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´╗┐Title: Better than Play
Author: Quiller-Couch, Mabel, 1866-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Better than Play" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Illustration: "Flowers, Ma'am?  Tuppence and a penny a bunch."
(Artist unattrib.)



BETTER THAN PLAY.

By

MABEL QUILLER-COUCH.

Author of "A waif and a Welcome," "Zach and Debby,"
"The Story of Jessie," etc.


LONDON
THE RELIGIOUS TRACT SOCIETY
4 Bouverie Street and 65 St. Paul's Churchyard, E.C.4



CONTENTS.

Chapter.


I.     WASHING DAY TEMPERS.

II.    HOW THE DAY ENDED.

III.   THE LITTLE HERB-BED.

IV.    SAGE BUSHES AND ROSE BUSHES.

V.     WHAT AUNT MAGGIE SUGGESTED.

VI.    FIRST CUSTOMERS.

VII.   WHAT LAY BEYOND THE MILESTONE.

VIII.  ROCKET'S HELP IS REQUIRED.

IX.    HOME AGAIN.

X.     CHRISTMAS.

XI.    A STEP FORWARD.

XII.   SUCCESS.



CHAPTER I.

WASHING DAY TEMPERS.


Down at the Henders' cottage all was misery and discomfort; the house was
full of bad temper, steam, and the smell of soap-suds.  It was
washing-day, and the children hated washing-day.  For one thing, Aunt Emma
was always very cross, and for another, they never knew what to do with
themselves.  They were not allowed indoors, for they "choked up the
place," she said, "and there wasn't room to move,"; so they had to stay
outside; but they must make no noise, for she could not bear it, and they
must not wander away to play, for they might be wanted at any minute, to
run an errand, or chop up a few sticks.  Bella, too, the eldest of them
all, was needed every now and again to hang a few things on the bushes;
but that was all the break they had in the weary day.

Bella often wished her aunt would let her do more to help her.  She was
sure she could, and it would have been ever so much more pleasant than
standing around seeing everything go wrong, yet doing nothing.

Her aunt was always scolding her for being idle, and grumbling at the
amount of work she herself had to do; yet, if Bella attempted to help in
any way, there was a great to-do, and her aunt grew so angry about it that
Bella soon gave up attempting.  It grieved her dreadfully, though.
The home had been so different when her mother was alive, so neat and
pretty, and all of them so happy.

There had rarely been any scolding, and certainly there was never any
grumbling about the work.

"Why, work is pleasure, if you take it in the right spirit," Mrs. Hender
used to say, cheerfully; "it means life and happiness--but everything
depends, of course, on the spirit in which you take it."

Certainly Aunt Emma did not take it in 'the right spirit.'  She was always
grumbling, and never what you would call cheerful.  If she had to go up
the few stairs to the bedrooms, she grumbled, and if she had to go to the
door to answer a knock, she grumbled.  If the children used an extra cup,
or the windows got dirty, or the steps muddy, she complained bitterly of
the hardship it was to her.  And few things are harder to bear than to
have to live with a perpetual grumbler, to listen to constant complaints,
--especially, too, if the grumbler will not let any one help her to do the
work she grumbles so much about.  A grumbler spoils every one's pleasure,
and gets none herself; and the worst of it is, it is a disease that grows
on one terribly.

In the Henders' case it was doing great harm, as Bella was old enough to
see.  Her father had always, in the old days, come home after his work,
and, after they had all had a cosy meal together, had worked in the garden
through the summer evenings, or, in the winter, sat by the fire reading
the paper or a book to his wife while she sewed.  He had long since ceased
all that, though, for one can't sit and read in any comfort in a kitchen
that's all of a muddle, and to a woman who is grumbling all the time; and
soon he found there was a cosy, quiet resting-place at the 'Red Lion,'
with plenty of cheerfulness and good temper, and no grumbling.

The children, too, never came indoors if they could stay out, and as Aunt
Emma complained of their noise if they played in the garden, they
naturally went farther away, if they could manage to escape.

But for Bella, this was not so easy.  She was useful, though her aunt
would never admit it, and she liked to have her within call.  There was
nowhere that Bella cared to go, except to Mrs. Langley's, farther down the
lane, and thither Miss Hender did not allow her to go very often, though
no one knew why.

Mrs. Langley, or 'Aunt Maggie,' as the children had been taught to call
her, had been their mother's greatest friend and nearest neighbour,
and during their mother's lifetime they had felt almost as much at home in
her house as in their own.  Little Margaret, indeed, had been called after
her.

Altogether life was very, very different now, and to Bella's mind the
present seemed anything but a happy time.

She sat on the step to-day, and looked soberly at the sky.  The weather
was dull and gloomy, with a moisture in the air which would entirely keep
the clothes from drying; and a bad drying day is in itself enough to try
the temper of the most amiable of washerwomen.

"Oh, I do wish the sun would shine," she thought anxiously; "it would make
such a difference."  Bella spent her days in a state of mingled hope and
dread--hope that things would happen to please her aunt, and dread of
things happening to ruffle her.

The baker's cart drew up at the gate, and the man, springing lightly down,
came up the garden-path with a basket of loaves.  "Now she will be vexed
at having to answer the door," thought Bella.  "I wish I knew what bread
to take in."

That, however, was more than she dare do, so she contented herself with
going in, to warn her aunt of the baker's approach.

"The baker is coming, Aunt Emma," she said quietly.

"Well, s'posing he is!  Surely you'm old enough to take the bread from
him; or do you want me to do it while you look on?  It won't soil your
hands to touch a loaf of bread."

"How many loaves shall I take in?" asked Bella patiently.

"Oh, I don't know!  I don't know what we've got, and I can't stay to see.
Three would do, I should hope."

Bella looked at the baker's basket, and her spirit sank; there were pale
loaves and brown ones, and loaves of all shapes.  Which should she take?
Which would please her aunt?  At last she picked up what she thought was a
nice tempting-looking one.  Surely that would do for one, she thought.

The baker interposed.  "Miss Hender don't like that shape," he said
shortly; "she thinks 'em too crusty.  Most folks prefer 'em," he added
meaningly.

Bella laid down the loaf and took up another.

"Miss Hender don't----" the man began again, but stopped.  What did it
matter to him, he thought, what the cross-grained woman liked or didn't
like?  He had trouble enough when she came to the door herself; so he
hastily put two other loaves in Bella's hands, and left as quickly as he
could.

Of course, when Aunt Emma caught sight of the loaves, there was a nagging
and a scolding.  They were wrong in shape and colour and size, and
everything else.  "I should have thought a great girl like you might have
known the kind of loaf we generally have, and not have taken in such
things as those!"

"As you are always complaining of those we do have, I thought you'd like a
change," was the retort that trembled on Bella's lips, but she kept the
words back.  "I thought these looked nice," was all she said.

Indeed, they looked so nice and smelt so deliciously, she could have eaten
a large crust of one then and there.  She was very hungry, poor child; but
on washing-days the children were not expected to be hungry, and, as a
rule, no meal was got for any one between breakfast and the evening one,
when their father came home.  On washing-days nothing could be attended to
but the washing.

Bella heard little Margery crying softly in the garden.  The child was
hungry too, she knew.  She was but four years old, and she needed
something.  Bella's heart ached for her baby sister, the little one who
had been the pet and darling of the household during her mother's
lifetime.  As she listened to the plaintive crying, the thought would come
into her mind, "What would her mother feel if she knew that her baby was
hungry, and neglected and unhappy?" and at last she could bear the thought
and the crying no longer.  Summoning up all her courage, she went out to
the scullery, where her aunt was bustling about, grumbling to herself all
the time.

"Aunt Emma," she said half-timidly, "may I give Margery something to eat?
She is so hungry.  I hear her crying."

Miss Hender did not answer.  "Have you seen the poker?" she demanded,
impatiently.  "One of those boys has walked off with it, I'll be bound!
and here is my fire going out for the want of a stirring up.  How anybody
can be expected to get on where there's a parcel of children----"

"I am sure the boys haven't had it, Aunt Emma," declared Bella patiently.
"I saw it here just now, and they haven't moved from the garden; they've
been reading all the morning."

"Well, I can't waste any more time," cried the angry woman, "I'll take
this," and impetuously catching up the stick that she used for lifting the
clothes out of the copper, she thrust it into the fire.

Bella stood by wondering and embarrassed.  The fire burnt up the better
for its stirring, it is true, but the stick was ruined for its usual
purpose.  Blackened and charred as it was, it was only fit for putting
back into the fire again as fuel.  Even to Bella's childish mind the
foolishness and wickedness of such a hasty action was only too plain.

A moment later, when the copper-stick itself was wanted, it was unusable,
and there was no other at hand.  One would have to be bought, or made,
or found.  While looking for something that would do in place of it, the
poker was found lying on the table, amongst the pans and things littered
there.  This only made Miss Hender more irritable than before.

"To think it should have been there all the time, and me wasting all that
time looking for it!" she exclaimed, as indignantly as though the poker
were actually to blame.

In the corner of the scullery was a chair with one leg loose, waiting for
the father to find time to mend it.  Miss Hender's flashing eye fell on
this, and seizing the leg and plunging it into the boiling copper, she
lifted out the clothes into the washing-tray with it.  The chair leg was
dusty and it was covered with yellow varnish and paint, but in her foolish
and senseless rage she never stopped to think of this, and for months and
months after the stains on the clothing stood as a reminder and a
reproach, for not even time and frequent washings could remove them
altogether.

Bella turned away miserable enough.  The chair was ruined, of course, as
well as the clothes, and she was old enough to understand the wicked waste
such an outburst of temper may cause.

"It was one of those mother saved up for and bought," she said to herself,
the tears welling up in her eyes, "and she was so proud of them.
I wish father had mended it at once, then it wouldn't have been lying
about in the scullery, in her way."

A voice from the garden, though, drove the other thoughts from her mind;
it was Margery's calling softly to her, "Bella, I'm so hungry.  Give
Margery something to eat, she's so hungry."

Bella's misery deepened to anger against the cause of all this
wretchedness; the bad-tempered woman who was spoiling all their happiness.

"It isn't her house," she argued to herself; "it's father's house, and
ours, and I am sure he wouldn't have Margery or any of us go hungry.
It is cruel to starve a little thing like that, and I've a good mind to go
to the larder and get her something to eat."

But fear of the storm such an act would raise, and fear lest some of it
should fall on Margery, a feeling of respect too for her aunt's authority,
kept her from doing this, but did not lessen her determination to relieve
her little sister's wants, and an idea came to her that sent her quickly
to the garden with a brightened face.

"Tom," she said softly to the elder of her two brothers, "Margery is so
hungry, and I believe there won't be any dinner at all to-day.
Aunt Emma hasn't said anything about it, and she's in an awful temper."

Tom and Charlie groaned, "And we're starving!"

"I shall go and pull up a turnip to eat," said Charlie defiantly.
"I wish the apples were big enough to be any good."

"I wish I'd got a penny to buy some buns," said Tom.

Bella's face grew thoughtful.  She had four-pence of her own in her
money-box, that she had been saving to buy herself a pair of gloves for
Sundays.  She had long wanted them, and twopence more would enable her to
get them, but----

"I'll give you a penny each to buy some buns," she said impulsively,
"if you will do something first, and promise to be very careful."

Of course they both promised vigorously.

"Well, I want you to take Margery down the lane to Aunt Maggie, and ask
her if she will give her something to eat.  I am sure she will, if she
knows how hungry she is.  Then you can run and buy your buns, and you must
go back and fetch Margery again, and bring her home, without Aunt Emma's
knowing anything about it.  It would only make her more angry."

Of course the boys promised again to do their best.  A whispered word
stopped Margery's wailing, the pennies were soon abstracted from the
money-box, and then the little trio made their way quietly down the
garden, and out at the gate into the lane.  Once outside their pace,
spurred by hunger, quickened considerably, and famished little Margery was
very soon sitting perfectly happy in Aunt Maggie's kitchen, with a mug of
milk before her and a large slice of bread and butter and sugar.



CHAPTER II.


HOW THE DAY ENDED.


Bella stood for a moment looking out at the cold grey sky and the
neglected garden, but her thoughts were with the children, and her ears
following the sounds of their retreating footsteps.  Her mind was greatly
relieved by the thought that they would soon be having some food.

For herself and her own hunger she did not care, and she would not let
herself think of the two pennies she had given up, and the gloves that she
had been so looking forward to possessing, but would now have to do
without.

A thrill of dread passed through her at the thought of her aunt.
Would she be very angry, she wondered, if she found out what she had done?
Most probably she would, thought Bella, though there was no harm in it.
It never occurred to her that nothing could have been much more annoying
to Miss Hender than for a neighbour to be asked to feed the children
she was supposed to be there to look after.  It was making public her
neglect and bad temper.

It would have been far better to have done the straightforward thing,
without any deception; to have gone to her bravely and asked to be allowed
to give the children some food, and have borne patiently her annoyance and
angry words.  Now Bella's great anxieties were that her aunt should not
find out that the children had gone, and that they should be back before
she should miss them.  The thought of this sent her quickly into the
house.

"Are there any more things for me to hang out, Aunt Emma?" she asked,
cheerfully.  "There seems to be a little breeze springing up."

Miss Hender, without replying, handed her a dish piled high with wet
clothes.  "Hang them so that they'll catch the wind, if there is any."
And Bella went out, anxiously wondering how one did that, but not daring
to ask her aunt.

