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Quicksilver - The Boy With No Skid To His Wheel
by George Manville Fenn
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"And them pippins worth twopence apiece at Christmas, sir!" cried Dan'l.

"What are you doing, Dexter!" cried the doctor sternly.

"I was only giving him an apple or two," said the boy, after a few moments' hesitation.

"Come in, sir," cried the doctor.

"A month's notice, if you please, sir, from to-day," said Dan'l, frowning angrily; but no one paid any heed to him, for the doctor had laid his hand upon Dexter's shoulder, and marched him off.

"And I've never said nothing yet about our bees," grumbled Dan'l. "A young tyke! Raddled 'em up with a long stick on purpose to get me stung to death, he did, as is a massy I warn't. Well, a month to-day. Either he goes or I do. Such whims, to have a boy like that about the place. Well, I'm glad I've brought it to a head, for the doctor won't part with me."

"Now, sir," said the doctor, as he seated himself in his chair, and Helen took up her work, carefully keeping her eyes off Dexter, who looked at her appealingly again and again. "Now, sir, what have you to say for yourself?"

Dexter looked at the doctor, and his countenance was so unpleasantly angry that the ceiling, the floor, and the various objects around seemed preferable, and were carefully observed in turn.

"Do you hear, sir? What have you to say for yourself!"

"What about?" faltered Dexter at last.

"What about, sir? Just as if you did not know! Weren't you forbidden to touch those apples!"

"Only by Daniel, sir; and he said I was never to touch any fruit at all; but you said I might."

"Yes—I did. I said you might have some fruit."

"Apples is fruit," said Dexter.

"Are fruit—are fruit, sir," cried the doctor, in an exasperated tone.

"Apples are fruit," said Dexter.

"But I did not tell you to pick my choice pippins and throw them across the river to every blackguard boy you see."

"But he hasn't got a beautiful garden like we have," protested Dexter.

"What has that got to do with it, sir?" cried the doctor angrily. "I don't grow fruit and keep gardeners on purpose to supply the wants of all the little rascals in the place."

"He asked me to get him some apples, sir."

"Asked you to get him some, indeed! Look here, sir; I've tried very hard to make you a decent boy by kindness, but it does no good. You were told not to associate with that boy any more."

"Please, sir, I didn't," cried Dexter. "I didn't, indeed, sir."

"What? Why, I saw you talking to him, and giving him fruit."

"Please, sir, I couldn't help it. I didn't 'sociate with him; he would come and 'sociate with me."

"Bah!" ejaculated the doctor.

"And he said if I didn't give him some apples and pears he'd come and stand in front of the windows here and shout 'workus' as loud as he could."

"I shall have to send the police after him," said the doctor fiercely; "and as for you, sir, I've quite made up my mind what to do. Kind words are thrown away. I shall now purchase a cane—and use it."

"Oh, I say, don't," cried Dexter, giving himself a writhe, as he recalled sundry unpleasant interviews with Mr Sibery. "It does hurt so, you don't know; and makes black marks on you afterwards, just as if it had been dipped in ink."

Helen bent down over the work she had taken up.

"Don't?" said the doctor sharply. "Then what am I to do, sir? Words are of no use. I did hope that you were going to be a better and more tractable boy."

"Well, but ain't I?" said Dexter, looking puzzled, and rubbing his curly head.

"Better? No, sir; much worse."

Dexter rubbed his head again thoughtfully.

"I haven't torn my clothes this week, and I haven't been down on my knees; and I haven't been on the top of the wall, and I did want to ever so badly."

"No, Dexter; but you climbed right to the top of the big pear-tree," said Helen quickly; "and it was a terribly dangerous thing to do."

"Now you've begun at me!" said the boy in a lachrymose tone. "I'm afraid I'm a regular bad one, and you'd better send me back again."

The doctor looked at Helen, and she returned the glance with a very serious aspect, but there was a merry light in her eyes, as she saw her father's discomfiture.

He read her looks aright, and got up from his seat with an impatient ejaculation.

"I'm going out, my dear," he said shortly.

"Are you going to get a cane!" cried Dexter excitedly. "I say, don't, and I will try so hard to do what you want."

"I was not going to buy a cane, sir," said the doctor, who was half-angry, half-amused by the boy's earnestness. "One of my walking-sticks would do very well when I give you a good sound thrashing. Here, Helen, my dear, you can speak to Dexter a bit. I will have another talk to him to-night."

The doctor left the room, and Dexter stood listening as his step was heard in the hall. Then the door closed, and Helen bent thoughtfully over her work, while the boy stood first on one foot, then on the other, watching her. The window was open, the sun shone, and the garden with its lawn and bright flowers looked wonderfully tempting, but duty and the disgrace he was in acted as two chains to hold the boy there.

"I say," he said at last.

"Yes, Dexter," said Helen, looking up at him sadly.

"Oh, I say, don't look at me like that," he cried.

"You force me to, Dexter," she said gravely.

"But ain't you going to talk to me!"

"If I talk to you, it will only be to scold you very severely."

Dexter sighed.

"Well," he said, after a pause, during which he had been gazing intently in the earnest eyes before him; "you've got to do it, so let's have it over. I was always glad when I had been punished at school."

"Glad, Dexter?"

"Yes, glad it was over. It was the worst part of it waiting to have your whack!"

"Do you want to oblige me, Dexter?" said Helen, wincing at the boy's words.

"Yes, of course I do. Want me to fetch something?"

"No. Once more I want you to promise to leave off some of those objectionable words."

"But it's of no use to promise," cried the boy, with a look of angry perplexity. "I always break my word."

"Then why do you!"

"I dunno," said Dexter. "There's something in me I think that makes me. You tell me to be a good boy, and I say I will, and I always mean to be; but somehow I can't. I think it's because nobody likes me, because—because—because I came from there."

"Do I behave to you as if I did not like you?" said Helen reproachfully.

The boy was on his knees beside her in a moment, holding her hand against his cheek as he looked up at her with his lip working, and a dumb look of pitiful pleading in his eyes.

"I do not think I do, Dexter."

He shook his head, and tried to speak. Then, springing up suddenly, he ran out of the study, dashed upstairs, half-blind with the tears which he was fighting back, and then with his head down through the open door into his bedroom, when there was a violent collision, a shriek followed by a score more to succeed a terrific crash, and when in alarm Helen and Mrs Millet ran panting up, it was to find Dexter rubbing his head, and Maria seated in the middle of the boy's bedroom with the sherds of a broken toilet pail upon the floor, and an ewer lying upon its side, and the water soaking into the carpet.

"What is the matter?" cried Helen.

"I won't—I won't—I declare I won't put up with it no longer!" cried the maid in the intervals of sundry sobs and hysterical cries.

"But how did it happen!" said Mrs Millet.

"It's—sit's—sit's—sit's—sit's—sit's—his tricks again," sobbed Maria.

"Dexter!" cried Helen.

"Yes—es—Miss—es—ma'am," sobbed Maria. "I'd dide—I'd dide—I'd— just half—half—half filled the war—war—war—ter—jug, and he ran— ran—ran at me with his head—dead in the chest—and then—then—then— then knocked me dud—dud—dud—down, and I'll go at once, I will— there."

"Dexter," said Helen sternly; "was this some trick?"

"I don't know," said the boy sadly. "I s'pose so."

"But did you run at Maria and try to knock her down?"

"No," said Dexter. "I was going into my room in a hurry, and she was coming out."

"He did it o' purpose, Miss," cried Maria viciously.

"That will do, Maria," said Helen with dignity. "Mrs Millet, see that these broken pieces are removed. Dexter, come down to the drawing-room with me."

Dexter sighed and followed, feeling the while that after all the Union School was a happy place, and that he certainly was not happy here.

"It is very unfortunate that you should meet with such accidents, Dexter," said Helen, as soon as they were alone.

"Yes," he said piteously, "ain't it? I say—"

"Well, Dexter!"

"It's no good. I know what he wants to do. He said he wanted to make a gentleman of me, but you can't do it, and I'd better be 'prenticed to a shoemaker, same as lots of boys have been."

Helen said nothing, but looked at the boy with a troubled gaze, as she wondered whether her father's plan was possible.

"You had better go out in the garden again, Dexter," she said after a time.

The trouble had been passing off, and Dexter leaped up with alacrity; but as he reached the window he saw Dan'l crossing the lawn, and he stopped short, turned, and came back to sit down with a sigh.

"Well, Dexter," said Helen, "why don't you go?"

He gave her a pitiful look which went right to her heart, as he said slowly—

"No. I shan't go. I should only get into trouble again."



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

THE BEGINNING OF TROUBLE.

"I say," said Dexter, a few days later, as he followed Helen into the drawing-room. "What have I been doing now!"

"I hope nothing fresh, Dexter. Have you been in mischief!"

"I don't know," he said; "only I've been in the study, and there's a tall gent."

"Say gentleman, Dexter."

"Tall gentleman with a white handkerchief round his neck, and he has been asking me questions, and every time I answered him he sighed, and said, 'Dear me!'"

"Indeed!" said Helen, smiling. "What did he ask you?"

"If I knew Euclid; and when I said I didn't know him, he said, 'Oh dear me!' Then he asked me if I knew Algebra, and I said I didn't, and he shook his head at me and said, 'Dear me! dear me!' and that he would have to pull me up. I say, what have I done to be pulled up!"

"Don't you know that Euclid wrote a work on Geometry, and that Algebra is a study by which calculations are made!"

"No," said Dexter eagerly. "I thought they were two people. Then why did he say he would have to pull me up?"

"He meant that you were very much behind with, your studies, and that he would have to teach you and bring you forward."

"Oh, I see! And is he going to teach me?"

