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´╗┐Title: Miss Mouse and Her Boys
Author: Molesworth, Mrs., 1839-1921
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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MISS MOUSE AND HER BOYS



[Illustration: 'OH, WHAT A _LOT_ OF BOYS!'--p. 2. _Front._]



MISS MOUSE AND HER BOYS

       *       *       *       *       *

BY MRS. MOLESWORTH

       *       *       *       *       *

ILLUSTRATED BY L. LESLIE BROOKE


[Illustration]


LONDON: MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD
NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
1897


To the dear memory of
MY BROTHER-IN-LAW
SIR CRAVEN CHARLES GORING, BART.
WHOSE UNFAILING INTEREST IN MY WORK
HAS BEEN AN ENCOURAGEMENT THROUGH MANY YEARS
19 SUMNER PLACE, S.W.,
_May_ 1897.



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

  CHAPTER I

    'WHAT A LOT OF BOYS!'                                              1

  CHAPTER II

    PAT AND PETS                                                      16

  CHAPTER III

    GUESTS AT TEA                                                     28

  CHAPTER IV

    WANTED--A SISTER                                                  44

  CHAPTER V

    BOB                                                               58

  CHAPTER VI

    FERRETS AND FAIRIES                                               73

  CHAPTER VII

    NANCE'S STORY                                                     89

  CHAPTER VIII

    NANCE'S STORY (_Continued_)                                      109

  CHAPTER IX

    MISS MOUSE 'AT HOME'                                             123

  CHAPTER X

    THE STORY OF THE LUCKY PENNY                                     140

  CHAPTER XI

    A GREAT SACRIFICE                                                157

  CHAPTER XII

    OUT ON THE MOOR                                                  177



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                               FACE PAGE

  'OH, WHAT A _LOT_ OF BOYS!'--_Frontispiece_

  'I'LL TAKE ONE HAND AND PAT ONE, AND THEN WE'LL ALL RUN DOWN
    TOGETHER'                                                         36

  NANCE                                                               97

  'I'VE PLENTY OF STORIES IN MY HEAD,' SHE SAID                      100

  'ALL OF A SUDDEN HE STOOD STRAIGHT UP AND BEGAN THROWING
    THINGS AT ME FOR ME TO CATCH--IT WAS THE LITTLE SUNS!'           153

  'BOB,' SHE SAID. HE PRETENDED NOT TO HEAR HER                      171

  AND--WERE THOSE SNOW-FLAKES AGAIN?                                 187



CHAPTER I

'WHAT A LOT OF BOYS!'


It was before the days of sailor suits and knickerbockers. Nowadays boys
would make great fun of the quaint little men in tight-fitting jackets,
and trousers buttoning on above them, that many people still living can
remember well, for it is not so very long ago after all.

And whatever the difference in their clothes, the boys of then were in
themselves very like the boys of now--queer, merry, thoughtless fellows
for the most part, living in the pleasant present, caring much less for
the past or the future than their girl-companions, seldom taking trouble
of any kind to heart, or if they did, up again like a cork at the first
chance. But yet how dull the world, now as then, would be without them
and their bats and balls, and pockets full of rubbish, and everlasting
scrapes and mischief, and honest old hearts!

I always like to hear any one, young or old, man or woman or girl, say,
as one often does hear said, 'I do love boys.'

There were five of them--of the Hervey boys. They began at thirteen and
ended at three, or began at three and ended at thirteen, if you like to
put it that way. But when they were all together in the nursery, or
playroom as they called it more often--to see them, still more to hear
them, you would certainly have said there were at least ten--above all
if a scrimmage of any kind was going on, for then the number of legs and
arms all belonging to everybody apparently, seemed to be multiplied in
an astonishing manner.

You would, I think, have sympathised with a small person, almost as
small as three-years-old Ger, whose first word's when the door was
opened were, in an awe-struck whisper,

'Oh, what a _lot_ of boys.'

She was dressed in pale grey, grey all over, made rather long in the
skirt, and she had a little drawn bonnet of the same colour--a quaint
little figure; but we are used to quaint little figures of _her_ kind
now--fashions repeat themselves, wise people say; and so they do in some
cases, though not in all. I cannot believe that boys will ever again be
buttoned up and choked as they used to be, above all in summer, when
their hot, red faces seemed on the point of bursting out of their
'nankeen' suits, held together by brass buttons.

But the little grey figure standing at the doorway of the Herveys'
playroom was pretty as well as quaint, though the small face was pale,
and the eyes just a quiet grey like the colour of her clothes, and her
dark-brown hair cropped quite short.

She was holding on tightly to the hand of a young lady, and as one of
the scrimmagers caught sight of this same young lady, and immediately
broke into a shout of welcome--'Aunt Mattie--boys, don't you see Aunt
Mattie?' and the noise became really deafening, our little girl squeezed
the fingers she held still more firmly, and an _almost_ frightened look
crept into her eyes.

'Boys, boys,' exclaimed Aunt Mattie in turn, 'don't _you_ see
that--somebody you have never seen before is here? Do disentangle
yourselves if you can--Archie, Hector--I can't tell which is which of
you--and Ger, dear old Ger, as plump as ever, and--yes, that's right,
Justin--you and Pat really should keep the pickles in order.'

Justin got red--redder even than he was already--as he pushed his way
out of the scramble.

'If you knew what it was, auntie,' he said, in a tone half of despair,
half of apology. 'The pickles get worse every day, and Pat's always
asleep or nearly asleep over his books and plans. I really----'

'Well, never mind about that just now,' said his aunt. 'I must introduce
you all properly,' and she led the little girl gently forward into the
room, looking round for a seat, which was not so easy to find, as every
chair was either upside down or else hoisted on to the top of another.

'I'll get you one down,' Archie called out when he saw the state of
things. 'Get out of the way, Hec and Ger, can't you?'

But in getting out of the way, Hec tumbled over Ger, and Ger, who was
really only a baby, though a very independent one, kicked out at Hec,
which he thought more manly than crying, though one or other he must
have done, of course, to relieve his feelings. Whereupon Aunt Mattie,
not seeming very surprised, though in her heart she was startled at the
look in the big grey eyes under the shade of the grey bonnet, picked him
up, still kicking, and plumped him down between herself and the little
grey person, who by this time was seated beside her, two chairs having
somehow been got at.

Ger was too surprised to go on kicking, _or_ to cry. He just opened his
mouth wide and stared. Then 'Aunt-ie,' he began slowly, in a tone of
reproach, 'thoo----'

But he got no further.

'Ger,' said auntie gravely, 'I'm ashamed of you. You haven't even said
"How do you do?" or shaken hands with this young lady. She isn't
accustomed to see little boys fighting and kicking each other.'

'I diddun fight,' said Ger, 'I on'y kicked. Hec begunned.'

'I!' exclaimed Hec, ready to swell up with indignation like an angry
turkey-cock, '_I_-- I were fetchin' a chair and----'

'Stop, boys,' said Aunt Mattie again. 'Now let's go on nicely. This is
Ger, and he wants to be very polite now and shake hands--eh, Ger?'

Ger's round blue eyes were fixed on the small stranger.

'Her's not a young lady,' he said at last. 'Ger 'ud rather kith her.'

The little girl leaned forward at once, and kissed his firm, plump
cheek.

'Thoo ith tho thoft,' he said, and he stroked her cape and the
chinchilla muff she was holding. 'I know--thoo's a _mouse_.'

He said the 's' quite plainly, for his lisp was a very changeable one,
and already he was on the way to lose it altogether.

Everybody laughed. Ger liked the sound of the laugh--it was not making
fun of him.

'Yeth,' he went on, 'uth'll call thoo'--with some effort--'Mith Mouse.'

Miss Mouse leant forward a second time and kissed him again.

'You funny little boy,' she said. 'You may call me "Miss Mouse" if you
please, but wouldn't you like to know my proper name?'

Ger shook his head.

'No thank thoo. I like Mith Mouse best.'

'But _we'd_ like to know your real name,' said Archie. 'Wouldn't
we--Justin and Hec, and--oh Pat's asleep over a book again, I suppose.'

'I'm not,' growled a voice from an opposite corner.

'Well then, behave properly. Come out of there, can't you? Aunt Mattie,
make him.'

'Patrick,' said Aunt Mattie, and Pat got up and came slowly forward. He
was not like Justin, and Hec, and Ger, who were all fair and ruddy; he
was dark-haired and dark-eyed and pale, while Archie, the best-looking
of the five, came between the two, for he had bright brown hair and
merry hazel eyes.

'Now,' said Aunt Mattie, 'now, dear, you see them all-- Ger, you have
shaken hands with, or rather, kissed. Ger is three and three quarters,
and his real name is Gervais. Hector is--let me see--six and a half--no,
seven, just struck. Shake hands, Hec, if you're too big to be kissed.'

'I'm not,' said Hec, and he stretched up his rosy mouth to Miss Mouse,
and then, like Ger, he stroked her chinchilla muff softly.

'And Archie,' Aunt Mattie proceeded. Archibald is nearly ten,' and
Archie held out a rather grimy paw and shook hands heartily. 'Next comes
Patrick, eleven past.' Pat's mouth was shut tight, and he only just
touched the little girl's fingers. '_And_, last and eldest, Justin, who
is thirteen and----' she hesitated.

'Thirteen and a quarter,' said Justin cheerily.

'Then,' said Miss Mouse, speaking almost for the first time, '_I_ come
between Pat and Archie. I'm nine--nine past, my birthday was last
Christmas.'

'Are you staying with Aunt Mattie?' asked Justin. 'When did you come?
You weren't there on Sunday.'

The little girl turned to the young lady with a puzzled look.

'Don't they know?' she said in a half whisper.

Aunt Mattie smiled and shook her head slightly.

'Didn't your mother tell you that I was expecting a visitor, Justin?'
she asked, turning to the eldest boy, who was now employing the time of
waiting for his question to be answered by tilting another unfortunate
chair as far back as he could get it to go without tumbling over.

'Expecting a visitor,' he repeated. 'Oh yes, she said something
about--about--a girl, but I thought she meant somebody like you used to
be, auntie, before you were married--a grown-up girl. And I forgot about
it with her being away. Papa and mamma went away yesterday, you know,
and----' Over went the chair, its patience at an end, with a good
clatter. The chairs in the playroom were pretty stout, as they needed to
be.

'O Justin,' said Aunt Mattie, 'do be quiet for a minute and leave the
chairs alone. How is it that you and Pat and Archie aren't at school
this afternoon?'

'Half-holiday,' said Justin.

'Of course-- I forgot,' Aunt Mattie replied, thinking to herself that if
she had remembered what day it was, she would have chosen some quieter
time for introducing her little guest to the Herveys. She had expected
only to find the two younger ones with their nursery governess. 'Where
is Miss Ward?' she went on.

'Got a headache,' said Hector. 'Leave off, Ger,' he went on. 'It's my
turn,' for the two had been stroking the chinchilla muff with great
satisfaction while Aunt Mattie had been speaking to the elder boys.

Ger gave a yell. Hec had nipped his fingers to make him give up his
share of the muff. Miss Mouse's face grew red, and she very quietly took
her hands out of the muff, and put it behind her, between her shoulders
at the back of her chair, though without speaking. Aunt Mattie saw what
she did and smiled to herself. Hector and Gervais only stared.

'If you will be quiet, Justin--you and Pat and Archie, I will explain
about Rosamond,' and she put her arm round the little girl
affectionately.

'Her's Mith Mouse, not Lotha--wubbish,' said Ger.

'Hold your----' began Justin.

Ger shut his mouth up tight.

'Miss Mouse then,' said Aunt Mattie, 'is my niece, just as you are my
nephews, only she's not your cousin.'

'Why not?' said Pat, suddenly waking up. This sounded rather like a
riddle, or a puzzle of some kind, and Pat loved puzzles.

'Because she is Uncle Ted's niece--she is my niece now because I am
married to Uncle Ted, but that doesn't make her your cousin.'

'Then she _isn't_ your niece the same as we're your nephews,' said Pat,
preparing for a good argument.

'Well, no, not exactly. But still she _is_ my niece, just as much as
Uncle Ted is your uncle, and you wouldn't like any one to say he is not
your proper uncle, would you, for I know you are very fond of him?'

There was no reply to this for a moment or two. The boys _were_ very
fond of Uncle Ted, but yet the relationship was a little perplexing.
They had never thought of it before, and even Pat felt that it might
seem rude if he did not agree that Uncle Ted was as much an uncle as
Aunt Mattie was an aunt.

It was Miss Mouse who came to the rescue.

'I know what,' she said, and her voice was very clear indeed, 'I know
what, boys--we'll settle that I _am_ to be your cousin, and that'll make
it all right. Uncle Ted and Aunt Mattie will be our uncle and aunt to
all of us just the same, once we're cousins.'

'All right,' said Justin and Archie, who were longing to begin another
scrimmage of some kind. 'All right,' said Pat, not quite so heartily,
for he was disappointed of his argument with Aunt Mattie. 'All zight,'
said Hec and Ger--Ger adding, 'but thoo'll be Mith Mouse _always_. Are
thoo goin' to live here in thit houth?'

All the boys stopped short at this. It had never struck them till this
moment that such a thing was possible. They had only thought of the
little girl as just coming in to see them for a short time, as other
children did now and then, and Rosamond herself looked up at her aunt in
surprise at their not understanding. For she herself was an only child
accustomed to hear a good deal more of the family plans than were the
Hervey boys.

'Oh no,' she began to say, 'oh no, Ger, dear. I'm not going to live in
your house. I've come to stay with Uncle Ted and Aunt Mattie for a--for
a long time,' and there was a slight tremble in her voice at the last
words.

Aunt Mattie felt a little vexed at having to speak of what she knew must
be sad for her young guest.

'I thought your mother had told you something,' she said, turning to
Justin. 'Most likely she did, and that it was you who did not listen.
You are so very scatter-brained. Rosamond's father and mother have gone
to India, a few weeks ago, and she is going to stay with Uncle Ted and
me till they come back again.'

The little girl's face had grown red while Aunt Mattie was speaking, and
at the last few words she squeezed tightly the kind hand she had managed
to get hold of.

'Oh,' said the boys, two or three of them at once, in a tone of some
awe, and looking at Miss Mouse with increased respect. For India, and
goings-to and comings-from there, were not nearly such every-day matters
forty or fifty years ago as they are now.

'Will they come back thoon?' asked Ger, looking up in Rosamond's face
with his innocent baby-blue eyes. 'I don't want them to, 'cos----' and
here he suddenly stopped. 'Her's c'ying,' he announced to his brothers
in a half whisper.

'No, I'm not,' said Miss Mouse in her clear voice. 'At least I'm not
going to cry. I've promised I wouldn't.'

'Dear,' said Aunt Mattie, 'you can't help it a little, sometimes. No,'
she went on, 'her papa and mamma can't come home for a good while. India
is a long way off, you know. Why don't you want them to come back, Ger?
It isn't very kind to say that.'

'Yeth, it is', said Ger, 'it's 'cos I want her to stay here. I like Mith
Mouse.'

This made Rosamond smile through the tears which had nearly dried up
already.

'I am glad of that,' said Aunt Mattie. 'For I want you all to be very
kind to Rosamond, and make up to her for her papa and mamma being away.'

'Does she mind so much?' said Hec, poking his curly head very close
under the grey bonnet. 'I don't think I would--not so very much.'

''Cos you've got no feelings,' said Archie, pulling him back, 'and
you're as rude as rude too. I say, Miss Mouse,' he went on, 'would you
like to come out and see some of the animals?'

'What?' said Rosamond; 'do you mean Noah's Ark animals?'

Justin and Pat, though Pat was again in his corner with a book, both
began to laugh, and Archie's indignation was now turned on them.

'You're ruder than Hec,' he said, ''cos he's little and you're big.'

'None of your impertinence,' began Justin, seconded by a growl from Pat.
'I'll teach you to meddle with----'

Aunt Mattie rose to her full height, and she was tall. Somehow her
nephews struck her to-day in a new light. She had known they were wild
and unruly, but the waves of expression that followed each other over
Rosamond's face almost startled her--the child had never seen this rough
side of boy-life, if indeed boy-life at all. Aunt Mattie felt as if she
had made a mistake in bringing her into it, and almost ashamed of Justin
and his brothers.

'Boys,' she said, speaking to the two elder ones, 'you may not like
Archie's interfering, but what he says is perfectly true; you are both
very rude, though perhaps you don't mean it. But you know very well how
angry you'd be if any one laughed at _you_. I tell you plainly that
unless you can be gentle and more polite I will take Rosamond away, and
find other playfellows for her while she is living with your uncle and
me.'

Pat said nothing, but Justin got red.

'Oh come now, auntie,' he said. 'You know very well we didn't mean it,
and I don't believe Miss Mouse minds. Do you?' he went on, turning to
Rosamond.

The little girl hesitated.

'I-- I don't know,' she began, 'but,' as a bright idea struck her, 'I'd
like to see your animals and then I'd understand.'

Justin turned to his aunt in triumph.

'There now,' he exclaimed, 'I told you so! Can't she come out with us
now? You needn't _all_ come,' he added to the others; 'I don't want the
kids, but they'd get into mischief if we leave them here alone,' and he
glanced at Hec and Ger doubtfully.



CHAPTER II

PAT AND PETS


Aunt Mattie smiled again to herself at Justin's last words. She felt
very much inclined to say that in _her_ opinion the two youngest boys
were much less likely to get into mischief if left by themselves than
under the elders' care. But just now, for Rosamond's sake, she thought
it better to say nothing which would lead to any more discussions. So
after a moment's thought she turned again to Justin.

'I will stay here with the little ones,' she said, 'if you take Rosamond
out to see your pets----'

'Oh!' interrupted Miss Mouse. 'It's _pets_ you mean! I didn't think of
pets when you said "animals."'

"Pets" is a girl's word, you see,' said Justin loftily, for he was
already quite getting over his aunt's snub.

'Now, Justin,' said Aunt Mattie quietly, 'I haven't finished. If you
take Rosamond out, she is under your charge, you understand? You mustn't
let the dogs jump on her, or let her be teased or frightened in any
way.'

'All right,' said Justin. 'Come along, Miss Mouse.'

Rosamond got up and half timidly took the hand which the boy held out to
her.

'I'm coming too,' said Archie, at which the little girl's face
brightened up.

'Don't till----' began Justin, stopping short, however, when he caught
his aunt's eye, for Aunt Mattie's control over the boys was no new
thing.

'Yes,' she said. 'Archie may go too, certainly, and remember, both of
you, that you are on your honour to have no squabbling or fighting of
any kind while Rosamond is with you.'

The trio set off. Rosamond between the boys, holding a hand of each.
Aunt Mattie smiling and nodding encouragingly, for there was still a
half-frightened look on the little face.

'It is best,' thought she, 'to test them, for they are not bad boys at
heart, and she is far from childish for her age. But if they are really
too rough, our plan must be given up. I am very much afraid that Miss
Ward is not a success. Patrick,' she said aloud, 'I didn't want to keep
on finding fault this first time of Rosamond's seeing you all, but I
must say to you, now that we are alone, that I am surprised at your not
knowing that it is not polite to go on reading in a corner when any one
comes to see you. It is not polite even to _me_.'

'I didn't know you'd come to see _me_,' said Pat gruffly, 'and I don't
like girls.'

'I really don't care whether you like them or not,' said his aunt,
getting rather angry in spite of herself, 'and that is not the question.
The point is that you should and must behave like a gentleman to any
visitors in your father's house, and I shall certainly insist on your
doing so to any _I_ bring here.'

Pat did not reply. He had left off reading, but he sat still, with the
book open on his knees and a far from amiable look on his face.

Aunt Mattie felt troubled. Of all the boys, Pat, she well knew, was the
most difficult to understand, but during the years that her home had
been with her sister, Mrs. Hervey, she had come to be like a second
mother to the children, and Pat, every one said, was more manageable by
'Miss Mattie' than by any one else. And now he was as sulky and
disagreeable to her as ever he had been to old nurse, whom he was
always fighting with, or to any one.

'Pat,' she said suddenly, 'come over here. Hec, you and Ger can go back
to your own corner,' for there was one specially counted 'the kids','
where the old toy cupboard stood, and where the elder ones were not
allowed to interfere with them, on the principle that an Englishman's
house is his castle, I suppose.

'Us diddun want to play with Jus and Pat,' said Ger, 'but they made us
be "'orses."'

'Never mind,' said Hector, 'Aunt Mattie won't let us be teased any more.
We was tidyin' the cupboard,' he went on; 'it wanted tidyin' awful bad.'
Hec was that very uncommon thing, a neat little boy.

So Mrs. Mattie and her nephew were as good as alone.

'Pat,' she began again, 'why are you so surly to me?'

Pat got red and mumbled something about 'not meaning.'

'But you must mean the words you say,' said his aunt. 'It wasn't kind or
nice to tell me you hated--or "didn't like"--girls, when I had brought
my little niece to make friends with you all.'

Pat stood silent, but his face had softened a little.

'She'd not make friends with me,' he said,' nobody does. She can make
friends with Jus and Archie. Besides, what does it matter--she's not
going to live here.'

'No, not exactly. But we have been thinking of planning for her to come
here every day to have lessons with Miss Ward. And of course it would be
nice for her to be friends with you all if she was so much here. On
half-holidays, for instance, Justin and you could sometimes let her be
with you and take part in your pleasures. There are lots of things that
a little girl can join in, and she is a very sensible little girl as
well as a sweet one.'

Pat shuffled about, first on one foot, then on the other. He did not
want to vex his aunt, and he was rather pleased by her talking to him in
this way, but he did not care to make friends with Miss Mouse, and he
wanted to get back to his book.

'I'm not going to hurt her,' he said. 'I don't want to be rude to her,
but it's no good humbugging. I don't like girls and I don't think I like
anybody--not much. She'll be all right with Jus and Archie. Why don't
you tell them to be nice to her?'

'Because,' said Aunt Mattie slowly, 'I want you all to be nice to her,
and in some ways I had thought you would suit her the best, Pat. You are
quieter than Jus and Archie, and little Rosamond has not been used to
boys, or indeed to playfellows at all. And she is fond of reading, like
you.'

'I'm always being scolded for reading,' grumbled Pat. 'It's often that
that Jus and I fight about, and then mamma takes for granted it's all my
fault, and they call me surly and ill-natured and all that. And it's
like that at school too--only----'

'Only what?' asked his aunt, delighted to get him to speak out to her in
the old way.

'I-- I didn't mind so much when--when _you_ were here and I could tell
you things,' said Pat. 'I've nobody now--nobody who cares. O auntie, I
do so wish you hadn't gone and got married.'

Aunt Mattie's face had grown very kind and gentle. She had sometimes
fancied that, little though he said about it, Pat really did care for
her.

'I'm not so far away after all,' she said, 'and I'm sure you know that
I'm always ready to talk to you, or to help you in any way I can.'

'Oh, but it's different,' said Pat. 'It's not like living in the house,
and taking my part a little, and explaining to them--oh! it's quite
different, and then--there's Uncle Ted----'

A little smile crept into Mattie's eyes at this; she had suspected more
than once that Pat was rather jealous of his new uncle.

'Of course,' she said, 'I know it can't be quite the same, but it might
be a good deal worse; I might have had to go to India, like Rosamond's
father and mother. And if you knew Uncle Ted better, you would find him
awfully kind and understanding about boys.'

Pat grunted.

'He likes the others, I know,' he said gloomily.

His aunt's face grew graver again. This touch of jealousy in Pat made
her anxious about him.

'It is such a pity,' she said, 'that you get these ideas into your
head--of people not liking you or liking the others better, and
uncomfortable fancies of that kind.'

'They are _not_ fancies,' said Pat; 'they are true.'

'Well, if they are true, make them not true,' was the reply. 'Try to be
a little brighter and pleasanter to other people, especially to your own
people, and see if that doesn't make a difference. Just _try_, for my
sake, and as far as Rosamond is concerned I am sure you won't find the
trying difficult.'