In her perplexity she stood for a few moments looking at the garments
already on the lines, to see if some were blowing out more than others,
but, apparently, the little breeze had not power enough to stir them, and
Bella had to hang up her last load and trust to chance for its being
according to her aunt's pleasure.  She had very little hope, though, of
such good fortune.

When she got back to the kitchen again Miss Hender had emptied the tub she
had been washing at, and was preparing to dry her wrinkled, water-soaked
fingers.

"I've finished the white clothes, so now I'll see about giving you
children something to eat, before I take the coloured things out of the
copper," she said, speaking less snappishly than before.  She was, in
fact, somewhat ashamed of her recent display of temper over the missing
poker, and was anxious to make a better and more dignified impression on
Bella's mind.

All Bella felt was a great sinking of her heart.  What could she do?
What would be best?  Would it be better to confess at once and tell
exactly what had happened, or should she let her aunt go on and get the
meal, and trust to the children's being back before it was prepared,
and to the incident of the buns and bread-and-butter meal never being
found out by her?  After all, she had told them they would get no food
until the washing was all done, and no one could have guessed that she
would have changed her mind within so short a time; and there was no real
harm in Bella's putting them in the way of getting something to eat when
they were so very hungry.

So poor Bella argued and argued with herself, her courage sinking lower
with every preparation her aunt made.  If only Miss Hender had been a
little kinder to Bella, if only she had taught her to trust, and not to
fear, her, Bella would have explained then and there, and all would have
blown over.

While Bella was thinking it all out and trying to make up her mind what
she should do, she was standing idle--and that, to begin with, was not the
way to please and pacify her aunt, tired as she was with long hours of
hard work, exhausted from want of food, with her back aching, and her feet
throbbing with long standing on the stone floor.  If only Bella had made
her a cup of tea and got the simple meal ready while she sat and rested a
little, what a relief it would have been, and what good it would have done
her, but her own temper prevented that.  For one thing, Bella would not
have dared to touch anything without being told she might, and, for
another, she was so frightened now at the thought of what she had done and
of her aunt's probable anger, that she stood absorbed and perplexed,
and did not even do the things she might have done.

Naturally the weary woman grew irritated by such thoughtlessness.
"I don't know how long you expect me to wait on you!" she said tartly,
"while you stand by, too lazy even to do the little you know how to.
Go and draw a jug of water this minute, and tell the children to wash
their hands. I s'pose you're capable of doing that much."

Bella, still without explaining, took the jug and went out to the pump.
By the time she came back her aunt had cut off several slices of cold
bacon and put some on four plates, one for each of them.  Bella felt
perfectly ill with fear when she saw these preparations.

"Aunt Emma!" she began, but so tremulously that her aunt did not hear her.

"Where are the children?  Didn't you tell them?" demanded Miss Hender
tartly.

"They aren't there," stammered Bella nervously, "they haven't come
back----"

"Back from where?"--Bella's manner struck Miss Hender more than her
words--it made what was apparently a trifling matter seem important.

"I--they--they were so hungry, and--I didn't know there was going to be
any dinner, and--and I gave them money to go and get some buns."

"And you trusted those two boys to take Margery right down to the
village----"

"No," broke in Bella, anxious to explain; "they took her only as far as
Aunt Maggie's, and when they'd got their buns they were to come back there
for her, and----"

"Couldn't she have waited here for her bun?  Whatever made you send her to
Mrs. Langley's?"

Bella grew more embarrassed than ever.  "She--was so hungry," she began;
"she kept on crying for bread and butter, and I sent her to--to ask----"
but her words failed her altogether at the sight of the expression on her
aunt's face.

"You didn't send and ask Mrs. Langley to give Margery something to eat,
did you?" she demanded slowly, dwelling on each word with an emphasis that
nearly drove Bella crazy.

"I--I only--yes, I did!" the last words bursting from her as though she
could explain or justify herself no more.

Miss Hender's eyes blazed.  "You as good as told that woman that I kept
you hungry, that you hadn't food to eat, and were afraid to ask for it.
You as good as told her that I ill-treated and starved you!" her words
caught in her throat.  Step by step she had been drawing nearer to the
frightened child, her mouth set, her eyes glowing with rage.  Bella, for
the first time in her life, almost screamed with terror.

"I--I didn't mean that!" she gasped.

"You couldn't come and ask me!  You couldn't be straightforward and
honest, oh no, you must go mischief-making to that woman down the lane,
when you know I hate her!  Why," with a sudden clutch, at Bella's thin
arm, "couldn't you have come and asked me?  Answer me that!  Do you hear?
Answer me, I tell you!"

"I was afraid," stammered Bella.

"Afraid?  I'll make you afraid of me yet, you young hussy!  I'll give you
something to make you afraid of me.  I s'pose you told her, too, that I
treated you so bad you were afraid of me.  Did you tell her that, too?
Answer me!" giving Bella another shake.

Bella's fear gave way to anger.  "There was no need to," she said cruelly.
"Everybody knows it."

The next minute she was staggering across the kitchen from a violent blow
on the side of her head, and then, before she could recover herself or
realise what had happened, her aunt was beside her again, raining down
blow after blow upon her thin shoulders.

"Take that, and that, and that!" gasped the infuriated woman; "and now go
out and tell every one.  And there's another to teach you to speak
properly to me, or you or I leave this house!"

How long the blows would have continued to pour down on Bella no one
knows, had not scream upon scream suddenly rent the air, startling every
one near.

They did not come from Bella herself, for, after the first startled cry,
she made no sound.  They came from the three children who had reached home
just in time to be witnesses of the terrible scene, and were frightened
almost out of their senses.

Miss Hender dropped her uplifted hand and sank exhausted and speechless
into a chair.  Bella, white and almost fainting, lay on the floor
motionless.  At sight of her Charlie began to scream again.
"You've killed our Bella!  You've killed our Bella!" he cried, while
Margery ran over to the still heap on the floor.  "Bella, look up, look
up!  Bella, it's me, it's Margery; speak to Margery!"  Tears poured down
her little white cheeks, and one, falling on Bella's, roused her.
Putting out one stiff, aching arm, she feebly drew her little sister to
her and kissed her.

Margery was delighted, for she had really thought Bella was dead, and she
hugged her in an ecstasy of relief.  "Can't you get up?" she asked.
"Oh, do get up, Bella."

Bella made an effort but she was too exhausted, and falling back again,
she, for the first time, lost consciousness.

And so, when Tom presently arrived with his father, whom he had rushed at
once to fetch, they found her, with Margery beside her weeping and
beseeching her to speak; Charlie standing at the door, too scared to go
nearer; and Miss Hender seated, white and frightened and ashamed, gazing
at her temper's handiwork, too ashamed to go near to render the child any
aid after reducing her to that, for in her heart of hearts she felt that
after the scene of that afternoon Bella would shrink from even a kindness
at her hands.

Without a word the father strode across and picked his little daughter up.
"Get some water," he said, in a low, hoarse voice to Tom, and, still
holding her in his arms, he bathed the brow and the limp, lifeless hands,
and the pale cheeks, where the scarlet patch across one told its own tale.

Emma Hender rose stiffly from her chair and handed him a soft cloth, but
he would not take it from her.  "Keep away!" he said harshly; "don't you
dare to touch her again.  You've done enough harm for one day, you and
that temper of yours!"  Emma Hender shrank back without a word, then,
after a moment's struggle for self-control, dropped into a chair and
burying her face in her apron burst into violent weeping.  She was so
tired, so faint, and so ashamed of herself, and no one cared, she thought
bitterly; no one cared for her, or believed her, or pitied her.

She worked for them all, and looked after their home from morning till
night, but it was all nothing, she told herself bitterly, and felt herself
a very ill-used person.  But what she did not tell herself, or perhaps did
not realise, was that it is not so much what we do for people but the
spirit in which it is done, that makes it a real kindness and wins their
affection.

There was one tender little heart there, though, that bore her no
ill-will, that, indeed, forgot everything but that she was in trouble and
needed comforting.

"Auntie Emma, don't cry!  Bella'll be better soon.  Don't cry, Auntie
Emma, or Margery'll cry too!" and two soft little hands tried to pull the
work-worn ones away, and a gentle baby voice tried to bring comfort and
cheer to the unhappy woman.

Aunt Emma, in a burst of real feeling, let the little hands uncover and
gently pat her face, then, clasping the baby form to her, kissed her
passionately again and again.

"You do care for your auntie, don't you, dear?" she sobbed, but softly and
sorrowfully now.  "You always will care for your poor auntie, won't you,
dear?"

"Oh yes," promised Margery readily, anxious only to comfort and cheer,
"when auntie isn't cross," she added innocently.

Miss Hender's loving clasp loosened a little.  "Everybody is cross
sometimes," she muttered excusingly.  But many and many a time after that
the memory of Margery's words came back to her, and stayed the first angry
word or ill-natured act, and so averted a storm and hours of reproach.

"Bella is better!  Look, her eyes are open!" and Margery clambered
joyfully down from her aunt's lap and ran over to her sister's side.

For a moment Bella looked about her in a dazed fashion, then, memory
returning, she raised herself and tried to stand.

"I am all right, thank you," she said, but she was glad enough to drop on
to the old sofa and rest.  Miss Hender rose too.

"I--think she'll be better for a cup of tea," she said; "we all shall."
It cost her an effort to speak, for she felt awkward and embarrassed, and
her words were very faint and stumbling, but she went to the fire and
stirred it up to make the kettle boil.  Then, by degrees, recovering
herself, she quietly cut some bread and butter for all, and made the tea.

Bella shrank a little from her aunt when she handed her cup, and beyond
the faintest "Thank you," did not utter a word.  She was still suffering
from the shock of the sudden assault and the blows.  Her nerves were
quivering, her head throbbing, and the only feeling she as yet experienced
strongly was a kind of shame--shame for her aunt and for herself.

It was a most uncomfortable meal that, in spite of Miss Hender's efforts.
William Hender sat morose and thoughtful; Bella, like her aunt, was
embarrassed and very silent.  The two boys and Margery alone found
anything to say, or spirit to say it, and though all felt better and more
cheerful for the meal, no one was sorry when it was ended.

Miss Hender was the first to rise.  She returned to her washing-tub,
William Hender to his work, and the children went out to their play in the
garden.  All went on as usual, and not a word more was said of the scene
that had brought them all together.  Yet all felt that in that short hour
things had altered, and for ever.  That something had happened which meant
changes, perhaps not great, but changes for them all, and that life would
never be quite the same again.



CHAPTER III.

THE LITTLE HERB-BED.


For some days after that unhappy Monday Bella and her aunt scarcely
exchanged a word.  It was not that Bella was sulky, or bore malice in her
heart; it was chiefly that she felt embarrassed and awkward still.
Indeed, they both felt so.  That scene seemed to be for ever between them,
and neither could forget it.

It was holiday time, too, so there was no school to take Bella away from
her home, and as she did not like to ask Miss Hender to give her something
to do, she wandered about, idle and unhappy, not knowing how to fill her
days.  Consequently she wandered more than once down the lane to Mrs.
Langley's little cottage.  The peace and the cheerfulness of that little
home drew her irresistibly.

"Oh! if only our house was like this!" she exclaimed one day.  "So quiet,
and tidy, and clean.  I should like to live in a little house like this
all by myself when I grow up."

Mrs. Langley looked at her with a shade of sadness in her gentle brown
eyes.  "My dear, don't say that!  It isn't from choice, you know, that I
live alone, and it is terribly lonely sometimes.  If I had been allowed to
have my way, my home would have been as full and noisy as ever yours is;
but God saw fit to take them all first, and leave me to follow in His own
good time.  I expect He has work for me to do first; in fact, I know He
has, for He has some special work for each of us, though we don't
understand at the time what it is."

Bella felt vexed with herself, as soon as ever the words had left her
lips, for she knew quite well the story of the tragedy that had left that
home empty--of the fatal epidemic that had taken from it the husband and
four children, and left the poor mother alone and heart-broken.
Before she could say anything Mrs. Langley's last words arrested her
attention.

"Has He got special work for me?" she asked eagerly, her interest
swallowing up her shyness for once.  "Oh no, He couldn't have, I am so
young, and I don't see that there's anything I can do.  I only wish there
was," she added hopelessly.  "I don't seem to be wanted anywhere, and I
haven't got any money, and----"

"Don't you make that mistake, dear.  It isn't money that's most wanted,
it is the wish and the will.  Children can do a very great deal, and you
especially have many fine opportunities right at your hand, in your own
home."

"But Aunt Emma does everything, and she won't let me help."

"I think she would, dear, if you went to work in the right way.
Either ask her boldly to give you some part of the work to do, for you
would like to help, and you feel you are old enough now; or bide your
time, and do all the little things you can, without making any fuss or
display.  Then, if you do them well, you will find that in time they are
left to your care to do always.  Even if your aunt will not let you do
that much, surely there is plenty to be done outside the house.
Your garden is not kept as it was in your mother's time."

"Father doesn't stay at home in the evenings now, like he used to," said
Bella, sadly.

"Well, can't you coax him to?  Can't you help to make his home more
cheerful and comfortable?  All this is part of the work God has for you to
do, Bella.  It seems to me a lot.  Can't you show an interest in the
garden, and ask your father to help you to make it neat and nice again?
I think he would; I am sure he would."

