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Title: New Treasure Seekers - or, The Bastable Children in Search of a Fortune
Author: Nesbit, E. (Edith), 1858-1924
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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NEW TREASURE SEEKERS

[Illustration: THE STAIR WAS OF STONE, ARCHED OVERHEAD LIKE CHURCHES.]

NEW TREASURE SEEKERS

Or The Bastable Children in Search of a Fortune

by

E. NESBIT
          Author of "The Treasure Seekers,"
          "The Would-Be-Goods," Etc.

With Illustrations by Gordon Browne and Lewis Baumer [Illustration]



[Illustration]

New York
Frederick A. Stokes Company
Publishers



          TO
          ARTHUR WATTS
          (OSWALD IN PARIS)
          FROM
          E. NESBIT

          _Montparnasse, 1904._



NEW TREASURE SEEKERS


[Illustration]



CONTENTS


                                                               PAGE
  THE ROAD TO ROME; OR, THE SILLY STOWAWAY                      15

  THE CONSCIENCE-PUDDING                                        37

  ARCHIBALD THE UNPLEASANT                                      62

  OVER THE WATER TO CHINA                                       88

  THE YOUNG ANTIQUARIES                                        113

  THE INTREPID EXPLORER AND HIS LIEUTENANT                     136

  THE TURK IN CHAINS; OR, RICHARD'S REVENGE                    161

  THE GOLDEN GONDOLA                                           185

  THE FLYING LODGER                                            209

  THE SMUGGLER'S REVENGE                                       236

  ZAÏDA, THE MYSTERIOUS PROPHETESS OF THE GOLDEN ORIENT        262

  THE LADY AND THE LICENSE; OR, FRIENDSHIP'S GARLAND           287

  THE POOR AND NEEDY                                           311



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                           PAGE

  THE STAIR WAS OF STONE, ARCHED OVERHEAD LIKE CHURCHES _Frontispiece_

  DORA DID SOME WHITE SEWING                                  19

  THEY LAUGHED EVER SO                                        34

  AND HE WAS AWFULLY RUDE TO THE SERVANTS                     69

  THE OTHERS CAME UP BY THE ROPE-LADDER                       73

  SO OSWALD OPENED THE TRAP-DOOR AND SQUINTED DOWN, AND
    THERE WAS THAT ARCHIBALD                                  75

  "WHAT ARE YOU STARING AT?" HE ASKED. "NYANG, NYANG," JANE
    ANSWERED TAUNTINGLY                                       83

  WHEN FATHER CAME HOME THERE WAS AN AWFUL ROW                85

  IT SEEMS THE SAILOR WAS ASLEEP, BUT OF COURSE WE DID NOT
    KNOW, OR WE SHOULD NOT HAVE DISTURBED HIM                 94

  WE WENT ROUND A CORNER RATHER FAST, AND CAME SLAP INTO
    THE LARGEST WOMAN I HAVE EVER SEEN                        99

  IT WAS INDEED A CELESTIAL CHINAMAN IN DEEP DIFFICULTIES    103

  ON THE SIDEBOARD WAS A BLUEY-WHITE CROCKERY IMAGE          107

  OSWALD LISTENED AS CAREFULLY AS HE COULD, BUT DENNY
    ALWAYS BUZZES SO WHEN HE WHISPERS                        117

  IT WAS NOT TILL NEXT DAY THAT HE OWNED THAT THE TYPEWRITER
    HAD BEEN A FIEND IN DISGUISE                             123

  THE STATIONMASTER AND PORTER LOOKED RESPECTFULLY AT US     127

  HER VOICE WHEN SHE TOLD US WE WERE TRESPASSING WAS NOT SO
    FURIOUS                                                  131

  THE LUNCH WAS A PERFECT DREAM OF A.1.-NESS                 137

  OSWALD DID NOT STRIKE THE NEXT MATCH CAREFULLY ENOUGH      145

  WITH SCISSORS AND GAS PLIERS THEY CUT EVERY FUSE           157

  "HI, BRIGANDS!" HE EXCLAIMED                               167

  IT WAS RATHER DIFFICULT TO GET ANYTHING THE SHAPE OF A
    TURKEY                                                   173

  WHEN THE DOOR WAS SHUT HE SAID, "I AIN'T GOT MUCH TO SAY,
    YOUNG GEMMEN"                                            179

  THE FIVE OTHERS                                            191

  OSWALD SAW THE DRIVER WINK AS HE PUT HIS BOOT ON THE STEP,
    AND THE PORTER WHO WAS OPENING THE CAB DOOR WINKED BACK  201

  HE LOOKED AT OSWALD'S BOOTS                                203

  HE FETCHED DOWN HALF A DOZEN PLANKS AND THE WORKMAN        218

  "HOW MUCH?" SAID THE GENTLEMAN SHORTLY                     222

  "THEN I'LL MAKE YOU!" HE SAID, CATCHING HOLD OF OSWALD     232

  A COASTGUARD ORDERED US QUITE HARSHLY                      244

  SURE ENOUGH IT WAS SEA-WATER, AS THE UNAMIABLE ONE SAID
    WHEN HE HAD TASTED IT                                    259

  "I SAY, BEALIE DEAR, YOU'VE GOT A BOOK UP AT YOUR PLACE"   265

  ALICE BEAT THE DONKEY FROM THE CART, THE REST SHOUTED      272

  "WE'VE GOT MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS," SAID NOËL                 280



_THE ROAD TO ROME; OR, THE SILLY STOWAWAY_


WE Bastables have only two uncles, and neither of them, are our
own natural-born relatives. One is a great-uncle, and the other is
the  uncle from his birth of Albert, who used to live next door to
us in  the Lewisham Road. When we first got to know him (it was over
some baked potatoes, and is quite another story) we called him
Albert-next-door's-Uncle, and then Albert's uncle for short. But
Albert's uncle and my father joined in taking a jolly house in the
country, called the Moat House, and we stayed there for our summer
holidays; and it was there, through an accident to a pilgrim with peas
in his shoes--that's another story too--that we found Albert's uncle's
long-lost love; and as she was very old indeed--twenty-six next
birthday--and he was ever so much older in the vale of years, he had to
get married almost directly, and it was fixed for about Christmas-time.
And when our holidays came the whole six of us went down to the Moat
House with Father and Albert's uncle. We never had a Christmas in the
country before. It was simply ripping. And the long-lost love--her name
was Miss Ashleigh, but we were allowed to call her Aunt Margaret even
before the wedding made it really legal for us to do so--she and her
jolly clergyman brother used to come over, and sometimes we went to the
Cedars, where they live, and we had games and charades, and
hide-and-seek, and Devil in the Dark, which is a game girls pretend to
like, and very few do really, and crackers and a Christmas-tree for the
village children, and everything you can jolly well think of.

And all the time, whenever we went to the Cedars, there was all sorts of
silly fuss going on about the beastly wedding; boxes coming from London
with hats and jackets in, and wedding presents--all glassy and silvery,
or else brooches and chains--and clothes sent down from London to choose
from. I can't think how a lady can want so many petticoats and boots and
things just because she's going to be married. No man would think of
getting twenty-four shirts and twenty-four waistcoats, and so on, just
to be married in.

"It's because they're going to Rome, I think," Alice said, when we
talked it over before the fire in the kitchen the day Mrs. Pettigrew
went to see her aunt, and we were allowed to make toffee. "You see, in
Rome you can only buy Roman clothes, and I think they're all stupid
bright colours--at least I know the sashes are. You stir now, Oswald.
My face is all burnt black."

Oswald took the spoon, though it was really not his turn by three; but
he is one whose nature is so that he cannot make a fuss about little
things--and he knows he can make toffee.

"Lucky hounds," H.O. said, "to be going to Rome. I wish I was."

"Hounds isn't polite, H.O., dear," Dora said; and H.O. said--

"Well, lucky bargees, then."

"It's the dream of my life to go to Rome," Noël said. Noël is our poet
brother. "Just think of what the man says in the 'Roman Road.' I wish
they'd take me."

"They won't," Dicky said. "It costs a most awful lot. I heard Father
saying so only yesterday."

"It would only be the fare," Noël answered; "and I'd go third, or even
in a cattle-truck, or a luggage van. And when I got there I could easily
earn my own living. I'd make ballads and sing them in the streets. The
Italians would give me lyres--that's the Italian kind of shilling, they
spell it with an _i_. It shows how poetical they are out there, their
calling it that."

"But you couldn't make Italian poetry," H.O. said, staring at Noël with
his mouth open.

"Oh, I don't know so much about that," Noël said. "I could jolly soon
learn anyway, and just to begin with I'd do it in English. There are
sure to be some people who would understand. And if they didn't, don't
you think their warm Southern hearts would be touched to see a pale,
slender, foreign figure singing plaintive ballads in an unknown tongue?
I do. Oh! they'd chuck along the lyres fast enough--they're not hard and
cold like North people. Why, every one here is a brewer, or a baker, or
a banker, or a butcher, or something dull. Over there they're all
bandits, or vineyardiners, or play the guitar, or something, and they
crush the red grapes and dance and laugh in the sun--you know jolly well
they do."

"This toffee's about done," said Oswald suddenly. "H.O., shut your silly
mouth and get a cupful of cold water." And then, what with dropping a
little of the toffee into the water to see if it was ready, and pouring
some on a plate that wasn't buttered and not being able to get it off
again when it was cold without breaking the plate, and the warm row
there was about its being one of the best dinner-service ones, the wild
romances of Noël's poetical intellect went out of our heads altogether;
and it was not till later, and when deep in the waters of affliction,
that they were brought back to us.

Next day H.O. said to Dora, "I want to speak to you all by yourself and
me." So they went into the secret staircase that creaks and hasn't been
secret now for countless years; and after that Dora did some white
sewing she wouldn't let us look at, and H.O. helped her.

[Illustration: DORA DID SOME WHITE SEWING.]

"It's another wedding present, you may depend," Dicky said--"a beastly
surprise, I shouldn't wonder." And no more was said. The rest of us were
busy skating on the moat, for it was now freezing hard. Dora never did
care for skating; she says it hurts her feet.

And now Christmas and Boxing Day passed like a radiating dream, and it
was the wedding-day. We all had to go to the bride's mother's house
before the wedding, so as to go to church with the wedding party. The
girls had always wanted to be somebody's bridesmaids, and now they
were--in white cloth coats like coachmen, with lots of little capes, and
white beaver bonnets. They didn't look so bad, though rather as if they
were in a Christmas card; and their dresses were white silk like
pocket-handkerchiefs under the long coats. And their shoes had real
silver buckles our great Indian uncle gave them. H.O. went back just as
the waggonette was starting, and came out with a big brown-paper parcel.
We thought it was the secret surprise present Dora had been making, and,
indeed, when I asked her she nodded. We little recked what it really
was, or how our young brother was going to shove himself forward once
again. He _will_ do it. Nothing you say is of any lasting use.

There were a great many people at the wedding--quite crowds. There was
lots to eat and drink, and though it was all cold, it did not matter,
because there were blazing fires in every fireplace in the house, and
the place all decorated with holly and mistletoe and things. Every one
seemed to enjoy themselves very much, except Albert's uncle and his
blushing bride; and they looked desperate. Every one said how sweet she
looked, but Oswald thought she looked as if she didn't like being
married as much as she expected. She was not at all a blushing bride
really; only the tip of her nose got pink, because it was rather cold in
the church. But she is very jolly.

Her reverend but nice brother read the marriage service. He reads better
than any one I know, but he is not a bit of a prig really, when you come
to know him.

When the rash act was done Albert's uncle and his bride went home in a
carriage all by themselves, and then we had the lunch and drank the
health of the bride in real champagne, though Father said we kids must
only have just a taste. I'm sure Oswald, for one, did not want any more;
one taste was quite enough. Champagne is like soda-water with medicine
in it. The sherry we put sugar in once was much more decent.

Then Miss Ashleigh--I mean Mrs. Albert's uncle--went away and took off
her white dress and came back looking much warmer. Dora heard the
housemaid say afterwards that the cook had stopped the bride on the
stairs with "a basin of hot soup, that would take no denial, because the
bride, poor dear young thing, not a bite or sup had passed her lips that
day." We understood then why she had looked so unhappy. But Albert's
uncle had had a jolly good breakfast--fish and eggs and bacon and three
goes of marmalade. So it was not hunger made him sad. Perhaps he was
thinking what a lot of money it cost to be married and go to Rome.

A little before the bride went to change, H.O. got up and reached his
brown-paper parcel from under the sideboard and sneaked out. We thought
he might have let us see it given, whatever it was. And Dora said she
had understood he meant to; but it was his secret.

The bride went away looking quite comfy in a furry cloak, and Albert's
uncle cheered up at the last and threw off the burden of his cares and
made a joke. I forget what it was; it wasn't a very good one, but it
showed he was trying to make the best of things.

Then the Bridal Sufferers drove away, with the luggage on a cart--heaps
and heaps of it, and we all cheered and threw rice and slippers. Mrs.
Ashleigh and some other old ladies cried.

And then every one said, "What a pretty wedding!" and began to go. And
when our waggonette came round we all began to get in. And suddenly
Father said--

"Where's H.O.?" And we looked round. He was in absence.

"Fetch him along sharp--some of you," Father said; "I don't want to keep
the horses standing here in the cold all day."

So Oswald and Dicky went to fetch him along. We thought he might have
wandered back to what was left of the lunch--for he is young and he does
not always know better. But he was not there, and Oswald did not even
take a crystallised fruit in passing. He might easily have done this,
and no one would have minded, so it would not have been wrong. But it
would have been ungentlemanly. Dicky did not either. H.O. was not there.

We went into the other rooms, even the one the old ladies were crying
in, but of course we begged their pardons. And at last into the kitchen,
where the servants were smart with white bows and just sitting down to
their dinner, and Dicky said--

"I say, cookie love, have you seen H.O.?"

"Don't come here with your imperence!" the cook said, but she was
pleased with Dicky's unmeaning compliment all the same.

"_I_ see him," said the housemaid. "He was colloguing with the butcher
in the yard a bit since. He'd got a brown-paper parcel. Perhaps he got a
lift home."

So we went and told Father, and about the white present in the parcel.

"I expect he was ashamed to give it after all," Oswald said, "so he
hooked off home with it."

And we got into the wagonette.

"It wasn't a present, though," Dora said; "it was a different kind of
surprise--but it really is a secret."

Our good Father did not command her to betray her young brother.

But when we got home H.O. wasn't there. Mrs. Pettigrew hadn't seen him,
and he was nowhere about. Father biked back to the Cedars to see if he'd
turned up. No. Then all the gentlemen turned out to look for him through
the length and breadth of the land.

"He's too old to be stolen by gipsies," Alice said.

"And too ugly," said Dicky.

"Oh _don't_!" said both the girls; "and now when he's lost, too!"

We had looked for a long time before Mrs. Pettigrew came in with a
parcel she said the butcher had left. It was not addressed, but we knew
it was H.O.'s, because of the label on the paper from the shop where
Father gets his shirts. Father opened it at once.

Inside the parcel we found H.O.'s boots and braces, his best hat and his
chest-protector. And Oswald felt as if we had found his skeleton.

"Any row with any of you?" Father asked. But there hadn't been any.

"Was he worried about anything? Done anything wrong, and afraid to own
up?"

We turned cold, for we knew what he meant. That parcel was so horribly
like the lady's hat and gloves that she takes off on the seashore and
leaves with a letter saying it has come to this.

"_No_, _no_, NO, NO!" we all said. "He was perfectly jolly all the
morning."

Then suddenly Dicky leaned on the table and one of H.O.'s boots toppled
over, and there was something white inside. It was a letter. H.O. must
have written it before we left home. It said--

          "DEAR FATHER AND EVERY ONE,--I am going to be a
          Clown. When I am rich and reveared I will come
          back rolling.

                          "Your affectionate son,
                                   "HORACE OCTAVIUS BASTABLE."

"Rolling?" Father said.

"He means rolling in money," Alice said. Oswald noticed that every one
round the table where H.O.'s boots were dignifiedly respected as they
lay, was a horrid pale colour, like when the salt is thrown into
snapdragons.

"Oh dear!" Dora cried, "that was it. He asked me to make him a clown's
dress and keep it deeply secret. He said he wanted to surprise Aunt
Margaret and Albert's uncle. And I didn't think it was wrong," said
Dora, screwing up her face; she then added, "Oh dear, oh dear, oh, oh!"
and with these concluding remarks she began to howl.

Father thumped her on the back in an absent yet kind way.

"But where's he gone?" he said, not to any one in particular. "I saw the
butcher; he said H.O. asked him to take a parcel home and went back
round the Cedars."

Here Dicky coughed and said--

"I didn't think he meant anything, but the day after Noël was talking
about singing ballads in Rome, and getting poet's lyres given him, H.O.
did say if Noël had been really keen on the Roman lyres and things he
could easily have been a stowaway, and gone unknown."

"A stowaway!" said my Father, sitting down suddenly and hard.

"In Aunt Margaret's big dress basket--the one she let him hide in when
we had hide-and-seek there. He talked a lot about it after Noël had said
that about the lyres--and the Italians being so poetical, you know. You
remember that day we had toffee."

My Father is prompt and decisive in action, so is his eldest son.

"I'm off to the Cedars," he said.

"Do let me come, Father," said the decisive son. "You may want to send a
message."

So in a moment Father was on his bike and Oswald on the step--a
dangerous but delightful spot--and off to the Cedars.

"Have your teas; and _don't_ any more of you get lost, and don't sit up
if we're late," Father howled to them as we rushed away. How glad then
the thoughtful Oswald was that he was the eldest. It was very cold in
the dusk on the bicycle, but Oswald did not complain.

At the Cedars my father explained in a few manly but well-chosen words,
and the apartment of the dear departed bride was searched.

"Because," said my father, "if H.O. really was little ass enough to get
into that basket, he must have turned out something to make room for
himself."

Sure enough, when they came to look, there was a great bundle rolled in
a sheet under the bed--all lace things and petticoats and ribbons and
dressing-gowns and ladies' flummery.

"If you will put the things in something else, I'll catch the express to
Dover and take it with me," Father said to Mrs. Ashleigh; and while she
packed the things he explained to some of the crying old ladies who had
been unable to leave off, how sorry he was that a son of his--but you
know the sort of thing.

Oswald said: "Father, I wish you'd let me come too. I won't be a bit of
trouble."

Perhaps it was partly because my Father didn't want to let me walk home
in the dark, and he didn't want to worry the Ashleighs any more by
asking them to send me home. He said this was why, but I hope it was his
loving wish to have his prompt son, so like himself in his decisiveness,
with him.

We went.

It was an anxious journey. We knew how far from pleased the bride would
be to find no dressing-gowns and ribbons, but only H.O. crying and cross
and dirty, as likely as not, when she opened the basket at the hotel at
Dover.

Father smoked to pass the time, but Oswald had not so much as a
peppermint or a bit of Spanish liquorice to help him through the
journey. Yet he bore up.

When we got out at Dover there were Mr. and Mrs. Albert's uncle on the
platform.

"Hullo," said Albert's uncle. "What's up? Nothing wrong at home, I
hope."

"We've only lost H.O.," said my father. "You don't happen to have him
with you?"

"No; but you're joking," said the bride. "We've lost a dress-basket."

_Lost a dress-basket!_ The words struck us dumb, but my father recovered
speech and explained. The bride was very glad when we said we had
brought her ribbons and things, but we stood in anxious gloom, for now
H.O. was indeed lost. The dress-basket might be on its way to Liverpool,
or rocking on the Channel, and H.O. might never be found again. Oswald
did not say these things. It is best to hold your jaw when you want to
see a thing out, and are liable to be sent to bed at a strange hotel if
any one happens to remember you.

Then suddenly the station master came with a telegram.

It said: "A dress-basket without label at Cannon Street detained for
identification suspicious sounds from inside detain inquirers dynamite
machine suspected."

He did not show us this till my Father had told him about H.O., which it
took some time for him to believe, and then he did and laughed, and said
he would wire them to get the dynamite machine to speak, and if so, to
take it out and keep it till its Father called for it.

So back we went to London, with hearts a little lighter, but not gay,
for we were a very long time from the last things we had had to eat. And
Oswald was almost sorry he had not taken those crystallised fruits.

It was quite late when we got to Cannon Street, and we went straight
into the cloakroom, and there was the man in charge, a very jolly chap,
sitting on a stool. And there was H.O., the guilty stowaway, dressed in
a red-and-white clown's dress, very dusty, and his face as dirty as I
have ever seen it, sitting on some one else's tin box, with his feet on
some body else's portmanteau, eating bread and cheese, and drinking ale
out of a can.

My Father claimed him at once, and Oswald identified the basket. It was
very large. There was a tray on the top with hats in it, and H.O. had
this on top of him. We all went to bed in Cannon Street Hotel. My Father
said nothing to H.O. that night. When we were in bed I tried to get H.O.
to tell me all about it, but he was too sleepy and cross. It was the
beer and the knocking about in the basket, I suppose. Next day we went
back to the Moat House, where the raving anxiousness of the others had
been cooled the night before by a telegram from Dover.

My Father said he would speak to H.O. in the evening. It is very horrid
not to be spoken to at once and get it over. But H.O. certainly deserved
something.

It is hard to tell this tale, because so much of it happened all at once
but at different places. But this is what H.O. said to us about it. He
said--

"Don't bother--let me alone."

But we were all kind and gentle, and at last we got it out of him what
had happened. He doesn't tell a story right from the beginning like
Oswald and some of the others do, but from his disjunctured words the
author has made the following narration. This is called editing, I
believe.

"It was all Noël's fault," H.O. said; "what did he want to go jawing
about Rome for?--and a clown's as good as a beastly poet, anyhow! You
remember that day we made toffee? Well, I thought of it then."

"You didn't tell us."

"Yes, I did. I half told Dicky. He never said don't, or you'd better
not, or gave me any good advice or anything. It's his fault as much as
mine. Father ought to speak to him to-night the same as me--and Noël,
too."

We bore with him just then because we wanted to hear the story. And we
made him go on.

"Well--so I thought if Noël's a cowardy custard I'm not--and I wasn't
afraid of being in the basket, though it was quite dark till I cut the
air-holes with my knife in the railway van. I think I cut the string off
the label. It fell off afterwards, and I saw it through the hole, but of
course I couldn't say anything. I thought they'd look after their silly
luggage better than that. It was all their fault I was lost."

"Tell us how you did it, H.O. dear," Dora said; "never mind about it
being everybody else's fault."

"It's yours as much as any one's, if you come to that," H.O. said. "You
made me the clown dress when I asked you. You never said a word about
not. So there!"

"Oh, H.O., you _are_ unkind!" Dora said. "You know you said it was for a
surprise for the bridal pair."

"So it would have been, if they'd found me at Rome, and I'd popped up
like what I meant to--like a jack-in-the-box--and said, 'Here we are
again!' in my clown's clothes, at them. But it's all spoiled, and
father's going to speak to me this evening." H.O. sniffed every time he
stopped speaking. But we did not correct him then. We wanted to hear
about everything.

"Why didn't you tell me straight out what you were going to do?" Dicky
asked.

"Because you'd jolly well have shut me up. You always do if I want to do
anything you haven't thought of yourself."

"What did you take with you, H.O.?" asked Alice in a hurry, for H.O. was
now sniffing far beyond a whisper.

"Oh, I'd saved a lot of grub, only I forgot it at the last. It's under
the chest of drawers in our room. And I had my knife--and I changed into
the clown's dress in the cupboard at the Ashleighs--over my own things
because I thought it would be cold. And then I emptied the rotten girl's
clothes out and hid them--and the top-hatted tray I just put it on a
chair near, and I got into the basket, and I lifted the tray up over my
head and sat down and fitted it down over me--it's got webbing bars, you
know, across it. And none of you would ever have thought of it, let
alone doing it."

"I should hope not," Dora said, but H.O. went on unhearing.

"I began to think perhaps I wished I hadn't directly they strapped up
the basket. It was beastly hot and stuffy--I had to cut an air-hole in
the cart, and I cut my thumb; it was so bumpety. And they threw me about
as if I was coals--and wrong way up as often as not. And the train was
awful wobbly, and I felt so sick, and if I'd had the grub I couldn't
have eaten it. I had a bottle of water. And that was all right till I
dropped the cork, and I couldn't find it in the dark till the water got
upset, and then I found the cork that minute.

"And when they dumped the basket on to the platform I was so glad to sit
still a minute without being jogged I nearly went to sleep. And then I
looked out, and the label was off, and lying close by. And then some one
gave the basket a kick--big brute, I'd like to kick him!--and said,
'What's this here?' And I daresay I did squeak--like a rabbit-noise, you
know--and then some one said, 'Sounds like live-stock, don't it? No
label.' And he was standing on the label all the time. I saw the string
sticking out under his nasty boot. And then they trundled me off
somewhere, on a wheelbarrow it felt like, and dumped me down again in a
dark place--and I couldn't see anything more."

"I wonder," said the thoughtful Oswald, "what made them think you were a
dynamite machine?"

"Oh, that was awful!" H.O. said. "It was my watch. I wound it up, just
for something to do. You know the row it makes since it was broken, and
I heard some one say, 'Shish! what's that?' and then, 'Sounds like an
infernal machine'--don't go shoving me, Dora, it was him said it, not
me--and then, 'If I was the inspector I'd dump it down in the river, so
I would. Any way, let's shift it.' But the other said, 'Let well alone,'
so I wasn't dumped any more. And they fetched another man, and there was
a heap of jaw, and I heard them say 'Police,' so I let them have it."

[Illustration: THEY LAUGHED EVER SO.]

"What _did_ you do?"

"Oh, I just kicked about in the basket, and I heard them all start off,
and I shouted, 'Hi, here! let me out, can't you!'"

"And did they?"

"Yes, but not for ever so long, I had to jaw at them through the cracks
of the basket. And when they opened it there was quite a crowd, and they
laughed ever so, and gave me bread and cheese, and said I was a plucky
youngster--and I am, and I do wish Father wouldn't put things off so. He
might just as well have spoken to me this morning. And I can't see I've
done anything so awful--and it's all your faults for not looking after
me. Aren't I your little brother? and it's your duty to see I do what's
right. You've told me so often enough."

These last words checked the severe reprimand trembling on the hitherto
patient Oswald's lips. And then H.O. began to cry, and Dora nursed him,
though generally he is much too big for this and knows it. And he went
to sleep on her lap, and said he didn't want any dinner.

When it came to Father's speaking to H.O. that evening it never came
off, because H.O. was ill in bed, not sham, you know, but real,
send-for-the-doctor ill. The doctor said it was fever from chill and
excitement, but I think myself it was very likely the things he ate at
lunch, and the shaking up, and then the bread and cheese, and the beer
out of a can.

He was ill a week. When he was better, not much was said. My Father, who
is the justest man in England, said the boy had been punished
enough--and so he had, for he missed going to the pantomime, and to
"Shock-Headed Peter" at the Garrick Theatre, which is far and away the
best play that ever was done, and quite different from any other acting
I ever saw. They are exactly like real boys; I think they must have been
reading about us. And he had to take a lot of the filthiest medicine I
ever tasted. I wonder if Father told the doctor to make it nasty on
purpose? A woman would have directly, but gentlemen are not generally so
sly. Any way, you live and learn. None of us would now ever consent to
be a stowaway, no matter who wanted us to, and I don't think H.O.'s very
likely to do it again.

The only _meant_ punishment he had was seeing the clown's dress burnt
before his eyes by Father. He had bought it all with his own saved-up
money, red trimmings and all.

Of course, when he got well we soon taught him not to say again that it
was any of our faults. As he owned himself, he _is_ our little brother,
and we are not going to stand that kind of cheek from _him_.



_THE CONSCIENCE-PUDDING_


IT was Christmas, nearly a year after Mother died. I cannot write about
Mother--but I will just say one thing. If she had only been away for a
little while, and not for always, we shouldn't have been so keen on
having a Christmas. I didn't understand this then, but I am much older
now, and I think it was just because everything was so different and
horrid we felt we _must_ do something; and perhaps we were not
particular enough _what_. Things make you much more unhappy when you
loaf about than when you are doing events.

Father had to go away just about Christmas. He had heard that his wicked
partner, who ran away with his money, was in France, and he thought he
could catch him, but really he was in Spain, where catching criminals is
never practised. We did not know this till afterwards.

Before Father went away he took Dora and Oswald into his study, and
said--

"I'm awfully sorry I've got to go away, but it is very serious business,
and I must go. You'll be good while I'm away, kiddies, won't you?"

We promised faithfully. Then he said--

"There are reasons--you wouldn't understand if I tried to tell you--but
you can't have much of a Christmas this year. But I've told Matilda to
make you a good plain pudding. Perhaps next Christmas will be brighter."

(It was; for the next Christmas saw us the affluent nephews and nieces
of an Indian uncle--but that is quite another story, as good old Kipling
says.)

When Father had been seen off at Lewisham Station with his bags, and a
plaid rug in a strap, we came home again, and it was horrid. There were
papers and things littered all over his room where he had packed. We
tidied the room up--it was the only thing we could do for him. It was
Dicky who accidentally broke his shaving-glass, and H.O. made a paper
boat out of a letter we found out afterwards Father particularly wanted
to keep. This took us some time, and when we went into the nursery the
fire was black out, and we could not get it alight again, even with the
whole _Daily Chronicle_. Matilda, who was our general then, was out, as
well as the fire, so we went and sat in the kitchen. There is always a
good fire in kitchens. The kitchen hearthrug was not nice to sit on, so
we spread newspapers on it.

It was sitting in the kitchen, I think, that brought to our minds my
Father's parting words--about the pudding, I mean.

Oswald said, "Father said we couldn't have much of a Christmas for
secret reasons, and he said he had told Matilda to make us a plain
pudding."

The plain pudding instantly cast its shadow over the deepening gloom of
our young minds.

"I wonder _how_ plain she'll make it?" Dicky said.

"As plain as plain, you may depend," said Oswald. "A
here-am-I-where-are-you pudding--that's her sort."

The others groaned, and we gathered closer round the fire till the
newspapers rustled madly.

"I believe I could make a pudding that _wasn't_ plain, if I tried,"
Alice said. "Why shouldn't we?"

"No chink," said Oswald, with brief sadness.

"How much would it cost?" Noël asked, and added that Dora had twopence
and H.O. had a French halfpenny.

Dora got the cookery-book out of the dresser drawer, where it lay
doubled up among clothes-pegs, dirty dusters, scallop shells, string,
penny novelettes, and the dining-room corkscrew. The general we had
then--it seemed as if she did all the cooking on the cookery-book
instead of on the baking-board, there were traces of so many bygone
meals upon its pages.

"It doesn't say Christmas pudding at all," said Dora.

"Try plum," the resourceful Oswald instantly counselled.

Dora turned the greasy pages anxiously.

"'Plum-pudding, 518.

"'A rich, with flour, 517.

"'Christmas, 517.

"'Cold brandy sauce for, 241.'

"We shouldn't care about that, so it's no use looking.

"'Good without eggs, 518.

"'Plain, 518.'

"We don't want _that_ anyhow. 'Christmas, 517'--that's the one."

It took her a long time to find the page. Oswald got a shovel of coals
and made up the fire. It blazed up like the devouring elephant the
_Daily Telegraph_ always calls it. Then Dora read--

"'Christmas plum-pudding. Time six hours.'"

"To eat it in?" said H.O.

"No, silly! to make it."

"Forge ahead, Dora," Dicky replied.

Dora went on--

"'2072. One pound and a half of raisins; half a pound of currants; three
quarters of a pound of breadcrumbs; half a pound of flour;
three-quarters of a pound of beef suet; nine eggs; one wine glassful of
brandy; half a pound of citron and orange peel; half a nutmeg; and a
little ground ginger.' I wonder _how_ little ground ginger."

"A teacupful would be enough, I think," Alice said; "we must not be
extravagant."

"We haven't got anything yet to be extravagant _with_," said Oswald, who
had toothache that day. "What would you do with the things if you'd got
them?"

"You'd 'chop the suet as fine as possible'--I wonder how fine that is?"
replied Dora and the book together--"'and mix it with the breadcrumbs
and flour; add the currants washed and dried.'"

"Not starched, then," said Alice.

"'The citron and orange peel cut into thin slices'--I wonder what they
call thin? Matilda's thin bread-and-butter is quite different from what
I mean by it--'and the raisins stoned and divided.' How many heaps would
you divide them into?"

"Seven, I suppose," said Alice; "one for each person and one for the
pot--I mean pudding."

"'Mix it all well together with the grated nutmeg and ginger. Then stir
in nine eggs well beaten, and the brandy'--we'll leave that out, I
think--'and again mix it thoroughly together that every ingredient may
be moistened; put it into a buttered mould, tie over tightly, and boil
for six hours. Serve it ornamented with holly and brandy poured over
it.'"

"I should think holly and brandy poured over it would be simply
beastly," said Dicky.

"I expect the book knows. I daresay holly and water would do as well
though. 'This pudding may be made a month before'--it's no use reading
about that though, because we've only got four days to Christmas."

"It's no use reading about any of it," said Oswald, with thoughtful
repeatedness, "because we haven't got the things, and we haven't got the
coin to get them."

"We might get the tin somehow," said Dicky.

"There must be lots of kind people who would subscribe to a Christmas
pudding for poor children who hadn't any," Noël said.

"Well, I'm going skating at Penn's," said Oswald. "It's no use thinking
about puddings. We must put up with it plain."

So he went, and Dicky went with him.

When they returned to their home in the evening the fire had been
lighted again in the nursery, and the others were just having tea. We
toasted our bread-and-butter on the bare side, and it gets a little warm
among the butter. This is called French toast. "I like English better,
but it is more expensive," Alice said--

"Matilda is in a frightful rage about your putting those coals on the
kitchen fire, Oswald. She says we shan't have enough to last over
Christmas as it is. And Father gave her a talking to before he went
about them--asked her if she ate them, she says--but I don't believe he
did. Anyway, she's locked the coal-cellar door, and she's got the key in
her pocket. I don't see how we can boil the pudding."

"What pudding?" said Oswald dreamily. He was thinking of a chap he had
seen at Penn's who had cut the date 1899 on the ice with four strokes.

"_The_ pudding," Alice said. "Oh, we've had such a time, Oswald! First
Dora and I went to the shops to find out exactly what the pudding would
cost--it's only two and elevenpence halfpenny, counting in the holly."

"It's no good," Oswald repeated; he is very patient and will say the
same thing any number of times. "It's no good. You know we've got no
tin."

"Ah," said Alice, "but Noël and I went out, and we called at some of the
houses in Granville Park and Dartmouth Hill--and we got a lot of
sixpences and shillings, besides pennies, and one old gentleman gave us
half-a-crown. He was so nice. Quite bald, with a knitted red and blue
waistcoat. We've got eight-and-sevenpence."

Oswald did not feel quite sure Father would like us to go asking for
shillings and sixpences, or even half-crowns from strangers, but he did
not say so. The money had been asked for and got, and it couldn't be
helped--and perhaps he wanted the pudding--I am not able to remember
exactly why he did not speak up and say, "This is wrong," but anyway he
didn't.

Alice and Dora went out and bought the things next morning. They bought
double quantities, so that it came to five shillings and elevenpence,
and was enough to make a noble pudding. There was a lot of holly left
over for decorations. We used very little for the sauce. The money that
was left we spent very anxiously in other things to eat, such as dates
and figs and toffee.

We did not tell Matilda about it. She was a red-haired girl, and apt to
turn shirty at the least thing.

Concealed under our jackets and overcoats we carried the parcels up to
the nursery, and hid them in the treasure-chest we had there. It was the
bureau drawer. It was locked up afterwards because the treacle got all
over the green baize and the little drawers inside it while we were
waiting to begin to make the pudding. It was the grocer told us we ought
to put treacle in the pudding, and also about not so much ginger as a
teacupful.

When Matilda had begun to pretend to scrub the floor (she pretended this
three times a week so as to have an excuse not to let us in the kitchen,
but I know she used to read novelettes most of the time, because Alice
and I had a squint through the window more than once), we barricaded the
nursery door and set to work. We were very careful to be quite clean. We
washed our hands as well as the currants. I have sometimes thought we
did not get all the soap off the currants. The pudding smelt like a
washing-day when the time came to cut it open. And we washed a corner of
the table to chop the suet on. Chopping suet looks easy till you try.

Father's machine he weighs letters with did to weigh out the things. We
did this very carefully, in case the grocer had not done so. Everything
was right except the raisins. H.O. had carried them home. He was very
young then, and there was a hole in the corner of the paper bag and his
mouth was sticky.

Lots of people have been hanged to a gibbet in chains on evidence no
worse than that, and we told H.O. so till he cried. This was good for
him. It was not unkindness to H.O., but part of our duty.

Chopping suet as fine as possible is much harder than any one would
think, as I said before. So is crumbling bread--especially if your loaf
is new, like ours was. When we had done them the breadcrumbs and the
suet were both very large and lumpy, and of a dingy gray colour,
something like pale slate pencil.

They looked a better colour when we had mixed them with the flour. The
girls had washed the currants with Brown Windsor soap and the sponge.
Some of the currants got inside the sponge and kept coming out in the
bath for days afterwards. I see now that this was not quite nice. We cut
the candied peel as thin as we wish people would cut our
bread-and-butter. We tried to take the stones out of the raisins, but
they were too sticky, so we just divided them up in seven lots. Then we
mixed the other things in the wash-hand basin from the spare bedroom
that was always spare. We each put in our own lot of raisins and turned
it all into a pudding-basin, and tied it up in one of Alice's pinafores,
which was the nearest thing to a proper pudding-cloth we could find--at
any rate clean. What was left sticking to the wash-hand basin did not
taste so bad.

"It's a little bit soapy," Alice said, "but perhaps that will boil out;
like stains in table-cloths."

It was a difficult question how to boil the pudding. Matilda proved
furious when asked to let us, just because some one had happened to
knock her hat off the scullery door and Pincher had got it and done for
it. However, part of the embassy nicked a saucepan while the others were
being told what Matilda thought about the hat, and we got hot water out
of the bath-room and made it boil over our nursery fire. We put the
pudding in--it was now getting on towards the hour of tea--and let it
boil. With some exceptions--owing to the fire going down, and Matilda
not hurrying up with coals--it boiled for an hour and a quarter. Then
Matilda came suddenly in and said, "I'm not going to have you messing
about in here with my saucepans"; and she tried to take it off the fire.
You will see that we couldn't stand this; it was not likely. I do not
remember who it was that told her to mind her own business, and I think
I have forgotten who caught hold of her first to make her chuck it. I am
sure no needless violence was used. Anyway, while the struggle
progressed, Alice and Dora took the saucepan away and put it in the
boot-cupboard under the stairs and put the key in their pocket.

This sharp encounter made every one very hot and cross. We got over it
before Matilda did, but we brought her round before bedtime. Quarrels
should always be made up before bedtime. It says so in the Bible. If
this simple rule was followed there would not be so many wars and
martyrs and law suits and inquisitions and bloody deaths at the stake.