"Yes, Mr Limpney is your private tutor now; and he is coming every day, so I hope you will be very industrious, and try hard to learn."

"Oh yes, I'll try. Mr Limpney; I don't think he much liked me, though."

"Nonsense, Dexter; you should not think such things."

"All right. I won't then. It will be like going to school again, won't it?"

"Much pleasanter, I hope."

Time glided rapidly on after its usual fashion, and Dexter grew fast.

There was a long range of old stabling at the doctor's house, with extensive lofts. The first part was partitioned off for a coachman's room, but this had not been in use for half a century, and the whole place was ruinous and decayed. Once upon a time some one with a love of horses must have lived there, for there were stalls for eight, and a coach-house as well, but the doctor only kept two horses, and they occupied a new stable built in front of the old.

The back part was one of Dexter's favourite hunting-grounds. Here he could be quite alone, and do pretty well as he liked. Peter the groom never noticed his goings-out and comings-in, and there was no one to find fault with him for being untidy.

Here then he had quite a little menagerie of his own. His pocket-money, as supplied by the doctor, afforded him means for buying any little thing he fancied, and hence he had in one of the lofts a couple of very ancient pigeons, which the man of whom he bought them declared to be extremely young; a thrush in a cage; two hedge-sparrows, which were supposed to be linnets, in another; two mice in an old cigar-box lined with tin; and a very attenuated rat, which had been caught by Peter in a trap, and which was allowed to live minus one foreleg that had been cut short off close to the shoulder, but over which the skin had grown.

No one interfered with Dexter's pets, and in fact the old range of stabling was rarely visited, even by the gardeners, so that the place became not only the boy's favourite resort in his loneliness, but, so to speak, his little kingdom where he reigned over his pets.

There was plenty of room, especially in the lofts with their cross-beams and ties; and here, with his pets, as the only spectators, Dexter used to go daily to get rid of the vitality which often battled for exit in the confinement of the house. Half an hour here of the performance of so many natural gymnastic tricks seemed to tame him down—these tricks being much of a kind popular amongst caged monkeys, who often, for no apparent object, spring about and hang by hands or feet, often by their tail.

But he had one piece of enjoyment that would have driven a monkey mad with envy. He had discovered among the lumber a very large old-fashioned bottle-jack, and after hanging this from a hook and winding it up, one of his greatest pleasures was to hang from that jack, and roast till he grew giddy, when he varied the enjoyment by buckling on a strap, attaching himself with a hook from the waist, and then going through either a flying or swimming movement as he spun slowly round.

Then he had a rope-trick or two contrived by means of a long piece of knotted together clothes-line, doubled, and hung from the rafters to form a swing or trapeze.

Dexter had paid his customary morning visit to his pets, and carefully fed them according to his wont; his plan, a very regular one among boys, being to give them twice as much as was good for them one day, and a starving the next—a mode said to be good with pigs, and productive of streaky bacon, but bad for domestic pets. Then he had returned to the house to go through his lessons, and sent long-suffering Mr Limpney, BA, almost into despair by the little progress he had made, after which he had gone down the garden with the expectation of meeting Dan'l at some corner, but instead had come upon Peter, busy as usual with his broom.

"Yer needn't look," said the latter worthy; "he's gone out."

"What! Dan'l has?"

"Yes; gone to see a friend who's a gardener over at Champney Ryle, to buy some seeds."

It was like the announcement of a holiday, and leaving the groom making the usual long stretches with his broom, Dexter went on aimlessly to the river-side, where, for the first time for many months, he found Bob Dimsted fishing.

"Hullo, old un!" was the latter's greeting, "how are you!"

Dexter gave the required information, and hesitated for a few moments, something in the way of a collection of Helen's warnings coming vaguely to his hand; but the volunteered information of the boy on the other side of the river, that he had got some "glorious red wums," and that the fish were well on the feed, drove everything else away, and in a few minutes Dexter was sitting upon the crown of a willow pollard, ten feet out over the river, that much nearer to the fisher, and in earnest conversation with him as he watched his float.

Once more the memory of words that had been spoken to him came to Dexter, but the bobbing of the float, and the excitement of capturing a fish, drove the thoughts away—the fascination of the fishing, and the pleasant excitement of meeting a companion of near his own age, cut off, as he was, from the society of boys, being too much for him; and he was soon eagerly listening, and replying to all that was said.

"Ever go fishing in a boat?" said Bob, after a time.

"No."

"Ah! you should go in a boat," said Bob. "You sit down comfortable, with your feet all dry, and you can float over all the deep holes and best places in the river, and catch all the big fish. It's lovely!"

"Did you ever fish out of a boat?" asked Dexter.

"Did I ever fish out of a boat? Ha! ha! ha! Lots of times. I'm going to get a boat some day, and have a saucepan and kettle and plate and spoon, and take my fishing-tackle, and then I shall get a gun or a pistol, and go off down the river."

"What for!"

"What for? Why, to live like that, catching fish, and shooting wild ducks and geese, and cooking 'em, and eating 'em. Then you have a 'paulin and spread it over the boat of a night, and sleep under it—and there you are!"

Dexter looked at the adventurous being before him in wonder, while he fished on and talked.

"I should make myself a sail, too, and then I shouldn't have to row so much; and then I could go right on down to the end of the river, and sail away to foreign countries, and shoot all kinds of wonderful things. And then you could land sometimes and kill snakes, and make yourself a hut to live in, and do just as you liked. Ah, that is a fine life!"

"Yes," said Dexter, whose eager young mind rapidly painted an illustration to everything his companion described.

"A man I know has been to sea, and he says sometimes you come to places where there's nothing but mackerel, and you can almost ladle 'em out with your hands. I should boil 'em over a fire. They are good then."

Dexter's eyes grew more round.

"Then out at sea you have long lines, and you catch big cod-fish, and soles almost as big as the boat."

"And are you going to have a boat?"

"To be sure I am. I get tired of always coming out to catch little roach and dace and eels. I mean to go soon."

Dexter sighed.

"That man says when you go far enough away, you come to islands where the cocoa-nuts grow; and then, all you've got to do is go ashore and pull your boat up on the sands, and when you are hungry you climb a tree and get a cocoa-nut; and every one has got enough meat and drink in it for a meal."

"Do you?"

"Yerrrs! That you do. That's the sort of place to go and live at. I'm tired o' Coleby."

"Why don't you go and live there, then!" said Dexter.

"I'm going to, some day. It's no use to be in too much of a hurry; I want to save a little money first, and get some more tackle. You see, you want big hooks for big fish, and some long lines. Then you must have a boat."

The idea of the unknown countries made Dexter thrill, and he listened eagerly as the boy went on prosing away while he fished, taking out his line from time to time, and dropping the bait in likely places.

"Haven't made up my mind what boat I shall have yet, only it must be a good one."

"Yes," said Dexter; "you'd want a good big boat."

"Not such a very big un," said Bob. "I should want a nice un with cushions, because you'd have to sit in it so long."

"And sleep in it too?"

"Oh yes; you'd have to sleep in it."

"Should you light the fire, and cook in it!" said Dexter innocently.

"Yah! No, o' course not. You'd go ashore every time you wanted to cook, and light a fire there with a burnin'-glass."

"But suppose the sun didn't shine!"

"Sun always shines out there," said Bob. "That sailor chap told me, and the birds are all sorts of colours, and the fish too, like you see in glass globes. I mean to go."

"When shall you go?"

"Oh, some day when I'm ready. I know of a jolly boat as would just do."

"Do you?"

"Yes; I dessay you've seen it. Belongs to Danby's, down the river. Lives in a boat-house."

"Yes, I've seen it," said Dexter eagerly. "It is a beauty!"

"Well, that's the sort of boat I mean to have. P'r'aps I shall have that."

"You couldn't have that," cried Dexter.

"Why not? They never use it, not more'n twice a year. Dessay they'd lend it."

"That they wouldn't," cried Dexter.

"Well, then, I should borrow it, and bring it back when I'd done with it. What games you could have with a boat like that!"

"Yes," sighed Dexter; "wish we had one!"

"Wouldn't be such a good one as that if you had. That's just the boat I've made up my mind to have."

"And shall you sail right away to a foreign country!" said Dexter, from his nest up in the willow.

"Why, how can you sail away to another place without a mast and sail, stoopid!" cried Bob.

"If you call me stupid," said Dexter sharply, "I'll come and punch your head."

"Yah! Yer can't get at me."

"Can't I? I could swim across in a minute, and I would, if it wasn't for wetting my clothes."

"Yah!" cried Bob scoffingly. "Why, I could fight yer one hand."

"No, you couldn't."

"Yes, I could."

"Well, you'd see, if I came across."

"But yer can't get across," laughed Bob. "I know of a capital mast."

Dexter looked sulky.

"It's part of an old boat-hook my father found floating in the river. I shall smooth it down with my knife if I can't borrow a spokeshave."

"And what'll you do for a sail?" said Dexter, his interest in the expedition chasing away his anger.

"Oh, I shall get a table-cloth or a sheet. Sheets make beautiful sails. You just hoists 'em up, and puts an oar over the stern to steer with, and then away you go, just where you like. Sailing along in a boat's lovely!"

"Ever been in a boat sailing?" asked Dexter.

"No; but I know it is. That sailor told me. He says when you've got all sail set, you just cruises along."

"Do you?"

"Yes. I know; and I mean to go some day; but it's no use to be in a jolly hurry, and you ought to have a mate."

"Ought you?"

"Yes, so as he could steer while a chap went to sleep; because sometimes you'd be a long way from the shore."

Dexter sat very thoughtful and still, dreaming of the wonders of far-off places, such as could be reached by Bob Dimsted and his companion, the impracticability of such a journey never once occurring to him. Bob had been about all his life free to go and come, while he, Dexter, seemed to have been always shut up, as it were, in a cage, which had narrowed his mind.