Bella sat with a very thoughtful face, but not such a hopelessly depressed
one as she had been wearing.  Suddenly, so it seemed to her, a bright
light had been flashed upon the road she had to travel, and so many things
stood out that she had not seen before, so many hills to climb, so many
pleasant valleys to cross, that for a moment she felt awed and silenced.
It was cheering and bracing to feel that she was needed, that, after all,
there was work for her to do.  Lots of work!

"And then there are the boys and Margery.  You have many duties to them,
dear.  They have no mother, and you are left to take her place, as far as
you can, and make their lives happy, and teach them to be good.  Oh, there
is so much for you to do, child.  I almost envy you, there is so much."

Bella looked up with shining eyes and a flush on her cheeks.
"Aunt Maggie, I came to-day to ask if you would help me to get a little
place.  I felt as if I couldn't go on living at home as it is now.
It is so uncomfortable, and I thought I would like to go out in service.
I know I am very young, but----"

Mrs. Langley was looking at her with a grave face, but very kindly eyes.
"I know how you felt, dear; but it seems to me plain enough that your
place is at home.  You see, you're the eldest, and the others are but
little things, and if you want Margery to know anything about her dear
mother, you must teach her, and 'tis you must help to train her up to be
what her mother would have wished her to be."

Bella's bright, eager eyes filled with tears.  "I wish mother was here,"
she cried, "it's all so different now, and so miserable!"

"I know, I know; but, child, you must try and remember how it would have
grieved your poor mother, if she could know that her children's home was
unhappy, and then tell yourself that it is going to be your work to make
it different--to make it what she would wish it to be."

Bella's tears gradually ceased.  "But how can I begin, and when?" she
asked hopelessly.

"Begin to-day, and with the first chance you see.  Be content to begin
with little things in a little way.  Don't expect to make great changes,
and set all right at once.  You have to take these words as your motto,
'Patience, Pluck, and Perseverance.'"

Bella's face brightened.  It cheered her heart to feel that she could do
something, and do, too, what her mother would have had her do.  It was
with less reluctance than usual that she got up to go back to her home.

"I often wish, Aunt Maggie," she said affectionately, "that I could live
with you, but it would never do, would it?"

"I often wish so, too, dear.  Good-bye now.  Run home quickly, you may be
wanted."

Bella ran up the lane with a very much lighter heart than she usually
bore.  She was fired with the thought of her new endeavours, and anxious
to begin.  She would keep her eyes always open to see things that she
could do,--and almost as the thought was passing through her mind her
chance came, for as she opened her own gate she saw that the fowl-house
door was standing wide, and that the hens were scattered all over the
garden, scratching up the beds.

"Tom promised to put a nail in the latch of that door," she sighed, "and
he has never done it."  Then the thought flashed through her mind that
here was a beginning!  Here she could help.  By the aid of a long
pea-stick she collected the greedy hens and drove them all into their run
again, and fastened them in securely; but it took her some time.

"Wherever have you been?" demanded Aunt Emma coldly; "here's tea-time
nearly, and you've been out all the afternoon."

"I was down at Aunt Maggie's part of the time, and when I got back I found
the hens all out and all over the garden, and I drove them in and shut
them up."

"Oh!" Aunt Emma was visibly mollified.  If there was one thing she
disliked more than another, it was struggling with stupid, obstinate hens,
as she called them, and she was really thankful now that she had been
spared the task of getting them out of the garden.  In her relief at this
she forgot her annoyance at Bella's having been down at Mrs. Langley's.

"If there's time before tea I'll go and put the nail in the latch,", said
Bella, "for it won't stay shut very long, unless the latch is mended."

The hammer, though, was not to be found, and the only nail was a crooked
one, so the latch-mending was put off till after tea.  The children came
in from the orchard, and went to the pump to wash their hands and faces.
Bella spread the cloth and arranged the cups and plates and mugs.
As a rule, she put them down in any haphazard fashion, but to-day she did
try to arrange the things nicely.

Miss Hender was busily taking out cake and cutting bread and butter.
Bella knew it would be of no use to offer to do either of these, but she
did ask if she might put some water in the teapot to warm it, and, to her
astonishment, her aunt said, "Yes, you may if you like."

The meal would have been a very silent one if it had not been for the
children, but with their chatter it passed off pleasantly enough, and when
it was over they all made a hunt for the lost hammer and another nail, and
then trooped out with Bella, to mend the latch of the hen-house door.

"That's easy enough," exclaimed Tom, as he watched Bella; "I could have
done that."

"Then why didn't you?" retorted his sister.  "That bit of latch has been
hanging loose for weeks, and the hens were always getting out."

"I didn't think about it.  Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't think about it, either," admitted Bella; "but I am going to try
and remember things better.  Tom, if you want a job, there's one of the
palings of the pigsty broken away.  If it isn't mended, the pig'll break
it away more, and get out, and there's no knowing what trouble we shall
have.  You can mend that, I'm sure."

Tom, well pleased, went off at once.  It made him feel manly to be doing
real work.  Charlie, of course, followed his brother.  Bella was strolling
back through the untidy garden with Margery by her side, when a sudden
thought sent her hurrying back to the house.

"Aunt Emma, can I help you wash up the tea-things?"

She put her question rather nervously, and her cheeks were rosy red, but
she had broken through her shy reserve, and was glad of it.

Miss Hender was standing at the table with a pan of water in front of her.
"I've nearly finished," she said shortly, in her usual ungenial tone, but
added, a moment later, "leastways I soon shall have."

Bella had seen that although several cups and plates were washed, none of
them were wiped, so she took up the tea-cloth lying on the table, and
began to dry the things and put them away.  She was very anxious to do it
all carefully and well, so that her aunt might have no cause for
complaining.

It almost seemed as though Miss Hender did not want to find fault if she
could help it, for when Bella hung the cups on the wrong hooks on the
dressers, she only said, "I don't know that it matters;" which was so
unlike her usual self that Bella marvelled.

"I s'pose you didn't see any sage in the garden when you were there just
now?" she asked presently.  "I wanted some sage and onions to cook for
supper, and I don't believe we've got either.  There doesn't seem to be
scarcely anything in the garden."

"I'll go and see," said Bella, "but I don't believe there's any."

She walked down the rambling old garden, and all over it, and looked in
all directions, but not a leaf of sage or any other herb could she see.
The herb-bed was empty and trampled flat, a few onions lay ungathered in
the onion-bed, and there were some potatoes, but that was all, except some
gooseberry bushes and roots of rhubarb.

When Bella remembered what their garden used to be, and all that they used
to get out of it, she, young though she was, was startled.  She was more
than startled, she was shocked too, for if this was the state of things
now, what were they going to do for vegetables all the rest of the year?
There was nothing to come on for the winter, no carrots or turnips, no
onions or cabbages, leeks or celery,--and they used to have all in
abundance.  The difference between care and neglect, thrift and waste,
plenty and want, were brought home to her very plainly at that moment.

She had always been so much with her father and mother and other grown-up
people, that she understood as well as a woman how much they depended on
the garden for food.

Tom and Charlie came up and joined her, wondering what she was looking at
so solemnly.

"What's wrong?" they asked.  "What are you looking for?"

"Sage," said Bella, gravely, "and there isn't a bit; there isn't anything.
Whatever we shall do all the winter, I don't know."

"Where's the herb-bed?" asked Tom.

"Here, we're looking at it.  Mother used to keep it nice and full, she
used to see how many kinds of herbs she could grow.  Oh, you remember,
Tom, don't you?"

"Yes," said Tom; "she had thyme and lemon-thyme, parsley, and sage, and
endive and borage, and--oh, I forget.  She used to make me say them over,
and tell her which was which.  I wish we'd taken more care of it," he
added, with sudden shame for his neglect.

A brilliant idea flashed into Bella's mind, filling her with pleasure,
"Oh!" she cried, excitedly, "I know what I'll do, I'll make it nice again,
I'll take care of it, and plant herbs in it, just as mother used to do.
Where's the fork, Tom?  I want to begin."

"I'll get it, but let me help.  Let me dig it over the first time; shall
I, Bella?"

Bella agreed, but reluctantly.  She wanted to do it all herself.
"I wonder where I can get parsley seed, and all the rest of it.
Oh, I know, Aunt Maggie will give me a little sage-bush, she has lots; and
p'raps she'll be able to give me some lemon-thyme too!" and away she ran
through the garden and out of the gate and down May Lane as fleet as a
hare.

Miss Hender saw her dash past the house, and pressed her lips tightly
together.  "Forgotten all about what I sent her for, of course," she said
sourly.  "I thought that new broom was sweeping too clean."

When Bella returned in about ten minutes' time, carrying a basket full of
roots, and a sage-bush on the top, her aunt came to the door to greet her.

"How about that sage I asked you to look for?" she began, but when her eye
fell on the basket the rest of her scolding died away,--"Oh, so you've got
some.  Well, it isn't too late," she stammered, trying not to look
foolish, and to speak graciously.  It was Bella's turn to colour now.
She had completely forgotten all about her aunt and the supper.
"There wasn't a bit, Aunt Emma, and--and I forgot to come in and tell you,
but I am going to plant some fresh things in the herb-bed.  Tom's digging
it over, and I am going to look after it.  I asked Aunt Maggie to give me
a root or two, and you can have some of the sage leaves before I plant it;
but "--and she put down her basket, and began to grope in the bottom of
it--"Aunt Maggie sent you a bottle of dried sage, and one of parsley.
She dried them herself.  She said if you hadn't got any at any time, they
might be useful,"; and she put the two little bottles into her aunt's hand
with great joy, looking up at her to read her approval in her face.

But Miss Hender's face showed nothing of the sort.  "I don't believe in
such new-fangled notions," she said ungraciously; "here, give me a bit of
that," breaking off a sprig of sage, "I want something that's fit to eat,
and has got some goodness left in it!"

The light and pleasure died out of Bella's face.  It always hurt her to
hear her Aunt Maggie, or anything of Aunt Maggie's, spoken contemptuously
of, and sudden anger at such petty spitefulness swelled up in her heart,
for it was petty of her aunt, and it was spiteful, and Bella knew it.
Indeed, every one knew it, but no one dared say anything to the foolish
woman, for fear of making matters worse.

In her pleasure, though, at the sight of the work Tom had done in her
absence, Bella recovered herself, and this time she did not forget her
aunt or the supper, but coming upon a few onions she gathered them into
her basket and sent them in by Margery.

By the time Miss Hender came to the door again to call them all in to
supper and bed, the sage bushes and thyme, the roots of mint and borage,
were standing sturdily erect in the newly-turned bed, which was neatly
outlined by large stones.  Bella went to bed that night very tired and
very happy, and dreamed of her mother.

While the children lay asleep, their father, coming home late and taking a
turn round his neglected garden while he finished his pipe, drew up before
the little herb-bed with almost a startled look on his face.  He stood
there minute after minute, gazing at the newly-turned earth and the sturdy
little bushes showing out so clearly in the moonlight; the one neat and
hopeful spot in the whole untidy waste, it seemed almost to speak
reproachingly to him.

What his thoughts were no one knew, but he sighed deeply more than once,
and when at last he moved away his pipe had gone out, though it was not
empty.



CHAPTER IV.


SAGE BUSHES AND ROSE BUSHES.

The next morning William Hender was more than usually silent at breakfast,
and he went off to his work without making any reference to what he had
seen in the garden over-night.  The children's thoughts, though, were full
of it.  As soon as they were dressed in the morning they ran out to see
how everything looked, and how their new treasures had borne the night.

"Bella, I am going to have a bit of garden too," cried Tom, as soon as he
saw her.  "Father wouldn't mind, I'm sure.  He doesn't seem to want it
now, and it'll be better for me to have a little bit than to let it all be
idle."

Tom had thought of it in the night, and could hardly wait until daylight
to begin.  And, of course, as soon as Charlie heard of the plan, he must
do the same.  "So shall I," he cried sturdily.  "I shall have a garden,
and grow strawberries and gooseberries, and--and all sorts of things.
Won't it be fine!"

"Margery wants a garden too.  Margery wants to grow fings."  Margery was
tugging at Bella's skirt, and dancing with eagerness.

"What can Margery do?" asked Bella gently.  She was always gentle and kind
to her little sister.  "Little girls like Margery can't dig up earth."

"Margery'll grow flowers," urged the little one eagerly, "Margery wants to
grow flowers, woses and daisies, and pinks, and sweet peas, and--and
snowdrops, and--oh, all sorts.  Do give Margery a little garden, please,
Bella, please.  Only just a little tiny, weeny one."

The baby voice was so urgent that Bella could not say 'No'; nor had she
any wish to.  Anything that pleased Margery pleased her, and would, she
knew, please her father.  "Come along, then, and choose which bit you will
have."

"I want it next to yours."

"Very well.  I don't s'pose father will mind."

"Let me dig it over for her the first time," urged Tom, and he left the
marking out of his own new bed to come and dig up Margery's.

Charlie and Bella and Margery herself collected large stones to outline it
with, and by dinnertime there was a very neat and inviting-looking patch
beside Bella's herb-bed.

"What'll you do for flowers to put in it, though?" laughed Charlie.

"Have you got any?"

"I've got the double daisy that Aunt Maggie gave me, and Chrissie Howard
is going to bring me a 'sturtium in a pot.  She said it was to put on the
window-sill, but I shall put it in my garden."

"I can get you a marigold the next time I go past Carter's, on my way to
Woodley.  Billy Carter offered me one the other day; they're growing like
weeds in their garden."