All the house was still. The gas was out all over the house except on
the first landing, when several darkly-shrouded figures might have been
observed creeping downstairs to the kitchen.

On the way, with superior precaution, we got out our saucepan. The
kitchen fire was red, but low; the coal-cellar was locked, and there was
nothing in the scuttle but a little coal-dust and the piece of brown
paper that is put in to keep the coals from tumbling out through the
bottom where the hole is. We put the saucepan on the fire and plied it
with fuel--two _Chronicles_, a _Telegraph_, and two _Family Herald_
novelettes were burned in vain. I am almost sure the pudding did not
boil at all that night.

"Never mind," Alice said. "We can each nick a piece of coal every time
we go into the kitchen to-morrow."

This daring scheme was faithfully performed, and by night we had nearly
half a waste-paper basket of coal, coke, and cinders. And in the depth
of night once more we might have been observed, this time with our
collier-like waste-paper basket in our guarded hands.

There was more fire left in the grate that night, and we fed it with the
fuel we had collected. This time the fire blazed up, and the pudding
boiled like mad. This was the time it boiled two hours--at least I think
it was about that, but we dropped asleep on the kitchen tables and
dresser. You dare not be lowly in the night in the kitchen, because of
the beetles. We were aroused by a horrible smell. It was the
pudding-cloth burning. All the water had secretly boiled itself away. We
filled it up at once with cold, and the saucepan cracked. So we cleaned
it and put it back on the shelf and took another and went to bed. You
see what a lot of trouble we had over the pudding. Every evening till
Christmas, which had now become only the day after to-morrow, we sneaked
down in the inky midnight and boiled that pudding for as long as it
would.

On Christmas morning we chopped the holly for the sauce, but we put hot
water (instead of brandy) and moist sugar. Some of them said it was not
so bad. Oswald was not one of these.

Then came the moment when the plain pudding Father had ordered smoked
upon the board. Matilda brought it in and went away at once. She had a
cousin out of Woolwich Arsenal to see her that day, I remember. Those
far-off days are quite distinct in memory's recollection still.

Then we got out our own pudding from its hiding-place and gave it one
last hurried boil--only seven minutes, because of the general impatience
which Oswald and Dora could not cope with.

We had found means to secrete a dish, and we now tried to dish the
pudding up, but it stuck to the basin, and had to be dislodged with the
chisel. The pudding was horribly pale. We poured the holly sauce over
it, and Dora took up the knife and was just cutting it when a few simple
words from H.O. turned us from happy and triumphing cookery artists to
persons in despair.

He said: "How pleased all those kind ladies and gentlemen would be if
they knew _we_ were the poor children they gave the shillings and
sixpences and things for!"

We all said, "_What?_" It was no moment for politeness.

"I say," H.O. said, "they'd be glad if they knew it was us was enjoying
the pudding, and not dirty little, really poor children."

"You should say 'you were,' not 'you was,'" said Dora, but it was as in
a dream and only from habit.

"Do you mean to say"--Oswald spoke firmly, yet not angrily--"that you
and Alice went and begged for money for poor children, and then _kept_
it?"

"We didn't keep it," said H.O., "we spent it."

"We've kept the _things_, you little duffer!" said Dicky, looking at the
pudding sitting alone and uncared for on its dish. "You begged for money
for poor children, and then _kept_ it. It's stealing, that's what it is.
I don't say so much about you--you're only a silly kid--but Alice knew
better. Why did you do it?"

He turned to Alice, but she was now too deep in tears to get a word out.

H.O. looked a bit frightened, but he answered the question. We have
taught him this. He said--

"I thought they'd give us more if I said poor children than if I said
just us."

"_That's_ cheating," said Dicky--"downright beastly, mean, low
cheating."

"I'm not," said H.O.; "and you're another." Then he began to cry too. I
do not know how the others felt, but I understand from Oswald that he
felt that now the honour of the house of Bastable had been stamped on
in the dust, and it didn't matter what happened. He looked at the
beastly holly that had been left over from the sauce and was stuck up
over the pictures. It now appeared hollow and disgusting, though it had
got quite a lot of berries, and some of it was the varied kind--green
and white. The figs and dates and toffee were set out in the doll's
dinner service. The very sight of it all made Oswald blush sickly. He
owns he would have liked to cuff H.O., and, if he did for a moment wish
to shake Alice, the author, for one, can make allowances.

Now Alice choked and spluttered, and wiped her eyes fiercely, and said,
"It's no use ragging H.O. It's my fault. I'm older than he is."

H.O. said, "It couldn't be Alice's fault. I don't see as it was wrong."

"That, not as," murmured Dora, putting her arm round the sinner who had
brought this degrading blight upon our family tree, but such is girls'
undetermined and affectionate silliness. "Tell sister all about it, H.O.
dear. Why couldn't it be Alice's fault?"

H.O. cuddled up to Dora and said snufflingly in his nose--

"Because she hadn't got nothing to do with it. I collected it all. She
never went into one of the houses. She didn't want to."

"And then took all the credit of getting the money," said Dicky
savagely.

Oswald said, "Not much _credit_," in scornful tones.

"Oh, you are _beastly_, the whole lot of you, except Dora!" Alice said,
stamping her foot in rage and despair. "I tore my frock on a nail going
out, and I didn't want to go back, and I got H.O. to go to the houses
alone, and I waited for him outside. And I asked him not to say anything
because I didn't want Dora to know about the frock--it's my best. And I
don't know what he said inside. He never told me. But I'll bet anything
he didn't _mean_ to cheat."

"You _said_ lots of kind people would be ready to give money to get
pudding for poor children. So I asked them to."

Oswald, with his strong right hand, waved a wave of passing things over.

"We'll talk about that another time," he said; "just now we've got
weightier things to deal with."

He pointed to the pudding, which had grown cold during the conversation
to which I have alluded. H.O. stopped crying, but Alice went on with it.
Oswald now said--

"We're a base and outcast family. Until that pudding's out of the house
we shan't be able to look any one in the face. We must see that that
pudding goes to poor children--not grisling, grumpy, whiney-piney,
pretending poor children--but real poor ones, just as poor as they can
stick."

"And the figs too--and the dates," said Noël, with regretting tones.

"Every fig," said Dicky sternly. "Oswald is quite right."

This honourable resolution made us feel a bit better. We hastily put on
our best things, and washed ourselves a bit, and hurried out to find
some really poor people to give the pudding to. We cut it in slices
ready, and put it in a basket with the figs and dates and toffee. We
would not let H.O. come with us at first because he wanted to. And Alice
would not come because of him. So at last we had to let him. The
excitement of tearing into your best things heals the hurt that wounded
honour feels, as the poetry writer said--or at any rate it makes the
hurt feel better.

We went out into the streets. They were pretty quiet--nearly everybody
was eating its Christmas dessert. But presently we met a woman in an
apron. Oswald said very politely--

"Please, are you a poor person?" And she told us to get along with us.

The next we met was a shabby man with a hole in his left boot.

Again Oswald said, "Please, are you a poor person, and have you any poor
little children?"

The man told us not to come any of our games with him, or we should
laugh on the wrong side of our faces. We went on sadly. We had no heart
to stop and explain to him that we had no games to come.

The next was a young man near the Obelisk. Dora tried this time.

She said, "Oh, if you please we've got some Christmas pudding in this
basket, and if you're a poor person you can have some."

"Poor as Job," said the young man in a hoarse voice, and he had to come
up out of a red comforter to say it.

We gave him a slice of the pudding, and he bit into it without thanks or
delay. The next minute he had thrown the pudding slap in Dora's face,
and was clutching Dicky by the collar.

"Blime if I don't chuck ye in the river, the whole bloomin' lot of you!"
he exclaimed.

The girls screamed, the boys shouted, and though Oswald threw himself on
the insulter of his sister with all his manly vigour, yet but for a
friend of Oswald's, who is in the police, passing at that instant, the
author shudders to think what might have happened, for he was a strong
young man, and Oswald is not yet come to his full strength, and the
Quaggy runs all too near.

Our policeman led our assailant aside, and we waited anxiously, as he
told us to. After long uncertain moments the young man in the comforter
loafed off grumbling, and our policeman turned to us.

"Said you give him a dollop o' pudding, and it tasted of soap and
hair-oil."

I suppose the hair-oil must have been the Brown Windsoriness of the soap
coming out. We were sorry, but it was still our duty to get rid of the
pudding. The Quaggy was handy, it is true, but when you have collected
money to feed poor children and spent it on pudding it is not right to
throw that pudding in the river. People do not subscribe shillings and
sixpences and half-crowns to feed a hungry flood with Christmas pudding.

Yet we shrank from asking any more people whether they were poor
persons, or about their families, and still more from offering the
pudding to chance people who might bite into it and taste the soap
before we had time to get away.

It was Alice, the most paralysed with disgrace of all of us, who thought
of the best idea.

She said, "Let's take it to the workhouse. At any rate they're all poor
people there, and they mayn't go out without leave, so they can't run
after us to do anything to us after the pudding. No one would give them
leave to go out to pursue people who had brought them pudding, and wreck
vengeance on them, and at any rate we shall get rid of the
conscience-pudding--it's a sort of conscience-money, you know--only it
isn't money but pudding."

The workhouse is a good way, but we stuck to it, though very cold, and
hungrier than we thought possible when we started, for we had been so
agitated we had not even stayed to eat the plain pudding our good Father
had so kindly and thoughtfully ordered for our Christmas dinner.

The big bell at the workhouse made a man open the door to us, when we
rang it. Oswald said (and he spoke because he is next eldest to Dora,
and she had had jolly well enough of saying anything about pudding)--he
said--

"Please we've brought some pudding for the poor people."

He looked us up and down, and he looked at our basket, then he said:
"You'd better see the Matron."

We waited in a hall, feeling more and more uncomfy, and less and less
like Christmas. We were very cold indeed, especially our hands and our
noses. And we felt less and less able to face the Matron if she was
horrid, and one of us at least wished we had chosen the Quaggy for the
pudding's long home, and made it up to the robbed poor in some other way
afterwards.

Just as Alice was saying earnestly in the burning cold ear of Oswald,
"Let's put down the basket and make a bolt for it. Oh, Oswald, _let's_!"
a lady came along the passage. She was very upright, and she had eyes
that went through you like blue gimlets. I should not like to be obliged
to thwart that lady if she had any design, and mine was opposite. I am
glad this is not likely to occur.

She said, "What's all this about a pudding?"

H.O. said at once, before we could stop him, "They say I've stolen the
pudding, so we've brought it here for the poor people."

"No, we didn't!" "That wasn't why!" "The money was given!" "It was
meant for the poor!" "Shut up, H.O.!" said the rest of us all at once.

Then there was an awful silence. The lady gimleted us again one by one
with her blue eyes.

Then she said: "Come into my room. You all look frozen."

She took us into a very jolly room with velvet curtains and a big fire,
and the gas lighted, because now it was almost dark, even out of doors.
She gave us chairs, and Oswald felt as if his was a dock, he felt so
criminal, and the lady looked so Judgular.

Then she took the arm-chair by the fire herself, and said, "Who's the
eldest?"

"I am," said Dora, looking more like a frightened white rabbit than I've
ever seen her.

"Then tell me all about it."

Dora looked at Alice and began to cry. That slab of pudding in the face
had totally unnerved the gentle girl. Alice's eyes were red, and her
face was puffy with crying; but she spoke up for Dora and said--

"Oh, please let Oswald tell. Dora can't. She's tired with the long walk.
And a young man threw a piece of it in her face, and----"

The lady nodded and Oswald began. He told the story from the very
beginning, as he has always been taught to, though he hated to lay bare
the family honour's wound before a stranger, however judgelike and
gimlet-eyed He told all--not concealing the pudding-throwing, nor what
the young man said about soap.

"So," he ended, "we want to give the conscience-pudding to you. It's
like conscience-money--you know what that is, don't you? But if you
really think it is soapy and not just the young man's horridness,
perhaps you'd better not let them eat it. But the figs and things are
all right."

When he had done the lady said, for most of us were crying more or
less--

"Come, cheer up! It's Christmas-time, and he's very little--your
brother, I mean. And I think the rest of you seem pretty well able to
take care of the honour of the family. I'll take the conscience-pudding
off your minds. Where are you going now?"

"Home, I suppose," Oswald said. And he thought how nasty and dark and
dull it would be. The fire out most likely and Father away.

"And your Father's not at home, you say," the blue-gimlet lady went on.
"What do you say to having tea with me, and then seeing the
entertainment we have got up for our old people?"

Then the lady smiled and the blue gimlets looked quite merry.

The room was so warm and comfortable and the invitation was the last
thing we expected. It was jolly of her, I do think.

No one thought quite at first of saying how pleased we should be to
accept her kind invitation. Instead we all just said "Oh!" but in a tone
which must have told her we meant "Yes, please," very deeply.

Oswald (this has more than once happened) was the first to restore his
manners. He made a proper bow like he has been taught, and said--

"Thank you very much. We should like it very much. It is very much nicer
than going home. Thank you very much."

I need not tell the reader that Oswald could have made up a much better
speech if he had had more time to make it up in, or if he had not been
so filled with mixed flusteredness and furification by the shameful
events of the day.

We washed our faces and hands and had a first rate muffin and crumpet
tea, with slices of cold meats, and many nice jams and cakes. A lot of
other people were there, most of them people who were giving the
entertainment to the aged poor.

After tea it was the entertainment. Songs and conjuring and a play
called "Box and Cox," very amusing, and a lot of throwing things about
in it--bacon and chops and things--and nigger minstrels. We clapped till
our hands were sore.

When it was over we said goodbye. In between the songs and things Oswald
had had time to make up a speech of thanks to the lady.

He said--

"We all thank you heartily for your goodness. The entertainment was
beautiful. We shall never forget your kindness and hospitableness."

The lady laughed, and said she had been very pleased to have us. A fat
gentleman said--

"And your teas? I hope you enjoyed those--eh?"

Oswald had not had time to make up an answer to that, so he answered
straight from the heart, and said--

"Ra--_ther_!"

And every one laughed and slapped us boys on the back and kissed the
girls, and the gentleman who played the bones in the nigger minstrels
saw us home. We ate the cold pudding that night, and H.O. dreamed that
something came to eat him, like it advises you to in the advertisements
on the hoardings. The grown-ups said it was the pudding, but I don't
think it could have been that, because, as I have said more than once,
it was so very plain.

Some of H.O.'s brothers and sisters thought it was a judgment on him for
pretending about who the poor children were he was collecting the money
for. Oswald does not believe such a little boy as H.O. would have a real
judgment made just for him and nobody else, whatever he did.

But it certainly is odd. H.O. was the only one who had bad dreams, and
he was also the only one who got any of the things we bought with that
ill-gotten money, because, you remember, he picked a hole in the
raisin-paper as he was bringing the parcel home. The rest of us had
nothing, unless you count the scrapings of the pudding-basin, and those
don't really count at all.



_ARCHIBALD THE UNPLEASANT_


THE house of Bastable was once in poor, but honest, circs. That was when
it lived in a semi-detached house in the Lewisham Road, and looked for
treasure. There were six scions of the house who looked for it--in fact
there were seven, if you count Father. I am sure he looked right enough,
but he did not do it the right way. And we did. And so we found a
treasure of a great-uncle, and we and Father went to live with him in a
very affluent mansion on Blackheath--with gardens and vineries and
pineries and everything jolly you can think of. And then, when we were
no longer so beastly short of pocket-money, we tried to be good, and
sometimes it came out right, and sometimes it didn't. Something like
sums.

And then it was the Christmas holidays--and we had a bazaar and raffled
the most beautiful goat you ever saw, and we gave the money to the poor
and needy.

And then we felt it was time to do something new, because we were as
rich as our worthy relative, the uncle, and our Father--now also
wealthy, at least, compared to what he used to be--thought right for us;
and we were as good as we could be without being good for nothing and
muffs, which I hope no one calling itself a Bastable will ever stoop to.

So then Oswald, so often the leader in hazardous enterprises, thought
long and deeply in his interior self, and he saw that something must be
done, because, though there was still the goat left over, unclaimed by
its fortunate winner at the Bazaar, somehow no really fine idea seemed
to come out of it, and nothing else was happening. Dora was getting a
bit domineering, and Alice was too much taken up with trying to learn to
knit. Dicky was bored and so was Oswald, and Noël was writing far more
poetry than could be healthy for any poet, however young, and H.O. was
simply a nuisance. His boots are always much louder when he is not
amused, and that gets the rest of us into rows, because there are hardly
any grown-up persons who can tell the difference between his boots and
mine. Oswald decided to call a council (because even if nothing comes of
a council it always means getting Alice to drop knitting, and making
Noël chuck the poetical influences, that are no use and only make him
silly), and he went into the room that is our room. It is called the
common-room, like in colleges, and it is very different from the room
that was ours when we were poor, but honest. It is a jolly room, with a
big table and a big couch, that is most useful for games, and a thick
carpet because of H.O.'s boots.

Alice was knitting by the fire; it was for Father, but I am sure his
feet are not at all that shape. He has a high and beautifully formed
instep like Oswald's. Noël was writing poetry, of course.

          "My dear sister sits
           And knits,
           I hope to goodness the stocking fits,"

was as far as he had got.

"It ought to be 'my dearest sister' to sound right," he said, "but that
wouldn't be kind to Dora."

"Thank you," said Dora, "You needn't trouble to be kind to me, if you
don't want to."

"Shut up, Dora!" said Dicky, "Noël didn't mean anything."

"He never does," said H.O., "nor yet his poetry doesn't neither."

"_And_ his poetry doesn't _either_," Dora corrected; "and besides, you
oughtn't to say that at all, it's unkind----"

"You're too jolly down on the kid," said Dicky.

And Alice said, "Eighty-seven, eighty-eight--oh, do be quiet half a
sec.!--eighty-nine, ninety--now I shall have to count the stitches all
over again!"

Oswald alone was silent and not cross. I tell you this to show that the
sort of worryingness was among us that is catching, like measles.
Kipling calls it the cameelious hump, and, as usual, that great and good
writer is quite correct.

So Oswald said, "Look here, let's have a council. It says in Kipling's
book when you've got the hump go and dig till you gently perspire. Well,
we can't do that, because it's simply pouring, but----"

The others all interrupted him, and said they hadn't got the hump and
they didn't know what he meant. So he shrugged his shoulders patiently
(it is not his fault that the others hate him to shrug his shoulders
patiently) and he said no more.

Then Dora said, "Oh, don't be so disagreeable, Oswald, for goodness'
sake!"

I assure you she did, though he had done simply nothing.

Matters were in this cryptical state when the door opened and Father
came in.

"Hullo, kiddies!" he remarked kindly. "Beastly wet day, isn't it? And
dark too. I can't think why the rain can't always come in term time. It
seems a poor arrangement to have it in 'vac.,' doesn't it?"

I think every one instantly felt better. I know one of us did, and it
was me.

Father lit the gas, and sat down in the armchair and took Alice on his
knee.

"First," he said, "here is a box of chocs." It was an extra big and
beautiful one and Fuller's best. "And besides the chocs., a piece of
good news! You're all asked to a party at Mrs. Leslie's. She's going to
have all sorts of games and things, with prizes for every one, and a
conjurer and a magic lantern."

The shadow of doom seemed to be lifted from each young brow, and we felt
how much fonder we were of each other than any one would have thought.
At least Oswald felt this, and Dicky told me afterwards he felt Dora
wasn't such a bad sort after all.

"It's on Tuesday week," said Father. "I see the prospect pleases. Number
three is that your cousin Archibald has come here to stay a week or two.
His little sister has taken it into her head to have whooping-cough. And
he's downstairs now, talking to your uncle."

We asked what the young stranger was like, but Father did not know,
because he and cousin Archibald's father had not seen much of each other
for some years. Father said this, but we knew it was because Archibald's
father hadn't bothered to see ours when he was poor and honest, but now
he was the wealthy sharer of the red-brick, beautiful Blackheath house
it was different. This made us not like Uncle Archibald very much, but
we were too just to blame it on to young Archibald. All the same we
should have liked him better if his father's previous career had not
been of such a worldly and stuck-up sort. Besides, I do think Archibald
is quite the most rotten sort of name. We should have called him
Archie, of course, if he had been at all decent.

"You'll be as jolly to him as you can, I know," Father said; "he's a bit
older than you, Oswald. He's not a bad-looking chap."

Then Father went down and Oswald had to go with him, and there was
Archibald sitting upright in a chair and talking to our Indian uncle as
if he was some beastly grown-up. Our cousin proved to be dark and rather
tall, and though he was only fourteen he was always stroking his lip to
see if his moustache had begun to come.

Father introduced us to each other, and we said, "How do you do?" and
looked at each other, and neither of us could think of anything else to
say. At least Oswald couldn't. So then we went upstairs. Archibald shook
hands with the others, and every one was silent except Dora, and she
only whispered to H.O. to keep his feet still.

You cannot keep for ever in melancholy silence however few things you
have to say, and presently some one said it was a wet day, and this
well-chosen remark made us able to begin to talk.

I do not wish to be injurious to anybody, especially one who was a
Bastable, by birth at least if not according to the nobler attributes,
but I must say that Oswald never did dislike a boy so much as he did
that young Archibald. He was as cocky as though he'd done something to
speak of--been captain of his eleven, or passed a beastly exam., or
something--but we never could find that he had done anything. He was
always bragging about the things he had at home, and the things he was
allowed to do, and all the things he knew all about, but he was a most
untruthful chap. He laughed at Noël's being a poet--a thing we never do,
because it makes him cry and crying makes him ill--and of course Oswald
and Dicky could not punch his head in their own house because of the
laws of hospitableness, and Alice stopped it at last by saying she
didn't care if it was being a sneak, she would tell Father the very next
time. I don't think she would have, because we made a rule, when we were
poor and honest, not to bother Father if we could possibly help it. And
we keep it up still. But Archibald didn't know that. Then this cousin,
who is, I fear, the black sheep of the Bastables, and hardly worthy to
be called one, used to pull the girls' hair, and pinch them at prayers
when they could not call out or do anything to him back.

And he was awfully rude to the servants, ordering them about, and
playing tricks on them, not amusing tricks like other Bastables might
have done--such as booby-traps and mice under dish-covers, which seldom
leaves any lasting ill-feeling--but things no decent boy would do--like
hiding their letters and not giving them to them for days, and then it
was too late to meet the young man the letter was from, and squirting
ink on their aprons when they were just going to open the door, and once
he put a fish-hook in the cook's pocket when she wasn't looking. He did
not do anything to Oswald at that time. I suppose he was afraid. I just
tell you this to show you that Oswald didn't cotton to him for no
selfish reason, but because Oswald has been taught to feel for others.

[Illustration: AND HE WAS AWFULLY RUDE TO THE SERVANTS.]

He called us all kids--and he was that kind of boy we knew at once it
was no good trying to start anything new and jolly--so Oswald, ever
discreet and wary, shut up entirely about the council. We played games
with him sometimes, not really good ones, but Snap and Beggar my
Neighbour, and even then he used to cheat. I hate to say it of one of
our blood, but I can hardly believe he was. I think he must have been
changed at nurse like the heirs to monarchies and dukeries.

Well, the days passed slowly. There was Mrs. Leslie's party shining
starrishly in the mysteries of the future. Also we had another thing to
look forward to, and that was when Archibald would have to go back to
school. But we could not enjoy that foreshadowing so much because of us
having to go back at nearly the same time.

Oswald always tries to be just, no matter how far from easy, and so I
will say that I am not quite sure that it was Archibald that set the
pipes leaking, but we were all up in the loft the day before, snatching
a golden opportunity to play a brief game of robbers in a cave, while
Archibald had gone down to the village to get his silly hair cut.
Another thing about him that was not natural was his being always
looking in the glass and wanting to talk about whether people were
handsome or not; and he made as much fuss about his ties as though he
had been a girl. So when he was gone Alice said--

"Hist! The golden moment. Let's be robbers in the loft, and when he
comes back he won't know where we are."

"He'll hear us," said Noël, biting his pencil.

"No, he won't. We'll be the Whispering Band of Weird Bandits. Come on,
Noël; you can finish the poetry up here."

"It's about _him_," said Noël gloomily, "when he's gone back to----"
(Oswald will not give the name of Archibald's school for the sake of the
other boys there, as they might not like everybody who reads this to
know about there being a chap like him in their midst.) "I shall do it
up in an envelope and put a stamp on it and post it to him, and----"

"Haste!" cried Alice. "Bard of the Bandits, haste while yet there's
time."

So we tore upstairs and put on our slippers and socks over them, and we
got the high-backed chair out of the girls' bedroom, and the others held
it steady while Oswald agilitively mounted upon its high back and opened
the trap-door and got up into the place between the roof and the
ceiling (the boys in "Stalky & Co." found this out by accident, and they
were surprised and pleased, but we have known all about it ever since we
can remember).

Then the others put the chair back, and Oswald let down the rope ladder
that we made out of bamboo and clothes-line after uncle told us the
story of the missionary lady who was shut up in a rajah's palace, and
some one shot an arrow to her with a string tied to it, and it might
have killed her I should have thought, but it didn't, and she hauled in
the string and there was a rope and a bamboo ladder, and so she escaped,
and we made one like it on purpose for the loft. No one had ever told us
not to make ladders.

The others came up by the rope-ladder (it was partly bamboo, but
rope-ladder does for short) and we shut the trap-door down. It is jolly
up there. There are two big cisterns, and one little window in a gable
that gives you just enough light. The floor is plaster with wooden
things going across, beams and joists they are called. There are some
planks laid on top of these here and there. Of course if you walk on the
plaster you will go through with your foot into the room below.

We had a very jolly game, in whispers, and Noël sat by the little
window, and was quite happy, being the bandit bard. The cisterns are
rocks you hide behind. But the jolliest part was when we heard Archibald
shouting out, "Hullo! kids, where are you?" and we all stayed as still
as mice, and heard Jane say she thought we must have gone out. Jane was
the one that hadn't got her letter, as well as having her apron inked
all over.

[Illustration: THE OTHERS CAME UP BY THE ROPE-LADDER.]

Then we heard Archibald going all over the house looking for us. Father
was at business and uncle was at his club. And we were _there_. And so
Archibald was all alone. And we might have gone on for hours enjoying
the spectacle of his confusion and perplexedness, but Noël happened to
sneeze--the least thing gives him cold and he sneezes louder for his age
than any one I know--just when Archibald was on the landing underneath.
Then he stood there and said--

"I know where you are. Let me come up."

We cautiously did not reply. Then he said:

"All right. I'll go and get the step-ladder."

We did not wish this. We had not been told not to make rope-ladders, nor
yet about not playing in the loft; but if he fetched the step-ladder
Jane would know, and there are some secrets you like to keep to
yourself.

So Oswald opened the trap-door and squinted down, and there was that
Archibald with his beastly hair cut. Oswald said--

"We'll let you up if you promise not to tell you've been up here."

So he promised, and we let down the rope-ladder. And it will show you
the kind of boy he was that the instant he had got up by it he began
to find fault with the way it was made.

[Illustration: SO OSWALD OPENED THE TRAP-DOOR AND SQUINTED DOWN, AND
THERE WAS THAT ARCHIBALD.]

Then he wanted to play with the ball-cock. But Oswald knows it is better
not to do this.

"I daresay _you're_ forbidden," Archibald said, "little kids like you.
But _I_ know all about plumbing."

And Oswald could not prevent his fiddling with the pipes and the
ball-cock a little. Then we went down. All chance of further banditry
was at an end. Next day was Sunday. The leak was noticed then. It was
slow, but steady, and the plumber was sent for on Monday morning.

Oswald does not know whether it was Archibald who made the leak, but he
does know about what came after.

I think our displeasing cousin found that piece of poetry that Noël was
beginning about him, and read it, because he is a sneak. Instead of
having it out with Noël he sucked up to him and gave him a six-penny
fountain-pen which Noël liked, although it is really no good for him to
try to write poetry with anything but a pencil, because he always sucks
whatever he writes with, and ink is poisonous, I believe.

Then in the afternoon he and Noël got quite thick, and went off
together. And afterwards Noël seemed very peacocky about something, but
he would not say what, and Archibald was grinning in a way Oswald would
have liked to pound his head for.

Then, quite suddenly, the peaceable quietness of that happy Blackheath
home was brought to a close by screams. Servants ran about with brooms
and pails, and the water was coming through the ceiling of uncle's room
like mad, and Noël turned white and looked at our unattractive cousin
and said: "Send him away."

Alice put her arm round Noël and said: "Do go, Archibald."

But he wouldn't.

So then Noël said he wished he had never been born, and whatever would
Father say.

"Why, what is it, Noël?" Alice asked that. "Just tell us, we'll all
stand by you. What's he been doing?"

"You won't let him do anything to me if I tell?"

"Tell tale tit," said Archibald.

"He got me to go up into the loft and he said it was a secret, and would
I promise not to tell, and I won't tell; only I've done it, and now the
water's coming in."

"You've done it? You young ass, I was only kidding you!" said our
detestable cousin. And he laughed.

"I don't understand," said Oswald. "What did you tell Noël?"

"He can't tell you because he promised--and I won't--unless you vow by
the honour of the house you talk so much about that you'll never tell I
had anything to do with it."

That will show you what he was. We had never mentioned the honour of the
house except once quite at the beginning, before we knew how discapable
he was of understanding anything, and how far we were from wanting to
call him Archie.

We had to promise, for Noël was getting greener and more gurgly every
minute, and at any moment Father or uncle might burst in foaming for an
explanation, and none of us would have one except Noël, and him in this
state of all-anyhow.

So Dicky said--

"We promise, you beast, you!" And we all said the same.

Then Archibald said, drawling his words and feeling for the moustache
that wasn't there, and I hope he'll be quite old before he gets one--

"It's just what comes of trying to amuse silly little kids. I told the
foolish little animal about people having arteries cut, and your having
to cut the whole thing to stop the bleeding. And he said, 'Was that what
the plumber would do to the leaky pipe?' And how pleased your governor
would be to find it mended. And then he went and did it."

"You told me to," said Noël, turning greener and greener.

"Go along with Alice," said Oswald. "We'll stand by you. And Noël, old
chap, you must keep your word and not sneak about that sneaking hound."

Alice took him away, and we were left with the horrid Archibald.

"Now," said Oswald, "I won't break my word, no more will the rest of us.
But we won't speak another word to you as long as we live."

"Oh, Oswald," said Dora, "what about the sun going down?"

"Let it jolly well go," said Dicky in furiousness. "Oswald didn't say
we'd go on being angry for ever, but I'm with Oswald all the way. I
won't talk to cads--no, not even before grown-ups. They can jolly well
think what they like."

After this no one spoke to Archibald.

Oswald rushed for a plumber, and such was his fiery eloquence he really
caught one and brought him home. Then he and Dicky waited for Father
when he came in, and they got him into the study, and Oswald said what
they had all agreed on. It was this:

"Father, we are all most awfully sorry, but one of us has cut the pipe
in the loft, and if you make us tell you any more it will not be
honourable, and we are very sorry. Please, please don't ask who it was
did it."

Father bit his moustache and looked worried, and Dicky went on--

"Oswald has got a plumber and he is doing it now."

Then Father said, "How on earth did you get into the loft?"

And then of course the treasured secret of the rope-ladder had to be
revealed. We had never been told not to make rope-ladders and go into
the loft, but we did not try to soften the anger of our Father by saying
this. It would not have been any good either. We just had to stick it.
And the punishment of our crime was most awful. It was that we weren't
to go to Mrs. Leslie's party. And Archibald was to go, because when
Father asked him if he was in it with the rest of us, he said "No." I
cannot think of any really gentle, manly, and proper words to say what I
think about my unnatural cousin.

We kept our word about not speaking to him, and I think Father thought
we were jealous because he was going to that conjuring, magic lantern
party and we were not. Noël was the most unhappy, because he knew we
were all being punished for what he had done. He was very affectionate
and tried to write pieces of poetry to us all, but he was so unhappy he
couldn't even write, and he went into the kitchen and sat on Jane's knee
and said his head ached.

Next day it was the day of the party and we were plunged in gloom.
Archibald got out his Etons and put his clean shirt ready, and a pair of
flashy silk socks with red spots, and then he went into the bath-room.

Noël and Jane were whispering on the stairs. Jane came up and Noël went
down, Jane knocked at the bath-room door and said--

"Here's the soap, Master Archerbald. I didn't put none in to-day."

He opened the door and put out his hand.

"Half a moment," said Jane, "I've got something else in my hand."

As she spoke the gas all over the house went down blue, and then went
out. We held our breaths heavily.

"Here it is," she said; "I'll put it in your hand. I'll go down and turn
off the burners and see about the gas. You'll be late, sir. If I was you
I should get on a bit with the washing of myself in the dark. I daresay
the gas'll be five or ten minutes, and it's five o'clock now."

It wasn't, and of course she ought not to have said it, but it was
useful all the same.

Noël came stumping up the stairs in the dark. He fumbled about and then
whispered, "I've turned the little white china knob that locks the
bath-room door on the outside."

The water was bubbling and hissing in the pipes inside, and the darkness
went on. Father and uncle had not come in yet, which was a fortunate
blessing.

"Do be quiet!" said Noël. "Just you wait."

We all sat on the stairs and waited. Noël said--

"Don't ask me yet--you'll see--you wait."

And we waited, and the gas did not come back.

At last Archibald tried to come out--he thought he had washed himself
clean, I suppose--and of course the door was fastened. He kicked and he
hammered and he shouted, and we were glad.

At last Noël banged on the door and screamed through the keyhole--

"If we let you out will you let us off our promise not to tell about you
and the pipes? We won't tell till you've gone back to school."

He wouldn't for a long time, but at last he had to.

"I shan't ever come to your beastly house again," he bellowed through
the keyhole, "so I don't mind."

"Turn off the gas-burners then," said Oswald, ever thoughtful, though he
was still in ignorance of the beautiful truth.

Then Noël sang out over the stairs, "Light up!" and Jane went round with
a taper, and when the landing gas was lighted Noël turned the knob of
the bath-room, and Archibald exited in his Indian red and yellow
dressing-gown that he thought so much of. Of course we expected his face
to be red with rage, or white with passion, or purple with mixed
emotions, but you cannot think what our feelings were--indeed, we hardly
knew what they were ourselves--when we saw that he was not red or white
or purple, but _black_. He looked like an uneven sort of bluish nigger.
His face and hands were all black and blue in streaks, and so were the
bits of his feet that showed between his Indian dressing-gown and his
Turkish slippers.

[Illustration: "WHAT ARE YOU STARING AT?" HE ASKED. "NYANG, NYANG!" JANE
ANSWERED TAUNTINGLY.]

The word "Krikey" fell from more than one lip.

"What are you staring at?" he asked.

We did not answer even then, though I think it was less from
keep-your-wordishness than amazement. But Jane did.

"Nyang, Nyang!" she uttered tauntingly. "You thought it was soap I was
giving you, and all the time it was Maple's dark bright navy-blue
indelible dye--won't wash out." She flashed a looking-glass in his face,
and he looked and saw the depth of his dark bright navy-blueness.

Now, you may think that we shouted with laughing to see him done brown
and dyed blue like this, but we did not. There was a spellbound silence.
Oswald, I know, felt a quite uncomfortable feeling inside him.

When Archibald had had one good look at himself he did not want any
more. He ran to his room and bolted himself in.

"_He_ won't go to no parties," said Jane, and she flounced downstairs.

We never knew how much Noël had told her. He is very young, and not so
strong as we are, and we thought it better not to ask.

Oswald and Dicky and H.O.--particularly H.O.--told each other it served
him right, but after a bit Dora asked Noël if he would mind her trying
to get some of it off our unloved cousin, and he said "No."

[Illustration: WHEN FATHER CAME HOME THERE WAS AN AWFUL ROW.]

But nothing would get it off him; and when Father came home there was an
awful row. And he said we had disgraced ourselves and forgotten the
duties of hospitality. We got it pretty straight, I can tell you. And we
bore it all. I do not say we were martyrs to the honour of our house and
to our plighted word, but I do say that we got it very straight indeed,
and we did not tell the provocativeness we had had from our guest that
drove the poet Noël to this wild and desperate revenge.

But some one told, and I have always thought it was Jane, and that is
why we did not ask too many questions about what Noël had told her,
because late that night Father came and said he now understood that we
had meant to do right, except perhaps the one who cut the pipe with a
chisel, and that must have been more silliness than naughtiness; and
perhaps the being dyed blue served our cousin rather right. And he gave
Archibald a few remarks in private, and when the dye began to come
off--it was not a fast dye, though it said so on the paper it was
wrapped in--Archibald, now a light streaky blue, really did seem to be
making an effort to be something like decent. And when, now merely a
pale grey, he had returned to school, he sent us a letter. It said:--

          "_My dear Cousins_,--

          "_I think that I was beastlier than I meant to
          be, but I am not accustomed to young kids. And I
          think uncle was right, and the way you stand up
          for the honour of our house is not all nonsense,
          like I said it was. If we ever meet in the future
          life I hope you will not keep a down on me about
          things. I don't think you can expect me to say
          more. From your affectionate cousin,_

                                     "_Archibald Bastable._"

So I suppose rays of remorse penetrated that cold heart, and now perhaps
he will be a reformed Bastable. I am sure I hope so, but I believe it is
difficult, if not impossible, for a leopard to change his skin.

Still, I remember how indelibly black he looked when he came out of the
fatal bath-room; and it nearly all wore off. And perhaps spots on the
honourable inside parts of your soul come off with time. I hope so. The
dye never came off the inside of the bath though. I think that was what
annoyed our good great-uncle the most.



_OVER THE WATER TO CHINA_


OSWALD is a very modest boy, I believe, but even he would not deny that
he has an active brain. The author has heard both his Father and
Albert's uncle say so. And the most far-reaching ideas often come to him
quite naturally--just as silly notions that aren't any good might come
to you. And he had an idea which he meant to hold a council; about with
his brothers and sisters; but just as he was going to unroll his idea to
them our Father occurred suddenly in our midst and said a strange cousin
was coming, and he came, and he was strange indeed! And when Fate had
woven the threads of his dark destiny and he had been dyed a dark bright
navy-blue, and had gone from our midst, Oswald went back to the idea
that he had not forgotten. The words "tenacious of purpose" mean
sticking to things, and these words always make me think of the
character of the young hero of these pages. At least I suppose his
brothers Dicky and Noël and H.O. are heroes too, in a way, but somehow
the author of these lines knows more about Oswald's inside realness
than he does about the others. But I am getting too deep for words.

So Oswald went into the common-room. Every one was busy. Noël and H.O.
were playing Halma. Dora was covering boxes with silver paper to put
sweets in for a school treat, and Dicky was making a cardboard model of
a new screw he has invented for ocean steamers. But Oswald did not mind
interrupting, because Dora ought not to work too hard, and Halma always
ends in a row, and I would rather not say what I think of Dicky's screw.
So Oswald said--

"I want a council. Where's Alice?"

