoiled. You foolish boy to put them on."
"Then I can't go to that other house."
"Nonsense! You have the new clothes that came from the tailor's—those for which you were measured."
"Yes," said Dexter reluctantly; "but it's a pity to put on them. I may get 'em spoiled."
"Then you do not want to go, Dexter," said Helen, smiling.
"No," he cried eagerly. "Ask him to let me stop here."
"No, no," said Helen kindly. "Papa wishes you to go there; it is very kind of the Danbys to ask you, and I hope you will go, and behave very nicely, and make great friends with Edgar Danby."
"How?" said Dexter laconically.
"Well, as boys generally do. You must talk to him."
"Anything. Then you must play with him."
"Oh, he'll be sure to suggest something to play at."
"I don't think he will," said Dexter thoughtfully. "He don't look the sort of chap to."
"Don't say chap, Dexter; say boy."
"Sort of boy to play any games. He's what we used to call a soft Tommy sort of a chap—boy."
"Oh no, no, no! I don't suppose he will be rough, and care for boisterous sports; but he may prove to be a very pleasant companion for you."
Dexter shook his head.
"I don't think he'll like me."
"Nonsense! How can you tell that? Then they have a beautiful garden."
"Can't be such a nice one as this," said Dexter.
"Oh yes, it is; and it runs down to the river as this one does, and Sir James has a very nice boat."
"Boat!" cried Dexter, pricking up his ears. "And may you go in it!"
"Not by yourselves, I suppose. There, I'm sure you will enjoy your visit."
Dexter shook his head again.
"I say, you'll come too, won't you?" he cried eagerly.
"No, Dexter; not this time."
The boy's forehead grew wrinkled all over.
"Come, you are pretending that you do not want to go."
"I don't," said the boy, hanging his head. "I want to stay here along with you."
"Perhaps I should like you to stay, Dexter," said Helen; "but I wish you to go and behave nicely, and you can tell me all about it when you come back."
"And how soon may I come back?"
"I don't suppose till the evening, but we shall see. Now, go and change those things directly. What would papa say if he saw you?"
Dexter went slowly up to his room, and came down soon after to look for Helen.
He found her busy writing letters, so he went off on tiptoe to the study, where the doctor was deep in his book, writing with a very severe frown on his brow.
"Ah, Dexter," he said, looking up and running his eye critically over the boy, the result being very satisfactory. "Let's see, you are to be at Sir James's by half-past twelve. Now only ten. Go and amuse yourself in the garden, and don't get into mischief."
Dexter went back into the hall, obtained his cap, and went out through the glass door into the verandah, where the great wisteria hung a valance of lavender blossoms all along the edge.
"He always says don't get into mischief," thought the boy. "I don't want to get into mischief, I'm sure."
Half-way across the lawn he was startled by the sudden appearance of Dan'l, who started out upon him from behind a great evergreen shrub.
"What are you a-doing of now?" snarled Dan'l.
"I wasn't doing anything," said Dexter, staring.
"Then you were going to do something," cried the old man sharply. "Look here, young man; if you get meddling with anything in my garden there's going to be trouble, so mind that. I know what boys is, so none of your nonsense here."
He went off grumbling to another part of the garden, and Dexter felt disposed to go back indoors.
"He's watching me all the time," he thought to himself; "just as if I was going to steal something. He don't like me."
Dexter strolled on, and heard directly a regular rustling noise, which he recognised at once as the sound made by a broom sweeping grass, and sure enough, just inside the great laurel hedge, where a little green lawn was cut off from the rest of the garden, there was Peter Cribb, at his usual pursuit, sweeping all the sweet-scented cuttings of the grass.
Peter was a sweeper who was always on the look-out for an excuse. He was, so to speak, chained to that broom so many hours a day, and if he had been a galley slave, and the broom an oar, it is morally certain that he would have been beaten with many stripes, for he would have left off rowing whenever he could.
"Well, squire," he said, laying his hands one over the other on the top of the broom-handle.
"Well, Peter. How's the horse?"
"Grinding his corn, and enjoying himself," said Peter. "He's like you: a lucky one—plenty to eat and nothing to do."
"Don't you take him out for exercise?" said Dexter.
"Course I do. So do you go out for exercise."
"Think I could ride?" said Dexter.
"Dersay you could, if you could hold on."
"I should like to try."
"Go along with you!"
"But I should. Will you let me try!"
Peter shook his head, and began to examine his half-worn broom.
"I could hold on. Let me go with you next time!"
"Oh, but I go at ha'-past six, hours before you're awake. Young gents don't get up till eight."
"Why, I always wake at a quarter to six," said Dexter. "It seems the proper time to get up. I say, let me go with you."
"Here, I say, you, Peter," shouted Dan'l; "are you a-going to sweep that bit o' lawn, or am I to come and do it myself. Gawsiping about!"
"Hear that?" said Peter, beginning to make his broom swing round again. "There, you'd better be off, or you'll get me in a row."
Dexter sighed, for he seemed to be always the cause of trouble.
"I say," said Peter, as the boy was moving off; "going fishing again?"
"No; not now."
"You knows the way to fish, don't you? Goes in after them."
Dexter laughed, and went on down to the river, examined the place where the branch had broken off, and then gazed down into the clear water at the gliding fish, which seemed to move here and there with no more effort than a wave of the tail.
His next look was across the river in search of Bob Dimsted; but the shabby-looking boy was not fishing, and nowhere in sight either up or down the stream.
Dexter turned away with another sigh. The garden was very beautiful, but it seemed dull just then. He wanted some one to talk to, and if he went again to Peter, old Dan'l would shout and find fault.
"It don't matter which way I go," said Dexter, after a few minutes, during which time he had changed his place in the garden again and again; "that old man is always watching me to see what I am going to do."
He looked round at the flowers, at the coming fruit, at everything in turn, but the place seemed desolate, and in spite of himself he began thinking of his old companions at the great school, and wondering what they were doing.
Then he recalled that he was to go to Sir James Danby's soon, and he began to think of Edgar.
"I shan't like that chap," he said to himself. "I wonder whether he'll like me."
He was standing thinking deeply and gazing straight before him at the high red brick wall when he suddenly started, for there was a heavy step on the gravel.
Dan'l had come along the grass edge till he was close to the boy, and then stepped off heavily on to the path.
"They aren't ripe yet," he said with an unpleasant leer; "and you'd best let them alone."
Dexter walked quickly away, with his face scarlet, and a bitter feeling of annoyance which he could not master.
For the next quarter of an hour he was continually changing his position in the garden, but always to wake up to the fact that the old gardener was carrying out a purpose which he had confided to Peter.
This the boy soon learned, for after a time he suddenly encountered the groom, still busy with the broom.
"Why, hullo, youngster!" he said; "what's the matter!"
"Nothing," said Dexter, with his face growing a deeper scarlet.
"Oh yes, there is; I can see," cried Peter.
"Well, he's always watching me, and pretending that I'm getting into mischief, or trying to pick the fruit."
"Hah!" said Peter, with a laugh; "he told me he meant to keep his eye on you."
Just then there was a call for Dan'l from the direction of the house, and Mrs Millett was seen beyond a laurel hedge.
Directly after the old man went up to the house, and it seemed to Dexter as if a cloud had passed from across the sun. The garden appeared to have grown suddenly brighter, and the boy began to whistle as he went about in an aimless way, looking here and there for something to take his attention.
He was not long in finding it, for just at the back of the dense yew hedge there were half a dozen old-fashioned round-topped hives, whose occupants were busy going to and fro, save that at the hive nearest the cross-path a heavy cluster, betokening a late swarm, was hanging outside, looking like a double handful of bees.