"Some chaps would be glad of such a chance," said Bob. "It'll be a fine time. My, what fishing I shall have!"

"Shall you be gone long!" said Dexter, after a time.

"Long? Why, of course I shall; years and years. I shan't come back till I've made a fortune, and am a rich man, with heaps of money to spend. Some chaps would be glad to go."

"Yes, of course," said Dexter dreamily.

"I want to get a mate who isn't afraid of anything. Dessay we should meet lions sometimes, and big snakes."

"What! in England!"

"England! Yah! Who's going to stop in England? I'm going to sail away to wonderful places all over the world."

"But would the boat be big enough to cross the great sea?"

"Who's going to cross the great sea?" cried Bob. "Of course I shouldn't. I should only go out about six miles from shore, and keep close in, so as to land every night to get grub, or anything else. P'r'aps to go shooting. My father's got an old gun—a fine un. Think I don't know what I'm about? Shoots hares with it, and fezzans.

"There's another!" he exclaimed, as he hooked and landed an unfortunate little perch, which he threw into his basket with a look of disgust. "I'm sick of ketching such miserable little things as these. I want to get hold of big sea-fish of all kinds, so as to fill the boat. Some chaps would be glad to go," he said again, as he threw his line in once more.

"Yes," said Dexter thoughtfully; "I should like to go."

"You!" said Bob, with a mocking laugh. "You! Why, you'd be afraid. I don't believe you dare go in a boat!"

"Oh yes, I dare," said Dexter stoutly.

"Not you. You're afraid of what the doctor would say. You daren't even come fishing with me up the river."

"They said I was not to go with you," said Dexter quietly; "so I couldn't."

"Then what's the use of your saying you'd like to go. You couldn't."

"But I should like to go," said Dexter excitedly.

"Not you. I want a mate as has got some pluck in him. You'd be afraid to be out all night on the water."

"No, I shouldn't. I should like it."

"Well, I don't know," said Bob dubiously. "I might take you, and I mightn't. You ain't quite the sort of a chap I should want; and, besides, you've got to stay where you are and learn lessons. Ho! ho! ho! what a game, to be obliged to stop indoors every day and learn lessons! I wonder you ain't ashamed of it."

Dexter's cheeks flushed, and he looked angrily across the river with his fists clenched, but he said nothing.

"You wouldn't do. You ain't strong enough," said Bob at last.

"I'm as strong as you are."

"But you daren't come."

"I should like to come, but I don't think they'd let me."

"Why, of course they wouldn't, stoopid. You'd have to come away some night quietly, and get in the boat, and then we'd let her float down the river, and row right away till morning, and then we could set the sail, and go just wherever we liked, because we should be our own masters."

"Here's some one coming after you," said Bob, in a low voice; and he shrank away, leaving Dexter perched up in the crown of the tree, where he stopped without speaking, as he saw Helen come down the garden, and she walked close by him without raising her eyes, and passed on.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE TROUBLE GROWS.

Dexter got down out of the willow-tree with a seed in his brain.

Bob Dimsted had dropped that seed into his young mind, and there it had struck root directly, and continued to grow. A hard fight now commenced.

So long as he was with Helen or the doctor, he could think of nothing but the fact that they were so kind to him, and took so much interest in his welfare, that it would be horribly ungrateful to go away without leave, and he vowed that he would not go.

But so sure as he was alone, a series of dissolving views began to float before his vivid imagination, and he saw Sir James Danby's boat managed by Bob Dimsted and himself, gliding rapidly along through river and along by sunlit shores, where, after catching wonderfully tinted fish, he and the boy landed to light a fire, cook their food, and partake of it in a delightful gipsy fashion. Then they put to sea again, and glided on past wondrous isles where cocoa-nut palms waved in the soft breeze.

Try how he would, Dexter could not keep these ideas out of his head, and the more he thought, the brighter and more attractive they became; and day after day found him, whenever he had an opportunity, waiting about by the river-side in the expectation of seeing Bob Dimsted.

Bob did not come, but as Dexter climbed up into his nest in the willow pollard his vivid imagination supplied the words he had said, and he seemed to see himself sailing away, with the boy for his companion, down the river, and out into the open sea; a portion of this globe which he formed out of his own fancy, the result being wonderfully unlike the truth.

Bob did not come, but Helen noticed how quiet and thoughtful the boy seemed, and also how he affected that portion of the garden.

"Why don't you fish, Dexter?" she said to him one day, as she saw him gazing disconsolately at the river.

He had not thought of this as an excuse for staying down by the river, but he snatched at the idea now, and for the next week, whenever he could get away from his lessons or their preparation, he was down on the bank, dividing his time between watching his float and the opposite shore.

But still Bob Dimsted did not come; and at last Dexter began to settle down seriously to his fishing, as the impressions made grew more faint.

Then all at once back they came; for as he sat watching his float one day, a voice said sharply—

"Now then! why don't you strike!"

But Dexter did not strike, and the fish went off with the bait as the holder of the rod exclaimed—

"Why haven't you been fishing all this time!"

"What was the good?" said Bob, "I was getting ready to go, and talking to my mate, who's going with me."

"Your mate!" exclaimed Dexter, whose heart sank at those words.

"Yes, I know'd you wouldn't go, so. I began to look out for a chap who would."

"But I didn't say that I really would not go," said Dexter, as he laid his tackle under the bushes.

"Oh yes, you did; I could see what you meant. Do they bite to-day!"

"I don't know," said Dexter dolefully. "But, I say, you couldn't have that boat if you wanted to."

"Oh yes, I could if I liked."

"But it isn't yours."

"Tchah! couldn't you borrow it!"

Dexter did not see how, and he climbed into the willow, while Bob went on fishing.

"I hate a chap who is always trying to find out things to stop a fellow from doing anything. Why don't you say you won't go and ha' done with it?"

Dexter sighed as he thought of the wonderful fish to be caught, and the great nuts on the trees, each of which nuts would make a meal. Then of the delight of sailing away in that beautiful boat down the river, and then out to sea, where they could land upon the sands and light their fire; and it seemed to him that such a life would be one long time of delight.

He sat in his nest picking the buds off the willow twigs, and bending and lacing them together, furtively glancing at grubby-looking Bob Dimsted, whose appearance was not attractive; but what were appearances to a boy who possessed such gifts of knowledge in fishing and managing a boat, and had learned so much about foreign lands?

Dexter sighed again, and Bob gave him a furtive look, as with evident enjoyment he took a red worm out of some moss and stuck his sharp hook into it, drew the writhing creature over the shank, and then passed the point through again and again.

So to speak, he had impaled Dexter on a moral hook as well, the barb had gone right in so that it could not be drawn out without tearing; and Dexter writhed and twined, and felt as if he would have given anything to get away.

Bob went on fishing, throwing the twisting worm just down among the roots of a willow-tree, and the float told directly after that the cast was not without avail, for there was a quick bobbing movement, then a sharp snatch, Bob struck, and, after a good deal of rushing about and splashing, a good-sized perch was landed, with its sharp back fin erect, and its gilded sides, with their black markings, glistening in the sunshine.

"What a beauty!" cried Dexter enthusiastically, as for the moment the wonders of the boating expedition were forgotten.

But they were brought back directly.

"Pooh!" exclaimed Bob contemptuously. "That's nothing; only a little perch. Why, if we went off fishing in that boat, you'd chuck a fish like that in again."

But Bob did not "chuck" that perch in again; he placed it in his basket, and directly after caught up his various articles of fishing-gear and ran off.

Dexter was about to speak, but just then he heard a harsh cough, and, glancing through the screen of willow twigs which surrounded him, he saw old Dan'l coming hastily down over the grass path towards the tree.

"Yes, I can see yer," he shouted, as he reached the water's edge; and, to Dexter's surprise, he found that it was not he the old gardener was addressing. "You come over there fishing again, I'll send the police arter yer."

Bob, safe at a distance, made a derisive gesture.

"None of your sarse, you poaching young vagabond. I know what you came there for. Be off with you."

"Shan't," cried Bob, as he settled down to fish a hundred yards away.

"Always coming here after that boy," grumbled Dan'l. "If I could have my way I'd bundle 'em both out of the town together. Young robbers,— that's what they are, the pair of 'em."

Dexter's face flushed, and he was about to respond, but the old gardener began to move away.

"Doctor ought to be ashamed of himself," he grumbled, as he stood for a moment or two looking round in search of Dexter, but never looking above the brim of his broad straw hat, and the next moment Dexter was left alone seated in the crown of the old willow, very low-spirited and thoughtful, as he came down from his perch, brushed the bits of green from his clothes, and then walked slowly up toward the house, taking the other side of the garden; but of course coming right upon Dan'l, who followed him about till he took refuge in the doctor's study, with a book whose contents seemed to be a history of foreign lands, and the pictures records of the doings of one Dexter Grayson and his companion Bob. For the old effervescence consequent upon his having been kept down so long was passing off, and a complete change seemed to be coming over the boy.

Quicksilver—by George Manville Fenn



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THE PLEASANT WAYS OF LEARNING.

"Now, Master Grayson," said Mr Limpney, "what am I to say to the doctor!"

The private tutor threw himself back in his seat in the study, vacated by the doctor, while Dexter had his lessons, placed his hands behind his head, and, after wrinkling his forehead in lines from his brow to right on the top, where the hair began, he stared hard at his pupil.

"I say again, sir, what am I to tell the doctor!"

"I don't know," said Dexter dolefully. Then, plucking up a little spirit: "I wrote out all my history questions, and did the parsing with a little help from Miss Grayson, and I did the sum you set me all by myself."