Every one said they didn't know, and they made haste to say that we
couldn't have a council without her. But Oswald's determined nature made
him tell H.O. to chuck that rotten game and go and look for her. H.O. is
our youngest brother, and it is right that he should remember this and
do as he was told. But he happened to be winning the beastly Halma game,
and Oswald saw that there was going to be trouble--"big trouble," as Mr.
Kipling says. And he was just bracing his young nerves for the conflict
with H.O., because he was not going to stand any nonsense from his young
brother about his not fetching Alice when he was jolly well told to,
when the missing maiden bounced into the room bearing upon her brow the
marks of ravaging agitatedness.

"Have any of you seen Pincher?" she cried, in haste.

We all said, "No, not since last night."

"Well, then, he's lost," Alice said, making the ugly face that means you
are going to blub in half a minute.

Every one had sprung to their feet. Even Noël and H.O. saw at once what
a doddering game Halma is, and Dora and Dicky, whatever their faults,
care more for Pincher than for boxes and screws. Because Pincher is our
fox-terrier. He is of noble race, and he was ours when we were poor,
lonely treasure-seekers and lived in humble hard-upness in the Lewisham
Road.

To the faithful heart of young Oswald the Blackheath affluent mansion
and all it contains, even the stuffed fox eating a duck in the glass
case in the hall that he is so fond of, and even the council he wanted
to have, seemed to matter much less than old Pincher.

"I want you all to let's go out and look for him," said Alice, carrying
out the meaning of the faces she had made and beginning to howl. "Oh,
Pincher, suppose something happens to him; you might get my hat and
coat, Dora. Oh, oh, oh!"

We all got our coats and hats, and by the time we were ready Alice had
conquered it to only sniffing, or else, as Oswald told her kindly, she
wouldn't have been allowed to come.

"Let's go on the Heath," Noël said. "The dear departed dog used to like
digging there."

So we went. And we said to every single person we met--

"Please have you seen a thorough-bred fox-terrier dog with a black patch
over one eye, and another over his tail, and a tan patch on his right
shoulder?" And every one said, "No, they hadn't," only some had more
polite ways of saying it than others. But after a bit we met a
policeman, and he said, "I see one when I was on duty last night, like
what you describe, but it was at the end of a string. There was a young
lad at the other end. The dog didn't seem to go exactly willing."

He also told us the lad and the dog had gone over Greenwich way. So we
went down, not quite so wretched in our insides, because now it seemed
that there was some chance, though we wondered the policeman _could_
have let Pincher go when he saw he didn't want to, but he said it wasn't
his business. And now we asked every one if they'd seen a lad and a
thoroughbred fox-terrier with a black patch, and cetera.

And one or two people said they had, and we thought it must be the same
the policeman had seen, because they said, too, that the dog didn't seem
to care about going where he was going.

So we went on and through the Park and past the Naval College, and we
didn't even stop to look at that life-sized firm ship in the playground
that the Naval Collegians have to learn about ropes and spars on, and
Oswald would willingly give a year of his young life to have that ship
for his very own.

And we didn't go into the Painted Hall either, because our fond hearts
were with Pincher, and we could not really have enjoyed looking at
Nelson's remains, of the shipwrecks where the drowning people all look
so dry, or even the pictures where young heroes are boarding pirates
from Spain, just as Oswald would do if he had half a chance, with the
pirates fighting in attitudes more twisted and Spanish than the pirates
of any nation could manage even if they were not above it. It is an odd
thing, but all those pictures are awfully bad weather--even the ones
that are not shipwrecks. And yet in books the skies are usually a
stainless blue and the sea is a liquid gem when you are engaged in the
avocation of pirate-boarding.

The author is sorry to see that he is not going on with the story.

We walked through Greenwich Hospital and asked there if they have seen
Pincher, because I heard Father say once that dogs are sometimes stolen
and taken to hospitals and never seen again. It is wrong to steal, but I
suppose the hospital doctors forget this because they are so sorry for
the poor ill people, and like to give them dogs to play with them and
amuse them on their beds of anguish. But no one had seen our Pincher,
who seemed to be becoming more dear to our hearts every moment.

When we got through the Hospital grounds--they are big and the buildings
are big, and I like it all because there's so much room everywhere and
nothing niggling--we got down to the terrace over the river, next to the
Trafalgar Hotel. And there was a sailor leaning on the railings, and we
asked him the usual question. It seems that he was asleep, but of course
we did not know, or we would not have disturbed him. He was very angry,
and he swore, and Oswald told the girls to come away; but Alice pulled
away from Oswald and said,

"Oh, don't be so cross. Do tell us if you've seen our dog? He is----"
and she recited Pincher's qualifications.

"Ho yes," said the sailor--he had a red and angry face. "I see 'im a
hour ago 'long of a Chinaman. 'E crossed the river in a open boat. You'd
best look slippy arter 'im." He grinned and spat; he was a detestable
character, I think. "Chinamen puts puppy-dogs in pies. If 'e catches you
three young chaps 'e'll 'ave a pie as'll need a big crust to cover it.
Get along with your cheek!"

So we got along. Of course, we knew that the Chinese are not cannibals,
so we were not frightened by that rot; but we knew, too, that the
Chinese do really eat dogs, as well as rats and birds' nests and other
disgraceful forms of eating.

[Illustration: IT SEEMS THE SAILOR WAS ASLEEP, BUT OF COURSE WE DID NOT
KNOW, OR WE SHOULD NOT HAVE DISTURBED HIM.]

H.O. was very tired, and he said his boots hurt him; and Noël was
beginning to look like a young throstle--all eyes and beak. He always
does when he is tired. The others were tired too, but their proud
spirits would never have owned it. So we went round to the Trafalgar
Hotel's boathouse, and there was a man in slippers, and we said could we
have a boat, and he said he would send a boatman, and would we walk in?

We did, and we went through a dark room piled up to the ceiling with
boats and out on to a sort of thing half like a balcony and half like a
pier. And there were boats there too, far more than you would think any
one could want; and then a boy came. We said we wanted to go across the
river, and he said, "Where to?"

"To where the Chinamen live," said Alice.

"You can go to Millwall if you want to," he said, beginning to put oars
into the boat.

"Are there any Chinese people there?" Alice asked.

And the boy replied, "I dunno." He added that he supposed we could pay
for the boat.

By a fortunate accident--I think Father had rather wanted to make up to
us for our martyr-like enduring when our cousin was with us--we were
fairly flush of chink. Oswald and Dicky were proudly able to produce
handfuls of money; it was mostly copper, but it did not fail of its
effect.

The boy seemed not to dislike us quite so much as before, and he helped
the girls into the boat, which was now in the water at the edge of a
sort of floating, unsteady raft, with openings in it that you could see
the water through. The water was very rough, just like real sea, and not
like a river at all. And the boy rowed; he wouldn't let us, although I
can, quite well. The boat tumbled and tossed just like a sea-boat. When
we were about half-way over, Noël pulled Alice's sleeve and said--

"Do I look very green?"

"You do rather, dear," she said kindly.

"I feel much greener than I look," said Noël. And later on he was not at
all well.

The boy laughed, but we pretended not to notice. I wish I could tell you
half the things we saw as our boat was pulled along through the
swishing, lumpy water that turned into great waves after every steamer
that went by. Oswald was quite fit, but some of the others were very
silent. Dicky says he saw everything that Oswald saw, but I am not sure.
There were wharves and engines, and great rusty cranes swinging giant's
handfuls of iron rails about in the air, and once we passed a ship that
was being broken up. All the wood was gone, and they were taking away
her plates, and the red rust was running from her and colouring the
water all round; it looked as though she was bleeding to death. I
suppose it was silly to feel sorry for her, but I did. I thought how
beastly it was that she would never go to sea again, where the waves are
clean and green, even if no rougher than the black waves now raging
around our staunch little bark. I never knew before what lots of kinds
of ships there can be, and I think I could have gone on and on for ever
and ever looking at the shapes of things and the colours they were, and
dreaming about being a pirate, and things like that, but we had come
some way; and now Alice said--

"Oswald, I think Noël will die if we don't make land soon."

And indeed he had been rather bad for some time, only I thought it was
kinder to take no notice.

So our ship was steered among other pirate craft, and moored at a
landing-place where there were steps up.

Noël was now so ill that we felt we could not take him on a Chinese
hunt, and H.O. had sneaked his boots off in the boat, and he said they
hurt him too much to put them on again; so it was arranged that those
two should sit on a dry corner of the steps and wait, and Dora said she
would stay with them.

"I think we ought to go home," she said. "I'm quite sure Father wouldn't
like us being in these wild, savage places. The police ought to find
Pincher."

But the others weren't going to surrender like that, especially as Dora
had actually had the sense to bring a bag of biscuits, which all, except
Noël, were now eating.

"Perhaps they ought, but they _won't_," said Dicky. "I'm boiling hot.
I'll leave you my overcoat in case you're cold."

Oswald had been just about to make the same manly proposal, though he
was not extra warm. So they left their coats, and, with Alice, who would
come though told not to, they climbed the steps, and went along a narrow
passage and started boldly on the Chinese hunt. It was a strange sort of
place over the river; all the streets were narrow, and the houses and
the pavements and the people's clothes and the mud in the road all
seemed the same sort of dull colour--a sort of brown-grey it was.

All the house doors were open, and you could see that the insides of the
houses were the same colour as the outsides. Some of the women had blue,
or violet or red shawls, and they sat on the doorsteps and combed their
children's hair, and shouted things to each other across the street.
They seemed very much struck by the appearance of the three travellers,
and some of the things they said were not pretty.

That was the day when Oswald found out a thing that has often been of
use to him in after-life. However rudely poor people stare at you they
become all right instantly if you ask them something. I think they don't
hate you so much when they've done something for you, if it's only to
tell you the time or the way.

[Illustration: WE WENT ROUND A CORNER RATHER FAST, AND CAME SLAP INTO
THE LARGEST WOMAN I HAVE EVER SEEN.]

So we got on very well, but it does not make me comfortable to see
people so poor and we have such a jolly house. People in books feel
this, and I know it is right to feel it, but I hate the feeling all the
same. And it is worse when the people are nice to you.

And we asked and asked and asked, but nobody had seen a dog or a
Chinaman, and I began to think all was indeed lost, and you can't go on
biscuits all day, when we went round a corner rather fast, and came slap
into the largest woman I have ever seen. She must have been yards and
yards round, and before she had time to be in the rage that we saw she
was getting into, Alice said--

"Oh, I beg your pardon! I _am_ so sorry, but we really didn't mean to! I
_do_ so hope we didn't hurt you!"

We saw the growing rage fade away, and she said, as soon as she got her
fat breath--

"No 'arm done, my little dear. An' w'ere are you off to in such a
'urry?"

So we told her all about it. She was quite friendly, although so stout,
and she said we oughtn't to be gallivanting about all on our own. We
told her we were all right, though I own Oswald was glad that in the
hurry of departing Alice hadn't had time to find anything
smarter-looking to wear than her garden coat and grey Tam, which had
been regretted by some earlier in the day.

"Well," said the woman, "if you go along this 'ere turning as far as
ever you can go, and then take the first to the right and bear round to
the left, and take the second to the right again, and go down the alley
between the stumps, you'll come to Rose Gardens. There's often Chinamen
about there. And if you come along this way as you come back, keep your
eye open for me, and I'll arks some young chaps as I know as is
interested like in dogs, and perhaps I'll have news for you."

"Thank you very much," Alice said, and the woman asked her to give her a
kiss. Everybody is always wanting to kiss Alice. I can't think why. And
we got her to tell us the way again, and we noticed the name of the
street, and it was Nightingale Street, and the stairs where we had left
the others was Bullamy's Causeway, because we have the true explorer's
instincts, and when you can't blaze your way on trees with your axe, or
lay crossed twigs like the gypsies do, it is best to remember the names
of streets.

So we said goodbye, and went on through the grey-brown streets with
hardly any shops, and those only very small and common, and we got to
the alley all right. It was a narrow place between high blank brown-grey
walls. I think by the smell it was gasworks and tanneries. There was
hardly any one there, but when we got into it we heard feet running
ahead of us, and Oswald said--

"Hullo, suppose that's some one with Pincher, and they've recognized his
long-lost masters and they're making a bolt for it?"

And we all started running as hard as ever we could. There was a turn in
the passage, and when we got round it we saw that the running was
stopping. There were four or five boys in a little crowd round some one
in blue--blue looked such a change after the muddy colour of everything
in that dead Eastern domain--and when we got up, the person the blue was
on was a very wrinkled old man, with a yellow wrinkled face and a soft
felt hat and blue blouse-like coat, and I see that I ought not to
conceal any longer from the discerning reader that it was exactly what
we had been looking for. It was indeed a Celestial Chinaman in deep
difficulties with these boys who were, as Alice said afterwards, truly
fiends in mortal shape. They were laughing at the old Chinaman, and
shouting to each other, and their language was of that kind that I was
sorry we had got Alice with us. But she told Oswald afterwards that she
was so angry she did not know what they were saying.

"Pull his bloomin' pigtail," said one of these outcasts from decent
conduct.

The old man was trying to keep them off with both hands, but the hands
were very wrinkled and trembly.

Oswald is grateful to his good Father who taught him and Dicky the
proper way to put their hands up. If it had not been for that, Oswald
does not know what on earth would have happened, for the outcasts were
five to our two, because no one could have expected Alice to do what
she did.

[Illustration: IT WAS INDEED A CELESTIAL CHINAMAN IN DEEP DIFFICULTIES.]

Before Oswald had even got his hands into the position required by the
noble art of self-defence, she had slapped the largest boy on the face
as hard as ever she could--and she can slap pretty hard, as Oswald knows
but too well--and she had taken the second-sized boy and was shaking him
before Dicky could get his left in on the eye of the slapped assailant
of the aged denizen of the Flowery East. The other three went for
Oswald, but three to one is nothing to one who has hopes of being a
pirate in his spare time when he grows up.

In an instant the five were on us. Dicky and I got in some good ones,
and though Oswald cannot approve of my sister being in a street fight,
he must own she was very quick and useful in pulling ears and twisting
arms and slapping and pinching. But she had quite forgotten how to hit
out from the shoulder like I have often shown her.

The battle raged, and Alice often turned the tide of it by a well-timed
shove or nip. The aged Eastern leaned against the wall, panting and
holding his blue heart with his yellow hand. Oswald had got a boy down,
and was kneeling on him, and Alice was trying to pull off two other boys
who had fallen on top of the fray, while Dicky was letting the fifth
have it, when there was a flash of blue and another Chinaman dashed into
the tournament. Fortunately this one was not old, and with a few
well-directed, if foreign looking, blows he finished the work so ably
begun by the brave Bastables, and next moment the five loathsome and
youthful aggressors were bolting down the passage. Oswald and Dicky were
trying to get their breath and find out exactly where they were hurt and
how much, and Alice had burst out crying and was howling as though she
would never stop. That is the worst of girls--they never can keep
anything up. Any brave act they may suddenly do, when for a moment they
forget that they have not the honour to be boys, is almost instantly
made into contemptibility by a sudden attack of crybabyishness. But I
will say no more: for she did strike the first blow, after all, and it
did turn out that the boys had scratched her wrist and kicked her shins.
These things make girls cry.

The venerable stranger from distant shores said a good deal to the other
in what I suppose was the language used in China. It all sounded like
"hung" and "li" and "chi," and then the other turned to us and said--

"Nicee lilly girlee, same piecee flowelee, you takee my head to walkee
on. This is alle samee my father first chop ancestor. Dirty white devils
makee him hurt. You come alongee fightee ploper. Me likee you welly
muchee."

Alice was crying too much to answer, especially as she could not find
her handkerchief. I gave her mine, and then she was able to say that
she did not want to walk on anybody's head, and she wanted to go home.

"This not nicee place for lillee whitee girlee," said the young
Chinaman. His pigtail was thicker than his father's and black right up
to the top. The old man's was grey at the beginning, but lower down it
was black, because that part of it was not hair at all, but black
threads and ribbons and odds and ends of trimmings, and towards the end
both pigtails were greenish.

"Me lun backee takee him safee," the younger of the Eastern adventurers
went on, pointing to his father. "Then me makee walkee all alonk you,
takee you back same placee you comee from. Little white devils waitee
for you on ce load. You comee with? Not? Lillee girlee not cly. John
givee her one piecee pletty-pletty. Come makee talkee with the House
Lady."

I believe this is about what he said, and we understood that he wanted
us to come and see his mother, and that he would give Alice something
pretty, and then see us safe out of the horrible brown-grey country.

So we agreed to go with them, for we knew those five boys would be
waiting for us on the way back, most likely with strong reinforcements.
Alice stopped crying the minute she could--I must say she is better than
Dora in that way--and we followed the Chinamen, who walked in single
file like Indians, so we did the same, and talked to each other over our
shoulders. Our grateful Oriental friends led us through a good many
streets, and suddenly opened a door with a key, pulled us in, and shut
the door. Dick thought of the kidnapping of Florence Dombey and good
Mrs. Brown, but Oswald had no such unnoble thoughts.

[Illustration: ON THE SIDEBOARD WAS A BLUEY-WHITE CROCKERY IMAGE.]

The room was small, and very, very odd. It was very dirty too, but
perhaps it is not polite to say that. There was a sort of sideboard at
one end of the room, with an embroidered dirty cloth on it, and on the
cloth a bluey-white crockery image over a foot high. It was very fat and
army and leggy, and I think it was an idol. The minute we got inside the
young man lighted little brown sticks, and set them to burn in front of
it. I suppose it was incense. There was a sort of long, wide, low sofa,
without any arms or legs, and a table that was like a box, with another
box in front of it for you to sit down on when you worked, and on the
table were all sorts of tiny little tools--awls and brads they looked
like--and pipe-stems and broken bowls of pipes and mouthpieces, for our
rescued Chinaman was a pipe-mender by trade. There wasn't much else in
the room except the smell, and that seemed to fill it choke-full. The
smell seemed to have all sorts of things in it--glue and gunpowder, and
white garden lilies and burnt fat, and it was not so easy to breathe as
plain air.

Then a Chinese lady came in. She had green-grey trousers, shiny like
varnish, and a blue gown, and her hair was pulled back very tight, and
twisted into a little knob at the back.

She wanted to go down on the floor before Alice, but we wouldn't let
her. Then she said a great many things that we feel sure were very nice,
only they were in Chinese, so we could not tell what they were.

And the Chinaman said that his mother also wanted Alice to walk on her
head--not Alice's own, of course, but the mother's.

I wished we had stayed longer, and tried harder to understand what they
said, because it was an adventure, take it how you like, that we're not
likely to look upon the like of again. Only we were too flustered to see
this.

We said, "Don't mention it," and things like that; and when Dicky said,
"I think we ought to be going," Oswald said so too.

Then they all began talking Chinese like mad, and the Chinese lady came
back and suddenly gave Alice a parrot.

It was red and green, with a very long tail, and as tame as any pet fawn
I ever read about. It walked up her arm and round her neck, and stroked
her face with its beak. And it did not bite Oswald or Alice, or even
Dicky, though they could not be sure at first that it was not going to.

We said all the polite things we could, and the old lady made thousands
of hurried Chinese replies, and repeated many times, "All litey, John,"
which seemed to be all the English she knew.

We never had so much fuss made over us in all our lives. I think it was
that that upset our calmness, and seemed to put us into a sort of silly
dream that made us not see what idiots we were to hurry off from scenes
we should never again behold. So we went. And the youthful Celestial saw
us safely to the top of Bullamy's Stairs, and left us there with the
parrot and floods of words that seemed all to end in double "e."

We wanted to show him to the others, but he would not come, so we
rejoined our anxious relations without him.

The scene of rejoinder was painful, at first because they were most
frightfully sick at us having been such an age away; but when we let
them look at the parrot, and told them about the fight, they agreed that
it was not our fault, and we really had been unavoidably detained.

But Dora said, "Well, you may say I'm always preaching, but I _don't_
think Father would like Alice to be fighting street boys in Millwall."

"I suppose _you'd_ have run away and let the old man be killed," said
Dicky, and peace was not restored till we were nearly at Greenwich
again.

We took the tram to Greenwich Station, and then we took a cab home (and
well worth the money, which was all we now had got, except
fourpence-halfpenny), for we were all dog-tired.

And dog-tired reminds me that we hadn't found Pincher, in spite of all
our trouble.

Miss Blake, who is our housekeeper, was angrier than I have ever seen
her. She had been so anxious that she had sent the police to look for
us. But, of course, they had not found us. You ought to make allowances
for what people do when they are anxious, so I forgive her everything,
even what she said about Oswald being a disgrace to a respectable house.
He owns we were rather muddy, owing to the fight.

And when the jaw was over and we were having tea--and there was meat to
it, because we were as near starving as I ever wish to be--we all ate
lots. Even the thought of Pincher could not thwart our bold appetites,
though we kept saying, "Poor old Pincher!" "I do wish we'd found him,"
and things like that. The parrot walked about among the tea-things as
tame as tame. And just as Alice was saying how we'd go out again
to-morrow and have another try for our faithful hound there was a
scratching at the door, and we rushed--and there was Pincher, perfectly
well and mad with joy to see us.

H.O. turned an abrupt beetroot colour.

"Oh!" he said.

We said, "What? Out with it."

And though he would much rather have kept it a secret buried in his
breast, we made him own that he had shut Pincher up yesterday in the
empty rabbit-hutch when he was playing Zoological Gardens and forgotten
all about it in the pleasures of our cousin having left us.

So we need not have gone over the water at all. But though Oswald pities
all dumb animals, especially those helplessly shut in rabbit-hutches at
the bottoms of gardens, he cannot be sorry that we had such a Celestial
adventure and got hold of such a parrot. For Alice says that Oswald and
Dicky and she shall have the parrot between them.

She is tremendously straight. I often wonder why she was made a girl.
She's a jolly sight more of a gentleman than half the boys at our
school.



_THE YOUNG ANTIQUARIES_


THIS really happened before Christmas, but many authors go back to
bygone years for whole chapters, and I don't see why I shouldn't.

It was one Sunday--the Somethingth Sunday in Advent, I think--and Denny
and Daisy and their father and Albert's uncle came to dinner, which is
in the middle of the day on that day of rest and the same things to eat
for grown-ups and us. It is nearly always roast beef and Yorkshire, but
the puddings and vegetables are brightly variegated and never the same
two Sundays running.

At dinner some one said something about the coat-of-arms that is on the
silver tankards which once, when we were poor and honest, used to stay
at the shop having the dents slowly taken out of them for months and
months. But now they are always at home and are put at the four corners
of the table every day, and any grown-up who likes can drink beer out of
them.

After some talk of the sort you don't listen to, in which bends and
lioncels and gules and things played a promising part, Albert's uncle
said that Mr. Turnbull had told him something about that coat-of-arms
being carved on a bridge somewhere in Cambridgeshire, and again the
conversation wandered into things like Albert's uncle had talked about
to the Maidstone Antiquarian Society the day they came over to see his
old house in the country and we arranged the time-honoured Roman remains
for them to dig up. So, hearing the words king-post and mullion and
moulding and underpin, Oswald said might we go; and we went, and took
our dessert with us and had it in our own common-room, where you can
roast chestnuts with a free heart and never mind what your fingers get
like.

When first we knew Daisy we used to call her the White Mouse, and her
brother had all the appearance of being one too, but you know how
untruthful appearances are, or else it was that we taught him happier
things, for he certainly turned out quite different in the end; and she
was not a bad sort of kid, though we never could quite cure her of
wanting to be "ladylike"--that is the beastliest word there is, I think,
and Albert's uncle says so, too. He says if a girl can't be a lady it's
not worth while to be only like one--she'd better let it alone and be a
free and happy bounder.

But all this is not what I was going to say, only the author does think
of so many things besides the story, and sometimes he puts them in. This
is the case with Thackeray and the Religious Tract Society and other
authors, as well as Mrs. Humphrey Ward. Only I don't suppose you have
ever heard of her, though she writes books that some people like very
much. But perhaps they are her friends. I did not like the one I read
about the Baronet. It was on a wet Sunday at the seaside, and nothing
else in the house but Bradshaw and "Elsie; or like a----" or I shouldn't
have. But what really happened to us before Christmas is strictly the
following narrative.

"I say," remarked Denny, when he had burned his fingers with a chestnut
that turned out a bad one after all--and such is life--and he had
finished sucking his fingers and getting rid of the chestnut, "about
these antiquaries?"

"Well, what about them?" said Oswald. He always tries to be gentle and
kind to Denny, because he knows he helped to make a man of the young
Mouse.

"I shouldn't think," said Denny, "that it was so very difficult to be
one."

"I don't know," said Dicky. "You have to read very dull books and an
awful lot of them, and remember what you read, what's more."

"I don't think so," said Alice. "That girl who came with the
antiquities--the one Albert's uncle said was upholstered in red plush
like furniture--_she_ hadn't read anything, you bet."

Dora said, "You ought not to bet, especially on Sunday," and Alice
altered it to "You may be sure."

"Well, but what then?" Oswald asked Denny. "Out with it," for he saw
that his youthful friend had got an idea and couldn't get it out. You
should always listen patiently to the ideas of others, no matter how
silly you expect them to be.

"I do wish you wouldn't hurry me so," said Denny, snapping his fingers
anxiously. And we tried to be patient.

"Why shouldn't we _be_ them?" Denny said at last.

"He means antiquaries," said Oswald to the bewildered others. "But
there's nowhere to go and nothing to do when we get there."

The Dentist (so-called for short, his real name being Denis) got red and
white, and drew Oswald aside to the window for a secret discussion.
Oswald listened as carefully as he could, but Denny always buzzes so
when he whispers.

"Right oh," he remarked, when the confidings of the Dentist had got so
that you could understand what he was driving at. "Though you're being
shy with us now, after all we went through together in the summer, is
simply skittles."

Then he turned to the polite and attentive others and said--

[Illustration: OSWALD LISTENED AS CAREFULLY AS HE COULD, BUT DENNY
ALWAYS BUZZES SO WHEN HE WHISPERS.]

"You remember that day we went to Bexley Heath with Albert's uncle?
Well, there was a house, and Albert's uncle said a clever writer lived
there, and in more ancient years that chap in history--Sir Thomas What's
his name; and Denny thinks he might let us be antiquaries there. It
looks a ripping place from the railway."

It really does. It's a fine big house, and splendid gardens, and a lawn
with a sundial, and the tallest trees anywhere about here.

"But what could we _do_?" said Dicky. "I don't suppose _he'd_ give _us_
tea," though such, indeed, had been our hospitable conduct to the
antiquaries who came to see Albert's uncle.

"Oh, I don't know," said Alice. "We might dress up for it, and wear
spectacles, and we could all read papers. It would be lovely--something
to fill up the Christmas holidays--the part before the wedding, I mean.
Do let's."

"All right, I don't mind. I suppose it would be improving," said Dora.
"We should have to read a lot of history. You can settle it. I'm going
to show Daisy our bridesmaids' dresses."

It was, alas! too true. Albert's uncle was to be married but shortly
after, and it was partly our faults, though that does not come into this
story.

So the two D.'s went to look at the clothes--girls like this--but Alice,
who wishes she had never consented to be born a girl, stayed with us,
and we had a long and earnest council about it.

"One thing," said Oswald, "it can't possibly be wrong--so perhaps it
won't be amusing."

"Oh, Oswald!" said Alice, and she spoke rather like Dora.

"I don't mean what you mean," said Oswald in lofty scorn. "What I mean
to say is that when a thing is quite sure to be right, it's not
so--well--I mean to say there it is, don't you know; and if it might be
wrong, and isn't, it's a score to you; and if it might be wrong, and
is--as so often happens--well, you know yourself, adventures sometimes
turn out wrong that you didn't think were going to, but seldom, or
never, the uninteresting kind, and----"

Dicky told Oswald to dry up--which, of course, no one stands from a
younger brother, but though Oswald explained this at the time, he felt
in his heart that he has sometimes said what he meant with more
clearness. When Oswald and Dicky had finished, we went on and arranged
everything.

Every one was to write a paper--and read it.

"If the papers are too long to read while we're there," said Noël, "we
can read them in the long winter evenings when we are grouped along the
household hearthrug. I shall do my paper in poetry--about Agincourt."

Some of us thought Agincourt wasn't fair, because no one could be sure
about any knight who took part in that well-known conflict having lived
in the Red House; but Alice got us to agree, because she said it would
be precious dull if we all wrote about nothing but Sir Thomas
Whatdoyoucallhim--whose real name in history Oswald said he would find
out, and then write his paper on that world-renowned person, who is a
household word in all families. Denny said he would write about Charles
the First, because they were just doing that part at his school.

"I shall write about what happened in 1066," said H.O. "I know that."

Alice said, "If I write a paper it will be about Mary Queen of Scots."

Dora and Daisy came in just as she said this, and it transpired that
this ill-fated but good-looking lady was the only one they either of
them wanted to write about. So Alice gave it up to them and settled to
do Magna Charta, and they could settle something between themselves for
the one who would have to give up Mary Queen of Scots in the end. We all
agreed that the story of that lamented wearer of pearls and black velvet
would not make enough for two papers.

Everything was beautifully arranged, when suddenly H.O. said--

"Supposing he doesn't let us?"

"Who doesn't let us what?"

"The Red House man--read papers at his Red House."

This was, indeed, what nobody had thought of--and even now we did not
think any one could be so lost to proper hospitableness as to say no.
Yet none of us liked to write and ask. So we tossed up for it, only Dora
had feelings about tossing up on Sunday, so we did it with a hymn-book
instead of a penny.

We all won except Noël, who lost, so he said he would do it on Albert's
uncle's typewriter, which was on a visit to us at the time, waiting for
Mr. Remington to fetch it away to mend the "M." We think it was broken
through Albert's uncle writing "Margaret" so often, because it is the
name of the lady he was doomed to be married by.

The girls had got the letter the Maidstone Antiquarian Society and Field
Clubs Secretary had sent to Albert's uncle--H.O. said they kept it for a
momentum of the day--and we altered the dates and names in blue chalk
and put in a piece about might we skate on the moat, and gave it to
Noël, who had already begun to make up his poetry about Agincourt, and
so had to be shaken before he would attend. And that evening, when
Father and our Indian uncle and Albert's uncle were seeing the others on
the way to Forest Hill, Noël's poetry and pencil were taken away from
him and he was shut up in Father's room with the Remington typewriter,
which we had never been forbidden to touch. And I don't think he hurt
it much, except quite at the beginning, when he jammed the "S" and the
"J" and the thing that means per cent. so that they stuck--and Dicky
soon put that right with a screwdriver.

He did not get on very well, but kept on writing MOR7E HOAS5 or MORD6M
HOVCE on new pieces of paper and then beginning again, till the floor
was strewn with his remains; so we left him at it, and went and played
Celebrated Painters--a game even Dora cannot say anything about on
Sunday, considering the Bible kind of pictures most of them painted. And
much later, the library door having banged once and the front door
twice, Noël came in and said he had posted it, and already he was deep
in poetry again, and had to be roused when requisite for bed.

It was not till next day that he owned that the typewriter had been a
fiend in disguise, and that the letter had come out so odd that he could
hardly read it himself.

"The hateful engine of destruction wouldn't answer to the bit in the
least," he said, "and I'd used nearly a wastepaper basket of Father's
best paper, and I thought he might come in and say something, so I just
finished it as well as I could, and I corrected it with the blue
chalk--because you'd bagged that B.B. of mine--and I didn't notice what
name I'd signed till after I'd licked the stamp."

The hearts of his kind brothers and sisters sank low. But they kept
them up as well as they could, and said--

[Illustration: IT WAS NOT TILL NEXT DAY THAT HE OWNED THAT THE
TYPEWRITER HAD BEEN A FIEND IN DISGUISE.]

"What name _did_ you sign?"

And Noël said, "Why, Edward Turnbull, of course--like at the end of the
real letter. You never crossed it out like you did his address."

"No," said Oswald witheringly. "You see, I did think, whatever else you
didn't know, I did think you knew your own silly name."

Then Alice said Oswald was unkind, though you see he was not, and she
kissed Noël and said she and he would take turns to watch for the
postman, so as to get the answer (which of course would be subscribed on
the envelope with the name of Turnbull instead of Bastable) before the
servant could tell the postman that the name was a stranger to her.

And next evening it came, and it was very polite and grown-up--and said
we should be welcome, and that we might read our papers and skate on the
moat. The Red House has a moat, like the Moat House in the country, but
not so wild and dangerous. Only we never skated on it because the frost
gave out the minute we had got leave to. Such is life, as the sparks fly
upwards. (The last above is called a moral reflection.)

So now, having got leave from Mr. Red House (I won't give his name
because he is a writer of worldly fame and he might not like it), we set
about writing our papers. It was not bad fun, only rather difficult
because Dora said she never knew which Encyclo. volume she might be
wanting, as she was using Edinburgh, Mary, Scotland, Bothwell, Holywell,
and France, and many others, and Oswald never knew which he might want,
owing to his not being able exactly to remember the distinguished and
deathless other appellation of Sir Thomas Thingummy, who had lived in
the Red House.

Noël was up to the ears in Agincourt, yet that made but little
difference to our destiny. He is always plunged in poetry of one sort or
another, and if it hadn't been that, it would have been something else.
This, at least, we insisted on having kept a secret, so he could not
read it to us.

H.O. got very inky the first half-holiday, and then he got some
sealing-wax and a big envelope from Father, and put something in and
fastened it up, and said he had done his.

Dicky would not tell us what his paper was going to be about, but he
said it would not be like ours, and he let H.O. help him by looking on
while he invented more patent screws for ships.

The spectacles were difficult. We got three pairs of the uncle's, and
one that had belonged to the housekeeper's grandfather, but nine pairs
were needed, because Albert-next-door mouched in one half-holiday and
wanted to join, and said if we'd let him he'd write a paper on the
Constitutions of Clarendon, and we thought he couldn't do it, so we let
him. And then, after all, he did.

So at last Alice went down to Bennett's in the village, that we are such
good customers of, because when our watches stop we take them there, and
he lent us a lot of empty frames on the instinctive understanding that
we would pay for them if we broke them or let them get rusty.

And so all was ready. And the fatal day approached; and it was the
holidays. For us, that is, but not for Father, for his business never
seems to rest by day and night, except at Christmas and times like that.
So we did not need to ask him if we might go. Oswald thought it would be
more amusing for Father if we told it all to him in the form of an
entertaining anecdote, afterwards.

Denny and Daisy and Albert came to spend the day.

We told Mrs. Blake Mr. Red House had asked us, and she let the girls put
on their second-best things, which are coats with capes and red
Tam-o'shanters. These capacious coats are very good for playing
highwaymen in.

We made ourselves quite clean and tidy. At the very last we found that
H.O. had been making marks on his face with burnt matches, to imitate
wrinkles, but really it only imitated dirt, so we made him wash it off.
Then he wanted to paint himself red like a clown, but we had decided
that the spectacles were to be our only disguise, and even those were
not to be assumed till Oswald gave the word.

[Illustration: THE STATIONMASTER AND PORTER LOOKED RESPECTFULLY AT US.]

No casuist observer could have thought that the nine apparently
light-headed and careless party who now wended their way to Blackheath
Station, looking as if they were not up to anything in particular, were
really an Antiquarian Society of the deepest dye. We got an empty
carriage to ourselves, and halfway between Blackheath and the other
station Oswald gave the word, and we all put on the spectacles. We had
our antiquarian papers of lore and researched history in exercise-books,
rolled up and tied with string.

The stationmaster and porter, of each of which the station boasted but
one specimen, looked respectfully at us as we got out of the train, and
we went straight out of the station, under the railway arch, and down to
the green gate of the Red House. It has a lodge, but there is no one in
it. We peeped in at the window, and there was nothing in the room but an
old beehive and a broken leather strap.

We waited in the front for a bit, so that Mr. Red House could come out
and welcome us like Albert's uncle did the other antiquaries, but no one
came, so we went round the garden. It was very brown and wet, but full
of things you didn't see every day. Furze summer-houses, for instance,
and a red wall all round it, with holes in it that you might have
walled heretics up in in the olden times. Some of the holes were quite
big enough to have taken a very small heretic. There was a broken swing,
and a fish-pond--but we were on business, and Oswald insisted on reading
the papers.

He said, "Let's go to the sundial. It looks dryer there, my feet are
like ice-houses."

It was dryer because there was a soaking wet green lawn round it, and
round that a sloping path made of little squares of red and white
marble. This was quite waterless, and the sun shone on it, so that it
was warm to the hands, though not to the feet, because of boots. Oswald
called on Albert to read first. Albert is not a clever boy. He is not
one of us, and Oswald wanted to get over the Constitutions. For Albert
is hardly ever amusing, even in fun, and when he tries to show off it is
sometimes hard to bear. He read--

                 "THE CONSTITUTIONS OF CLARENDON.

          "Clarendon (sometimes called Clarence) had only
          one constitution. It must have been a very bad
          one, because he was killed by a butt of Malmsey.
          If he had had more constitutions or better ones he
          would have lived to be very old. This is a warning
          to everybody."

To this day none of us know how he could, and whether his uncle helped
him.

We clapped, of course, but not with our hearts, which were hissing
inside us, and then Oswald began to read his paper. He had not had a
chance to ask Albert's uncle what the other name of the world-famous Sir
Thomas was, so he had to put him in as Sir Thomas Blank, and make it up
by being very strong on scenes that could be better imagined than
described, and, as we knew that the garden was five hundred years old,
of course he could bring in any eventful things since the year 1400.

He was just reading the part about the sundial, which he had noticed
from the train when we went to Bexley Heath. It was rather a nice piece,
I think.

"Most likely this sundial told the time when Charles the First was
beheaded, and recorded the death-devouring progress of the Great Plague
and the Fire of London. There is no doubt that the sun often shone even
in these devastating occasions, so that we may picture Sir Thomas Blank
telling the time here and remarking--O crikey!"

These last words are what Oswald himself remarked. Of course a person in
history would never have said them.

The reader of the paper had suddenly heard a fierce, woodeny sound, like
giant singlesticks, terrifyingly close behind him, and looking hastily
round, he saw a most angry lady, in a bright blue dress with fur on it,
like a picture, and very large wooden shoes, which had made the
singlestick noise. Her eyes were very fierce, and her mouth tight
shut. She did not look hideous, but more like an avenging sprite or
angel, though of course we knew she was only mortal, so we took off our
caps. A gentleman also bounded towards us over some vegetables, and
acted as reserve support to the lady.

[Illustration: HER VOICE WHEN SHE TOLD US WE WERE TRESPASSING WAS NOT SO
FURIOUS.]

Her voice when she told us we were trespassing and it was a private
garden was not so furious as Oswald had expected from her face, but it
_was_ angry. H.O. at once said it wasn't her garden, was it? But, of
course, we could see it _was_, because of her not having any hat or
jacket or gloves, and wearing those wooden shoes to keep her feet dry,
which no one would do in the street.