Dexter knew a rhyme beginning—
"How doth the little busy bee—"
and he knew that bees made honey; but that was all he did know about their habits, save that they lived in hives; and he stood and stared at the cluster hanging outside.
"Why, they can't get in," he said to himself. "Hole's stopped up."
He stood still for a few minutes, and then, as he looked round, he caught sight of some bean-sticks—tall thin pieces of oak sapling, and drawing one of these out of the ground he rubbed the mould off the pointed end, and, as soon as it was clean, took hold of it, and returned to the hive, where he watched the clustering bees for a few minutes, and then, reaching over, he inserted the thin end of the long stick just by the opening to the hive, thrust it forward, and gave it a good rake to right and left.
There was a tremendous buzz and a rush, and the next moment Dexter, stick in hand, was running down the path toward the river, pursued by quite a cloud of angry bees.
Dexter ran fast, of course, and as it happened, right down one of the most shady paths, beneath the densely growing apple-trees, where the bees could not fly, so that by the time he reached the river-side he was clear of his pursuers, but tingling from a sting on the wrist, and from two more on the neck, one being among the hair at the back, and the other right down in his collar.
"Well, that's nice," he said, as he rubbed himself, and began mentally to try and do a sum in the Rule of Three—if three stings make so much pain, how much pain would be caused by the stings of a whole hiveful of bees?
"Bother the nasty vicious little things!" he cried, as he had another rub, and he threw the bean-stick angrily away.
"Don't hurt so much now," he said, after a few minutes' stamping about. Then his face broke up into a merry smile. "How they did make me run!"
Just then there was a shout—a yell, and a loud call for help.
Dexter forgot his own pain, and, alarmed by the cries, ran as hard as he could back again towards the spot from whence the sounds came, and to his horror found that Old Dan'l was running here and there, waving his arms, while Peter had come to his help, and was whisking his broom about in all directions.
For a few moments Dexter could not comprehend what was wrong, then, like a flash, he understood that the bees had attacked the old gardener, and that it was due to his having irritated them with the stick.
Dexter knew how a wasp's nest had been taken in the fields by the boys one day, and without a moment's hesitation he ran to the nearest shrub, tore off a good-sized bough, and joined in the task of beating down the bees.
It is pretty sport to fight either bees or wasps in this way, but it requires a great deal of courage, especially as the insects are sure to get the best of it, as they did in this case, putting their enemies to flight, their place of refuge being the tool-house, into whose dark recesses the bees did not attempt to come.
"Much stung, Dan'l!" said Peter.
"Much stung, indeed! I should think I am. Offle!"
"You got it much, youngster?" said Peter.
"I've got three stings," replied Dexter, who had escaped without further harm.
"And I've got five, I think," said Peter. "What was you doing to 'em, Dan'l!"
"Doin' to 'em!" growled Dan'l, who was stamping about and rubbing himself, and looking exceedingly like the bear in the old fable. "I wasn't doin' nothin' to 'em. One o' the hives have been threatenin' to swarm again, and I was just goin' by, when they come at me like a swarm o' savidges, just as if some one had been teasing them." Dexter was rubbing the back of his neck, and feeling horribly guilty, as he asked himself whether he had not better own to having disturbed the hive; but there was something so unpleasantly repellent about the old gardener, and he was looking so suspiciously from one to the other, that the boy felt as if he could not speak to him.
If it had been Peter, who, with all his roughness, seemed to be tolerant of his presence, he would have spoken out at once; but he could not to Dan'l, and he remained silent.
"They stings pretty sharp," said Peter, laughing. "Blue-bag's best thing. I shall go up and get Maria to touch mine up. Coming?"
"Nay, I'm not coming," growled Dan'l. "I can bear a sting or two of a bee without getting myself painted up with blue-bags. Dock leaves is good enough for me."
"And there aren't a dock left in the garden," said Peter. "You found fault with me for not pulling the last up."
So Peter went up to the house to be blue-bagged, Dan'l remained like a bear in his den, growling to himself, and Dexter, whose stings still throbbed, went off across the lawn to walk off the pain, till it was time to go to Sir James's.
"Who'd have thought that the little things could hurt so much!"
Then the pain began to diminish till it was only a tingle, and the spots where the stings went in were round and hard, and now it was that Dexter's conscience began to prick him as sharply as the bees' stings, and he walked about the garden trying to make up his mind as to whether he should go and confess to Dan'l that he stirred the bees up with a long stick.
But as soon as he felt that he would do this, something struck him that Dan'l would be sure to think he had done it all out of mischief, and he knew that he could not tell him.
"Nobody will know," he said to himself; "and I won't tell. I didn't mean to do any harm."
He looked in the direction from whence the sounds came, and could see Helen waving her handkerchief, as a signal for him to come in.
"Time to go," he said to himself as he set off to her. "Nobody will know, so I shan't tell him."
And then he turned cold.
Only a few moments before he had left Dan'l growling in his den, and now here he was down the garden, stooping and picking up something.
For a few moments Dexter could not see what the something was, for the trees between them hindered the view, but directly after he made out that Dan'l had picked up a long stick, which had been thrown among the little apple-trees, and was carefully examining it.
The colour came into Dexter's cheeks as he wondered whether Dan'l would know where that stick came from.
The colour would have been deeper still had he known that Dan'l had a splendid memory, and knew exactly where every stick or plant should be. In fact, Dan'l recognised that stick as having been taken from the end of the scarlet-runner row.
"A young sperrit o' mischief! that's what he is," muttered the old man, giving a writhe as he felt the stinging of the bees. "Now what's he been up to with that there stick? making a fishing-rod of it, I s'pose, and tearing my rows o' beans to pieces. I tell him what it is—"
Dan'l stopped short, and stared at the end of the stick—the thin end, where there was something peculiar, betraying what had been done with it.
It was a sight which made him tighten his lips up into a thin red line, and screw up his eyes till they could be hardly seen, for upon the end of that stick were the mortal remains of two crushed bees.
DEXTER SPENDS A PLEASANT AFTERNOON.
Dexter went up to where Helen was waiting for him, and found her dressed. "Going out!" he said.
"Yes; I thought I would walk up to Sir James's with you," she said; and she cast a critical eye over him, and smiled upon seeing that he only needed a touch with a brush to make him presentable.
This was given, and they set off together, the doctor only giving Dexter a friendly nod in accordance with a promise made not to upset the boy with a number of hints as to how he was to behave.
"It must come by degrees, papa," Helen said; "and any advice given now would only make him more conscious."
Dexter's hair still looked horribly short, but his face did not quite resemble now that of a boy who had just risen from a sick-bed. He looked brighter and more animated, and in nowise peculiar; but all the same, in their short walk, Helen was conscious of the fact that they were being observed by every one they passed, and that plenty of remarks were made.
All at once she noticed that Dexter as she was speaking to him gave quite a start, and following the direction of his eyes, she saw that he was looking at a rough-looking boy, who was approaching them with a fishing-rod over his shoulder, and a basket in his hand.
The boy's mouth widened into a grin as he passed, and Helen asked Dexter if he knew him, the friendly look he had given speaking volumes of a new difficulty likely to be in their way.
"I don't know whether I know him—or not," said Dexter. "I've spoken to him."
"Where? At the schools!"
"No; he was fishing on the other side of the river that day I tumbled in."
"Oh!" said Helen coldly. "Here we are."
She turned through a great iron gate, walked up a broad flight of steps, and knocked.
"There, Dexter," she said, as the door was opened. "I hope you will enjoy yourself."
"Ain't you going in with me!" he whispered excitedly, as a footman in a blue and yellow livery opened the door.
She nodded pleasantly, and went down the steps, leaving Dexter face to face with the footman, who had become possessed of the news of the young guest's quality from no less a personage than Master Edgar himself.