Margery danced with joy.  "That'll be three flowers in my garden; I'll be
able to pick some soon, won't I?"

That night William Hender came home earlier from his after-supper gossip
at the 'Red Lion,' and, as usual, strolled about outside the house while
he finished out his pipe.  To-night his footsteps led him down his garden,
and instinctively he went in search of the herb-bed again.  Before he
reached it he came upon fresh signs of digging and raking, and a larger
patch of newly-turned earth, with the tools still lying beside it.

"This must be for one of the boys," he thought to himself, as he stooped
to look closer.  He admired the thoroughness of the work, or as much of it
as he could see in the moonlight.  On his way to the tool-shed with the
tools he passed Bella's herb-bed, and then the newly-turned piece beside
it caught his eye and brought him to a standstill.

"That must be the little one's," he said to himself, as he looked down at
it.  "Of course she must have what the others have!  I wonder what she's
got planted in it?"  He bent lower and lower, but in the uncertain light
he could not distinguish what the little clump of green was, and at last
he had to go down on his knee in the path and light a match.

"One double daisy, bless her heart!  It's that daisy root she has set so
much store on ever since Maggie Langley gave it to her.  Bless her baby
heart!" he said once more and very tenderly, and as he rose from the
ground again he sighed heavily, and passed his hand across his eyes more
than once.

"I'd like to give her a s'prise," he thought to himself.  "I'd dearly love
to give her a s'prise, and I will too.  It'll please her ever so much."

The thought of it pleased him ever so much too, and he went in and went to
bed feeling in a happier mood than he had done for a long time.  The mood
was on him the next morning too, when he came down to breakfast.

"Where are the children?" he asked, as he went to the scullery for his
heavy working boots.

"Oh, out in the garden.  They are mad about the garden for the time," said
Aunt Emma, with a laugh.  "Bella seemed troubled 'cause there was nothing
in it, so they're going to set matters right.  She has planted a few
herbs, and Charlie is making a strawberry bed.  I don't know how long
it'll last, I'm sure.  They soon tires of most things."

"Ay, ay, children mostly do," was all that their father answered, but as
soon as his boots were fastened he sauntered out into the garden in search
of them.

"Breakfast's ready," called his sister after him.  "Call the children,
will you?"

"I'll go and fetch them," he said, and made his way to where he heard
their voices.

When she caught sight of him Margery left the others and ran towards him.
"Daddy! daddy! come and look at my garden.  Bella says she thinks my daisy
has taken root!  Now it'll soon have lots of daisies on it, won't it? and
I'll give you a piece of root.  Wouldn't you like that?  Daddy, won't you
have a garden too, and have flowers in it?"

"Why, all the garden is father's," cried Charlie, laughing at her, and
with one accord they all turned and looked over the garden which was
'all father's,' and the untidiness, the look of neglect stamped upon
everything, brought a sense of shame to the father's heart.

"But there aren't any flowers," sighed Margery.

Aunt Emma's voice was heard calling them in to breakfast.

"No, there ain't any now, but there will be," said her father gravely.
The words, though to Margery they sounded so simple, were a promise made
to himself and to his dead wife to do better in the future than in the
past.  "By God's help!" he added, under his breath.

That evening, when he came home from work, he made his way at once out
into the garden.  He had brought home some bundles of young cabbage
plants, and was going to make a bed for them.

"It's too late for most things, but I can do something with the ground,"
he said to himself, as he went to the tool-shed for his fork and shovel.

The children had gone into Woodley on an errand for their aunt, but might
be back at any moment now.  The four tidy little patches of ground made
the rest of the garden look more wretchedly neglected than ever before;
they were to him like four reproaches from his four neglected children.

He began to dig with almost feverish haste, in his desire to get some more
of the ground in order, and so absorbed did he become in the improvement
he soon made, that he forgot about time and tea, and everything else.

A shout at last made him look up.  It was a joyful shout from little
Margery, who, catching sight of him at once, came flying along the path to
him.

"Oh, daddy's got a garden, too!" she cried delightedly.  "Daddy is making
a garden too!  Oh, how nice!  What are you going to grow in your garden,
daddy?  Flowers?"

"Ay, I must try and have a few flowers here and there; but I've got to
have cabbages and leeks and potatoes, and all sorts of things in my
garden,--things that ain't so pretty as flowers, but are more useful."

Margery stood for a moment looking very soberly at the newly-turned earth,
and holding tight a paper bag that she had been carrying very carefully
all the time.

Suddenly she held the bag out to him.  "I'll give you that for your
garden, daddy," she said, eagerly, "then you'll have a flower."

Her father took the bag from her and began to open it.  "What is it?
What have 'ee got there, little maid?"

"It's a 'get-me-not root.  Mr. Carter gave it to me for my garden;
but I'll give it to you, daddy, 'cause there isn't anything pretty in your
garden."

The man's heart was very full as he looked in on the little root; then,
without speaking, he laid it gently down, and taking his little girl very
tenderly in his arms he kissed her.

"Daddy'll plant it this very minute, little one;" and to himself he added,
"and I'll plant it where I can see it best--in case I should forget
again."

A voice came calling down the path to them, "Father, supper's ready.
Margery, come in to supper;" but the little forget-me-not had to be
planted first, and Margery had to stay and help, of course.  When it was
firmly placed in the ground in a nice little puddle of water, and the
earth pressed tightly about its roots, Margery stood back and gazed at it
contentedly.

"I think it looks lovely there, don't you, daddy? and you see I've got my
daisy and a marigold in my garden, so I have plenty; and p'raps I'll get
something more 'nother day."

That night, after supper was over and the children were in bed, William
Hender went softly down the garden again to Margery's very neat but very
bare little garden plot, and at the back of it, against the wall, he
carefully planted a fine rose bush.  He had brought it home with him on
purpose for her, and, that the children might not see it, he had hidden it
in the hedge in the lane until he had an opportunity of planting it, for
he wanted it to be a surprise for the little maiden.  All the time he was
planting it he was picturing to himself what she would say and do when she
first saw it; and he laughed to himself more than once, but very tenderly,
as he pictured the surprise on her face.

In the morning he was up and dressed before any of them, and out in the
garden at work.  He had a glance first at the forget-me-not, and then at
Margery's rose bush and daisy.  All of which were looking very healthy and
happy in their new surroundings.  Then he began to dig up a piece of
ground not far off, where, while pretending to be paying no heed to them,
he could hear all that they said and did.

Then, as the minutes went by, he began to grow impatient for the children
to come, but his patience was not tried for long, before the house-door
was flung open, and a stampede along the path announced their coming.

"Why, father is up already!" he heard Tom exclaim, "and just see what a
lot he's done."

"How nice it looks!  Doesn't it make a difference?" said another voice
that he guessed was Bella's.  "Wait a minute; I've got to let out the
fowls, and give them their breakfast.  Come along, Margery, if you want to
throw it to them."

For once Margery was quite indifferent to the fowls.  "Is your 'get-me-not
growing, daddy?" she shouted anxiously, as she raced up to him.

"My dear life, yes!  I should just think it is.  You give it a look as you
go by.  I think it is wonderful."

"Oh, it is, isn't it?  I think it's lovely.  I am so glad I gave it to
you.  Are you glad, daddy?"

"Glad, I should think I am, and no mistake!  Never was gladder of anything
in my life," said her father heartily.

Margery's face was radiant with joy.  "What are you going to plant in your
garden now, daddy?"

"Cabbages."

"Oh!" disappointedly, "I don't like cabbages, they haven't pretty flowers,
and they haven't a pretty smell."

"Well, we can't have everything pretty, and glad enough we are of cabbages
for dinner sometimes.  The hens like them better than any flower, don't
they?"

"Yes, so they do.  I'll be able to give some of the leaves to the fowls,
won't I?"

"Yes, if you don't give them too many."

"I must go now and see if my daisy is growing, and the marigold.
I'll be back again in a minute," and away she trotted.

The others were sauntering slowly back from the fowl-house, and pausing to
look at Charlie's strawberry plants on their way, when suddenly the
silence was broken by a succession of squeals and shrieks and frantic
calls to each one by name.

"Oh-h-h! oh-h! oh!! Bella!  Daddy!  Tom!  Do come here.  Charlie! oh,
look, do look! there's a lovely rose bush growed up in my garden through
the night, and it's got leaves on it!  Oh, how did it come?  Daddy, do
come and see it.  You never saw anything so wonderful."

They all ran, of course.  Bella and the boys nearly as excited as Margery,
and full of curiosity, their father full of pleasure with the success of
his surprise.

"Daddy, do come and look.  It is a real one, isn't it?"  Clutching him by
the hand to hurry him.  "It isn't a fairy rose, is it?" anxiously.

"It's a real one right enough, in my opinion," said her father, looking
very grave, and stooping down to inspect the little bush.  "It's a real
one right enough," he assured her solemnly, as he straightened himself
again.  "Looks healthy too."

"Do you think the fairies put it there for me?" she asked, breathlessly,
watching her father closely and trying to read his face.  "Or do you think
God sended it to me 'cause I've been a good girl?"

"Have you been a good girl?" doubtfully.  "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I think so," hesitatingly; "haven't I, Bella?" turning her anxious
little face from one to the other.

"Yes," said Bella loyally, "you've been very good."

"That's it, then, I expect it has been sent to your garden because you've
been good."

"P'raps God telled the fairies, and they put it there," and her little
face grew all bright again at this wonderful explanation.

The beauty and wonder and mystery of it all took up so much of their time
and attention that there was no more work done that morning, for when Aunt
Emma's call to breakfast came sounding along the path they were still
gathered about Margery's little garden, gazing and marvelling at the
mysterious rose.

"I must have one look at my herbs before I go in," said Bella to herself
as the call to breakfast reached her; "they are not as lovely as Margery's
rose, but my herb-bed was the beginning, and--and oh I do hope it is all
going to be nicer again, and as happy as it used to be.  It really does
seem as if there was a difference already."



CHAPTER V.


WHAT AUNT MAGGIE SUGGESTED.

Bella was right,--there really was a difference already, and, best of all,
the difference continued.  Never again could any one say that the Henders'
garden was neglected and untidy.  As of old, William Hender worked there
every evening, but now he usually had one or more of his children with
him, and the garden in time became a perfect picture.

Bella had another and a larger piece of ground given her, in which to grow
flowers, and, as her father often remarked, she must have had the true
flower-lover's hand, for she had only to put in roots or seeds or cuttings
of any kind, for them to grow and blossom their best, and throughout the
spring, summer, and autumn her garden was a picture.

A year passed by, and Charlie's strawberry bed had yielded its first crop,
and Tom's vegetables had provided more than one meal for the family, and,
of course, had tasted better than any others that were ever grown.
Over the wall at the back of Margery's garden the fairy rose had grown
rapidly, covering the old stones with clusters of snowy blossoms.
The whole of Margery's garden was well stocked by this time, for night
after night mysterious plants had been placed there,--planted, as she
firmly believed, by the fairies, who had 'been telled by God' to take it
to her because she had been good; and that must have been the reason,
she felt sure, for whenever she was very good, some new flower always
appeared.

Another winter passed over the little household, a happy one, on the
whole, in spite of stormy scenes at times with Aunt Emma, sharp words and
sharp answers.  The boys, as they grew older, found it harder to bear with
her short, cold answers, her sharp commands, and constant snubbings of
them in almost everything they said and did.  Bella, who had never quite
recovered from the shock of the scene when her aunt had beaten her so
unmercifully, had an anxious time trying to stave off quarrels between
them, and soften harsh words and pert answers, which might lead to them.

Bella had never forgotten that dreadful Monday, nor had she ever forgotten
the talk with Aunt Maggie after, and the aim she had set before herself to
do her best to make the house more comfortable and happy, and more what
her mother would have made it had she been alive.  She often failed, very
often, in fact, and often despaired, but she never quite gave in, or, if
she did, it was for a little while only.

There were many hills to climb on the road she had chosen, but there were
many pleasant valleys too, and if sometimes her feet faltered and
stumbled, and she felt weary and disheartened, and looked at the next hill
hopelessly, feeling that she never could mount it, there were also happy
hours, and sweet flowers and sunshine to cheer her, and sometimes there
was such a feeling of hope and joy over all as made her heart sing and her
spirits dance.  For the house really was tidier and less neglected, her
father came home regularly now, and was with them more, and she herself
had something to do, some object in life, some work that she could do
herself, and take a pride in.

Thus it was, when the spring came that was to bring such changes to their
lives, such steep hills to climb that they wondered sometimes if there was
any valley beyond, where they could rest a little, or any sunshine
anywhere, so heavy were the shadows.

Bella's flower-beds were a picture that year, and her herb-bed too, with
its great sprays of curly parsley, and bushes of mint and thyme, sage and
borage.  In fact, all the garden was a goodly sight, and no one would have
recognised it for the garden of a year ago.  There were rows of peas and
beans, just coming to perfection, and every other kind of vegetable that
space could be found for.  The fruit bushes were laden with promise of
supplies in store, and already Miss Hender was making jam of the rhubarb,
which filled up one corner of the garden with its handsome great leaves.

"It does seem a pity sometimes that I can't do more with all my flowers,"
said Bella one day.  She had carried a glorious bunch of sweet peas and a
basket of vegetables to Mrs. Langley.  "I give away a good many, but most
people have their own, and don't really want any more, and they just grow
and flower and fade, and nobody but ourselves see them.  Aunt Emma won't
let me bring in more than one little bunch at a time, so they just waste,
and it does seem a pity when there's a lot, and all so pretty."