So then Oswald said we had leave, and showed her Mr. Red House's letter.

"But that was written to Mr. Turnbull," said she, "and how did _you_ get
it?"

Then Mr. Red House wearily begged us to explain, so Oswald did, in that
clear, straightforward way some people think he has, and that no one can
suspect for an instant. And he ended by saying how far from comfortable
it would be to have Mr. Turnbull coming with his thin mouth and his
tight legs, and that we were Bastables, and much nicer than the
tight-legged one, whatever she might think.

And she listened, and then she quite suddenly gave a most jolly grin and
asked us to go on reading our papers.

It was plain that all disagreeableness was at an end, and, to show this
even to the stupidest, she instantly asked us to lunch. Before we could
politely accept H.O. shoved his oar in as usual and said _he_ would stop
no matter how little there was for lunch because he liked her very much.

So she laughed, and Mr. Red House laughed, and she said they wouldn't
interfere with the papers, and they went away and left us.

Of course Oswald and Dicky insisted on going on with the papers; though
the girls wanted to talk about Mrs. Red House, and how nice she was, and
the way her dress was made. Oswald finished his paper, but later he was
sorry he had been in such a hurry, because after a bit Mrs. Red House
came out, and said she wanted to play too. She pretended to be a very
ancient antiquary, and was most jolly, so that the others read their
papers to her, and Oswald knows she would have liked his paper best,
because it _was_ the best, though I say it.

Dicky's turned out to be all about that patent screw, and how Nelson
would not have been killed if his ship had been built with one.

Daisy's paper was about Lady Jane Grey, and hers and Dora's were exactly
alike, the dullest by far, because they had got theirs out of books.

Alice had not written hers because she had been helping Noël to copy
his.

Denny's was about King Charles, and he was very grown-up and fervent
about this ill-fated monarch and white roses.

Mrs. Red House took us into the summer-houses, where it was warmer, and
such is the wonderful architecture of the Red House gardens that there
was a fresh summer-house for each paper, except Noël's and H.O.'s, which
were read in the stable. There were no horses there.

Noël's was very long, and it began--

          "This is the story of Agincourt.
           If you don't know it you jolly well ought.
           It was a famous battle fair,
           And all your ancestors fought there
           That is if you come of a family old.
           The Bastables do; they were always very bold.
                    And at Agincourt
                              They fought
                    As they ought;
                    So we have been taught."

And so on and so on, till some of us wondered why poetry was ever
invented. But Mrs. Red House said she liked it awfully, so Noël said--

"You may have it to keep. I've got another one of it at home."

"I'll put it next my heart, Noël," she said. And she did, under the blue
stuff and fur.

H.O.'s was last, but when we let him read it he wouldn't, so Dora opened
his envelope and it was thick inside with blotting-paper, and in the
middle there was a page with

                     "1066 WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR,"

and nothing else.

"Well," he said, "I said I'd write all I knew about 1066, and that's it.
I can't write more than I know, can I?" The girls said he couldn't, but
Oswald thought he might have tried.

"It wasn't worth blacking your face all over just for that," he said.
But Mrs. Red House laughed very much and said it was a lovely paper, and
told _her_ all she wanted to know about 1066.

Then we went into the garden again and ran races, and Mrs. Red House
held all our spectacles for us and cheered us on. She said she was the
Patent Automatic Cheering Winning-post. We do like her.

Lunch was the glorious end of the Morden House Antiquarian Society and
Field Club's Field Day. But after lunch was the beginning of a real
adventure such as real antiquarians hardly ever get. This will be
unrolled later. I will finish with some French out of a newspaper.
Albert's uncle told it me, so I know it is right. Any of your own
grown-ups will tell you what it means.

_Au prochain numéro je vous promets des émotions._

       *       *       *       *       *

PS.--In case your grown-ups can't be bothered, "_émotions_" mean
sensation, I believe.



_THE INTREPID EXPLORER AND HIS LIEUTENANT_


WE had spectacles to play antiquaries in, and the rims were vaselined to
prevent rust, and it came off on our faces with other kinds of dirt, and
when the antiquary game was over, Mrs. Red House helped us to wash it
off with all the thoroughness of aunts, and far more gentleness.

Then, clean and with our hairs brushed, we were led from the bath-room
to the banqueting hall or dining-room.

It is a very beautiful house. The girls thought it was bare, but Oswald
likes bareness because it leaves more room for games. All the furniture
was of agreeable shapes and colours, and so were all the things on the
table--glasses and dishes and everything. Oswald politely said how nice
everything was.

The lunch was a blissful dream of perfect A.1.-ness. Tongue, and nuts,
and apples, and oranges, and candied fruits, and ginger-wine in tiny
glasses that Noël said were fairy goblets. Everybody drank everybody
else's health--and Noël told Mrs. Red House just how lovely she was,
and he would have paper and pencil and write her a poem for her very
own. I will not put it in here, because Mr. Red House is an author
himself, and he might want to use it in some of his books. And the
writer of these pages has been taught to think of others, and besides I
expect you are jolly well sick of Noël's poetry.

[Illustration: THE LUNCH WAS A BLISSFUL DREAM OF A.1.-NESS.]

There was no restrainingness about that lunch. As far as a married lady
can possibly be a regular brick, Mrs. Red House is one. And Mr. Red
House is not half bad, and knows how to talk about interesting things
like sieges, and cricket, and foreign postage stamps.

Even poets think of things sometimes, and it was Noël who said directly
he had finished his poetry,

"Have you got a secret staircase? And have you explored your house
properly?"

"Yes--we have," said that well-behaved and unusual lady--Mrs. Red House,
"but _you_ haven't. You may if you like. Go anywhere," she added with
the unexpected magnificence of a really noble heart. "Look at
everything--only don't make hay. Off with you!" or words to that effect.

And the whole of us, with proper thanks, offed with us instantly, in
case she should change her mind.

I will not describe the Red House to you--because perhaps you do not
care about a house having three staircases and more cupboards and odd
corners than we'd ever seen before, and great attics with beams, and
enormous drawers on rollers, let into the wall--and half the rooms not
furnished, and those that were all with old-looking, interesting
furniture. There was something about that furniture that even the
present author can't describe--as though any of it might have secret
drawers or panels--even the chairs. It was all beautiful, and mysterious
in the deepest degree.

When we had been all over the house several times, we thought about the
cellars. There was only one servant in the kitchen (so we saw Mr. and
Mrs. Red House must be poor but honest, like we used to be), and we said
to her--

"How do you do? We've got leave to go wherever we like, and please where
are the cellars, and may we go in?"

She was quite nice, though she seemed to think there was an awful lot of
us. People often think this. She said:

"Lor, love a duck--yes, I suppose so," in not ungentle tones, and showed
us.

I don't think we should ever have found the way from the house into the
cellar by ourselves. There was a wide shelf in the scullery with a row
of gentlemanly boots on it that had been cleaned, and on the floor in
front a piece of wood. The general servant--for such indeed she proved
to be--lifted up the wood and opened a little door under the shelf. And
there was the beginning of steps, and the entrance to them was half
trap-door, and half the upright kind--a thing none of us had seen
before.

She gave us a candle-end, and we pressed forward to the dark unknown.
The stair was of stone, arched overhead like churches--and it twisted
most unlike other cellar stairs. And when we got down it was all arched
like vaults, very cobwebby.

"Just the place for crimes," said Dicky. There was a beer cellar, and a
wine cellar with bins, and a keeping cellar with hooks in the ceiling
and stone shelves--just right for venison pasties and haunches of the
same swift animal.

Then we opened a door and there was a cellar with a well in it.

"To throw bodies down, no doubt," Oswald explained.

They were cellars full of glory, and passages leading from one to the
other like the Inquisition, and I wish ours at home were like them.

There was a pile of beer barrels in the largest cellar, and it was H.O.
who said, "Why not play 'King of the Castle?'"

So we did. We had a most refreshing game. It was exactly like Denny to
be the one who slipped down behind the barrels, and did not break a
single one of all his legs or arms.

"No," he cried, in answer to our anxious inquiries. "I'm not hurt a
bit, but the wall here feels soft--at least not soft--but it doesn't
scratch your nails like stone does, so perhaps it's the door of a secret
dungeon or something like that."

"Good old Dentist!" replied Oswald, who always likes Denny to have ideas
of his own, because it was us who taught him the folly of
white-mousishness.

"It might be," he went on, "but these barrels are as heavy as lead, and
much more awkward to collar hold of."

"Couldn't we get in some other way?" Alice said. "There ought to be a
subterranean passage. I expect there is if we only knew."

Oswald has an enormous geographical bump in his head. He said--

"Look here! That far cellar, where the wall doesn't go quite up to the
roof--that space we made out was under the dining-room--I could creep
under there. I believe it leads into behind this door."

"Get me out! Oh do, do get me out, and let me come!" shouted the
barrel-imprisoned Dentist from the unseen regions near the door.

So we got him out by Oswald lying flat on his front on the top barrel,
and the Dentist clawed himself up by Oswald's hands while the others
kept hold of the boots of the representative of the house of Bastable,
which, of course, Oswald is, whenever Father is not there.

"Come on," cried Oswald, when Denny was at last able to appear, very
cobwebby and black. "Give us what's left of the matches!"

The others agreed to stand by the barrels and answer our knocking on the
door if we ever got there.

"But I daresay we shall perish on the way," said Oswald hopefully.

So we started. The other cellar was easily found by the ingenious and
geography-bump-headed Oswald. It opened straight on to the moat, and we
think it was a boathouse in middle-aged times.

Denny made a back for Oswald, who led the way, and then he turned round
and hauled up his inexperienced, but rapidly improving, follower on to
the top of the wall that did not go quite up to the roof.

"It is like coal mines," he said, beginning to crawl on hands and knees
over what felt like very prickly beach, "only we've no picks or
shovels."

"And no Sir Humphry Davy safety lamps," said Denny in sadness.

"They wouldn't be any good," said Oswald; "they're only to protect the
hard-working mining men against fire-damp and choke-damp. And there's
none of those kinds here."

"No," said Denny, "the damp here is only just the common kind."

"Well, then," said Oswald, and they crawled a bit further still on
their furtive and unassuming stomachs.

"This is a very glorious adventure. It is, isn't it?" inquired the
Dentist in breathlessness, when the young stomachs of the young
explorers had bitten the dust for some yards further.

"Yes," said Oswald, encouraging the boy, "and it's _your_ find, too," he
added, with admirable fairness and justice, unusual in one so young. "I
only hope we shan't find a mouldering skeleton buried alive behind that
door when we get to it. Come on. What are you stopping for now?" he
added kindly.

"It's--it's only cobwebs in my throat," Denny remarked, and he came on,
though slower than before.

Oswald, with his customary intrepid caution, was leading the way, and he
paused every now and then to strike a match because it was pitch dark,
and at any moment the courageous leader might have tumbled into a well
or a dungeon, or knocked his dauntless nose against something in the
dark.

"It's all right for you," he said to Denny, when he had happened to kick
his follower in the eye. "You've nothing to fear except my boots, and
whatever they do is accidental, and so it doesn't count, but _I_ may be
going straight into some trap that has been yawning for me for countless
ages."

"I won't come on so fast, thank you," said the Dentist. "I don't think
you've kicked my eye out yet."

So they went on and on, crampedly crawling on what I have mentioned
before, and at last Oswald did not strike the next match carefully
enough, and with the suddenness of a falling star his hands, which, with
his knees, he was crawling on, went over the edge into infinite space,
and his chest alone, catching sharply on the edge of the precipice,
saved him from being hurled to the bottom of it.

"Halt!" he cried, as soon as he had any breath again. But, alas! it was
too late! The Dentist's nose had been too rapid, and had caught up the
boot-heel of the daring leader. This was very annoying to Oswald, and
was not in the least his fault.

"Do keep your nose off my boots half a sec.," he remarked, but not
crossly. "I'll strike a match."

And he did, and by its weird and unscrutatious light looked down into
the precipice.

Its bottom transpired to be not much more than six feet below, so Oswald
turned the other end of himself first, hung by his hands, and dropped
with fearless promptness, uninjured, in another cellar. He then helped
Denny down. The cornery thing Denny happened to fall on could not have
hurt him so much as he said.

The light of the torch, I mean match, now revealed to the two bold and
youthful youths another cellar, with _things_ in it--very dirty
indeed, but of thrilling interest and unusual shapes, but the match went
out before we could see exactly what the things were.

[Illustration: OSWALD DID NOT STRIKE THE NEXT MATCH CAREFULLY ENOUGH.]

The next match was the last but one, but Oswald was undismayed, whatever
Denny may have been. He lighted it and looked hastily round. There was a
door.

"Bang on that door--over there, silly!" he cried, in cheering accents,
to his trusty lieutenant; "behind that thing that looks like a _chevaux
de frize_."

Denny had never been to Woolwich, and while Oswald was explaining what a
_chevaux de frize_ is, the match burnt his fingers almost to the bone,
and he had to feel his way to the door and hammer on it yourself.

The blows of the others from the other side were deafening.

All was saved.

It was the right door.

"Go and ask for candles and matches," shouted the brave Oswald. "Tell
them there are all sorts of things in here--a _chevaux de frize_ of
chair-legs, and----"

"A shovel of _what_?" asked Dicky's voice hollowly from the other side
of the door.

"Freeze," shouted Denny. "I don't know what it means, but do get a
candle and make them unbarricade the door. I don't want to go back the
way we came." He said something about Oswald's boots that he was sorry
for afterwards, so I will not repeat it, and I don't think the others
heard, because of the noise the barrels made while they were being
climbed over.

This noise, however, was like balmy zephyrs compared to the noise the
barrels insisted on making when Dicky had collected some grown-ups and
the barrels were being rolled away. During this thunder-like interval
Denny and Oswald were all the time in the pitch dark. They had lighted
their last match, and by its flickering gleam we saw a long, large
mangle.

"It's like a double coffin," said Oswald, as the match went out. "You
can take my arm if you like, Dentist."

The Dentist did--and then afterwards he said he only did it because he
thought Oswald was frightened of the dark.

"It's only for a little while," said Oswald in the pauses of the
barrel-thunder, "and I once read about two brothers confined for life in
a cage so constructed that the unfortunate prisoners could neither sit,
lie, nor stand in comfort. We can do all those things."

"Yes," said Denny; "but I'd rather keep on standing if it's the same to
you, Oswald. I don't like spiders--not much, that is."

"You are right," said Oswald with affable gentleness; "and there might
be toads perhaps in a vault like this--or serpents guarding the treasure
like in the Cold Lairs. But of course they couldn't have cobras in
England. They'd have to put up with vipers, I suppose."

Denny shivered, and Oswald could feel him stand first on one leg and
then on the other.

"I wish I could stand on neither of my legs for a bit," he said, but
Oswald answered firmly that this could not be.

And then the door opened with a crack-crash, and we saw lights and faces
through it, and something fell from the top of the door that Oswald
really did think for one awful instant was a hideous mass of writhing
serpents put there to guard the entrance.

"Like a sort of live booby-trap," he explained; "just the sort of thing
a magician or a witch would have thought of doing."

But it was only dust and cobwebs--a thick, damp mat of them.

Then the others surged in, in light-hearted misunderstanding of the
perils Oswald had led Denny into--I mean through, with Mr. Red House and
another gentleman, and loud voices and candles that dripped all over
everybody's hands, as well as their clothes, and the solitary
confinement of the gallant Oswald was at an end. Denny's solitary
confinement was at an end, too--and he was now able to stand on both
legs and to let go the arm of his leader who was so full of fortitude.

"This _is_ a find," said the pleased voice of Mr. Red House. "Do you
know, we've been in this house six whole months and a bit, and _we_
never thought of there being a door here."

"Perhaps you don't often play 'King of the Castle,'" said Dora
politely; "it _is_ rather a rough game, I always think."

"Well, curiously enough, we never have," said Mr. Red House, beginning
to lift out the chairs, in which avocation we all helped, of course.

"Nansen is nothing to you! You ought to have a medal for daring
explorations," said the other gentleman, but nobody gave us one, and, of
course, we did not want any reward for doing our duty, however tight and
cobwebby.

The cellars proved to be well stocked with spiders and old furniture,
but no toads or snakes, which few, if any, regretted. Snakes are
outcasts from human affection. Oswald pities them, of course.

There was a great lumpish thing in four parts that Mr. Red House said
was a press, and a ripping settle--besides the chairs, and some carved
wood that Mr. Red House and his friend made out to be part of an old
four-post bed. There was also a wooden thing like a box with another box
on it at one end, and H.O. said--

"You could make a ripping rabbit-hutch out of that."

Oswald thought so himself. But Mr. Red House said he had other uses for
it, and would bring it up later.

It took us all that was left of the afternoon to get the things up the
stairs into the kitchen. It was hard work, but we know all about the
dignity of labour. The general hated the things we had so enterprisingly
discovered. I suppose she knew who would have to clean them, but Mrs.
Red House was awfully pleased and said we were dears.

We were not very clean dears by the time our work was done, and when the
other gentleman said, "Won't you all take a dish of tea under my humble
roof?" the words "Like this?" were formed by more than one youthful
voice.

"Well, if you would be happier in a partially cleansed state?" said Mr.
Red House. And Mrs. Red House, who is my idea of a feudal lady in a
castle, said, "Oh, come along, let's go and partially clean ourselves.
I'm dirtier than anybody, though I haven't explored a bit. I've often
noticed that the more you admire things the more they come off on you!"

So we all washed as much as we cared to, and went to tea at the
gentleman's house, which was only a cottage, but very beautiful. He had
been a war correspondent, and he knew a great many things, besides
having books and books of pictures.

It was a splendid party.

We thanked Mrs. R.H. and everybody when it was time to go, and she
kissed the girls and the little boys, and then she put her head on one
side and looked at Oswald and said, "I suppose you're too old?"

Oswald did not like to say he was not. If kissed at all he would prefer
it being for some other reason than his being not too old for it. So he
did not know what to say. But Noël chipped in with--

"_You'll_ never be too old for it," to Mrs. Red House--which seemed to
Oswald most silly and unmeaning, because she was already much too old to
be kissed by people unless she chose to begin it. But every one seemed
to think Noël had said something clever. And Oswald felt like a young
ass. But Mrs. R.H. looked at him so kindly and held out her hand so
queenily that, before he knew he meant to, he had kissed it like you do
the Queen's. Then, of course, Denny and Dicky went and did the same.
Oswald wishes that the word "kiss" might never be spoken again in this
world. Not that he minded kissing Mrs. Red House's hand in the least,
especially as she seemed to think it was nice of him to--but the whole
thing is such contemptible piffle.

We were seen home by the gentleman who wasn't Mr. Red House, and he
stood a glorious cab with a white horse who had a rolling eye, from
Blackheath Station, and so ended one of the most adventuring times we
ever got out of a play-beginning.

The _time_ ended as the author has pointed out, but not its
resultingness. Thus we ever find it in life--the most unharmful things,
thoroughly approved even by grown-ups, but too often lead to something
quite different, and that no one can possibly approve of, not even
yourself when you come to think it over afterwards, like Noël and H.O.
had to.

It was but natural that the hearts of the young explorers should have
dwelt fondly on everything underground, even drains, which was what made
us read a book by Mr. Hugo, all the next day. It is called "The
Miserables," in French, and the man in it, who is a splendid hero,
though a convict and a robber and various other professions, escapes
into a drain with great rats in it, and is miraculously restored to the
light of day, unharmed by the kindly rodents. (N.B.--Rodents mean rats.)

When we had finished all the part about drains it was nearly
dinner-time, and Noël said quite suddenly in the middle of a bite of
mutton--

"The Red House isn't nearly so red as ours is outside. Why should the
cellars be so much cellarier? Shut up H.O.!" For H.O. was trying to
speak.

Dora explained to him how we don't all have exactly the same blessings,
but he didn't seem to see it.

"It doesn't seem like the way things happen in books," he said, "In
Walter Scott it wouldn't be like that, nor yet in Anthony Hope. I should
think the rule would be the redder the cellarier. If I was putting it
into poetry I should make our cellars have something much wonderfuller
in them than just wooden things. H.O., if you don't shut up I'll never
let you be in anything again."

"There's that door you go down steps to," said Dicky; "we've never been
in there. If Dora and I weren't going with Miss Blake to be fitted for
boots we might try that."

"That's just what I was coming to. (Stow it, H.O.!) I felt just like
cellars to-day, while you other chaps were washing your hands for
din.--and it was very cold; but I made H.O. feel the same, and we went
down, and--that door _isn't shut now_."

The intelligible reader may easily guess that we finished our dinner as
quickly as we could, and we put on our outers, sympathising with Dicky
and Dora, who, owing to boots, were out of it, and we went into the
garden. There are five steps down to that door. They were red brick when
they began, but now they are green with age and mysteriousness and not
being walked on. And at the bottom of them the door was, as Noël said,
not fastened. We went in.

"It isn't beery, winey cellars at all," Alice said; "it's more like a
robber's store-house. Look there."

We had got to the inner cellar, and there were heaps of carrots and
other vegetables.

"Halt, my men!" cried Oswald, "advance not an inch further! The bandits
may lurk not a yard from you!"

"Suppose they jump out on us?" said H.O.

"They will not rashly leap into the light," said the discerning Oswald.
And he went to fetch a new dark-lantern of his that he had not had any
chance of really using before. But some one had taken Oswald's secret
matches, and then the beastly lantern wouldn't light for ever so long.
But he thought it didn't matter his being rather a long time gone,
because the others could pass the time in wondering whether anything
would jump out on them, and if so, what and when.

So when he got back to the red steps and the open door and flashed his
glorious bull's-eye round it was rather an annoying thing for there not
to be a single other eye for it to flash into. Every one had vanished.

"Hallo!" cried Oswald, and if his gallant voice trembled he is not
ashamed of it, because he knows about wells in cellars, and, for an
instant, even he did not know what had happened.

But an answering hullo came from beyond, and he hastened after the
others.

"Look out," said Alice; "don't tumble over that heap of bones."

Oswald did look out--of course, he would not wish to walk on any one's
bones. But he did not jump back with a scream, whatever Noël may say
when he is in a temper.

The heap really did look very like bones, partly covered with earth.
Oswald was glad to learn that they were only parsnips.

"We waited as long as we could," said Alice, "but we thought perhaps
you'd been collared for some little thing you'd forgotten all about
doing, and wouldn't be able to come back, but we found Noël had,
fortunately, got your matches. I'm so glad you weren't collared, Oswald
dear."

Some boys would have let Noël know about the matches, but Oswald didn't.
The heaps of carrots and turnips and parsnips and things were not very
interesting when you knew that they were not bleeding warriors' or
pilgrims' bones, and it was too cold to pretend for long with any
comfort to the young Pretenders. So Oswald said--

"Let's go out on the Heath and play something warm. You can't warm
yourself with matches, even if they're not your own."

That was all he said. A great hero would not stoop to argue about
matches.

And Alice said, "All right," and she and Oswald went out and played
pretending golf with some walking-sticks of Father's. But Noël and H.O.
preferred to sit stuffily over the common-room fire. So that Oswald and
Alice, as well as Dora and Dicky, who were being measured for boots,
were entirely out of the rest of what happened, and the author can only
imagine the events that now occurred.

When Noël and H.O. had roasted their legs by the fire till they were so
hot that their stockings quite hurt them, one of them must have said to
the other--I never knew which:

"Let's go and have another look at that cellar."

The other--whoever it was--foolishly consented. So they went, and they
took Oswald's dark-lantern in his absence and without his leave.

They found a hitherto unnoticed door behind the other one, and Noël says
he said, "We'd better not go in." H.O. says he said so too. But any way,
they _did_ go in.

They found themselves in a small vaulted place that we found out
afterwards had been used for mushrooms. But it was long since any fair
bud of a mushroom had blossomed in that dark retreat. The place had been
cleaned and new shelves put up, and when Noël and H.O. saw what was on
these shelves the author is sure they turned pale, though they say not.

For what they saw was coils, and pots, and wires; and one of them said,
in a voice that must have trembled--

"It is dynamite, I am certain of it; what shall we do?"

I am certain the other said, "This is to blow up Father because he took
part in the Lewisham Election, and his side won."

The reply no doubt was, "There is no time for delay; we must act. We
must cut the fuse--all the fuses; there are dozens."

Oswald thinks it was not half bad business, those two kids--for Noël is
little more than one, owing to his poetry and his bronchitis--standing
in the abode of dynamite and not screeching, or running off to tell Miss
Blake, or the servants, or any one--but just doing _the right thing_
without any fuss.

[Illustration: WITH SCISSORS AND GAS PLIERS THEY CUT EVERY FUSE.]

I need hardly say it did not prove to be the right thing--but they
thought it was. And Oswald cannot think that you are really doing wrong
if you really think you are doing right. I hope you will understand
this.

I believe the kids tried cutting the fuses with Dick's pocket-knife that
was in the pocket of his other clothes. But the fuses would not--no
matter how little you trembled when you touched them.

But at last, with scissors and the gas pliers, they cut every fuse. The
fuses were long, twisty, wire things covered with green wool, like
blind-cords.

Then Noël and H.O. (and Oswald for one thinks it showed a goodish bit of
pluck, and policemen have been made heroes for less) got cans and cans
of water from the tap by the greenhouse and poured sluicing showers of
the icy fluid in among the internal machinery of the dynamite
arrangement--for so they believed it to be.

Then, very wet, but feeling that they had saved their Father and the
house, they went and changed their clothes. I think they were a little
stuck-up about it, believing it to be an act unrivalled in devotedness,
and they were most tiresome all the afternoon, talking about their
secret, and not letting us know what it was.

But when Father came home, early, as it happened, those swollen-headed,
but, in Oswald's opinion, quite-to-be-excused, kiddies learned the
terrible truth.

Of course Oswald and Dicky would have known at once; if Noël and H.O.
hadn't been so cocky about not telling us, we could have exposed the
truth to them in all its uninteresting nature.

I hope the reader will now prepare himself for a shock. In a wild whirl
of darkness, and the gas being cut off, and not being able to get any
light, and Father saying all sorts of things, it all came out.

Those coils and jars and wires in that cellar were not an infernal
machine at all. It was--I know you will be very much surprised--it was
the electric lights and bells that Father had had put in while we were
at the Red House the day before.

H.O. and Noël caught it very fully; and Oswald thinks this was one of
the few occasions when my Father was not as just as he meant to be. My
uncle was not just either, but then it is much longer since he was a
boy, so we must make excuses for him.

       *       *       *       *       *

We sent Mrs. Red House a Christmas card each. In spite of the trouble
that her cellars had lured him into, Noël sent her a homemade one with
an endless piece of his everlasting poetry on it, and next May she wrote
and asked us to come and see her. _We_ try to be just, and we saw that
it was not really her fault that Noël and H.O. had cut those electric
wires, so we all went; but we did not take Albert Morrison, because he
was fortunately away with an aged god-parent of his mother's who writes
tracts at Tunbridge Wells.

The garden was all flowery and green, and Mr. and Mrs. Red House were
nice and jolly, and we had a distinguished and first-class time.

But would you believe it?--that boxish thing in the cellar, that H.O.
wanted them to make a rabbit-hutch of--well, Mr. Red House had cleaned
it and mended it, and Mrs. Red House took us up to the room where it
was, to let us look at it again. And, unbelievable to relate, it turned
out to have rockers, and some one in dark, bygone ages seems, for
reasons unknown to the present writer, to have wasted no end of
carpentry and carving on it, just to make it into a _Cradle_. And what
is more, since we were there last Mr. and Mrs. Red House had succeeded
in obtaining a small but quite alive baby to put in it.

I suppose they thought it was wilful waste to have a cradle and no baby
to use it. But it could so easily have been used for something else. It
would have made a ripping rabbit-hutch, and babies are far more trouble
than rabbits to keep, and not nearly so profitable, I believe.



_THE TURK IN CHAINS; OR, RICHARD'S REVENGE_


THE morning dawned in cloudless splendour. The sky was a pale cobalt
colour, as in pictures of Swiss scenery. The sun shone brightly, and all
the green things in the garden sparkled in the bewitching rays of the
monarch of the skies.

The author of this does not like to read much about the weather in
books, but he is obliged to put this piece in because it is true; and it
is a thing that does not very often happen in the middle of January. In
fact, I never remember the weather being at all like that in the winter
except on that one day.

Of course we all went into the garden directly after brekker. (PS.--I
have said green things: perhaps you think that is a _lapsus lazuli_, or
slip of the tongue, and that there are not any green things in the
winter. But there are. And not just evergreens either. Wallflowers and
pansies and snapdragons and primroses, and lots of things, keep green
all the year unless it's too frosty. Live and learn.)

And it was so warm we were able to sit in the summer-house. The birds
were singing like mad. Perhaps they thought it was springtime. Or
perhaps they always sing when they see the sun, without paying attention
to dates.

And now, when all his brothers and sisters were sitting on the rustic
seats in the summer-house, the far-sighted Oswald suddenly saw that now
was the moment for him to hold that council he had been wanting to hold
for some time.

So he stood in the door of the summer-house, in case any of the others
should suddenly remember that they wanted to be in some other place. And
he said--

"I say. About that council I want to hold."

And Dicky replied: "Well, what about it?"

So then Oswald explained all over again that we had been Treasure
Seekers, and we had been Would-be-Goods, and he thought it was time we
were something else.

"Being something else makes you think of things," he said at the end of
all the other things he said.

"Yes," said H.O., yawning, without putting up his hand, which is not
manners, and we told him so. "But _I_ can think of things without being
other things. Look how I thought about being a clown, and going to
Rome."

"I shouldn't think you would want us to remember _that_," said Dora. And
indeed Father had not been pleased with H.O. about that affair. But
Oswald never encourages Dora to nag, so he said patiently--

"Yes, you think of things you'd much better not have thought of. Now my
idea is let's each say what sort of a society we shall make ourselves
into--like we did when we were Treasure Seekers--about the different
ways to look for it, I mean. Let's hold our tongues (no, not with your
dirty fingers, H.O., old chap; hold it with your teeth if you must hold
it with something)--let's hold our tongues for a bit, and then all say
what we've thought of--in ages," the thoughtful boy added hastily, so
that every one should not speak at once when we had done holding our
tongues.

So we were all silent, and the birds sang industriously among the
leafless trees of our large sunny garden in beautiful Blackheath. (The
author is sorry to see he is getting poetical. It shall not happen
again, and it _was_ an extra fine day, really, and the birds did sing, a
fair treat.)

When three long minutes had elapsed themselves by the hands of Oswald's
watch, which always keeps perfect time for three or four days after he
has had it mended, he closed the watch and observed--

"Time! Go ahead, Dora."

Dora went ahead in the following remarks:

"I've thought as hard as I can, and nothing will come into my head
except--

          "'Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.'

Don't you think we might try to find some new ways to be good in?"

"No, you don't!" "I bar that!" came at once from the mouths of Dicky and
Oswald.

"You don't come that over us twice," Dicky added. And Oswald eloquently
said, "No more Would-be-Goods, thank you, Dora."

Dora said, well, she couldn't think of anything else. And she didn't
expect Oswald had thought of anything better.

"Yes, I have," replied her brother. "What I think is that we don't
_know_ half enough."

"If you mean extra swat," said Alice; "I've more homers than I care for
already, thank you."

"I do not mean swat," rejoined the experienced Oswald. "I want to know
all about real things, not booky things. If you kids had known about
electric bells you wouldn't have----" Oswald stopped, and then said, "I
won't say any more, because Father says a gentleman does not support his
arguments with personal illusions to other people's faults and follies."

"Faults and follies yourself," said H.O. The girls restored peace, and
Oswald went on--

"Let us seek to grow wiser, and to teach each other."

"_I_ bar that," said H.O. "I don't want Oswald and Dicky always on to me
and call it teaching."

"We might call the society the Would-be-Wisers," said Oswald hastily.

"It's not so dusty," said Dicky; "let's go on to the others before we
decide."

"You're next yourself," said Alice.

"Oh, so I am," remarked Dicky, trying to look surprised. "Well, my idea
is let's be a sort of Industrious Society of Beavers, and make a solemn
vow and covenant to make something every day. We might call it the
Would-be-Clevers."

"It would be the Too-clever-by-half's before we'd done with it," said
Oswald.

And Alice said, "We couldn't always make things that would be any good,
and then we should have to do something that wasn't any good, and that
would be rot. Yes, I know it's my turn--H.O., you'll kick the table to
pieces if you go on like that. Do, for goodness' sake, keep your feet
still. The only thing I can think of is a society called the
Would-be-Boys."

"With you and Dora for members."

"And Noël--poets aren't boys exactly," said H.O.

"If you don't shut up you shan't be in it at all," said Alice, putting
her arm round Noël. "No; I meant us all to be in it--only you boys are
not to keep saying we're only girls, and let us do everything the same
as you boys do."

"I don't want to be a boy, thank you," said Dora, "not when I see how
they behave. H.O., _do_ stop sniffing and use your handkerchief. Well,
take mine, then."

It was now Noël's turn to disclose his idea, which proved most awful.

"Let's be Would-be-Poets," he said, "and solemnly vow and convenient to
write one piece of poetry a day as long as we live."

Most of us were dumb at the dreadful thought. But Alice said--

"That would never do, Noël dear, because you're the only one of us who's
clever enough to do it."

So Noël's detestable and degrading idea was shelved without Oswald
having to say anything that would have made the youthful poet weep.

"I suppose you don't mean me to say what I thought of," said H.O., "but
I shall. I think you ought all to be in a Would-be-Kind Society, and vow
solemn convents and things not to be down on your younger brother."

We explained to him at once that _he_ couldn't be in that, because he
hadn't got a younger brother.

"And you may think yourself lucky you haven't," Dicky added.

The ingenious and felicitous Oswald was just going to begin about the
council all over again, when the portable form of our Indian uncle came
stoutly stumping down the garden path under the cedars.

"Hi, brigands!" he cried in his cheerful unclish manner. "Who's on for
the Hippodrome this bright day?"

And instantly we all were. Even Oswald--because after all you can have
a council any day, but Hippodromes are not like that.

[Illustration: "HI, BRIGANDS!" HE CRIED.]

We got ready like the whirlwind of the desert for quickness, and started
off with our kind uncle, who has lived so long in India that he is much
more warm-hearted than you would think to look at him.

Half-way to the station Dicky remembered his patent screw for working
ships with. He had been messing with it in the bath while he was waiting
for Oswald to have done plunging cleanly in the basin. And in the
desert-whirlwinding he had forgotten to take it out. So now he ran back,
because he knew how its cardboardiness would turn to pulp if it was
left.

"I'll catch you up," he cried.

The uncle took the tickets and the train came in and still Dicky had not
caught us up.

"Tiresome boy!" said the uncle; "you don't want to miss the
beginning--eh, what? Ah, here he comes!" The uncle got in, and so did
we, but Dicky did not see the uncle's newspaper which Oswald waved, and
he went running up and down the train looking for us instead of just
getting in anywhere sensibly, as Oswald would have done. When the train
began to move he did try to open a carriage door but it stuck, and the
train went faster, and just as he got it open a large heavy porter
caught him by the collar and pulled him off the train, saying--

"Now, young shaver, no susansides on this ere line, if _you_ please."

Dicky hit the porter, but his fury was vain. Next moment the train had
passed away, and us in it. Dicky had no money, and the uncle had all the
tickets in the pocket of his fur coat.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am not going to tell you anything about the Hippodrome because the
author feels that it was a trifle beastly of us to have enjoyed it as
much as we did considering Dicky. We tried not to talk about it before
him when we got home, but it was very difficult--especially the
elephants.

       *       *       *       *       *

I suppose he spent an afternoon of bitter thoughts after he had told
that porter what he thought of him, which took some time, and the
station-master interfered in the end.

When we got home he was all right with us. He had had time to see it was
not our faults, whatever he thought at the time.

He refused to talk about it. Only he said--

"I'm going to take it out of that porter. You leave me alone. I shall
think of something presently."

"Revenge is very wrong," said Dora; but even Alice asked her kindly to
dry up. We all felt that it was simply piffle to talk copy-book to one
so disappointed as our unfortunate brother.

"It _is_ wrong, though," said Dora.

"Wrong be blowed!" said Dicky, snorting; "who began it I should like to
know! The station's a beastly awkward place to take it out of any one
in. I wish I knew where he lived."

"_I_ know _that_," said Noël. "I've known it a long time--before
Christmas, when we were going to the Moat House."

"Well, what is it, then?" asked Dicky savagely.

"Don't bite his head off," remarked Alice. "Tell us about it, Noël. How
do you know?"

"It was when you were weighing yourselves on the weighing machine. I
didn't because my weight isn't worth being weighed for. And there was a
heap of hampers and turkeys and hares and things, and there was a label
on a turkey and brown-paper parcel; and that porter that you hate so
said to the other porter----"

"Oh, hurry up, do!" said Dicky.

"I won't tell you at all if you bully me," said Noël, and Alice had to
coax him before he would go on.

"Well, he looked at the label and said, 'Little mistake here,
Bill--wrong address; ought to be 3, Abel Place, eh?'

"And the other one looked, and he said, 'Yes; it's got your name right
enough. Fine turkey, too, and his chains in the parcel. Pity they ain't
more careful about addressing things, eh?' So when they had done
laughing about it I looked at the label and it said, 'James Johnson, 8,
Granville Park.' So I knew it was 3, Abel Place, he lived at, and his
name was James Johnson."

"Good old Sherlock Holmes!" said Oswald.

"You won't really _hurt_ him," said Noël, "will you? Not Corsican
revenge with knives, or poisoned bowls? I wouldn't do more than a good
booby-trap, if I was you."

When Noël said the word "booby-trap," we all saw a strange, happy look
come over Dicky's face. It is called a far-away look, I believe, and you
can see it in the picture of a woman cuddling a photograph-album with
her hair down, that is in all the shops, and they call it "The Soul's
Awakening."

Directly Dicky's soul had finished waking up he shut his teeth together
with a click. Then he said, "I've got it."

Of course we all knew that.

"Any one who thinks revenge is wrong is asked to leave _now_."

Dora said he was very unkind, and did he really want to turn her out?

"There's a jolly good fire in Father's study," he said. "No, I'm not
waxy with you, but I'm going to have my revenge, and I don't want you to
do anything you thought wrong. You'd only make no end of a fuss
afterwards."

"Well, it _is_ wrong, so I'll go," said Dora. "Don't say I didn't warn
you, that's all!"

And she went.

Then Dicky said, "Now, any more conscious objectors?"

And when no one replied he went on: "It was you saying 'Booby-trap' gave
me the idea. His name's James Johnson, is it? And he said the things
were addressed wrong, did he? Well, _I'll_ send him a Turkey-and-chains."

"A Turk in chains," said Noël, growing owley-eyed at the thought--"a
_live_ Turk--or--no, not a dead one, Dicky?"

"The Turk I'm going to send won't be a live one nor yet a dead one."