"Will you come in, please," he said, drawing back, and holding the door open with an air that should have made him gain for wages—kicks.
Dexter said, "Yes, sir," as respectfully as if he were the workhouse porter, and took off his cap and went in.
"This way, hif you please," said the supercilious gentleman. "You may leave your cap here."
Dexter put down his cap, and followed the man to a door at the further end of the hall.
"What name!" said the footman.
Dexter stared at him.
"What name shall I announce?" said the man again with chilling dignity.
"Please, I don't know what you mean," said the boy, feeling very much confused.
The man smiled pityingly, and looked down with a most exasperating kind of condescension at the visitor,—in a way, in fact, that stamped him mentally as a brother in spirit, if not in flesh, of Maria, the doctor's maid.
"I 'ave to announce your name to her ladyship," said the footman.
"Oh, my name," cried Dexter, "Obed Cole—I mean Dexter Grayson."
He turned more red than ever in his confusion, and before he could say another word to add to his correction the door was thrown open.
"Master Obed Cole Dextry Grayson," said the footman, in a loud voice; and the boy found himself standing in a large handsomely furnished room in the presence of Lady Danby, who rose with a forced smile, and looked very limp.
"How do you do, Master Grayson!" she said sadly, and she held out her hand.
Dexter in his confusion made a dash at it, and caught it tightly, to find that it felt very limp and cold, but the sensation did not last long, for the thin white fingers were snatched away.
"Eddy, dear," said Lady Danby.
There was no answer, and Dexter stood there, feeling very uncomfortable, and staring hard at the tall lady, who spoke in such an ill-used tone of voice.
"Eddy, my darling," she said a little more loudly, as she turned and looked toward a glass door opening into a handsome conservatory; "come and shake hands with Master Grayson."
There was no reply, but a faint rustling sound fell upon Dexter's quick ears, telling plainly enough that some one was in the conservatory.
Lady Danby sighed, and there was a very awkward pause.
"Perhaps you had better sit down, Master Grayson," she said. "My son will be here soon."
Just at that moment there was a loud important sounding cough in the hall, the handle of the door rattled loudly, and Sir James entered, walking very upright, and smiling with his eyes half-closed.
"Aha!" he exclaimed. "Here you are, then. How do you do—how do you do—how do you do!"
He shook hands boisterously, nodding and smiling the while, and Dexter wondered whether he ought to say, "Quite well, thank you, sir," three times over, but he only said it once.
"That's right," said Sir James. "Quite safe here, eh? No bullocks to run after us now."
"No, sir," said Dexter uneasily.
"But where's Eddy!" cried Sir James.
"He was here a little while ago, my dear," said Lady Danby uneasily. "I think he has gone down the garden."
"No; I think not," said Sir James. "Here, Eddy! Eddy!"
"Yes, pa," came out of the conservatory.
"Why, where are you, sir? Come and shake hands with our young friend."
Master Edgar came slowly into sight, entered the drawing-room, and stood still.
"Well; why don't you welcome your visitor? Come here."
Master Edgar came a little more forward.
"Now, then, shake hands with your friend."
Master Edgar slowly held out a white thin hand in the direction of Dexter, who caught it eagerly, and felt as if he were shaking hands with Lady Danby again.
"That's better," said Sir James. "Now the ice is broken I hope you two will be very great friends. There, we shall have an early dinner for you at three o'clock. Better leave them to themselves, my dear."
"Very well, my love," responded Lady Danby sadly.
"Take Dexter Grayson and show him your games, and your pony, and then you can take him round the garden, but don't touch the boat."
"No, pa," said Edgar slowly.
"He's a little shy, Dexter," said Sir James.
"No, I ain't, ma," said Edgar, in a whisper.
"We are very glad to see you, Dexter," continued Sir James. "There, now, go and enjoy yourself out in the garden, you'll find plenty to see. Come, Eddy."
Master Edgar looked slowly and sulkily up at his father, and seemed to hesitate, not even glancing at his visitor.
"Well!" said Sir James sharply. "Why are you hesitating? Come: run along. That way, Dexter, my lad. You two will soon be good friends."
Dexter tried to smile, but it was a very poor apology for a look of pleasure, while Sir James, who seemed rather annoyed at his son's shrinking, uncouth conduct, laid his hand upon the boy's shoulder and led him into the conservatory.
"Come, Eddy," he said bluffly.
"Must I go, ma!" whispered Eddy.
"Yes, my dear, certainly. Papa wishes it, and you must behave like a young gentleman to your guest."
"Come, Eddy," shouted Sir James from the conservatory.
Master Edgar went out sidewise in a very crabby way, and found Sir James waiting.
"There, no more shyness," said Sir James bluffly. "Go out and enjoy yourselves till dinner-time."
He nodded and smiled at them, gave his son a push toward Dexter, and returned to where Lady Danby was seated, with her brow all in wrinkles.
"They will soon make friends," said Sir James. "It's Grayson's whim, of course, and really, my dear, this seems to be a decent sort of boy. Very rough, of course, but Eddy will give him polish. This class of boy is very quick at picking up things; and if, after a few weeks, Grayson is disappointed and finds out his mistake, why, then, we have behaved in a neighbourly way to him and Helen, and there's an end of it."
"But it seems so shocking for poor Eddy, my dear," remonstrated Lady Danby.
"Fish! pooh! tchah! rubbish! not at all!"
"Eddy may pick up bad language from him, and become rude."
"He had better not!" said Sir James. "He knows differently. The other young dog will learn from him. Make him discontented, I'm afraid; but there—it is not our doing."
Lady Danby sighed.
"They'll come back in a hour or two quite companions," continued Sir James. "Boys like that are a little awkward at their first meeting. Soon wear off. I am going to write letters till three. After their dinner perhaps I shall take them in the boat down the river."
Lady Danby sighed again, and Sir James went to see to his letters for the post.
By this time Master Edgar had walked softly out on to the lawn, with his right hand in his pocket, and his left thumb playing about his mouth, looking the while in all directions but that occupied by Dexter, who followed him slowly, waiting for his young host to speak.
But Eddy did not seem to have the slightest intention of speaking. He only sidled away slowly across the lawn, and then down one of the winding paths among the shrubs and ornamental trees.
This went on for about ten minutes, during which they got to be further and further from the house, not a word being spoken; and though Dexter looked genial and eager as he followed his young host, the silence chilled him as much as did the studied way in which his companion avoided his eyes.
"What a beautiful garden you've got!" said Dexter at last.
There was no reply.
Eddy picked up a stone, and threw it at a thrush.
"It's bigger than Dr Grayson's," said Dexter, after a pause.
Eddy picked a flower, gave a chew at the stalk; then picked it to pieces, and threw it away.
Then he began to sidle along again in and out among the trees, and on and on, never once looking at his companion till they were at the bottom of the garden. A pleasant piece of lawn, dotted with ornamental trees, sloped down to the river where, in a Gothic-looking boat-house, open at either end, a handsome-looking gig floated in the clear water.
"That your boat?" said Dexter eagerly, as his eyes ran over the cushioned seats, and the sculls of varnished wood lying all ready along the thwarts.
Edgar made no reply, only moved nearer to the water, and threw himself on a garden seat near the edge.
"Isn't this a good place for fishing?" said Dexter, trying another tack.
No answer, and it was getting very monotonous. But Dexter took it all good-humouredly, attributing the boy's manner more to shyness than actual discourtesy.
"I say, don't you fish sometimes!"
"Have you got any rods and lines!"
Eddy gave a contemptuous sniff, which might have meant anything.
"There's lots at Dr Grayson's," said Dexter eagerly, for the sight of the roach gliding about in the clear water in the shade of the boat-house excited the desire to begin angling. "Shall I go and fetch the rods and lines?"