Mrs. Langley looked at her lovely nosegay thoughtfully.  "Child," she said
at last, "why don't you do up some bunches, and carry them into Norton on
a market day, or any other day, and try to sell them?  Why, I've known my
missis, when I was in service, give shillings for flowers no better than
you bring me day after day, and not as fresh and strong either, by a long
way."

"Sell my--flowers!"  The suggestion, coming so suddenly, made Bella gasp.
"Oh, but, Aunt Maggie, how could I?  I should have to go to people's
houses and ask them to buy, shouldn't I?  I don't believe I'd ever be able
to make up my mind to."  Bella looked alarmed at the mere idea, but though
alarmed she was also pleased with the daring suggestion, and her cheeks
grew rosy red with excitement.  Mrs. Langley nodded thoughtfully, but she
did not reply at once.  With many girls she would not have approved of
such a plan, but she thought Bella could be trusted.

"Yes," she said at last, "I think you could be trusted, child, not to grow
bold and rude and pushing, even if you had to ask people to buy your
flowers.  You might, perhaps, be able to arrange with a florist to take
all you had every week.  Of course, he would want to make a profit, so you
wouldn't get so much for them, but you would be saved a good deal of time
and trouble, maybe."

"Oh, but, Aunt Maggie, do you think I could?  Do you think I should ever
sell any?"

Bella was still half bewildered by the suddenness and boldness of the new
proposal.  There were so many sides to it, too, pleasant and unpleasant.
It would be splendid, she thought, to be able to turn her garden to
account, and to feel her lovely flowers were not wasted.  It would be
splendid, too, to be able to put her money each week in her money-box.
She had been longing for some time past to be able to buy a glass frame to
protect some of her seedlings through the winter,--and who knew but what
her flowers would make this possible for her?  The thought thrilled her.

On the other hand, she did shrink shyly from the prospect of going up to
people and asking them to buy, and also from the thought of what her
father and Aunt Emma would say.  She mentioned this last thought to Aunt
Maggie.

"If you would really like me to," said Mrs. Langley, "I will speak of it
to your father before you do, and then, if he falls in with the plan, he
can talk to your aunt about it.  You see, Bella, child, there is another
thing to bear in mind.  You are nearly fourteen now, and before very long
you'll have to be thinking about earning your living, and you'll have to
go to service, or think of some way of earning it at home."

"I've been thinking of that, Aunt Maggie;" and a moment later she added
sadly, "and if I went to service I'd have to leave all my flowers."

"Of course you would, dear.  It would be a great loss to you, wouldn't
it?"

"Oh," sighed Bella, realising for a moment how great a loss it would be,
"I don't believe I could ever bear it."

Aunt Maggie smiled sadly.  "You could, dear.  You will have far harder
trials than that to bear, I am afraid, or you will be more than
fortunate," and she added after a moment's silence, "We can make our
garden wherever we are, and plant our seeds, and raise our flowers."

"Not in service, Aunt Maggie?" cried Bella, incredulously, "they wouldn't
give me a bit of ground, would they, anywhere I went?"

Mrs. Langley smiled.  "They might in some places where the servant makes
it her home, and the mistress tries to make it a real home to her, they
let her have a little bit of ground to call her own.  But I was thinking,
dear, of another kind of garden,--the garden of life, where we can sow
good seed or bad, and raise flowers, where we and others have to tread.
Flowers of patience and honesty, good-temper, willingness, and
cheerfulness.  They are very precious flowers to most people, for few get
many such along the way they have to tread; and a sunny smile or a cheery
word, or a kind act will often lighten the whole of a dull, hard day.
Don't ever forget to grow those flowers, my dear, or to shed sunshine
wherever God may order you to dwell."

"Does God order that, Aunt Maggie?  Does He tell people where they must
go? and shall I have to do as He tells me, and go where He sends me?"

"Yes, dear, and you can trust Him.  He will only send you where you are
needed, and where it is best for you to be."

Bella went home in a very, very thoughtful mood that night.  "I wonder
where God is going to send me, and what work He has for me to do?"
The idea filled her mind until, as she reached home, the thought suddenly
rushed into her head, "I wonder what father will say, when he hears what
Aunt Maggie wants to talk to him about!"

What her father did say when first the plan was mooted, was a downright
"No!  I can keep my children as long as I can work, and Bella can find
enough to do at home."

"Yes, I know," answered Aunt Maggie gently, when he had repeated this more
than once, and each time more emphatically.  "And what about the time when
you can't work, William? or, if anything was to happen to you?
Do you think it is right or fair to bring up children without any
knowledge that'll earn them a decent, respectable living?"

William Hender had no answer ready, and sat trying in vain to find one.

"If she were to begin in a small way, such as I'm suggesting, who knows
but what, in time, she might work up a little business, and be able to
make quite a nice little living out of her flowers and things?  She has a
wonderful gift for raising them and understanding them, and it does seem a
sin not to make use of it.  Don't you think so?"

William Hender nodded thoughtfully; this new way of looking at things
impressed him.  He was proud, too, of Bella's skill with her garden, and
his thoughts flew beyond the present to the future, where in his mind's
eye he saw a tidy little shop well stocked with fruit and flowers and
vegetables, and Bella the prosperous owner of it all, and his heart
swelled with pride.

"You are right, Maggie," he said, as he rose to go.  "You always are, I
think.  I'll talk to Emma about it, and I'll look about me the next time I
go to Norton, and see if there's any shop there that'll be likely to take
her flowers.  It might be better for her to sell them that way.
Good-night."

Bella's heart beat fast and furious when she heard that her father
approved of the scheme, and when the children were told about it they all
flew into a state of wild excitement.  Of course they all wanted to be
market-gardeners at once.  "Why can't we all go shares in a stall in
Norton Market?" cried Tom.  "Bella can sell flowers and herbs, and me
vegetables, and Charlie fruit, and Margery----"

"Fairy roses," said Margery eagerly.  She always called her flowers that
had come so mysteriously 'fairy flowers.'

"I was in Norton Market-house once," went on Tom, "and oh, it's a fine
place!"

Norton, their nearest and largest market-town, was five miles off, and as
there was no railway to it, and they had no cart to take them, a visit to
the town was one of the rarest treats they knew.

When the first excitement had worn off, and Aunt Emma had been talked to
and won over, and all that remained to be done was for their father to go
to Norton and look out for a florist, matters seemed to go no further.
He was at work on every day of the week except Saturday afternoons, and
then there was always so much to be done at home he never seemed able to
spare the time.  Five miles to Norton and five miles back was a long
distance to cover, with no other means of covering it than one's own two
feet, or a chance 'lift'; and he kept on putting the matter off.

"All my sweet-peas are passing," sighed Bella, when another Saturday had
come and gone, and her father had not again spoken of going to Norton.
"Tom, I've a good mind to go myself next Saturday, and take some flowers,
and try to sell them.  Will you come with me?  Do you think you could walk
so far?"

Tom was indignant at this reflection on his manliness.  "Walk it! I should
rather think so!  I can if you can, anyhow!"

"It's a good long way," said Bella reflectively; "p'raps we could get a
lift home.  I wonder if Aunt Emma will let us go?  Oh, Tom, I wish she
would.  I shall hate it at first, but it does seem a pity to waste all my
flowers, and I do want to earn some money to buy a hotbed and some more
seeds; there's ever so many kinds I want to get."

To their great surprise, Aunt Emma agreed quite willingly to the scheme as
soon as she was told of it.  She saw nothing to object to in it, she said,
and it never entered her head to think that the walk might be too long for
either of them.  "If Saturday turns out wet or rough, you needn't go,"
she said cheerfully.

"I should have to if I'd got customers waiting," thought Bella; but she did
not argue the point; she was thankful to have won the permission she
wanted, and too fearful of losing it, to run any risks.

How the four children lived through the excitement of the next few days
they scarcely knew.  For Charlie and Margery there was disappointment
mingled with the excitement,--disappointment that they could not go too;
but there was much that was thrilling, even for those who stayed at home,
and they were promised that they should walk out along the road to meet
the others at about the time they would be expected back.

Tom, on the whole, got the most enjoyment out of it all, because for Bella
there was a good deal of nervous dread mingled with the excitement and
pleasure.

"I do hope I meet with nice customers," she said to Aunt Maggie the day
before, when she went down to ask her to help her re-trim her rather
shabby Sunday hat for her.  "I hope they don't speak sharp when they say
they don't want any flowers."

"You generally find folks speak to you as you speak to them," said Aunt
Maggie consolingly.  "If you are civil, you will most likely meet with
civility from others.  Look, I've got a large shallow basket here that I
thought would do nicely to hold your flowers and show them off prettily.
The cover will help to keep them fresh.  You'll have to be up early to
gather them, child.  And do give them a drink of water before you start.
You'll find they'll last fresh twice as long.  In fact, I believe it would
be even better to gather them the evening before, and let them stand in
water all night, then you would only have to arrange them in bunches
before you start."

Bella thanked her delightedly, and ran off home with her new basket and
her old hat, feeling as proud and pleased as any child in the land.

That night she went to bed early, but scarcely a wink did she sleep, and
glad enough she was when the old grandfather's clock in the kitchen at
last struck four.  She got up then, and very quietly began to dress
herself, after which she called Tom.  It was early, but not too early,
considering all that they had to do.  For this once, at any rate, the
flowers had to be gathered and arranged in bunches and given a drink.
Bella and Tom had to dress themselves in their best, and make themselves
look as neat and nice as possible, and walk the five miles and be in
Norton in good time, for Aunt Maggie had told them that the ladies of the
place would most probably be the best and most pleasant customers, and
that as a rule they went out to do their shopping as soon as they could
after breakfast.

"You ought to be there by ten at he latest," she had said, and Bella
promised not to be later.



CHAPTER VI.


FIRST CUSTOMERS.

On such a beautiful morning, before the sun had grown too hot, walking was
pleasant enough, and Bella and Tom, excited and very eager over their new
experience, did not feel tired; and if they did wish the distance shorter,
it was only that they might be on the scene of action more quickly.

For the first part of the way they had the road mostly to themselves,
but as the morning advanced, and as they drew near to Norton, they were
constantly being overtaken by carts laden with all sorts of people and
things: live fowls in coops, calves, little pigs under nets, or a fat
sheep fastened in at the back of a market cart.  Many of the market carts
had women seated in them, carrying large white baskets full of fowls and
ducks, or eggs and butter, all carefully tucked away under snow-white
cloths.  There were smaller carts, too, full of vegetables and fruit; and
one which particularly roused Bella's interest was a florist's cart laden
with beautiful ferns and flowers in pots, and, alas! for her own little
supply, boxes of cut flowers.

A wave of hot blood swept over her cheeks.  Her pretty bunches, so
daintily and carefully arranged, seemed to her suddenly to become poor and
shabby and worthless beside that handsome show of hothouse geraniums and
roses, maidenhair and other ferns, and her step grew slow as her spirits
sank.  How could she ever go on and face all the people, and show them her
poor little store?

Tom looked round at last, to see what the matter was, but he only laughed
when Bella told him.  "Oh, well," he said cheerfully, "I don't suppose he
began with a pony and trap, and who is to say that we shan't be driving
one some day!  My eye, Bella, wouldn't it be fine to have a little
turn-out like that!" and he capered in the road with delight at the
thought.

Bella's spirits rose again.  "If I had a greenhouse," she said, "I dare
say we could grow maidenhair ferns, and roses too.  Tom, do you think it
would cost a lot of money to build a greenhouse?"

"No," said Tom sturdily; "I believe we could build one ourselves if we'd
got the stuff.  Bella, I'm going to learn carpentering, you see if I
don't, and then I'll be able to make lots of things, hot-beds and
greenhouses, and hencoops, and wheelbarrows."

Bella laughed.  "We seem to be going to do a lot--some day, but I think we
shall be old men and women before that day comes."  Tom's enthusiasm was
very cheering, though.  "There are lots of lovely flowers I can grow
without a greenhouse," she said, more contentedly; "just think, Tom, of
stocks and carnations and roses, and--and lavender.  Oh, Tom, won't we
have a load to bring, in time, if we can get people to buy them!"

They had reached the town by this time, and all Tom's attention was taken
up by the busy crowds.  "We'd better go to High Street first, hadn't we?
That's where all the shops are, and the Market-house, and most of the
people."

"We'd better uncover our baskets first, and show what we've got to sell,
hadn't we?  I don't think it's too soon, do you?"

Bella rested hers against the railings of a church they were passing at
the moment, and lifting off the cover, and turning back the damp cloth,
she carefully raised her pretty bunches, and arranged them to what she
thought was the best advantage.  Her spirits rose again at the sight of
them, for they certainly were very lovely, and so sweet!  There were
bunches of sweet-peas of all colours, and some of white only, and pink
only, and some of every shade of violet, from the deepest to the palest.
There were roses too, and 'boy's love,' mignonette, stocks, and pinks.

"Oh, they are sweet!" exclaimed Bella, as she drew in great breaths of
their fragrance.  "I am sure I should want to buy them if I saw any one
else selling them."

"Come on," said Tom impatiently; he could not see that it mattered much
how the bunches were arranged.