"How horrible! _Half_ dead. That's worse than anything," and Noël became
so green in the face that Alice told Dicky to stop playing the goat, and
tell us what his idea really was.

"Don't you see _yet_?" he cried; "_I_ saw it directly."

"I daresay," said Oswald; "it's easy to see your own idea. Drive ahead."

"Well, I'm going to get a hamper and pack it full of parcels and put a
list of them on the top--beginning Turk-and-chains, and send it to
Mister James Johnson, and when he opens the parcels there'll be nothing
inside."

"There must be something, you know," said H.O., "or the parcels won't be
any shape except flatness."

"Oh, there'll be _something_ right enough," was the bitter reply of the
one who had not been to the Hippodrome, "but it won't be the sort of
something he'll expect it to be. Let's do it now. I'll get a hamper."

[Illustration: IT WAS RATHER DIFFICULT TO GET ANYTHING THE SHAPE OF A
TURKEY.]

He got a big one out of the cellar and four empty bottles with their
straw cases. We filled the bottles with black ink and water, and red
ink and water, and soapy water, and water plain. And we put them down on
the list--

          1 bottle of port wine.
          1 bottle of sherry wine.
          1 bottle of sparkling champagne.
          1 bottle of rum.

The rest of the things we put on the list were--

          1 turkey-and-chains.
          2 pounds of chains.
          1 plum-pudding.
          4 pounds of mince-pies.
          2 pounds of almonds and raisins.
          1 box of figs.
          1 bottle of French plums.
          1 large cake.

And we made up parcels to look outside as if their inside was full of
the delicious attributes described in the list. It was rather difficult
to get anything the shape of a turkey but with coals and crushed
newspapers and firewood we did it, and when it was done up with lots of
string and the paper artfully squeezed tight to the firewood to look
like the Turk's legs it really was almost lifelike in its deceivingness.
The chains, or sausages, we did with dusters--and not clean ones--rolled
tight, and the paper moulded gently to their forms. The plum-pudding was
a newspaper ball. The mince-pies were newspapers too, and so were the
almonds and raisins. The box of figs was a real fig-box with cinders
and ashes in it damped to keep them from rattling about. The French-plum
bottle was real too. It had newspaper soaked in ink in it, and the cake
was half a muff-box of Dora's done up very carefully and put at the
bottom of the hamper. Inside the muff-box we put a paper with--

"Revenge is not wrong when the other people begin. It was you began, and
now you are jolly well served out."

We packed all the bottles and parcels into the hamper, and put the list
on the very top, pinned to the paper that covered the false breast of
the imitation Turk.

Dicky wanted to write--"From an unknown friend," but we did not think
that was fair, considering how Dicky felt.

So at last we put--"From one who does not wish to sign his name."

And that was true, at any rate.

Dicky and Oswald lugged the hamper down to the shop that has Carter
Paterson's board outside.

"I vote we don't pay the carriage," said Dicky, but that was perhaps
because he was still so very angry about being pulled off the train.
Oswald had not had it done to him, so he said that we ought to pay the
carriage. And he was jolly glad afterwards that this honourable feeling
had arisen in his young bosom, and that he had jolly well made Dicky let
it rise in his.

We paid the carriage. It was one-and-five-pence, but Dicky said it was
cheap for a high-class revenge like this, and after all it was his money
the carriage was paid with.

So then we went home and had another go in of grub--because tea had been
rather upset by Dicky's revenge.

The people where we left the hamper told us that it would be delivered
next day. So next morning we gloated over the thought of the sell that
porter was in for, and Dicky was more deeply gloating than any one.

"I expect it's got there by now," he said at dinner-time; "it's a first
class booby-trap; what a sell for him! He'll read the list and then
he'll take out one parcel after another till he comes to the cake. It
_was_ a ripping idea! I'm glad I thought of it!"

"I'm not," said Noël suddenly. "I wish you hadn't--I wish we hadn't. I
know just exactly what he feels like now. He feels as if he'd like to
_kill_ you for it, and I daresay he would if you hadn't been a craven,
white-feathered skulker and not signed your name."

It was a thunderbolt in our midst Noël behaving like this. It made
Oswald feel a sick inside feeling that perhaps Dora had been right. She
sometimes is--and Oswald hates this feeling.

Dicky was so surprised at the unheard-of cheek of his young brother that
for a moment he was speechless, and before he got over his
speechlessness Noël was crying and wouldn't have any more dinner. Alice
spoke in the eloquent language of the human eye and begged Dicky to look
over it this once. And he replied by means of the same useful organ that
he didn't care what a silly kid thought. So no more was said. When Noël
had done crying he began to write a piece of poetry and kept at it all
the afternoon. Oswald only saw just the beginning. It was called

                 "THE DISAPPOINTED PORTER'S FURY
             _Supposed to be by the Porter himself_,"

and it began:--

          "When first I opened the hamper fair
           And saw the parcel inside there
           My heart rejoiced like dry gardens when
           It rains--but soon I changed and then
           I seized my trusty knife and bowl
           Of poison, and said 'Upon the whole
           I will have the life of the man
           Or woman who thought of this wicked plan
           To deceive a trusting porter so.
           No noble heart would have thought of it. No.'"

There were pages and pages of it. Of course it was all nonsense--the
poetry, I mean. And yet . . . . . . (I have seen that put in books when
the author does not want to let out all he thought at the time.)

That evening at tea-time Jane came and said--

"Master Dicky, there's an old aged man at the door inquiring if you live
here."

So Dicky thought it was the bootmaker perhaps; so he went out, and
Oswald went with him, because he wanted to ask for a bit of cobbler's
wax.

But it was not the shoemaker. It was an old man, pale in the face and
white in the hair, and he was so old that we asked him into Father's
study by the fire, as soon as we had found out it was really Dicky he
wanted to see.

When we got him there he said--

"Might I trouble you to shut the door?"

This is the way a burglar or a murderer might behave, but we did not
think he was one. He looked too old for these professions.

When the door was shut, he said--

"I ain't got much to say, young gemmen. It's only to ask was it you sent
this?"

He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, and it was our list.
Oswald and Dicky looked at each other.

"Did you send it?" said the old man again.

So then Dicky shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yes."

Oswald said, "How did you know and who are you?"

The old man got whiter than ever. He pulled out a piece of paper--it was
the greenish-grey piece we'd wrapped the Turk and chains in. And it had
a label on it that we hadn't noticed, with Dicky's name and address on
it. The new bat he got at Christmas had come in it.

[Illustration: WHEN THE DOOR WAS SHUT HE SAID, "I AIN'T GOT MUCH TO SAY,
YOUNG GEMMEN."]

"That's how I know," said the old man. "Ah, be sure your sin will find
you out."

"But who are you, anyway!" asked Oswald again.

"Oh, _I_ ain't nobody in particular," he said. "I'm only the father of
the pore gell as you took in with your cruel, deceitful, lying tricks.
Oh, you may look uppish, young sir, but I'm here to speak my mind, and
I'll speak it if I die for it. So now!"

"But we didn't send it to a girl," said Dicky. "We wouldn't do such a
thing. We sent it for a--for a----" I think he tried to say for a joke,
but he couldn't with the fiery way the old man looked at him--"for a
sell, to pay a porter out for stopping me getting into a train when it
was just starting, and I missed going to the Circus with the others."
Oswald was glad Dicky was not too proud to explain to the old man. He
was rather afraid he might be.

"I never sent it to a girl," he said again.

"Ho," said the aged one. "An' who told you that there porter was a
single man? It was his wife--my pore gell--as opened your low parcel,
and she sees your lying list written out so plain on top, and, sez she
to me, 'Father,' says she, 'ere's a friend in need! All these good
things for us, and no name signed, so that we can't even say thank you.
I suppose it's some one knows how short we are just now, and hardly
enough to eat with coals the price they are,' says she to me. 'I do call
that kind and Christian,' says she, 'and I won't open not one of them
lovely parcels till Jim comes 'ome,' she says, 'and we'll enjoy the
pleasures of it together, all three of us,' says she. And when he came
home--we opened of them lovely parcels. She's a cryin' her eyes out at
home now, and Jim, he only swore once, and I don't blame him for that
one--though never an evil speaker myself--and then he set himself down
on a chair and puts his elbows on it to hide his face like--and 'Emmie,'
says he, 'so help me. I didn't know I'd got an enemy in the world. I
always thought we'd got nothing but good friends,' says he. An' I says
nothing, but I picks up the paper, and comes here to your fine house to
tell you what I think of you. It's a mean, low-down, dirty, nasty trick,
and no gentleman wouldn't a-done it. So that's all--and it's off my
chest, and good-night to you gentlemen both!"

He turned to go out. I shall not tell you what Oswald felt, except that
he did hope Dicky felt the same, and would behave accordingly. And Dicky
did, and Oswald was both pleased and surprised.

Dicky said--

"Oh, I say, stop a minute. I didn't think of your poor girl."

"And her youngest but a bare three weeks old," said the old man angrily.

"I didn't, on my honour I didn't think of anything but paying the porter
out."

"He was only a doing of his duty," the old man said.

"Well, I beg your pardon and his," said Dicky; "it was ungentlemanly,
and I'm very sorry. And I'll try to make it up somehow. Please make it
up. I can't do more than own I'm sorry. I wish I hadn't--there!"

"Well," said the old man slowly, "we'll leave it at that. Next time
p'r'aps you'll think a bit who it's going to be as'll get the benefit of
your payings out."

Dicky made him shake hands, and Oswald did the same.

Then we had to go back to the others and tell them. It was hard. But it
was ginger-ale and seed-cake compared to having to tell Father, which
was what it came to in the end. For we all saw, though Noël happened to
be the one to say it first, that the only way we could really make it up
to James Johnson and his poor girl and his poor girl's father, and the
baby that was only three weeks old, was to send them a hamper with all
the things in it--_real_ things, that we had put on the list in the
revengeful hamper. And as we had only six-and-sevenpence among us we had
to tell Father. Besides, you feel better inside when you have. He talked
to us about it a bit, but he is a good Father and does not jaw unduly.
He advanced our pocket-money to buy a real large Turk-and-chains. And he
gave us six bottles of port wine, because he thought that would be
better for the poor girl who had the baby than rum or sherry or even
sparkling champagne.

We were afraid to send the hamper by Carter Pat. for fear they should
think it was another Avenging Take-in. And that was one reason why we
took it ourselves in a cab. The other reason was that we wanted to see
them open the hamper, and another was that we wanted--at least Dicky
wanted--to have it out man to man with the porter and his wife, and tell
them himself how sorry he was.

So we got our gardener to find out secretly when that porter was off
duty, and when we knew the times we went to his house at one of them.

Then Dicky got out of the cab and went in and said what he had to say.
And then we took in the hamper.

And the old man and his daughter and the porter were most awfully decent
to us, and the porter's wife said, "Lor! let bygones be bygones is what
_I_ say! Why, we wouldn't never have had this handsome present but for
the other. Say no more about it, sir, and thank you kindly, I'm sure."

And we have been friends with them ever since.

We were short of pocket-money for some time, but Oswald does not
complain, though the Turk was Dicky's idea entirely. Yet Oswald is just,
and he owns that he helped as much as he could in packing the Hamper of
the Avenger. Dora paid her share, too, though she wasn't in it. The
author does not shrink from owning that this was very decent of Dora.

This is all the story of--

          THE TURK IN CHAINS; or,
          RICHARD'S REVENGE.

(His name is really Richard, the same as Father's. We only call him
Dicky for short.)



_THE GOLDEN GONDOLA_


ALBERT'S uncle is tremendously clever, and he writes books. I have told
how he fled to Southern shores with a lady who is rather nice. His
having to marry her was partly our fault, but we did not mean to do it,
and we were very sorry for what we had done. But afterwards we thought
perhaps it was all for the best, because if left alone he might have
married widows, or old German governesses, or Murdstone aunts, like
Daisy and Denny have, instead of the fortunate lady that we were the
cause of his being married by.

The wedding was just before Christmas, and we were all there. And then
they went to Rome for a period of time that is spoken of in books as the
honeymoon. You know that H.O., my youngest brother, tried to go too,
disguised as the contents of a dress-basket--but was betrayed and
brought back.

Conversation often takes place about the things you like, and we often
spoke of Albert's uncle.

One day we had a ripping game of
hide-and-seek-all-over-the-house-and-all-the-lights-out, sometimes
called devil-in-the-dark, and never to be played except when your father
and uncle are out, because of the screams which the strongest cannot
suppress when caught by "he" in unexpectedness and total darkness. The
girls do not like this game so much as we do. But it is only fair for
them to play it. We have more than once played doll's tea-parties to
please them.

Well, when the game was over we were panting like dogs on the hearthrug
in front of the common-room fire, and H.O. said--

"I wish Albert's uncle had been here; he does enjoy it so."

Oswald has sometimes thought Albert's uncle only played to please us.
But H.O. may be right.

"I wonder if they often play it in Rome," H.O. went on. "That post-card
he sent us with the Colly-whats-its-name-on--you know, the round place
with the arches. They could have ripping games there----"

"It's not much fun with only two," said Dicky.

"Besides," Dora said, "when people are first married they always sit in
balconies and look at the moon, or else at each other's eyes."

"They ought to know what their eyes look like by this time," said Dicky.

"I believe they sit and write poetry about their eyes all day, and only
look at each other when they can't think of the rhymes," said Noël.

"I don't believe she knows how, but I'm certain they read aloud to each
other out of the poetry books we gave them for wedding presents," Alice
said.

"It would be beastly ungrateful if they didn't, especially with their
backs all covered with gold like they are," said H.O.

"About those books," said Oswald slowly, now for the first time joining
in what was being said; "of course it was jolly decent of Father to get
such ripping presents for us to give them. But I've sometimes wished
we'd given Albert's uncle a really truly present that we'd chosen
ourselves and bought with our own chink."

"I wish we could have _done_ something for him," Noël said; "I'd have
killed a dragon for him as soon as look at it, and Mrs. Albert's uncle
could have been the Princess, and I would have let him have her."

"Yes," said Dicky; "and we just gave rotten books. But it's no use
grizzling over it now. It's all over, and he won't get married again
while she's alive."

This was true, for we live in England which is a morganatic empire where
more than one wife at a time is not allowed. In the glorious East he
might have married again and again and we could have made it all right
about the wedding present.

"I wish he was a Turk for some things," said Oswald, and explained why.

"I don't think _she_ would like it," said Dora.

Oswald explained that if he was a Turk, she would be a Turquoise (I
think that is the feminine Turk), and so would be used to lots of wives
and be lonely without them.

And just then . . . You know what they say about talking of angels, and
hearing their wings? (There is another way of saying this, but it is not
polite, as the present author knows.)

Well, just then the postman came, and of course we rushed out, and among
Father's dull letters we found one addressed to "The Bastables Junior."
It had an Italian stamp--not at all a rare one, and it was a poor
specimen too, and the post-mark was _Roma_.

That is what the Italians have got into the habit of calling Rome. I
have been told that they put the "a" instead of the "e" because they
like to open their mouths as much as possible in that sunny and
agreeable climate.

The letter was jolly--it was just like hearing him talk (I mean reading,
not hearing, of course, but reading him talk is not grammar, and if you
can't be both sensible and grammarical, it is better to be senseless).

"Well, kiddies," it began, and it went on to tell us about things he had
seen, not dull pictures and beastly old buildings, but amusing incidents
of comic nature. The Italians must be extreme Jugginses for the kind of
things he described to be of such everyday occurring. Indeed, Oswald
could hardly believe about the soda-water label that the Italian
translated for the English traveller so that it said, "To distrust of
the Mineral Waters too fountain-like foaming. They spread the shape."

Near the end of the letter came this:--

"You remember the chapter of 'The Golden Gondola' that I wrote for the
_People's Pageant_ just before I had the honour to lead to the altar,
&c. I mean the one that ends in the subterranean passage, with
Geraldine's hair down, and her last hope gone, and the three villains
stealing upon her with Venetian subtlety in their hearts and Toledo
daggers (specially imported) in their garters? I didn't care much for it
myself, you remember. I think I must have been thinking of other things
when I wrote it. But you, I recollect, consoled me by refusing to regard
it as other than 'ripping.' 'Clinking' was, as I recall it, Oswald's
consolatory epithet. You'll weep with me, I feel confident, when you
hear that my Editor does not share your sentiments. He writes me that it
is not up to my usual form. He fears that the public, &c., and he trusts
that in the next chapter, &c. Let us hope that the public will, in this
matter, take your views, and not his. Oh! for a really discerning
public, just like you--you amiable critics! Albert's new aunt is
leaning over my shoulder. I can't break her of the distracting habit.
How on earth am I ever to write another line? Greetings to all from

                                           "ALBERT'S UNCLE AND AUNT.

"PS.--She insists on having her name put to this, but of course she
didn't write it. I am trying to teach her to spell."

"PSS.--Italian spelling, of course."

"And now," cried Oswald, "I see it all!"

The others didn't. They often don't when Oswald does.

"Why, don't you see!" he patiently explained, for he knows that it is
vain to be angry with people because they are not so clever as--as other
people. "It's the direct aspiration of Fate. He wants it, does he? Well,
he shall have it!"

"What?" said everybody.

"We'll be it."

"_What?_" was the not very polite remark now repeated by all.

"Why, his discerning public."

And still they all remained quite blind to what was so clear to Oswald,
the astute and discernful.

"It will be much more useful than killing dragons," Oswald went on,
"especially as there aren't any; and it will be a really truly wedding
present--just what we were wishing we'd given him."

The five others now fell on Oswald and rolled him under the table and
sat on his head so that he had to speak loudly and plainly.

[Illustration: THE FIVE OTHERS]

"All right! I'll tell you--in words of one syllable if you like. Let go,
I say!" And when he had rolled out with the others and the tablecloth
that caught on H.O.'s boots and the books and Dora's workbox, and the
glass of paint-water that came down with it, he said--

"We will _be_ the public. We will all write to the editor of the
_People's Pageant_ and tell him what we think about the Geraldine
chapter. Do mop up that water, Dora; it's running all under where I'm
sitting."

"Don't you think," said Dora, devoting her handkerchief and Alice's in
the obedient way she does not always use, "that six letters, all signed
'Bastable,' and all coming from the same house, would be
rather--rather----"

"A bit too thick? Yes," said Alice; "but of course we'd have all
different names and addresses."

"We might as well do it thoroughly," said Dicky, "and send three or four
different letters each."

"And have them posted in different parts of London. Right oh!" remarked
Oswald.

"_I_ shall write a piece of poetry for mine," said Noël.

"They ought all to be on different kinds of paper," said Oswald. "Let's
go out and get the paper directly after tea."

We did, but we could only get fifteen different kinds of paper and
envelopes, though we went to every shop in the village.

At the first shop, when we said, "Please we want a penn'orth of paper
and envelopes of each of all the different kinds you keep," the lady of
the shop looked at us thinly over blue-rimmed spectacles and said, "What
for?"

And H.O. said, "To write unonymous letters."

"Anonymous letters are very wrong," the lady said, and she wouldn't sell
us any paper at all.

But at the other places we did not say what it was for, and they sold it
us. There were bluey and yellowy and grey and white kinds, and some was
violetish with violets on it, and some pink, with roses. The girls took
the florivorous ones, which Oswald thinks are unmanly for any but girls,
but you excuse their using it. It seems natural to them to mess about
like that.

We wrote the fifteen letters, disguising our handwritings as much as we
could. It was not easy. Oswald tried to write one of them with his left
hand, but the consequences were almost totally unreadable. Besides, if
any one could have read it, they would only have thought it was written
in an asylum for the insane, the writing was so delirious. So he chucked
it.

Noël was only allowed to write one poem. It began--

          "Oh, Geraldine! Oh, Geraldine!
           You are the loveliest heroine!
           I never read about one before
           That made me want to write more
           Poetry. And your Venetian eyes,
           They must have been an awful size;
           And black and blue, and like your hair,
           And your nose and chin were a perfect pair."

and so on for ages.

The other letters were all saying what a beautiful chapter "Beneath the
Doge's Home" was, and how we liked it better than the other chapters
before, and how we hoped the next would be like it. We found out when
all too late that H.O. had called it the "Dog's Home." But we hoped this
would pass unnoticed among all the others. We read the reviews of books
in the old _Spectators_ and _Athenæums_, and put in the words they say
there about other people's books. We said we thought that chapter about
Geraldine and the garters was "subtle" and "masterly" and
"inevitable"--that it had an "old-world charm," and was "redolent of the
soil." We said, too, that we had "read it with breathless interest from
cover to cover," and that it had "poignant pathos and a convincing
realism," and the "fine flower of delicate sentiment," besides much
other rot that the author can't remember.

When all the letters were done we addressed them and stamped them and
licked them down, and then we got different people to post them. Our
under-gardener, who lives in Greenwich, and the other under-gardener,
who lives in Lewisham, and the servants on their evenings out, which
they spend in distant spots like Plaistow and Grove Park--each had a
letter to post. The piano-tuner was a great catch--he lived in Highgate;
and the electric-bell man was Lambeth. So we got rid of all the letters,
and watched the post for a reply. We watched for a week, but no answer
came.

You think, perhaps, that we were duffers to watch for a reply when we
had signed all the letters with fancy names like Daisy Dolman, Everard
St. Maur, and Sir Cholmondely Marjoribanks, and put fancy addresses on
them, like Chatsworth House, Loampit Vale, and The Bungalow, Eaton
Square. But we were not such idiots as you think, dear reader, and you
are not so extra clever as you think, either. We had written _one_
letter (it had the grandest _Spectator_ words in it) on our own
letter-paper, with the address on the top and the uncle's coat-of-arms
outside the envelope. Oswald's real own name was signed to this letter,
and this was the one we looked for the answer to. See?

But that answer did not come. And when three long days had passed away
we all felt most awfully stale about it. Knowing the great good we had
done for Albert's uncle made our interior feelings very little better,
if at all.

And on the fourth day Oswald spoke up and said what was in everybody's
inside heart. He said--

"This is futile rot. I vote we write and ask that editor why he doesn't
answer letters."

"He wouldn't answer that one any more than he did the other," said Noël.
"Why should he? He knows you can't do anything to him for not."

"Why shouldn't we go and ask him?" H.O. said. "He couldn't not answer us
if we was all there, staring him in the face."

"I don't suppose he'd see you," said Dora; "and it's 'were,' not 'was.'"

"The other editor did when I got the guinea for my beautiful poems,"
Noël reminded us.

"Yes," said the thoughtful Oswald; "but then it doesn't matter how young
you are when you're just a poetry-seller. But we're the discerning
public now, and he'd think we ought to be grown up. I say, Dora, suppose
you rigged yourself up in old Blakie's things. You'd look quite twenty
or thirty."

Dora looked frightened, and said she thought we'd better not.

But Alice said, "Well, I will, then. I don't care. I'm as tall as Dora.
But I won't go alone. Oswald, you'll have to dress up old and come too.
It's not much to do for Albert's uncle's sake."

"You know you'll enjoy it," said Dora, and she may have wished that she
did not so often think that we had better not. However, the dye was now
cast, and the remainder of this adventure was doomed to be coloured by
the dye we now prepared. (This is an allegory. It means we had burned
our boats. And that is another.)

We decided to do the deed next day, and during the evening Dicky and
Oswald went out and bought a grey beard and moustache, which was the
only thing we could think of to disguise the manly and youthful form of
the bold Oswald into the mature shape of a grown-up and discerning
public character.

Meanwhile, the girls made tiptoe and brigand-like excursions into Miss
Blake's room (she is the housekeeper) and got several things. Among
others, a sort of undecided thing like part of a wig, which Miss Blake
wears on Sundays. Jane, our housemaid, says it is called a
"transformation," and that duchesses wear them.

We had to be very secret about the dressing-up that night, and to put
Blakie's things all back when they had been tried on.

Dora did Alice's hair. She twisted up what little hair Alice has got by
natural means, and tied on a long tail of hair that was Miss Blake's
too. Then she twisted that up, bun-like, with many hairpins. Then the
wiglet, or transformation, was plastered over the front part, and Miss
Blake's Sunday hat, which is of a very brisk character, with half a blue
bird in it, was placed on top of everything. There were several
petticoats used, and a brown dress and some stockings and hankies to
stuff it out where it was too big. A black jacket and crimson tie
completed the picture. We thought Alice would do.

Then Oswald went out of the room and secretly assumed his dark disguise.
But when he came in with the beard on, and a hat of Father's, the others
were not struck with admiration and respect, like he meant them to be.
They rolled about, roaring with laughter, and when he crept into Miss
Blake's room and turned up the gas a bit, and looked in her long glass,
he owned that they were right and that it was no go. He is tall for his
age, but that beard made him look like some horrible dwarf; and his hair
being so short added to everything. Any idiot could have seen that the
beard had not originally flourished where it now was, but had been
transplanted from some other place of growth.

And when he laughed, which now became necessary, he really did look most
awful. He has read of beards wagging, but he never saw it before.

While he was looking at himself the girls had thought of a new idea.

But Oswald had an inside presentiment that made it some time before he
could even consent to listen to it. But at last, when the others
reminded him that it was a noble act, and for the good of Albert's
uncle, he let them explain the horrid scheme in all its lurid parts.

It was this: That Oswald should consent to be disguised in women's
raiments and go with Alice to see the Editor.

No man ever wants to be a woman, and it was a bitter thing for Oswald's
pride, but at last he consented. He is glad he is not a girl. You have
no idea what it is like to wear petticoats, especially long ones. I
wonder that ladies continue to endure their miserable existences. The
top parts of the clothes, too, seemed to be too tight and too loose in
the wrong places. Oswald's head, also, was terribly in the way. He had
no wandering hairs to fasten transformations on to, even if Miss Blake
had had another one, which was not the case. But the girls remembered a
governess they had once witnessed whose hair was brief as any boy's, so
they put a large hat, with a very tight elastic behind, on to Oswald's
head, just as it was, and then with a tickly, pussyish, featherish thing
round his neck, hanging wobblily down in long ends, he looked more
young-lady-like than he will ever feel.

Some courage was needed for the start next day. Things look so different
in the daylight.

"Remember Lord Nithsdale coming out of the Tower," said Alice. "Think of
the great cause and be brave," and she tied his neck up.

"I'm brave all right," said Oswald, "only I do feel such an ass."

"I feel rather an ape myself," Alice owned, "but I've got
three-penn'orth of peppermints to inspire us with bravery. It is called
Dutch courage, I believe."

Owing to our telling Jane we managed to get out unseen by Blakie.

All the others would come, too, in their natural appearance, except that
we made them wash their hands and faces. We happened to be flush of
chink, so we let them come.

"But if you do," Oswald said, "you must surround us in a hollow square
of four."

So they did. And we got down to the station all right. But in the train
there were two ladies who stared, and porters and people like that came
round the window far more than there could be any need for. Oswald's
boots must have shown as he got in. He had forgotten to borrow a pair of
Jane's, as he had meant to, and the ones he had on were his largest. His
ears got hotter and hotter, and it got more and more difficult to manage
his feet and hands. He failed to suck any courage, of any nation, from
the peppermints.

[Illustration: OSWALD SAW THE DRIVER WINK AS HE PUT HIS BOOT ON THE
STEP, AND THE PORTER WHO WAS OPENING THE CAB DOOR WINKED BACK.]

Owing to the state Oswald's ears were now in, we agreed to take a cab at
Cannon Street. We all crammed in somehow, but Oswald saw the driver wink
as he put his boot on the step, and the porter who was opening the cab
door winked back, and I am sorry to say Oswald forgot that he was a
high-born lady, and he told the porter that he had better jolly well
stow his cheek. Then several bystanders began to try and be funny, and
Oswald knew exactly what particular sort of fool he was being.

But he bravely silenced the fierce warnings of his ears, and when we got
to the Editor's address we sent Dick up with a large card that we had
written on,

                        "MISS DAISY DOLMAN
                                and
                     THE RIGHT HONOURABLE MISS
                        ETHELTRUDA BUSTLER.
                        On urgent business."

and Oswald kept himself and Alice concealed in the cab till the return
of the messenger.

"All right; you're to go up," Dicky came back and said; "but the boy
grinned who told me so. You'd better be jolly careful."

We bolted like rabbits across the pavement and up the Editor's stairs.

He was very polite. He asked us to sit down, and Oswald did. But first
he tumbled over the front of his dress because it would get under his
boots, and he was afraid to hold it up, not having practised doing this.

"I think I have had letters from you?" said the Editor.

[Illustration: HE LOOKED AT OSWALD'S BOOTS.]

Alice, who looked terrible with the transformation leaning
right-ear-ward, said yes, and that we had come to say what a fine,
bold conception we thought the Doge's chapter was. This was what we
had settled to say, but she needn't have burst out with it like that. I
suppose she forgot herself. Oswald, in the agitation of his clothes,
could say nothing. The elastic of the hat seemed to be very slowly
slipping up the back of his head, and he knew that, if it once passed
the bump that backs of heads are made with, the hat would spring from
his head like an arrow from a bow. And all would be frustrated.

"Yes," said the Editor; "that chapter seems to have had a great
success--a wonderful success. I had no fewer than sixteen letters about
it, all praising it in unmeasured terms." He looked at Oswald's boots,
which Oswald had neglected to cover over with his petticoats. He now did
this.

"It _is_ a nice story, you know," said Alice timidly.

"So it seems," the gentleman went on. "Fourteen of the sixteen letters
bear the Blackheath postmark. The enthusiasm for the chapter would seem
to be mainly local."

Oswald would not look at Alice. He could not trust himself, with her
looking like she did. He knew at once that only the piano-tuner and the
electric bell man had been faithful to their trust. The others had all
posted their letters in the pillar-box just outside our gate. They
wanted to get rid of them as quickly as they could, I suppose.
Selfishness is a vile quality.

The author cannot deny that Oswald now wished he hadn't. The elastic was
certainly moving, slowly, but too surely. Oswald tried to check its
career by swelling out the bump on the back of his head, but he could
not think of the right way to do this.

"I am very pleased to see you," the Editor went on slowly, and there was
something about the way he spoke that made Oswald think of a cat playing
with a mouse. "Perhaps you can tell me. Are there many spiritualists in
Blackheath? Many clairvoyants?"

"Eh?" said Alice, forgetting that that is not the way to behave.

"People who foretell the future?" he said.

"I don't think so," said Alice. "Why?"

His eye twinkled. Oswald saw he had wanted her to ask this.

"Because," said the Editor, more slowly than ever, "I think there must
be. How otherwise can we account for that chapter about the 'Doge's
Home' being read and admired by sixteen different people before it is
even printed. That chapter has not been printed, it has not been
published; it will not be published till the May number of the _People's
Pageant_. Yet in Blackheath sixteen people already appreciate its
subtlety and its realism and all the rest of it. How do you account for
this, Miss Daisy Dolman?"

"I am the Right Honourable Etheltruda," said Alice. "At least--oh, it's
no use going on. We are not what we seem."

"Oddly enough, I inferred that at the very beginning of our interview,"
said the Editor.

Then the elastic finished slipping up Oswald's head at the back, and the
hat leapt from his head exactly as he had known it would. He fielded it
deftly, however, and it did not touch the ground.

"Concealment," said Oswald, "is at an end."

"So it appears," said the Editor. "Well, I hope next time the author of
the 'Golden Gondola' will choose his instruments more carefully."

"He didn't! We aren't!" cried Alice, and she instantly told the Editor
everything.

Concealment being at an end, Oswald was able to get at his trousers
pocket--it did not matter now how many boots he showed--and to get out
Albert's uncle's letter.

Alice was quite eloquent, especially when the Editor had made her take
off the hat with the blue bird, and the transformation and the tail, so
that he could see what she really looked like. He was quite decent when
he really understood how Albert's uncle's threatened marriage must have
upset his brain while he was writing that chapter, and pondering on the
dark future.

He began to laugh then, and kept it up till the hour of parting.

He advised Alice not to put on the transformation and the tail again to
go home in, and she didn't.

Then he said to me: "Are you in a finished state under Miss Daisy
Dolman?" and when Oswald said, "Yes," the Editor helped him to take off
all the womanly accoutrements, and to do them up in brown paper. And he
lent him a cap to go home in.

I never saw a man laugh more. He is an excellent sort.

But no slow passage of years, however many, can ever weaken Oswald's
memory of what those petticoats were like to walk in, and how ripping it
was to get out of them, and have your own natural legs again.

We parted from that Editor without a strain on anybody's character.

He must have written to Albert's uncle, and told him all, for we got a
letter next week. It said--

          "MY DEAR KIDDIES,--Art cannot be forced. Nor can
          Fame. May I beg you for the future to confine your
          exertions to blowing my trumpet--or Fame's--with
          your natural voices? Editors may be led, but they
          won't be druv. The Right Honourable Miss
          Etheltruda Bustler seems to have aroused a deep
          pity for me in my Editor's heart. Let that
          suffice. And for the future permit me, as firmly
          as affectionately, to reiterate the assurance and
          the advice which I have so often breathed in your
          long young ears, '_I am not ungrateful; but I do
          wish you would mind your own business._'"

"That's just because we were found out," said Alice. "If we'd succeeded
he'd have been sitting on the top of the pinnacle of Fame, and he would
have owed it all to us. That would have been making him something like a
wedding present."

What we had really done was to make something very like----but the
author is sure he has said enough.



_THE FLYING LODGER_


FATHER knows a man called Eustace Sandal. I do not know how to express
his inside soul, but I have heard Father say he means well. He is a
vegetarian and a Primitive Social Something, and an all-wooler, and
things like that, and he is really as good as he can stick, only most
awfully dull. I believe he eats bread and milk from choice. Well, he has
great magnificent dreams about all the things you can do for other
people, and he wants to distill cultivatedness into the sort of people
who live in Model Workmen's Dwellings, and teach them to live up to
better things. This is what he says. So he gives concerts in Camberwell,
and places like that, and curates come from far and near, to sing about
Bold Bandaleros and the Song of the Bow, and people who have escaped
being curates give comic recitings, and he is sure that it does every
one good, and "gives them glimpses of the Life Beautiful." He said that.
Oswald heard him with his own trustworthy ears. Anyway the people enjoy
the concerts no end, and that's the great thing.

Well, he came one night, with a lot of tickets he wanted to sell, and
Father bought some for the servants, and Dora happened to go in to get
the gum for a kite we were making, and Mr. Sandal said, "Well, my little
maiden, would you not like to come on Thursday evening, and share in the
task of raising our poor brothers and sisters to the higher levels of
culture?" So of course Dora said she would, very much. Then he explained
about the concert, calling her "My little one," and "dear child," which
Alice never would have borne, but Dora is not of a sensitive nature, and
hardly minds what she is called, so long as it is not names, which she
does not deem "dear child" and cetera to be, though Oswald would.

Dora was quite excited about it, and the stranger so worked upon her
feelings that she accepted the deep responsibility of selling tickets,
and for a week there was no bearing her. I believe she did sell nine, to
people in Lewisham and New Cross who knew no better. And Father bought
tickets for all of us, and when the eventful evening dawned we went to
Camberwell by train and tram _viâ_ Miss Blake (that means we shouldn't
have been allowed to go without her).

The tram ride was rather jolly, but when we got out and walked we felt
like "Alone in London," or "Jessica's First Prayer," because Camberwell
is a devastating region that makes you think of rickety attics with the
wind whistling through them, or miserable cellars where forsaken
children do wonders by pawning their relations' clothes and looking
after the baby. It was a dampish night, and we walked on greasy mud. And
as we walked along Alice kicked against something on the pavement, and
it chinked, and when she picked it up it was five bob rolled up in
newspaper.

"I expect it's somebody's little all," said Alice, "and the cup was
dashed from their lips just when they were going to joyfully spend it.
We ought to give it to the police."

But Miss Blake said no, and that we were late already, so we went on,
and Alice held the packet in her muff throughout the concert which
ensued. I will not tell you anything about the concert except that it
was quite fairly jolly--you must have been to these Self-Raising
Concerts in the course of your young lives.

When it was over we reasoned with Miss Blake, and she let us go through
the light blue paper door beside the stage and find Mr. Sandal. We
thought he might happen to hear who had lost the five bob, and return it
to its sorrowing family. He was in a great hurry, but he took the chink
and said he'd let us know if anything happened. Then we went home very
cheerful, singing bits of the comic songs a bishop's son had done in
the concert, and little thinking what we were taking home with us.

It was only a few days after this, or perhaps a week, that we all began
to be rather cross. Alice, usually as near a brick as a girl can go, was
the worst of the lot, and if you said what you thought of her she
instantly began to snivel. And we all had awful colds, and our
handkerchiefs gave out, and then our heads ached. Oswald's head was
particularly hot, I remember, and he wanted to rest it on the backs of
chairs or on tables--or anything steady.

But why prolong the painful narrative? What we had brought home from
Camberwell was the measles, and as soon as the grown-ups recognised the
Grim Intruder for the fell disease it is we all went to bed, and there
was an end of active adventure for some time.

Of course, when you begin to get better there are grapes and other
luxuries not of everyday occurrences, but while you're sniffling and
fevering in bed, as red as a lobster and blazing hot, you are inclined
to think it is a heavy price to pay for any concert, however raising.

Mr. Sandal came to see Father the very day we all marched Bedward. He
had found the owner of the five shillings. It was a doctor's fee, about
to be paid by the parent of a thoroughly measly family. And if we had
taken it to the police at once Alice would not have held it in her hand
all through the concert--but I will not blame Blakie. She was a jolly
good nurse, and read aloud to us with unfatiguable industry while we
were getting better.

Our having fallen victims to this disgusting complaint ended in our
being sent to the seaside. Father could not take us himself, so we went
to stay with a sister of Mr. Sandal's. She was like him, only more so in
every way.

The journey was very joyous. Father saw us off at Cannon Street, and we
had a carriage to ourselves all the way, and we passed the station where
Oswald would not like to be a porter. Rude boys at this station put
their heads out of the window and shout, "Who's a duffer?" and things
like that, and the porters _have_ to shout "I am!" because Higham is the
name of the station, and porters have seldom any H's with which to
protect themselves from this cruel joke.

It was a glorious moment when the train swooped out of a tunnel and we
looked over the downs and saw the grey-blue line that was the sea. We
had not seen the sea since before Mother died. I believe we older ones
all thought of that, and it made us quieter than the younger ones were.
I do not want to forget anything, but it makes you feel empty and stupid
when you remember some things.

There was a good drive in a waggonette after we got to our station.
There were primroses under some of the hedges, and lots of dog-violets.
And at last we got to Miss Sandal's house. It is before you come to the
village, and it is a little square white house. There is a big old
windmill at the back of it. It is not used any more for grinding corn,
but fishermen keep their nets in it.

Miss Sandal came out of the green gate to meet us. She had a soft, drab
dress and a long thin neck, and her hair was drab too, and it was
screwed up tight.