Pat did not speak. He stood there looking before him gravely. But the
hard gloomy expression had gone, and after a while he said quietly,

'I _will_ try, but, auntie-- I'm not made right, somehow-- I don't care
for their animals and things like that, and I don't care much for games,
and I _hate_ ferreting!'

'You care for dogs,' said his aunt.

'Some,' he replied. 'I like clever, affectionate dogs. I don't care for
those that think about nothing except hunting and chasing cats and
making a row. I like a dog like your Flip, that sits beside you and
understands when you want to be quiet.'

'Flip _is_ a dear,' Aunt Mattie agreed. 'But, O Hec! what are you
doing?' for at that moment a pile of toys came clattering down within an
ace of Ger's head, from the top shelf of the cupboard, whereupon Ger set
up a scream, though he was not the least hurt, and the toys, being
principally wooden bricks, were not hurt either.

Still peace was destroyed between the two little boys, and their aunt
proposed that they should get their hats and go out with her and Pat to
meet the others.

These 'others,' in the meantime, had been enjoying themselves more or
less--very much as regarded the boys, Justin especially, for there was
nothing he liked better than showing off his animals, and Archie's
pleasure was only damped by his noticing signs of fear every now and
then on Rosamond's part. She did her best to hide them, poor little
girl, and to trust Justin's loud assurances that the growls of the
puppies' mother were only meant for 'how do you do? so pleased to see
you. Aren't the little people looking well?' or civil speeches of that
kind, translated into dog-language, though these assurances were not
quite in keeping with the quick way in which he pulled back her hand
when she timidly stooped down to stroke one of the black-and-tan babies.

'I'll pick it up for you,' he said, and so he did, taking care first to
shut the stable door on the anxious mother.

'It _is_ a nice soft little thing,' said Miss Mouse, when she had got it
safe in her arms, 'but--oh it's going to bite me,' and but for fear of
hurting it, she would have got rid of master puppy in double-quick
time.

'He won't really hurt you--it's only little snaps that do no harm,' said
Archie; 'but I'll put him back again, and then p'raps we'd better show
her the rabbits and the pigeons--_they're_ not frightening.'

'No,' agreed Rosamond,' I'd like to see them very much.'

'And,' said Justin, forgetting his promise to his aunt, 'the ferrets--
Tom Brick has got his ferrets here to-day, you know, Archie. They are
going to have a good rat hunt to-morrow morning.'

'Ferrets,' said Rosamond innocently, 'what are they? I never heard of
them. Are they nice and tame and pretty?'

'Oh lovely,' said Justin, beginning to laugh. 'They're the hideousest
things there are. And if you get one up your sleeve--ugh--it does feel
horrid. All the same they're splendid chaps for rats. I'd give anything
to have a pair of my own, I can tell you.'

'I don't want to see them, thank you,' said the little girl. 'Do they
eat rats? I don't like pets that eat each other.'

Justin laughed more loudly.

'Eat each other,' he repeated. 'Rats and ferrets don't eat each other.
Besides, ferrets aren't like foxes--they're not fierce; they're jolly
little beggars. I only wish I had a couple.'

'Oh, I say, Justin,' exclaimed Archie, 'I wouldn't call them not fierce.
Why does Bob Crag muzzle his when he's going to catch rabbits with
them?'

'Because they would eat rabbits if they were hungry. Rabbits would be
nicer to eat than rats, I should think, though I daresay they'd eat rats
too if they were ravenous--and they have to be ravenous when they're
used for ratting, to make them eager, for when they've had lots to eat
they are sad lazy little beggars.'

'That's like snakes,' said Rosamond, with a small shudder. 'I'm sure I
shouldn't like ferrets, Justin. Don't let's talk about them any more.
Who is Bob Crag?'

'Oh, he's a boy,' said Justin, with some slight hesitation. 'He lives
out on the moor with his grandmother.'

'You can see their cottage,' said Archie, 'from the top of the mound
behind the paddock, such a queer, wild sort of place; we pass it on our
way to the vicarage, when it's a fine day.'

'I'd like to see the moor,' said Rosamond, her eyes brightening.

'Come along then,' said Justin, 'it won't take us two minutes to run up
the mound,' and off they set.



CHAPTER III

GUESTS AT TEA


Rosamond drew a long breath as they reached the top of the mound.

'Oh!' she said. 'I never saw a moor before. What a long, long way you
can see!' and her eyes, full of wonder and pleasure, gazed before them
over the brown expanse, broken here and there by patches of green or by
the still remaining purple of the fast-fading heather; here and there,
too, gleams of lingering gorse faintly golden, and the little
thread-like white paths, sometimes almost widening into roads, crossing
in all directions, brightened the effect of the whole. For it was autumn
now--late autumn indeed--and the sun was well down on his evening
journey.

The breeze blew freshly in the little girl's face.

'It's rather cold,' she said, 'but I like it.'

'You might have brought your muff,' said Archie; 'though _I_ thought
people only had muffs when it was real winter.'

Miss Mouse reddened a little.

'So they do,' she said, 'but mine is such a dear little one, so light
and fluffy, and it was mamma's last present, so Aunt Mattie lets me take
it out in the pony-carriage.'

Justin and Archie had, like all boys, a horror of tears, and the sad
tone in Rosamond's voice made them quickly change the subject.

'Has Aunt Mattie never driven you round by the moor before?' said
Justin. 'She's so fond of it.'

'But I only came the day before yesterday, and her house is quite on the
other side, not wild-looking like here.'

'Of course I know that,' said Justin. 'I think it's ever so much jollier
up here. Indeed, _I_ would like to live in a cottage on the moor itself.
Fancy what fun it would be to race right out first thing in the morning
when you woke up, and see all the creatures waking up too--rabbits
scuttering about, and the wild birds, and the frogs, and rummy creatures
like that, that live about the marshy bits!'

Rosamond looked up at him with some surprise and more sympathy in her
eyes than she had yet felt for the eldest of her newly-adopted cousins.

'I know,' she said, 'it's like some fairy stories I've read.'

'Oh rubbish,' said Justin. 'If you want fairy stories you must go to Pat
for them. His head's full of them.'

Miss Mouse felt a little hurt at Justin's rough way of speaking. Archie,
always inclined to make peace, came to the rescue.

'You were asking about Bob Crag,' he said. 'That's where he lives.'

He pointed to a spot where a clump of bushes or stunted trees stood a
little way back from one of the wider tracks which ran like white tapes
across the moor. No house or cottage was to be seen, but a thin waft of
smoke rose slowly from the middle of the little planting.

'It's the queerest place you ever saw,' Archie went on. 'Papa says it's
something like an Irish cabin, only cleaner and tidier, for Bob's old
granny isn't dirty, though she's extremely queer, like her house. People
say she's a gipsy, but she's lived there so long that no one is sure
where she comes from. She's as old as old! I shouldn't wonder if she
were really Bob's great-grandmother.'

'Has _he_ always lived with her?' asked Rosamond. 'Fancy!
_great_-grandmother.'

'I don't know,' said Archie; 'he's been there as long as I can
remember.'

'And that's not very long,' said Justin, with the superiority of his
four more years of life. '_You_ can't remember more than six or seven
years back at most, Archie! I can remember ten good, if not eleven. And
Bob's two years older than I am. I should think he was about four or
five when I first remember him. Nurse wouldn't let Pat and me stop to
talk to him when we passed the cottage going a walk, he was such a
queer, black-looking little creature. Old Nancy went away once for ever
so long, and when she came back she brought this rum little chap with
her, and the people about said he was as uncanny as she. Nobody's very
kind to them, even now.'

'Poor things,' said Miss Mouse. 'They must be very dull and lonely.'

'They don't mind,' said Justin. 'Nance says she wouldn't stay if they
had neighbours, and she's jolly glad to have no rent. Once they tried to
make her pay for her cottage, but papa got her off, and ever since then
she'd do anything for us, and she always smiles and curtsies and blesses
us in her way when we pass. Yes, she'd do anything for us, and so would
poor old Bob.'

'Yes, but----' began Archie, but stopped short, for Justin's eye was
upon him.

'You're not to begin abusing Bob,' he said. 'It's not fair, _I_ count
him a friend of mine, whatever you do.'

Rosamond looked puzzled.

'Is he a naughty boy?' she said half timidly.

'No,' said Justin, 'I say he's not. He gets blamed for lots of things he
doesn't deserve, just because he and old Nancy are strange and queer.'

'I'd like to see them,' said Rosamond. 'It _does_ sound like a fairy
story, and it looks like one. Won't you take me to their cottage some
day?'

But before either Justin or Archie had time to reply, there came an
interruption.

'They're whistling for us,' exclaimed Archie. 'Yes, it's Pat and Aunt
Mattie coming across the paddock--and the little ones too. Isn't it nice
to hear Aunt Mattie whistling just like she used to, when she lived
here? Let's go back and meet them.'

'No,' said Justin, 'I'll stay here with Miss Mouse, and you run down to
them, Archie. Most likely Aunt Mattie wants to come up here too. She
always says there's a breeze up here almost as good as the sea.'

'I wish Aunt Mattie's house was near the moor too,' said Miss Mouse.
'Where is it you go to school, Justin, and how do you mean you only pass
the Crags' house on fine days?'

'Because when it's _awfully_ rainy or snowy, or anything out of the
common, we go in the pony-cart by the proper road, and when it's
middling we go half-way by the moor, turning into the road a good bit
before we come to Bob's. It's rather boggy land about there, and we get
all muddy and wet unless it's really dry weather. We don't go to school,
we go to Mr. Pierce's--at Whitcrow--two miles off--the _road_ to
Whitcrow crosses the road to Aunt Mattie's, farther on. You look out on
your way home, and you'll see a signpost with Whitcrow on one of the
spokes.'

'I'll ask auntie to show it me,' said Miss Mouse. 'O auntie,' she
exclaimed, as the newcomers came within speaking distance, 'it _is_ so
nice up here looking over the moor.'

Her little face had got quite rosy. Aunt Mattie was pleased to see it,
pleased too that Rosamond had evidently already begun to make friends
with Justin--girl-despiser though he was.

'Yes, dear,' she said, 'I love the moor, and I am very glad you do. I
love it all the year round, though it's pretty cold up here in winter,
isn't it, boys?'

Pat came forward a little. He wanted to please his aunt by being nicer
to Rosamond.

'It's _awfully_ cold going to the vicarage some mornings,' he agreed,
'but there's some nice things in winter. Can you skate, Miss Mouse?'

The little girl shook her head.

'No, but I'd like very much to learn,' she replied.

'Then I'll teach you,' said Pat, his face getting a little red, for it
was not certainly his way to put himself about to be amiable. And he had
to suffer for it.

'How polite we are growing all of a sudden,' said Justin, with a laugh.
But he could not mock at Pat's offer, for skating was the one thing of
outdoor exercises in which the younger brother outshone the elder.

Aunt Mattie was quick to scent any approach to a quarrel.

'It must be getting near tea-time,' she said. 'Are you going to invite
us to your schoolroom tea, Justin?'

'Oh yes, of course, if you like,' he answered, in a rather off-hand
tone, 'or we could bring you a cup into the drawing-room; mamma often
has it like that.'

For it was rather before the days of regular drawing-room 'afternoon'
teas.

'Thank you,' replied his aunt. 'I should much rather have it in the
schoolroom, and if Miss Ward isn't better, I can pour it out for you.'

'She's sure to be better by tea-time,' said Hec. 'She always
is'--without much satisfaction in his voice.

But this did not alter Aunt Mattie's choice. To tell the truth, she
thought it a good opportunity to see how things were going on in the
schoolroom in her sister's absence.

Just then a bell sounded.

'That is the tea-bell,' said Archie. 'Come along. The first in the
schoolroom to sit beside auntie.'

Off they set, all except little Gervais, but they had not gone many
paces before Pat turned back again.

'What's the matter?' said his aunt, and then she felt sorry that she had
said anything, when she saw it was an effort on the boy's part to behave
politely to the ladies of the party.

'Oh,' he replied, rather gruffly, 'I think I had better carry Ger down
till we get to the paddock.'

'No, you _san't_' said Ger ungratefully. 'Auntie, tell him he's not to,'
for Pat was preparing to pick him up willy-nilly, and a roar would no
doubt have been the consequence.

[Illustration: 'I'LL TAKE ONE HAND AND PAT ONE, AND THEN WE'LL ALL RUN
DOWN TOGETHER.']

'I'll tell you what, Ger,' said Rosamond quickly, 'I'll take one hand
and Pat one, and then we'll all run down together, and wait for auntie
at the bottom.'

To this arrangement Ger condescended, and Aunt Mattie, as she followed
the three more slowly, gave a little sigh of satisfaction.

'It's all quite true that her mother said of her,' she thought to
herself. 'She's a dear little soul, full of tact and good feeling. I
wonder why our boys are so very tiresome?'

For it was new to her to think of them as not _hers_ as much as their
parents'.

'I wonder if it's just that they _are_ boys, or have we mismanaged them
somehow or other? I did so hope that my being with Harriet since I
grew up had been a real help to her, but it scarcely looks like it.
These boys are very troublesome.'

Tea was ready when they all got back to the house--tea and the dispenser
of it, in the shape of Miss Ward, very meek and evidently rather sorry
for herself, though her face brightened as she caught sight of Aunt
Mattie and rose to greet her.

'I am sorry you have got a headache, Miss Ward,' said the young lady,
'I'm afraid you are rather subject to them.'

'N--no, I can't say that I am, or rather I never used to be, and I am
particularly sorry to have had one to-day when Mrs. Hervey was away. But
I daresay a cup of tea will put it all right--it often does,' replied
the governess.

'Then why didn't you ask for one early in the day; I'm sure you could
get it at any time,' said Aunt Mattie a little coldly. She was feeling
rather irritated with Miss Ward for seeming so doleful, for she had come
to them with the recommendation of being specially clever in managing
boys. She was no longer very young, but active and capable, at least so
she had appeared at first. She grew a little red as she replied,

'Oh! I don't want to give in to these headaches or to make any fuss
about them.'

'Poor Mith Ward,' said little Ger, 'all-bodies would have headaches if
naughty Jus throwed books at them!'

'Ger, Ger,' exclaimed Miss Ward; while up started Justin in a fury.

'I throw books at Miss Ward; what do you mean, you sneaking little
tell-tale?' he exclaimed. 'No, you're worse than that, you are a
right-down story-teller.'

'He's not,' said Hec. 'You've done it _twicet_, Jus, you know you have.'

Justin was on the point of rushing off from his place to seize Hec, when
Aunt Mattie turned to him.

'Be quiet, Justin,' she said, 'and behave like a gentleman. If not, you
must leave the room.'

The old habit of obedience to his young aunt told, and Justin sat down
again, though not without mutterings to himself.

'I don't want to spoil our tea-time,' said Aunt Mattie quietly, turning
to Miss Ward,' but I think it would be best for you to explain what the
little boys mean, and--what _you_ mean, Justin.'

'I didn't mean to hurt Miss Ward,' said Justin, 'and it was settled
that nothing more was to be said about it.'

'I don't think Hec and Ger were in the room when we settled that,' said
Miss Ward, smiling a little. 'The facts are these, Mrs. Caryll. Justin
meant to play a trick on Pat, some days ago--what they call a
"book-trap"--some volumes balanced on the top of a door--you have heard
of it, I daresay?--so that they fall on the head of the first person who
goes into the room. Unluckily for me, I was that person, as I had to go
into Pat's room unexpectedly. I did get a bad blow, but Justin was very
sorry and promised never to do it again.'

'But you say that was some days ago,' said Aunt Mattie.

'Well, yes,' the governess allowed. 'This morning it was quite a
different thing. Pat was not ready to go out when Justin wanted him, or
something of that kind, and Justin threw a book _at_ his door, to make
him hurry, I suppose, and again it hit _me_, as I was crossing the
passage. And--and--somehow a very little thing seems to make my head
ache lately.'

In her heart Aunt Mattie did not feel surprised.

'If what I have seen to-day goes on from morning till night, I am sure I
don't wonder,' she thought to herself, as she turned again to Justin.
But he stopped her before she had time to speak.

'Auntie,' he said, looking, and it is to be hoped, still more _feeling_,
very much ashamed of himself--'auntie, I _was_ very sorry the books hit
Miss Ward, especially this morning. But I didn't in the least mean it
for her----'

'I should hope not, indeed,' interrupted Mrs. Caryll.

'And,' continued Justin, 'Miss Ward knows I didn't, and we had made it
all up and nothing more would have been heard about it but for that
little sneak, Hec.'

'You meant to have told your father and mother about it when they came
home, surely?' said his aunt.

Justin reddened again, and muttered something about getting into scrapes
enough without needing to _put_ himself into them; remarks which Mrs.
Caryll thought it wiser not to hear.

'Please don't say anything more about it,' said Miss Ward, speaking more
decidedly than she had yet done. 'It is not often we have the pleasure
of visitors at tea, and my head is really much better now. I am _sure_
nothing of the kind will happen again, and--and--little Miss----'

'Mouth,' said Gervais quite gravely.

'Mouth?' repeated Miss Ward, looking very puzzled.

'No,' Hec corrected, '_Mouse_.'

'Miss Mouse,' she went on, 'will think us a party of----'

'Wild cats,' interrupted Archie.

And at this everybody burst out laughing, Miss Ward included, for she
_was_ very good-natured--and on the whole perhaps the laughing was the
best thing that could have happened. Then Aunt Mattie had to explain
that her little niece's name was not really 'Miss Mouse,' but
Rosamond--Rosamond Caryll, as her father was Uncle Ted's brother--though
the boys all joined, for once, in saying that _they_ were always going
to call her Miss Mouse, 'it suited her so well,' in which their
governess agreed.

And tea went on peacefully and pleasantly on the whole, though Miss
Mouse's eyes grew very round with surprise more than once at the pushes
and thumps that passed between the boys, and the growls and snaps and
mutterings, even though the five were decidedly on their best behaviour.
Aunt Mattie did her utmost quietly to keep things smooth, and so did
Miss Ward. But Aunt Mattie was feeling sorry and disappointed, though
she tried not to show it.

'I think Pat might do so much to make things better,' she thought to
herself. 'He is cleverer than Justin, who is just a great, rough, clumsy
schoolboy, not bad at heart, but awfully careless and thoughtless. Pat
is not thoughtless, but he keeps himself far too apart from his
brothers; if he would try to interest himself in their pleasures a
little, he might get to have far more influence. I must speak to him
again.'

And so she did. There was an opportunity for a little more talk when tea
was over and before the pony-carriage came round. Pat was quick at
noticing things, and he saw that his aunt's sweet face was less cheerful
than usual.

'You're not vexed with me now, auntie,' he said, half wistfully. 'I know
it was rather disgusting, that row at tea-time. Miss Mouse won't want to
come much to see us.'

'I hope she will,' said Mrs. Caryll. 'Of course I was ashamed for her to
hear of those quarrels between you and Justin, Pat. How is it you can't
get on better with him? Archie does.'

'Archie's better tempered than me, I suppose,' said Pat, 'and then he
daren't check Jus; he's a good bit younger, you see. And then they care
for the same sort of things'----

'Ah yes, there's a good deal in that,' she said. 'If you could manage to
show some interest in Justin's games and animals and all these things,
instead of reading quite so much, you might win him by sympathy and
really make home life happier.'

'It hasn't been very happy, lately, I know. And it worries mamma,' said
Pat gruffly. 'Aunt Mattie, I'll try. But I wish you were here again.'



CHAPTER IV

WANTED--A SISTER


Aunt Mattie seemed rather absent-minded during the drive back--quite
different from what she had been on their way to Moor Edge, which was
the name of the boys' home. _Then_ she had talked brightly and
cheerfully, pointing out the places they passed--here a wood famed for
the earliest primroses, there a cottage burnt down so long ago that no
one could remember how it happened, though the dreary, blackened remains
still stood, and amusing Rosamond as well with stories of 'the boys' and
all their doings.

But the little girl was not sorry that now it was different. She was
feeling tired and very puzzled. In one way the afternoon's visit had
brought her a good deal of disappointment--her new friends were not at
all what she had pictured them--at least--and then her mind went on to
what it was that had disappointed and almost shocked her. She was too
sensible a little woman to mind their being noisy and even rather rough.
But--'it wasn't a nice kind of noisiness,' she thought, 'they all seemed
against each other, as if they were going to begin quarrelling every
minute, even though they didn't quite. I'm very glad I live with Uncle
Ted and Aunt Mattie. I'd rather have no one to play with than be always
afraid of quarrelling.'

Suddenly Mrs. Caryll glanced at her little companion, and it struck her
that Rosamond's face was pale and that she was very silent.

'My dear,' she said, 'I don't mind the boys calling you Miss Mouse--it
is a nice, funny little name--but I don't want you to grow _quite_ into
a mouse. I have not heard the faintest, tiniest squeak from you since we
left Moor Edge.'

Rosamond smiled a little, but it was not a very bright smile.

'I-- I thought you were thinking, auntie,' she said, 'and p'raps you
were tired.'

'Just a scrap tired, I daresay,' said Aunt Mattie, 'and--yes I _was_
thinking, but I shouldn't have forgotten you, my pet. Are _you_ not
tired?'

'I don't know, auntie,' the little girl replied. 'My head feels rather
buzzy, I think. It gets like that sometimes when I've been in the
railway and coming to see places and--and-- I never played with such a
lot of boys before, you see, auntie. I'm not becustomed to them yet,'
and she could not keep back a tiny sigh.

It was repeated, though not to be heard, in Aunt Mattie's heart.

'I am dreadfully afraid I have made a great mistake,' thought the young
lady to herself, 'in believing she could get on with them and be happy
there. She is too delicate and fragile for them. I must arrange
something different and not attempt her going there for lessons.'

But just as she was saying this to herself with a good deal of
disappointment, Rosamond called out eagerly, with quite a different tone
in her voice.

'Auntie, auntie,' she said, 'is that the signpost with "Whitcrow" on one
of the spokes? Justin told me to look out for it. They pass by here when
they go to their lessons on rainy days. I mean they turn off here
instead of going on to your house. Yes'--as her aunt drew in the pony
and passed the signpost at a walk, to let the little girl have a good
look at it, and at the road beyond--'yes, that's it, "To W, h, i, t,--
Whitcrow," quite plain. I wonder if Whitcrow once was White Crow,
auntie? Do you think so? I'd like to see the house they go to school
at--at least to lessons to. Can we drive that way some day?'

She was in a little flutter of interest and excitement. Mrs. Caryll
looked at her with a smile.

'What funny creatures children are,' she thought to herself. 'A moment
ago Rosamond was quite melancholy and depressed, as if the boys had
really overwhelmed her, and now she is as bright as anything about them
again.'

'Certainly, dear,' she said, her own spirits rising, 'I can show you Mr.
Pierce's vicarage any day. What were you asking about Whitcrow? I don't
think it ever struck me before that it may have come from White Crow.
But a _white crow_, Rosamond, that would be a funny thing!'

'Yes,' said the little girl, laughing, 'when we always say "as black as
a crow." But-- I think I _have_ heard of a white crow--or was it perhaps
in a fairy story? I can't think.'

'We must ask Uncle Ted,' said her aunt. 'He knows all about curious
things like that--all about wild birds and country things. But why do
you say when they go to their lessons on rainy days? They go every
day.'

'Oh yes, of course,' Rosamond replied. 'But it's only on rainy days they
go by the road,' and she explained to her aunt the different plans that
Justin had explained to her.

'That is new since my time,' said Mrs. Caryll. 'They used to drive to
Whitcrow every morning and walk back if it was fine--and on rainy days
the pony-cart was put up at the rectory. On fine days the stable boy
went with them and brought it back. I used very often to go to meet them
in the afternoons across the moor.'