Eddy leaned back in the garden seat, and rested his head upon his hand.
In despair Dexter sighed, and then recalled Sir James's words about their enjoying themselves.
It was a lovely day; the garden was very beautiful; the river ran by, sparkling and bright; but there was very little enjoyment so far, and Dexter sat down upon the grass at a little distance from his young host.
But it was not in Dexter's nature to sit still long, and after staring hard at the bright water for a few minutes, he looked up brightly at Edgar.
"I say," he cried; "that bullock didn't hurt you the other day, did it?"
Edgar shifted himself a little in his seat, so that he could stare in the other direction, and he tried to screw up his mouth into what was meant to be a supercilious look, though it was a failure, being extremely pitiful, and very small.
Dexter waited for a few minutes, and then continued the one-sided conversation—
"I never felt afraid of bullocks," he said thoughtfully. "If you had run after them with your stick—I say, you got your stick, didn't you?"
"Oh, well," said Dexter; "if you don't want to talk, I don't."
"I don't want to talk to a boy like you," said Edgar, without looking.
Dexter started, and stared hard.
"I'm not accustomed to associate with workhouse boys."
Not long back the idea of being a workhouse boy did not trouble him in the least. He knew that there were plenty of boys who were not workhouse boys, and seeing what freedom they enjoyed, and how much happier they seemed, something of the nature of envy had at times crept into his breast, but, on the whole, he had been very well contented till he commenced his residence at the doctor's; and now all seemed changed.
"I'm not a workhouse boy," he said hotly.
"Yes, you are," retorted Edgar, looking at him hard, full in the face, for the first time. "I know where you came from, and why you were fetched."
Dexter's face was burning, and there was an angry look in his eyes, as he jumped up and took a couple of steps toward where Edgar sat back on the garden seat. But his pleasant look came back, and he held out his hand.
"I'm not ashamed of it," he said. "I used to be at the workhouse. Won't you shake hands!"
Edgar sniffed contemptuously, and turned his head away.
"Very well," said Dexter sadly. "I don't want to, if you don't."
Edgar suddenly leaped up, and went along by the side of the river, while Dexter, after a few moments' hesitation, began to follow him in a lonely, dejected way, wishing all the time that he could go back home.
Following out his previous tactics, Edgar sidled along path after path, and in and out among the evergreen clumps, all the while taking care not to come within sight of the house, so that his actions might be seen; while, feeling perfectly helpless and bound to follow the caprices of his young host, Dexter continued his perambulation of the garden in the same unsatisfactory manner.
"Look here," cried Edgar at last; "don't keep following me about."
"Very well," said Dexter, as he stood still in the middle of one of the paths, wondering whether he could slip away, and return to the doctor's.
That seemed a difficult thing to do, for Sir James might see him going, and call him back, and then what was he to say? Besides which, when he reached the doctor's there would be a fresh examination, and he felt that the excuse he gave would not be satisfactory.
Dexter sighed, and glanced in the direction taken by Edgar.
The boy was not within sight, but Dexter fancied that he had hidden, and was watching him, and he turned in the other direction, looking hopelessly about the garden, which seemed to be more beautiful and extensive than the doctor's; but, in spite of the wealth of greenery and flowers, everything looked cheerless and cold.
Dexter sighed. Then a very natural boyish thought came into his head.
"I wonder what's for dinner," he said to himself; but at the same time he knew that it must be a long while yet to dinner-time, and, sighing once more, he walked slowly down the path, found himself near the river again, and went and sat on a stump close to the boat-house, where he could look into the clear water, and see the fish.
It was very interesting to him to watch the little things gliding here and there, and he wished that he had a rod and line to try for some of them, when all at once he started, for a well-aimed stone struck him upon the side of the head, and as it reached its goal, and Dexter started up angrily, there was a laugh and a rustle among the shrubs.
As the pain went off, so did Dexter's anger, and he reseated himself upon the stump, thinking, with his young wits sharpened by his early life.
"I don't call this coming out to enjoy myself," he said drily. "Wonder whether all young gentleman behave like this?"
Then he began thinking about Sam Stubbs, a boy at the workhouse school, who was a terrible bully and tyrant, knocking all his companions about.
But the sight of the clean-looking well-varnished boat, floating so easily in the shade of the roof of its house, took his attention, and he began thinking of how he should like a boat like that to push off into the stream, and go floating along in the sunshine, looking down at the fish, and fastening up every now and then to the overhanging trees. It would be glorious, he thought.
"I wish Dr Grayson had a boat," he thought. "I could learn to row it, and—"
Dexter jumped up again, tingling with pain; and then with his face scarlet he sat down once more writhing involuntarily, and drawing his breath hard, as there was a mocking laugh.
The explanation was simple. Master Edgar was dissatisfied. It was very pleasant to his spoiled, morbid mind to keep on slighting and annoying his guest by making him dance attendance upon him, and dragging him about the garden wherever he pleased to go; but it was annoying and disappointing to find that he was being treated with a calm display of contempt.
Under these circumstances Master Edgar selected a good-sized stone—one which he thought would hurt—and took excellent aim at Dexter, where he sat contemplating the river.
The result was most satisfactory: Dexter had winced, evidently suffered sharp pain, but only submitted to it, and sat down again twisting himself about.
Edgar laughed heartily, in fact the tears stood in his eyes, and he retreated, but only to where he could watch Dexter attentively.
"He's a coward," said Edgar to himself. "All that sort of boys are." And with the determination of making his visitor a kind of captive to his bow and spear, or, in plainer English, a slave to his caprices, he went to one of the beds where some sticks had lately been put to some young plants, and selecting one that was new, thin, and straight, he went back on tiptoe, watched his opportunity, and then brought the stick down sharply across Dexter's back.
He drew back for a few moments, his victim's aspect being menacing; but Dexter's young spirit had been kept crushed down for a good many years, and his custom had been under many a blow to sit and suffer patiently, not even crying aloud, Mr Sibery objecting to any noise in the school.
Dexter had subsided again. The flashes that darted from his eyes had died out, and those eyes looked subdued and moist.
For the boy was mentally, as well as bodily hurt, and he wondered what Helen would say, and whether Sir James would correct his son if he saw him behaving in that manner to his visitor.
"Hey: get up!" said Edgar, growing more bold, as he found that he could ill-use his guest with impunity; and as he spoke he gave him a rough poke or two with the sharp end of the stick, which had been pointed with the gardener's pruning-knife.
His treatment of Dexter resembled that which he had been accustomed to bestow upon an unfortunate dog he had once owned—one which became so fond of him that at last it ran away.
"Do you hear!" cried Edgar again. "Get up."
"Don't: you hurt."
"Yes: meant to hurt," said Edgar, grinning. "Get up."
He gave Dexter so sharp a dig with the stick that the latter jumped up angrily, and Edgar drew back; but on seeing that the visitor only went on a few yards to where there was a garden seat, and sat down again, the young tyrant became emboldened, and went behind the seat with a malicious look of satisfaction in his eyes.
"Don't do that," said Dexter quietly. "Let's have a game at something. Do you think we might go in that boat?"
"I should think not indeed," cried Edgar, who now seemed to have found his tongue. "Boats are for young gentlemen, not for boys from the Union."
Dexter winced a little, and Edgar looked pleased.
"Get up!" he shouted; and he made another lunge with the stick.
"I'm always getting into trouble," thought Dexter, as the result of the last few days' teachings, "and I don't want to do anything now."
"Do you hear, blackguard? Get up!"
There was another sharp poke, a painful poke, against which, as he moved to the other end of the seat, Dexter uttered a mild protest.
"Did you hear me say, 'Get up'?" shouted Edgar.
Dexter obeyed, and moved a little nearer to the water's edge.