"Yes; but the Algebra, the Classics, and the Euclid! Where are they?"

"There they are," said Dexter, pointing dismally to some books on the table.

"Yes, sir, there they are—on that table, when they ought to be in your head."

"But they won't go in my head, sir," cried Dexter desperately.

"Nonsense, sir! you will not let them, and I warn you plainly, that if we do not make better progress, I shall tell the doctor that I will not continue to take his payment for nothing."

"No; I say; don't do that," said Dexter piteously. "He wouldn't like it."

"I cannot help that, sir. I have my duty to perform. Anybody can do those childish history and grammatical questions; it is the classical and mathematical lessons in which I wish you to excel. Now, once more. No, no, you must not refer to the book. 'In any right-angled triangle, the square of the side—' Now, go on."

Dexter took up a slate and pencil, wrinkled up his forehead as nearly like the tutor's as he could, and slowly drew a triangle.

"Very good," said Mr Limpney. "Now, go on."

Dexter stared at his sketch, then helplessly at his instructor.

"I ought to write ABC here, oughtn't I, sir?"

"Yes, of course. Go on."

Dexter hesitated, and then put a letter at each corner.

"Well, have it that way if you like," said Mr Limpney.

"I don't like it that way, sir," said Dexter. "I'll put it your way."

"No, no. Go on your way."

"But I haven't got any way, sir," said Dexter desperately.

"Nonsense, nonsense! Go on."

"Please, sir, I can't. I've tried and tried over and over again, but the angles all get mixed up with the sides, and it is all such a muddle. I shall never learn Euclid. Is it any use?"

"Is it any use!" cried the tutor scornfully. "Look at me, sir. Has it been any use to me!"

Dexter looked at the face before him, and then right up the forehead, and wondered whether learning Euclid had made all the hair come off the top of his head.

"Well, go on."

"I can't, sir, please," sighed the boy. "I know it's something about squares, and ABC, and BAC, and CAB, and—but you produce the lines."

"But you do not produce them, sir," cried Mr Limpney angrily; "nor anything else! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, sir!"

"I am," said Dexter innocently. "I'm a dreadfully stupid boy, sir, and I don't think I've got any brains."

"Are you going through that forty-seventh problem this morning, sir?"

Dexter made a desperate attempt, floundered on a quarter of a minute, and broke down in half.

"Tut—tut—tut!" ejaculated Mr Limpney. "I'm sure you have not looked at it since I was here."

"That I have, sir," cried Dexter, in a voice full of eager protest. "Hours and hours, sir, I walked up and down the garden with it, and then I took the book up with me into my loft, and made a chalk triangle on the floor, and kept on saying it over and over, but as fast as I said it the words slipped out of my head again. I can't help it, sir, I am so stupid."

"Algebra!" said Mr Limpney, in a tone of angry disgust.

"Am I not to try and say the Euclid, sir?"

"Algebra!" cried Mr Limpney again, and he slapped the table with a thin book. "Now then, where are these simple equations?"

Dexter drew a half-sheet of foolscap paper from a folio, and rather shrinkingly placed it before his tutor, who took a pair of spectacles from his pocket, and placed them over his mild-looking eyes.

"Let me see," he said, referring to a note-book. "The questions I gave you were: 'A spent 2 shillings and 6 pence in oranges, and says that three of them cost as much under a shilling as nine of them cost over a shilling. How many did he buy?'"

Mr Limpney coughed, blew his nose loudly, as if it were a post-horn, and then went on—

"Secondly: 'Two coaches start at the same time for York and London, a distance of 200 miles, travelling one at nine and a half miles an hour, the other at nine and a quarter miles; where will they meet, and in what time from starting?'"

He gave his nose a finishing touch with his handkerchief, closed his note-book, and turned to Dexter.

"Now then," he said. "Let us see."

He took the sheet of paper, looked at one side, turned it over and looked at the other, and then raised his eyes to Dexter's, which avoided his gaze directly.

"What is this?" he cried.

"The equations, sir," said Dexter humbly.

"Tut—tut—tut!" ejaculated Mr Limpney. "Was there ever such a boy? plus where it ought to be minus, and—why, what's this!"

"This, sir?" said Dexter. "Half-crowns."

"But it was to be oranges. How many did he buy? and here you say he bought ninety-seven half-crowns. I don't know how you arrived at it, or what you mean. A man does not go to a shop to buy half-crowns. He spent half a crown in oranges."

"Yes, sir."

"I believe it's sheer obstinacy. You do not want to do these equations—simple equations too, mind you! Now then, about the stage-coaches. When did they meet, and in what time from starting? Now then—there are your figures, where did they meet? Look and tell me."

Dexter took the half-sheet of paper, stared at it very doubtfully, and then looked up.

"Well!" said Mr Limpney. "Where did they meet?"

"Peterborough, sir."

"Where!" cried Mr Limpney in astonishment.

"Peterborough, sir."

"Now, will you have the goodness to tell me how you found out that?"

"On the map, sir."

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the tutor. "Well, go on. At what time from starting!"

"About ten o'clock, sir."

"Better and better," said the tutor sarcastically. "Now, will you kindly explain—no, no, don't look at your figures—Will you kindly explain how you arrived at this sapient conclusion?"

Dexter hesitated, and shifted one foot over the other.

"Well, sir, I am waiting," cried Mr Limpney, in a tone of voice which made Dexter think very much resembled that of Mr Sibery when he was angry.

"I—I—"

"Don't hesitate, sir. Have I not told you again and again that a gentleman never hesitates, but speaks out at once? Now then, I ask you how you arrived at this wonderful conclusion?"

"I tried over and over again, sir, with the a's and b's, and then I thought I must guess it."

"And did you guess it?"

"No, sir, I suddenly recollected what you said."

"And pray, what did I say!"

"Why, sir, you always said let x represent the unknown quantity, and— and x stands for ten—ten o'clock."

Mr Limpney snatched the paper from the boy's hand, and was about to tear it up, when the door opened and Dr Grayson entered.

"Well," he said pleasantly, "and how are we getting on?"

"Getting on, sir?" said Mr Limpney tartly. "Will you have the goodness to ask my pupil!"

"To be sure—to be sure," said the doctor. "Well, Dexter, how are you getting on? Eh? what's this? Oh, Algebra!" he continued, as he took the half-sheet of paper covered with the boy's calligraphy. "Oh, Algebra! Hah! I never was much of a fist at that."

"Only simple equations, sir," said the tutor.

"Ah, yes. Simple equations. Well, Dexter, how are you getting on?"

"Very badly, sir."

"Badly? Nonsense!"

"But I am, sir. These things puzzle me dreadfully. I'm so stupid."

"Stupid? Nonsense! Nothing of the kind. Scarcely anybody is stupid. Men who can't understand some things understand others. Now, let's see. What is the question? H'm! ah! yes, oranges. H'm! ah! yes; not difficult, I suppose, when you know how. And—what's this? London and York—stage-coaches. Nine and a half miles, nine and a quarter miles, and—er—h'm, yes, of course, where would they meet?"

"Peterborough, sir," said Mr Limpney sarcastically, and with a peculiar look at Dexter.

"H'm! would they now?" said the doctor. "Well, I shouldn't have thought it! And how is he getting on with his Latin, Mr Limpney!"

"Horribly, sir!" exclaimed the tutor sharply. "I am very glad you have come, for I really feel it to be my duty to complain to you of the great want of diligence displayed by my pupil."

"Dear me! I am very sorry," exclaimed the doctor. "Why, Dexter, my boy, how's this? You promised me that you would be attentive."

"Yes, sir, I did."

"Then why are you not attentive?"

"I do try to be, sir."

"But if you were, Mr Limpney would not have cause to complain. It's too bad, Dexter, too bad. Do you know why Mr Limpney comes here?"

"Yes, sir," said the boy dismally; "to teach me."

"And you do not take advantage of his teaching. This is very serious. Very sad indeed."

"I am sure, Dr Grayson, that no tutor could have taken more pains than I have to impart to him the various branches of a liberal education; but after all these months of teaching it really seems to me that we are further behind. He is not a dull boy."

"Certainly not. By no means," said the doctor.

"And I do not give him tasks beyond his powers."

"I hope not, I am sure," said the doctor.

"And yet not the slightest progress is made. There is only one explanation, sir, and that is want of diligence."

"Dear me! dear me! dear me!" exclaimed the doctor. "Now, Dexter, what have you to say?"

"Nothing, sir!" said the boy sadly; "only I think sometimes that my brains must be too wet."

"Good gracious! boy: what do you mean!"

"I mean too wet and slippery, sir, so that they will not hold what I put into them."

The doctor looked at the tutor, and the tutor looked at the doctor, as if he considered that this was impertinence.

"I am very sorry—very sorry indeed, Dexter," said the doctor. "There, sir, you can go now. I will have a talk to Mr Limpney. We must see if we cannot bring you to a better frame of mind."



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

DEXTER'S DUMB FRIENDS.

Dexter went out into the hall feeling exceedingly miserable, for he had left the occupants of the study talking about him, and, as the saying goes, it made his ears burn. "I couldn't help it," he said dolefully: "I did try. I'll go and tell Miss Grayson all about it, and ask her to take my part."

He went into the drawing-room, but Helen was not there, so he ran upstairs, and was in the act of tapping at her bedroom door, when Maria came out of another room.

It was a curious fact, but there it was: Dexter always had the effect upon Maria that a dog has upon a cat. The dog may be of the most amiable disposition, and without the slightest desire to fight or worry, but as soon as he is seen, up goes the cat's back in an arch, the tail becomes plumose and the fur horrent, while, with dilated eyes and displayed teeth glistening, puss indulges in the bad language peculiar to cats.