'Oh then,' said Rosamond eagerly, 'you know the cottage where Bob Crag
lives and the queer old woman. I do so want to see her. Will you take me
there some day?'

Her aunt hesitated.

'What have they been telling you about Bob and his grandmother?' she
asked.

'Oh, only just about how queer they are, and that people aren't very
kind to them, because they don't know where they come from and things
like that, and I was wondering-- I couldn't help wondering'--the little
girl went on in a somewhat awe-struck tone of voice--'if perhaps the
old woman is a sort of a witch. I've never seen a witch, but I've read
about them in fairy stories.'

'And is that why you so much want to go to see old Mrs. Crag,' said her
aunt, half laughing.

'I don't quite know,' said Rosamond. 'Yes, I think it is partly. It's a
little frightening to think of, but frightening things are rather nice
too sometimes--in a sort of fancying way, I mean. For there aren't
really any witches now, are there, auntie?'

She was not quite sure of this all the same, for as she spoke, she crept
a little closer to Mrs. Caryll. It was beginning to get dusk, and the
part of the road along which they were then passing ran through a wood;
at all times it was rather gloomy just here.

'Real witches,' repeated her aunt; 'of course not, though I daresay Pat
could tell you stories by the dozen about them, and no doubt Bob's
grandmother is a curious old body. Long ago I daresay she would have
been called a witch. I don't think she is _quite_ right in her head, and
Bob is a wild, gipsy-like creature. I don't think their father and
mother care for the boys to see much of him, though both he and his
grandmother are devoted to them. Some day----' but before Mrs. Caryll
had time to say more, the sound of some one whistling in a peculiar
way, two or three notes almost like a bird call, made her stop short.

'Why, that must be your uncle,' she exclaimed, 'coming to meet us,' and
she whipped up the pony to make him go faster.

They were not far from home by this time, and when Uncle Ted, for he it
was, got into the pony-cart beside them, there was no more talk between
Aunt Mattie and her little niece.

'How are they all getting on at Moor Edge?' was the first thing he
asked.

'Oh--all right--at least well enough,' Mrs. Caryll replied, 'though I'm
not sorry that their father and mother are coming back to-morrow,' and
by something in her tone Uncle Ted understood that she was not quite
happy about her five nephews, but that she did not want to say any more
at present.

So he went on talking about other things--he had been away all
day--which did not interest Rosamond, and the little girl fell back into
her own thoughts, companions she was well accustomed to.

Aunt Mattie's house was quite a contrast to Moor Edge. It stood in the
midst of a small but pretty park. Everything about it was peaceful and
sheltered and charming. The flower gardens were the pride of the
neighbourhood. There was a great variety of rare shrubs and plants,
which could not have stood the keen blasts that blew over Moor Edge,
perched up as it was on high ground. The trees grew luxuriantly at
Caryll Place, and there was a little lake famed for the great variety of
water-birds who found their home on its borders. This lake, I believe,
was the one thing which made the Hervey boys envious. For everything
else they much preferred their own home, which they described as 'ever
so much jollier,' with the moor close at hand, and the fresh breezes
that blew across it at almost all times of the year.

But in Rosamond's eyes, though she had felt the charm of the moorland
also, her aunt's home seemed perfection. All about it was in such
perfect order, and Rosamond dearly loved order. The Moor Edge schoolroom
had been a real trial to her, and as she ran upstairs to her own dainty
little bedroom, she gave a great sigh of content.

'I am glad,' she thought to herself, 'to live here, instead of with all
those boys. Though I _like_ them very much. At least I _would_ like them
if they were just a little quieter, and not quite so squabbly. I wonder
if I had had brothers if they'd have been like that? Perhaps I'm a
little spoilt with being an only child, and I'm afraid I don't want to
have brothers or sisters. All I do want is my own mamma, and that's just
what I can't have. O mamma, mamma, if only you hadn't had to go away and
leave me;' and the tears began to creep up again, as they had got sadly
into the way of doing during the last few weeks, into her pretty grey
eyes.

But she bravely brushed them away again, for she knew that nothing would
have distressed her dear mother more than for her to give way to
unhappiness about a trouble which could not be helped. And after all she
had a great deal to be glad about. Many children, as her mother had
often told her, whose parents were in India, had no home in England but
school, or perhaps with relations who cared little about them, and took
small trouble to make their lives happy. How different from Caryll, and
dear Uncle Ted and Aunt Mattie, and as she reached this point in her
thoughts she heard her aunt's voice calling her, as she passed along the
passage on her way downstairs.

Rosamond ran after her and slipped her hand through Mrs. Caryll's arm.

'You don't feel cold after our drive, do you, darling?' said Aunt
Mattie.

'No, not the least, thank you, auntie,' the little girl replied, and
something in her voice told Mrs. Caryll that Rosamond had cheered up
again.

'Uncle Ted says he would like a cup of tea after his journey,' her aunt
went on, 'and I have a letter I want to send this evening, so you must
pour it out for him while I write.'

Rosamond was only too pleased to do so; they found her uncle waiting in
the drawing-room, where some tea had just been brought in. It was a
pretty sight, so at least thought Uncle Ted, to watch the little girl's
neat and careful ways, as she handled the tea-things with her tiny
fingers, looking as important as if it were a very serious affair
indeed.

'I suppose you've often made tea for your father and mother; you seem
quite at home about it,' said her uncle, as she brought him his cup.

'Yes,' Rosamond replied, 'I used to have breakfast alone with papa
sometimes when mamma was tired and didn't get up early. What pretty cups
these are, Uncle Ted! I do love pretty things, and you and Aunt Mattie
have so many.'

These cups are very old,' said Mr. Caryll, 'they belonged to our--your
father's and my great grandmother--your great, great grandmother that
would be, so they are rather precious.'

Rosamond looked at the cups with still greater admiration.

'I'll be _very_ careful of them,' she said; then, after a pause--'the
cups at Moor Edge were _so_ thick. I never saw such thick cups.'

There came a little laugh from Aunt Mattie in her corner at the
writing-table.

'Things need to be pretty strong at Moor Edge,' she said.

'Yes,' said Uncle Ted, 'the young men there do a good deal of knocking
about, I fancy. How did you get on with them, my little Rose? You are
not accustomed to racketty boys. I hope they didn't startle you?'

Rosamond's quiet little face grew rather pink.

'N--no,' she said slowly, 'I like them very much, Uncle Ted--and-- I
don't mind them being noisy, but'--here she broke off--'they didn't
think _me_ noisy,' she went on with a twinkle of fun in her eyes. 'They
made a new name for me; they call me "Miss Mouse."'

'A very good name too,' said her uncle. 'I didn't think they had so
much imagination, except perhaps Pat, who's got rather too much; he
seems always in a dream. Was it he who thought of the name?'

'Oh no,' Rosamond replied, 'it was the littlest one, Ger they call him.
He's a dear, fat little boy. I don't _think_----' and again she
hesitated.

'Don't be afraid of speaking out about them,' said Uncle Ted. 'I saw you
had something more in your little head when you stopped short before.'

Rosamond grew redder.

'I don't want to seem unkind,' she said, 'but are boys always like that,
Uncle Ted? I don't mean noisy, but so _fighting_. The big ones teach it
to the little ones. I was going to say that I'm sure Ger would be very
good-tempered if they didn't tease him so. They all seemed to be teasing
each other the whole time.'

'It's boy nature, I'm afraid, to some extent,' said Uncle Ted,
'especially where there are only boys together. It's a pity they haven't
a sister or two to soften them down a bit.'

Miss Mouse's eyes grew bright.

'I don't mind their not having a sister,' she said, 'if they'd let me be
like one. Do you think they would, uncle? They were all very nice to
_me_, though they squabbled with each other.'

'They're not bad boys,' said Uncle Ted, 'in many ways. And boys must
fight among themselves more or less, though I think our English ideas
about this go rather too far. I can't stand anything like bullying, and
there's a little of it about Justin.'

'I _think_ I like Archie best of the big ones,' said Rosamond. 'But I'm
not frightened of any of them, though I was a little at first.'

Uncle Ted looked pleased at this.

'That's right, my little girl,' he said kindly. 'It never does any good
to be frightened. And you may be of a great deal of use to Aunt Mattie's
nephews while you're here. I can never forget how much _I_ owed to a
dear little girl cousin of ours when I was a small boy with a lot of
brothers like the Herveys--a very rough set we were too.'

'How nice,' said Rosamond, looking very interested. 'Do I know her,
Uncle Ted?'

He shook his head.

'I don't think so,' he replied. 'She's never been in our part of the
world since she married. But, oddly enough, you rather remind me of her
sometimes, Miss Mouse.'

And when Miss Mouse went to bed that night, her thoughts about Moor Edge
and the five boys there were all very bright and pleasant. It _would_ be
so nice if she could be 'of use to them all,' like that cousin of Uncle
Ted's long ago.



CHAPTER V

Bob


When the boys had watched their aunt and Rosamond drive away, Justin
turned to Archie.

'Come along,' he said, 'I want to go and ask Griffith about the ferrets.
I wonder if Tom Brick has brought them.'

The two walked off together, but they had not gone far before they were
overtaken by Pat, who came running after them.

'What do _you_ want?' said Justin, not too amiably. 'I didn't ask you to
come.'

'You're not my----' began Pat, but checked himself. 'Why shouldn't I
come?' he went on in a pleasanter tone. 'I should like to see the
ferrets too.'

'Yes,' put in Archie, 'why shouldn't he, Justin, if he wants to?'

'I suppose you've finished your story,' said Justin gruffly, 'and then
when you've nothing better to do you condescend to give _us_ your
company. But I warn you, if you come with us, I won't have any sneaking
or tell-taleing about anything we do.'

Pat opened his eyes--they were large dark eyes with a rather sad
expression, quite unlike any of his brothers'--with a look of great
surprise.

'What on earth could there be for me to tell-tale about,' he said, 'in
just going to look at Tom Brick's ferrets? And what's more,' he added,
with some indignation in his voice, 'it'll be time enough for you to
speak to me like that when you do find me tell-taleing.'

'Yes,' chimed in peace-loving Archie, who was struck by Pat's unusual
gentleness, 'I think so too, Jus. You're rather difficult to please, for
you're always going on at Pat for not joining in with us, and when he
does come you slang him for that.'

Apparently Justin found self-defence rather difficult in the present
case, for he only muttered something to the effect that Pat might come
if he chose--it was all one to him.

But Pat already felt rewarded for what he had tried to do by Archie's
taking his part. For though Archie was a most thoroughly good-natured
boy, he had come to be so entirely under Justin's influence that his
acting upon his own feelings could scarcely be counted upon. And he
himself was a little puzzled by what Justin had said. There could not be
anything to sneak or tale-tell about if old Griffith had to do with it--
Griffith had been with their father long before they were born, and Mr.
Hervey trusted him completely.

Justin led the way to the stable-yard, which was at some little distance
from the house. There was no one to be seen there, though the boys
called and whistled.

'Griffith may be in the paddock,' said Archie, 'looking after mamma's
pony,' for Mrs. Hervey's pony had not been driven lately, having got
slightly lame.

The paddock was some way farther off, but as the boys ran along the
little lane leading to it, they heard voices in its direction which
showed that Archie's guess was correct, and soon they saw a little group
of men and boys, old Griffith in the middle of them.

Justin ran up to them eagerly.

'I say,' he began, in his usual rather masterful tone, 'has Tom----' and
then he stopped, for Tom Brick, a labourer on a neighbouring farm, was
there to answer for himself. 'Have you brought the ferrets?' the boy
went on, turning to him. 'I suppose it's too late to do anything with
them this afternoon?'

Tom Brick touched his cap, looking rather sheepish.

'I've not brought 'em, sir,' he replied; 'fact is, I've not got 'em to
bring. I just stepped over to tell Master Griffith here as I've sold
'em--for a good price too; so I hope you'll ex--cuse it. I didn't want
to keep 'em, as they're nasty things to have about a little place like
mine with the children and the fowls, and my missus as can't abide 'em.'

'I certainly think you should have kept your promise to us before you
parted with them,' said Justin, in his lordly way. 'I think it's a great
shame. What's to be done now, Griffith?' he went on, to the coachman.
'The place will be overrun with rats.'

But Griffith was just then absorbed by the pony, for the third man in
the group was the 'vet' from the nearest town, who had come over to
examine its leg again, and, before replying to Justin, he turned to the
stable-boy, bidding him fetch something or other from the house which
the horse-doctor had asked for.

'Griffith!' repeated Justin impatiently, 'don't you hear what I say?'

Griffith looked up, his face had a worried expression.

'Is it about these ferrets?' he said. 'I can't be troubled about them
just now, Master Justin. It's this here pony needs attending to. We'll
get rid of the rats, no fear, somehow or other.'

Justin was too proud to begin any discussion with the coachman before
the 'vet,' who was an important person in his way. So he walked off,
looking rather black, followed by his brothers, Pat, to tell the truth,
by no means sorry at the turn that things had taken.

'Griffith is getting too cheeky by half,' said Justin at last, in a
sullen tone.

'He's in a fuss about mamma's pony, I suppose,' said Archie. 'But it is
rather too bad of that Tom Brick, only----'

'What?' said Justin. 'Why don't you finish what you've got to say?'

'It's only that I don't know if papa and mamma care much about our
ferreting; at least mamma doesn't, I know,' said Archie. 'I've heard her
say it's cruel and ugly.'

'All women think like that,' said Justin; 'my goodness, if you listen to
them you'd have a pretty dull time of it. I don't see anything cruel
about it when they're just muzzled, and as for killing the rats!--they
_have_ to be killed.'

'All the same,' said Pat, 'it must be rather horrid to see.'

'It's no horrider than heaps of other things that are awfully jolly
too,' said Justin. 'I suppose when you're a man you won't hunt, Pat, for
fear you should be in at the death.'

'Hunting's different,' said Pat. 'There's all the jolliness of the
riding. And shooting's different. There's the cleverness of aiming well,
and papa says that when a bird's killed straight off, it's the easiest
death it could have.'

'It's bad shots that make them suffer most,' said Archie. 'But I say,
Jus, where are you going to. It must be nearly six. Have you finished
your lessons?'

'Mind your own business,' said Justin, 'I'm not going in just yet, to be
mewed up with Miss Ward in the schoolroom. I want a run across the moor
first.'

To this neither of his brothers made any objection. There was one point
in common among all the Hervey boys, and that was love, enthusiastic
love, of their moor--its great stretch, its delicious, breezy air, the
thousand and one interests they found in it, from its ever-changing
colouring, its curious varieties of moss, and heather, and strange
little creeping plants, to be found nowhere else, to the dark, silent
pools on its borders, with their quaint frequenters; everything in and
about and above the moor--for where were such sunsets, or marvellous
cloud visions to be seen as here?--had a charm and fascination never
equalled to them in later life by other scenes, however striking and
beautiful.

Pat felt all this the most deeply perhaps, but all the others too, even
careless Archie, and Justin, rough schoolboy though he was, loved the
moor as a sailor loves the sea.

This evening the sunset had been very beautiful, and the colours were
still lingering about the horizon as the boys ran along one of the
little white paths towards the west.

'It's a pity Miss Mouse can't see it just now,' said Archie suddenly.
'She's a jolly little girl. I liked her for liking the moor. The next
time she comes we can take her a good way across it, as far as Bob
Crag's; she'd like to see the queer cottage.'

'I bet you she'd be frightened of old Nance,' said Justin, with some
contempt, 'she'd think her a witch; girls are always so fanciful.'

'_You_ can't know much about girls,' said Pat. 'I'm sure Miss Mouse
isn't silly. If she did think Nance a witch she'd like her all the
better. You heard what she said about fairy stories.'

'Fairy rubbish,' said Justin. 'I believe you were meant to be a girl
yourself, Pat.'

Pat reddened, but, wonderful to say, did not lose his temper, and before
Justin had time to aggravate him still more, there came an interruption
in the shape of a boy who suddenly appeared a few paces off, as if he
had sprung up out of the earth. He had, in fact, been lying at full
length among the heather.

'Master Justin!' he exclaimed. 'I heard you coming along and I've been
waiting for you. I were going home from Maxter's,' and he nodded his
head backwards, as if to point out the direction whence he had come.

'Well,' said Justin, 'and what about it?'

'I axed about them there ferrets as I was telling you about t'other
day,' said the boy.

Justin threw a doubtful glance over his shoulder at his brothers. Bob,
for Bob Crag it was, caught it at once.

'It was just when we was talking about what they cost,' he said
carelessly, 'I thought maybe you'd like to know.'

'Tom Brick has sold his, did you know that?' said Pat, by way of showing
interest in the subject.

'He's been talkin' about it for a long time,' said Bob. 'But _his_
weren't up to much. Those I've been told about are--why, just
tip-toppers!' and out of his black eyes flashed a quick dart to Justin.

He was a striking-looking boy, with the unmistakable signs of gipsyhood
about him, sunburnt and freckled, as if his whole life had been spent
out of doors, which indeed it mostly had. His features were good, his
eyes especially fine, though with an expression which at times
approached cunning. His teeth, white as ivory, gleamed out when he
smiled, and in his smile there was something very charming. It was
curiously sweet for such a rough boy, and with a touch of sadness about
it, as is often to be seen in those of his strange race. He was strong
and active and graceful, like a beautiful wild creature of the woods.
Nevertheless it was not to be wondered at, that, in spite of his
devotion to the boys, to Justin especially, Mr. Hervey had often warned
his sons against making too much of a companion of old Nance's grandson,
for hitherto no one had succeeded in taming him--clergyman,
schoolmaster, kind-hearted ladies of the country-side had all tried
their hands at it and failed. Bob was now thirteen, and did not even
know his letters! Yet in his own line he was extremely clever, too
clever by half in the opinion of many of his neighbours, though not
improbably it was a case of giving a dog a much worse name than he
deserved. Never was a piece of mischief discovered, which a boy could
have been the author of--from bird's nesting to orchard robbing--without
gipsy Bob, as he was called, getting the credit of it. And this sort of
thing was very bad for him. He knew he was not trusted and that he was
looked upon askance, and he gradually came to think that he might as
well act up to the character he by no means altogether deserved, and his
love of mischief, innocent enough as long as it was greatly mingled with
fun, came to have a touch of spite in it, which had not been in Bob's
nature to begin with.

There were two things that saved him from growing worse. One was his
intense, though half-unconscious, love of nature and all living things,
with which he seemed to have a kind of sympathy, and to feel a
tenderness for, such as are not often to be found in a boy like him. The
second was his grateful devotion to the Hervey family, which his strange
old grandmother, or great-grandmother, maybe, had done her utmost to
foster.

'Where are they to be seen?' said Justin, in a would-be off-hand tone.
'It would do no harm to have a look at them.'

'In course not,' said Bob eagerly. 'It's a good bit off--the place where
they are--but I know what I could do-- I could fetch 'em up to our place
to-morrow or next day, and you could see them there.'

Justin glanced at his brothers, at Pat especially, but, rather to his
surprise, Pat's face expressed no disapproval, but, on the contrary, a
good deal of interest. It was from Archie that the objection came.

'I don't see the good of Bob getting them, as we can't buy them,' he
said.

'How do you know we can't buy them?' asked Justin sharply.

'They cost a lot,' Archie replied, 'and, besides, I'm sure papa and
mamma wouldn't like us to have them. Mamma can't bear them, as you
know.'

'She need never see them,' said Justin, whose spirit of contradiction
was aroused by Archie's unusual opposition, 'and as for what they
cost--how much _do_ they cost, Bob?'

'I couldn't say just exactly,' said Bob, 'but I can easy find out, and
I'd do my best to make a good bargain for you. Five to ten shillin' a
couple, any price between those they might be,' he went on, 'and if you
really fancied them--why, I daresay granny'd let me keep them for you,
and when there come a holiday I could fetch 'em to wherever you like.'

'There's the old out-houses that papa thought of pulling down,' said
Justin. 'They're a nest of rats, I know, and we might be there a whole
afternoon without any one finding out, or we might use them for
rabbiting sometimes.'

Bob's face grew rather serious.

'That's not as good fun,' he said quickly. To tell the truth he had a
very soft corner in his heart for the poor little bunnies, with their
turned-up, tufty white tails, scampering about in their innocent
happiness. 'Rats is best, and a good riddance.'

'Five to ten shillings a couple,' repeated Justin. 'I have only got
two, if that. What are you good for, Archie?'

'Precious little,' the younger boy replied. 'And I don't know that I
care about----'

'You are a muff,' said Justin crossly, 'a muff and a turncoat. You were
hotter upon ferreting than I was.'

'I'd be hot upon it still,' said Archie, 'if we could do it properly,
with Griffith at home. But I don't think it worth spending all our money
upon when very likely we wouldn't be allowed to keep them.'

'We could keep them at Bob's place,' said Justin. 'But as we haven't got
the money there's no more to be said, I suppose.'

'_I've_ got some money,' said Pat. 'Why don't you ask me to join,
Justin?'

'_You!_' said Justin, in a tone of mingled contempt and surprise. 'When
do you ever spend money on sensible things?-- Would they want to be paid
the whole at once, do you think, Bob?' he went on, turning to him.

'I shouldn't think so,' the boy replied, 'anyway I could see about
that.'

'How much have you got, Pat?' Justin now condescended to ask. Pat
considered.

'Three shillings, or about that,' he answered.

'Three and two, and something to make up another shilling with
Archie's,' said Justin. 'Well we shouldn't be far short. I think you may
as well fetch them, Bob, and let us know. You can look out for us on our
way home to-morrow afternoon.'

They had not been standing still all this time. The ground was a little
clearer where they had met, and they had been able to stroll on abreast,
though scarcely noticing they were moving. And now they were but a short
way from Bob's home.

He was always eager to show such hospitality as was in his power to 'his
young gentlemen,' as he called them, and he knew that few things pleased
his granny more than to have a word with them.

'I'll show you the corner where I could put up a box for the ferrets, if
you'll step our way,' he said, and in a minute or two the four boys had
reached the cottage, if cottage such a queer erection could be called.

Justin and his brothers knew it well by sight, but they had very seldom
gone inside, and, to Pat especially, there was a good deal of
fascination about the Crags' dwelling-place. He was not sorry, as they
came near to it, to see old Nance herself standing in the doorway, a
smile of welcome lighting up her brown wrinkled face, and showing off
her still strong even white teeth and bright black eyes.



CHAPTER VI

FERRETS AND FAIRIES


Old Nance's way of speaking, like everything else about her, was
peculiar to herself. Nobody could tell by it from what part of the
country she had come, all that they could say was, that her talk was
quite unlike that of her neighbours. Neighbours, in the common sense of
the word, the Crags had none, for their cottage was very isolated. Moor
Edge was the only house within a couple of miles, and except for the
Herveys themselves, its nearness would have been no good to the old
woman, for the servants were all full of prejudice against her and her
grandson. This she well knew, but she did not seem to mind it.

'Good-day, Master Justin,' she said, as the boys came within speaking
distance. 'I _am_ pleased to see you. You won't be on your way to school
just now, so you'll spare the old woman a few minutes, won't you? and
give her some news of your dear papa and mamma, bless them, and Miss
Mattie that was, and the little young lady that's biding with her, and
is going to have her lessons with the little young gentlemen at the
house.'

The three Hervey boys stared.

'Who told you so, Nance?' said Archie, the readiest with his tongue.
'There is a little girl at Aunt Mattie's, but we never saw her till this
afternoon, and nobody has said anything about her having lessons at our
house.'

'How do you hear things?' added Pat, looking the old woman straight in
the face, for he had had, before this, experience of old Nance's
extraordinary power of picking up news. 'Is she really a witch?' he
added to himself, though he would not have dared to say it aloud.

Nance smiled, but did not reply.

'Won't you step in?' she said, pushing the door of the cottage wider
open. 'I've just tidied up, and I was fetching in a handful of bracken.
It flames up so brightly.'