She said, "Welcome, one and all!" in a kind voice, but it was too much
like Mr. Sandal's for me. And we went in. She showed us the
sitting-rooms, and the rooms where we were to sleep, and then she left
us to wash our hands and faces. When we were alone we burst open the
doors of our rooms with one consent, and met on the landing with a rush
like the great rivers of America.

"_Well!_" said Oswald, and the others said the same.

"Of all the rummy cribs!" remarked Dicky.

"It's like a workhouse or a hospital," said Dora. "I think I like it."

"It makes me think of bald-headed gentlemen," said H.O., "it is so
bare."

It was. All the walls were white plaster, the furniture was white
deal--what there was of it, which was precious little. There were no
carpets--only white matting. And there was not a single ornament in a
single room! There was a clock on the dining-room mantel-piece, but that
could not be counted as an ornament because of the useful side of its
character. There were only about six pictures--all of a brownish colour.
One was the blind girl sitting on an orange with a broken fiddle. It is
called Hope.

When we were clean Miss Sandal gave us tea. As we sat down she said,
"The motto of our little household is 'Plain living and high thinking.'"

And some of us feared for an instant that this might mean not enough to
eat. But fortunately this was not the case. There was plenty, but all of
a milky, bunny, fruity, vegetable sort. We soon got used to it, and
liked it all right.

Miss Sandal was very kind. She offered to read aloud to us after tea,
and, exchanging glances of despair, some of us said that we should like
it very much.

It was Oswald who found the manly courage to say very politely--

"Would it be all the same to you if we went and looked at the sea first?
Because----"

And she said, "Not at all," adding something about "Nature, the dear old
nurse, taking somebody on her knee," and let us go.

We asked her which way, and we tore up the road and through the village
and on to the sea-wall, and then with six joyous bounds we leaped down
on to the sand.

The author will not bother you with a description of the mighty billows
of ocean, which you must have read about, if not seen, but he will just
say what perhaps you are not aware of--that seagulls eat clams and
mussels and cockles, and crack the shells with their beaks. The author
has seen this done.

You also know, I suppose, that you can dig in the sand (if you have a
spade) and make sand castles, and stay in them till the tide washes you
out.

I will say no more, except that when we gazed upon the sea and the sand
we felt we did not care tuppence how highly Miss Sandal might think of
us or how plainly she might make us live, so long as we had got the
briny deep to go down to.

It was too early in the year and too late in the day to bathe, but we
paddled, which comes to much the same thing, and you almost always have
to change everything afterwards.

When it got dark we had to go back to the White House, and there was
supper, and then we found that Miss Sandal did not keep a servant, so of
course we offered to help wash up. H.O. only broke two plates.

Nothing worth telling about happened till we had been there over a week,
and had got to know the coastguards and a lot of the village people
quite well. I do like coastguards. They seem to know everything you want
to hear about. Miss Sandal used to read to us out of poetry books, and
about a chap called Thoreau, who could tickle fish, and they liked it,
and let him. She was kind, but rather like her house--there was
something bare and bald about her inside mind, I believe. She was very,
very calm, and said that people who lost their tempers were not living
the higher life. But one day a telegram came, and then she was not calm
at all. She got quite like other people, and quite shoved H.O. for
getting in her way when she was looking for her purse to pay for the
answer to the telegram.

Then she said to Dora--and she was pale and her eyes red, just like
people who live the lower or ordinary life--"My dears, it's dreadful! My
poor brother! He's had a fall. I must go to him at _once_." And she sent
Oswald to order the fly from the Old Ship Hotel, and the girls to see if
Mrs. Beale would come and take care of us while she was away. Then she
kissed us all and went off very unhappy. We heard afterwards that poor,
worthy Mr. Sandal had climbed a scaffolding to give a workman a tract
about drink, and he didn't know the proper part of the scaffolding to
stand on (the workman did, of course) so he fetched down half a dozen
planks and the workman, and if a dust-cart hadn't happened to be passing
just under so that they fell into it their lives would not have been
spared. As it was Mr. Sandal broke his arm and his head. The workman
escaped unscathed but furious. The workman was a teetotaler.

Mrs. Beale came, and the first thing she did was to buy a leg of mutton
and cook it. It was the first meat we had had since arriving at
Lymchurch.

[Illustration: HE FETCHED DOWN HALF A DOZEN PLANKS AND THE WORKMAN.]

"I 'spect she can't afford good butcher's meat," said Mrs. Beale; "but
your pa, I expect he pays for you, and I lay he'd like you to have your
fill of something as'll lay acrost your chesties." So she made a
Yorkshire pudding as well. It was good.

After dinner we sat on the sea-wall, feeling more like after dinner than
we had felt for days, and Dora said--

"Poor Miss Sandal! I never thought about her being hard-up, somehow. I
wish we could do something to help her."

"We might go out street-singing," Noël said. But that was no good,
because there is only one street in the village, and the people there
are much too poor for one to be able to ask them for anything. And all
round it is fields with only sheep, who have nothing to give except
their wool, and when it comes to taking that, they are never asked.

Dora thought we might get Father to give her money, but Oswald knew this
would never do.

Then suddenly a thought struck some one--I will not say who--and that
some one said--

"She ought to let lodgings, like all the other people do in Lymchurch."

That was the beginning of it. The end--for that day--was our getting the
top of a cardboard box and printing on it the following lines in as
many different coloured chalks as we happened to have with us.

                     LODGINGS TO LET.

                     ENQUIRE INSIDE.

We ruled spaces for the letters to go in, and did it very neatly. When
we went to bed we stuck it in our bedroom window with stamp-paper.

In the morning when Oswald drew up his blind there was quite a crowd of
kids looking at the card. Mrs. Beale came out and shoo-ed them away as
if they were hens. And we did not have to explain the card to her at
all. She never said anything about it. I never knew such a woman as Mrs.
Beale for minding her own business. She said afterwards she supposed
Miss Sandal had told us to put up the card.

Well, two or three days went by, and nothing happened, only we had a
letter from Miss Sandal, telling us how the poor sufferer was groaning,
and one from Father telling us to be good children, and not get into
scrapes. And people who drove by used to look at the card and laugh.

And then one day a carriage came driving up with a gentleman in it, and
he saw the rainbow beauty of our chalked card, and he got out and came
up the path. He had a pale face, and white hair and very bright eyes
that moved about quickly like a bird's, and he was dressed in a quite
new tweed suit that did not fit him very well.

Dora and Alice answered the door before any one had time to knock, and
the author has reason to believe their hearts were beating wildly.

"How much?" said the gentleman shortly.

Alice and Dora were so surprised by his suddenness that they could only
reply--

"Er--er----"

"Just so," said the gentleman briskly as Oswald stepped modestly forward
and said--

"Won't you come inside?"

"The very thing," said he, and came in.

We showed him into the dining-room and asked him to excuse us a minute,
and then held a breathless council outside the door.

"It depends how many rooms he wants," said Dora.

"Let's say so much a room," said Dicky, "and extra if he wants Mrs.
Beale to wait on him."

So we decided to do this. We thought a pound a room seemed fair.

And we went back.

"How many rooms do you want?" Oswald asked.

"All the room there is," said the gentleman.

"They are a pound each," said Oswald, "and extra for Mrs. Beale."

"How much altogether?"

Oswald thought a minute and then said "Nine rooms is nine pounds, and
two pounds a week for Mrs. Beale, because she is a widow."

[Illustration: "HOW MUCH?" SAID THE GENTLEMAN SHORTLY.]

"Done!" said the gentleman. "I'll go and fetch my portmanteaus."

He bounced up and out and got into his carriage and drove away. It was
not till he was finally gone quite beyond recall that Alice suddenly
said--

"But if he has all the rooms where are _we_ to sleep?"

"He must be awfully rich," said H.O., "wanting all those rooms."

"Well, he can't sleep in more than one at once," said Dicky, "however
rich he is. We might wait till he was bedded down and then sleep in the
rooms he didn't want."

But Oswald was firm. He knew that if the man paid for the rooms he must
have them to himself.

"He won't sleep in the kitchen," said Dora; "couldn't we sleep there?"

But we all said we couldn't and wouldn't.

Then Alice suddenly said--

"I know! The Mill. There are heaps and heaps of fishing-nets there, and
we could each take a blanket like Indians and creep over under cover of
the night after the Beale has gone, and get back before she comes in the
morning."

It seemed a sporting thing to do, and we agreed. Only Dora said she
thought it would be draughty.

Of course we went over to the Mill at once to lay our plans and prepare
for the silent watches of the night.

There are three stories to a windmill, besides the ground-floor. The
first floor is pretty empty; the next is nearly full of millstones and
machinery, and the one above is where the corn runs down from on to the
millstones.

We settled to let the girls have the first floor, which was covered with
heaps of nets, and we would pig in with the millstones on the floor
above.

We had just secretly got out the last of the six blankets from the house
and got it into the Mill disguised in a clothes-basket, when we heard
wheels, and there was the gentleman back again. He had only got one
portmanteau after all, and that was a very little one.

Mrs. Beale was bobbing at him in the doorway when we got up. Of course
we had told her he had rented rooms, but we had not said how many, for
fear she should ask where we were going to sleep, and we had a feeling
that but few grown-ups would like our sleeping in a mill, however much
we were living the higher life by sacrificing ourselves to get money for
Miss Sandal.

The gentleman ordered sheep's-head and trotters for dinner, and when he
found he could not have that he said--

"Gammon and spinach!"

But there was not any spinach in the village, so he had to fall back on
eggs and bacon. Mrs. Beale cooked it, and when he had fallen back on it
she washed up and went home. And we were left. We could hear the
gentleman singing to himself, something about woulding he was a bird
that he might fly to thee.

Then we got the lanterns that you take when you go "up street" on a dark
night, and we crept over to the Mill. It was much darker than we
expected.

We decided to keep our clothes on, partly for warmness and partly in
case of any sudden alarm or the fishermen wanting their nets in the
middle of the night, which sometimes happens if the tide is favourable.

We let the girls keep the lantern, and we went up with a bit of candle
Dicky had saved, and tried to get comfortable among the millstones and
machinery, but it was not easy, and Oswald, for one, was not sorry when
he heard the voice of Dora calling in trembling tones from the floor
below.

"Oswald! Dicky!" said the voice, "I wish one of you would come down a
sec."

Oswald flew to the assistance of his distressed sister.

"It's only that we're a little bit uncomfortable," she whispered. "I
didn't want to yell it out because of Noël and H.O. I don't want to
frighten them, but I can't help feeling that if anything popped out of
the dark at us I should die. Can't you all come down here? The nets are
quite comfortable, and I do wish you would."

Alice said she was not frightened, but suppose there were rats, which
are said to infest old buildings, especially mills?

So we consented to come down, and we told Noël and H.O. to come down
because it was more comfy, and it is easier to settle yourself for the
night among fishing-nets than among machinery. There _was_ a rustling
now and then among the heap of broken chairs and jack-planes and baskets
and spades and hoes and bits of the spars of ships at the far end of our
sleeping apartment, but Dicky and Oswald resolutely said it was the wind
or else jackdaws making their nests, though, of course, they knew this
is not done at night.

Sleeping in a mill was not nearly the fun we had thought it would
be--somehow. For one thing, it was horrid not having a pillow, and the
fishing-nets were so stiff you could not bunch them up properly to make
one. And unless you have been born and bred a Red Indian you do not know
how to manage your blanket so as to make it keep out the draughts. And
when we had put out the light Oswald more than once felt as though
earwigs and spiders were walking on his face in the dark, but when we
struck a match there was nothing there.

And empty mills do creak and rustle and move about in a very odd way.
Oswald was not afraid, but he did think we might as well have slept in
the kitchen, because the gentleman could not have wanted to use that
when he was asleep. You see, we thought then that he would sleep all
night like other people.

We got to sleep at last, and in the night the girls edged up to their
bold brothers, so that when the morning sun "shone in bars of dusty gold
through the chinks of the aged edifice" and woke us up we were all lying
in a snuggly heap like a litter of puppies.

"Oh, I _am_ so stiff!" said Alice, stretching. "I never slept in my
clothes before. It makes me feel as if I had been starched and ironed
like a boy's collar."

We all felt pretty much the same. And our faces were tired too, and
stiff, which was rum, and the author cannot account for it, unless it
really was spiders that walked on us. I believe the ancient Greeks
considered them to be venomous, and perhaps that's how their venom
influences their victims.

"I think mills are merely beastly," remarked H.O. when we had woke him
up. "You can't wash yourself or brush your hair or anything."

"You aren't always so jolly particular about your hair," said Dicky.

"Don't be so disagreeable," said Dora.

And Dicky rejoined, "Disagreeable yourself!"

There is certainly something about sleeping in your clothes that makes
you feel not so kind and polite as usual. I expect this is why tramps
are so fierce and knock people down in lonely roads and kick them.
Oswald knows he felt just like kicking any one if they had happened to
cheek him the least little bit. But by a fortunate accident nobody did.

The author believes there is a picture called "Hopeless Dawn." We felt
exactly like that. Nothing seemed the least bit of good.

It was a pitiful band with hands and faces dirtier than any one would
believe who had not slept in a mill or witnessed others who had done so,
that crossed the wet, green grass between the Mill and the white house.

"I shan't ever put morning dew into my poetry again," Noël said; "it is
not nearly so poetical as people make out, and it is as cold as ice,
right through your boots."

We felt rather better when we had had a good splash in the brick-paved
back kitchen that Miss Sandal calls the bath-room. And Alice made a fire
and boiled a kettle and we had some tea and eggs. Then we looked at the
clock and it was half-past five. So we hastened to get into another part
of the house before Mrs. Beale came.

"I wish we'd tried to live the higher life some less beastly way," said
Dicky as we went along the passage.

"Living the higher life always hurts at the beginning," Alice said. "I
expect it's like new boots, only when you've got used to it you're glad
you bore it at first. Let's listen at the doors till we find out where
he isn't sleeping."

So we listened at all the bedroom doors, but not a snore was heard.

"Perhaps he was a burglar," said H.O., "and only pretended to want
lodgings so as to get in and bone all the valuables."

"There aren't any valuables," said Noël, and this was quite true, for
Miss Sandal had no silver or jewellery except a brooch of pewter, and
the very teaspoons were of wood--very hard to keep clean and having to
be scraped.

"Perhaps he sleeps without snoring," said Oswald, "some people do."

"Not old gentlemen," said Noël; "think of our Indian uncle--H.O. used to
think it was bears at first."

"Perhaps he rises with the lark," said Alice, "and is wondering why
brekker isn't ready."

So then we listened at the sitting-room doors, and through the keyhole
of the parlour we heard a noise of some one moving, and then in a soft
whistle the tune of the "Would I were a bird" song.

So then we went into the dining-room to sit down. But when we opened the
door we almost fell in a heap on the matting, and no one had breath for
a word--not even for "Krikey," which was what we all thought.

I have read of people who could not believe their eyes; and I have
always thought it such rot of them, but now, as the author gazed on the
scene, he really could not be quite sure that he was not in a dream, and
that the gentleman and the night in the Mill weren't dreams too.

"Pull back the curtains," Alice said, and we did. I wish I could make
the reader feel as astonished as we did.

The last time we had seen the room the walls had been bare and white.
Now they were covered with the most splendid drawings you can think of,
all done in coloured chalk--I don't mean mixed up, like we do with our
chalks--but one picture was done in green, and another in brown, and
another in red, and so on. And the chalk must have been of some fat
radiant kind quite unknown to us, for some of the lines were over an
inch thick.

"How perfectly _lovely_!" Alice said; "he must have sat up all night to
do it. He _is_ good. I expect he's trying to live the higher life,
too--just going about doing secretly, and spending his time making other
people's houses pretty."

"I wonder what he'd have done if the room had had a large pattern of
brown roses on it, like Mrs. Beale's," said Noël. "I say, _look_ at that
angel! Isn't it poetical? It makes me feel I must write something about
it."

It _was_ a good angel--all drawn in grey, that was--with very wide wings
going right across the room, and a whole bundle of lilies in his arms.
Then there were seagulls and ravens, and butterflies, and ballet girls
with butterflies' wings, and a man with artificial wings being fastened
on, and you could see he was just going to jump off a rock. And there
were fairies, and bats, and flying-foxes, and flying-fish. And one
glorious winged horse done in red chalk--and his wings went from one
side of the room to the other, and crossed the angel's. There were
dozens and dozens of birds--all done in just a few lines--but exactly
right. You couldn't make any mistake about what anything was meant for.

And all the things, whatever they were, had wings to them. How Oswald
wishes that those pictures had been done in his house!

While we stood gazing, the door of the other room opened, and the
gentleman stood before us, more covered with different-coloured chalks
than I should have thought he could have got, even with all those
drawings, and he had a thing made of wire and paper in his hand, and he
said--

"Wouldn't you like to fly?"

"Yes," said every one.

"Well then," he said, "I've got a nice little flying-machine here. I'll
fit it on to one of you, and then you jump out of the attic window. You
don't know what it's like to fly."

We said we would rather not.

"But I insist," said the gentleman. "I have your real interest at heart,
my children--I can't allow you in your ignorance to reject the chance of
a lifetime."

We still said "No, thank you," and we began to feel very uncomfy, for
the gentleman's eyes were now rolling wildly.

"Then I'll _make_ you!" he said, catching hold of Oswald.

[Illustration: "THEN I'LL _MAKE_ YOU!" HE SAID, CATCHING HOLD OF
OSWALD.]

"You jolly well won't," cried Dicky, catching hold of the arm of the
gentleman.

Then Dora said very primly and speaking rather slowly, and she was very
pale--

"I think it would be lovely to fly. Will you just show me how the
flying-machine looks when it is unfolded?"

The gentleman dropped Oswald, and Dora made "Go! go" with her lips
without speaking, while he began to unfold the flying-machine. We others
went, Oswald lingering last, and then in an instant Dora had nipped out
of the room and banged the door and locked it.

"To the Mill!" she cried, and we ran like mad, and got in and barred the
big door, and went up to the first floor, and looked out of the big
window to warn off Mrs. Beale.

And we thumped Dora on the back, and Dicky called her a Sherlock Holmes,
and Noël said she was a heroine.

"It wasn't anything," Dora said, just before she began to cry, "only I
remember reading that you must pretend to humour them, and then get
away, for of course I saw at once he was a lunatic. Oh, how awful it
might have been! He could have made us all jump out of the attic window,
and there would have been no one left to tell Father. Oh! oh!" and then
the crying began.

But we were proud of Dora, and I am sorry we make fun of her sometimes,
but it is difficult not to.

We decided to signal the first person that passed, and we got Alice to
take off her red flannel petticoat for a signal.

The first people who came were two men in a dog-cart. We waved the
signalising petticoat and they pulled up, and one got out and came up to
the Mill.

We explained about the lunatic and the wanting us to jump out of the
windows.

"Right oh!" cried the man to the one still in the cart; "got him." And
the other hitched the horse to the gate and came over, and the other
went to the house.

"Come along down, young ladies and gentlemen," said the second man when
he had been told. "He's as gentle as a lamb. He does not think it hurts
to jump out of windows. He thinks it really is flying. He'll be like an
angel when he sees the doctor."

We asked if he had been mad before, because we had thought he might have
suddenly gone so.

"Certainly he has!" replied the man; "he has never been, so to say,
himself since tumbling out of a flying-machine he went up in with a
friend. He was an artist previous to that--an excellent one, I believe.
But now he only draws objects with wings--and now and then he wants to
make people fly--perfect strangers sometimes, like yourselves. Yes,
miss, I am his attendant, and his pictures often amuse me by the
half-hours together, poor gentleman."

"How did he get away?" Alice asked.

"Well, miss, the poor gentleman's brother got hurt and Mr.
Sidney--that's him inside--seemed wonderfully put out and hung over the
body in a way pitiful to see. But really he was extracting the cash from
the sufferer's pockets. Then, while all of us were occupied with Mr.
Eustace, Mr. Sidney just packs his portmanteau and out he goes by the
back door. When we missed him we sent for Dr. Baker, but by the time he
came it was too late to get here. Dr. Baker said at once he'd revert to
his boyhood's home. And the doctor has proved correct."

We had all come out of the Mill, and with this polite person we went to
the gate, and saw the lunatic get into the carriage, very gentle and
gay.

"But, Doctor," Oswald said, "he did say he'd give nine pounds a week for
the rooms. Oughtn't he to pay?"

"You might have known he was mad to say that," said the doctor. "No. Why
should he, when it's his own sister's house? Gee up!"

And he left us.

It was sad to find the gentleman was not a Higher Life after all, but
only mad. And I was more sorry than ever for poor Miss Sandal. As Oswald
pointed out to the girls they are much more blessed in their brothers
than Miss Sandal is, and they ought to be more grateful than they are.



_THE SMUGGLER'S REVENGE_


THE days went on and Miss Sandal did not return. We went on being very
sorry about Miss Sandal being so poor, and it was not our fault that
when we tried to let the house in lodgings, the first lodger proved to
be a lunatic of the deepest dye. Miss Sandal must have been a fairly
decent sort, because she seems not to have written to Father about it.
At any rate he didn't give it us in any of our letters, about our good
intentions and their ending in a maniac.

Oswald does not like giving up a thing just because it has once been
muffed. The muffage of a plan is a thing that often happens at first to
heroes--like Bruce and the spider, and other great characters. Beside,
grown-ups always say--

          "If at first you don't succeed,
           Try, try, try again!"

And if this is the rule for Euclid and rule-of-three and all the things
you would rather not do, think how much more it must be the rule when
what you are after is your own idea, and not just the rotten notion of
that beast Euclid, or the unknown but equally unnecessary author who
composed the multiplication table. So we often talked about what we
could do to make Miss Sandal rich. It gave us something to jaw about
when we happened to want to sit down for a bit, in between all the
glorious wet sandy games that happen by the sea.

Of course if we wanted real improving conversation we used to go up to
the boat-house and talk to the coastguards. I do think coastguards are
A1. They are just the same as sailors, having been so in their youth,
and you can get at them to talk to, which is not the case with sailors
who are at sea (or even in harbours) on ships. Even if you had the luck
to get on to a man-of-war, you would very likely not be able to climb to
the top-gallants to talk to the man there. Though in books the young
hero always seems able to climb to the mast-head the moment he is told
to. The coastguards told us tales of Southern ports, and of shipwrecks,
and officers they had _not_ cottoned to, and messmates that they _had_,
but when we asked them about smuggling they said there wasn't any to
speak of nowadays.

"I expect they think they oughtn't to talk about such dark crimes before
innocent kids like us," said Dicky afterwards, and he grinned as he said
it.

"Yes," said Alice; "they don't know how much we know about smugglers,
and bandits, and highwaymen, and burglars, and coiners," and she sighed,
and we all felt sad to think that we had not now any chance to play at
being these things.

"We might play smugglers," said Oswald.

But he did not speak hopefully. The worst of growing up is that you seem
to want more and more to have a bit of the real thing in your games.
Oswald could not now be content to play at bandits and just capture
Albert next door, as once, in happier days, he was pleased and proud to
do.

It was not a coastguard that told us about the smugglers. It was a very
old man that we met two or three miles along the beach. He was leaning
against a boat that was wrong way up on the shingle, and smoking the
strongest tobacco Oswald's young nose has ever met. I think it must have
been Black Jack. We said, "How do you do?" and Alice said, "Do you mind
if we sit down near you?"

"Not me," replied the aged seafarer. We could see directly that he was
this by his jersey and his sea-boots.

The girls sat down on the beach, but we boys leaned against the boat
like the seafaring one. We hoped he would join in conversation, but at
first he seemed too proud. And there was something dignified about him,
bearded and like a Viking, that made it hard for us to begin.

At last he took his pipe out of his mouth and said--

"Here's a precious Quakers' meeting! You didn't set down here just for
to look at me?"

"I'm sure you look very nice," Dora said.

"Same to you, miss, I'm sure," was the polite reply.

"We want to talk to you awfully," said Alice, "if you don't mind?"

"Talk away," said he.

And then, as so often happens, no one could think of anything to say.

Suddenly Noël said, "_I_ think you look nice too, but I think you look
as though you had a secret history. Have you?"

"Not me," replied the Viking-looking stranger. "I ain't got no history,
nor jog-graphy neither. They didn't give us that much schooling when I
was a lad."

"Oh!" replied Noël; "but what I really meant was, were you ever a pirate
or anything?"

"Never in all my born," replied the stranger, now thoroughly roused;
"I'd scorn the haction. I was in the navy, I was, till I lost the sight
of my eye, looking too close at gunpowder. Pirates is snakes, and they
ought to be killed as such."

We felt rather sorry, for though of course it is very wrong to be a
pirate, it is very interesting too. Things are often like this. That is
one of the reasons why it is so hard to be truly good.

Dora was the only one who was pleased. She said--

"Yes, pirates _are_ very wrong. And so are highwaymen and smugglers."

"I don't know about highwaymen," the old man replied; "they went out
afore my time, worse luck; but my father's great-uncle by the mother's
side, he see one hanged once. A fine upstanding fellow he was, and made
a speech while they was a-fitting of the rope. All the women was
snivelling and sniffing and throwing bokays at him."

"Did any of the bouquets reach him?" asked the interested Alice.

"Not likely," said the old man. "Women can't never shy straight. But I
shouldn't wonder but what them posies heartened the chap up a bit. An
afterwards they was all a-fightin' to get a bit of the rope he was hung
with, for luck."

"Do tell us some more about him," said all of us but Dora.

"I don't know no more about him. He was just hung--that's all. They was
precious fond o' hangin' in them old far-away times."

"Did you ever know a smuggler?" asked H.O.--"to speak to, I mean?"

"Ah, that's tellings," said the old man, and he winked at us all.

So then we instantly knew that the coastguards had been mistaken when
they said there were no more smugglers now, and that this brave old man
would not betray his comrades, even to friendly strangers like us. But
of course he could not know exactly how friendly we were. So we told
him.

Oswald said--

"We _love_ smugglers. We wouldn't even tell a word about it if you would
only tell us."

"There used to be lots of smuggling on these here coasts when my father
was a boy," he said; "my own father's cousin, his father took to the
smuggling, and he was a doin' so well at it, that what does he do, but
goes and gets married, and the Preventives they goes and nabs him on his
wedding-day, and walks him straight off from the church door, and claps
him in Dover Jail."

"Oh, his poor wife," said Alice, "whatever did she do?"

"_She_ didn't do nothing," said the old man. "It's a woman's place not
to do nothing till she's told to. He'd done so well at the smuggling,
he'd saved enough by his honest toil to take a little public. So she
sets there awaitin' and attendin' to customers--for well she knowed him,
as he wasn't the chap to let a bit of a jail stand in the way of his
station in life. Well, it was three weeks to a day after the wedding,
there comes a dusty chap to the 'Peal of Bells' door. That was the sign
over the public, you understand."

We said we did, and breathlessly added, "Go on!"

"A dusty chap he was; got a beard and a patch over one eye, and he come
of a afternoon when there was no one about the place but her.

"'Hullo, missis,' says he; 'got a room for a quiet chap?'

"'I don't take in no men-folks,' says she; 'can't be bothered with 'em.'

"'You'll be bothered with _me_, if I'm not mistaken,' says he.

"'Bothered if I will,' says she.

"'Bothered if you won't,' says he, and with that he ups with his hand
and off comes the black patch, and he pulls off the beard and gives her
a kiss and a smack on the shoulder. She always said she nearly died when
she see it was her new-made bridegroom under the beard.

"So she took her own man in as a lodger, and he went to work up at
Upton's Farm with his beard on, and of nights he kept up the smuggling
business. And for a year or more no one knowd as it was him. But they
got him at last."

"What became of him?" We all asked it.

"He's dead," said the old man. "But, Lord love you, so's everybody as
lived in them far-off old ancient days--all dead--Preventives too--and
smugglers and gentry: all gone under the daisies."

We felt quite sad. Oswald hastily asked if there wasn't any smuggling
now.

"Not hereabouts," the old man answered, rather quickly for him. "Don't
you go for to think it. But I did know a young chap--quite young he is
with blue eyes--up Sunderland way it was. He'd got a goodish bit o'
baccy and stuff done up in a ole shirt. And as he was a-goin' up off of
the beach a coastguard jumps out at him, and he says to himself, 'All u.
p. this time,' says he. But out loud he says, 'Hullo, Jack, that you? I
thought you was a tramp,' says he.

"'What you got in that bundle?' says the coastguard.

"'My washing,' says he, 'and a couple pairs of old boots.'

"Then the coastguard he says, 'Shall I give you a lift with it?'
thinking in himself the other chap wouldn't part if it was anything it
oughtn't to be. But that young chap was too sharp. He says to himself,
'If I don't he'll nail me, and if I do--well, there's just a chance.'

"So he hands over the bundle, and the coastguard he thinks it must be
all right, and he carries it all the way up to his mother's for him,
feeling sorry for the mean suspicions he'd had about the poor old chap.
But that didn't happen near here. No, no."

I think Dora was going to say, "_Old_ chap--but I thought he was young
with blue eyes?" but just at that minute a coastguard came along and
ordered us quite harshly not to lean on the boat. He was quite
disagreeable about it--how different from our own coastguards! He was
from a different station to theirs. The old man got off very slowly.
And all the time he was arranging his long legs so as to stand on them,
the coastguard went on being disagreeable as hard as he could, in a loud
voice.

[Illustration: A COASTGUARD ORDERED US QUITE HARSHLY NOT TO LEAN ON THE
BOAT.]

When our old man had told the coastguard that no one ever lost anything
by keeping a civil tongue in his head, we all went away feeling very
angry.

Alice took the old man's hand as we went back to the village, and asked
him why the coastguard was so horrid.

"They gets notions into their heads," replied the old man; "the most
innocentest people they comes to think things about. It's along of there
being no smuggling in these ere parts now. The coastguards ain't got
nothing to do except think things about honest people."

We parted from the old man very warmly, all shaking hands. He lives at a
cottage not quite in the village, and keeps pigs. We did not say goodbye
till we had seen all the pigs.

I daresay we should not have gone on disliking that disagreeable
coastguard so much if he had not come along one day when we were talking
to our own coastguards, and asked why they allowed a pack of young
shavers in the boat-house. We went away in silent dignity, but we did
not forget, and when we were in bed that night Oswald said--

"Don't you think it would be a good thing if the coastguards had
something to do?"

Dicky yawned and said he didn't know.

"I should like to be a smuggler," said Oswald. "Oh, yes, go to sleep if
you like; but I've got an idea, and if you'd rather be out of it I'll
have Alice instead."

"Fire away!" said Dicky, now full of attention, and leaning on his
elbow.

"Well, then," said Oswald, "I think we _might_ be smugglers."

"We've played all those things so jolly often," said Dicky.

"But I don't mean play," said Oswald. "I mean the real thing. Of course
we should have to begin in quite a small way. But we should get on in
time. And we might make quite a lot for poor Miss Sandal."

"Things that you smuggle are expensive," said Dicky.

"Well, we've got the chink the Indian uncle sent us on Saturday. I'm
certain we could do it. We'd get some one to take us out at night in one
of the fishing-boats--just tear across to France and buy a keg or a bale
or something, and rush back."

"Yes, and get nabbed and put in prison. Not me," said Dicky. "Besides,
who'd take us?"

"That old Viking man would," said Oswald; "but of course, if you funk
it!"

"I don't funk anything," said Dicky, "bar making an ape of myself. Keep
your hair on, Oswald. Look here. Suppose we get a keg with nothing in
it--or just water. We should have all the fun, and if we _were_ collared
we should have the laugh of that coastguard brute."

Oswald agreed, but he made it a condition that we should call it the keg
of brandy, whatever was in it, and Dicky consented.

Smuggling is a manly sport, and girls are not fitted for it by nature.
At least Dora is not; and if we had told Alice she would have insisted
on dressing as a boy and going too, and we knew Father would not like
this. And we thought Noël and H.O. were too young to be smugglers with
any hope of success. So Dicky and I kept the idea to ourselves.

We went to see the Viking man the next day. It took us some time to make
him understand what we wanted, but when he did understand he slapped his
leg many times, and very hard, and declared that we were chips of the
old block.

"But I can't go for to let you," he said; "if you was nailed it's the
stone jug, bless your hearts."

So then we explained about the keg really having only water in, and he
slapped his leg again harder than ever, so that it would really have
been painful to any but the hardened leg of an old sea-dog. But the
water made his refusals weaker, and at last he said--

"Well, see here, Benenden, him as owns the _Mary Sarah_, he's often took
out a youngster or two for the night's fishing, when their pa's and ma's
hadn't no objection. You write your pa, and ask if you mayn't go for
the night's fishing, or you get Mr. Charteris to write. He knows it's
all right, and often done by visitors' kids, if boys. And if your pa
says yes, I'll make it all right with Benenden. But mind, it's just a
night's fishing. No need to name no kegs. That's just betwixt
ourselves."

So we did exactly as he said. Mr. Charteris is the clergyman. He was
quite nice about it, and wrote for us, and Father said "Yes, but be very
careful, and don't take the girls or the little ones."

We showed the girls the letter, and that removed the trifling
ill-feeling that had grown up through Dick and me having so much secret
talk about kegs and not telling the others what was up.

Of course we never breathed a word about kegs in public, and only to
each other in bated breaths.

What Father said about not taking the girls or the little ones of course
settled any wild ideas Alice might have had of going as a cabin-girl.

The old Viking man, now completely interested in our scheme, laid all
the plans in the deepest-laid way you can think. He chose a very dark
night--fortunately there was one just coming on. He chose the right time
of the tide for starting, and just in the greyness of the evening when
the sun is gone down, and the sea somehow looks wetter than at any other
time, we put on our thick undershirts, and then our thickest suits and
football jerseys over everything, because we had been told it would be
very cold. Then we said goodbye to our sisters and the little ones, and
it was exactly like a picture of the "Tar's Farewell," because we had
bundles, with things to eat tied up in blue checked handkerchiefs, and
we said goodbye to them at the gate, and they would kiss us.

Dora said, "Goodbye, I _know_ you'll be drowned. I hope you'll enjoy
yourselves, I'm sure!"

Alice said, "I do think it's perfectly beastly. You might just as well
have asked for me to go with you; or you might let us come and see you
start."

"Men must work, and women must weep," replied Oswald with grim sadness,
"and the Viking said he wouldn't have us at all unless we could get on
board in a concealed manner, like stowaways. He said a lot of others
would want to go too if they saw us."

We made our way to the beach, and we tried to conceal ourselves as much
as possible, but several people did see us.

When we got to the boat we found she was manned by our Viking and
Benenden, and a boy with red hair, and they were running her down to the
beach on rollers. Of course Dicky and I lent a hand, shoving at the
stern of the boat when the men said, "Yo, ho! Heave ho, my merry boys
all!" It wasn't exactly that that they said, but it meant the same
thing, and we heaved like anything.

It was a proud moment when her nose touched the water, and prouder still
when only a small part of her stern remained on the beach and Mr.
Benenden remarked--

"All aboard!"

The red boy gave a "leg up" to Dicky and me and clambered up himself.
Then the two men gave the last shoves to the boat, already cradled
almost entirely on the bosom of the deep, and as the very end of the
keel grated off the pebbles into the water, they leaped for the gunwale
and hung on it with their high sea-boots waving in the evening air.

By the time they had brought their legs on board and coiled a rope or
two, we chanced to look back, and already the beach seemed quite a long
way off.

We were really afloat. Our smuggling expedition was no longer a dream,
but a real realness. Oswald felt almost too excited at first to be able
to enjoy himself. I hope you will understand this and not think the
author is trying to express, by roundabout means, that the sea did not
agree with Oswald. This is not the case. He was perfectly well the whole
time. It was Dicky who was not. But he said it was the smell of the
cabin, and not the sea, and I am sure he thought what he said was true.

In fact, that cabin was a bit stiff altogether, and was almost the means
of upsetting even Oswald.

It was about six feet square, with bunks and an oil stove, and heaps of
old coats and tarpaulins and sou'-westers and things, and it smelt of
tar, and fish, and paraffin-smoke, and machinery oil, and of rooms where
no one ever opens the window.

Oswald just put his nose in, and that was all. He had to go down later,
when some fish was cooked and eaten, but by that time he had got what
they call your sea-legs; but Oswald felt more as if he had got a
sea-waistcoat, rather as if he had got rid of a land-waistcoat that was
too heavy and too tight.

I will not weary the reader by telling about how the nets are paid out
and dragged in, or about the tumbling, shining heaps of fish that come
up all alive over the side of the boat, and it tips up with their weight
till you think it is going over. It was a very good catch that night,
and Oswald is glad he saw it, for it was very glorious. Dicky was asleep
in the cabin at the time and missed it. It was deemed best not to rouse
him to fresh sufferings.

It was getting latish, and Oswald, though thrilled in every marrow, was
getting rather sleepy, when old Benenden said, "There she is!"

Oswald could see nothing at first, but presently he saw a dark form on
the smooth sea. It turned out to be another boat.

She crept quietly up till she was alongside ours, and then a keg was
hastily hoisted from her to us.

A few words in low voices were exchanged. Oswald only heard--

"Sure you ain't give us the wrong un?"

And several people laughed hoarsely.

On first going on board Oswald and Dicky had mentioned kegs, and had
been ordered to "Stow that!" so that Oswald had begun to fear that after
all it _was_ only a night's fishing, and that his glorious idea had been
abandoned.

But now he saw the keg his trembling heart was reassured.

It got colder and colder. Dicky, in the cabin, was covered with several
coats richly scented with fish, and Oswald was glad to accept an oilskin
and sou'-wester, and to sit down on some spare nets.

Until you are out on the sea at night you can never have any idea how
big the world really is. The sky looks higher up, and the stars look
further off, and even if you know it is only the English Channel, yet it
is just as good for feeling small on as the most trackless Atlantic or
Pacific. Even the fish help to show the largeness of the world, because
you think of the deep deepness of the dark sea they come up out of in
such rich profusion. The hold was full of fish after the second haul.

Oswald sat leaning against the precious keg, and perhaps the bigness and
quietness of everything had really rendered him unconscious. But he did
not know he was asleep until the Viking man woke him up by kindly
shaking him and saying--

"Here, look alive! Was ye thinking to beach her with that there precious
keg of yours all above board, and crying out to be broached?"

So then Oswald roused himself, and the keg was rolled on to the fish
where they lay filling the hold, and armfuls of fish thrown over it.

"Is it _really_ only water?" asked Oswald. "There's an awfully odd
smell." And indeed, in spite of the many different smells that are
natural to a fishing-boat, Oswald began to notice a strong scent of
railway refreshment-rooms.

"In course it's only water," said the Viking. "What else would it be
likely to be?" and Oswald thinks he winked in the dark.

Perhaps Oswald fell asleep again after this. It was either that or deep
thought. Any way, he was aroused from it by a bump, and a soft grating
sound, and he thought at first the boat was being wrecked on a coral
reef or something.

But almost directly he knew that the boat had merely come ashore in the
proper manner, so he jumped up.