Maria being of a different physique did not display these signs of aggression exactly, but she invariably became vicious and metaphysically showed her teeth.

"It's of no use your knocking there, Master Dexter. Miss Helen isn't at home, and I'm quite sure if she was that she wouldn't approve of your trapesing up out of the garden in your muddy and dirty shoes. I've got enough to do here without cleaning up after you."

"But I haven't been in the garden, Maria," said Dexter, apologetically. "I have just come out of the study."

"Don't I tell you she ain't at home," said Maria spitefully.

"Do you know when she will be back!"

"No, I don't," said Maria, and then sarcastically: "I beg your pardon, sir—no I don't, sir."

Maria went along the passage like a roaring wind, she made so much noise with her skirts, and then hurried downstairs, as if in great haste to get hold of a door that she could bang; and as soon as she did reach one, she made so much use of her opportunity that a picture in the hall was blown sidewise, and began swinging to and fro like a great square pendulum.

Dexter sighed, and felt very miserable as he stole downstairs again, and past the study door, where the murmur of voices talking, as he knew, about him made him shiver.

He was obliged to pass that door to get his cap, and then he had to pass it again to get to the garden door.

Mr Limpney was talking, and Mr Limpney, being accustomed to lecture and teach, spoke very loudly, so that Dexter heard him say—

"I must have more authority, sir, and—"

Dexter heard no more, for he fled into the garden, but he knew that having authority meant the same as it meant with Mr Sibery, and it sounded like going backwards.

He felt more miserable as he went out into the garden.

"Nobody hardly seems to like me, or care for me here," he said dolefully; and, led by his inclination, he began to make his way down the long green path toward the river, half fancying that Bob Dimsted might be fishing.

But before he had gone far he saw Dan'l, who was busy doing up a bed, and his appearance seemed to be the signal for the old man to put down his tools and take out his great pruning-knife, as if he meant mischief, but only to stoop from time to time to cut off a dead flower as an excuse, so it seemed, for following Dexter wherever he went.

It was impossible to go about the garden under these circumstances, so Dexter went down a little way, passed round a large Wellingtonia, and walked slowly back toward the house, but, instead of entering, went by the open window of the study, where the voice of Mr Limpney could still be heard talking loudly, and, as it seemed to the listening boy, breathing out threatenings against his peace of mind. The voice sounded so loud as he went by that he half-expected to hear himself called in, and in great dread he hurried on by the conservatory, and round the house to the old stable-yard.

As he reached this he could hear a peculiar hissing noise—that which Peter always made when he was washing the carriage, or the horses' legs—to blow away the dust, so he said.

For a moment Dexter felt disposed to go into the new stable and talk to Peter, but the opportunity was not tempting, and, hurrying on, the boy reached the old buildings, looked round for a moment, and, thus satisfied that he was not observed, he made a spring up to a little old window, caught the sill, scrambled up directly, and, passing through, disappeared inside.

He uttered a sigh as of relief, and crossing the damp stones of the gloomy old place he reached a crazy flight of steps, which led up to a loft, on either side of which were openings, through which, when the stable had been in use, it had been customary to thrust down the stored-up hay.

Dexter stopped here in the darkness for a few minutes listening, but no one was following him, and he walked along to a second ladder which led to a trap-door through which he passed, closed the trap, and then, in the long roof a place greatly resembling in shape the triangle over whose problem of squares he had that day stumbled, he seemed once more himself.

His first act was to run quietly along some boards laid over the loft ceiling, and, making a jump that would not have disgraced an acrobat, he caught at a rope, pendent from the highest portion of the rafters, twisted his legs about it, and swung easily to and fro.

The motion seemed to give him the greatest satisfaction, and as the impetus given died out, he dropped one foot, and with a few vigorous thrusts set himself going again till he was tired.

But that was not very soon, and he did not leave off till there were sundry scratchings and squeakings, which drew his attention to his pets, all of which were eager for food.

They were a heterogeneous collection, but, for the most part, exceedingly tame, and ready to allow themselves to be handled, constant familiarity with the gentle hand so often thrust into their boxes or cages having robbed it of its terrors.

Dexter's happiest moments were passed here, saving those which Helen continued to make pleasant to the boy; and as soon as his pets had drawn his attention, he took off his jacket and vest, rolled up his sleeves, and began to attend to their wants.

His rabbits—two which he had bought through Bob Dimsted, who made a profit of a hundred per cent, by the transaction—were lifted out of the packing-case they occupied, and in which they were kept by the lid being closed within half an inch, by their pink ears, and immediately stood up on their hind-legs, with drooping fore-paws, their pink noses twitching as they smelt their owner's legs, till he gave them a couple of red carrots, a portion of Dan'l's last year's store.

The next to be taken out was a hedgehog, a prize of his own discovering, and captured one day asleep and tightly rolled up beneath one of the Portugal laurels.

The minute before its box was open, the hedgehog was actively perambulating its dark prison, but the moment it was touched it became a ball, in which form it was rolled out on to the rough floor close to a flower-pot saucer of bread and milk, smuggled up directly after breakfast each morning.

Next came the large grey rat, captured originally in the steel trap, and whose first act might have been anticipated. It did not resent its owner's handling; but the moment it was set down it darted under the loose boards, and remained there until tempted forth by the smell of the bread and milk, and a tempting piece of candle-end, the former of which it helped the hedgehog to eat.

The mice, which lived in the old cigar-box—not white mice, nor those furry little sleepers given to hiding away in nooks and corners for elongated naps, but the regular grey cheese-nibblers—next, after a good deal of scratching, took Dexter's attention. As soon as the lid was open, and the boy's hand thrust in, they ran up his fingers, and then along his arm to his shoulder, wonderfully active and enterprising with their sharp little noses, one even venturing right up the boy's head after a pause by one ear, as if it looked like the cavernous entrance to some extremely snug hiding-place.

"Quiet! Don't tickle," cried Dexter, as he gently put up one hand for the mouse to run upon; and every movement was made so gently that the little creatures were not alarmed, but rested gently upon the boy's hand, as he lifted them down to where he had placed some scraps of cheese and a biscuit, all articles of provender being derived from the stores situated in his trousers-pockets, and that of his jacket.

The list was not yet complete, for an old wire trap had been turned into a cage, and here dwelt Dexter's greatest favourite—about the shabbiest-looking squirrel that ever exhibited bare patches upon its skin, and a tail from which the plume-like hair had departed.

It cost five shillings, all the same, at a little broker's shop down in the most poverty-stricken part of Coleby. It had been bought by the broker at a sale in company with a parrot, a cockatoo, and a canary, all being the property of a lady lately deceased. The canary died before he reached home, and the parrot and cockatoo, on the strength of being able to screech and say a few words, soon found owners, but the squirrel, being shabby-looking, hung on hand, or rather outside the little shop, in a canary's cage, to which it had been promoted after its own revolving wire home had been sold, the purchaser declining to buy the squirrel because he was so shabby.

The poor little brute did not improve afterwards, for he rubbed the hair off his face by constantly trying to get through either the seed or water hole, and every time he—for the sake of exercise—whisked round the cage, it was to the disadvantage of his tail, which daily grew more and more like that of Dexter's rat.

This little unfortunate might have been bought for a shilling by such a boy as Bob Dimsted, but the superfine broadcloth of Dexter's jacket and trousers sent it up to five, and pocket-money had to be saved for weeks before it finally came into the boy's possession, to be watched with the greatest attention to see if its hair would grow.

The squirrel's nose was thrust between the bars of the old wire rat-trap, and when this was not the case, the active little animal performed a kind of evolution suggestive of its trying to make the letters SS in its prison, as skaters contrive them upon the ice, till the wire door was open, and with one bound it was upon its owner's shoulder, then up in the rafters, along one beam and down another, till the first wild excitement of freedom was over, when it dropped upon the floor, and began to forage for food.

Dexter was so truly happy among his little subjects that he sat down upon the edge of an old box, forgetful of other claimants while he attended to the wants of these, calling them by endearing names, giving the rabbits oats from his pockets, a handful of which grain came now and then from Peter.

The boy had intuitively discovered the way to tame his various pets. Fear will accomplish a great deal with dumb animals, but the real secret of winning their confidence is quietness, the art of never alarming them, but by perfectly passive behaviour, and the most gentle of movements, accustom the timid creatures to our presence. The rest was merely habituating them to the fact that their owner was the sole source from which food was to be obtained.

No one told Dexter all this; he learned it in his solitary communings with the animal world. For somehow it seems to be the law of nature that every moving thing goes about in dread of losing its life from something else which either preys upon or persecutes it. The house-sparrow, the most domestic of wild birds, gives a look-out for squalls between every peck, but it will soon learn to distinguish the person who does not molest and who feeds it, even to coming at his call, while fish, those most cold-blooded of creatures, which in an ordinary way go off like a silver flash at the sight of a shadow, will grow so familiar that they will rise to the surface and touch the white finger-tips placed level with the water.

So Dexter sat smiling and almost without movement among his subjects, with the rabbits begging, the mice coming and going, now feeding and now taking a friendly walk up his legs and about his chest, and the squirrel bounding to him from time to time after nuts, which were carried up to the beam overhead, and there rasped through with its keen teeth, the rat the while watching it from the floor till furnished with another nut, as it had pounced upon one the squirrel dropped.

There was yet another pet—one which had been very sluggish all through the winter, but now in fine sunshiny days fairly active, and ready upon this occasion to come forth and be fed.

Dexter rose very slowly, talking gently the while to the mice, which he coaxed to his hand with a piece of cheese, and then placed them upon the floor, while he went to a corner where, turned upside down upon a slate, stood one of Dan'l's large flower-pots, the hole being covered with a piece of perforated zinc.