It was chilly outside, and Nance's fire was very inviting. Pat stepped
forward to it, and stood warming his hands over the blaze.

'And so your papa and mamma are away?' continued the old woman. 'You'll
be missing them, though it's not for long.'

'There you are again!' said Pat. 'You know more about us than we do
ourselves. _We_ have not heard for certain when they're coming back.'

'_I_ don't mind if they stay away a little longer,' said Justin. 'It's
rather fine being alone for a bit. If only we had holidays just now, and
Miss Ward was away too, it would be very jolly.'

Nance patted his shoulder with her thin brown hand.

'Book learning's all very well,' she said. 'Young gentlemen like you
must have it. But it do seem against nature for young things to be
cooped up the best part of the day. There's my Bob now, there's no
getting him to stay indoors an hour at a time, be the weather what it
will,' and she glanced at her grandson with a certain pride.

Bob laughed, and in the dancing firelight his teeth glistened like
pearls.

'I think we mustn't stay longer,' said Archie suddenly. He meant what he
said, but, besides this, somehow or other, he always felt a little
afraid of Nance, and this evening the feeling was stronger than usual.
The growing darkness outside, the peculiar radiance of the fire, for the
flames were dancing up the chimney like live things, and, above all, the
old woman's strange knowledge of matters which it was difficult to
account for her having heard, all added to this creepy feeling. And
added to this, Archie had a tender conscience, and he knew that though
they had never been actually forbidden to speak to the Crags, their
father and mother did not care about their doing so, more than was
called for in a kindly, neighbourly way.

Justin and Patrick had consciences too, though Justin was very clever at
'answering his back,' and trying to silence its remarks, while Pat was
so often in a kind of dreamland of his own fancy, that he slipped into
many things without quite realising what he was about. Just now he was
enjoying himself very much. He loved the queerness and fascination of
old Nance and her belongings. It was like living in a fairy-story to
him, and he felt rather cross at Archie for interrupting it, though he
said nothing.

'I'm not going,' said Justin, 'till I've seen the corner where Bob means
to keep our ferrets if we get them.'

'To be sure,' said Bob eagerly. 'I'll show you where in a minute if
you'll come with me, Master Justin.'

And the two went out together. Archie got up to follow them, but stopped
short in the doorway, for, in spite of his fears, he was really more
interested in Nance than in the ferrets. Her first remark surprised him
again exceedingly.

'And you'll bring the little young lady to see me some day soon, Master
Pat, won't you?' she said. 'She'd like to come, I know, for she's heard
tell of me, and she loves the moor.'

'Nance,' said Pat gravely, 'I do believe you heard us talking on the
mound this afternoon, when Miss Mouse was with us, and that's how you
know all these things.'

Nance only laughed.

'Think what you're saying, Master Pat,' she replied. 'Could I have been
near you and you not see me? Unless I had the hiding-cap that the
fairies left behind them on the moor many a year ago, but that nobody's
found yet, though many have looked for it.'

'Then how do you know they left it,' said Pat quickly.

''Tis just an old tale,' she said carelessly. 'These days are past and
gone--worse luck. It was fine times when the good people came
about--fine times for those they took a fancy to, at least. Why, there
was my own great-grandmother had many a tale to tell, when I was a
child, of what they did for her and hers to help them through troubles
and bring them good luck.'

'Your great-grandmother,' repeated Pat, 'why what an awfully long time
ago that must have been! For I suppose you are very old yourself, Nance,
aren't you?'

She did not seem at all offended at this remark. On the contrary she
nodded her head as if rather pleased, as she replied,

'You're in the right there, Master Pat,' she said. 'I've lived a good
while; longer than you'd think for, perhaps, and I've seen strange
things in my time. And my great-grandmother was a very old woman when I
remember her. And yet it was seldom, even in those days, that the good
people showed themselves.'

'Do they _never_ come now?' inquired Archie, from the doorway. 'Not even
in wild, lonely places like this,' for he was gazing out upon the moor,
and the fast-falling darkness added to the mysterious loneliness of the
far-stretching prospect before him.

His words gave Pat a new idea.

'Your stories can't have to do with this moor, Nance,' he said. 'You
didn't live here when you were young, I know.'

Nance shook her head.

'Deed no,' she replied. 'Many a long mile away from here. The place I
first remember _was_ lonesome, if you like. There's not many such places
to be found now, and they're getting fewer and fewer. No wonder the good
people are frightened away with the railways coming all over the
country. Why, the stage-coaches were bad enough, and some folks say
there'll be no more of them,' and again Nance shook her head.

'Was your old home a moor too?' asked Pat. 'Was that why you came to
live here?'

'You've guessed true,' replied the old woman. 'The moorland air is
native air to me, though this is a small place compared to where I was
born. It'll last my time, however, and yours too for that matter.
There'll be no railroads across it till the world's a good many years
older.'

'How do you know that?' asked Pat, with increasing curiosity. 'Do you
know things that are going to happen as well as things that have
happened? I wish you'd tell me how you find them out!'

'That I can't do,' was the reply. 'There's some as has the gift, though
how it comes they can't tell. It's like music, there's some as it speaks
to more than any words, and others to whom one note of it is like
another. And who can say why!' She ended, drawing a deep breath.

This talk was growing rather beyond Archie. He strolled into the little
kitchen again towards his brother, who was still seated by the fire,
where Nance had by this time settled herself opposite him. The flames
were still dancing gaily up the chimney. It almost seemed to Pat as if
they leaped and frolicked with increased life as the old woman held out
her hands to their pleasant warmth. But then of course Pat was very
fanciful.

'Tell us a story of the fairies and your great-grandmother,' said
Archie. 'What was it they did to help her?'

'There's not time for it now,' Nance replied. 'There's Master Justin and
Bob at the door,' and, sure enough, as Archie looked round the two
other boys made their appearance, though not the slightest sound of
their footsteps had been heard.

Certainly, old as she was, Nance's hearing seemed as quick as that of
the fairy Five-Ears.

'I don't want to keep you longer,' she went on, 'or your folk wouldn't
be best pleased with me. You must come another day, and bring the little
young lady, and old Nance will have some pretty stories ready for you.'

So the three boys bade her good evening and set off homewards, Bob
accompanying them a part of the way, talking eagerly to Justin about the
ferret scheme they were so full of.

Pat was very silent.

'What are you thinking about?' said Justin, when Bob had left them. 'You
seem half asleep, both you and Archie.'

'I was thinking about old Nance,' said Pat; 'she's awfully queer.'

'Yes,' Archie agreed. 'I like her and I don't like her. At least I felt
to-night as if I were a little afraid of her.'

'Rubbish,' said Justin. 'That's Pat putting nonsense in your head. If
you're going to stuff him with all your fancies, Pat, I'd rather you
didn't come with us.'

Archie turned upon him.

'That's not fair of you, Jus,' he said indignantly. '_I_ think Pat's
been very good-natured this evening. And if I were he I wouldn't give
you any money for those ferrets if you spoke like that.'

This reminder was not lost upon Justin.

'Pat's all right,' he said. 'He wants the little beasts too, don't you,
Pat?' turning to him.

Pat murmured something, though not very clearly, to the effect that he
didn't mind, Jus was welcome to the money. Then another thought struck
Archie.

'I say!' he exclaimed. 'I wonder if it's true about Miss Mouse coming to
have lessons with Miss Ward? That'd mean her being at our house every
day.'

'_We_ shouldn't see much of her,' said Justin, 'we'd be at the vicarage.
So we needn't bother about it. It wouldn't interfere with us.'

'Bother about it!' repeated Archie. 'I think it would be rather nice. I
like her. But we'd have to leave off racketing about so, I suppose. She
_did_ look frightened once or twice this afternoon.'

'Perhaps it would be a good thing,' said Pat. 'I don't think we were
like what we are now, when Aunt Mattie was with us, and yet nobody could
say that she would like boys to be muffs.'

'Speak for yourself,' said Justin. 'There's always been one muff among
us, and that's you!'

It was too dark for Pat's face to be seen, and he controlled himself not
to reply. It was easier to do so as he was, to confess the truth,
feeling not a little pleased with himself for his good-nature to his
elder brother.

'I'm sure Aunt Mattie would think I'd done my best this evening,' he
thought; 'Justin hasn't been a bit nicer and I've not answered him back
once, and I really will give him the money for the ferrets, though I'm
sure I never want to see the nasty little beasts. I don't mind them so
much if they're kept down at old Nance's, for then when Justin goes to
see them I can go too and make old Nance tell me some of her queer
stories.'

For Pat was very much fascinated by the old woman and her talk--more
than he quite knew indeed. He put down the whole of his amiability to
Justin to his wish to follow his aunt's good advice.

Justin was struck by Pat's forbearance.

'What's coming over him?' he said to himself, 'I've never known him so
good-tempered before.'

Archie noticed it too, as he had already done earlier in the afternoon,
and he was not afraid to say so.

'You're really too bad, Jus,' he exclaimed. 'Pat's far too patient. If I
were he I wouldn't stand it.'

This gave Pat great satisfaction, for though he seemed unsociable and
morose he was really very sensitive to other people's opinion of him,
and eager for approval.

'Don't you meddle,' said Justin. 'Pat and I can manage our affairs
without you. We're both older than you, remember.'

But before Archie had made up his mind what to reply, the threatening
quarrel was put a stop to by an unexpected diversion. They had by this
time left the moor and were making their way home by a little lane which
skirted their own fields, across which it was not always easy to make
one's way in the dark. A few yards ahead of them this lane ran into the
road, and just at this moment, to their surprise, they caught sight of a
carriage driving slowly away from Moor Edge.

'What can that be?' said Justin. 'It's the fly from the station, I'm
almost sure. I know it by the heavy way it trundles along.'

'I do believe,' said Archie joyfully, 'that it's papa and mamma come
back without warning!'

His brothers did not seem equally pleased.

'If it is,' said Justin, 'we'll get into a nice scrape for being out so
late. Run on, Archie, you're mamma's pet, and tell her we're just
behind.'

Archie made no objection to this, he was not unused to being employed in
this way, and when a few minutes later the elder boys entered the house,
they found that their pioneer had done his work well.

Their mother was crossing the hall on her way upstairs when she caught
sight of them coming in by a side door; Archie was beside her, laden
with bags and rugs.

'My dear boys,' said Mrs. Hervey, 'you shouldn't be out so late. I was
just beginning to wonder what had become of you when Archie ran in.'

'We never thought you'd come back to-night,' said Justin, as he kissed
her, 'or we'd have been in, or gone along the road to meet you.'

'That's not the question,' said their father's voice from the other side
of the hall, where he was looking over some letters that had come for
him. 'I'm afraid it's a case of "when the cat's away,"' but by the tone
of his voice they knew he was not very vexed. 'So, Pat,' he went on,
'you were out too. I'm glad of that, it's better than being always
cooped up indoors. What have you all been after? Archie says you weren't
far off--were you with Griffith?'

'Part of the time,' said Justin. 'The vet came over to look at mamma's
pony.'

'Oh, by the bye, how is it?' asked Mr. Hervey quickly, but Justin could
not say.

'I'll run out and ask Griffith now,' he volunteered, and off he ran.

Pat followed his mother and Archie upstairs. He did not quite own it to
himself, but he had a strong feeling of not wishing his father to know
that they had been for some time at the Crags' cottage.

On the landing upstairs, Mrs. Hervey and the boys were met by the two
nursery children. Hec kissed his mother in a rather off-hand way--there
was a good deal of Justin about Hec--but fat little Ger ran forward with
outstretched arms.

'Mamma, mamma!' he cried. 'I am _so_ glad you've comed home. And Mith
Mouse has been here, did you know? Aunt Mattie brought her.'

'My darling, what are you talking about?' said his mother. 'Pat--
Archie, what does he mean?'

'The little girl,' said Archie, 'Aunt Mattie's own little girl. Didn't
you know she was coming, mamma?'

Mrs. Hervey's face cleared.

'Do you mean little Rosamond Caryll?' she said. 'Oh yes, of course I
knew she was expected to stay with your Aunt Mattie. But I forgot she
was coming so soon. And so she has been to see you already? That is very
nice. She must be a dear little girl, I am sure.'

'Hers _juth_ like a mouse,' said Ger, 'all tho thoft and juth the right
colour--greyey, you know!'

His mother laughed.

'You funny boy,' she said. 'When are you going to leave off lisping
altogether? You can say S's quite well if you like. Did she mind your
calling her "Miss Mouse"?' she went on, turning to the elder boys.

'No, not a bit,' said Archie. 'I think she liked it.'

'And so did Aunt Mattie,' added Pat. 'She said it suited her. Is it true
that she's coming here to have lessons, mamma?'

'Who told you so?' asked his mother, with some surprise. 'There's
nothing settled about it.'

Pat and Archie glanced at each other, but neither replied. Their mother,
however, did not notice their silence, for just then Miss Ward made her
appearance. She was all smiles and cheerfulness now, for Mr. and Mrs.
Hervey's return was the greatest possible relief to her.

'I hope everything has been all right while we were away?' said the
boys' mother kindly.

'Yes, thank you,' said Miss Ward, 'at least everything is quite right
now. I had just a little trouble, but it was really accidental, and Mrs.
Caryll's coming this afternoon was such a pleasure.'

Mrs. Hervey saw that Miss Ward did not wish to say any more before the
children. Her face fell a little.

'I am afraid,' she thought to herself, 'that Justin may have been
unmanageable, but I shall hear about it afterwards if there is anything
that must be told. Pat,' she went on to herself, 'looks wonderfully
bright and cheerful, more like what he used to be when Mattie was here.
I do hope it will turn out nicely about little Rosamond coming.'



CHAPTER VII

NANCE'S STORY


The next day Mrs. Hervey drove over to Caryll Place, where she had a
long talk with her sister, and made acquaintance with little Rosamond.

'She is a sweet little girl,' she said, when she and Aunt Mattie were by
themselves. 'I do hope it will answer for her to come over to us, as we
had thought of. Even though she would be mostly with the little ones,
you could let her spend a day now and then with all the boys, I hope,
Mattie? It would be so good for them, and I _think_, I _hope_ they would
not be too rough for her. They must have been unusually unruly
yesterday.'

Mrs. Caryll hesitated. She was anxious not to disappoint her sister, as
she looked up in her face with her gentle, pleading brown eyes--eyes so
like Archie's. Mrs. Hervey was several years older than Aunt Mattie, and
yet in some ways she seemed younger. There was something almost
child-like about her which made it difficult to believe that she was the
mother of the five sturdy boys. And to tell the truth, she often felt
overwhelmed by them. 'If only one of them had been a girl!' she used to
say to herself. 'She would have had such a softening influence upon the
others!' and she had hailed with delight the prospect of little Rosamond
making one of the Moor Edge party to some extent for a time.

'You're not thinking of giving it up?' she went on anxiously.

'No,' replied Aunt Mattie. 'I think now that Rosamond herself would be
very disappointed. Her uncle said something to her last night which I
see has made a great impression upon her. She really wants to be a
sister to them all, for the time. But I think it _will_ be necessary for
you--or his father rather--to speak very seriously to Justin. I am
afraid there is a touch of the bully about him which seems to have got
worse of late, and it is such a bad example for the younger ones.'

'Of course it is,' Mrs. Hervey agreed. 'We have been speaking to him
this morning about his rudeness to Miss Ward while we were away. We
made her tell about it, poor thing--and on the whole I must say he took
it well. He didn't attempt any excuses. And Pat has been _very_ nice,
much brighter than usual. I can't help hoping that the thought of Miss
Mouse'--she smiled as she said the name-'is going to put them all on
their mettle.'

'I shall be very glad indeed if it is so,' said Mrs. Caryll, and when
her sister went home again, she carried with her, to her houseful of
boys, the news that the little stranger was to join the schoolroom party
the next day but one, for to-day was Saturday.

They were all more or less pleased. Justin the least so perhaps, unless
it were that he thought it rather beneath him to seem to care one way or
another about a thing of the kind, and he repeated that it would make no
difference to _him_, as Miss Mouse's companions were to be the two
little boys.

'Oh, but she's going to be with us on half-holidays, very often,' said
Archie.

'What a nuisance!' said Justin, but in his heart he was not ill-pleased.
There was a good deal of love of show-off about him, and a little girl,
especially a quiet, gentle child like Rosamond, seemed to him very well
suited to fill the place of admirer to his important self.

'We must take her to see old Nance, the first chance we get,' said Pat.
'We almost promised we would, you remember?'

'Do you think Aunt Mattie wouldn't mind,' said Archie doubtfully.

'_Mind_,' repeated Pat, 'of course not. We've never been told we're not
to speak to the Crags. All papa said was that he didn't want us to have
Bob too much about the place. And I daresay that was partly because the
servants are nasty to him, and might get him into trouble somehow or
other.

'Oh well yes,' said Archie, who was always inclined to see things in the
pleasantest light, 'I daresay it was for that, and Miss Mouse does want
very much to go to see their queer cottage.'

And on Monday morning little Rosamond made her appearance for the second
time at Moor Edge. She had come over in her aunt's pony-cart, which was
to fetch her again in the afternoon, Mrs. Caryll intending very often to
drive over for this purpose herself.

Things promised very well in the schoolroom. Miss Ward was a good
teacher, and Rosamond was a pleasant child to teach. Three days in the
week she was alone with the little ones, the three other days Archie
and she did several of their lessons together, for it was only on
alternate mornings that he went with his brothers to the vicarage for
Latin and Greek, which Miss Ward did not undertake. So a week or more
passed quietly and uneventfully. The two first half-holidays were not
spent by Rosamond at Moor Edge, as her aunt thought it better not to
throw the little girl too much with the elder boys till she had grown
more accustomed to being among so many, for a change of this kind is
often rather trying to an only child.

But on the second Wednesday, when the little girl was starting in the
morning, she asked her aunt if she might spend that afternoon with 'the
boys,' and not come home till later.

Mrs. Caryll was pleased at her expressing this wish.

'Certainly, dear,' she said. 'I shall very likely drive over myself to
bring you back. I have not seen Aunt Flora,'--for so Rosamond had been
told to call Mrs. Hervey--'for some days. Have you made some plan for
this afternoon?'

'Only to go for a walk with the big ones,' Miss Mouse replied. 'I
daresay we'll go on the moor, for I've hardly been there at all.' And
after the early dinner at Moor Edge the children set off for their
ramble, having informed Miss Ward that they had no intention of coming
home till tea-time.

'Aunt Mattie's coming to fetch me herself,' said Rosamond, 'and now the
evenings are rather cold and get so soon dark, she is sure to come in a
close carriage, so mightn't we have tea a _little_ later, Miss Ward, so
as to be able to stay out as long as it's light?'

She looked up coaxingly in Miss Ward's face.

'I don't think it would do to change the hour,' the governess replied.
'But I won't mind if you're not in just to the minute.'

Miss Ward's not often so good-natured as that,' said Justin. 'I suppose
she "favours" you because you're a girl, Miss Mouse.'

'I think she's very kind to everybody,' said Rosamond.

'I'm sure she's had nothing to complain of lately,' said Justin. 'We've
been as good as good. I'm getting rather tired of it.'

They were close to the moor by this time. It was a mild day for the time
of year, and the sky was very clear.

'We might go a good long walk,' said Archie.

'Humph,' said Justin, 'I don't call that much fun. Anyway I mean to go
first to Bob Crag's. I don't know what he's doing about those ferrets.
He's had time enough to find out about them by now.'

'What was there to find out?' asked Archie. 'He told us ever so long ago
that he could get them at Maxter's.'

'Oh, but you didn't hear,' said Pat. 'It was one morning you weren't
with us. He ran after us to say that these ones were sold too. And he
had heard of some other place farther off. I don't believe we'll ever
get any.'

'Is that the boy whose old grandmother lives in the queer hut on the
moor?' asked Rosamond eagerly. 'I remember the first time I came here
you said you'd take me to see it some day. Can't we go that way now?'

'We _are_ going that way,' said Justin. 'You're sure you won't be
frightened of the old granny? For if you were, Aunt Mattie wouldn't let
you come with us again.'

Rosamond opened her eyes very wide.

'Frightened of her,' she repeated. 'Why should I be? Isn't she a kind
old woman?'

'Yes,' said Pat, 'but she's very queer. If you don't like her, you need
never come back to see her again.'

'And in that case you needn't say anything about it to Aunt Mattie,'
added Justin.

'But _of course_ I won't be frightened,' said Rosamond, a little
indignantly. 'I've never been easily frightened. Even when I was only
two, mamma said I laughed at the niggers singing and dancing at the
seaside. Aunt Mattie would think me very silly if I were frightened.'

'She'd be more vexed with us than with you,' said Justin. 'I think on
the whole you needn't say anything about the Crags to her. You see you
don't quite understand being with boys. _We_ don't go in and tell every
little tiny thing we've done. Miss Ward would be sure to find fault with
_something_. And _we_ hate tell-taleing; girls don't think of it the
same way.'

'_I_ do,' said Rosamond, flushing a little. 'If you think I'd be a
tell-tale I'd rather not go with you.'

'Oh nonsense,' said Archie. 'I'm sure Jus can't think that. Anybody can
see you're not that sort of a girl.'

All these remarks put the little girl on her mettle, and, besides this,
she was most anxious to gain the good opinion of the two elder boys
and to get on happily with them as her aunt had so much wished. Nor was
she by nature in the least a cowardly child.

[Illustration: NANCE.]

Still when they reached the little cottage on the moor, and she caught
sight of Nance standing in the doorway as if looking out for them, she
could not help giving a tiny start, for no doubt the old woman _was_ a
very strange-looking person.

'She really does look like one of the witches in my picture fairy-book,'
thought Rosamond.

But with the first words that fell from Nance's lips, the slight touch
of fear faded away. There was something singularly sweet in the old
woman's voice when it suited her to make it so, and she was evidently
very pleased to see the little stranger.

'Welcome, missie dear,' she said. 'I was thinking you'd be coming
to-day, and proud I am to see you all.'

Rosamond felt a little surprised at finding herself expected, but no
doubt, she thought to herself, the boys had told the old woman that they
would bring her.

'Thank you,' she said, in her pretty, half-shy way. 'I wanted to come
very much. I think it must be so nice to live on the moor as you do.'

'Nance has always lived on a moor,' said Archie, 'ever since she was
quite a little girl. That's why she came here instead of going to the
village.'

'Aye, Master Archie,' said the old woman, 'I'd choke in a village, let
alone a town, but there was a time that I was far away from moorland,
though my life began on one and 'twill end on one too. But won't you
come in, my dears. I was baking this morning--there's some little cakes
maybe you'd like a taste of, and some nice fresh milk.'

None of the children had any objection to an afternoon luncheon of this
kind, and Nance's little cakes were certainly very good. Miss Mouse felt
exceedingly happy. The inside of the cottage was beautifully clean, and
uncommon-looking in some ways, for Nance had trained a creeping plant so
well that one side of the room was nearly covered by it, and, besides
this, there was a kind of rockery in one corner with smaller plants
growing in its crannies. The furniture, though plain and strong, was of
quaint, uncommon shapes, and on the high mantelshelf stood some queer
pieces of china, more rarely to be seen in those days than now, when the
curiosities of the East can be bought by any one for very little.
Rosamond knew more about such things than the boys, as her father had
been so much in India, and she thought to herself that perhaps the old
woman had had sons or brothers who were sailors.

The little room was pleasantly warm without being too hot; indeed Nance
loved fresh air so much that it was rarely her door was shut closely
even in winter. The fire was dancing brightly, and there was a peculiar
fragrance which seemed to come from it.

'I've been burning pine-cones and other sweet-smelling things,' said
Nance.

Rosamond gave a sigh of satisfaction.

'It's perfectly lovely in here every way,' she said. 'It's like a
fairy-house.'

'Oh, that reminds me,' said Pat, 'you promised to tell us a fairy story,
Nance, at least I think it was to be a fairy one. Anyway it was about
the great big moor where you lived when you were a little child.'