You cannot push a boat out of the water like you push it in. It has to
be hauled up by a capstan. If you don't know what that is the author is
unable to explain, but there is a picture of one.

When the boat was hauled up we got out, and it was very odd to stretch
your legs on land again. It felt shakier than being on sea. The
red-haired boy went off to get a cart to take the shining fish to
market, and Oswald decided to face the mixed-up smells of that cabin and
wake Dicky.

Dicky was not grateful to Oswald for his thoughtful kindness in letting
him sleep through the perils of the deep and his own uncomfortableness.

He said, "I do think you might have waked a chap. I've simply been out
of everything."

Oswald did not answer back. His is a proud and self-restraining nature.
He just said--

"Well, hurry up, now, and see them cart the fish away."

So we hurried up, and as Oswald came out of the cabin he heard strange
voices, and his heart leaped up like the persons who "behold a rainbow
in the sky," for one of the voices was the voice of that inferior and
unsailorlike coastguard from Longbeach, who had gone out of his way to
be disagreeable to Oswald and his brothers and sisters on at least two
occasions. And now Oswald felt almost sure that his disagreeablenesses,
though not exactly curses, were coming home to roost just as though they
had been.

"You're missing your beauty sleep, Stokes," we heard our Viking remark.

"I'm not missing anything else, though," replied the coastguard.

"Like half a dozen mackerel for your breakfast?" inquired Mr. Benenden
in kindly accents.

"I've no stomach for fish, thank you all the same," replied Mr. Stokes
coldly.

He walked up and down on the beach, clapping his arms to keep himself
warm.

"Going to see us unload her?" asked Mr. Benenden.

"If it's all the same to you," answered the disagreeable coastguard.

He had to wait a long time, for the cart did not come, and did not come,
and kept on not coming for ages and ages. When it did the men unloaded
the boat, carrying the fish by basketfuls to the cart.

Every one played up jolly well. They took the fish from the side of the
hold where the keg wasn't till there was quite a deep hole there, and
the other side, where the keg really was, looked like a mountain in
comparison.

This could be plainly seen by the detested coastguard, and by three of
his companions who had now joined him.

It was beginning to be light, not daylight, but a sort of ghost-light
that you could hardly believe was the beginning of sunshine, and the sky
being blue again instead of black.

The hated coastguard got impatient. He said--

"You'd best own up. It'll be the better for you. It's bound to come out,
along of the fish. I know it's there. We've had private information up
at the station. The game's up this time, so don't you make no mistake."

Mr. Benenden and the Viking and the boy looked at each other.

"An' what might your precious private information have been about?"
asked Mr. Benenden.

"Brandy," replied the coastguard Stokes, and he went and got on to the
gunwale. "And what's more, I can smell it from here."

Oswald and Dicky drew near, and the refreshment-room smell was stronger
than ever. And a brown corner of the keg was peeping out.

"There you are!" cried the Loathed One. "Let's have that gentleman out,
if you please, and then you'll all just come alonger me."

Remarking, with a shrug of the shoulders, that he supposed it was all
up, our Viking scattered the fish that hid the barrel, and hoisted it
out from its scaly bed.

"That's about the size of it," said the coastguard we did not like.
"Where's the rest?"

"That's all," said Mr. Benenden. "We're poor men, and we has to act
according to our means."

"We'll see the boat clear to her last timber, if you've no objections,"
said the Detestable One.

I could see that our gallant crew were prepared to go through with the
business. More and more of the coastguards were collecting, and I
understood that what the crew wanted was to go up to the coastguard
station with that keg of pretending brandy, and involve the whole of the
coastguards of Longbeach in one complete and perfect sell.

But Dicky was sick of the entire business. He really has not the proper
soul for adventures, and what soul he has had been damped by what he had
gone through.

So he said, "Look here, there's nothing in that keg but water."

Oswald could have kicked him, though he is his brother.

"Huh!" replied the Unloved One, "d'you think I haven't got a nose? Why,
it's oozing out of the bunghole now as strong as Samson."

"Open it and see," said Dicky, disregarding Oswald's whispered
instructions to him to shut up. "It _is_ water."

"What do you suppose I suppose you want to get water from the other side
for, you young duffer!" replied the brutal official. "There's plenty
water and to spare this side."

"It's--it's _French_ water," replied Dicky madly; "it's ours, my
brother's and mine. We asked these sailors to get it for us."

"Sailors, indeed!" said the hateful coastguard. "You come along with
me."

And our Viking said he was something or othered. But Benenden whispered
to him in a low voice that it was all right--time was up. No one heard
this but me and the Viking.

"I want to go home," said Dicky. "I don't want to come along with you."

"What did you want water for?" was asked. "To try it?"

"To stand you a drink next time you ordered us off your beastly boat,"
said Dicky. And Oswald rejoiced to hear the roar of laughter that
responded to this fortunate piece of cheek.

I suppose Dicky's face was so angel-like, innocent-looking, like
stowaways in books, that they _had_ to believe him. Oswald told him so
afterwards, and Dicky hit out.

Any way, the keg was broached, and sure enough it was water, and
sea-water at that, as the Unamiable One said when he had tasted it out
of a tin cup, for nothing else would convince him. "But I smell brandy
still," he said, wiping his mouth after the sea-water.

Our Viking slowly drew a good-sized flat labelled bottle out of the
front of his jersey.

"From the 'Old Ship,'" he said gently. "I may have spilt a drop or two
here or there over the keg, my hand not being very steady, as is well
known, owing to spells of marsh fever as comes over me every six weeks
to the day."

The coastguard that we never could bear said, "Marsh fever be something
or othered," and his comrades said the same. But they all blamed _him_,
and we were glad.

We went home sleepy, but rejoicing. The whole thing was as complete a
sell as ever I wish to see.

[Illustration: SURE ENOUGH IT WAS SEA-WATER, AS THE UNAMIABLE ONE SAID
WHEN HE HAD TASTED IT.]

Of course we told our own dear and respected Lymchurch coastguards, and
I think they may be trusted not to let it down on the Longbeach
coastguards for many a good day. If their memories get bad I think there
will always be plenty of people along that coast to remind them!

So _that's_ all right.

       *       *       *       *       *

When we had told the girls all, and borne their reproaches for not
telling them before, we decided to give the Viking five bob for the game
way he had played up.

So we did. He would not take it at first, but when we said, "Do--you
might buy a pig with it, and call it Stokes after that coastguard," he
could no longer resist, and accepted our friendly gift.

We talked with him for a bit, and when we were going we thanked him for
being so jolly, and helping us to plant out the repulsive coastguard so
thoroughly.

Then he said, "Don't mention it. Did you tell your little gells what you
was up to?"

"No," said Oswald, "not till afterwards."

"Then you _can_ hold your tongues. Well, since you've acted so handsome
about that there pig, what's to be named for Stokes, I don't mind if I
tells you something. Only mum's the word."

We said we were quite sure it was.

"Well, then," said he, leaning over the pig-stye wall, and rubbing the
spotted pig's back with his stick. "It's an ill wind that blows no good
to nobody. You see, that night there was a little bird went an'
whispered to 'em up at Longbeach about our little bit of a keg. So when
we landed they was there."

"Of course," said Oswald.

"Well, if they was there they couldn't be somewheres else, could they?"

We owned they could not.

"I shouldn't wonder," he went on, "but what a bit of a cargo was run
that night further up the beach: something as _wasn't_ sea-water. I
don't say it was so, mind--and mind you don't go for to say it."

Then we understood that there is a little smuggling done still, and that
we had helped in it, though quite without knowing.

We were jolly glad. Afterwards, when we had had that talk with Father,
when he told us that the laws are made by the English people, and it is
dishonourable for an Englishman not to stick to them, we saw that
smuggling must be wrong.

But we have never been able to feel really sorry. I do not know why this
is.



_ZAÏDA, THE MYSTERIOUS PROPHETESS OF THE GOLDEN ORIENT_


THIS is the story of how we were gipsies and wandering minstrels. And,
like everything else we did about that time, it was done to make money
for Miss Sandal, whose poorness kept on, making our kind hearts ache.

It is rather difficult to get up any good game in a house like Miss
Sandal's, where there is nothing lying about, except your own things,
and where everything is so neat and necessary. Your own clothes are
seldom interesting, and even if you change hats with your sisters it is
not a complete disguise.

The idea of being gipsies was due to Alice. She had not at all liked
being entirely out of the smuggling affray, though Oswald explained to
her that it was her own fault for having been born a girl. And, of
course, after the event, Dicky and I had some things to talk about that
the girls hadn't, and we had a couple of wet days.

You have no idea how dull you can be in a house like that, unless you
happen to know the sort of house I mean. A house that is meant for
plain living and high thinking, like Miss Sandal told us, may be very
nice for the high thinkers, but if you are not accustomed to thinking
high there is only the plain living left, and it is like boiled rice for
every meal to any young mind, however much beef and Yorkshire there may
be for the young insides. Mrs. Beale saw to our having plenty of nice
things to eat, but, alas! it is not always dinner-time, and in between
meals the cold rice-pudding feeling is very chilling. Of course we had
the splendid drawings of winged things made by our Flying Lodger, but
you cannot look at pictures all day long, however many coloured chalks
they are drawn with, and however fond you may be of them.

Miss Sandal's was the kind of house that makes you wander all round it
and say, "What shall we do next?" And when it rains the little ones get
cross.

It was the second wet day when we were wandering round the house to the
sad music of our boots on the clean, bare boards that Alice said--

"Mrs. Beale has got a book at her house called 'Napoleon's book of
Fate.' You might ask her to let you go and get it, Oswald. She likes you
best."

Oswald is as modest as any one I know, but the truth is the truth.

"We could tell our fortunes, and read the dark future," Alice went on.
"It would be better than high thinking without anything particular to
think about."

So Oswald went down to Mrs. Beale and said--

"I say, Bealie dear, you've got a book up at your place. I wish you'd
lend it to us to read."

"If it's the Holy Book you mean, sir," replied Mrs. Beale, going on with
peeling the potatoes that were to be a radiant vision later on, all
brown and crisp in company with a leg of mutton--"if it's the Holy Book
you want there's one up on Miss Sandal's chest of drawerses."

"I know," said Oswald. He knew every book in the house. The backs of
them were beautiful--leather and gold--but inside they were like whited
sepulchres, full of poetry and improving reading. "No--we didn't want
that book just now. It is a book called 'Napoleon's book of Fate.' Would
you mind if I ran up to your place and got it?"

"There's no one at home," said Mrs. Beale; "wait a bit till I go along
to the bakus with the meat, and I'll fetch it along."

"You might let me go," said Oswald, whose high spirit is always
ill-attuned to waiting a bit. "I wouldn't touch anything else, and I
know where you keep the key."

"There's precious little as ye don't know, it seems to me," said Mrs.
Beale. "There, run along do. It's on top of the mantelshelf alongside
the picture tea-tin. It's a red book. Don't go taking the 'Wesleyan
Conference Reports' by mistake, the two is both together on the mantel."

[Illustration: "I SAY, BEALIE DEAR, YOU'VE GOT A BOOK UP AT YOUR
PLACE."]

Oswald in his macker splashed through the mud to Mrs. Beale's, found the
key under the loose tile behind the water-butt, and got the book without
adventure. He had promised not to touch anything else, so he could not
make even the gentlest booby-trap as a little surprise for Mrs. Beale
when she got back.

And most of that day we were telling our fortunes by the ingenious means
invented by the great Emperor, or by cards, which it is hard to remember
the rules for, or by our dreams. The only blights were that the others
all wanted to have the book all the time, and that Noël's dreams were so
long and mixed that we got tired of hearing about them before he did.
But he said he was quite sure he had dreamed every single bit of every
one of them. And the author hopes this was the truth.

We all went to bed hoping we should dream something that we could look
up in the dream book, but none of us did.

And in the morning it was still raining and Alice said--

"Look here, if it ever clears up again let's dress up and be gipsies. We
can go about in the distant villages telling people's fortunes. If
you'll let me have the book all to-day I can learn up quite enough to
tell them mysteriously and darkly. And gipsies always get their hands
crossed with silver."

Dicky said that was one way of keeping the book to herself, but Oswald
said--

"Let her try. She shall have it for an hour, and then we'll have an
exam. to see how much she knows."

This was done, but while she was swatting the thing up with her fingers
in her ears we began to talk about how gipsies should be dressed.

And when we all went out of the room to see if we could find anything in
that tidy house to dress up in, she came after us to see what was up. So
there was no exam.

We peeped into the cupboards and drawers in Miss Sandal's room, but
everything was grey or brown, not at all the sort of thing to dress up
for children of the Sunny South in. The plain living was shown in all
her clothes; and besides, grey shows every little spot you may happen to
get on it.

We were almost in despair. We looked in all the drawers in all the
rooms, but found only sheets and tablecloths and more grey and brown
clothing.

We tried the attic, with fainting hearts. Servants' clothes are always
good for dressing-up with; they have so many different colours. But Miss
Sandal had no servant. Still, she might have had one once, and the
servant might have left something behind her. Dora suggested this and
added--

"If you don't find anything in the attic you'll know it's Fate, and
you're not to do it. Besides, I'm almost sure you can be put in prison
for telling fortunes."

"Not if you're a gipsy you can't," said Noël; "they have licences to
tell fortunes, I believe, and judges can't do anything to them."

So we went up to the attic. And it was as bare and tidy as the rest of
the house. But there were some boxes and we looked in them. The smallest
was full of old letters, so we shut it again at once. Another had books
in it, and the last had a clean towel spread over what was inside. So we
took off the towel, and then every one said "Oh!"

In right on the top was a scarlet thing, embroidered heavily with gold.
It proved, on unfolding, to be a sort of coat, like a Chinaman's. We
lifted it out and laid it on the towel on the floor. And then the full
glories of that box were revealed. There were cloaks and dresses and
skirts and scarves, of all the colours of a well-chosen rainbow, and all
made of the most beautiful silks and stuffs, with things worked on them
with silk, as well as chains of beads and many lovely ornaments. We
think Miss Sandal must have been very fond of pretty things when she was
young, or when she was better off.

"Well, there won't be any gipsies near by to come up to _us_," said
Oswald joyously.

"Do you think we ought to take them, without asking?" said Dora.

"Of course not," said Oswald witheringly; "we ought to write to her and
say, 'Please, Miss Sandal, we know how poor you are, and may we borrow
your things to be gipsies in so as we get money for you---- All right!
You go and write the letter, Dora."

"I only just asked," said Dora.

We tried the things on. Some of them were so ladylike that they were no
good--evening dresses, and things like that. But there were enough
useful things to go round. Oswald, in white shirt and flannel
knee-breeches, tied a brick-coloured silk scarf round his middle part,
and a green one round his head for a turban. The turban was fastened
with a sparkling brooch with pink stones in it. He looked like a Moorish
toreador. Dicky had the scarlet and gold coat, which was the right
length when Dora had run a tuck in it.

Alice had a blue skirt with embroidery of peacock's feathers on it, and
a gold and black jacket very short with no sleeves, and a yellow silk
handkerchief on her head like Italian peasants, and another handkie
round her neck. Dora's skirt was green and her handkerchiefs purple and
pink.

Noël insisted on having his two scarves, one green and one yellow,
twisted on his legs like putties, and a red scarf wound round his
middle-part, and he stuck a long ostrich feather in his own bicycle cap
and said he was a troubadour bard.

H.O. was able to wear a lady's blouse of mouse-coloured silk,
embroidered with poppies. It came down to his knees and a jewelled belt
kept it in place.

We made up our costumes into bundles, and Alice thoughtfully bought a
pennyworth of pins. Of course it was idle to suppose that we could go
through the village in our gipsy clothes without exciting _some_ remark.

The more we thought of it the more it seemed as if it would be a good
thing to get some way from our village before we began our gipsy career.

The woman at the sweet shop where Alice got the pins has a donkey and
cart, and for two shillings she consented to lend us this, so that some
of us could walk while some of us would always be resting in the cart.

And next morning the weather was bright and blue as ever, and we
started. We were beautifully clean, but all our hairs had been arranged
with the brush solely, because at the last moment nobody could find it's
comb. Mrs. Beale had packed up a jolly sandwichy and apply lunch for us.
We told her we were going to gather bluebells in the woods, and of
course we meant to do that too.

The donkey-cart drew up at the door and we started. It was found
impossible to get every one into the cart at once, so we agreed to cast
lots for who should run behind, and to take it in turns, mile and mile.
The lot fell on Dora and H.O., but there was precious little running
about it. Anything slower than that donkey Oswald has never known, and
when it came to passing its own front door the donkey simply would not.
It ended in Oswald getting down and going to the animal's head, and
having it out with him, man to man. The donkey was small, but of
enormous strength. He set all his four feet firm and leant back--and
Oswald set his two feet firm and leant back--so that Oswald and the
front part of the donkey formed an angry and contentious letter V. And
Oswald gazed in the donkey's eyes in a dauntless manner, and the donkey
looked at Oswald as though it thought he was hay or thistles.

Alice beat the donkey from the cart with a stick that had been given us
for the purpose. The rest shouted. But all was in vain. And four people
in a motor car stopped it to see the heroic struggle, and laughed till I
thought they would have upset their hateful motor. However, it was all
for the best, though Oswald did not see it at the time. When they had
had enough of laughing they started their machine again, and the noise
it made penetrated the donkey's dull intelligence, and he started off
without a word--I mean without any warning, and Oswald has only just
time to throw himself clear of the wheels before he fell on the ground
and rolled over, biting the dust.

The motor car people behaved as you would expect. But accidents happen
even to motor cars, when people laugh too long and too unfeelingly.
The driver turned round to laugh, and the motor instantly took the bit
between its teeth and bolted into the stone wall of the churchyard. No
one was hurt except the motor, but that had to spend the day at the
blacksmith's, we heard afterwards. Thus was the outraged Oswald avenged
by Fate.

[Illustration: ALICE BEAT THE DONKEY FROM THE CART. THE REST SHOUTED.]

He was not hurt either--though much the motor people would have cared if
he had been--and he caught up with the others at the end of the village,
for the donkey's pace had been too good to last, and the triumphal
progress was resumed.

It was some time before we found a wood sufficiently lurking-looking for
our secret purposes. There are no woods close to the village. But at
last, up by Bonnington, we found one, and tying our noble steed to the
sign-post that says how many miles it is to Ashford, we cast a hasty
glance round, and finding no one in sight disappeared in the wood with
our bundles.

We went in just ordinary creatures. We came out gipsies of the deepest
dye, for we had got a pennorth of walnut stain from Mr. Jameson the
builder, and mixed with water--the water we had brought in a
medicine-bottle--it was a prime disguise. And we knew it would wash off,
unlike the Condy's fluid we once stained ourselves with during a
never-to-be-forgotten game of Jungle-Book.

We had put on all the glorious things we had bagged from Miss Sandal's
attic treasures, but still Alice had a small bundle unopened.

"What's that?" Dora asked.

"I meant to keep it as a reserve force in case the fortune-telling
didn't turn out all our fancy painted it," said Alice; "but I don't mind
telling you now."

She opened the bundle, and there was a tambourine, some black lace, a
packet of cigarette papers, and our missing combs.

"What ever on earth----" Dicky was beginning, but Oswald saw it all. He
has a wonderfully keen nose. And he said--

"Bully for you, Alice. I wish I'd thought it myself."

Alice was much pleased by this handsome speech.

"Yes," she said; "perhaps really it would be best to begin with it. It
would attract the public's attention, and then we could tell the
fortunes. You see," she kindly explained to Dicky and H.O. and Dora, who
had not seen it yet--though Noël had, almost as soon as I did--"you see,
we'll all play on the combs with the veils over our faces, so that no
one can see what our instruments are. Why, they might be mouth-organs
for anything any one will know, or some costly instruments from the
far-off East, like they play to sultans in zenanas. Let's just try a
tune or two before we go on, to be sure that all the combs work right.
Dora's has such big teeth, I shouldn't wonder if it wouldn't act at
all."

So we all papered our combs and did "Heroes," but that sounded awful.
"The Girl I Left Behind Me" went better, and so did "Bonnie Dundee." But
we thought "See the Conquering" or "The Death of Nelson" would be the
best to begin with.

It was beastly hot doing it under the veils, but when Oswald had done
one tune without the veil to see how the others looked he could not help
owning that the veils did give a hidden mystery that was a stranger to
simple combs.

We were all a bit puffed when we had played for awhile, so we decided
that as the donkey seemed calm and was eating grass and resting, we
might as well follow his example.

"We ought not to be too proud to take pattern by the brute creation,"
said Dora.

So we had our lunch in the wood. We lighted a little fire of sticks and
fir-cones, so as to be as gipsyish as we could, and we sat round the
fire. We made a charming picture in our bright clothes, among what would
have been our native surroundings if we had been real gipsies, and we
knew how nice we looked, and stayed there though the smoke got in our
eyes, and everything we ate tasted of it.

The woods were a little damp, and that was why the fire smoked so. There
were the jackets we had cast off when we dressed up, to sit on, and
there was a horse-cloth in the cart intended for the donkey's wear, but
we decided that our need was greater than its, so we took the blanket
to recline on.

It was as jolly a lunch as ever I remember, and we lingered over that
and looking romantic till we could not bear the smoke any more.

Then we got a lot of bluebells and we trampled out the fire most
carefully, because we know about not setting woods and places alight,
rolled up our clothes in bundles, and went out of the shadowy woodland
into the bright sunlight, as sparkling looking a crew of gipsies as any
one need wish for.

Last time we had seen the road it had been quite white and bare of
persons walking on it, but now there were several. And not only walkers,
but people in carts. And some carriages passed us too.

Every one stared at us, but they did not seem so astonished as we had
every right to expect, and though interested they were not rude, and
this is very rare among English people--and not only poor people
either--when they see anything at all out of the way.

We asked one man, who was very Sunday-best indeed in black clothes and a
blue tie, where every one was going, for every one was going the same
way, and every one looked as if it was going to church, which was
unlikely, it being but Thursday. He said--

"Same place wot you're going to I expect."

And when we said where was that we were requested by him to get along
with us. Which we did.

An old woman in the heaviest bonnet I have ever seen and the highest--it
was like a black church--revealed the secret to us, and we learned that
there was a Primrose _fête_ going on in Sir Willoughby Blockson's
grounds.

We instantly decided to go to the _fête_.

"I've been to a Primrose _fête_, and so have you, Dora," Oswald
remarked, "and people are so dull at them, they'd gladly give gold to
see the dark future. And, besides, the villages will be unpopulated, and
no one at home but idiots and babies and their keepers."

So we went to the _fête_.

The people got thicker and thicker, and when we got to Sir Willoughby's
lodge gates, which have sprawling lions on the gate-posts, we were told
to take the donkey cart round to the stable-yard.

This we did, and proud was the moment when a stiff groom had to bend his
proud stomach to go to the head of Bates's donkey.

"This is something like," said Alice, and Noël added:

"The foreign princes are well received at this palace."

"We aren't princes, we're gipsies," said Dora, tucking his scarf in. It
would keep on getting loose.

"There _are_ gipsy princes, though," said Noël, "because there are gipsy
kings."

"You aren't always a prince first," said Dora; "don't wriggle so or I
can't fix you. Sometimes being made a king just happens to some one who
isn't any one in particular."

"I don't think so," said Noël; "you have to be a prince before you're a
king, just as you have to be a kitten before you're a cat, or a puppy
before you're a dog, or a worm before you're a serpent, or----"

"What about the King of Sweden?" Dora was beginning, when a very nice
tall, thin man, with white flowers in his buttonhole like for a wedding,
came strolling up and said--

"And whose show is this? Eh, what?"

We said it was ours.

"Are you expected?" he asked.

We said we thought not, but we hoped he didn't mind.

"What are you? Acrobats? Tight-rope? That's a ripping Burmese coat
you've got there."

"Yes, it is. No we aren't," said Alice, with dignity. "I am Zaïda, the
mysterious prophetess of the golden Orient, and the others are
mysterious too, but we haven't fixed on their names yet."

"By jove!" said the gentleman; "but who are you really?"

"Our names are our secret," said Oswald, with dignity, but Alice said,
"Oh, but we don't mind telling _you_, because I'm sure you're nice.
We're really the Bastables, and we want to get some money for some one
we know that's rather poor--of course I can't tell you _her_ name. And
we've learnt how to tell fortunes--really we have. Do you think they'll
let us tell them at the _fête_. People are often dull at _fêtes_, aren't
they?"

"By Jove!" said the gentleman again--"by Jove, they are!"

He plunged for a moment in deep reflection.

"We've got co--musical instruments," said Noël; "shall we play to you a
little?"

"Not here," said the gentleman; "follow me."

He led the way by the backs of shrubberies to an old summer-house, and
we asked him to wait outside.

Then we put on our veils and tuned up. "See, see the conquering----"

But he did not let us finish the tune; he burst in upon us, crying--

"Ripping--oh, ripping! And now tell me my fortune."

Alice took off her veil and looked at his hand.

"You will travel in distant lands," she said; "you will have great
wealth and honour; you will marry a beautiful lady--a very fine woman,
it says in the book, but I think a beautiful lady sounds nicer, don't
you?"

[Illustration: "WE'VE GOT MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS," SAID NOËL.]

"Much; but I shouldn't mention the book when you're telling the
fortune."

"I wouldn't, except to you," said Alice, "and she'll have lots of money
and a very sweet disposition. Trials and troubles beset your path, but
do but be brave and fearless and you will overcome all your enemies.
Beware of a dark woman--most likely a widow."

"I will," said he, for Alice had stopped for breath. "Is that all?"

"No. Beware of a dark woman and shun the society of drunkards and
gamblers. Be very cautious in your choice of acquaintances, or you will
make a false friend who will be your ruin. That's all, except that you
will be married very soon and live to a green old age with the beloved
wife of your bosom, and have twelve sons and----"

"Stop, stop!" said the gentleman; "twelve sons are as many as I can
bring up handsomely on my present income. Now, look here. You did that
jolly well, only go slower, and pretend to look for things in the hand
before you say them. Everything's free at the _fête_, so you'll get no
money for your fortune-telling."

Gloom was on each young brow.

"It's like this," he went on, "there is a lady fortune-teller in a tent
in the park."

"Then we may as well get along home," said Dicky.

"Not at all," said our new friend, for such he was now about to prove
himself to be; "that lady does not want to tell fortunes to-day. She has
a headache. Now, if you'll really stick to it, and tell the people's
fortunes as well as you told mine, I'll stand you--let's see--two quid
for the afternoon. Will that do? What?"

We said we should just jolly well think it would.

"I've got some Eau de Cologne in a medicine-bottle," Dora said; "my
brother Noël has headaches sometimes, but I think he's going to be all
right to-day. Do take it, it will do the lady's head good."

"I'll take care of her head," he said, laughing, but he took the bottle
and said, "Thank you."

Then he told us to stay where we were while he made final arrangements,
and we were left with palpitating breasts to look wildly through the
Book of Fate, so as to have the things ready. But it turned out to be
time thrown away, for when he came back he said to Alice--

"It'll have to be only you and your sister, please, for I see they've
stuck up a card with 'Esmeralda, the gipsy Princess, reads the hand and
foretells the future' on it. So you boys will have to be mum. You can be
attendants--mutes, by jove!--yes that's it. And, I say, kiddies, you
will jolly well play up, won't you? Don't stand any cheek. Stick it on,
you know. I can't tell you how important it is about----about the lady's
headache."

"I should think this would be a cool place for a headache to be quiet
in," said Dora; and it was, for it was quite hidden in the shrubbery and
no path to it.

"By Jove!" he remarked yet once again, "so it would. You're right!"

He led us out of the shrubbery and across the park. There were people
dotted all about and they stared, but they touched their hats to the
gentleman, and he returned their salute with stern politeness.

Inside the tent with "Esmeralda, &c.," outside there was a lady in a hat
and dust-cloak. But we could see her spangles under the cloak.

"Now," said the gentleman to Dicky, "you stand at the door and let
people in, one at a time. You others can just play a few bars on your
instruments for each new person--only a very little, because you do get
out of tune, though that's barbaric certainly. Now, here's the two quid.
And you stick to the show till five; you'll hear the stable clock
chime."

The lady was very pale with black marks under her eyes, and her eyes
looked red, Oswald thought. She seemed about to speak, but the gentleman
said--

"Do trust me, Ella. I'll explain everything directly. Just go to the old
summer-house--_you_ know--and I'll be there directly. I'll take a couple
of pegs out of the back and you can slip away among the trees. Hold your
cloak close over your gown. Goodbye, kiddies. Stay, give me your
address, and I'll write and tell you if my fortune comes true."

So he shook hands with us and went. And we did stick to it, though it is
far less fun than you would think telling fortunes all the afternoon in
a stuffy tent, while outside you know there are things to eat and people
enjoying themselves. But there were the two gold quid, and we were
determined to earn them. It is very hard to tell a different fortune for
each person, and there were a great many. The girls took it in turns,
and Oswald wonders why their hairs did not go gray. Though of course it
was much better fun for them than for us, because we had just to be
mutes when we weren't playing on the combs.

The people we told fortunes to at first laughed rather, and said we were
too young to know anything. But Oswald said in a hollow voice that we
were as old as the Pyramids, and after that Alice took the tucks out of
Dicky's red coat and put it on and turbaned herself, and looked much
older.

The stable clock had chimed the quarter to five some little time, when
an elderly gentleman with whiskers, who afterwards proved to be Sir
Willoughby, burst into the tent.

"Where's Miss Blockson?" he said, and we answered truthfully that we did
not know.

"How long have you been here?" he furiously asked.

"Ever since two," said Alice wearily.

He said a word that I should have thought a baronet would have been
above using.

"Who brought you here?"

We described the gentleman who had done this, and again the baronet said
things we should never be allowed to say. "That confounded Carew!" he
added, with more words.

"Is anything wrong?" asked Dora--"can we do anything? We'll stay on
longer if you like--if you can't find the lady who was doing Esmeralda
before we came."

"I'm not very likely to find her," he said ferociously. "Stay longer
indeed! Get away out of my sight before I have you locked up for
vagrants and vagabonds."

He left the scene in bounding and mad fury. We thought it best to do as
he said, and went round the back way to the stables so as to avoid
exciting his ungoverned rage by meeting him again. We found our cart and
went home. We had got two quid and something to talk about.

But none of us--not even Oswald the discerning--understood exactly what
we had been mixed up in, till the pink satin box with three large
bottles of A1 scent in it, and postmarks of foreign lands, came to Dora.
And there was a letter. It said--

"My dear Gipsies,--I beg to return the Eau de Cologne you so kindly lent
me. The lady did use a little of it, but I found that foreign travel was
what she really wanted to make her quite happy. So we caught the 4.15
to town, and now we are married, and intend to live to a green old age,
&c., as you foretold. But for your help my fortune couldn't have come
true, because my wife's father, Sir Willoughby, thought I was not rich
enough to marry. But you see I was. And my wife and I both thank you
heartily for your kind help. I hope it was not an awful swat. I had to
say five because of the train. Good luck to you, and thanks awfully.

                                    "Yours faithfully,
                                              "CARISBROOK CAREW."

If Oswald had known beforehand we should never have made that two quid
for Miss Sandal.

For Oswald does not approve of marriages and would never, if he knew it,
be the means of assisting one to occur.



_THE LADY AND THE LICENSE; OR, FRIENDSHIP'S GARLAND_


          "MY DEAR KIDDIES,--Miss Sandal's married sister
          has just come home from Australia, and she feels
          very tired. No wonder, you will say, after such a
          long journey. So she is going to Lymchurch to
          rest. Now I want you all to be very quiet, because
          when you are in your usual form you aren't exactly
          restful, are you? If this weather lasts you will
          be able to be out most of the time, and when you
          are indoors for goodness' sake control your lungs
          and your boots, especially H.O.'s. Mrs. Bax has
          travelled about a good deal, and once was nearly
          eaten by cannibals. But I hope you won't bother
          her to tell you stories. She is coming on Friday.
          I am glad to hear from Alice's letter that you
          enjoyed the Primrose Fête. Tell Noël that
          'poetticle' is not the usual way of spelling the
          word he wants. I send you ten shillings for
          pocket-money, and again implore you to let Mrs.
          Bax have a little rest and peace.

                                          "Your loving
                                                    "FATHER."

          "PS.--If you want anything sent down, tell me, and
          I will get Mrs. Bax to bring it. I met your friend
          Mr. Red House the other day at lunch."

When the letter had been read aloud, and we had each read it to
ourselves, a sad silence took place.

Dicky was the first to speak.

"It _is_ rather beastly, I grant you," he said, "but it might be worse."

"I don't see how," said H.O. "I do wish Father would jolly well learn to
leave my boots alone."

"It might be worse, I tell you," said Dicky. "Suppose instead of telling
us to keep out of doors it had been the other way?"

"Yes," said Alice, "suppose it had been, 'Poor Mrs. Bax requires to be
cheered up. Do not leave her side day or night. Take it in turns to make
jokes for her. Let not a moment pass without some merry jest'? Oh yes,
it might be much, much worse."

"Being able to get out all day makes it all right about trying to make
that two pounds increase and multiply," remarked Oswald. "Now who's
going to meet her at the station? Because after all it's her sister's
house, and we've got to be polite to visitors even if we're in a house
we aren't related to."

This was seen to be so, but no one was keen on going to the station. At
last Oswald, ever ready for forlorn hopes, consented to go.

We told Mrs. Beale, and she got the best room ready, scrubbing
everything till it smelt deliciously of wet wood and mottled soap. And
then we decorated the room as well as we could.

"She'll want some pretty things," said Alice, "coming from the land of
parrots and opossums and gum-trees and things."

We did think of borrowing the stuffed wild-cat that is in the bar at the
"Ship," but we decided that our decorations must be very quiet--and the
wild-cat, even in its stuffed state, was anything but; so we borrowed a
stuffed roach in a glass box and stood it on the chest of drawers. It
looked very calm. Sea-shells are quiet things when they are vacant, and
Mrs. Beale let us have the four big ones off her chiffonnier.

The girls got flowers--bluebells and white wood-anemones. We might have
had poppies or buttercups, but we thought the colours might be too loud.
We took some books up for Mrs. Bax to read in the night. And we took the
quietest ones we could find.

"Sonnets on Sleep," "Confessions of an Opium Eater," "Twilight of the
Gods," "Diary of a Dreamer," and "By Still Waters," were some of them.
The girls covered them with grey paper, because some of the bindings
were rather gay.

The girls hemmed grey calico covers for the drawers and the
dressing-table, and we drew the blinds half-down, and when all was done
the room looked as quiet as a roosting wood-pigeon.

We put in a clock, but we did not wind it up.

"She can do that herself," said Dora, "if she feels she can bear to hear
it ticking."

Oswald went to the station to meet her. He rode on the box beside the
driver. When the others saw him mount there I think they were sorry they
had not been polite and gone to meet her themselves. Oswald had a jolly
ride. We got to the station just as the train came in. Only one lady got
out of it, so Oswald knew it must be Mrs. Bax. If he had not been told
how quiet she wanted to be he would have thought she looked rather
jolly. She had short hair and gold spectacles. Her skirts were short,
and she carried a parrot-cage in her hand. It contained our parrot, and
when we wrote to tell Father that it and Pincher were the only things we
wanted sent we never thought she would have brought either.

"Mrs. Bax, I believe," was the only break Oswald made in the polite
silence that he took the parrot-cage and her bag from her in.

"How do you do?" she said very briskly for a tired lady; and Oswald
thought it was noble of her to make the effort to smile. "Are you Oswald
or Dicky?"

Oswald told her in one calm word which he was, and then Pincher rolled
madly out of a dog-box almost into his arms. Pincher would not be
quiet. Of course he did not understand the need for it. Oswald conversed
with Pincher in low, restraining whispers as he led the way to the
"Ship's" fly. He put the parrot-cage on the inside seat of the carriage,
held the door open for Mrs. Bax with silent politeness, closed it as
quietly as possible, and prepared to mount on the box.

"Oh, won't you come inside?" asked Mrs. Bax. "Do!"

"No, thank you," said Oswald in calm and mouse-like tones; and to avoid
any more jaw he got at once on to the box with Pincher.

So that Mrs. Bax was perfectly quiet for the whole six miles--unless you
count the rattle and shake-up-and-down of the fly. On the box Oswald and
Pincher "tasted the sweets of a blissful re-union," like it says in
novels. And the man from the "Ship" looked on and said how well bred
Pincher was. It was a happy drive.

There was something almost awful about the sleek, quiet tidiness of the
others, who were all standing in a row outside the cottage to welcome
Mrs. Bax. They all said, "How do you do?" in hushed voices, and all
looked as if butter would not melt in any of their young mouths. I never
saw a more soothing-looking lot of kids.

She went to her room, and we did not see her again till tea-time.

Then, still exquisitely brushed and combed, we sat round the board--in
silence. We had left the tea-tray place for Mrs. Bax, of course. But
she said to Dora--

"Wouldn't you like to pour out?"

And Dora replied in low, soft tones, "If you wish me to, Mrs. Bax. I
usually do." And she did.

We passed each other bread-and-butter and jam and honey with silent
courteousness. And of course we saw that she had enough to eat.

"Do you manage to amuse yourself pretty well here?" she asked presently.

We said, "Yes, thank you," in hushed tones.

"What do you do?" she asked.

We did not wish to excite her by telling her what we did, so Dicky
murmured--

"Nothing in particular," at the same moment that Alice said--

"All sorts of things."

"Tell me about them," said Mrs. Bax invitingly.

We replied by a deep silence. She sighed, and passed her cup for more
tea.

"Do you ever feel shy," she asked suddenly. "I do, dreadfully, with new
people."

We liked her for saying that, and Alice replied that she hoped she would
not feel shy with us.

"I hope not," she said. "Do you know, there was such a funny woman in
the train? She had seventeen different parcels, and she kept counting
them, and one of them was a kitten, and it was always under the seat
when she began to count, so she always got the number wrong."

We should have liked to hear about that kitten--especially what colour
it was and how old--but Oswald felt that Mrs. Bax was only trying to
talk for our sakes, so that we shouldn't feel shy, so he simply said,
"Will you have some more cake?" and nothing more was said about the
kitten.

Mrs. Bax seemed very noble. She kept trying to talk to us about Pincher,
and trains and Australia, but we were determined she should be quiet, as
she wished it so much, and we restrained our brimming curiosity about
opossums up gum-trees, and about emus and kangaroos and wattles, and
only said "Yes" or "No," or, more often, nothing at all.

When tea was over we melted away, "like snow-wreaths in Thawjean," and
went out on the beach and had a yelling match. Our throats felt as
though they were full of wool, from the hushed tones we had used in
talking to Mrs. Bax. Oswald won the match. Next day we kept carefully
out of the way, except for meals. Mrs. Bax tried talking again at
breakfast-time, but we checked our wish to listen, and passed the
pepper, salt, mustard, bread, toast, butter, marmalade, and even the
cayenne, vinegar, and oil, with such politeness that she gave up.