"I wish it was time to go," he said to himself. "I am so miserable here."
"Now, go along there," said Edgar sharply. "Go on!"
The boy seemed to have a donkey in his mind's eye just then, for he thrust and struck at Dexter savagely, and then hastily threw down the stick, as an angry glow was gathering in his visitor's countenance. For just then there was a step heard upon the gravel.
"Ah, Eddy, my darling," said a voice; and Lady Danby walked languidly by, holding up a parasol. "At play, my dear?"
She did not glance at Dexter, who felt very solitary and sad as the lady passed on, Master Eddy throwing himself on the grass, and picking it off in patches to toss toward the water till his mother was out of sight, when he sprang up once more, and picked the stick from where he had thrown it upon a bed.
As he did this he glanced sidewise, and then stood watching for a few minutes, when he made a playful kind of charge at his visitor, and drove the point of the stick so vigorously against his back that the cloth gave way, making a triangular hole, and causing the owner no little pain.
"Don't," cried Dexter appealingly; "you hurt ever so. Let's play at some game."
"I'm going to," cried Edgar, with a vicious laugh. "I'm going to play at French and English, and you're the beggarly Frenchman at Waterloo. That's the way to charge bayonets. How do you like that, and that, and that!"
"Not at all," said Dexter, trying hard to be good-humoured.
"Then you'll have to like it, and ever so much more, too. Get up, blackguard. Do you hear?"
Dexter rose and retreated; but, with no little agility, Edgar got before him, and drove him toward the water, stabbing and lunging at him so savagely, that if he had not parried some of the thrusts with his hands his face must have been torn.
Edgar grew more and more excited over his work, and Dexter received a nasty dig on one hand, another in the cheek, while another grazed his ear.
This last was beyond bearing. The hurt was not so bad as several which he had before received; but, perhaps from its nearness to his brain, it seemed to rouse Dexter more than any former blow, and, with an angry cry, he snatched at and caught the stick just as it came near his face.
"Let go of that stick! Do you hear?" cried Edgar.
For response Dexter, who was now roused, held on tightly, and tried to pull the stick away.
"Let go," cried Edgar, tugging and snatching with all his might.
Dexter's rage was as evanescent as it was quick. It passed away, and as his enemy made another furious tug at the stick Dexter suddenly let go, and the consequence was the boy staggered back a few yards, and then came down heavily in a sitting position upon the grass.
Edgar sat and stared for a few moments, the sudden shock being anything but pleasant; but, as he saw Dexter's mirthful face, a fit of rage seized him, and, leaping up, he resumed his attack with the stick.
This time his strokes and thrusts were so malicious, and given with so decided a desire to hurt his victim as much as was possible, that, short of running away, Dexter had to do everything possible to avoid the blows.
For the most part he was successful; but at last he received so numbing a blow across the arm that he quivered with pain and anger as he sprang forward, and, in place of retreating, seized the stick, and tried to wrest it away.
There was a brief struggle, but pretty full of vigour.
Rage made Edgar strong, and he fought well for his weapon, but at the end of a minute's swaying here and there, and twistings and heavings innumerable, Edgar's arms felt as if they were being torn from his body, the stick was wrenched away, and as he stood scarlet with passion, he saw it whirled into the air, to fall with a loud splash into the river.
Edgar ground his teeth for a moment or two, and then, as white with anger as his adversary was red, he flew at him, swaying his arms round, and then there was a furious encounter.
Edgar had his own ideas about fighting manoeuvres, which he had tried again and again upon his nurse in bygone times, and upon any of the servants with whom he had come in contact. His arms flew round like flails, or as if he had been transformed into a kind of human firework, and for the next five minutes he kicked, scratched, bit, and tore at his adversary; the next five minutes he was seated upon the grass, howling, his nose bleeding terribly, and the crimson stains carried by his hands all over his face.
For Dexter was not perfect: he had borne till it was impossible to bear more, and then, with his anger surging up, he had fought as a down-trodden English boy will sometimes fight; and in this case with the pluck and steadiness learned in many a school encounter, unknown to Mr Sibery or Mr Hippetts, the keen-eyed and stern.
Result: what might be expected. Dexter felt no pain, only an intense desire to thrash the virulent little tyrant who had scratched his face, kicked his shins, torn at his hair—it was too short still for a good hold—and, finally, made his sharp, white teeth meet in his visitor's neck.
"Served you right!" muttered Dexter, as he knelt down by the river, and bathed his hands and face before dabbing them dry with his pocket-handkerchief. "No business to treat me like that."
Then, as he stood rubbing his face—very little the worse for the encounter—his anger all passed away, and the consequences of his act dawned upon him.
"Look here," he said; "it was all your fault. Come to the water; that will soon stop bleeding."
He held out his hand, as he bent over the fallen tyrant, meaning to help him to rise, when, quick as lightning, Edgar caught the hand proffered to him and carried it to his teeth.
Dexter uttered a cry of pain, and shook him off, sending him backwards now upon the grass, just as a shadow fell across the contending boys, and Sir James stood frowning there.
MASTER EDDY "HOLLERS WAHOO!"
"What is the meaning of this!" cried Sir James furiously.
Dexter was speechless, and he shrank back staring.
Edgar was ready with an answer. "He's knocking me about, pa. He has done nothing but knock me about ever since he came."
"Oh!" cried Dexter in a voice full of indignant astonishment. "I didn't. He begun it, and I didn't, indeed."
"Silence, sir!" cried Sir James, in his severest magisterial tones. "How dare you tell me such a falsehood? I saw you ill-using my son as you held him down."
"Why, he had got hold of my hand!" cried Dexter indignantly.
"Got hold of your hand, sir? How dare you? How dare you, sir, I say? I've a great mind to—"
Sir James did not finish his speech, but made a gesture with the walking-cane he carried; and just then there was a loud hysterical shriek.
For Lady Danby had realised the fact that something was wrong from the part of the garden where she was promenading, parasol in hand, and she came now panting up, in the full belief that some accident had happened to her darling, and that he was drowned.
"Eddy, Eddy!" she cried, as she came up; and then as soon as she caught sight of his anything but pleasant-looking countenance, she shrieked again wildly, and flung herself upon her knees beside him. "What is it? What is it, my darling?" she sobbed, as she caught him to her heart.
"That horrid boy! Knocking me about," he cried, stopping his howling so as to deliver the words emphatically; and then looking at his stained hands, and bursting into a howl of far greater power than before.
"The wretch! The wretch!" cried Lady Danby. "I always knew it. He has killed my darling."
At this dire announcement Edgar shook himself free from his mother's embrace, looked at his hands again, and then in the extremity of horror, threw himself flat upon his back, and shrieked and kicked.
"O my darling, my darling!" cried Lady Danby.
"He isn't hurt much," cried Dexter indignantly.
"How dare you, sir!" roared Sir James.
"He's killed; he's killed!" cried Lady Danby, clasping her hands, and rocking herself to and fro as she gazed at the shrieking boy, who only wanted a cold sponge and a towel to set him right.
"Ow!" yelled Edgar, as he appreciated the sympathy of his mother, but believed the very worst of his unfortunate condition. The lady now bent over him, said that he was killed, and of course she must have known.
Edgar had never read Uncle Remus. All this was before the period when that book appeared; but his conduct might very well be taken as a type of that of the celebrated Brer Fox when Brer Rabbit was in doubt as to whether he was really dead or only practising a ruse, and proceeded to test his truth by saying, as he saw him stretched out—
"Brer Fox look like he dead, but he don't do like he dead. Dead fokes hists up de behime leg, en hollers wahoo!"
Edgar, according to Brer Rabbit's ideas, was very dead indeed, for he kept on "histing up de behime leg, en hollering wahoo!" with the full power of his lungs.