Pat had seated himself comfortably in his favourite corner near the
fire, Miss Mouse and Archie opposite him, but Justin was fidgeting about
in his usual way; he was the most restless boy possible.

'I say, where is Bob?' he asked suddenly.

Nance stepped to the door and looked out.

'He should be coming by now,' she said. 'He went about your ferrets to
another place, Master Justin. He's been in a fine way at not getting
them for you before. Ah! yes, there he is,' and she pointed to a black
speck appearing on one of the little white paths at some distance.

'I'll go and meet him,' exclaimed Justin, 'perhaps he's bringing them
with him. _I_ don't care about fairy stories. So when you're ready to
go,' he went on, turning to his brothers, 'you can call me. I'll be
somewhere about with Bob,' and he ran off.

Nance stood looking after him for a moment. Then she came in,
half-closing the door.

'That's right,' said Archie, 'now we'll be very comfortable without Jus
fidgetting about. Go on, Nance, we're all ready.'

Nance drew forward a stool, and seated herself upon it, between the
children, in front of the fire. She had a pleasant, rather dreamy smile
upon her face.

[Illustration: 'I'VE PLENTY OF STORIES IN MY HEAD,' SHE SAID.]

'I've plenty of stories in my head,' she said. 'The one I was going to
tell you the other day was an old one of my grandmother's. It was about
a moor, though I can't say for certain if it was the one I remember best
myself. It was told her by the one that was best able to tell it, and
that was the very man it had happened to many years before, when he was
a boy. They were poor folk, very poor folk, and they had hard work to
keep the wolf from the door. The father was dead, and there were several
little ones. This boy, Robin was his name, was the eldest, and the only
one fit for regular work, and he was but twelve. He must have been a
right-down good boy, though he didn't say so of himself, for he worked
early and late and brought every penny home to his mother. Well, one
night, 'twas the beginning of winter too, like it is now, he was going
home from the farm where he worked, right across the moor. It was a good
long way to the farm, for it was a lonely place where his home was, but
there was no rent to pay for the bit of a place, so they stayed there,
lonesome as it was, and worse than that sometimes, for the children were
delicate, from want of good food most likely, and more than once the
poor mother had had a sad fright, thinking the baby, the frailest of
them all, would have died before the doctor could come to them. In the
summer-time they got on better, and, putting one thing with another,
they'd have been sorry to move.

'This winter promised to be a very hard one--all the wise folk had said
so, and they weren't often mistaken. There were signs they could read
better than people can nowadays, and Robin's heart was heavy. For if the
snow came his work might stop, or it might be almost impossible to go
backwards and forwards to it. There had been times when for days
together the moor could not be crossed. The boy was tired too, and
hungry, and he knew well there was not much of a meal waiting for him at
home. But at least there would be shelter and warmth, for there was no
lack of fuel ready to hand--same as we have it here. The wind whistled
and moaned, and felt as if it cut him. More than once he put his hands
up to his ears, just to feel like if they were still there and to shut
out the dreary sound for a moment. And one time after doing so, it
seemed to him that he heard a new sound mixing with the wind's wail. A
cry, with more in it than the wind was telling: for it sounded like the
cry of a living being. He hurried on, feeling a little frightened as
well as troubled----'

'Were there wolves about that place then, do you think, Nance?' Archie
interrupted eagerly. 'I have read in stories that they make a sort of a
cry--a baying cry. Perhaps the boy thought it was wolves?'

Nance shook her head.

'There's been no wolves in this country, Master Archie, since much
farther back than my grandmother's time. No, it wasn't that sort of a
cry. He heard it again and again. And each time it grew plainer and
plainer to him that it was some creature in trouble, and bit by bit it
came stronger upon him that he must seek it out whatever it was; that he
would be a cruel boy if he didn't. So he stood quite still to listen,
and through and above the wind he heard it still clearer, and then he
turned to the side where it seemed to come from, though it was hard to
make his way. But strange to say he hadn't gone many steps before he
felt he was on a path, and, stranger still, all of a sudden the moon
came out from behind the clouds, and he heard the cry almost at his
feet, though before then it had seemed a good way off. He went on a few
steps, peering at the ground, and soon he saw a little white shape lying
huddled up among the withered heather, and sobbing fit to break your
heart to hear. It was a little girl; she seemed about two years old, and
when she felt him trying to lift her up, she stopped crying and wound
her tiny arms about his neck, so that, if he had wanted to set her down
again, he could scarce have done so. And before he knew where he was
there she had settled herself in his arms as content as could be. He
spoke to her, thinking she might understand.

'"Who are you, baby?" he said, "and where have you come from? And what
am I to do with you?"

'It was half like speaking to himself, and no answer did he get, except
that she cuddled herself closer into his arms, and it came over him that
take her home he must, whatever came of it, and in less than a minute
she seemed to have fallen asleep. He drew what he could of his coat over
her, for it was bitter cold, and it was hard work fighting against the
wind, tired as he was too, and misdoubting him sorely as to what his
poor mother would say, and small blame to her, when she saw what he had
brought with him. But queer things happened during that walk; whenever
his heart went down the most, he'd feel her little hand patting at his
cheek, or one of her fair curls would blow across his lips, as if it was
kissing him, and with that he'd cheer up again and his feet would feel
new spring in them. So they came at last to his home, and there was his
mother peeping out, wild night though it was, and listening for his
coming, for she had been getting very frightened.

'"Is it you, Robin?" she called out, and sad as her heart was that
evening, it gave a leap of joy when she heard her boy's voice in return.

'But it was as he had been fearing, when he came in and she saw by the
firelight what he was carrying.

'"I couldn't help it, mother," he said, "nobody could have helped it,"
and he told his story.

'"No," said the poor woman, "you couldn't have left the baby to die all
alone out on the moor a night like this. Though it's little but shelter
and warmth we can give her. There's but a crust for your own supper, my
poor Robin."

'She took the child from him and laid it down on the settle by the fire,
and as she did so it opened its eyes and smiled at her, and for a minute
her heart felt lightened, just as it had been with Robin. And the baby
shook its pretty curls, and sat straight up, looking about it quite
bright and cheery-like, and then it made signs that it was hungry, and
Robin took the piece of bread waiting for him on the table, and give the
biggest half to the little creature, who ate it eagerly. His two next
brothers stood staring at her--the little sisters were in bed and
asleep, his mother told him. They were so hungry, she said, 'twas the
best place for them.

'"And how we're to get food for to-morrow, heaven only knows," she went
on. "I've not a penny left, and if this wind brings the snow there'll be
no getting across the moor even to beg a loaf for charity," and her
tears fell fast.

'Robin felt half wild. Hungry as he was he couldn't bear to think of the
little ones in bed without a proper meal, and he was half angry when he
heard his little brothers give a shout of laughter.

'"Be quiet, can't you?" he was going to say. But what he saw made him
stop short. There was the little stranger, as grave as a judge, taking
turn about with the two boys at the crust of bread, and they were
laughing with pleasure at her feeding them, and calling out that the
bread had honey on it.

"They must be hungry to think that," said the mother; "but the little
one has a kind heart, and maybe she's not very hungry herself, though
she's so poorly clad," and both she and Robin felt happier to see how
pleased the boys were.

'The good woman undressed the little child and put her to bed with her
own, and with no supper but his half crust, Robin fell asleep that
night, feeling, all the same, cheerier than might have been.

'"I'll be up betimes, mother," were his last words, "whatever the
weather is. I must make sure of some food for you and the children
before I go to work."

'He woke early the next morning, earlier than usual, tired though he
was, and the moon was shining so brightly in at the little window that
at first he thought it was daylight. And when he looked round the
kitchen, for he slept in a corner of it, he could scarce believe it
wasn't, for it was all tidied up, the fire burning beautiful, and
everything spick and span as his mother loved to have it. "Poor mother,"
thought Robin, "why has she got up so early? and how sound I must have
been sleeping not to hear her!"

'He called out to her, but there was no answer, and when he got up and
peeped into the inner room, why! there they were all fast asleep, and as
he turned back again, he saw something still stranger, for there was the
table all spread ready for breakfast--better than that indeed, for the
breakfast itself was ready. There was a beautiful, big, wheaten loaf,
and a roll of butter, a treat they seldom tasted, and a great bowl full
of milk, and on the hob by the fire stood the coffee-pot, and it was
many a day since that had been used, with the steam coming out at its
spout, and the nice smell of fresh ground berries fit to make your mouth
water.

'There was no thought of going to bed again for Robin when he had seen
all this, though he'd been half wishing he could, he was that tired from
the night before, and by the clock he now saw that it was half-past six.
He gave a cry of joy which awoke his mother, and brought her and the
children in to see what had happened.'



CHAPTER VIII

NANCE'S STORY (_continued_)


'At the first glance,' continued Nance, 'the poor woman thought that it
was all Robin's doing, but in another moment she saw that was
impossible. The boy was only half-dressed and had plainly not been
outside, and he was looking quite as surprised as the rest.

'"Mother, mother," cried Robin, "where has it all come from? Did you get
up in the night? Has any one been here?"

'His mother was too surprised herself to know what to say. She glanced
round at the children.

'"Let us get dressed quick and have some of this beautiful breakfast,"
said the little girls, "we are so hungry;" and the baby held out its
arms and crowed, and then the mother bethought herself of the little
visitor of the night before. She was the only one who had not been
awakened by Robin's cry of joy--there she was still sleeping soundly,
with a smile on her little fair face.

'"She has brought us good luck," said Robin and his mother, "whoever she
is, and wherever she came from."

'But wonderful as it was they were too hungry to keep on thinking about
it, and soon they were all seated round the table, enjoying themselves
as they hadn't done for many a day.

'And that wasn't the end of it either. When the good woman carried the
remains of the breakfast into the lean-to where their food was kept,
when they had any, what did she find but a beautiful cut of bacon and a
bowl full of eggs.

'"Why, Robin," she said, "there'd be no fear of our starving now, even
if we couldn't cross the moor," and she looked out as she spoke, but the
weather had taken a turn for the better, and Robin was able to go to his
work with a light heart, feeling strong and fresh after his good night's
rest and his good meal.

'"And you'll ask all about," said his mother, "if any one has lost their
child. There must be sore hearts somewhere, I'm afraid," and she lifted
the tiny waif for Robin to kiss her before he set off.

'But ask as he might there was nothing to be heard of a strayed child,
and as the day went on the boy felt more and more puzzled. He had plenty
to think of that day, for, to his great surprise, the farmer for whom he
worked told him that he was so pleased with his industry and good-nature
that, be the weather what it would that winter through, he might count
on regular work and better wages.

'Robin was so eager to carry this news to his mother that he could
scarce wait till the time came for him to go home, and once he set off
'twas more like dancing across the moor than walking, so happy did he
feel.

'"And even if we can't find the baby's friends," he thought to himself,
"mother'll be able to keep her, and glad to do it too, seeing the good
luck she's brought us."

'As this passed through his mind he stopped short and looked about him.
'Twas just about the place where he had heard the cry the night before,
but the evening was mild and clear, and though the sun had set it was
not cloudy, and as the moon came sailing up he could see a long way
round him, and what breeze there was, was soft and gentle compared to
the storm wind of yesterday. And just then a sudden sound reached him.
No cry of trouble this time, but a burst of pretty laughter, ringing
and joyous as if it came from some little child bubbling over with
fun--and mischief too! It seemed to be just in front of him, then just
behind, then just at one side, then at the other. Wherever he turned it
came from a different point, till he felt half-provoked to be so
tricked. So he ran on at last all the faster, thinking he was bewitched,
till he got within sight of his home, and there, coming to meet him, was
his mother, with a look on her face half-pleased, half-vexed.

"She's gone, Robin," she called out, "the pretty baby's gone. But
there's no call to be afraid for her. She ran off when she was playing
with your little sisters in front of the house, and chase her as we
might, we couldn't catch her. She danced away like a will-o'-the-wisp,
laughing as I've never heard a child laugh, so fine and pretty and
mischievous it was. And I've bethought me what it means. 'Twas the day
for the moor-fairies to show themselves, it comes but once in seven
years, and we've been in luck indeed."

'Then Robin told her of the laughing he, too, had heard, and of the good
news he was bringing, and together they went on to the cottage, thankful
that they had not missed the chance which had come to them by fear or
selfishness. And from that day for seven years to come anyhow it did
seem as if they were specially befriended, everything went well with
them, and so far as I remember what my grandmother said, this good turn
helped Robin on through his life. He was a grandfather himself when he
told the story, much respected through the country-side--a good, kind
man, as he had been a good, kind boy.'

Nance stopped. Rosamond gave a sigh of satisfaction.

'What a pretty story,' she said, 'and how nicely you've told it--Mrs.
Crag,' for she did not quite know what to call the old woman.

Nance smiled, well pleased. It was true; she had a real gift for
story-telling, and though her accent sounded strange, her words were so
correctly chosen, and her whole tone had so much charm about it, that it
was almost difficult to believe that she had not at some time of her
life been in a much better position than now.

'I'm right glad that you've liked my old story,' she said. 'But don't
call me Mrs. Crag, missie dear; it doesn't suit me. Say "Nance," like
the young gentlemen. I've plenty more stories packed away somewhere in
my head that I can get out for you if you care to hear them.'

'I wonder,' said Pat, 'if the fairies were seen again ever? Do you think
they kept coming back every seven years, Nance?'

The old woman shook her head.

'I can't say, Master Pat,' she replied, 'but I'm afraid those days are
over now, the world's too changed, and all the new-fangled ways frighten
the good people away.'

'Do you think there were ever fairies on _this_ moor?' said Archie. 'It
says in our story-books that there are ever so many different kinds,
some in forests, some in brooks and rivers, but I never heard of moor
ones before. Are you sure, Nance, that if we sat up all night, or got up
very, very early in the morning some particular day, we mightn't see
something queer, or hear something? Like the boy, Johnnie-- Somebody?
who climbed up the mountain on Midsummer's eve.'

'No, no, Master Archie,' said Nance. 'Times are changed, as I told you.
You'd catch nothing but a bad cold. You mustn't try any of those tricks,
my dear, or you'll be getting old Nance into trouble for filling your
head with nonsense, and then you'd not be let come to see me, which
would be sad for me,' and she gave a little sigh. 'Promise me, you'll
never do anything your dear papa and mamma wouldn't like.'

Archie laughed.

'I was really half joking,' he said. 'I know there aren't really any
fairies, nowadays anyway. Pat, don't you go and tell Justin what I was
saying, or he'd make fun of me.'

'I'm not going to,' said Pat. 'Jus doesn't care about things like that.'

'I think they're lovely,' said Miss Mouse. 'Fancying about pretty things
is almost as nice as having them really, don't you think?'

There was no time, however, for any more talk, for at that moment
Justin, followed by Bob, made his appearance at the door.

'I say,' he called out, 'I'm going home, and you'd better all come with
me.'

'It's not late,' objected Pat, who was feeling very comfortable and
disinclined to move, 'and we had leave to stay out later.'

'I can't help it,' said Justin. '_I_ want to go back now. I've a reason
for it. I'll tell you about it as we go.'

The others had to give in to him, as was generally the case. They all
said good-bye to their old friend, Rosamond holding up her little face
to be kissed as she thanked Nance again, for which she was rewarded by a
hearty--'Bless you, my sweet,' and then the whole party of children set
off for Moor Edge, Bob making one of them.

'Why is he coming?' said Pat in a low voice to Justin, nodding his head
backwards towards Bob, who was walking behind them.

'That's what I've got to tell you about,' said Justin in the same tone.
'It's about the ferrets. He's found a splendid pair after a lot of
bother, but he must have the money. You've got yours ready, I suppose?'

'Bother,' said Pat. 'I don't care about the nasty little beasts. I did
hope you'd give them up.'

'But you promised,' said Justin, ready to be angry. 'I've never spoken
of giving them up, and you offered the money at the first. You seemed as
if you wanted to have them as much as I did.'

'I'm not going back from my promise,' said Pat, half-sulkily,
remembering his Aunt Mattie's advice to try to show more interest in the
things Justin cared for. 'You can have the money whenever you like,' he
went on in a brighter tone, as he remembered also that the ferrets,
being kept at Bob's, would be a certain reason for frequent visits to
the cottage, and more of Nance's stories; 'but do you mean,' he added,
'that we've got money enough to pay for them?'

Justin hesitated.

'No, of course not,' he said at last, 'your own sense might tell you
that. We've not got much more than half.'

'Then they must be dearer than you thought at first,' said Pat sturdily.
'I remember quite well you counting that you'd have nearly enough.'

'But these are far better ones,' said Justin. 'You must expect to pay
more for a better thing. They won't hurry about the rest of the money
once they've got half, or rather more than half.'

'You'll have to pay up some time or other though,' said Pat. 'And I
don't know where you'll get it from. _I_ can't go on giving you all my
pocket-money. There are other things I want to get.'

'Wait till you're asked,' said Justin sharply. 'I can manage my own
affairs.'

Pat thought it better to say no more, though in his heart he did not
think Justin's talk of independence was very well-timed. He did grudge
the money now that the first feeling of generosity had had time to cool
down. But he felt there was no help for it.

When they got to their own gate Justin told Bob to wait about outside
till he came back again. This surprised Rosamond a little; it struck her
as scarcely kind to the boy, who on his side had been so hospitable. But
she said nothing, only when bidding Bob good-bye, she held out her hand
to him, repeating how much she had liked her visit to the cottage. And
from that moment Bob's wild, warm heart was completely won by the little
lady.

They were not as late as Miss Ward had laid her account to their perhaps
being, still, schoolroom tea was half over before Justin and Pat made
their appearance, and both came in looking rather cross. Miss Ward
glanced at them, seeming slightly annoyed.

'As you came in in good time,' she said, 'you should have come to tea
punctually. Rosamond and Archie have been here for ten minutes at least.
What have you been doing?'

The boys sat down without replying.

'Has Bob gone?' asked Miss Mouse innocently.

Justin glanced at her with a frown, and Pat, who was seated next to
her, touched her foot under the table with his. She looked up in
surprise, but nothing more was said, Miss Ward not having noticed the
little girl's question. Tea was proceeding peacefully, though rather
more silently than usual, when the door opened and Mrs. Caryll looked
in.

'Are you nearly ready, dear?' she said to Rosamond, after a word of
greeting to Miss Ward and the elder boys, whom she had not seen before
that day. 'It's getting rather late.'

Rosamond jumped up.

'I can come now, auntie,' she said. 'I've had quite enough tea.' But
this Mrs. Caryll would not allow.

'I can wait five or ten minutes longer,' she said, looking at her watch.
'Perhaps Miss Ward can spare me a cup of tea.'

Miss Ward was delighted to do so, and Archie was on his feet in an
instant, ringing the bell and then running out into the passage to save
time by meeting the servant and asking for another cup and saucer.

'And have you had a pleasant afternoon?' said Aunt Mattie, when she was
seated at the table. 'Have you no adventures to tell me about, Jus? or
you, Pat?'

She looked at the two boys a little curiously, for she had noticed that
they were silent and rather gloomy.

'It was all right,' said Justin in his somewhat surly way. 'We didn't
keep together all the time. I don't know what the others were doing.'

'Oh! it was lovely,' exclaimed Rosamond, 'Pat and Archie and I were----'

'Miss Mouse does so like the moor,' interrupted Pat, 'though there
wasn't any sunset to speak of this evening.'

And again Rosamond felt a warning touch on her foot as Pat went on
talking rather eagerly about the sunsets that were sometimes to be seen,
which interested his aunt, and turned the conversation from what the
children had been about that special afternoon.

The little girl felt uneasy and perplexed. Were the boys afraid of her
'tale-telling,' as they called it? And even if she had told everything
that had happened that afternoon, what harm would it have done, or who
could have found fault with it? Nothing could have been prettier or
nicer than Nance's story, and Rosamond felt sure that she was a good old
woman. She had been so afraid of their doing anything that Mr. and Mrs.
Hervey might not like too, and her whole manner showed how much respect
she felt for the boys' parents.

'I'm _sure_,' thought Miss Mouse, 'nobody could think it wasn't nice for
us to go there. I don't understand what the boys mean. I suppose it's
just that they've different ways from girls, and like to be very
independent. And I promised them I wouldn't tell things over if they'd
rather I didn't. So I won't, unless of course it was anything _wrong_,
and then I'd have to, but I'd first tell them what I meant to do.'

And with this decision in her mind the little girl's face cleared, and
she felt quite happy again.

She was bright and cheerful during the drive home, so that the very
slight misgiving which the elder boys' manner had caused Mrs. Caryll
quite faded away, and she talked happily to her little niece of plans
for other half-holidays. It would be nice sometimes, she said, to invite
the Moor Edge party to Caryll for a change, 'though,' as she added with
a smile, 'they all say they don't care for anything there half as much
as for running wild on their dear moor.'

'The moor _is_ nice, isn't it, auntie?' said Rosamond. 'Such a
beautiful place for fancying things, with its being so wild and lonely.'

'You mustn't get your little head too full of fancies,' said her aunt.
'Has Pat been entertaining you with his pet stories? It is a pity that
he and Justin cannot be mixed up together, one is so much too dreamy,
and the other too rough and ready. But I hoped they were getting on
better together lately, though I was rather disappointed this evening,
Justin looked so cross.'

'I think Pat tries to be very nice to Justin,' said Miss Mouse. 'And
Justin wasn't at all cross when we were out.'

'I'm glad to hear it,' said her aunt. 'There is certainly room for
improvement in him. But I trust it is beginning. He has never been rude
or unkind to you, dear, I hope?'

'Oh no, auntie, though of course I've not seen much of him till to-day,'
answered Rosamond. 'I like him quite well--though not so much as Archie,
or--' with a little hesitation--'or Pat.'



CHAPTER IX

MISS MOUSE 'AT HOME'


The next half-holiday came on a Saturday--the Saturday of that same
week--and as the weather was lovely just then, Aunt Mattie begged her
sister to allow the three elder boys to spend it at Caryll, as she had
planned with Rosamond.

So it was arranged that, as soon as morning lessons were over, the four
children should walk back together in time for early dinner at
Rosamond's home. In one sense it was scarcely correct to call Saturday a
half-holiday, as the boys did not go to the vicarage at all that day,
though they were supposed to spend two hours at home in preparation of
Monday's lessons.

By twelve o'clock they were all under way, Rosamond feeling not a little
important at the prospect of acting hostess to the Hervey boys.

'How shall we go?' said Archie, as they stood on the drive for a moment
or two looking about them.

'By the moor, of course,' said Justin at once, 'turning down the path
that brings us out near the cross-roads--the way we go on middling days,
you know,' he added to Rosamond.

'_I_ think it would be more of a change to go all the way by the road,'
said Pat. 'We've gone so much by the moor lately with its being so fine.
You can't be wanting to see Bob again to-day, you'd quite a long talk
with him on our way home yesterday.'

'As it happens,' said Justin, 'I do want to see him, and he'll be on the
look-out for us,' and without saying more he turned towards the kitchen
garden, from which a door in the wall opened on to the fields, beyond
which lay the moor.

The others followed without saying anything more; cool determination to
have your own way reminds one of the old saying that 'possession is nine
points of the law'--it generally carries the day, as Justin had learnt
by experience.

Rosamond did not care particularly which way they went, but she did mind
Justin's masterful manner of settling things according to his own
wishes, so there was a slight cloud over the little party following
him, and some half-muttered 'too bads' and 'never lets us choose,' from
Pat and Archie. But once out on the moorland the bright sunshine and
fresh bracing air blew away all cobwebs of discontent.

'How very pretty it is to-day!' said Miss Mouse eagerly, 'I've never
seen it like this--the sunshine makes all the colours different, but,
oh! how cold it must be in winter when it snows! I couldn't help
thinking ever so many times of old Nance's story of the poor boy
crossing it that winter night. I do so want to hear some more of her
stories. Of course we can't stop at the cottage to-day, but don't you
think we might next Wednesday perhaps?'