The pot was lifted, slate and all, turned over, and the slate lifted off, to display quite a nest of damp moss, which, as the boy watched, seemed for a few minutes uninhabited, but all at once it began to heave in one part; there was an increasing movement, as if something was gliding through it, and then from among the soft moss a smooth glistening head with two bright eyes appeared, and a curious little tongue darted out through an opening between the tightly-closed jaws.

There was no doubt of the nature of the creature, which glided forth more and more till it developed itself into a snake of a bright olive green, about thirty inches long, its singular markings and mottlings looking as bright as if it had been varnished.

Dexter watched the curious horizontal undulating movement of the little serpent for some time before he touched it, and then taking it up very gently, its tail hung swinging to and fro, while the front portion curved and undulated, and searched about for a place to rest till it found one upon the boy's arm, up which it began to glide as if the warmth were pleasant, ending by nestling its head in the hollow of the elbow-joint.

Meanwhile there was another rustling and movement of the moss, but nothing showed for a time.

Dexter smoothed and stroked the snake, which seemed to be perfectly content when it was moved, but soon after began to insinuate its blunt rounded head here and there, as if in search of something, till its owner bore it to a large pickle-jar standing upon a beam nearly level with the floor, and upon his placing the reptile's head on a level with the mouth, it glided in at once, inch by inch, over the side, and through Dexter's hands, till it disappeared, the finely-graduated tail passing over the edge, and it was gone, the jar being its larder, in which were stored, ready for consumption, half a dozen of Dan'l's greatest enemies—the slugs.

As Dexter turned to the heap of moss once more, at which one of the rabbits was sniffing, there was another heaving movement, followed by a sharp rap on the boards, the alarm signal of the rabbit which bounded away, while a blunt, broad head and two glistening eyes slowly appeared; then what looked like a short sturdy arm with outstretched fingers pressed down the moss, then another arm began to work, and by slow degrees a huge toad, which seemed to be as broad as it was long, extricated itself from the soft vegetable fibre, and crept away on to the boards, all in the most deliberate manner, as if it was too fat to move fast.

"Hallo, Sam!" said Dexter, laughing. "Why, you've been asleep for a month."

The toad seemed to be looking up at him in an unblinking fashion, but did not move, and Dexter stooped down to touch it, but the moment his hand approached, the reptile rose on its legs, arched its back, lowered its head, swelled itself up, and uttered a low, hissing sound.

Dexter waited for a moment, and then softly began to scratch its side, the result evidently being so satisfactory to the toad that it began by leaning over toward the rubbing fingers, and then more and more, as if the sensation were agreeable in the extreme.

A little coaxing then induced it to crawl slowly into its master's hand, which it more than filled, sitting there perfectly contented till it was placed in another pickle-jar to feed, this one being furnished with wood-lice, pill millipedes, and other luxuries dear to a toad.

The striking of a clock roused Dexter from his communings with his pets, and hastily restoring them to their various habitations, he resumed his jacket, and after a quick glance round descended the steps.

"I couldn't take them with me," he said sadly, as he stood for a few minutes in the old dark stable; "and if I left them without setting them at liberty they would all die."



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

THE GROWING CLOUD.

"Dexter, I want to talk to you," said Helen, a few weeks later. The boy sighed.

"Ah! you are afraid I am going to scold you," she said.

"I don't mind you scolding me," he replied; "but I don't think I have done anything this time, except—"

"Except what?" said Helen, for the boy paused.

"Except talk to Bob Dimsted."

"Have you been out to meet him?"

"No, that I haven't," cried Dexter. "He came to the bottom of the river to fish, and he spoke to me; and if I had not answered, it would have seemed so proud."

Helen was silent for a few moments, not knowing what to say.

"It was not about that," she said, at last, "but about your lessons. Mr Limpney has again been complaining very bitterly to papa about your want of progress."

"Yes," said Dexter, "and he is always scolding me."

"Then why don't you try harder?"

"I do, but I am so stupid."

"You are not, Dexter. You always learn easily enough with me."

"Yes, with you," said the boy quickly, "but you don't want me to say angle ABC is equal to the angle CBA, and all such stuff as that."

"Don't call it stuff," said Helen, smiling in spite of herself; "it is Geometry."

"But it is rum stuff all the same. What's the use of my learning about straight lines and squares and angles?"

"But you are behind with your Algebra too."

"Yes," sighed Dexter, "I'm just as stupid over that."

"Now, Dexter!"

"But I am, quite. Why can't I go on finding out things by Arithmetic, as we used at the schools? It was bother enough to learn that. Oh, what a lot of caning I had over nine times!"

"Over nine times!" said Helen.

"Over a hundred, I should say," cried Dexter. "I mean with strokes on the hand, and taps on the head, and over the shoulders—counting 'em altogether; and wasn't I glad when I knew it all, and twelve times too, and somebody else used to get it instead of me."

"Dexter, papa wishes you to learn these things."

"Do you?" said the boy.

"Yes, very much. I should like to see you master them all."

"Then I will. See if I don't," he cried.

"That's right. Try and please Mr Limpney by being energetic."

"Yes, I'll try," said Dexter; "but I don't think he'll be pleased."

"I shall be. Now, get out your last lessons over which you failed so dismally, and I'll try and help you."

"Will you?" cried the boy, in delighted tones, and he hurriedly obtained his folio, pens, and ink, feeling in such high spirits that if Bob Dimsted had been at hand to continue his temptations they would have been of no avail.

The orange question was first debated, and tried in two or three different ways without success. Then it was laid aside for the time being, while the stage-coaches were rolled out and started, one from London to York, the other from York to London.

"Look here," said Dexter, "I'll try the one that starts from London, while you try the one from York."

That was only another simple equation, but in its novelty to Helen Grayson, as difficult as if it had been quadratic, and for a time no sound was heard but the busy scratching of two pens.

"It's of no good," said Dexter suddenly, and with a look of despair upon his face. "I'm so terribly stupid."

"I'm afraid, Dexter," said Helen merrily, "if you are stupid, I am too."

"What! can't you do it!"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Dexter. Algebra is beyond me."

"Hooray!" cried the boy, leaping from his seat, and dancing round the room, ending by relieving his excitement by turning head over heels on the hearthrug.

"Is that to show your delight at my ignorance, Dexter?" said Helen, smiling.

"No," he cried, colouring up, as he stood before her out of breath. "It was because I was glad, because I was not so stupid as I thought."

"You are not stupid, Dexter," said Helen, smiling. "We must go back to the beginning, and try and find out how to do these things. Does not Mr Limpney explain them to you?"

"Yes," said Dexter dismally, "but when he has done, I don't seem to see what he means, and it does make me so miserable."

"Poor boy!" said Helen gently. "There, you must not make your studies a trouble. They ought to be a great pleasure."

"They would be if you taught me," said Dexter eagerly. "I say, do ask Dr Grayson to send Mr Limpney away, and you help me. I will try so hard."

"A pretty tutor I should make," cried Helen, laughing. "Why, Dexter, I am as ignorant, you see, as you!"

Dexter's face was a study. He seemed hurt and pleased at the same time, and his face was full of reproach as he said—

"Ignorant as me! Oh!"

"There, I'll speak to papa about your lessons, and he will, I have no doubt, say a few words to Mr Limpney about trying to make your tasks easier, and explaining them a little more."

"Will you!" cried the boy excitedly, and he caught her hands in his.

"Certainly I will, Dexter."

"Then I will try so hard, and I'll write down on pieces of paper all the things you don't want me to do, and carry 'em in my pockets, and take them out and look at them sometimes."

"What!" cried Helen, laughing.

"Well, that's what Mr Limpney told me to do, so that I should not forget the things he taught me. Look here!"

He thrust his hand into his trousers-pocket, and brought out eagerly a crumpled-up piece of paper, but as he did so a number of oats flew out all over the room.

"O Dexter! what a pocket! Now what could you do with oats?"

"They were only for my rabbits," he said. "There, those are all nouns that end in us, feminine nouns. Look, tribus, acus, porticus. Isn't it stupid?"

"It is the construction of the language, Dexter."

"Yes; that's what Mr Limpney said. There, I shall put down everything you don't like me to do on a piece of paper that way; and take it out and read it, so as to remember it."

"Try another way, Dexter."

"How?" he said wonderingly.

"By fixing these things in your heart, and not on paper," Helen said, and she left the room.

"Well, that's the way to learn them by heart," said the boy to himself thoughtfully, as with brow knit he seated himself by a table, took a sheet of paper, and began diligently to write in a fairly neat hand, making entry after entry; and the principal of these was—

"Bob Dimsted: not to talk to him."

The next day the doctor had a chat with Mr Limpney respecting Dexter and his progress.

"You see," said the doctor, "the boy has not had the advantages lads have at good schools; and he feels these lessons to be extremely difficult. Give him time."

"Oh, certainly, Doctor Grayson," said Mr Limpney. "I have only one wish, and that is to bring the boy on. He is behind to a terrible extent."

"Yes, yes, of course," said the doctor; "but make it as easy for him as you can—for the present, you know. After a time he will be stronger in the brain."

Mr Limpney, BA, looked very stern. He was naturally a good-hearted, gentlemanly, and scholarly man. He thoroughly understood the subjects he professed to teach. In fact, the ordinary routine of classic and mathematical study had, by long practice, grown so simple to him, that he was accustomed to look with astonishment upon a boy who stumbled over some of the learned blocks.

In addition, year upon year of imparting knowledge to reckless and ill-tempered as well as stupid boys had soured him, and, in consequence, the well-intentioned words of the doctor did not fall on ground ready to receive them quite as it should.

"Complaining about my way of teaching, I suppose," he said to himself. "Well, we shall see."