They strolled slowly on again, Bella feeling very conscious now, and very
shy.  She was wondering how she must begin.  Must she go up to people and
stop them, and ask them to buy her flowers?

Tom was so taken up with watching a sheepdog guiding a flock through the
busy street, he forgot all about his duties as a salesman.

"Do stand still a minute and watch," he pleaded, and Bella stood.

How long they had stood she never knew, when she was suddenly recalled to
the present, and her duty, by a voice saying, "What a perfectly lovely
show of flowers! and, oh, the scent!" and looking quickly round, she found
two ladies standing beside her gazing at her basket.

"Are they for sale?" asked one of the ladies, looking at Bella with a
pleasant smile.

"Oh yes, ma'am, miss, I mean," stammered poor, shy Bella, and, to hide her
blushing cheeks, she bent and lifted out some of her flowers that the
ladies might see them better.

"How much a bunch are they?"

"Tuppence each the big ones, ma'am, and a penny the little ones,"
stammered Bella.  She longed to give them to the lady, and ask her not to
pay any money at all for them.  "Some are all shades of one colour, and
some are mixed."

"It is wonderful," she heard one lady say softly to the other.  "I gave a
shilling in London a day or two ago for a much smaller bunch than this."

"Where do you get such beautiful flowers?" she asked, turning again to
Bella with her pleasant smile.

"I grow them myself, ma'am," said Bella, with shy pride.

"Do you really?  Well, you must be a born gardener, I am sure, and you
deserve to get on.  Mary,"--turning to her companion again,--"I will
have pink sweet-peas of different shades for the dinner-table to-night,
and then that point will be settled and off my mind.  Nothing could be
prettier.  Can you,"--to Bella--"give me six bunches of pink ones?
At least four of pink, and two of white?"

Bella turned over her store eagerly, and found the number wanted.

"I must have some of your mignonette," said the other lady, "for the sake
of the smell, and a bunch of those roses too.  How much each are they?"

"Tuppence the roses, and a penny the mignonette, ma'am," said Bella.

"There is my money," said the sweet-pea lady, handing her a shilling.

"And there is my threepence," said the mignonette lady.  "Do you come
every week with flowers?"

"I am going to try to, ma'am," said Bella.  "This is the first time I've
been."

"Well, if you will call at my house when you come, I dare say I shall
often be glad to have some of your flowers."

Bella's face brightened.  She was so glad she would have this kind,
friendly lady to go to; it would be splendid, too, to have a regular
customer.  That was what Aunt Maggie had hoped she would get.

"I live in the house next to the church.  Do you remember passing a church
at the top of the street, just as you come in to Norton?"

"Oh yes!" Bella and Tom exclaimed together.  "We stopped by it to arrange
our flowers."

"Well, the house next to it is mine.  You won't forget, will you?
Mrs. Watson, No. I High Street."

"Oh no, we shan't forget," they both answered her earnestly.  "As if we
could," said Tom, as he watched their two customers disappearing down the
street.  "I wish we could meet with some more customers like them."

Half an hour went by without bringing them another of any kind.
The fact was, they were so shy they stood back in a quiet corner, where
they were hidden by the crowd from any likely customers.

"I'm afraid the flowers will begin to droop, if we don't sell them soon,"
said Bella at last; and the thought spurred her into going up to a house
near by and knocking at the door.

"Please, do you want any flowers?" she asked timidly of the rather
grim-looking woman who came to the door.

"No, I don't," snapped the woman crossly.  "The idea of bringing me to the
door for nothing!  Anybody'd think I'd got nothing else to do!"
And the door was shut in Bella's face with a bang.

"Doesn't it make a difference how anybody speaks?" said Tom, receiving
unconsciously a lesson in good manners and bad that he never forgot to the
end of his life.  But the woman's bad manners and temper had affected
Bella so strongly that her eyes had filled with tears, and the little
courage she had had ebbed away.

"I shall know now what it feels like to be spoken to so," she said in a
husky voice, as she hastily wiped her eyes.

"Flowers, ma'am?  Tuppence and a penny a bunch.  Fresh this morning," said
Tom brightly.

An old lady was peering closely into his basket, examining the contents.

"Give me three of those that are smelling so sweet."

Tom picked out one of stocks and 'boy's love,' and one of pinks and
mignonette, and a bunch of roses.

"Have you got any lavender?"

"No, ma'am."

"I could bring you some in a week or two, ma'am," said Bella promptly,
forgetting the snub she had received in the old lady's enjoyment of her
flowers.  "It isn't quite ready to cut yet."

"Very well, bring me two shillings' worth.  I make it up into cushions to
sell for Missions.  If it is nice, I may order more."

"Thank you, ma'am; I'll cut it fresh the morning I bring it," said Bella
delightedly.

"Very well; I live in this house we are standing by," and she pointed to
the very one they had just been turned away from.

Bella's face flushed at the mere thought of having to face the
bad-tempered servant again, but, as she remarked to Tom afterwards, they
were told to call, and they wouldn't have gone unless they had been.

"That makes eighteenpence," said Tom, as Bella slipped the money into her
purse, "and an order for two shillings' worth for another week.
Ain't we getting on!"

"If we can only sell a few more bunches we'll go and get something to
eat," said Bella.  "I'm hungry; ain't you?"

"Starving," said Tom, with emphasis.  "Let's get into a better place,
where the people can see us."

"Flowers, penny a bunch," he called to the people as they passed by,
and so many turned and looked, and then stopped, that they had soon sold
half a dozen of their big bunches and many of the small ones.
Their flowers were certainly very good and very cheap, and Norton people
had not had the chance of buying such before.  The florist who had passed
the children on the road had a stall in the market-place, but he only sold
hothouse flowers, and charged very highly for them.

"We have only six bunches left," said Bella joyfully; "we'll go and have
something to eat now.  Where can we go for it, Tom?"

"There's a stall in the market-house where they sell limpets and cockles,
and----"

"Oh, I don't want limpets and cockles!  I want a glass of milk and some
buns.  Don't you?"

"Rather," said Tom; "let's buy some buns at that shop down there, and go
somewhere quiet to eat them.  I wouldn't like to eat them in the shop,
with every one looking, would you?"

"No; but we can't take milk away without something to carry it in."

"Well, we'll drink water.  There's sure to be a pump or a
drinking-fountain near."

So they went to the shop, and very proud Bella felt as she took out her
purse and paid for the four buns the woman put in a bag for her.

"Anything else, missie?"

"No, thank you," said Bella, but rather regretfully, as her eyes fell on
the tarts and sausage-rolls, and the bottles of sweets, and on the glasses
of milk labelled 'Penny a glass.'  A glass each would have cost twopence,
and that with the buns would amount to sixpence.  "It would be a dreadful
lot out of what we've made," thought Bella, and bravely turned away.

The smell of the new buns was very enticing to two hungry little people
who had had nothing to eat since their seven o'clock breakfast, and they
did not dawdle on their way back to the friendly shelter of the church
steps.

"Won't Charlie and Margery be excited to hear all about it?" laughed
Bella, as she munched in placid content.  "We ought to take something home
to them."

"We'll take them one of those peppermint walking-sticks," said Tom,
"shall we?  They love that.  I had one once, and Charlie always wanted one
like it.  I saw some in the market."

"We'll take them one each.  Isn't it lovely to have money, and be able to
buy things for people?"

"Rather," agreed Tom heartily.  "Bell, I'm going to bring something from
my garden next week.  I've got French beans and marrows ready to cut."

A lady passed, and looked hard at the children and at the baskets standing
beside them.

"Flowers, ma'am?" said ready Tom.

The lady paused.  "I must see if I have any change," she said, and stood
still while she looked in her hand-bag.  "Yes, I've just threepence," and
she went away carrying two of their remaining bunches.

For a few minutes longer they sat on, loth to move.  "My legs are aching a
bit, aren't yours?" asked Bella.

Tom nodded.  "I shouldn't be sorry if we were at the other end of the five
miles, should you?"

"I wish we were," sighed Bella, "and just meeting Charlie and Margery.
I wonder if they've started yet?"

A lady came along pushing an invalid carriage, on which a little girl was
lying.  She lay perfectly flat, and looked very white and ill.  As she
passed she looked with wistful, weary eyes at Tom and Bella.  Bella had
picked up her basket to make room for the carriage to pass.

"Oh, what lovely flowers!" cried the little girl.  "Mummy darling, do buy
some.  Are they for sale?" she added quickly, looking at Bella, a hot
blush passing swiftly over her pale face.

"Yes, miss," said Bella, blushing too.

"I am sorry, darling, but I came out without my purse.  I haven't a penny
with me."

"Oh!" there was deep disappointment in the little invalid's tone.

Bella picked out the nicest bunch she had left.  "Will you please to
accept one?" she asked, blushing again, but very prettily.  "I grew them
myself.  Will you take one, miss?"

The lady looked pleased, yet embarrassed.  "It is very, very kind of you,"
she said, hesitating, "but I hardly like to.  It seems almost like asking
for them, and I expect you wanted to sell them?"

"We have sold a lot, nearly all we brought in.  Please take them, ma'am;"
and the lady, feeling it would give Bella more pleasure to have them
accepted as a gift than paid for, did so with many thanks, and the little
lady's delight was the richest payment Bella had had that day.

"Oh, thank you, thank you very much!" she cried delightedly, pressing the
flowers to her pale face and breathing in the scent.  "Do you come here
often with flowers?"

"This is the first time," said Bella; "but we want to have some to bring
every week.  We've sold all we brought but these."

The lady looked in her basket.  "If only I had my purse with me I should
be glad to have those from you.  Do you mind coming back to my house with
me?  It is not very far."

"No, ma'am, we'll come, but,"--Bella hesitated, wanting to say something,
yet hardly knowing how to--"but if you don't want to go back, and--and if
you like to take them, we'll trust--I mean, next week will do."  It was
out at last, amid a great deal of blushing.

The lady smiled.  "Well, that is very thoughtful of you, and if you are
sure you don't mind trusting me I shall be much obliged to you, for I have
to be at my mother's house at one o'clock, and I think it must be that
now.  Stella, darling, you would like to carry the flowers, wouldn't you?
That's it.  Then I owe you fourpence for two twopenny bunches.  I will not
forget.  Perhaps I shall see you here at this same place at the same time
next week?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Good-morning, and thank you."

"Good-morning, ma'am," they both answered; and the little invalid called
back gratefully, "Good-bye, and thank you ever so much for my lovely
flowers."

"Now," said Tom excitedly, "all we've got to do is to walk home."

"When we've got the children's walking-sticks," corrected Bella, and they
both hurried down to the market-house to get them.

"We'll take home some cinnamon rock to Aunt Emma," said Bella; "she likes
that better than anything."

At last, with their baskets empty save for their purchases, they proudly
and joyfully turned their faces homewards, delighted in every way with
their day's experiences.

The walk home certainly did seem rather long, far longer than the walk
out, but they were very tired, of course, for they had been on their feet,
with scarcely any rest, since four in the morning.  The sun was hot too,
and the road dusty, and such a number of carriages and carts passed them
that the air all the time seemed full of a haze of dust--at least it did
until they had got a couple of miles or so away from Norton.  After that
it grew less bustling and much pleasanter.  And then by the last
milestone, which was a good mile from May Lane, they found their father
and Margery and Charlie waiting for them.

All their tiredness vanished then in a trice, and the last mile was
covered and home reached almost before they had begun to tell all they had
to say.

It was not much past four o'clock by the time they reached the cottage,
but Aunt Emma had finished all her scrubbing and cleaning, and had tidied
herself, and got tea all spread ready for them, and she actually came out
to meet them, seeming really glad to see them, and when they gave her the
cinnamon rock it was plain to see that she was really pleased that they
had thought of her.

"Now come in and take off your boots, and put on your old slippers to rest
your feet; you must be tired out," she said kindly.  They certainly looked
very tired, though they were too excited just then to feel so.

"There's apple-tart for tea," whispered Margery, as she followed Bella
upstairs.  "I saw Aunt Emma making it.  It's for you and Tom!"

Bella could hardly believe her ears, but when they sat down to table there
was the tart, sure enough; and as they sat there eating and talking over
their adventures and drinking their tea and laughing, Bella thought she
had never known such a perfectly happy, lovely day in all her life before.

And how splendid it was to hear them all exclaim when Bella took out her
purse and counted out on the table the money she had earned that day!
"And there's sixpence owing, and four-pence we spent on buns, that would
make ten-pence more!" she said proudly.

"You must put it in the Savings Bank towards buying your cold frame," said
her father; "and it won't be so very long either before you'll have enough
to get it with, if you do as well every week as you have to-day.
You can't always expect, though, to have such a lot of flowers as you've
got just now."

"I think I shall take some bunches of herbs in with me next time," said
Bella.  "Don't you think they'd sell, father?"

"I should think most people grow their own," said her father; "still, you
can but try.  The weight of them won't hurt you, even if you have to bring
them back again."

"Bella, if I've got some flowers next Saturday, will you take in a bunch
and sell them for me?" asked Margery excitedly.  "Then I'll have a penny
to put in the bank too."

"Oh, yours are fairy flowers," teased Charlie; "they would die on the way,
or turn into something else."

Margery was not going to be teased.  "P'raps they'd turn into fairies,"
she said, nodding her head wisely at her brother; "then they'd turn all
Bella's pennies into golden sov'rins, and make a little horse and carriage
to drive her home in."