'That depends on those horrid little beasts of Justin's,' said Pat
crossly, 'if Bob's got them by then Justin will always be wanting to go
there.'

'Hasn't he got them yet?' asked Rosamond in surprise. 'I thought it was
all settled about them.'

'Settled enough if we'd got the rest of the money,' said Justin gruffly.
'But the people won't give Bob credit. You see he hasn't told whom he's
getting them for, or they'd add on to the price thinking papa would pay.
But he was to see them again this morning and try to get them to say
they'd wait a week or two for the rest of it.'

'How much are you short?' asked Miss Mouse.

'Half, or as good as half,' answered Justin. 'They cost twelve
shillings, and we've only got six and fourpence, or fivepence, I forget
exactly.'

'Nearly six shillings,' repeated the little girl; 'that's a lot of
money. I've never had as much at a time, except----'

'Except when?' asked Justin, eyeing her rather curiously.

'Except when I was collecting for something,' she replied, 'for papa's
or mamma's birthday, or something like that.'

'Are you collecting just now?' asked Justin.

Rosamond's little face grew pink.

'I'd rather----' she began, 'rather not----' and then again she
hesitated. 'It's a sort of a secret.'

'Well, you might as well tell us about it,' said Justin. Rosamond looked
distressed.

'I think it's not fair of you to tease her, Justin,' said Archie
indignantly. 'You don't like people prying into your secrets, I know
that,' and Justin looked a little ashamed of himself, while Miss Mouse
gave Archie's hand a grateful squeeze.

They had been walking fast all this time as well as talking, and they
were now within sight of the cottage, but no Bob was to be seen, and
when they came nearer they saw to their surprise that the door was shut,
and the usually open window closed also.

'Where can they be?' said Justin, stopping short in front of the hut. 'I
told Bob we'd be passing about now, and he said he'd be sure to be back.
I wonder if the old woman knows?' and he was preparing to knock at the
door when Pat stopped him.

'It's no good, Jus,' he said, 'there's no one there. I know how it is,
it's Saturday morning, and Nance has gone to buy her marketings for the
week. You see we never come by on Saturdays, so we've not noticed it
before.'

'It's too bad of Bob,' said Justin, falling back. 'I'll come home this
way, for I must see him to-day.'

'You can come by yourself then,' said Pat. 'I wish to goodness I hadn't
given you my money. You worry one's life out when you take a thing in
your head.'

Justin was about to make an angry reply, pretty sure to be followed by a
quarrel, when Rosamond interposed.

'Much the best thing would be to make some plan for getting more money,'
she said, 'and then it would be all right, wouldn't it? I'm sure poor
Bob has done his best. If you want the ferrets so very much why don't
you ask your papa to lend it to you, and you would pay it back by
degrees out of your pocket-money?'

'He'd never do that,' said Justin,' at least not to help me to get
ferrets.'

Rosamond opened her eyes very wide.

'Why, he doesn't mind you having them, does he?' she said.

'He doesn't want us to have them at home,' the boy replied. 'You see
mamma doesn't like them, but there's no reason why we shouldn't keep
them somewhere else; besides----' but here he stopped and began talking
of other things.

They had a pleasant walk to Caryll Place, and a pleasant afternoon
followed. Uncle Ted was at home, and both he and Aunt Mattie did their
utmost to make the children happy. And there were plenty of nice things
at Caryll to make up to the boys for its being farther away from the
moor. First and foremost among these was a little boat on the lake,
which the boys were allowed, to their great delight, to row about in
two at a time. This boat was a novelty, as their uncle had only just got
it, and as the lake was shallow there was no danger of anything worse
than a good wetting even if it did capsize, and when the afternoon began
to get chilly, and Aunt Mattie was afraid of Rosamond's remaining out
any longer, she brought them into the hall, which was a big square one,
and let them have a capital game of blind man's buff, in which even
Justin did not think it beneath him to join, as Uncle Ted proved the
best blind man of them all.

Miss Mouse had never seen Justin to such advantage. He was really quite
pleasant and hearty, and she began to think him a much nicer boy than
she had yet done. No doubt the improvement was greatly owing to his
uncle's presence, but this did not strike the kind-hearted little girl,
and Aunt Mattie was very pleased to see the two on such good terms. For
it was on Justin and Pat especially that she hoped much, in different
ways, from her little niece's good influence.

So it was with very cheerful feelings that their aunt watched the three
boys set off on their return home.

For some distance there was no question as to which way they should
choose, so they walked on very friendlily.

'I say, we have had a jolly afternoon at Caryll for once, haven't we?'
said Archie.

'Not so bad,' Justin allowed; 'I'm glad Uncle Ted's had the sense to get
a boat at last.'

'I have always liked Caryll awfully,' said Pat, 'even when you two
thought it dull. Everything about it is so pretty, and there are such
jolly books in the library too. Rosamond's got some very nice ones of
her own; she took me up to her room to see them just before tea, while
you and Archie were still in the boat. She's got a splendid _Hans
Andersen_, for one; she's going to lend it to me. It's got ever so many
more stories in it than ours.'

'She's a spoilt little thing,' said Justin, rather crossly. 'I don't
suppose she's ever wanted anything that she didn't get.'

'She's not spoilt,' said Pat. 'Several of the books she bought with her
own money, that she'd saved up on purpose. She told me so.'

'I wonder if it's something like that she's saving for now,' said Justin
quickly. 'I've a good mind to ask her. It wouldn't hurt her to wait a
little while to buy a book, and then she could lend me the money. She
might have done worse than offer it already, when she heard that we were
short of some.'

'Don't say "we," if you please,' replied Pat. 'I don't want to have
anything more to do with your nasty animals, and I think it would be
horribly mean to borrow from a girl.'

'Yes,' chimed in Archie, 'I wonder you can think of such a thing, Jus.'

'I'd pay her interest,' said Justin indignantly, 'a penny a month on
each shilling. That would be awfully high interest, I know.'

'She wouldn't want your interest,' said Pat. 'She'd want her own money,
and I'd be ashamed of you if you borrowed it from her.'

Justin made no reply, and they walked on in silence till they came to
the point at which they had to choose their way home.

'I'm going back by the moor,' said Justin abruptly.

'I'm not then,' said Pat, marching straight on as he spoke, Archie, as
often happened, standing wavering between the two, for he loved to keep
on good terms with everybody. But this time his sympathy was decidedly
with Pat, and he was much relieved when Justin called out to him, not
too amiably, that he didn't want him.

'I'd rather go by myself, and manage my own affairs,' he called out,
walking off without replying to Archie's good-natured reminder not to be
very long, and then the younger boy ran on to overtake Pat.

The two boys were glad they had kept to the road, for when they reached
their own door they were met by Hec, who told them that their mother had
been wondering why they were so late.

'Where's Jus?' he added. 'Papa wanted him for something or other.'

'He's coming round the other way,' said Archie, and as he spoke his
father looked out of his study door, and caught the words. He looked
annoyed.

'When you go out together, I expect you to come home together,' he said.
'How did you two come?'

'By the road,' said Pat.

'Then that means that Justin is coming by the moor. I hope he doesn't
see too much of that Crag boy; I don't hear any too good an account of
him. I must speak to Justin about it,' said Mr. Hervey, as he turned
back into his room again.

Archie followed him before he shut the door, feeling somehow a little
guilty for having deserted Justin, and a little uneasy too at what his
father had said of poor Bob.

'Hec said there was something you wanted one of us to do for you, papa,'
he began. 'Can I do it?'

Mr. Hervey, already seated at his writing-table, looked up.

'Well, yes,' he said, 'I want a message taken out to Griffith. Tell him
he must keep your mother's pony in the stables altogether, till the
second vet has seen it on Monday.'

'Is it worse?' asked Archie. 'Is that why you are going to get another
vet, papa?'

'Never mind,' said Mr. Hervey, rather sharply. He had been annoyed at
several things that afternoon, and the best of papas cannot _always_ be
perfectly gentle. 'Run off with my message, and when Justin comes in
tell him--no, don't tell him anything,' for their father knew by
experience that messages through one boy to another were very apt to
'grow' on their way.

Off ran Archie, stopping some minutes to chatter about the pony with
Griffith after executing his errand, in consequence of which he came
across Justin making his way in by the back gate from the fields.

'I say, Jus,' he began, 'you'd better look sharp. Papa didn't tell me to
say so, but I know he's vexed at you for not coming back with Pat and
me.'

'You needn't have put yourselves in the way then,' said Justin.

'We didn't--he was in the hall, or at least he looked out of his door
when we came in. And-- I say, Jus----'

'Well--what next? Why don't you go on?'

'I was thinking if I should tell you or not. I mean whether I've any
right to,' said Archie, who was very honest and truthful, 'for papa did
say "don't tell Justin anything." But that was after he'd said it.'

'It,' repeated Justin, growing impatient. '_What?_'

'Something about not wanting you to see much of Bob--people aren't
speaking too well of him.'

'Is that all?' said his elder brother with some contempt. 'People never
have spoken too well of him. But papa has always known that, and I can't
be horrid to Bob just when he's been taking a lot of trouble to please
me. He needn't ever come about here if papa doesn't want him to. And I
don't suppose _he_ wants to. Our servants are beastly to him. But I can
go to see him if I choose-- I've never been told not to. And he's not a
bad fellow at all.'

'No, I don't think he is,' Archie agreed. 'But if papa orders you not to
go there?'

'He won't, unless somebody tells tales or meddles,' said Justin. 'If I
catch you or Pat at that sort of thing, I'll----' but he said no more.
It was best to let sleeping dogs lie. 'Papa won't think any more about
it, I don't suppose.'

'Perhaps not,' said Archie, not feeling quite easy in his mind all the
same. 'Were you there just now, Jus?' he added, for he had rather a big
bump of curiosity.

'Only for a minute. I didn't go in. Bob was looking out for me,' and
here Justin's tone became very friendly and confidential. 'You needn't
go talking about it,' he said, 'but, Archie, Bob's _got them_. He's to
fetch them on Monday morning. Isn't it splendacious?'

'You mean the ferrets,' said Archie, growing excited in spite of
himself, for both he and Pat had been getting rather tired of the
subject. 'He's actshally _got_ them!'

Justin nodded.

'And what about the money--the rest of it--what's short, you know?'
Archie went on.

'Oh--that'll be all right. We'll manage it somehow. The people'll wait a
week or two. Don't you tell any one. Where's Pat? I want to tell him
myself.'

'He went upstairs to look for mamma and the little ones,' said Archie.
'Mamma was wondering why we were so late.'

'It isn't late,' said Justin, 'anyway I've not finished my Monday
lessons,' and he went off to the schoolroom, turning back to say to
Archie that if he heard their father asking for him again he was to
reply,'Oh yes, Jus has been in some time.'

Archie made no promise, but he resolved to keep out of the way, for
though there was no actual untruth in what Jus denoted, he felt that his
brother's motive rather savoured of wishing to mislead, and anything of
that kind went against his own instincts.

But no more inquiries about Justin reached him. Mr. Hervey, as Justin
had thought probable, seemed to have forgotten all about the matter--as
often happened, he was absorbed by his own reading and writing, and the
warnings he had received about Bob Crag went out of his head for the
time being.

Sunday morning broke clear and bright, but increasingly cold.

'It might really be Christmas already,' said the boys' mother at
breakfast-time. 'I am afraid it looks like a very severe winter, the
cold beginning so early.'

'Yes,' Mr. Hervey agreed, 'I fancy we shall have it pretty sharp this
year.'

'All the better,' said Justin, 'if it gives us lots of skating,' which
put it into Hector's head to ask if _he_ mightn't have skates this
winter. Hec always wanted to do whatever Justin did.

'It wouldn't matter if they got too small for me soon,' he added, 'for
they'd do for Ger after me.'

'I don't never want to thkate,' said Gervais--all five boys had
breakfast downstairs on Sunday morning--'you have to go so fast.'

Ger was fat and round and slow in his movements.

'Oh you lazy boy,' said his mother, laughing, as she kissed his firm,
plump cheeks. Ger _was_ rather spoilt, but then of course he was the
baby.

She got up as she spoke.

'Now don't be late any of you this morning,' she said. 'A quarter past
ten punctually. And Hec and Ger, take care that you are warmly wrapped
up, for you know you are going to dine at Caryll, and very likely
auntie will send you home in the pony-cart, which will be colder than
walking.'

'How nice for you,' said Archie to the little ones. 'I didn't know you
were going home from church with Aunt Mattie.'

'Well, you were there yesterday,' said Hec. 'It's only fair we should
have our turn. Miss Mouse asked for us--to make up, you know, for our
not going with you on Saturday.'

'Mith Mouse is very kind,' said Ger.

And so she was. Rosamond loved children younger than herself. Her face
was all over smiles when, after church, she stood waiting for the two
little boys in the porch with her aunt, and set off with a small
cavalier at each side to walk home to Caryll Place.

It was the first visit Hec and Ger had paid there since Miss Mouse's
arrival, and they had lots of things to see and ask about. Several of
their little friend's treasures made them rather envious, especially a
new kind of ball, an india-rubber one--and india-rubber or gutta-percha
toys were then something quite new--as round and plump as his own
cheeks, filled Ger's heart with great longing.

'It _is_ a beauty,' he said. 'Hec, if anybody asks you what you think
I'd like for a Chrithiemuss present, just you tell them a ball like Mith
Mouse's, only p'raps even a little bigger. Do you think, Mith Mouse,
that they cost a great lot of money?'

Rosamond shook her head.

'Not such a very great lot, I don't think,' she replied. 'When I was in
London with papa and mamma, just before I came here, I saw balls like
that in several of the toyshops, and I _think_, but I'm not quite sure,
that the other day when I was out with auntie, and I was waiting for her
in the carriage at Crowley-- I _think_ I saw some like it in that shop
opposite the church. It's not exactly a toyshop, you know, but they have
toys in one window.'

'Oh, I know where you mean,' said Hec. 'It's Friendly's--it's a mixty
sort of shop.'

'Do look again, Mith Mouse,' said Gervais, 'the venny first time you go
that way, and _p'raps_ somebody will give me one at Chrithiemuss.'

He heaved a deep sigh of hope and anxiety in one. And Rosamond smiled to
herself as she made a little plan.



CHAPTER X

THE STORY OF THE LUCKY PENNY


The winter was not going to set in just yet after all. That bright,
clear, cold Sunday was followed by a week or two of milder but very
disagreeable weather--almost constant rain and very few glimpses indeed
of blue sky or sunshine. Miss Mouse arrived every morning muffled up
almost to her eyes to keep her dry in the pony-cart, and most afternoons
the close carriage was sent from Caryll to fetch her.

There was no question of the boys going to the vicarage across the moor,
and even by the road, which dried quickly, every time they walked home
they could not help getting very muddy and splashed, and they could not
have their own pony cart as much as usual, as their mother's pony was
laid up, and old Bobbin had extra work on this account.

On the first half-holiday of this rainy weather the three elder boys
went off after dinner and did not come in till tea-time, in consequence
of which Pat woke next morning with a bad cold, and Archie with a slight
one. So orders were issued that there were to be no more expeditions or
long walks till the wet days were over--indeed, Pat had to stay indoors
altogether for nearly a week, as he had a delicate throat, which was apt
to get very sore when he caught cold.

'And if you go out, Justin,' said his mother, 'you must be in early, and
not hang about with damp things on.'

She knew that a 'whole half-holiday,' as the boys called it, in the
house would be a terrible trouble to Justin, and even worse for other
people, and as he was very strong and had never had a cold in his life,
there was not much fear of his getting any harm.

'All right, mamma,' he replied. 'I'll take care of myself. I don't want
to get soaked, it's so uncomfortable-- I can amuse myself about the
out-houses. But mayn't Archie come with me?'

This was on the first Wednesday.

No--Mrs. Hervey shook her head--Archie must not go out again to-day, as
the walk to Whitcrow in the morning had been a wet one. But if Saturday
was finer he might go out with Justin as usual.

'I really think Justin is improving,' she thought to herself with
satisfaction, 'he gives in so much more readily, instead of arguing and
discussing.'

The truth was that Justin was very much afraid of a talk with his
father, which would probably have put him under orders to keep away from
Bob Crag altogether, and this would not have suited Master Justin at
all, now that the ferrets had arrived and were comfortably installed at
the Moor Cottage.

So for one or two half-holidays Justin went off on his own account,
returning home in good time, and as no complaints reached Mr. Hervey
about him, I suppose his father took for granted that everything was
right. Very likely, for Mr. Hervey was rather absent-minded at times; he
thought that he _had_ warned Justin, forgetting that it had been Archie
and not his eldest brother to whom he had spoken of Bob that Saturday
evening.

After a time the weather 'took up again,' as the country folk say. Pat's
cold got better, and then came a Wednesday morning on which Rosamond
asked and received leave to spend the afternoon with the big boys, her
aunt saying she herself would drive over to fetch her, as she had not
seen her sister, Mrs. Hervey, for some days.

There was no discussion between the four children as to where the
afternoon should be spent. Almost without a word they all turned in the
direction of the moor.

'Justin will be off with Bob and the ferrets, of course,' said Pat to
Rosamond. 'So you and I can have a jolly time with old Nance and make
her tell us some more stories.'

'And Archie?' inquired the little girl.

'Oh, he can do whichever he likes,' said Pat. 'I daresay he'll stay with
us. He's been once or twice with Jus while my throat was bad, you know,
but I don't think he cared about it much.'

And so it proved. When they got to the Crags', Bob, as well as his
grandmother, was on the look-out for them, old Nance's face lighting up
with pleasure.

'Are you glad to see us again?' asked Archie. 'I hope you've got some
stories for us. If you know so much about fairy things, Nance, why don't
you manage to get us nice fine days for our half-holidays?'

The old woman smiled.

'It's a fine day for me when I see your faces, Master Archie,' she
replied, 'and that you know well enough. But to be sure the weather has
been contrary the last week or two. Come in, come in, missie
dear--there's some of my little cakes all ready. Won't you come in too,
Master Justin, before you go off with Bob? I've been fearing you might
have got cold when you were here last week; it was such a very wet day.'

'No fear,' said Justin amiably. 'Bob and I aren't made of sugar or salt,
are we, Bob? I'll come in for a minute, thank you, Nance, but we mustn't
be long, or we'll have no fun. It gets so soon dark now, and papa's
vexed if we don't all go home together.'

'To be sure,' said the old woman, 'and quite right too. You'll never
find me wanting you to do anything your dear papa and mamma wouldn't
like, my dears.'

So saying she led the way into her quaint little kitchen, all tidied up
and bright as the children always found it--the cakes and a large jug of
milk set out as before on a small table near the pleasantly glowing
fire.

'Are you coming with Bob and me, Archie?' Justin inquired. 'Pat's a
donkey--no use asking him.'

Pat took this uncomplimentary speech very calmly. Archie hesitated.

'Come along,' said Justin, 'that's to say if you're coming,' for having
made away with at least three of the tempting little cakes, he was now
in a hurry to be off.

'Don't go, Archie,' said Rosamond, speaking low, so that the elder boys
could not hear, and her words decided Archie.

'I'd rather stay here, thank you, Jus,' he said. 'You've got Bob, so you
don't really need me.'

'You are a softy,' said Justin as he ran off, but Archie, backed by Pat
and Rosamond, did not care.

'Now, Nance,' said Pat, when most of the cakes and milk were disposed
of, 'we're ready for your stories.'

The old woman had drawn a stool to the fire and was sitting there facing
it, the reflection casting a pleasant glow on her sunburnt cheeks and
keen bright eyes. She was always a nice-looking old woman, but just now
she really looked quite pretty.

'How fond you are of the fire, Nance,' said Archie; 'do you have one all
the year round?'

'Mostly so, Master Archie,' she replied. 'You see old folk like me grow
chilly. It's not often I feel too hot, even in the midsummer days. And
here on the moorside there's always a breeze more or less. Yes, I love
my bit o' fire, Master Archie--you're about right there, but all the
same I'd rather face cold than be choked in a town and have no fresh
air, like some poor things have to bear their lives.'

'Nance,' said Miss Mouse suddenly; she had been sitting silent watching
Bob's granny, 'it's so funny, it seems to me that when you stretch out
your hands to the flames they give a little jump towards you and then
dance up the chimney ever so much higher than before. Are you a sort of
a fairy, dear Nance?'

Pat glanced at the little girl half uneasily. He knew that some of the
people about called Mrs. Crag a witch, and 'uncanny,' and words like
that, just because she was a stranger and different in her ways and
looks from her present neighbours, and he was afraid that Nance's
feelings might be hurt by little Rosamond's question.

But it was not so--on the contrary the old woman seemed pleased, and
smiled brightly.

'You must have a bit of the fairy knowing yourself, missie dear, to have
noticed it,' she said. 'I've been told I get it from my grandmother, who
had fairy ways, there's no denying. And no harm in them either, if one
doesn't think too much of them, or fancy oneself more than one is. But
I've always had a kind of luck, hand-in-hand with troubles, for
troubles I've had, and many of them, in my long life. More than once
when I've thought they'd be too much for me there's come a turn I had
little hope of. Maybe the good people aren't gone so far as we think,
after all,' and old Nance smiled at the idea.

'Tell us some story of your good luck,' said Pat suddenly. 'It's always
so nice to hear a story from the person it really happened to.'

Nance considered. Then she suddenly slipped her hand inside the front of
her bodice and drew out a tiny little chain; it was only a steel chain,
but very finely worked, so that it looked more like a silver thread, and
on it hung a tiny coin with a hole in it through which a ring had been
passed. She held it out for the children to see.

'Oh what a weeny, weeny little sixpenny, or threepenny--which is it?'
exclaimed Rosamond.

'It's neither, missie dear,' the old woman replied. 'It's a lucky penny,
and if you like I'll tell you the story of how I came by it.'

'Oh do, do,' said all three together; Archie adding, 'Did you really get
it from the fairies, Nance?'

'You shall hear,' she replied, smiling, and then they all settled
themselves to listen.

'When I was a little girl,' she began, 'you'll remember, my dears, that
my home was on the edge of a moor, something like this, but wilder and
far larger and farther away from any village or town--railways I needn't
speak of, for such a thing hadn't even been dreamt of in these long-ago
days,' and the far-away look came into the old woman's eyes as she
stopped speaking for a moment.

'Is it a hundred years ago since you were a little girl?' asked Miss
Mouse.

Nance smiled again.

'Not quite,' she replied, 'though none so far off it either. But long
ago as it is, I remember that first part of my life so well, so clear
and distinct it seems sometimes that I could fancy it much nearer than
things that happened a few years back only. I was an orphan, like my
poor Bob now, and I lived with my granny, same as Bob lives along wi'
me. 'My granny had come of----' here Nance hesitated, but went on
again--'after all there's no shame in it,' she said--'she'd come of
gipsy-folk, and when her husband died--he was a steady, settled sort of
man, a gardener at some big house, but he died young--she was that
lonely and lost-like, she went back to her own people with her little
son, and he married among them, so I'm three parts gipsy, you may say.
Both father and mother of mine died too--there's many that dies young
among our people, and some that lives on and on till you'd think death
had forgotten them, and that was the way with my granny. But she wasn't
so very old when the feel took her that she'd like to settle down again,
she'd got into the habit of a home of her own while her husband lived.
So one time when the vans were passing near by where had been her little
place, she takes a sudden thought that she'd like to see the fam'ly
again, and what did she do but she carried me in her arms and walked
some miles to the big house. The Squire was dead, but his lady was
living in the Dower House hard by, and the young Squire--none so young
by now--was at the hall with his wife and children. And they were
pleased to see her and kindly sorry for her troubles, and the Squire
said she should have a cottage if there was one to be had, if she'd
settle down near them. For my grandmother, for all her gipsying, was a
clever, useful woman, as good as a doctor for the cures and comforts she
could make with her knowledge of herbs and wild growing things, and
where she once gave her faithfulness she'd never draw it back again. So
it was fixed that she should make her home there again, though her own
folk were none best pleased to lose her.