By this time the alarm had spread, and there was the sound of steps upon a gravel walk, which resulted in the appearance of the supercilious footman.
"Carry Master Edgar up to the house," said Sir James, in his severest magisterial tones.
"Carefully—very carefully," wailed her ladyship piteously; and she looked and spoke as if she feared that as soon as the boy was touched he would tumble all to pieces.
Dexter looked on, with his eyes turning here and there, like those of some captured wild animal which fears danger; and as he looked he caught sight of the footman gazing at him with a peculiar grin upon his countenance, which seemed to be quite friendly, and indicated that the man rather enjoyed the plight in which his young master was plunged.
Master Edgar howled again as he was raised, and directly after began to indulge in what the plantation negroes used to call "playing 'possum"— that is to say, he suddenly became limp and inert, closing his eyes, and letting his head roll about, as if there were no more bone left in his body, while his mother wrung her hands, and tried then to hold the head steady, as the footman prepared to move toward the house.
"Now, sir," said Sir James sternly, "come here. We will have a few words about this in my library."
Accustomed for years past to obey, Dexter took a step forward to accompany the stern-looking man before him to the house; but such a panorama of troublous scenes rose before his mind's eye directly, that he stopped short, gave one hasty glance round, and then, as Sir James stretched forth his hand, he made one bound which landed him in a clump of hollyhocks and dahlias; another which took him on to the grass; and then, with a rush, he dashed into a clump of rhododendrons, went through them, and ran as hard as he could go toward the house.
For a few moments Sir James was too much astounded to speak. This was something new. He was accustomed to order, and to be obeyed.
He had ordered Dexter to come to him, and for answer the boy had dashed away.
As soon as Sir James could recover his breath, taken away in his astonishment, he began to shout—
"Stop, sir! Do you hear? How dare you?"
If a hundred Sir Jameses had been shouting it would not have stayed Dexter, for he had only one idea in his head just then, and that was to get away.
"Put down Master Edgar, and go and fetch that boy back."
"Carefully! Oh, pray, put him down carefully," cried Lady Danby passionately.
Just then Master Edgar uttered a fresh cry, and his mother wailed loudly.
"No, never mind," cried Sir James, "carry him up to the house; I will fetch that young rascal."
He strode off angrily, evidently believing in his own mind that he really was going to fetch Dexter back; but by that time the boy had reached the house, ran round by the side, dashed down the main street, and was soon after approaching the bridge over the river, beyond which lay the Union and the schools.
For a few moments Dexter's idea was to go to the great gates, ring the porter's bell, and take sanctuary there, for he felt that he had disgraced himself utterly beyond retrieving his character. Certainly, he never dared go back to the doctor's.
He felt for a moment that he had some excuse, for Edgar Danby had brought his punishment upon himself; but no one would believe that, and there was no hope for the offender but to give up everything, and go back to his former life.
But, as the boy reached the gloomy-looking workhouse entrance, and saw the painted bell-pull, through whose coating the rust was eating its way, he shivered.
For there rose up before him the stern faces of Mr Hippetts and Mr Sibery, with the jeering crowd of schoolfellows, who could laugh at and gibe him for his downfall, and be sure to call him Gentleman Coleby, as long as they were together, the name, under the circumstances, being sure to stick.
No, he could not face them there, and beside, though it had never seemed so before, the aspect of the great building was so forbidding that he shrank away, and walked onward toward the outskirts of the town, and on, and on, till he found himself by the river.
Such a sensation of misery and despair came over him, that he began walking along by the bank, seeing nothing of the glancing fish and bright insects which danced above the water. He had room for nothing but the despondent thoughts of what he should do now.
"What would the doctor think of him? What would Helen say?" He had been asked out to spend the day at a gentleman's house, and he had disgraced himself, and—
Dexter looked up sharply, and found that he had almost run against his old fishing friend of the opposite side of the river.
"Hullo!" stammered Dexter in reply.
"Got dry again?" said the boy, who was standing just back from the water's edge, fishing, with his basket at his side, and a box of baits on the grass.
"Got dry?" said Dexter wonderingly.
"Yes! My!" cried the boy, grinning, "you did have a ducking. I ran away. Best thing I could do."
"Yes," said Dexter quietly; "you ran away."
"Why, what yer been a-doing of? Your face is scratched, and your hands too. I know: you've been climbing trees. You'll ketch it, spoiling your clothes. That's got him."
He struck and landed a small fish, which he took from the hook and dropped into his basket, where there were two more.
"They don't bite to-day. Caught any down your garden!"
"No," said Dexter, to whom the company of the boy was very cheering just then. "I haven't tried since."
"You are a fellow! Why, if I had a chance like you have, I should be always at it."
"I say, what did you say your name was?"
"Bob Dimsted—Bob," said the fisher, throwing in again. "I know what yours is. You come out of the workus."
"Yes," said Dexter sadly, as he wondered whether he did not wish he was there now. "I came out of the workus—workhouse," he added, as he remembered one of Helen's teachings.
"Why don't you get your rod some day, and a basket of something to eat, and come right up the river with me, fishing? There's whackers up there."
"I should like to," said Dexter thoughtfully, for the idea of the fishing seemed to drive away the troubles from which he suffered.
"Well, come then. I'd go any day, only you must let me have all you caught."
"All?" said Dexter, as he began to think of trophies.
"Yes. As I showed you the place where they're caught, I should want to take them home."
"All right," said Dexter. "You could have them."
"Ah, it's all very well," said the boy, "but there wouldn't be many that you caught, mate. Ah! No, he's off again. Keep a little furder back."
Dexter obeyed, and sat down on the grass, feeling in a half-despairing mood, but as if the company of this rough boy was very pleasant after what he had gone through, and that boys like this were more agreeable to talk to than young tyrants of the class of Edgar Danby.
"Fish don't half bite to-day," said Bob Dimsted. "I wish you'd got a rod here, I could lend you a line—single hair."
"But I haven't got a rod."
"Well, run home and fetch it," said Bob.
"Run home and fetch it?" How could he run home and fetch it? How could he ever go back to the doctor's again?
"No," he said at last, as he shook his head. "I can't go and fetch it."
"Then you can't fish," said the boy, "and 'tain't much use. It's no fun unless they bite, and some days it don't matter how you try, they won't."
"Won't they?" said Dexter, and then he started to his feet, for a familiar voice had spoken close to his ear—
The voice was as full of astonishment as the pleasant face which looked in his.
"I thought you were at Sir James Danby's! Is Edgar out here, in the meadows!"
"No—no," faltered Dexter; and Bob Dimsted began to gather up his tackle, so as to make a strategic movement, there being evidently trouble in the rear.
"But what does this mean?" said Helen firmly. "Who is that boy?"
"And do you know him?"
"He—he was fishing opposite our—your—garden the day I fell into the river," faltered Dexter; and he looked longingly at Bob, who was quickly moving away, and wished that those eyes did not hold him so firmly, and keep him from doing the same.
"Was he at your school?"
"No," faltered Dexter.
"Then I am sure papa would not like you to be making acquaintance with boy's like that. But come, Dexter. What is the meaning of all this? I left you at Sir James Danby's."
"Yes," said Dexter, shuffling from foot to foot.
"Then why are you not there now—playing with Edgar?"
Dexter did not answer, but seemed to be admiring the prospect.
"Why, Dexter, your face is all scratched!"
Dexter looked up at her, with the scratched face scarlet.
"How is that!" continued Helen sternly.
"Fighting," said Dexter grimly.
"Fighting? Oh, shame! And with that rough boy!"
"No!" cried Dexter quickly. "He didn't knock me about."
"Then who did!"
"That young Danby."
Dexter's lips were well opened now, and he went on talking rapidly.