The result was that Mr Limpney allowed the littleness of his nature to come uppermost, and he laboriously explained the most insignificant portions of the lessons in a sarcastic manner which made Dexter writhe, for he was not slow to find that the tutor was treating him with contempt.

To make matters worse, about that time Dan'l watched him more and more; Peter was unwell and very snappish; there was a little difficulty with Mrs Millett over some very strong camomile-tea which Dexter did not take; and on account of a broken soap-dish which Maria took it into her head Dexter meant to lay to her charge,—that young lady refused even to answer the boy when he spoke; lastly, the doctor seemed to be remarkably thoughtful and stern. Consequently Dexter began to mope in his den over the old stable, and at times wished he was back at the Union Schools.

The wish was momentary, but it left its impression, and the thought that, with the exception of Helen, no one liked him at the doctor's house grew and grew and grew like the cloud that came out of the fisherman's pot when Solomon's seal was removed, and that cloud threatened to become the evil genii that was to overshadow the boy's life.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

DEXTER WRITES A LETTER.

Dexter watched his chance one afternoon when the study was empty, and stole in, looking very guilty.

Maria saw him going in, and went into the kitchen and told Mrs Millett.

"I don't care," she said, "you may say what you like, but it's in him."

"What's in him!" said the old housekeeper, raising her tortoise-shell spectacles so as to get a good look at Maria, who seemed quite excited.

"Master may have tutors as is clergymen to teach him, and Miss Helen may talk and try, but he's got it in him, and you can't get it out."

"Who are you talking about, Maria," said the old lady testily.

"That boy," said Maria, shaking her head. "It's of no good, he's got it in him, and nothing won't get it out."

"Bless my heart!" cried Mrs Millett, thinking first of mustard and water, and then of castor-oil, "has the poor fellow swallowed something?"

"No-o-o-o!" ejaculated Maria, drawing the word out to nearly a foot in length.

"But you said he'd got something in him, Maria. Good gracious me, girl! what do you mean!"

"Sin and wickedness, Mrs Millett. He comes of a bad lot, and Dan'l says he's always keeping bad company."

"Dan'l's a chattering old woman, and had better mind his slugs and snails."

"But the boy's always in mischief; see how he spoiled your silk dress."

"Only spotted it, Maria, and it was clean water. I certainly thought it rained as I went under his window."

"Yes, and you fetched your umbrella."

"I did, Maria. But he's better now. Give him his physic regular, and it does him good."

"Did you find out what was the matter with those salts and senny!"

"No, Maria, I did not. I had to break the glass to get it out; set hard as a stone. It was a good job he did not take it."

Mrs Millett never did find out that Dexter had poured in cement till the glass would hold no more, and his medicine became a solid lump.

"Ah, you'll be tired of him soon," said Maria.

"No, I don't think I shall, Maria. You see he's a boy, and he does behave better. Since I told him not, he hasn't taken my basting-spoon to melt lead for what he calls nickers; and then he hasn't repeated that wicked cruel trick of sitting on the wall."

"Why, I see him striddling the ridge of the old stable, with his back to the weathercock, only yesterday."

"Yes, Maria, but he wasn't fishing over the wall with worms to try and catch Mrs Biggins's ducks, a very cruel trick which he promised me he wouldn't do any more; and he hasn't pretended to be a cat on the roof, nor yet been to me to extract needles which he had stuck through his cheeks out of mischief; and I haven't seen him let himself down from the stable roof with a rope; and, as I told him, that clothes-line wasn't rope."

"Ah, you always sided with the boy, Mrs Millett," said Maria; "but mark my words, some of these mornings we shall get up and find that he has let burglars into the house, and Master and Miss Helen will be robbed and murdered in their beds."

"Maria, you're a goose," said the old housekeeper. "Don't talk such rubbish."

"Ah, you may call it rubbish, Mrs Millett, but if you'd seen that boy just now stealing—"

"Stealing, Maria?"

"Yes 'm, stealing into Master's study like a thief in the night—and after no good, I'll be bound,—you wouldn't be so ready to take his part."

"Gone in to write his lessons," said Mrs Millett. "There, you go and get about your work."

Maria snorted, stuck out her chin, and left the kitchen.

"Yes, she may talk, but I say he's after no good," muttered the housemaid; "and I'm going to see what he's about, or my name ain't what it is."

Meanwhile Dexter was very busy in the study, but in a furtive way writing the following letter in a bold, clear hand, which was, however, rather shaky in the loops of the letters, while the capitals had an inclination to be independent, and to hang away from the small letters of the various words:—

Sir,

Me and a friend have borrowed your boat, for we are going a long journey; but as we may keep it all together, I send to you fourteen shillings and a fourpny piece, which I have saved up, and if that isn't quite quite enough I shall send you some more. I hope you won't mind our taking your boat, but Bob Dimsted says we must have it, or we can't get on.

Yours af—very truly,

Obed Coleby, or To Sir Jhames Danby, Dexter Grayson.

Dexter's spelling was a little shaky here and there, but the letter was pretty intelligible; and, as soon as it was done, he took out his money and made a packet of it, and doubled it up, a task he had nearly finished, when he became aware that the door was partly opened, and as he guiltily thrust the packet into his pocket the door opened widely, and Maria entered, with a sharp, short cough.

"Did I leave my duster here, Master Dexter!" she said, looking round sharply.

Before Dexter could reply, she continued—

"No, I must have left it upstairs."

She whisked out and closed the door with a bang, the very opposite of the way in which she had opened it, and said to herself triumphantly—

"There, I knew he was doing of something wrong, and if I don't find him out, my name ain't Maria."

Dexter hurriedly finished his packet, laying the money in it again after further consideration—in and out amongst the paper, so that the money should not chink, and then placing it in the enclosure with the letter, he tied it up with a piece of the red tape the doctor kept in a little drawer, sealed it, and directed it in his plainest hand to Sir James Danby.

Dexter felt better after this was done, and the jacket-pocket a little bulgy in which his missive was stuffed. He had previously felt a little uneasy about the boat; but though not quite at rest now, he felt better satisfied, and as if this was a duty done.

That same evening, just before it grew dusk, Dexter watched his opportunity, and stole off down the garden, after making sure that he was not watched.

There was no one visible on the other side, and it seemed as if Bob Dimsted was not coming, so after waiting a few minutes Dexter was about to go back to the house, with the intention of visiting his pets, when there was a loud chirping whistle from across the river.

Dexter looked sharply through the gathering gloom; but still no one was visible, and then the chirp came again.

"Are you there, Bob?"

"Why, course I am," said that young gentleman, rising up from where he had lain flat behind a patch of coarse herbage. "I'm not the sort of chap to stay away when I says I'll come. Nearly ready!"

"Ye-es," said Dexter.

"No gammon, you know," said Bob. "I mean it, so no shirking out."

"I mean to come too," said Dexter with a sigh.

"Well, you do sound jolly cheerful; you don't know what a game it's going to be."

"No, not quite—yet," said Dexter. "But how are we going to manage!"

"Well, if ever!" exclaimed Bob. "You are a rum chap, and no mistake. Of course we shall take the boat, and I've got that table-cloth ready for a sail, and a bit of rope to hoist it up."

Dexter winced about that table-cloth, one which he had borrowed at Bob's wish from the housekeeper's room.

"But must we take that boat?"

"Why, of course, but we shall send it back some day as good as new, hanging behind a ship, and then have it sent up the river. I know lots of fellows who'll put it back for me if I ask 'em."

Dexter felt a little better satisfied, and then listened to his companion's plans, which were very simple, but effective all the same, though common honesty did not come in.

The conversation was carried on across the river, and to ensure its not being heard, Dexter lay down on the grass and put his lips close to the water, Bob Dimsted doing the same, when, it being quite a still evening, conversation became easy.

"What are your people doing now?" said Bob, after they had been talking some time.

"Dr Grayson is writing, and Miss Grayson reading."

"Why, we might go now—easy."

"No," said Dexter. "If we did, it would be found out directly, and we should be fetched back, and then, I dare say, they'd send me again to the school."

"And yer don't want to go there again, do you!"

"No," said Dexter, with a shudder. "Don't forget the ball of string I told you about?"

"No, I've got that," replied Bob sharply. "And p'r'aps that won't be long enough. It's very deep in the sea. Now mind, you're here."

"Yes, I'll mind."

"If yer don't come, I won't never forgive you for making a fool of me."

"I won't do that," said Dexter; and then after a little more hesitation as to something he particularly wanted to do, and which he saw no other way of doing, he whispered—

"Bob!"

"Hullo!"

"Will you do something for me before you come!"

"Yes, if I can. But I say, don't you forget to bring a big bundle of your clothes and things, and if you don't want 'em all, I can wear some of 'em."

Dexter was silent.

"And as much money as you can; and, I say, the old un never give you a watch, did he?"

"No."

"You wouldn't like to borrow his, would you!"

"No, of course not," said Dexter indignantly.

"Oh, I don't want you to, unless you like. Only watches is useful at sea. Sailors find out where they are by their watches. I don't quite know how, but we could soon find out. Whatcher want me to do!"

"I want you to take a little parcel to Sir James Danby's."

"I ain't going to carry no parcels," said Bob importantly.

"It's only a very little one, as big as your hand. You know the letter-box in Sir James's big door!"

"I should just think I do," said Bob, with a hoarse laugh. "Me and two more boys put a lighted cracker in last fift' o' November."

"I want you to go there last thing," said Dexter, as he could not help wondering whether the cracker made a great deal of noise in the letter-box; "and to drop the packet in just as if it was a letter. I mean just before you come."

"But what for?"

"Because it must be taken there. I want it taken."