'At first we lived in two rooms in the village, but granny felt choked
like, and she found a bit of a place on the moorside which had once been
used for the gentry to eat their lunch in when they were out shooting,
and the Squire was very kind and did it up for us quite tidy, and there
we lived, though it was sometimes harder than any one knew; for all we
had was what granny made by odd days' work here and there, and by
selling her dried herbs and drinks she made of them. But as I got bigger
the quality at the big house were very kind to me--it was seldom granny
needed to buy clothes for me, and the housekeeper taught me nice ways
about a house, so that when the time came I was ready for a good
service. That's neither here nor there, though, that came afterwards;
the time I got my lucky penny I was still a slip of a child, nine or ten
at most.

''Twas haymaking--a beautiful dry haymaking, hot and sunny, I remember
well. Granny was out with the best of them, hard at work early and late.
I went to school in the village, but there wasn't much schooling that
week or two. 'Twasn't so strict as now--an hour or two in the morning
and then we'd be told we might all run home, to help while the splendid
weather lasted. Grandmother worked for the Squire; I was always sure to
find her about the fields and have my bite of dinner with her, and then
the little ladies and gentlemen would have me play with them at what
_they_ called "haymaking," though it was a funny kind enough--more
tossing and tumbling and laughing and shouting than any help to the
haymakers. But we did enjoy it.

'Well there came an afternoon that my granny was off working in a field
a good bit farther away than usual. She told me in the morning not to go
after her, for she didn't care for me to walk so far in the hot sun--she
was very careful of me, poor dear--and she'd asked the housekeeper if I
might have a bit of dinner at the big house, seeing that the young
ladies and gentlemen wanted me to make hay with them in what they called
their own field, a paddock just outside the kitchen garden. And there I
found them, and a rare good play we had that afternoon, finishing up
with a nice treat of cakes and milk when we were too tired and hot to
play any more.'

'Were the cakes like those you make for us?' asked Rosamond.

Nance nodded, well pleased.

'You've guessed it, missie,' she said. 'They're the very same. 'Twas
there I learnt to make them. And then I was starting to go home when I
heard a cry from Miss Hetty, the youngest and sweetest, to my thinking,
of all the young ladies. "My ring, oh my ring, with the blue stone," she
called out. "My birthday ring! I've lost it. I pulled it off and was
trying if it would swing on a blade of grass--oh, do help me to find
it--my dear little ring."

'Poor Miss Hetty--she'd only had the ring since her birthday the week
before, when her mamma had given it her, telling her to be sure not to
lose it, for it was one that had been a long time in the family. So no
wonder she was vexed about it. How we did hunt for it--we searched and
we searched where we had been playing, though feeling all the time there
was scarce any use looking for so small a thing in such a place. And
Miss Hetty cried till her eyes were all swollen at the thought of having
to go home to tell her mamma. And when I went back to my granny and told
her about it, it was all I could do not to cry too.

'Granny had her own thoughts about most things.

'"Go to bed, lovey," she said, "and I'll wish a wish for you into your
pillow and see what'll come of it."

'And sure enough the next morning I'd a strange dream to tell her.

[Illustration: 'ALL OF A SUDDEN HE STOOD STRAIGHT UP AND BEGAN THROWING
THINGS AT ME FOR ME TO CATCH--IT WAS THE LITTLE SUNS!']

'"Granny," I said, "this was the dream that came out of my pillow. I
thought I was standing on the moor watching the sun set, and I kept
looking at it and the beautiful colours in the sky till my eyes seemed
to be full of them, and whichever way I turned there was little suns
dancing about--on the ground and everywhere. And then I caught sight of
an odd-looking figure stooping down as if looking for something. It was
a little old hunch-backed man, and I knew without being told that he was
one of the good people. All of a sudden he stood straight up and began
throwing things at me for me to catch--it was the little suns! They came
flying towards me, red and yellow and all colours, but like soap-bubbles
they melted before I could catch them, till at last, to my great
delight, I did catch one and held it tight in my hand, when it felt firm
and hard, like a round coin.

'"'I've got it,' I cried, and the old man laughed.

'"'Keep it,' he said, 'it's not everybody that catches a lucky penny.
And maybe it'll help you to get back missie's ring for her,' and with
that I awoke. But oh, granny," I went on, "it can't be all a dream, for
look here," and I held out my hand to her, "I _have_ got something--see
I've got a real little piece of money."

'And that very coin is the one I've worn round my neck for all these
many, many years.'

'What _did_ your granny say?' asked the children breathlessly.

'Not very much,' Nance went on, 'she smiled and told me I was a lucky
girl, and I must think on what I'd been told by the old man in my dream.
And so I did. Before the sun was any height in the sky, long before the
young ladies at the big house would be stirring, I was up at the paddock
again searching for the ring. And granny told me what to do. I was to
put the lucky penny as near as I could guess in the very centre of the
field and then to walk round it in widening circles, always looking
carefully downwards while I said this rhyme to the good people--

  Here's my lucky penny, take it an ye will,
  But give me back the treasure hidden by you still.

All this I did, and----'

'What? do say quick,' cried the children.

'Before I had made many circles I saw something glittering, and stooping
down there it was--the tiny ring with the blue stone, sparkling in the
morning sunshine. You can fancy how pleased I was, and how I hurried up
to the house with the good news for Miss Hetty, who had just awakened.
The ring was really hanging on a blade of grass, just as she said. Oh,
she _was_ delighted!'

'And how did you get the silver penny back again?' asked Pat. 'You
couldn't have looked for it, for you see you had promised it to the
fairies, hadn't you?'

'Yes, of course, and one must always keep to their bargain with the
fairies,' said Nance. 'No, I didn't look for it, but late that evening
when granny was closing the shutters, she called me to look at something
sparkling in the moonlight on the window-sill. It was my lucky penny.
And from that day to this I've never been without it, and many a time
it's seemed to give me fresh courage and spirit in the midst of
troubles, and one thing is true--all my life through I've never been
brought to such a pass as to have to part with it, though now and then
the need has come very near. But something's always turned up just in
the nick of time to save it; I've always pulled through, though I had an
ailing husband for many a year, and the father of poor Bob there, my
only son, was cut down in the prime of life, he and his young wife,
leaving me another young boy to bring up when I was more fit myself to
be sleeping quiet and peaceful in the old churchyard.'

And old Nance wiped away a gentle tear or two that were struggling down
her brown cheeks.

Little Rosamond stole her hand into Nance's.

'You've got friends now, haven't you? And I'm sure Uncle Ted or Mr.
Hervey would help you about Bob any time if you needed help.'

'Yes, missie dear, I've much to be thankful for, and I hope and trust
poor Bob'll take to steady ways like his father and grandfather before
him, though there's times I worry about him a bit--he's a loving boy,
but he's got the gipsy restlessness in him too.'



CHAPTER XI

A GREAT SACRIFICE


Nance's story had taken longer to tell than might seem the case. For she
had stopped now and then, and the children had asked questions and made
remarks. So they were all a little startled when, glancing out of doors,
they saw how fast the daylight was fading and the twilight creeping on.

'We must be going,' said Pat, starting up, 'and there's Justin not back,
and if he's late we'll _all_ be scolded. Papa has made a regular rule
that we're all to come in together.'

Nance looked anxious.

'Bob's that feather-brained,' she said, for she never liked to blame the
Hervey boys. 'But you'd best start, my dearies, and I'll whistle. It'll
bring them back if they're anywhere near, and I don't fancy they're
farther off than one of the farms straight across from here. And will it
be next holiday you'll come for some more of old Nance's little cakes
and long tongue?'

'Not next half-holiday,' said Miss Mouse with some regret,' for Auntie
Mattie is going to take me to--the town--where there are shops, you
know--there's something I want to buy, _very_ particular.'

'Ah, well, you'll always be welcome--welcome as the flowers in May
whenever you do come,' said their old friend, and she stood at the door
whistling, a curious clear whistle which carried far, as the three set
off for home.

'I do hope Justin will overtake us,' said Miss Mouse. 'It would be such
a pity if your papa was vexed, for then he might say we mustn't go to
old Nance's any more. Wasn't it queer about the lucky penny? Do you
think the fairy man really brought it back or that it was a sort of
little trick of her granny's?'

'I don't know,' said Pat. 'I was wondering about it, but I wouldn't have
liked to say to her that perhaps it was a trick.'

'I'll tell you what,' said Archie, with the tone of one who has quite
settled the question, '_I_ believe the grandmother herself was partly a
fairy--gipsies are a little like fairies, you know.'

Neither Pat nor Rosamond laughed at this, for in their hearts they had a
feeling that Nance herself had something--I won't say 'uncanny,' for the
old woman was too sweet and kind for that word quite to suit her--but
something not quite like other people about her. But none of the three
would have hinted at anything of the kind before Justin--he would only
have made fun of it. And there was no time to say more, for almost as
Archie left off speaking, they heard rapid footsteps behind them, and
then a whistle and then Justin's voice, calling to them to stop till he
came up to them.

'It's a good thing you've come,' said Pat. 'I don't know what we could
have said to papa--he'd have been sure to ask why we hadn't kept all
together. What have you done with Bob?'

'He's looking after the ferrets, of course,' said Justin. 'We were only
at Bream's farm, and Bob heard Nance's whistle. We did have a jolly good
rat-hunt,' and he was beginning a description, when the others stopped
him.

'Archie and I don't want to hear about it,' said Pat, 'and I'm sure Miss
Mouse doesn't.'

'She has a fellow-feeling for rats perhaps,' said Justin, laughing at
what he thought his own wit.

'No girl would like horrid things like ratting,' said Pat, 'and if papa
knew----' he stopped short.

'Doesn't Mr. Hervey know that you've got ferrets?' asked Rosamond.

'I don't suppose he's ever thought about it,' said Justin; 'he's never
said we weren't to have them. It's our own money--the only thing was
that mamma doesn't like them kept at home.'

'Oh then,' said Miss Mouse, 'you've managed to pay them, have you?'

'Not _all_ the money,' said Justin, hesitating a little,' and indeed Bob
was saying to-day we'll have to be thinking about it. He's had rather to
keep out of the way of the place where he got them, for fear of the
people bothering.'

'You won't let poor Bob get into any trouble, will you?' said Rosamond
anxiously.

'Of course not,' said Justin; 'all the same it was he that made the
bargain, and he knew we hadn't got all the money ready. Of course I
don't _want_ him to get into any bother.'

'You'd better take care,' said Archie, 'papa was saying that Bob's
getting spoken against a good deal, though he didn't exactly say how. I
don't believe the least bit that he's a naughty boy, but it would be
too bad to let him get into a scrape for us--or for you, rather,
Justin.'

'It's no more for me than for you,' said Justin. 'You're a turncoat, as
I've told you, Archie. You were just as pleased about the ferrets as I
was, at the beginning.'

Archie did not reply; and it certainly would not have been a good time
to begin a quarrel--if _ever_ there is a good time for a bad thing?--for
they were just at home by now, and Hec and Ger met them on their way in
with the news that Aunt Mattie had come for Miss Mouse and that
schoolroom tea was quite ready. Rosamond had to hurry over her tea, as
Mrs. Caryll did not think it worth while to 'put up,' and yet it was too
chilly to keep the horse standing long.

'You shall have a little extra supper to-night, dear, to make up,' she
said. 'You shall come in to pudding with Uncle Ted and me, instead of
only to dessert.'

'Thank you, auntie,' said the little girl. 'I wasn't very hungry at
tea-time, for I had two cakes at old Nance's and some beautiful milk.'

Mrs. Caryll turned round in some surprise--they were in the brougham on
their way home--'Cakes and milk at old Nance's,' she repeated. 'I
didn't know the boys were allowed to go there. Why have you never told
me about it before, or is this the first time you have been?'

'Oh no,' Miss Mouse replied, for she had no thought of concealment or
deception, beyond her wish not to chatter about the Hervey children's
affairs unnecessarily--what Justin called 'tell-taleing'--'oh no,
auntie. I think it's the third time we've been there. The boys often
go--old Nance is very good and kind, and she tells us such pretty
stories.'

Mrs. Caryll felt a little perplexed. It seemed curious that Rosamond
should never have spoken of these visits before--and yet--it was so
impossible to think of the little girl as anything but frank and
truthful that her aunt did not even like to repeat her question as to
why she had kept silence about the cottage on the moor. It would seem
like doubting Rosamond. So for a moment or two Aunt Mattie sat thinking
without speaking.

She had not long to wait.

'Auntie,' said Rosamond, in a puzzled tone, 'it wasn't wrong of me not
to tell you before about our going to see Nance, was it? It was only
that Justin explained to me that boys are different from girls--they
don't like every little thing they do to be told over at home, and I
have seen for myself that Miss Ward is rather fussy. Justin and Pat call
it "tell-taleing," so I thought I just wouldn't talk about them _unless_
they did anything naughty, and even then I wouldn't have told without
telling _them_ I was going to tell, though I'm sure they wouldn't do
anything naughty, not Pat and Archie, anyway. And I really don't see
much of Jus--he doesn't care for stories, and he goes off with Bob and
the ferrets.'

'Ferrets,' repeated Mrs. Caryll, 'have they got ferrets?'

'Yes,' Rosamond replied. 'I've not seen them, but I know they've got
them. And they don't keep them at Moor Edge, because Mrs. Hervey doesn't
like them. It isn't tell-taleing of me to have told you about them, is
it, auntie?' she asked anxiously.

Mrs. Caryll felt distressed at the little girl's rather troubled tone.

'Of course not, dearie,' she said lightly. 'You may trust me not to make
mischief. I quite see that it has been a little difficult for you.'

In her own mind she decided, however, that she would take measures to
find out quietly, without involving little Rosamond, something more as
to these very independent doings of her nephews, especially Justin.

'They had no right to take her to the Crags' cottage without special and
distinct leave,' she thought to herself, 'though I feel pretty sure no
harm would come to them through old Nance.'

For Aunt Mattie had often seen and talked to the old woman, and had a
high opinion of her, though she thought it a pity that Nance kept on
such distant terms with her neighbours, and she feared too that his
grandmother was not quite strict enough with Bob, as there was no doubt
that the prejudice against the boy's wild, untameable ways was doing him
harm, and would do him still more harm in the future unless it could be
got rid of.

'I will talk it over with Ted,' she said to herself. 'He always sees
ways out of difficulties. Now it would be the very making of the boy if
we could find a place for him in our stables under Peterson.'

Peterson was Mr. Caryll's coachman, and a very superior man, for he had
travelled with his master at one time--not like Griffiths at Moor Edge,
who, though most trustworthy in every way, had never been very many
miles distant from home in his life, and was full of all the prejudices
and even superstitions of that part of the country.

But Aunt Mattie kept all these thoughts in her own mind, and after a
minute or two's silence she began to talk to Rosamond about other
things, as she did not want the little girl to trouble herself about
what she had told or not told of the boys' affairs.

'Next Saturday,' said Mrs. Caryll, 'I shall have to drive to
Weadmere--there is a better toyshop there than at Crowley. Would you
like to go with me and try if we can get a ball for little Ger like
yours? And you have never been at Weadmere, I think--it would be a
little change for you.'

Rosamond's face brightened up at once.

'Oh, thank you, auntie,' she said; 'yes, I should like very much to go
and to see the toyshop, because, you know, there'll soon be Christmas
presents to think about, and it would be a very good thing to find out
in plenty of time where I could get them best. I did tell the boys I
didn't think I could spend next half-holiday with them, because I was
sure you wouldn't forget about the ball for Ger, auntie. I've got the
money quite ready.'

She was again her own bright womanly little self, eager and delighted
in the thought of doing something or anything for others.

'And I'm getting on nicely with my savings for Christmas,' she chattered
on happily; 'you know, auntie, I don't wear out nearly so many gloves
here as when I was with mamma in London and Paris, so I really can save
a lot.'

'All right, darling,' said her aunt, 'we shall go to Weadmere on
Saturday and you shall have a good look round. It is wise to prepare in
plenty of time, for I shall be sending a box to your mother very soon,
and the Christmas presents can go in it. By the bye, how is the lamp-mat
you are making for her getting on?'

'Oh, quite well,' Miss Mouse replied. 'Miss Ward lets me do a little
every day while we're reading aloud. It'll be finished very soon.'

'That's a good thing,' said Mrs. Caryll, and by her tone Rosamond felt
satisfied that her aunt was quite pleased with her, and it was a very
contented and light-hearted Miss Mouse who fell asleep that evening at
Caryll after her usual pleasant half-hour or so with her uncle and aunt
before bed-time.

Mrs. Caryll did not forget to talk over things with her husband when
they were alone, and he listened attentively, as he knew Aunt Mattie
was too sensible to imagine or exaggerate such matters, and he was
really interested in the Hervey boys.

'Yes,' he said, 'it might be, as you say, the making of Bob Crag to get
him into some good steady place where there would be no prejudice
against him, and yet where he would be looked after with some
strictness. I don't myself believe there's any harm in him. To tell you
the truth,' and here he hesitated a little--'to tell you the truth I
feel more anxious about Justin. There is a touch of the bully in him
that I don't like, and-- I don't feel sure that he is always quite
straightforward and truthful.'

'That would be worse than anything,' said Aunt Mattie, rather sadly. 'I
have tried to draw him and Pat more together, and I think Pat _has_ been
more companionable. But I don't feel happy about Justin, either. I don't
like his trying to stop little Rosamond's innocent chatter--it is a pity
to put it into a child's head that there _can_ be such a thing as
"tell-taleing" when children are simple and obedient.'

'Yes,' said her husband, 'I agree with you. I will think it over, and
perhaps I may manage to have some talk with Justin one of these days.
He will soon be going away to school, and if he has been getting out of
good habits at home in any way, it will not be a strengthening
preparation for the new trials and temptations of school life.'

And as Mrs. Caryll knew that she could depend upon Uncle Ted always to
do more rather than less of anything he promised, she too went to bed
that night with an easier mind, little thinking that a shock was on its
way to startle selfish Justin far more than any words, however serious
and earnest, of his uncle's.

On Saturday afternoon, as it was a fairly good day, though cold and not
without signs of snow not very far away, Mrs. Caryll and Rosamond set
off, as had been planned, for Weadmere, the other little town for
shopping in the neighbourhood. It was rather a larger place than
Crowley, though not so prettily placed, but Rosamond enjoyed the drive
in a new direction, and was eager to pay a visit to the
'toy-and-fancy-shop,' as it was called.

In those days a half-holiday once a week for shop-keepers was not as
generally the rule as it is now, but at Weadmere it had for long been
the custom to close on Thursday afternoons. And Saturday was quite a
lively day in the little town, as the country folk came in to make their
purchases for the following week. So Rosamond found it very amusing;
even at the draper's, where she went in with her aunt--and a draper's is
not usually counted an interesting kind of shop by children--she was
much entertained by watching and listening to the conversation of the
farmers' wives and others over their purchases. The way they tugged at
merino, and rubbed calico between their fingers to see that there was
not too much 'dressing' in it, made her feel as if it would be very
difficult indeed to be sure of a 'genuine article,' as the shopman
called all his stuffs in turn.

At this shop and at the toyshop, where, to her great delight, Rosamond
found just the kind and size of ball she had set her heart on for little
Gervais, the proprietor made one of his boys go out to hold the pony.
But after this Mrs. Caryll had to drive to a less busy part of the town,
to order some wire baskets to hang ferns in, at a working tinsmith's.
And here there was no odd boy in the shop. She did not like to leave
Rosamond alone outside, as she was afraid of the pony starting, but just
as she was looking about her what to do, she caught sight of a little
fellow sauntering down the street, and called out to him. He ran up at
once.

'Will you hold the pony for a few minutes?' she was saying, when
Rosamond interrupted her.

'It's Bob, auntie,' she said, 'Bob Crag. Of course he'll hold Tony, and
may I stay out? I'm quite warm, and I've got the parcels all nicely
packed under the rug.'

'Very well,' replied Mrs. Caryll, for she knew the tinsmith's would not
be interesting to her little niece, and with a friendly nod to Bob, who
was tugging at his cap, she went into the shop, or workroom, for it was
scarcely like a shop.

Miss Mouse was quite excited at meeting Bob.

'How funny for you to be here,' she said. 'Have you come to do some
messages for your grandmother?'

'No thank you, miss,' said the boy, meaning to be very polite. 'Granny
buys all she wants at Crowley; no, I didn't come here for no messages of
hers.'

Something in the sound of his voice made the little girl look at him
more closely, and she saw that he had been crying, though he turned away
quickly and began fiddling at the pony's harness as an excuse for
hiding his face. But Miss Mouse was not going to be put off like that.

[Illustration: 'BOB,' SHE SAID, HE PRETENDED NOT TO HEAR HER.]

'Bob,' she said. He pretended not to hear her.

'Bob,' again more loudly and determinedly this time.

'Beg pardon, miss, did you speak?' said the boy.

'Yes, Bob, I did, and you heard me. You were only pretending not to,
because you didn't want me to see that there's something the matter with
you. Look at me, Bob,' and he dared not disobey. When Rosamond spoke in
that queenly way she was very awe-inspiring.

'I see,' she said, 'you have been crying, Bob. Now what is the matter?
Have you been doing anything naughty, or what is it?'

He brushed his coat sleeve across his eyes, and tried to choke down a
sob.

'No, miss,' he managed at last to get out; 'leastways I never meant to
do anything wrong-- I never did, for certain sure, I never did. And I
dursn't tell you, miss, for fear of worser trouble-- I really dursn't,
unless----' he looked up, his eyes brimming over--his sweet, pathetic
dark eyes; and Rosamond's tender heart grew very sore.

'Unless what?' she said.

''Twouldn't be right to say it, I don't think,' he replied hesitatingly;
''twas only if you'd not mind promising not to tell--it'd make such a
trouble up to Moor Edge. I dursn't try to see Master Justin, and I don't
believe he can do aught to put it right. But poor granny, she'd be that
worrited, and I know she's a bit short just now.'

'Short of what? What do you mean?' asked the little girl.

'Short of money, miss, to be sure,' replied Bob. 'I dursn't ask her for
it--it'd put her about so, and she'd worry terrible about it all.'

'But I don't understand what it is,' said Rosamond. 'I do wish you'd
explain quickly.' Then, as a sudden idea flashed into her mind--'Oh,'
she exclaimed, 'can it be about the ferrets? Have you got into trouble
about them? If you have, it's all Justin's fault, and he should get you
out of it.'

Again Bob brushed his sleeve across his eyes.

'He's done all he could, he has indeed, miss,' he said. 'It's them I
bought the creatures from that's making all the trouble--there's stories
about, you see, again' me--that I've been ferreting for rabbits--and
that'd be _stealing_; and the man who sold them to me says he'll have me
up for it if I don't pay all that's still owing very first thing
to-morrow morning. And he's put on to the price--he has for sure, though
he says he hasn't. It's six shilling still to pay, and how or where I'm
to get it, goodness only knows,' and here Bob's feelings entirely
overcame him, and he burst into tears.

Miss Mouse had hard work to keep back her own--she could not bear to see
the change in the poor boy, who had always before seemed so full of life
and spirits. And she knew that all he had done and risked had been out
of his unselfish devotion to Justin. Half unconsciously her hand went
into her pocket, where, safely nestling, was her little purse; but she
did not draw it out, for she remembered that it only contained sixpence.
Miss Mouse was a careful little person; she kept her money in a tiny
cash-box, and only took out what she needed to use. The ball for Gervais
had cost a shilling, and she had brought eighteenpence with her.

'Six shillings,' she repeated, 'it's a lot of money!'

'That it is,' said Bob, with despair in his voice.