"I never did anything to him, but he went on for an hour walking all round the garden, and wouldn't speak; and when I was tired and sat down, he got a stick and knocked me about, and poked me with the point. I stood it as long as I could, and then, when he got worse and worse, I pitched into him, and I'm sure you would have done the same."
Helen did not look as if she would have done the same, but stood gazing at the young monkey before her, wondering whether he was deserving of her sympathy, or had really misbehaved himself, and was trying to palliate his conduct.
"There, Dexter," she said at last. "I really do not know what to do with you. You had better come on and see papa at once."
She took a step toward the town, and then waited, but Dexter stood firm, and cast a glance toward the country.
"Dexter, did you hear what I said!"
The boy looked at her uneasily, and then nodded sullenly.
"Come home with me, then, at once," said Helen quickly.
"It's no use for me to come home along of you," said Dexter surlily. "He'll hit me, and I don't want to go."
Helen hesitated for a few moments, and then laid her hand upon the boy's shoulder.
"I wish you to come, Dexter."
He shook his head.
"Come," she cried, "if you have been in fault confess it frankly."
"But I haven't," cried the boy angrily. "I couldn't help fighting when he knocked me about as he did. He bit me too. Look there!"
He hastily drew up his sleeve, and displayed a ruddy circle on his white skin, which bore pretty strong witness to the truth of his words.
"Then, if you were not to blame, why should you shrink from coming to papa?"
"'Cause he mightn't believe me. Mr Sibery never would, neither," muttered Dexter.
"Tell the truth and papa will be sure to believe you," cried Helen indignantly.
"Think he would!" said Dexter.
"I am sure of it, sir."
"All right then," cried the boy quickly. "I'll come. Oh, I say!"
"What is the matter?"
"Look! Here he comes!"
He pointed quickly in the direction of the town, and, wresting himself from Helen's grasp, set off at a sharp run.
But he had not gone a dozen yards before he turned and saw Helen gazing after him.
He stopped directly, and came slowly and reluctantly back.
"Did you call me!" he said sheepishly.
"No, Dexter; I think it must have been your conscience spoke and upbraided you for being such a coward."
"Yes, it was cowardly, wasn't it?" cried the boy. "I didn't mean to run away, but somehow I did. I say, will he hit me!"
"Will he be very cross with me?"
"I am afraid he will, Dexter; but you must submit bravely, and speak the simple truth."
"Yes, I'm going to," said Dexter, with a sigh; and he glanced behind him at the pleasant stretch of meadows, and far away down among the alders and willows, with Bob Dimsted fishing, and evidently quite free from the care which troubled him.
The doctor strode up, looking very angry.
"So you are there, are you, sir?" he cried austerely. "Do you know of this disgraceful business!"
"Dexter has been telling me," said Helen gravely.
"Humph!" grunted the doctor. "I knew you had come down here, so I thought I would come and tell you of the terrible state of affairs."
"Ah! then you don't know. It was not likely he would tell you. Sir James came straight to me, and told me everything. It seems that the two boys were sent down the garden together to play, and that as soon as they were alone, Dexter here began to annoy and tease Edgar."
"Here, just say that again, will you?" cried Dexter sharply.
"I repeat that Dexter here began to annoy and tease Edgar."
"Oh!" ejaculated Dexter.
"And at last, after the poor boy had tried everything to keep his companion from the line of conduct he had pursued, he resolved to go down and sit by the river, leaving Dexter to amuse himself. But unfortunately the spirit of mischief was so strong in him that this boy took out a dahlia-stick with a sharp point—Sir James showed it to me— and then, after stabbing at him for some time, began to use his fists, and beat Edgar in the most cruel way."
"Oh, my!" ejaculated Dexter; and then, giving his right foot a stamp, "Well, of all the—Oh, my! what a whopper!"
The low slangy expression was brought out with such an air of indignant protest that Helen was unable to keep her countenance, and she looked away, while the doctor, who was quite as much impressed, frowned more severely to hide the mirth aroused by the boy's ejaculations, and turned to him sharply—
"What do you mean by that, sir!" he cried.
"Mean?" cried Dexter indignantly, and without a shade of fear in his frank bold eyes; "why there isn't a bit of it true. He didn't like me because I came from over yonder, and he wouldn't speak to me. Then he kept on hitting me, and I wouldn't hit him back, because I thought it would make her cross; but, last of all, he hurt me so that I forgot all about everything, and then we did fight, and I whipped—and that's all."
"Oh, that's all, is it, sir!" said the doctor, who was angry and yet amused.
"Yes, that's all," said Dexter; "only I've got a bite on my arm, and one on my neck, and one on my shoulder. They didn't bleed, though, only pinched and hurt. I only hit him one good un, and that was on the nose, and it made it bleed."
"Humph!" ejaculated the doctor. "Now, look here, Dexter, is every word of that true!"
"Yes, sir, every bit," cried the boy eagerly. "You will see if it ain't."
The doctor's face wrinkled a little more, as to conceal a smile he turned to his daughter—
"Now," he said, "do you think this is true?"
"I feel sure it is," said Helen. "I am convinced that Dexter would not tell either of us a falsehood."
"There!" cried the boy, smiling triumphantly, as he crept to Helen's side and laid his hand in hers. "Hear that? Of course I wouldn't. I wanted to be all right, but—I say, does my head bleed there?"
He took off his cap, and held down his head, while Helen looked at the spot he pointed out, and shuddered slightly.
"That's where he stuck his nails into my head, just like a cat. It did hurt ever so, but I soon forgot it."
"Let's go home," said the doctor gravely. "It is unfortunate, but of course Dexter could not submit to be trampled upon by any boy."
"I say, you do believe me, don't you!" said Dexter quickly.
"Yes, my boy. I believe you on your honour."
"On my honour," said Dexter quickly.
"That will do," said the doctor. "It is unfortunate, but unavoidable. Let us go home to lunch."
"And you will not send me back to the—you know!"
"Certainly not," said the doctor.
"And may I come out here to fish by and by!"
"Certainly," said the doctor. "If you are a good boy."
"No, I think not," said Helen, making a shadow cross the boy's countenance. "Dexter cannot come out fishing alone; I will come with him."
Dexter gave her a meaning look, as he understood why she had said that; and then walked quietly home with the doctor and his daughter to a far more agreeable meal than he would have enjoyed at the baronet's house.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
A RECORD OF CARES.
"Hang his impudence!" said the doctor. "What do you think he told me?"
"Yes, my dear. Told me I was a regular modern Frankenstein, and that I had made a young monster to worry me to death. Such insolence! Dexter's growing a very nice lad, and I feel as if I could make a nobleman of him if I liked, but I think I'll send him to a good school for a bit. You see, he's full of promise, Helen."
"Yes, papa," said Helen, suppressing her mirth.
"Ah! now you are laughing at me. I mean full of the promise that will some day mean performance. But—yes, I will send him to a good school."
A good school was selected, and Dexter duly sent down to it, leaving Helen very unwillingly, but holding up manfully, and the doctor said he would come back at the holiday-time vastly improved.
In six weeks Dr Grayson received a letter asking him to fetch Dexter away to save him from being expelled.
The Doctor looked very angry as he went down to Cardley Willows, and the inquiries took a stern, rather bitter turn.
"Has the boy been a young blackguard?" he said.
"No," said the principal.
"Oh dear no!"
"Well, what is it then—disobedient!"
"Oh dear no! He'll promise anything."
"Humph! yes," said the doctor to himself.
"I'm very sorry, Dr Grayson," continued the principal; "but the boy is incorrigible, and you must take him away."
The doctor took the boy away, and he had a very stern talking-to at home.
Two months passed away.