"I'll find you some sandwiches or cake or something to take with you next
week," said Aunt Emma; "it's a pity you should spend your money on buns
and things.  It'll be better for you, and cheaper, to take your own with
you."

Tom and Bella could scarcely believe their ears, but they felt very
pleased, and thanked her very gratefully.



CHAPTER VII.


WHAT LAY BEYOND THE MILESTONE.

The next week the children went off far more heavily laden than they had
been when they made their first venture.  Bella had added a few bunches of
herbs to her large supply of flowers, and a bunch or two from Margery's
garden, and she had to carry both her baskets herself, for Tom's
vegetables proved load enough for him.  He had wanted to take some
currants for Charlie, but his father would not allow that.

"They ain't good enough," he said; "it won't do for to begin offering poor
stuff to your customers, or you'll lose those you've got and never get any
more, and you'll have all your load to carry for nothing.  You learn to
grow better ones, Charlie, my boy, and then another year you'll be able to
make something by them."

Charlie's face fell, but he had not given the time or care to his garden
that the others had, and he knew it, and that only made him more vexed.
Life was disappointing to Charlie just then.  It seemed to him, and to
Margery too, hard that they also could not go to Norton every Saturday.
The ten-mile walk they forgot all about, they only thought of the pleasure
of being in the midst of all the people and the bustle, and the shops and
market-stalls, with their loads of fruit and sweets and buns.  The great
aim of Margery's life then was to grow big enough to carry in a basketful
of flowers too, and sell them, and to possess a purse to put the money in,
and a Savings Bank book, just as Bella had.

As the summer wore on and the days grew hotter and hotter, the eagerness
of both died down a good deal.  It was far more pleasant, they found, to
stay at home and play in the cool lane or orchard, than to get up at four
in the morning and tramp about all day long under the weight of heavy
baskets.  Some days they even found it too hot to walk with their father
as far as the milestone.

Those were trying, tiring days for Tom and Bella, days that put their
courage to the test, and made their perseverance waver more than once.
The walk in the morning was lovely still, but the standing about in the
close, narrow streets, crowded with people and animals, without even a
rest at the end of their five-mile walk, was so wearying that Bella often
longed to sit down on the edge of the pavement to rest her aching feet.

Her cheeks would grow scarlet, and her head throb, and her eyes ache with
the glare, and the heat and the weight of the baskets, but she could not
do anything to get relief.  She had to stand or walk about, trying to sell
her flowers as quickly as possible.  There was nothing else to be done.
The poor flowers suffered too, and hard work it was to keep them looking
fresh.

Sometimes a farmer or carter would offer the two tired little
market-gardeners a 'lift' on their homeward way, but this did not happen
often, for, as a rule, they were all going in the opposite direction.
There were few besides Bella and Tom who left the town so early; and it
would have been cooler and pleasanter for them if they had waited until
the evening and the heat of the day was over, but they were always anxious
to get home, and they really did not know where to go or what to do with
themselves all the weary day until five or six o'clock.

That was a very long, hot summer.  The flowers opened and faded quickly,
in spite of the hours the whole family spent every evening watering them;
and more than once, if it had not been for the fruit from the orchard and
the vegetables, Bella and Tom would have had but a scanty supply to take
to their customers.  As it was, they could not carry enough to make very
much profit, for fruit and vegetables are heavy, and to carry a load of
them for miles is no joke.

Several times that summer, when she awoke after a hot, restless night to
another stifling, scorching day, Bella felt inclined to shirk her business
and remain at home.  It would have been so jolly to have spent the day
lazily in the shady orchard, instead of tramping those long, dusty miles.
Tom felt the heat less, and his energy helped to keep her up.

"We'll have a donkey before so very long," he said cheerfully.  "If we can
have a good sowing and planting this autumn, and good crops next spring,
father and all of us, we'll have enough to carry in to make it worth while
to hire Mrs. Wintle's donkey."

So with the thought of all they were going to do in the future to buoy
them up, off they would start again, hoping that before another Saturday
came the heat would have lessened, and some rain have fallen to refresh
the land and lay the dust.

Yet, with all its weariness and hard work, that summer ever after stood
out in Bella's memory as a very happy one; and the evenings after their
return, and the Sundays, remained in her memory all her life through.

Even if Charlie and Margery did not come to meet them, their father was
always there to carry their baskets home for them.  And then there was the
change into cool, comfortable old garments, and the nice tea, and the long
rest in the orchard, or sitting about in the porch outside the door,
while they talked over all that had happened during the day.

They all went to bed by daylight on those light nights, and Bella, as she
stretched out her weary body restfully on her little white bed, could see
through the open window the stars come up one by one in the deep
blue-black sky.

She was always quite rested by the time Sunday came, and was up and out
early for a look at her garden before getting ready for Sunday-School.
She loved the Sunday-School, and she loved her teacher, and the service
after in the dear old creeper-covered church, where the leaves peeped in
at the open windows, and the birds came in and flew about overhead, and
all the people knew and greeted one another in a friendly spirit.

On Sundays, too, it was an understood thing that Bella should go to tea
with Aunt Maggie, and this was to her, perhaps, one of the happiest hours
of the whole week, for Aunt Maggie had a little harmonium, to the music of
which they sang hymns.  Sometimes, too, she told stories of the days when
she was young, and of people and places she had seen--told them so
interestingly, that to Bella the people and places seemed as real as
though she had known them herself.  They had long talks, too, about all
that Bella was doing, and the things that puzzled her, and her plans for
the present and the future.

"You never seem to be years and years older than me, Aunt Maggie," Bella
said one day, "for you always seem to understand and to like what I like."

Aunt Maggie smiled.  "Some people's hearts don't grow old as fast as their
bodies," she said thoughtfully.  "I think it must be that which makes them
understand."

"I hope my heart won't ever get old," said Bella seriously.  "It must be
dreadful not to take any interest in people or anything."

One Sunday, the last of this old life, so comparatively happy and free of
care, Mrs. Langley stopped Bella just as she was leaving.

"I want you to come in to see me to-morrow," she said, "and bring Tom with
you.  I am making a print frock for you, and a holland coat for him to
wear to market on Saturdays.  They'll be much more comfortable for you
both than your thick cloth ones."  Then, in answer to Bella's cry of
delight, "You must thank your Aunt Emma, too; 'twas she thought of it
first, and I told her that if she'd get the stuff I'd make the things.
There now, run away home, it is time you were putting Margery to bed.
No, I shall not tell you the colour," laughing, as she loosened Bella's
arms which she had flung round her in her delight; "you will know
to-morrow."

"I hope it is pink," said Bella earnestly, eyeing her aunt closely, to see
if she could read anything from her face, but Mrs. Langley only smiled.

"Well, you will know by this time to-morrow.  Now, run away, or they will
be wondering what has become of you."

"To-morrow is such a long way off," sighed Bella.  "It'll never come!"

To-morrow came, as all to-morrows do, and, to Bella's great delight, the
frock turned out to be as pretty a pink as she could possibly desire.
It was very simply made, with just a plain skirt and belted bodice, but
when she saw it finished, and with little white collar and cuffs added,
Bella thought it the prettiest frock she had ever seen in her life.
Perhaps it was the prettiest she had ever possessed, for Aunt Emma did not
understand that clothes could be pretty as well as serviceable, and most
of poor Bella's frocks had been of heavy brown or black stuff, made
without any trimming, and with never a vestige of white at neck or
wrists,--a dainty finish which Bella loved the look of.

In spite of the heat and the long walk in it, Bella waited impatiently for
the following Saturday, and surely, she thought, never had a week been so
long in passing.

It was September now, but the weather was as hot and stifling as it had
been in July.  The days were shorter, and the sun went down earlier, but,
apart from the sun, the oppressive heat lasted on throughout the nights,
which were almost as trying as the day.  The earlier summer flowers were
over, and the drought had prevented the later ones from coming on well,
so that it was difficult to get a good supply week by week.

Bella and Tom no longer carried in the things from their own little
gardens only, or they would often have found they had not enough to make
it worth their while; but all contributed something that they had to sell,
and it was quite a serious business to make up the accounts and divide the
money when the little market-gardeners got home from market.

Each one now had a money-box or Savings Bank account.  Aunt Emma was
delighted.  "It is ever so much better for them than wasting their time
playing," she said to Mrs. Langley one day.  "Much better."

"They ought to play, too," said Aunt Maggie quietly; "this is their
play-time.  All the rest of their life will be taken up with trying to
earn a living.  Let them play too, when they can."

As Bella and Tom started off that morning in their nice new cool garments,
they thought that work would be ever so much nicer than play, if one could
only go about it dressed like that always.  Tom felt quite grown-up and
business-like in his linen coat, and Bella felt another being, her frock
was so much lighter and so pretty, too, and cool and clean.

"I think our new clothes have brought us good luck," she said, as long
before the morning was over they had sold out most of what they had
brought.  The 'good luck' was that in their new garments, looking cool and
fresh, they attracted the notice of those who had overlooked them in their
heavier, uglier clothes.

When the time came for them to have their meal, they had sold out
everything, to the very last apple.

"We could start for home now," said Bella, who was suffering much less
from the heat than usual, "only that I've got some shopping to do for Aunt
Emma."

"And we've got to buy the seeds," said Tom.  "It wouldn't do to start back
too early; father wouldn't have time to get to the milestone to meet us."

So they went and had their lunch in a leisurely, lazy way, talking all the
time they munched at their sandwiches and apples.  "I've got four
shillings for father, and threepence for Margery," said Bella, counting up
her takings, "and two shillings for myself."

"And I've got two shillings too," chimed in Tom.

This was a large sum to children brought up in the country, where the
best-paid workmen earned only twelve and sixpence a week.

Their meal ended, they went back to the shops and people again, and made
their purchases, and at last were able to turn their steps homeward.

"Instead of being early, we're later than usual," said Tom.  "Father will
have to wait a bit for us."

"Never mind; I dare say we shall be able to walk a little faster to-day,"
said Bella, "and make it up.  Margery said she would come to meet us.
I wonder if she will.  She's dying to wear her pink frock like mine, but I
don't s'pose Aunt Emma will let her.  I shall be able to see as soon as we
turn the last bend of the road.  The pink will show out fine against the
hedge.  Oh dear, I wish we were there!  I shall be glad to give these
baskets up to father, these groceries weigh heavy," and Bella sighed
wearily.

"Only one more hill and two more bends, and we shall see him," said Tom
cheerfully, for one of the chief pleasures of their day was to catch sight
of the milestone where their father had never yet failed to meet them,
to take their baskets from them, and listen to their account of the day's
doings.

"Only one more hill and two bends!" the thought sent them trudging on with
renewed spirit, and the hill was climbed before they realised it.
Then one bend in the road was rounded, then the other, and there in the
distance could be seen the milestone.  But, except for the milestone, the
road was empty!

"Why, father isn't there!" cried Bella disappointedly; "he is late."

"P'raps somebody has met him, and kept him talking," suggested Tom;
"we shall see him hurrying along in a minute."  So they finished the rest
of the distance with their eyes eagerly scanning the white road stretching
away before them.

"We will have a rest here, shall we?" said Bella, placing her baskets on
the ground by the old grey stone; "he won't be more than a few minutes,
I expect.  Oh, I am so tired, aren't you?"

Tom, seated on the milestone, only nodded, his eyes never wandered from
the road along which their father was to come.  It was very still and
quiet there, almost oppressively so.  No one passed, and no sound, except
the voices of the birds and the distant mooing of a cow, broke the
silence.

"P'raps after all we'd better go on," said Bella at last, after restlessly
fidgeting about, and staring along the dirty road until her eyes ached.

"It doesn't seem to be much use waiting," said Tom quietly, and they
started on their way again, but far less cheerfully now.  Indeed, for such
a trifling and easily explained incident, their spirits were strangely
cast down.  A dozen simple things might have happened to prevent their
father's coming; he might have been detained at his work, or have met some
one, and be staying talking to them; or he might have been busy and have
forgotten the time.

Perhaps it was because they were over-tired and hungry, and in the state
to look on the gloomy side of things, that they could not take a cheerful
view of the matter, or shake off the feeling of depression which filled
them.

Whether this was so or not, they felt anxious and troubled, and all the
sunshine and pleasure seemed to have gone out of their day.  It was almost
as though a foreboding of the truth had come to them--that when they left
the old milestone they were leaving their light-heartedness and childhood
behind them, never quite to find them again.  Never, at any rate, the
same.  When they left it they set their faces towards a long, dark road,
with many a weary hill and many a desolate space to cross, and with a
heavier burden to bear than any they had yet borne.

Had they known, their hearts might have failed them altogether, perhaps,
though the way was not to be all as dark and stony for their tired feet,
as at first it had seemed to promise.  There would be sunshine on the road
for them too, and pleasant resting-places.

To them then, as they trudged along in silence, the road they had to tread
seemed hard and gloomy enough, even though it was the road towards home.
Every yard seemed as six, and never a glimpse did they catch of their
father, or Margery, or Charlie.  Bella walked that mile often and often in
the years that followed, but never again without remembering that
afternoon.

At last, as they drew near the top of 'their own lane,' as they called it,
they saw a woman standing; she had no hat on her head, and appeared to be
waiting and looking eagerly for some one.  When she caught sight of the
children, she hurried forward to meet them.  Bella soon recognised her, it
was Mrs. Carter, Billy Carter's mother, and she wondered why she was there
in her working-dress, and why her face was so white.