Miss Mouse considered. She had been hoping to have ten shillings for her
Christmas presents. There was still to come her December pocket-money,
out of which she was expected to buy her gloves, and in the country, as
she had told Aunt Mattie, gloves last much longer, so that she was not
far off her goal. But six shillings! That would leave her at most only
four. It was something very like a sob that the little maiden choked
down before she spoke again.

'Bob,' she said, 'I'll-- I'll lend it you--or give it you, for I don't
see how you can ever pay it me back, unless--unless Justin does,' and,
to tell the truth, she had small hopes of Justin. He was selfish and
thoughtless.

Bob looked up at her with brimming over eyes.

'Miss-- O miss!' was all he could say.

'Yes,' she repeated, 'I'll give it you. I couldn't bear you to get into
trouble, or for poor Nance to be unhappy. She's been so good to us. I
haven't got the money with me. We must plan how you can fetch it, for I
suppose you must have it to-night?'

'Or to-morrow morning, miss, so early that I couldn't disturb you. Yes,
to-night would be best, and I _will_ pay it you back, miss, first
earnings as ever I get. You'll see--but--but won't your folk--beg
pardon--won't the lady and gentleman at Caryll Place be angry with you,
miss?'

Rosamond considered.

'No,' she replied, 'it's my very own money. But don't trouble about that
part of it, Bob. I'll take care not to get you into any fresh trouble,
nor,' with a little smile, 'myself either.'

And in her own mind Miss Mouse decided that once she was sure poor Bob
was safe, she would tell Aunt Mattie 'all about it.' 'I don't think that
would be a wrong kind of tell-taleing,' she decided. 'It wouldn't be
right not to tell, for Justin shouldn't have risked poor Bob's getting
into trouble. I'll tell auntie _everything_, and then she'll know how to
do without making Justin angry with Bob.'

And when Mrs. Caryll came out of the tinsmith's Bob was standing quietly
by the pony's head--he had quite left off crying. She thanked him with a
pleasant nod and smile, and hoped she had not kept him waiting too long.

'I didn't give him anything for holding Tony,' she said to Rosamond. 'I
think perhaps it would have hurt his feelings.'

'Oh, I'm sure he'd rather do it for nothing, auntie,' answered the
little girl.

But she said no more about Bob. She meant to do right, and she thought
she was doing right, but yet it gave her a rather unhappy feeling not
to be able at once to tell her aunt the whole story.

She had planned with Bob to meet him that very evening with the money,
so she was glad that Mrs. Caryll, finding it a little later than she
thought, drove home at a good pace.



CHAPTER XII

OUT ON THE MOOR


Uncle Ted was on the look-out for them when they got home.

'It's cold, isn't it?' he said. 'Still I don't think we shall have snow
just yet,' and he glanced up at the sky. 'I want you, as soon as you can
spare me a few minutes, Mattie, to look over these letters we were
speaking about.'

'I shall be down directly,' said Mrs. Caryll. 'Run off, Rosamond dear,
and get ready for your tea. It is pretty sure to be ready for you.'

And so it was. Everything seemed to fit in for the little girl's plans.
The maid who waited on her was not in Rosamond's own room when she went
upstairs, so Miss Mouse contented herself with taking off her hat and
jacket, keeping on her boots to be ready for her expedition to meet Bob.
She also got out a fur-lined cloak, which had been put away as too
shabby for anything but a wrap, and a little close-fitting fur cap to
match. These she carried downstairs and hid them in a corner of the sofa
in the small breakfast-room which was considered her own quarters. And
safe in her pocket nestled her oldest purse--Miss Mouse liked to have
'best' and 'common' among nearly all her possessions--containing the
exact sum, six shillings, which she had promised Bob.

She ate her tea quickly; her little heart was beating faster than usual
with excitement, some fear, and a good deal of real regret at having to
part with her precious savings, though, on the other hand, there was a
feeling of great pleasure at being able to get poor Bob out of trouble,
and to save his kind old grandmother the distress of mind she would
certainly have felt.

For, as I have said before, Miss Mouse was a very sensible little girl.
She quite understood that any trouble of the kind would have done
special harm to poor Nance and her grandson, on account of the prejudice
already felt against them.

Her heart began to beat still more quickly when she found herself out of
doors, and though she was so warmly wrapped up, a queer cold feeling
ran down her back, and her arms seemed all shivery.

'I'll take a good run,' she thought. 'That will make me feel better, and
I've scarcely walked or run at all to-day.'

So it did. She was a strong little girl in many ways, and accustomed to
plenty of exercise, and the keen fresh air soon made her glow all over,
as she ran along the smooth, hard road.

Bob had fixed on a certain corner as the best meeting-place. This was
the end of a short lane, which led on to the moor at a point Rosamond
had never come out at. But it was easy to find, and a short distance
farther on, by following one of the small paths in a line with the lane,
the boy had explained to her that she would soon come to a sort of dip
in the ground, where there was a thick clump of shrubs.

'And there, missie, if I don't meet you before, you'll be certain sure
to see me a-comin' over from the other side, as fast as I can get along.
It won't be dark by then--and p'raps it'll be a moonlight night, unless
the clouds thicken up for snow.'

It did seem, all the same, rather gloomy in the lane--'because of the
trees and the hedges,' thought Miss Mouse--and certainly when she got
to the end and came out on the moor, it looked a little lighter.

She stood still and looked about her, drawing a deep breath. But she
felt a little disappointed; the moor here seemed quite different from up
at Moor Edge--it was so much lower, more like a rough field.

'I don't care for it a bit down here,' she thought. 'And then it's so
much, much farther to get to, than at the boys'. Why, there you run
almost straight out of the garden on to the dear real moor. I quite know
the way Archie and the others feel about it.'

She trotted on--straight on, as Bob had directed, and before very long
she came to the little hollow with the clump of bushes in the centre
which he had described. But there was no Bob there, and at first her
heart went down a little--supposing he had not been able to come,
supposing the people he owed the money to had refused after all to wait
till to-morrow morning, and had done something dreadful--put him in
prison, perhaps, for Miss Mouse's ideas as to what might or might not be
done to people, poor boys especially, who owed money, were very vague,
or gone to frighten old Nance--oh dear, dear, what a pity it was,
thought the little girl, that she had not taken her purse and all her
riches with her to Weadmere that afternoon. Then she might have given
Bob the six shillings at once, and not run any risk of delay, or have
needed to come out to meet him in the--yes, it was almost getting to be
the dark--and Rosamond gave a little shiver. But at that moment a
welcome sound fell on her ears--the sound of rapidly running feet. She
heard the boy before she saw him, but he it was. A small dark figure,
darker than the dusky ground, soon became visible, running as fast as he
could, and, as soon as he caught sight of her, calling out breathlessly,
'O miss, O miss, have you been waiting long?' and as soon as he came
nearer, out poured a torrent of explanations as to how they had kept him
waiting and waiting for the things he had been at Weadmere to fetch for
the 'missus' at the farm where he worked.

'Well, never mind now,' said sensible Miss Mouse, 'I've got the money
all right. Here it is, Bob, just exactly six shillings. I did it up into
a little packet inside my purse, but you can count it if you like.'

'No, no, thank you, miss,' said the boy. 'I'm sure it's all right, and
as like's not if we undid it, it'd drop out, and we'd have hard work to
find it again in this brushwood. No, it's sure to be all right--and I'll
never be able to thank you enough, that I won't, not if I live to be as
old as gran herself.'

He was intensely grateful, there was no mistake about that, and already
the little girl felt rewarded for the sacrifice she had made. Bob was
evidently anxious too to get off, as he was still carrying the packages
he had been to fetch, having come by this very roundabout way from the
town, and he was anxious, too, to get 'miss' home, for fear of her being
'scolded' through what she had so kindly done for him.

They turned to go.

'I wish you could come home with me, Bob,' said Rosamond, 'it does look
so dark. I don't mind here or on the road. It's the bit of lane that's
so dark.'

Bob looked about and considered.

'I'm afraid I just dursn't go round by your place, miss,' he said. 'I
must run all the way or the missus'll be terrible put out, though----'

'No, no,' interrupted the little lady. 'I wouldn't let you. Why, it
would be worse than owing the money for the ferrets if you got scolded
and lost your place perhaps----'

'I have it,' exclaimed the boy. 'If you don't mind comin' out a bit
farther up the road, you needn't have no lane at all. And I daresay
it'll be quicker in the end, for you'd almost have to _feel_ your way
along the lane by now--it is a very dark bit, I know. And I can run with
you till I put you on the straight path to the road.'

'Oh yes,' said Rosamond gladly, 'I'd far rather do that. Come along
quick then, Bob.'

He set off, running, though not nearly as fast as before, in front of
her, looking back every moment or two to see if she was following all
right. Neither spoke, as Rosamond did not want to waste either her own
or her companion's breath.

'I shall have to run as fast as ever I can when I get on to the smooth
road,' she thought.

So for upwards of a quarter of a mile the two trotted on in silence,
till Bob pulled up.

'Miss,' he said, 'this is where I have to turn.' As a matter of fact he
had been out of his way till now. 'If you go straight on, you can't miss
now. See,' and he pointed before him in the gloom, 'the hedge stops a
bit farther on, and there's a clear piece of grass on to the road.'

'Ye-es,' said Miss Mouse, peering before her, 'I think I see.'

'Anyway you'll see it all right as soon as you come to it, and you go
straight till then.'

'Yes, yes,' said Rosamond, anxious to see him off. 'Take care of the
money, Bob, and the first time we go to see your grandmother I shall
expect to hear from you that it's all right. Now, run off as fast as you
can and I will too.'

He started at a good pace, and as Miss Mouse trotted in the opposite
direction, from time to time she looked over her shoulder, till the
ever-lessening black speck that she knew to be Bob had altogether melted
into the gloom. Bob's eyes were keener than hers; as he ran, he too kept
glancing backwards to watch the little figure of the child towards whom
his wild but true heart was bursting with gratitude. He distinguished
her for some distance, and when he lost sight of her it seemed to be
rather suddenly, and for a moment or two, hurried though he was, he
stood still with a slight misgiving.

'I saw her half a minute ago,' he thought. 'She must have set to
running very fast. I hope nothing's wrong. She can't have fallen and
hurt herself,' and at the mere idea he had to put force on himself not
to rush back again to see. 'Oh no, it can't be that--why, if she'd hurt
herself, she'd have called out and I'd have heard her. It's got so
still--and oh, my, it's cold. I shouldn't wonder if it started snowing
before morning.'

And off set Bob again, with a lighter heart than if he had yielded to
his impulse and run back, setting his 'missus's' scolding at defiance,
to see that no misadventure had happened to his generous little lady.

Alas! this was what had happened--in the gloom, fast turning into night,
even out here on the open ground it was impossible to see clearly where
one was going. It was even more dangerous in a sense than if it had been
quite dark, for then Miss Mouse would have stepped more cautiously. But
as all was open before her she ran fearlessly, forgetting that here and
there across the white sandy path the low-growing little plants which
mingled with the heather and bracken sent a trail across to the other
side, in which nothing was easier than to catch one's foot. Once or
twice she nearly did so, but no harm coming of it, she paid no
attention to the momentary trip up, and ran on again fearlessly, even
faster than before. So that when a worse catch came--a long, sturdy
branch sprawling right across, which clutched at the dainty little foot,
refusing to let it go--she fell, poor darling, with a good deal of
violence, twisting her ankle as she did so in a way which hurt her
terribly. At first she thought she had broken her leg, but the pain went
off a little after she had lain still for a few minutes, and she began
to take heart again and managed to get up. It was really not a bad
sprain--scarcely a sprain at all--but she was tired and cold and a
little frightened, for it was now so dark, and the fall had jarred her
all over; her head felt giddy and confused.

What happened was not, I think, to be wondered at--poor Miss Mouse took
a wrong path, and instead of keeping straight on in the line Bob had
started her, she turned, without knowing it, almost directly sideways.
For two of the little paths crossed each other, as ill-luck would have
it, close to where she had fallen.

Her ankle was not so very painful; with care not to turn her foot in one
particular way, she found she could hobble on pretty well. But, oh dear,
how far off the road seemed! And Bob had told her she would reach it
in a few minutes. And _how_ cold it was--were those flakes of snow
falling on her face? She wished now that she had called out very loudly
when she fell-- Bob might have heard her; but she had been afraid of
getting him into great trouble at the farm if he had run back to her and
made himself so late. Now she began to feel as if that wouldn't have
mattered--Uncle Ted would have put it right somehow for him--nothing
would matter much if she _could_ but get to the road and know that home
was straight before her. Perhaps some cart would come past and she would
get the man to stop and take her in--for oh, she _was_ so tired! She
walked more and more slowly, and at last--

[Illustration: AND--WERE THOSE SNOW-FLAKES AGAIN?]

'I _must_ sit down and rest for a minute,' she thought, 'even if it is
cold, and p'raps if I can unfasten my boot, it wouldn't hurt so.'
Yes--it was delicious to sit still, even for a minute, and--were those
snow-flakes again, or leaves? No--it couldn't be leaves; there were no
trees about here--how stupid of her to think--to think what? Of course
it couldn't be leaves, or flakes--she was in bed. They--they couldn't
get in through the window, could they? She must be dreaming--how silly
she was--how----

       *       *       *       *       *

'What is the matter? What do you say?' asked Mr. Hervey that evening
about eight o'clock, when, with a startled face, the footman came into
the drawing-room, where he and Mrs. Hervey and the three elder boys were
sitting.

'It's a groom from Caryll Place, if you please, sir,' the man replied.
'They've sent over to say as Miss Rosamond, little Miss Caryll, can't be
found, and do the young gentlemen know anything about it?'

All the Herveys started to their feet, with different exclamations of
distress.

'_Rosamond_, little Rosamond,' cried Mrs. Hervey.

'Miss Mouse _lost_!' exclaimed the boys, while Mr. Hervey went to the
door, and called to the Caryll Place groom, who was standing, anxious
and uneasy, at the door which led to the offices.

'What's all this?' he inquired.

The man came forward and told all there was to tell. Miss Rosamond had
been at Weadmere with Mrs. Caryll that afternoon, had driven home, had
her tea as usual, etc. All that we know already. But when the time came
for her to be dressed to go down to the dining-room, she was not to be
found. They had searched the house through, thinking she might be
playing some trick, though it wasn't like her to do so; then the
grounds, making inquiries at the cottages about--all in vain; and now he
had been sent off here with some hope--what, he did not know--that at
Moor Edge he might hear something.

'Of course not,' Mr. Hervey replied impatiently, for he was very
troubled and it made him cross, 'we should not have kept her here
without sending word at once.'

He glanced at the boys--they were all three standing there, pale-faced
and open-mouthed, Archie on the point of tears.

'Go back at once, and say we know nothing,' Mr. Hervey went on, 'but
that I am following with Mr. Justin to help in the search.'

'Papa, papa, mayn't we come too?' Pat and Archie entreated, but their
father shook his head, and in five minutes he and Jus were off in the
dog-cart to Caryll.

Justin was very silent.

'Can you think of anywhere she can be?' asked his father, 'or any
explanation? The child can't be stolen--what good would it do any one to
steal her?'

Justin was in some ways a slow-witted boy.

'I can't think of anything, I'm sure,' he said. But a confused feeling
was working at the back of his mind. _Could_ it have anything to do with
Bob and the ferrets? He knew that Bob was getting anxious as to paying
the rest of the money, though he did not know how bad this anxiety had
become--he knew, too, that he himself had been selfish and to some
extent deceitful in the matter. But he could not see clearly how the two
troubles could be mixed up, so he put the idea out of his mind, not
sorry to do so--that was Justin's way.

'No, I can't think of anything,' he repeated.

It had been snowing lightly, and now again a few flakes began to fall.

'Do you think it's coming on to snow, papa?' he inquired, partly to
change the subject, partly because it came into his mind--for he was not
a heartless boy--that _if_ Miss Mouse was lost anywhere out of doors a
snowstorm would certainly not mend matters.

Mr. Hervey looked up with some anxiety.

'No,' he said, 'I think not, and I certainly hope not if that poor child
is by any chance out of doors.'

They were soon at Caryll Place. Here all was miserable anxiety, for so
far no traces of the poor little girl were to be found, though there
were men out in all directions. Mr. Caryll had been out some distance
himself, but had just come back for a moment to see Aunt Mattie before
driving off to Weadmere to speak to the police. Aunt Mattie, choking
down her tears, repeated to Justin's father all there was to tell--how
Miss Mouse must have gone out of her own accord, as her warm cloak and
cap were missing, and how she had evidently not wanted any one to know,
adding, 'The _only_ thing at all unusual to-day was our meeting Bob Crag
in the town, and Rosamond may have been talking to him while I was in
the shop. _Can_ he have anything to do with it? Justin, you know him
well?'

She looked keenly at Justin, and she fancied he grew red. He hesitated
before answering.

'I-- I don't see how, auntie,' he said at last. Then he went on more
courageously. 'Bob is quite a good boy--he really is, though people
speak against him. I'm sure he _never_ would have tried to get money
from--from Miss Mouse, in any naughty way, or anything like that,' and,
in spite of himself, his voice faltered as he uttered the pet name of
their little friend.

His father turned upon him sharply.

'Get money from her,' he repeated. 'What do you mean? What put such a
thing in your head?'

'I-- I don't----' Justin was beginning, when Uncle Ted interrupted.

'I think we are wasting time,' he said; 'the whys and wherefores can be
gone into afterwards--the thing to do first is to find our poor darling.
If there is the least chance of the Crags knowing anything about her
some one had better go there at once. Mattie, I wonder you did not
mention the boy, Bob, having spoken to her this afternoon, before?'

'It only now came into my mind,' she replied gently. She was too unhappy
to feel hurt at Uncle Ted's tone; she knew he was so terribly unhappy
himself. Justin felt himself growing more and more miserable.

'Uncle Ted,' he exclaimed, 'may I go to the Crags? I can run very
quickly, and----.' But his uncle and father had already left the hall,
where they had all been standing, and had gone off again, probably to
give fresh orders in the stables. Only Aunt Mattie was still there, and
she had sat down on a chair by the large fire and was shading her eyes
with her hand. She was feeling dreadfully tired and more and more
wretched.

'If the darling has been out in the cold all this time,' she was saying
to herself, 'it is enough to kill her, even if no accident has happened
to her,' and all sorts of miserable thoughts came into her mind--of the
letters that might have to be written to Rosamond's father and mother,
telling--oh, it was too dreadful to think of _what_ might not have to be
told! She sat there motionless, except that now and then she shivered,
though not with cold. Justin saw that she was not thinking of or
noticing him at all, and he suddenly made up his mind to wait no longer.
He crossed the hall softly, and in another moment was out in the dark
drive in front of the house, unseen by any one. But once there, he
turned quickly, and ran, at the top of his speed, his eyes, as he went,
growing accustomed to the gloom, in the direction of the bit of lane
leading towards the moor, which Miss Mouse had traversed a few hours
earlier. Thence--as Justin knew well, even by the little light there
was--he could, by careful noticing of some landmarks, make his way to
the 'real' moor, as the boys called it, for the more or less grassy part
nearer Caryll Place they did not think worthy of the name, and reach the
Crags' cottage more quickly than it could be got to by the road.

He ran, steadily and not too fast, for he had a good deal of common
sense and did not want to exhaust his 'wind' before he had reached his
goal. And well it was that he kept his pace moderate and was able to
look about him as he ran, for it was lighter out here and he had good
eyes. What was that? A dark thick clump of--of what? No, there was
something different about this object, and, eager as he was to get to
his destination, the boy slackened his pace, hesitated, then dashed off,
at full speed this time, in the direction of the something that had
caught his sight.

Some snow had fallen, and now again flakes began to show themselves on
his jacket. There were white dashes, too, on the strange, motionless
shape he was making for. Was it setting in for a snowstorm? the boy
asked himself with a curious anxiety, for there are times at which our
thoughts seem to run before our reason. If so--and if--no, he would not
think of such dreadful things; he would first--he was running now too
fast to think--and--a minute more and he was stooping over the silent,
dead-still figure of the faithful little girl. For it was Miss Mouse,
her face as white as the snow, which, had it fallen already, as it was
now beginning to do, would have covered her more completely than the
robins covered the long-ago baby pair in the old forest; would have
hidden her till it was indeed too late.

'Thank God,' whispered Justin, as he thought this; and perhaps it was
the very first time he had _felt_ what these two words mean. But then
terror seized him again, was it already too late?

He rubbed her little hands, he called her by name, his hot boy's tears
fell on her cold white face. He did not yet understand how it had all
come about, but something seemed to tell him that his selfish
thoughtlessness had to do with it. But there was no answer, no movement.

'She will die,' he thought, 'if she is not dead. I must carry her.'

He lifted her, though with difficulty, and glanced about him. Oh, joy!
they were nearer Bob's cottage than he had thought; he stood still and
whistled, the peculiar 'call' his brothers and he used for each other,
and that Bob, too, knew. Then he moved on again, though but slowly--now
and then it seemed scarcely more than a totter, his legs trembled so,
and Rosamond was so strangely heavy. But it was not for long in reality,
though it seemed to him hours, before help reached him. A figure came
rushing across the moor, and a voice called out loudly,

'Who is it? What is the matter? It's not--oh, Master Justin, is it you?
And--no, no, don't say it's the little lady-- I've killed her, I've
killed her. It's all my fault.'

       *       *       *       *       *

It was in kind old Nance's cottage that the little girl came back to
consciousness. Bob's grandmother was clever and skilful, and, though
sadly alarmed at first, soon saw that the two boys' very natural terror
was greater than need be. The child was in a sort of stupor from cold
and fright and pain too, for her ankle had swelled badly by this time,
from the pressure of her boot. But careful management brought her round,
and she was soon able to look about her and to drink the wonderful herb
tea of some kind which Nance prepared. And then she sat up and explained
what she could of how the misadventure had come to pass, helped by Bob,
whom she glanced at doubtfully, till he said out manfully,

'Tell it all, miss, tell it all. It's me that's to blame, only me.'

But no, it was not only at poor Bob's door that lay the blame, and so
Justin well knew, and so Justin had the honesty to confess when the
anxiety and distress were to some extent past, though for a few days
great care had to be taken of little Rosamond.

It would be difficult to describe the joy with which Uncle Ted carried
her off to the carriage waiting at the nearest point on the road,
wrapped up in his strong arms so that she _couldn't_ get chilled again,
or Aunt Mattie and the Herveys' delight at the happy news of the little
lost one being found. These things are more difficult to _tell_ than to
picture to oneself.

So, too, it would be difficult to relate the change in Justin which
those who cared for him always dated from the night on which Miss Mouse
was lost--the night of which, had worse come of it to the kind little
girl, he would never have been able to think without misery beyond
words.

The ferrets were paid for, of course, though not with Rosamond's money,
which was now happily spent on her Christmas presents. But though paid
for, Justin's pets were soon sold again, and replaced by some more
lovable and attractive creatures, whom his mother and Miss Mouse and
everybody could take pleasure in too. I rather think the new treasures
were some particularly pretty guinea-pigs--curly-haired ones; though to
be quite sure of this I should have to apply to some boys and girls of
my acquaintance whose grandfather has often told them the long-ago story
of Miss Mouse and the good that came of her gentle influence on him and
his brothers when they were all children together.

And dear Miss Mouse herself--what of her? Where is she now? It is so
many years ago, is she still alive?

Yes. I have nothing sad with which to end my little story. She is now,
what most of you, I daresay, would consider a very old lady, for her
hair is quite white, though her pretty gray eyes are as clear as ever.
Not that they have not known tears, those kind eyes, many tears, I
daresay, for the sorrows of others more than for her own, perhaps. Life
would not be what it has to be, what God means it to be, without tears
as well as smiles.

And Bob Crag. You will not be surprised to hear that Uncle Ted took him
thoroughly in hand, and that the wild but affectionate boy grew up to be
a good and useful man.



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