We took it in turns to watch the house and drive away organ-grinders. We
told them they must not play in front of that house, because there was
an Australian lady who had to be kept quiet. And they went at once. This
cost us expense, because an organ-grinder will never consent to fly the
spot under twopence a flight.

We went to bed early. We were quite weary with being so calm and still.
But we knew it was our duty, and we liked the feel of having done it.

The day after was the day Jake Lee got hurt. Jake is the man who drives
about the country in a covered cart, with pins and needles, and combs
and frying-pans, and all the sort of things that farmers' wives are
likely to want in a hurry, and no shops for miles. I have always thought
Jake's was a beautiful life. I should like to do it myself. Well, this
particular day he had got his cart all ready to start and had got his
foot on the wheel to get up, when a motor-car went by puffing and
hooting. I always think motor-cars seem so rude somehow. And the horse
was frightened; and no wonder. It shied, and poor Jake was thrown
violently to the ground, and hurt so much that they had to send for the
doctor. Of course we went and asked Mrs. Jake if we could do
anything--such as take the cart out and sell the things to the farmers'
wives.

But she thought not.

It was after this that Dicky said--

"Why shouldn't we get things of our own and go and sell them--with
Bates' donkey?"

Oswald was thinking the same thing, but he wishes to be fair, so he owns
that Dicky spoke first. We all saw at once that the idea was a good one.

"Shall we dress up for it?" H.O. asked. We thought not. It is always
good sport to dress up, but I have never heard of people selling things
to farmers' wives in really beautiful disguises.

"We ought to go as shabby as we can," said Alice; "but somehow that
always seems to come natural to your clothes when you've done a few
interesting things in them. We have plenty of clothes that look poor but
deserving. What shall we buy to sell?"

"Pins and needles, and tape and bodkins," said Dora.

"Butter," said Noël; "it is terrible when there is no butter."

"Honey is nice," said H.O., "and so are sausages."

"Jake has ready-made shirts and corduroy trousers. I suppose a farmer's
shirt and trousers may give at any moment," said Alice, "and if he can't
get new ones he has to go to bed till they are mended."

Oswald thought tin-tacks, and glue, and string must often be needed to
mend barns and farm tools with if they broke suddenly. And Dicky said--

"I think the pictures of ladies hanging on to crosses in foaming seas
are good. Jake told me he sold more of them than anything. I suppose
people suddenly break the old ones, and home isn't home without a lady
holding on to a cross."

We went to Munn's shop, and we bought needles and pins, and tapes and
bodkins, a pound of butter, a pot of honey and one of marmalade, and
tin-tacks, string, and glue. But we could not get any ladies with
crosses, and the shirts and trousers were too expensive for us to dare
to risk it. Instead, we bought a head-stall for eighteenpence, because
how providential we should be to a farmer whose favourite horse had
escaped and he had nothing to catch it with; and three tin-openers, in
case of a distant farm subsisting entirely on tinned things, and the
only opener for miles lost down the well or something. We also bought
several other thoughtful and far-sighted things.

That night at supper we told Mrs. Bax we wanted to go out for the day.
She had hardly said anything that supper-time, and now she said--

"Where are you going? Teaching Sunday school?"

As it was Monday, we felt her poor brain was wandering--most likely for
want of quiet. And the room smelt of tobacco smoke, so we thought some
one had been to see her and perhaps been too noisy for her. So Oswald
said gently--

"No, we are not going to teach Sunday school."

Mrs. Bax sighed. Then she said--

"I am going out myself to-morrow--for the day."

"I hope it will not tire you too much," said Dora, with soft-voiced and
cautious politeness. "If you want anything bought we could do it for
you, with pleasure, and you could have a nice, quiet day at home."

"Thank you," said Mrs. Bax shortly; and we saw she would do what she
chose, whether it was really for her own good or not.

She started before we did next morning, and we were careful to be
mouse-quiet till the "Ship's" fly which contained her was out of
hearing. Then we had another yelling competition, and Noël won with that
new shriek of his that is like railway engines in distress; and then we
went and fetched Bates' donkey and cart and packed our bales in it and
started, some riding and some running behind.

Any faint distant traces of respectableness that were left to our
clothes were soon covered up by the dust of the road and by some of the
ginger-beer bursting through the violence of the cart, which had no
springs.

The first farm we stopped at the woman really did want some pins, for
though a very stupid person, she was making a pink blouse, and we
said--

"Do have some tape! You never know when you may want it."

"I believe in buttons," she said. "No strings for me, thank you."

But when Oswald said, "What about pudding-strings? You can't button up
puddings as if they were pillows!" she consented to listen to reason.
But it was only twopence altogether.

But at the next place the woman said we were "mummickers," and told us
to "get along, do." And she set her dog at us; but when Pincher sprang
from the inmost recesses of the cart she called her dog off. But too
late, for it and Pincher were locked in the barking, scuffling, growling
embrace of deadly combat. When we had separated the dogs she went into
her house and banged the door, and we went on through the green flat
marshes, among the buttercups and may-bushes.

"I wonder what she meant by 'mummickers'?" said H.O.

"She meant she saw our high-born airs through our shabby clothes," said
Alice. "It's always happening, especially to princes. There's nothing so
hard to conceal as a really high-bred air."

"I've been thinking," said Dicky, "whether honesty wouldn't perhaps be
the best policy--not always, of course; but just this once. If people
knew what we were doing it for they might be glad to help on the good
work---- What?"

So at the next farm, which was half hidden by trees, like the picture at
the beginning of "Sensible Susan," we tied the pony to the gate-post and
knocked at the door. It was opened by a man this time, and Dora said to
him--

"We are honest traders. We are trying to sell these things to keep a
lady who is poor. If you buy some you will be helping too. Wouldn't you
like to do that? It is a good work, and you will be glad of it
afterwards, when you come to think over the acts of your life."

"Upon my word an' 'onner!" said the man, whose red face was surrounded
by a frill of white whiskers. "If ever I see a walkin' Tract 'ere it
stands!"

"She doesn't mean to be tractish," said Oswald quickly; "it's only her
way. But we really are trying to sell things to help a poor person--no
humbug, sir--so if we _have_ got anything you want we shall be glad. And
if not--well, there's no harm in asking, is there, sir?"

The man with the frilly whiskers was very pleased to be called
"sir"--Oswald knew he would be--and he looked at everything we'd got,
and bought the head-stall and two tin-openers, and a pot of marmalade,
and a ball of string, and a pair of braces. This came to four and
twopence, and we were very pleased. It really seemed that our business
was establishing itself root and branch.

When it came to its being dinner-time, which was first noticed through
H.O. beginning to cry and say he did not want to play any more, it was
found that we had forgotten to bring any dinner. So we had to eat some
of our stock--the jam, the biscuits, and the cucumber.

"I feel a new man," said Alice, draining the last of the ginger-beer
bottles. "At that homely village on the brow of yonder hill we shall
sell all that remains of the stock, and go home with money in both
pockets."

But our luck had changed. As so often happens, our hearts beat high with
hopeful thoughts, and we felt jollier than we had done all day. Merry
laughter and snatches of musical song re-echoed from our cart, and from
round it as we went up the hill. All Nature was smiling and gay. There
was nothing sinister in the look of the trees or the road--or anything.

Dogs are said to have inside instincts that warn them of intending
perils, but Pincher was not a bit instinctive that day somehow. He
sported gaily up and down the hedge-banks after pretending rats, and
once he was so excited that I believe he was playing at weasels and
stoats. But of course there was really no trace of these savage denizens
of the jungle. It was just Pincher's varied imagination.

We got to the village, and with joyful expectations we knocked at the
first door we came to.

Alice had spread out a few choice treasures--needles, pins, tape, a
photograph-frame, and the butter, rather soft by now, and the last of
the tin-openers--on a basket-lid, like the fish-man does with herrings
and whitings and plums and apples (you cannot sell fish in the country
unless you sell fruit too. The author does not know why this is).

The sun was shining, the sky was blue. There was no sign at all of the
intending thunderbolt, not even when the door was opened. This was done
by a woman.

She just looked at our basket-lid of things any one might have been
proud to buy, and smiled. I saw her do it. Then she turned her
traitorous head and called "Jim!" into the cottage.

A sleepy grunt rewarded her.

"Jim, I say!" she repeated. "Come here directly minute."

Next moment Jim appeared. He was Jim to her because she was his wife, I
suppose, but to us he was the Police, with his hair ruffled--from his
hateful sofa-cushions, no doubt--and his tunic unbuttoned.

"What's up?" he said in a husky voice, as if he had been dreaming that
he had a cold. "Can't a chap have a minute to himself to read the paper
in?"

"You told me to," said the woman. "You said if any folks come to the
door with things I was to call you, whether or no."

Even now we were blind to the disaster that was entangling us in the
meshes of its trap. Alice said--

"We've sold a good deal, but we've _some_ things left--very nice things.
These crochet needles----"

But the Police, who had buttoned up his tunic in a hurry, said quite
fiercely--

"Let's have a look at your license."

"We didn't bring any," said Noël, "but if you will give us an order
we'll bring you some to-morrow." He thought a lisen was a thing to sell
that we ought to have thought of.

"None of your lip," was the unexpected reply of the now plainly brutal
constable. "Where's your license, I say?"

"We have a license for our dog, but Father's got it," said Oswald,
always quick-witted, but not, this time, quite quick enough.

"Your 'awker's license is what I want, as well you knows, you young
limb. Your pedlar's license--your license to sell things. You ain't half
so half-witted as you want to make out."

"We haven't got a pedlar's license," said Oswald. If we had been in a
book the Police would have been touched to tears by Oswald's simple
honesty. He would have said "Noble boy!" and then gone on to say he had
only asked the question to test our honour. But life is not really at
all the same as books. I have noticed lots of differences. Instead of
behaving like the book-Police, this thick-headed constable said--

"Blowed if I wasn't certain of it! Well, my young blokes, you'll just
come along o' me to Sir James. I've got orders to bring up the next case
afore him."

"_Case!_" said Dora. "_Oh, don't!_ We didn't know we oughtn't to. We
only wanted----"

"Ho, yes," said the constable, "you can tell all that to the magistrate;
and anything you say will be used against you."

"I'm sure it will," said Oswald. "Dora, don't lower yourself to speak to
him. Come, we'll go home."

The Police was combing its hair with a half-toothless piece of comb, and
we turned to go. But it was vain.

Ere any of our young and eager legs could climb into the cart the Police
had seized the donkey's bridle. We could not desert our noble steed--and
besides, it wasn't really ours, but Bates's, and this made any hope of
flight quite a forlorn one. For better, for worse, we had to go with the
donkey.

"Don't cry, for goodness' sake!" said Oswald in stern undertones. "Bite
your lips. Take long breaths. Don't let him see we mind. This beast's
only the village police. Sir James will be a gentleman. _He'll_
understand. Don't disgrace the house of Bastable. Look here! Fall into
line--no, Indian file will be best, there are so few of us. Alice, if
you snivel I'll never say you ought to have been a boy again. H.O., shut
your mouth; no one's going to hurt you--you're too young."

"I _am_ trying," said Alice, gasping.

"Noël," Oswald went on--now, as so often, showing the brilliant
qualities of the born leader and general--"don't _you_ be in a funk.
Remember how Byron fought for the Greeks at Missy-what's-its-name. _He_
didn't grouse, and he was a poet, like you! Now look here, let's be
_game_. Dora, you're the eldest. Strike up--any tune. We'll _march_ up,
and show this sneak we Bastables aren't afraid, whoever else is."

You will perhaps find it difficult to believe, but we _did_ strike up.
We sang "The British Grenadiers," and when the Police told us to stow it
we did not. And Noël said--

"Singing isn't dogs or pedlaring. You don't want a license for that."

"I'll soon show you!" said the Police.

But he had to jolly well put up with our melodious song, because he knew
that there isn't really any law to prevent you singing if you want to.

We went on singing. It soon got easier than at first, and we followed
Bates's donkey and cart through some lodge gates and up a drive with big
trees, and we came out in front of a big white house, and there was a
lawn. We stopped singing when we came in sight of the house, and got
ready to be polite to Sir James. There were some ladies on the lawn in
pretty blue and green dresses. This cheered us. Ladies are seldom quite
heartless, especially when young.

The Police drew up Bates's donkey opposite the big front door with
pillars, and rang the bell. Our hearts were beating desperately. We cast
glances of despair at the ladies. Then, quite suddenly, Alice gave a
yell that wild Indian war-whoops are simply nothing to, and tore across
the lawn and threw her arms round the green waist of one of the ladies.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" she cried; "oh, save us! We haven't done anything
wrong, really and truly we haven't."

And then we all saw that the lady was our own Mrs. Red House, that we
liked so much. So we all rushed to her, and before that Police had got
the door answered we had told her our tale. The other ladies had turned
away when we approached her, and gone politely away into a shrubbery.

"There, there," she said, patting Alice and Noël and as much of the
others as she could get hold of. "Don't you worry, dears, don't. I'll
make it all right with Sir James. Let's all sit down in a comfy heap,
and get our breaths again. I am so glad to see you all. My husband met
your father at lunch the other day. I meant to come over and see you
to-morrow."

You cannot imagine the feelings of joy and safeness that we felt now we
had found someone who knew we were Bastables, and not vagrant outcasts
like the Police thought.

The door had now been answered. We saw the base Police talking to the
person who answered it. Then he came towards us, very red in the face.

"Leave off bothering the lady," he said, "and come along of me. Sir
James is in his lib_ra_ry, and he's ready to do justice on you, so he
is."

Mrs. Red House jumped up, and so did we. She said with smiles, as if
nothing was wrong--

"Good morning, Inspector!"

He looked pleased and surprised, as well he might, for it'll be long
enough before he's within a mile of being _that_.

"Good morning, miss, I'm sure," he replied.

"I think there's been a little mistake, Inspector," she said. "I expect
it's some of your men--led away by zeal for their duties. But I'm sure
_you'll_ understand. I am staying with Lady Harborough, and these
children are very dear friends of mine."

The Police looked very silly, but he said something about hawking
without a license.

"Oh no, not _hawking_," said Mrs. Red House, "not _hawking_, surely!
They were just _playing_ at it, you know. Your subordinates must have
been quite mistaken."

Our honesty bade us say that he was his own only subordinate, and that
he hadn't been mistaken; but it is rude to interrupt, especially a lady,
so we said nothing.

The Police said firmly, "You'll excuse me, miss, but Sir James expressly
told me to lay a information directly next time I caught any of 'em at
it without a license."

"But, you see, you didn't catch them at it." Mrs. Red House took some
money out of her purse. "You might just give this to your subordinates
to console them for the mistake they've made. And look here, these
mistakes do lead to trouble sometimes. So I'll tell you what I'll do.
I'll promise not to tell Sir James a word about it. _So_ nobody will be
blamed."

We listened breathless for his reply. He put his hands behind him--

"Well, miss," he said at last, "you've managed to put the Force in the
wrong somehow, which isn't often done, and I'm blest if I know how you
make it out. But there's Sir James a-waiting for me to come before him
with my complaint. What am I a-goin' to say to him?"

"Oh, anything," said Mrs. Red House; "surely some one else has done
something wrong that you can tell him about?"

"There was a matter of a couple of snares and some night lines," he said
slowly, drawing nearer to Mrs. Red House; "but I couldn't take no money,
of course."

"Of course not," she said; "I beg your pardon for offering it. But I'll
give you my name and address, and if ever I can be of any use to
you----"

She turned her back on us while she wrote it down with a stumpy pencil
he lent her; but Oswald could swear that he heard money chink, and that
there was something large and round wrapped up in the paper she gave
him.

"Sorry for any little misunderstanding," the Police now said, feeling
the paper with his fingers; "and my respects to you, miss, and your
young friends. I'd best be going."

And he went--to Sir James, I suppose. He seemed quite tamed. I hope the
people who set the snares got off.

"So _that's_ all right," said Mrs. Red House. "Oh, you dear children,
you must stay to lunch, and we'll have a splendid time."

"What a darling Princess you are!" Noël said slowly. "You are a witch
Princess, too, with magic powers over the Police."

"It's not a very pretty sort of magic," she said, and she sighed.

"Everything about you is pretty," said Noël. And I could see him
beginning to make the faces that always precur his poetry-fits. But
before the fit could break out thoroughly the rest of us awoke from our
stupor of grateful safeness and began to dance round Mrs. Red House in a
ring. And the girls sang--

          "The rose is red, the violet's blue,
           Carnation's sweet, and so are you,"

over and over again, so we had to join in; though I think "She's a jolly
good fellow would have been more manly and less like a poetry book."

Suddenly a known voice broke in on our singing.

"_Well!_" it said. And we stopped dancing. And there were the other two
ladies who had politely walked off when we first discovered Mrs. Red
House. And one of them was Mrs. Bax--of all people in the world! And she
was smoking a cigarette. So now we knew where the smell of tobacco came
from, in the White House.

We said, "_Oh!_" in one breath, and were silent.

"Is it possible," said Mrs. Bax, "that these are the Sunday-school
children I've been living with these three long days?"

"We're sorry," said Dora, softly; "we wouldn't have made a noise if we'd
know you were here."

"So I suppose," said Mrs. Bax. "Chloe, you seem to be a witch. How have
you galvanised my six rag dolls into life like this?"

"Rag dolls!" said H.O., before we could stop him. "I think you're jolly
mean and ungrateful; and it was sixpence for making the organs fly."

"My brain's reeling," said Mrs. Bax, putting her hands to her head.

"H.O. is very rude, and I am sorry," said Alice, "but it _is_ hard to be
called rag dolls, when you've only tried to do as you were told."

And then, in answer to Mrs. Red House's questions, we told how father
had begged us to be quiet, and how we had earnestly tried to. When it
was told, Mrs. Bax began to laugh, and so did Mrs. Red House, and at
last Mrs. Bax said--

"Oh, my dears! you don't know how glad I am that you're really alive! I
began to think--oh--I don't know what I thought! And you're not rag
dolls. You're heroes and heroines, every man jack of you. And I do thank
you. But I never wanted to be quiet like _that_. I just didn't want to
be bothered with London and tiresome grown-up people. And now let's
enjoy ourselves! Shall it be rounders, or stories about cannibals?"

"Rounders first and stories after," said H.O. And it was so.

Mrs. Bax, now that her true nature was revealed, proved to be A1. The
author does not ask for a jollier person to be in the house with. We had
rare larks the whole time she stayed with us.

And to think that we might never have known her true character if she
hadn't been an old school friend of Mrs. Red House's, and if Mrs. Red
House hadn't been such a friend of ours!

"Friendship," as Mr. William Smith so truly says in his book about
Latin, "is the crown of life."



_THE POOR AND NEEDY_


"WHAT shall we do to-day, kiddies?" said Mrs. Bax. We had discovered her
true nature but three days ago, and already she had taken us out in a
sailing-boat and in a motor car, had given us sweets every day, and
taught us eleven new games that we had not known before; and only four
of the new games were rotters. How seldom can as much be said for the
games of a grown-up, however gifted!

The day was one of cloudless blue perfectness, and we were all basking
on the beach. We had all bathed. Mrs. Bax said we might. There are
points about having a grown-up with you, if it is the right kind. You
can then easily get it to say "Yes" to what you want, and after that, if
anything goes wrong it is their fault, and you are pure from blame. But
nothing had gone wrong with the bathe, and, so far, we were all alive,
and not cold at all, except our fingers and feet.

"What would you _like_ to do?" asked Mrs. Bax. We were far away from
human sight along the beach, and Mrs. Bax was smoking cigarettes as
usual.

"I don't know," we all said politely. But H.O. said--

"What about poor Miss Sandal?"

"Why poor?" asked Mrs. Bax.

"Because she is," said H.O.

"But how? What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Bax.

"Why, isn't she?" said H.O.

"Isn't she what?" said Mrs. Bax.

"What you said why about," said H.O.

She put her hands to her head. Her short hair was still damp and rumpled
from contact with the foaming billows of ocean.

"Let's have a fresh deal and start fair," she said; "why do you think my
sister is poor?"

"I forgot she was your sister," said H.O., "or I wouldn't have said
it--honour bright I wouldn't."

"Don't mention it," said Mrs. Bax, and began throwing stones at a groin
in amiable silence.

We were furious with H.O., first because it is such bad manners to throw
people's poverty in their faces, or even in their sisters' faces, like
H.O. had just done, and second because it seemed to have put out of Mrs.
Bax's head what she was beginning to say about what would we like to do.

So Oswald presently remarked, when he had aimed at the stump she was
aiming at, and hit it before she did, for though a fair shot for a lady,
she takes a long time to get her eye in.

"Mrs. Bax, we should like to do whatever _you_ like to do." This was
real politeness and true too, as it happened, because by this time we
could quite trust her not to want to do anything deeply duffing.

"That's very nice of you," she replied, "but don't let me interfere with
any plans of yours. My own idea was to pluck a waggonette from the
nearest bush. I suppose they grow freely in these parts?"

"There's one at the 'Ship,'" said Alice; "it costs seven-and-six to
pluck it, just for going to the station."

"Well, then! And to stuff our waggonette with lunch and drive over to
Lynwood Castle, and eat it there."

"A picnic!" fell in accents of joy from the lips of one and all.

"We'll also boil the billy in the castle courtyard, and eat buns in the
shadow of the keep."

"Tea as well?" said H.O., "with buns? You can't be poor and needy any
way, whatever your----"

We hastily hushed him, stifling his murmurs with sand.

"I always think," said Mrs. Bax dreamily, "that 'the more the merrier,'
is peculiarly true of picnics. So I have arranged--always subject to
your approval, of course--to meet your friends, Mr. and Mrs. Red House,
there, and----"

We drowned her conclusive remarks with a cheer. And Oswald, always
willing to be of use, offered to go to the 'Ship' and see about the
waggonette. I like horses and stable-yards, and the smell of hay and
straw, and talking to ostlers and people like that.

There turned out to be two horses belonging to the best waggonette, or
you could have a one-horse one, much smaller, with the blue cloth of the
cushions rather frayed, and mended here and there, and green in patches
from age and exposition to the weather.

Oswald told Mrs. Bax this, not concealing about how shabby the little
one was, and she gloriously said--

"The pair by all means! We don't kill a pig every day!"

"No, indeed," said Dora, but if "killing a pig" means having a lark,
Mrs. Bax is as good a pig-killer as any I ever knew.

It was splendid to drive (Oswald, on the box beside the driver, who had
his best coat with the bright buttons) along the same roads that we had
trodden as muddy pedestrinators, or travelled along behind Bates's
donkey.

It was a perfect day, as I said before. We were all clean and had our
second-best things on. I think second-bests are much more comfy than
first-bests. You feel equivalent to meeting any one, and have "a heart
for any fate," as it says in the poetry-book, and yet you are not
starched and booted and stiffened and tightened out of all human
feelings.

Lynwood Castle is in a hollow in the hills. It has a moat all round it
with water-lily leaves on it. I suppose there are lilies when in
season. There is a bridge over the moat--not the draw kind of bridge.
And the castle has eight towers--four round and four square ones, and a
courtyard in the middle, all green grass, and heaps of stones--stray
bits of castle, I suppose they are--and a great white may-tree in the
middle that Mrs. Bax said was hundreds of years old.

Mrs. Red House was sitting under the may-tree when we got there, nursing
her baby, in a blue dress and looking exactly like a picture on the top
of a chocolate-box.

The girls instantly wanted to nurse the baby so we let them. And we
explored the castle. We had never happened to explore one thoroughly
before. We did not find the deepest dungeon below the castle moat,
though we looked everywhere for it, but we found everything else you can
think of belonging to castles--even the holes they used to pour boiling
lead through into the eyes of besiegers when they tried to squint up to
see how strong the garrison was in the keep--and the little slits they
shot arrows through, and the mouldering remains of the portcullis. We
went up the eight towers, every single one of them, and some parts were
jolly dangerous, I can tell you. Dicky and I would not let H.O. and Noël
come up the dangerous parts. There was no lasting ill-feeling about
this. By the time we had had a thorough good explore lunch was ready.

It was a glorious lunch--not too many meaty things, but all sorts of
cakes and sweets, and grapes and figs and nuts.

We gazed at the feast, and Mrs. Bax said--

"There you are, young Copperfield, and a royal spread you've got."

"_They_ had currant wine," said Noël, who has only just read the book by
Mr. Charles Dickens.

"Well, so have you," said Mrs. Bax. And we had. Two bottles of it.

"I never knew any one like you," said Noël to Mrs. Red House, dreamily
with his mouth full, "for knowing the things people really like to eat,
not the things that are good for them, but what they _like_, and Mrs.
Bax is just the same."

"It was one of the things they taught at our school," said Mrs. Bax. "Do
you remember the Saturday night feasts, Chloe, and how good the cocoanut
ice tasted after extra strong peppermints?"

"Fancy you knowing _that_!" said H.O. "I thought it was us found _that_
out."

"I really know much more about things to eat than _she_ does," said Mrs.
Bax. "I was quite an old girl when she was a little thing in pinafores.
She was such a nice little girl."

"I shouldn't wonder if she was always nice," said Noël, "even when she
was a baby!"

Everybody laughed at this, except the existing baby, and it was asleep
on the waggonette cushions, under the white may-tree, and perhaps if it
had been awake it wouldn't have laughed, for Oswald himself, though
possessing a keen sense of humour, did not see anything to laugh at.

Mr. Red House made a speech after dinner, and said drink to the health
of everybody, one after the other, in currant wine, which was done,
beginning with Mrs. Bax and ending with H.O.

Then he said--

"Somnus, avaunt! What shall we play at?" and nobody, as so often
happens, had any idea ready. Then suddenly Mrs. Red House said--

"Good gracious, look there!" and we looked there, and where we were to
look was the lowest piece of the castle wall, just beside the keep that
the bridge led over to, and what we were to look at was a strange
blobbiness of knobbly bumps along the top, that looked exactly like
human heads.

It turned out, when we had talked about cannibals and New Guinea, that
human heads were just exactly what they were. Not loose heads, stuck on
pikes or things like that, such as there often must have been while the
castle stayed in the olden times it was built in and belonged to, but
real live heads with their bodies still in attendance on them.

They were, in fact, the village children.

"Poor little Lazaruses!" said Mr. Red House.

"There's not such a bad slice of Dives' feast left," said Mrs. Bax.
"Shall we----?"

So Mr. Red House went out by the keep and called the heads in (with the
bodies they were connected with, of course), and they came and ate up
all that was left of the lunch. Not the buns, of course, for those were
sacred to tea-time, but all the other things, even the nuts and figs,
and we were quite glad that they should have them--really and truly we
were, even H.O.!

They did not seem to be very clever children, or just the sort you would
choose for your friends, but I suppose you like to play, however little
you are other people's sort. So, after they had eaten all there was,
when Mrs. Red House invited them all to join in games with us we knew we
ought to be pleased. But village children are not taught rounders, and
though we wondered at first why their teachers had not seen to this, we
understood presently. Because it is most awfully difficult to make them
understand the very simplest thing.

But they could play all the ring games, and "Nuts and May," and "There
Came Three Knights"--and another one we had never heard of before. The
singing part begins:--

          "Up and down the green grass,
             This and that and thus,
           Come along, my pretty maid,
             And take a walk with us.
           You shall have a duck, my dear,
             And you shall have a drake,
           And you shall have a handsome man
             For your father's sake."

I forget the rest, and if anybody who reads this knows it, and will
write and tell me, the author will not have laboured in vain.

The grown-ups played with all their heart and soul--I expect it is but
seldom they are able to play, and they enjoy the novel excitement. And
when we'd been at it some time we saw there was another head looking
over the wall.

"Hullo!" said Mrs. Bax, "here's another of them, run along and ask it to
come and join in."

She spoke to the village children, but nobody ran.

"Here, you go," she said, pointing at a girl in red plaits tied with
dirty sky-blue ribbon.

"Please, miss, I'd leifer not," replied the red-haired. "Mother says we
ain't to play along of him."

"Why, what's the matter with him?" asked Mrs. Red House.

"His father's in jail, miss, along of snares and night lines, and no one
won't give his mother any work, so my mother says we ain't to demean
ourselves to speak to him."

"But it's not the child's fault," said Mrs. Red House, "is it now?"

"I don't know, miss," said the red-haired.

"But it's cruel," said Mrs. Bax. "How would you like it if your father
was sent to prison, and nobody would speak to you?"

"Father's always kep' hisself respectable," said the girl with the dirty
blue ribbon. "You can't be sent to gaol, not if you keeps yourself
respectable, you can't, miss."

"And do none of you speak to him?"

The other children put their fingers in their mouths, and looked silly,
showing plainly that they didn't.

"Don't you feel sorry for the poor little chap?" said Mrs. Bax.

No answer transpired.

"Can't you imagine how you'd feel if it was _your_ father?"

"My father always kep' hisself respectable," the red-haired girl said
again.

"Well, I shall ask him to come and play with us," said Mrs. Red House.
"Little pigs!" she added in low tones only heard by the author and Mr.
Red House.

But Mr. Red House said in a whisper that no one overheard except Mrs. R.
H. and the present author.

"Don't, Puss-cat; it's no good. The poor little pariah wouldn't like it.
And these kids only do what their parents teach them."

If the author didn't know what a stainless gentleman Mr. Red House is he
would think he heard him mutter a word that gentlemen wouldn't say.

"Tell off a detachment of consolation," Mr. Red House went on; "look
here, _our_ kids--who'll go and talk to the poor little chap?"

We all instantly said, "_I_ will!"

The present author was chosen to be the one.

When you think about yourself there is a kind of you that is not what
you generally are but that you know you would like to be if only you
were good enough. Albert's uncle says this is called your ideal of
yourself. I will call it your best I, for short. Oswald's "best I" was
glad to go and talk to that boy whose father was in prison, but the
Oswald that generally exists hated being out of the games. Yet the whole
Oswald, both the best and the ordinary, was pleased that he was the one
chosen to be a detachment of consolation.

He went out under the great archway, and as he went he heard the games
beginning again. This made him feel noble, and yet he was ashamed of
feeling it. Your feelings are a beastly nuisance, if once you begin to
let yourself think about them. Oswald soon saw the broken boots of the
boy whose father was in jail so nobody would play with him, standing on
the stones near the top of the wall where it was broken to match the
boots.

He climbed up and said, "Hullo!"

To this remark the boy replied, "Hullo!"

Oswald now did not know what to say. The sorrier you are for people the
harder it is to tell them so.

But at last he said--

"I've just heard about your father being where he is. It's beastly rough
luck. I hope you don't mind my saying I'm jolly sorry for you."

The boy had a pale face and watery blue eyes. When Oswald said this his
eyes got waterier than ever, and he climbed down to the ground before he
said--

"I don't care so much, but it do upset mother something crool."

It is awfully difficult to console those in affliction. Oswald thought
this, then he said--

"I say; never mind if those beastly kids won't play with you. It isn't
your fault, you know."

"Nor it ain't father's neither," the boy said; "he broke his arm
a-falling off of a rick, and he hadn't paid up his club money along of
mother's new baby costing what it did when it come, so there warn't
nothing--and what's a hare or two, or a partridge? It ain't as if it was
pheasants as is as dear to rear as chicks."

Oswald did not know what to say, so he got out his new
pen-and-pencil-combined and said--

"Look here! You can have this to keep if you like."

The pale-eyed boy took it and looked at it and said--

"You ain't foolin' me?"

And Oswald said no he wasn't, but he felt most awfully rum and uncomfy,
and though he wanted most frightfully to do something for the boy he
felt as if he wanted to get away more than anything else, and he never
was gladder in his life than when he saw Dora coming along, and she
said--

"You go back and play, Oswald. I'm tired and I'd like to sit down a
bit."

She got the boy to sit down beside her, and Oswald went back to the
others.

Games, however unusually splendid, have to come to an end. And when the
games were over and it was tea, and the village children were sent away,
and Oswald went to call Dora and the prisoner's son, he found nothing
but Dora, and he saw at once, in his far-sighted way, that she had been
crying.

It was one of the A1est days we ever had, and the drive home was good,
but Dora was horribly quiet, as though the victim of dark interior
thoughts.

And the next day she was but little better.

We were all paddling on the sands, but Dora would not. And presently
Alice left us and went back to Dora, and we all saw across the sandy
waste that something was up.

And presently Alice came down and said--

"Dry your feet and legs and come to a council. Dora wants to tell you
something."

We dried our pink and sandy toes and we came to the council. Then Alice
said: "I don't think H.O. is wanted at the council, it isn't anything
amusing; you go and enjoy yourself by the sea, and catch the nice little
crabs, H.O. dear."

H.O. said: "You always want me to be out of everything. I can be
councils as well as anybody else."

"Oh, H.O.!" said Alice, in pleading tones, "not if I give you a
halfpenny to go and buy bulls-eyes with?"

So then he went, and Dora said--

"I can't think how I could do it when you'd all trusted me so. And yet I
couldn't help it. I remember Dicky saying when you decided to give it me
to take care of--about me being the most trustworthy of all of us. I'm
not fit for any one to speak to. But it did seem the really right thing
at the time, it really and truly did. And now it all looks different."

"What has she done?" Dicky asked this, but Oswald almost knew.

"Tell them," said Dora, turning over on her front and hiding her face
partly in her hands, and partly in the sand.

"She's given all Miss Sandal's money to that little boy that the father
of was in prison," said Alice.

"It was one pound thirteen and sevenpence halfpenny," sobbed Dora.

"You ought to have consulted us, I do think, really," said Dicky. "Of
course, I see you're sorry now, but I do think that."

"How could I consult you?" said Dora; "you were all playing Cat and
Mouse, and he wanted to get home. I only wish you'd heard what he told
me--that's all--about his mother being ill, and nobody letting her do
any work because of where his father is, and his baby brother ill, poor
little darling, and not enough to eat, and everything as awful as you
can possibly think. I'll save up and pay it all back out of my own
money. Only do forgive me, all of you, and say you don't despise me for
a forger and embezzlementer. I couldn't help it."

"I'm glad you couldn't," said the sudden voice of H.O., who had sneaked
up on his young stomach unobserved by the council. "You shall have all
my money too, Dora, and here's the bulls-eye halfpenny to begin with."
He crammed it into her hand. "Listen? I should jolly well think I did
listen," H.O. went on. "I've just as much right as anybody else to be in
at a council, and I think Dora was quite right, and the rest of you are
beasts not to say so, too, when you see how she's blubbing. Suppose it
had been _your_ darling baby-brother ill, and nobody hadn't given you
nothing when they'd got pounds and pounds in their silly pockets?"

He now hugged Dora, who responded.

"It wasn't her own money," said Dicky.

"If you think _you're_ our darling baby-brother----" said Oswald.

But Alice and Noël began hugging Dora and H.O., and Dicky and I felt it
was no go. Girls have no right and honourable feelings about business,
and little boys are the same.

"All right," said Oswald rather bitterly, "if a majority of the council
backs Dora up, we'll give in. But we must all save up and repay the
money, that's all. We shall all be beastly short for ages."

"Oh," said Dora, and now her sobs were beginning to turn into sniffs,
"you don't know how I felt! And I've felt most awful ever since, but
those poor, poor people----"

At this moment Mrs. Bax came down on to the beach by the wooden steps
that lead from the sea-wall where the grass grows between the stones.

"Hullo!" she said, "hurt yourself, my Dora-dove?"

Dora was rather a favourite of hers.

"It's all right now," said Dora.

"_That's_ all right," said Mrs. Bax, who has learnt in
anti-what's-its-name climes the great art of not asking too many
questions. "Mrs. Red House has come to lunch. She went this morning to
see that boy's mother--you know, the boy the others wouldn't play with?"

We said "Yes."

"Well, Mrs. Red House has arranged to get the woman some work--like the
dear she is--the woman told her that the little lady--and that's you,
Dora--had given the little boy one pound thirteen and sevenpence."

Mrs. Bax looked straight out to sea through her gold-rimmed spectacles,
and went on--

"That must have been about all you had among the lot of you. I don't
want to jaw, but I think you're a set of little bricks, and I must say
so or expire on the sandy spot."

There was a painful silence.

H.O. looked, "There, what did I tell you?" at the rest of us.

Then Alice said, "We others had nothing to do with it. It was Dora's
doing." I suppose she said this because we did not mean to tell Mrs. Bax
anything about it, and if there was any brickiness in the act we wished
Dora to have the consolement of getting the credit of it.

But of course Dora couldn't stand that. She said--

"Oh, Mrs. Bax, it was very wrong of me. It wasn't my own money, and I'd
no business to, but I was so sorry for the little boy and his mother and
his darling baby-brother. The money belonged to some one else."

"Who?" Mrs. Bax asked ere she had time to remember the excellent
Australian rule about not asking questions.

And H.O. blurted out, "It was Miss Sandal's money--every penny," before
we could stop him.

Once again in our career concealment was at an end. The rule about
questions was again unregarded, and the whole thing came out.

It was a long story, and Mrs. Red House came out in the middle, but
nobody could mind her hearing things.

When she knew all, from the plain living to the pedlar who hadn't a
license, Mrs. Bax spoke up like a man, and said several kind things that
I won't write down.

She then went on to say that her sister was not poor and needy at all,
but that she lived plain and thought high just because she liked it!

We were very disappointed as soon as we had got over our hardly
believing any one could--like it, I mean--and then Mrs. Red House said--

"Sir James gave me five pounds for the poor woman, and she sent back
thirty of your shillings. She had spent three and sevenpence, and they
had a lovely supper of boiled pork and greens last night. So now you've
only got that to make up, and you can buy a most splendid present for
Miss Sandal."

It is difficult to choose presents for people who live plain and think
high because they like it. But at last we decided to get books. They
were written by a person called Emerson, and of a dull character, but
the backs were very beautiful, and Miss Sandal was most awfully pleased
with them when she came down to her cottage with her partially repaired
brother, who had fallen off the scaffold when treating a bricklayer to
tracts.

This is the end of the things we did when we were at Lymchurch in Miss
Sandal's house.

It is the last story that the present author means ever to be the author
of. So goodbye, if you have got as far as this.

                                  Your affectionate author,
                                                   OSWALD BASTABLE.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 39, "Noel" changed to "Noël" (cost?" Noël asked)

Page 77, "peacable" changed to "peaceable" (the peaceable quietness)

Page 162, "alway" changed to "alway" (they always sing in)

Page 196, "Its" changed to "It's" (It's not much to do)

Page 217, "But" changed to "but" (but he will just say)

Page 221, "birds" changed to "bird's" (like a bird's)

Page 289, "anenomes" changed to "anemones" (wood-anemones)

Page 294, "Mr." changed to "Mrs." (talking to Mrs. Bax.)

Varied hyphenation retained: armchair and arm-chair; boathouse and
boat-house; halfway and half-way; postmark and post-mark; stationmaster
and station-master; tablecloths and table-cloths; thoroughbred and
thorough-bred; wastepaper and waste-paper; motor car; motor-car.

Both Krikey and crikey and handkie and hankie were used and retained.





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