"O very well. Where is it?"

"Here," said Dexter, taking out his carefully tied and sealed packet.

"Chuck it across."

"Get up, then, and be ready to catch it."

"All right! Now then, shy away."

Dexter drew back from the river, and aiming carefully at where he could see Bob's dim figure, he measured the distance with his eye, and threw.

Slap!

"Got it!" cried Bob. And then, "Oh!"

There was a splash.

"Just kitched on the top o' my finger, and bounced off," whispered the boy excitedly.

"O Bob, what have you done!"

"Well, I couldn't help it. I ain't a howl.—How could I see in the dark!"

"Can't you see where it fell in!"

"Why, ain't I a-trying. Don't be in such a fuss."

Dexter felt as if their expedition was at an end, and he stood listening with a breast full of despair as Bob lay down at the edge of the river, and rolling up his sleeve began feeling about in the shallow water.

"It's no good," he said. "It's gone."

"O Bob!"

"Well, what's the good of 'O Bobbing' a fellow? I couldn't help it. It's gone, and—Here: I got it!"

Bob rose up and gave his arm a whirl to drive off some of the moisture.

"It's all right," he said. "I'll wrap it in my hankychy, and it'll soon dry in my pocket, I say, what's inside?"

"Something for Sir James."

"Oh! S'pose you don't know!"

"Is the paper undone?" said Dexter anxiously.

"No, it's all right, I tell yer, and it'll soon get dry."

"And you'll be sure and take it to Sir James's."

"Now?"

"No, no, last thing to-night, just before you come, and don't ring, only drop the thing in the letter-box."

"All right. Didn't I get my arm wet! There, I'm going home to get it dry, and put the rest of my things ready. Mind you bring yours all right."

Dexter did not answer, but his companion's words made him feel very low-spirited, for he had a good deal in his mind, and he stood listening to Bob, as that young worthy went off, whistling softly, to make his final preparations for the journey down the river to sea, and then to foreign lands, and the attempt seemed now to begin growing very rapidly, till it was like a dense dark cloud rising higher and higher, and something seemed to keep asking the boy whether he was doing right.

He felt that he was not, but, at the same time, the idea that he was thoroughly misunderstood, and that he would never be happy at the doctor's, came back as strongly as ever.

"They all look upon me as a workhouse boy," he muttered, "and Bob's right. I'd better go away."



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

PREPARATIONS FOR FLIGHT.

Dexter listened till Bob Dimsted's whistle died away, and then stole from the place of appointment to go back to the house, where he struck off to the left, and made his way into the loft, where he took a small piece of candle from his pocket, lit it, and set it in an old ginger-beer bottle.

The light roused the various occupants of the boxes and cages. That and the step were suggestive of food, and sundry squeakings and scratchings arose, with, from time to time, a loud rap on the floor given by one of the rabbits.

There was a lonely desolate feeling in Dexter's breast as he set the rat at liberty, for the furtive-looking creature to hurry beneath the boards which formed the rough floor.

Then the mice were taken out of their box, and the first movement of the little creatures was to run all over their master, but he hurriedly took them off him, feeling more miserable than ever, and ready to repent of the step he was about to take.

The rabbits were carried downstairs, and turned out into the yard, Dexter having a belief that as they had once grown tame perhaps, many generations back, they might now as easily grow wild, and if in the process they made very free with old Dan'l's vegetables, until they escaped elsewhere, it would not be very serious.

As it was, they crept here and there over the stones for a few moments, and then went off investigating, and evidently puzzled by their freedom.

The hedgehog and squirrel were brought down together, and carried right into the garden, where the former was placed upon one of the flower-beds, and disappeared at once; the latter held up to a branch of the ornamental spruce, into which it ran, and then there was a scuffling noise, and Dexter ran away back to the stable, afraid to stop, lest the little ragged jacketed animal should leap back upon him, and make him more weak than he was.

He climbed again to the loft, hearing a series of tiny squeaks as he mounted—squeaks emanating from his mice, and directly after he nearly crushed the rat, by stepping upon it as the little animal ran up to be fed.

He had come for the toad and snake, and hurriedly plunging his hand into the big pot he found Sam the toad, seated right at the top, evidently eager to start on a nocturnal ramble, but the snake was coiled up asleep.

It was a curious pet, that toad, but somehow, as it sat nestled up all of a squat in the boy's warm hand, he felt as if he should like to take it with him. It was not big, and would take up little room, and cost nothing to feed.

Why not?

He hesitated as he descended and crossed the yard to the garden, and decided that he would not. Bob Dimsted might not like it.

He reached the garden, and crossed the lawn to the sunny verbena bed. That seemed a suitable place for the snake, and he tenderly placed it, writhing feebly, among the thin pegged-down strands.

Then came the other reptile's turn.

They had been friends and even companions together in the big flower-pot, Dexter argued, so they should have the chance of being friends again in the flower-bed.

The toad was in his left hand, and going down on one knee he separated the verbenas a little, and then placed his hand, knuckles downward, on the soft moist earth, opening his fingers slowly the while.

"Good-bye, Sam," he said, in a low voice. "You and I have had some good fun together, old chap, and I hope you will be very happy when I'm gone."

He slowly spread his hand flat, so that his fingers and thumb ceased to form so many posts and rails about the reptile, or a fleshly cage. In imagination he saw the dusky grey creature crawl off his hand gladly into the dewy bed, and it made him more sad to find how ready everything was to be free, and he never for a moment thought about how he was going to play as ungrateful a part, and march off too.

"Good-bye, Sam," he said, as he recalled how he had played with and tickled that toad, and how it had enjoyed it all, and turned over to be rubbed. Then he seemed to see it walk in its heavy, cumbrous way slowly off, with its bright golden eyes glistening, till it sat down in a hollow, and watched him go.

But it was all fancy. The toad did not crawl out of his hand among the verbenas, nor go right away, but sat perfectly motionless where it was, evidently, from its acting, perfectly warm, comfortable, and contented.

"Well, Sam, why don't you go!" said Dexter softly. "Do you hear?"

He gave his hand a jar by striking the back on the earth, but the toad did not move, and when he touched it with his right hand, it was to find the fat squat reptile squeezed up together like a bun.

He stroked it, and rubbed it, as he had rubbed it scores of times before, and the creature once more pressed up against his fingers, while Dexter forgot everything else in the gratification of finding his ugly pet appreciate his attentions.

"Now then! off you go!" he cried quickly; but the creature did not stir.

"Are you going?" said Dexter. "Come: march."

Again it did not stir.

"He don't want to go," cried the boy, changing it from, one hand to the other; and the next moment he was holding it, nose downward, over his jacket-pocket, when the toad, pretty actively for one of its kind, began to work its legs and dived slowly down beneath the pocket-handkerchief crumpled-up there, and settled itself at the bottom.

"It seems to know," cried Dexter. "And it shall go with me after all."

Curious boy! some one may say, but Dexter had had few opportunities for turning his affections in ordinary directions, and hence it was that they were lavished upon a toad.

Indoors, when he stole back after setting all his pets at liberty to shift for themselves, Dexter felt very guilty. He encountered Mrs Millett in the hall, and a thrill ran through him as she exclaimed—

"Ah, there you are, Master Dexter, I just want a few words with you."

"Found out!" thought the guilty conscience, which needs no accuser.

"Now just you look here, sir," said the old housekeeper, in a loud voice, as she literally button-holed the boy, by hooking one thin finger in his jacket, so that he could not get away, "I know all."

"You—you know everything," faltered the boy.

"Yes, sir. Ah, you may well look 'mure. You little thought I knew."

"How—how did you find out?" he stammered.

"Ah! how did I find out, indeed! Now, look here, am I to go straight to the doctor and tell him!"

"No, no, pray don't," whispered Dexter, catching her arm.

"Well, then, I must tell Miss Helen."

"No, no, not this time," cried Dexter imploringly; and his tone softened the old lady, who shook the borders of her cap at him.

"Well, I don't know what to say," said Mrs Millett softly. "They certainly ought to know."

Dexter gazed at her wildly. He knew that everything must come out, but it was to have been in a few hours' time, when he was far away, and deaf to the angry words and reproaches. To hear them now seemed more than he could bear. It could not be. Bob Dimsted must think and say what he liked, and be as angry and unforgiving as was possible. It could not be now. He must plead to the old housekeeper for pardon, and give up all idea of going away.

"Ah!" she said. "I see you are sorry for it, then."

"Yes, yes," he whispered. "So sorry, and—and—"

"You'll take it this time, like a good boy!"

"Take it?"

"Yes, sir. Ah! you can't deceive me. Last time I saw the empty glass I knew as well as could be that you hadn't taken it, for the outside of the glass wasn't sticky, and there were no marks of your mouth at the edge. I always put plenty of sugar in it for you, and that showed."

"The camomile-tea!" thought Dexter, a dose of which the old lady expected him to take about once a week, and which never did him any harm, if it never did him any good.

"And you'll take it to-night, sir, like a good boy!"

"Yes, yes, I will indeed," said Dexter, with the full intention of keeping his word out of gratitude for his escape.

"Now, that's like being a good boy," said the old lady, smiling, and extricating her fingers from his button-hole, so as to stroke his hair. "It will do you no end of good; and how you have improved since you have been here, my dear, your hair's grown so nicely, and you've got such a good pink colour in your cheeks. It's the camomile-tea done that."

Mrs Millett leaned forward with her hands on the boy's shoulder, and kissed him in so motherly a way that Dexter felt a catching of the breath, and kissed her again.

"That's right," said the old lady. "You ain't half so bad as Maria pretends you are. 'It's only a bit of mischief now and then,' I says to her, 'and he's only a boy,' and that's what you are, ain't it, my dear?"

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