"There, Helen," said the doctor one morning; "what do you say to him now? Wonderfully improved, has he not? Good natural boy's colour in his cheeks—better blood, you see, and nice curly hair. Really he is not like the same."
"No, papa; he is greatly changed," said Helen, as she followed the direction of her father's eyes to where Dexter was out on the lawn watching old Dan'l, while old Dan'l, in a furtive manner, was diligently watching him in return.
"Greatly changed," said the doctor thoughtfully, as he scratched the side of his nose with his penholder, "in personal appearance. Sir James seems very sore still about that little affair. Says I ought to have thrashed Dexter, for he behaved brutally to young Edgar."
"And what did you say, papa?"
"Well, not exactly all I thought. Dreadful young limb that Edgar. Spoiled boy, but I could not tell Danby so with such a catalogue of offences as Master Dexter has to show on my black list. You see, Helen, we do not get any further with him."
Helen shook her head sadly.
"There's something wrong in his brain; or something wanting. He'll promise amendment one hour, and go and commit the same fault the very next."
"It is very sad," replied Helen thoughtfully; "but I'm sure he means well."
"Yes, my dear; of course," said the doctor, looking perplexed; "but it's a great drawback to one's success. But there: we must persevere. It seems to me that the first thing to do is to wean him from that terrible love of low companions."
"Say companion," said Helen, smiling.
"Well, a companion, then. I wish we could get that young fishing scoundrel sent away; but of course one cannot do that. Oh, by the way, what about Maria? Is she going away?"
"No," said Helen. "I had a long talk to her about her unreasoning dislike to Dexter, and she has consented to stay."
"Well, it's very kind of her," said the doctor testily. "I suppose Mrs Millett will be giving warning next."
"Oh no," said Helen; "she finds a good deal of fault, but I think, on the whole, she feels kindly toward the poor boy."
"Don't!" cried the doctor, giving the writing-table so angry a slap with his open hand that a jet of ink shot out of the stand and made half a dozen great splashes. "Now, look there, what you've made me do," he continued, as he began hastily to soak up the black marks with blotting-paper. "I will not have Dexter called 'the poor boy.' He is not a poor boy. He is a human waif thrown up on life's shore. No, no: and you are not to call him a human waif. I shall well educate him, and place him on the high-road toward making his way properly in life as a gentleman should, and I'll show the whole world that I'm right."
"You shall, papa," said Helen merrily; "and I will help you all I can."
"I know you will, my dear, and you are helping me," cried the doctor warmly; "and it's very good of you. But I do wish we could make him think before he does anything. His mischievous propensities are simply horrible. And now, my dear, about his education. We must do something more, if it is only for the sake of keeping him out of trouble. You are doing nobly, but that is not enough. I did mean to read classics with him myself, but I have no time. My book takes too much thought. Now, I will not send the poor boy—"
"'Poor boy,' papa!" said Helen merrily.
"Eh? Did I say 'poor boy'!" cried the doctor, scratching his nose again.
"Ah, well; I did not mean it. I was going to say I will not send him to another school. He would be under too many disadvantages, so I think we will decide upon a private tutor."
"Yes, papa; a very excellent arrangement."
"Yes, I think it is; and—well, Maria, what is it!"
"Dan'l, sir," said that young lady, who spoke very severely, as if she could hardly contain her feelings; "and he'd be glad to know if you could see him a minute."
"Send him in, Maria," said the doctor; and then, as the housemaid left the room, "Well, it can't be anything about Dexter now, because he is out there on the—"
The doctor's words were delivered more and more slowly as he rose and walked toward the open window, while Helen felt uneasy, and full of misgivings.
"Why, the young dog was here just now," cried the doctor angrily. "Now, really, Helen, if he has been at any tricks this time, I certainly will set up a cane."
"Yes, my dear, I certainly will, much as I object to corporal punishment. Well, Daniel, what is it!"
Old Dan'l had a straw hat in his hand—a hat that was rather ragged at the edge, and with which, as if it was to allay some irritation, he kept sawing one finger.
"Beg pardon, sir—pardon, Miss," said Dan'l apologetically; "but if I might speak and say a few words—"
"Certainly, Daniel; you may do both," said the doctor.
"Thanky, sir—thanky kindly, Miss," said the gardener, half-putting his hat on twice so as to have it in the proper position for making a bow; "which I'm the last man in the world, sir, to make complaints."
"Humph!" ejaculated the doctor.
"Serving you as I have now for over twenty year, and remembering puffickly well, Miss, when you was only a pink bit of a baby, as like one o' my tender carnations as could be, only more like a Count dee Parish rose."
"Well, what's the matter, Daniel?" said the doctor hastily, for he wanted to bring the old man's prosings to an end.
"Well, sir, heverythink, as you may say, is the matter. Look at me, sir; I've suffered more in that garden than mortal man would believe!"
"Oh, have you!" said the doctor, taking off his glasses. "You don't look so very bad, Daniel, for a man of sixty-five."
"Sixty-four and three-quarters, begging your pardon, sir; but I have suffered. I've laid awake nights and nights thinking of what was best for planting them borders with s'rubs, as is now a delight to the human eye; and I've walked that garden hundreds o' nights with a lanthorn in search o' slugs, as comes out o' they damp meadows in in counted millions; and I've had my cares in thrips and red spider and green fly, without saying a word about scale and them other blights as never had no name. But never in my life—never in all my born days—never since I was first made a gardener, have I suffered anythink like as I've suffered along o' that there boy."
"Nonsense, Daniel! nonsense!" cried the doctor pettishly.
"Well, sir, I've served you faithful, and took such a pride in that there garden as never was, and you may call it nonsense, sir, but when I see things such as I see, I say it's time to speak."
"Why, you are always coming to me with some petty complaint, sir, about that boy."
"Petty complaint, sir!" cried Dan'l indignantly. "Is Ribstons a petty complaint—my chycest Ribstons, as I want for dessert at Christmas? And is my Sturmer pippins a petty complaint—them as ought to succeed the Ribstons in Febbery and March?"
"Why, what about them?" cried the doctor.
"Oh, nothing, sir; only as half the town's t'other side o' the river, and my pippins is being shovelled over wholesale."
The doctor walked out into the hall and put on his hat, with Dan'l following him; and, after a moment's hesitation, Helen took up a sunshade, and went down the garden after her father.
She overtook him as he was standing by a handsome espalier, dotted with the tawny red-streaked Ribstons, while Dan'l was pointing to a couple of newly-made footmarks.
"Humph! Not all gone, then?" said the doctor, frowning.
"Not yet!" growled Dan'l. "And see there, Miss; there was four stunners on that there little branch this mornin', and they're all gone!"
"Where is Master Dexter?" said the doctor.
Dan'l made a jerking motion with his thumb over his right shoulder, and the doctor walked on over the grass toward the bottom of the grounds.
The little party advanced so noiselessly that they were unheard, and in another minute they were near enough to hear Dexter exclaim—
"Now, then; this time—catch!"
The doctor stopped short in time to see, according to Dan'l's version, the Ribstons and Sturmers thrown across the river to half the town.
"Half the town," according to Dan'l, consisted of Bob Dimsted, who had laid down his rough fishing-rod, and was holding half an apple in one hand, munching away the while, as he caught another deftly; and he was in the act of stuffing it into his pocket as he caught sight of the doctor, and stood for a few moments perfectly motionless. Then, stooping quickly, he gathered up his tackle and ran.
"What's the matter!" cried Dexter.
Bob made no reply, but ran off; and as he did so, Dexter laughingly took another apple from his pocket—a hard green Sturmer pippin, which he threw with such force and accuracy that it struck Bob right in the middle of the back, when the boy uttered a cry of alarm, ran more swiftly, and Dexter stood for a moment roaring with laughter, and then turned to find himself face to face with the trio who had come down the garden.