"Where's father?" asked Bella sharply.  She never could tell afterwards
why that question sprung to her lips, or why with a sharp thrill of fear
she knew what the answer would be, before it was spoken.

"I've come to tell you, my dears,--your--your father's bad; there's been
an accident, and--and you've got to be very quiet."

"What is it?  What's happened?  What accident, oh, do tell!" cried Bella
in an agony of alarm at once.  It seemed to her then that she had known of
this all along, or expected it.

"Is--he--dead?" gasped Tom, white and shaking.

Mrs. Carter seized on the question with some relief.  It was one she could
answer with some comfort for them.  "No, he isn't dead.  He is hurt very
bad, but the doctor thinks he'll get over it--in time--with care.
He's got to go to the hospital, though.  Here, let me help you, dear."
She took Bella's baskets from her, and putting her strong arm about the
child's trembling body, helped her along.

"What happened?" gasped Bella through her poor white, quivering lips.

"A wall fell and crushed him."

"Will he get well again?"

"Yes, dear, oh yes, for certain.  We must all hope for the best, you know,
and we must be as brave and cheerful as we can.  He's hurt a good bit, and
some bones are broken, but they can't tell exactly what's wrong until they
get him to hospital.  Oh yes, dear, he'll get well again, and come home as
right as ever he was,--only it'll be a long time first, perhaps."

She was a capital person to have been sent to break the bad news to them,
for she herself was cheerful, and hopeful, and sympathetic, in spite of
the real dread at her heart.  "We were hoping you would have got home
sooner," she added.  "It seemed such a long time I had to wait for you.
He wants to see you before he starts."

The fact of his being taken from them came home to Bella then with a rush.
"Oh, they mustn't take him away!" she cried, almost hysterically.
"Why can't they let him stay at home?  We can nurse him.  I know he'd
rather----"

"Hush! hush!" said Mrs. Carter, "he'll hear you!" for they were nearly at
their own gate by that time.  "Bella, dear, you want to do what's best for
your father, don't you, and you don't want to think about yourself?
Well, he has to be where he can have good nursing, and doctors night and
day, and lots of things he couldn't have at home; and if you want him to
get well at all, you must bear with his being taken away from you for a
bit.  You mustn't mind it's being harder for you now, if it's going to be
better for him later."

"But I want to help."

"Help!  My dear, there'll be plenty of ways for you to help!  More than
you can reckon.  I don't know, I'm sure, how,"--but Mrs. Carter broke off
abruptly.  She did not want to add to their trouble now.

Tom, who had been walking along silently all this time, guessed what she
meant.  "We shall have plenty to do," he said gravely, "there'll be all of
us to keep while father is away, and you and me'll have to try to do it,
Bella."

By this time they were inside the gate, and at the sight of the ambulance
standing in the garden Bella nearly broke down again.  Her father had
already been brought out and laid in it, so they were spared that ordeal,
but at the sight of his grey-white face, and closed eyes, and bandaged
form, Bella almost fainted, and Tom had to clench his hands tight, to try
and stop their trembling.

"He wants to speak to you," said the nurse, beckoning to them to come
forward; "he would not go until he had seen you."

Almost timidly they drew close to his side and leaned over him.  For a
moment he did not look or speak; then, very feebly, his eyelids fluttered
and opened, and the pallid lips moved, but the words that came through
them were so faint they could barely catch them.

"You'll look after them--till--I come back?"

"Oh yes, yes," sobbed Bella passionately.

"We'll take care of them, father," said Tom, speaking very slowly and
distinctly, trying hard all the time to keep his lips steady and his eyes
from growing misty.  "Don't you worry, we can manage.  They shan't want
for anything, if we can help it.  Shall they, Bella?"

"No, no! only make haste and come back, father!" wept Bella.

"God bless you both!" gasped the poor injured father.  "Now kiss me,
Bella; you'll look after the little one?  Tom, boy, take care of them
all."

They both promised again, as they bent down and kissed him.

"And you'll come and see me--in the hospital--Saturdays?"

"Where is it you are going?" asked Bella hurriedly; she had forgotten that
in her excitement.

"To Norton," he gasped, his strength fast failing.

Then some one led them away, and the ambulance started on its slow
journey.



CHAPTER VIII.


ROCKET'S HELP IS REQUIRED.

"There will be plenty of ways for you to help."

Mrs. Carter had never spoken more truly than when she said this, by way of
consoling and bracing up Bella.  When the first shock and excitement and
grief had calmed down, the little family at 'Lane End' found themselves
faced with a problem which gave them enough to do and to think about.
This was, how were they all to be fed, and clothed, and warmed, and their
rent paid during the weeks that lay ahead of them?

Fortunately, their poor father had received his week's wages just an hour
or so before he met with his accident, and fortunately the money was found
still safe in his pocket, when his clothes had to be cut off him.
This was something, but they all realised that it was the last that he
would earn for many a day, and that there were five of them to support,
and that money must be earned by some one to support them week by week.

Miss Hender grew nearly crazy, and gave way to black despair.  She was
always one for looking on the black side of things, and adding trouble and
depression where there was more than enough already.

"It is a terrible thing to be left without a minute's warning, with four
children to support, and enough to do already, without having to earn a
living for them.  I had better ask for parish relief; I don't see what
else I can do," she groaned.

"Oh, Aunt Emma, don't do that!" cried Bella, horrified.

"It's all very well to say 'don't do that,'" her aunt answered
impatiently.  "I must do something.  You wouldn't like to starve, I'm
thinking, and if I let you, I'd be had up for neglect and sent to prison!"
and she collapsed into tears and groans again.

"Aunt Emma, don't go on like that!  We'll get on somehow, and nobody shall
blame you.  We can make enough out of the garden to keep us yet for a
bit," said Tom gravely.

These last days had changed Tom from a child into a man.  He had not said
much, but he had thought a great deal, and done more.  After the Sunday,
that strange, quiet Sunday, when he had been into Norton with his aunt and
Bella to see the poor sufferer in the hospital, he had quietly set to work
in the garden with all the energy and determination he possessed, for he
had realised that the garden was likely to prove their great 'stand-by,'
and that to provide for the future, it must be cared for now.

Aunt Emma, instead of thinking and acting, only sobbed and moaned and
despaired, and instead of comforting the children, left them to comfort
her.  Perhaps in the end it was best for them, for it is only by helping
and comforting others that one grows strong oneself.

"We made nine shillings on Saturday," went on Tom hopefully, "and that
wasn't one of our best days."

"And you think that five of us can live on nine shillings a week!"

"Couldn't we?" asked Tom disappointedly, "with the eggs and the apples and
the stuff out of the garden?"

Aunt Emma sniffed scornfully.  "With good management we might get along,"
she said shortly.  "There is no knowing what you can do till you're
brought to it."

Bella began to lose her temper.  "Why couldn't Aunt Emma try and make the
best of things?" she thought impatiently, "instead of making them all more
miserable than they were already.  It was very unkind of her, and, after
all, it was harder for them than for her;--but it had never been Aunt
Emma's way to try and make the best of things."

Yet in her inmost heart Miss Hender did not really think the outlook so
very black.  At any rate, she realised that it was very much brighter than
it might have been, if there had been no garden, and the children had not
made that little start of their own; and in her own mind she was planning
how she would take in a little washing, to help them all along.
But poor Aunt Emma's fault was that she would never let people know she
saw any brightness in life at all.  She was afraid they would not realise
how much she suffered, and how much she had to bear.

With spirits greatly damped, Tom and Bella walked away out into the
garden, and there the sweet fresh autumn air and the sunshine soon cheered
them again.

"What will there be to take in next week?" asked Bella, glancing about
her.  "We must carry all we can, for Aunt Emma's sake."

"There'll be apples," said Tom, "plenty of them hoarding pears, and
cabbages.  I wish we had a hand-cart!" he broke out impetuously:
"for there's heaps of stuff, potatoes, and turnips, and carrots, if only
we could get them to Norton, but what we can carry hardly pays for the
time and trouble."

"I shall have some early chrysanthemums," said Bella, looking lovingly at
her flowers, "and asters, and a few late roses.  Oh, I ought to have
opened my hotbed," and away she darted, her face full of eagerness.

It was only a few days before the accident that she had bought a nice
second-hand frame with her earnings, and her father had fixed it for her.
It was already full of pots of mignonette seeds and fairy-roses, cyclamen
and lilies of the valley, which she was hoping to bring on to sell through
the winter, when flowers would be scarce.

For once Tom stood by, and paid no heed.  He was absorbed in a new idea
that had come to him.  "Bella," he said at last, "do you know what I've a
good mind to do?"

Bella could see from his face that, whatever it was, he was pleased and
excited about it, so she was prepared to back him up.  "What is it?
Do tell!"

"I've a good mind to ask old Mrs. Wintle to let us have her donkey and
cart on Saturday; then we could carry in potatoes and vegetables enough to
make it worth while."

"Wouldn't she charge a lot?"  asked Bella doubtfully.  "Doesn't she ask
half-a-crown a day and his food?  That would be a lot out of what we make,
and Aunt Emma would grumble like anything!"

"Of course it would cost something, but see what a lot more stuff we could
take in to sell.  I believe it would pay, and I've a good mind to chance
it.  I tell you what I'll do.  I'll pay for the donkey for a week or two,
out of what I've saved, and then we shall see if it's worth it or not, and
if it isn't, well, Aunt Emma won't be any the worse off."

"But you will!"

"I am going to risk it; I'd rather spend my money on that than anything.
I believe it'll answer.  Anyway, we shan't know till we try.  Think of the
time we shall save too!  We needn't start so early by an hour or two, and
we shall get back in time to do a bit of work out here too."

"That would be fine," agreed Bella, "and we shouldn't be so dreadfully
tired either."  The long walk had begun to be rather a trial to her.
"Will you tell Aunt Emma about it, Tom?  She takes things better from
you."

To the surprise of both of them, Miss Hender 'took the news' very well
indeed, and fell in with the plan at once instead of opposing it.
"You'll save ever so much in shoe leather," she said, "and any amount of
time and trouble.  And look here," holding out her apron, in which were a
number of large brown eggs, "couldn't you carry in some of these and sell
them?  There's some to go to your father, but there's a-plenty more, and
they're fine ones too."

Bella's face brightened.  "Why, of course we could!  However didn't we
think of it before?  It'll be fine, Aunt Emma," and she longed to skip for
joy.

"If we'd had them, you couldn't have carried them, you'd got load enough
already; but with the donkey-cart it'll be different."

When Saturday came, and they began to load up the cart, the wisdom of
Tom's plan was only too plain.  There were baskets of flowers and herbs,
one of eggs, and one of pears, a large hamper of apples, a sack of
potatoes, and hampers of turnips and carrots, beets, and onions, leeks,
and parsnips; not to mention a box of celery and one of tomatoes.

Bella laughed delightedly.  "We shall be taking fowls and ducks too, some
day, perhaps!"

"And why not?" asked Tom.

"Yes, why not?" said Miss Hender quickly.  "What a good thing!  Why didn't
you think of it before, Bella?  I could see to all that, and I could make
pretty nearly as much by them as all the fruit and flowers put together.
If I'd only thought of it,"--growing more and more enthusiastic--"I might
have got a pair of fowls ready to send in to-day.  Never mind, I'll be
ready another time!"  And from that chance word of Bella's began what they
later on laughingly called 'Aunt Emma's Poultry Farm.'

Charlie and Margery watched the proceedings that Saturday morning with
eyes full of envy and longing.  They wanted so much to go too, and it did
seem hard to stay behind for the whole long, dull day.

"You must come to meet us," whispered Bella, "and you shall have a drive
home.  We shan't be any earlier, for we're going to the hospital to see
father; then, if he's better, you and Charlie are to come in with us next
week to see him; Aunt Emma says so."

Bella in her pink frock, and Tom in his holland coat, clambered up into
the cart, and while Tom gathered up the reins Bella picked up the two most
precious of the baskets, and away they started.

Once clear of the lane, and out on the level high road, Rocket broke into
a smart little trot, and carried them along in fine style.  To Bella it
seemed the very height of luxury and enjoyment to be getting over the
ground so quickly, and with no heavy load to carry.  The first milestone
seemed to be reached in no time, but when they came to it Bella had to
turn away her head and blink hard, to keep the tears out of her eyes, so
vividly did the sight of it bring back the happy meetings there, and the
thought that not for weeks and weeks, if ever, would they all meet there
again.

It was a good thing for them both that they were not walking that day,
for the drive, the donkey, and the excitement of the new venture, helped
to lift their thoughts off their trouble, and helped them through.
Some of the people they met stared wonderingly at the little pair of
market-gardeners in the gay green cart.  Some smiled and nodded
encouragingly, others called out cheerily, "Hello, young market-gardeners,
you're getting on!  That's good, stick to it, and you'll do yet!"

By this time the regular market-folk who arrived early in the day had come
to know the two children who were so regular and so punctual.

They both felt very pleased with the attention they received, but they
felt very self-conscious indeed when they drew up at the house by the
church, where their first customer, Mrs. Watson, lived, and even more so
when they went on to Mrs. Adamson, whose little invalid daughter Joan had
bought flowers of them every week since that first meeting.

Joan grew quite excited when she saw the donkey and cart, but when she
heard of the accident, and the trouble they were all in, she wept for
sympathy.

"Oh, mummy," she cried, "we must do something to help!" and Mrs. Adamson,
who had been listening intently to the tale of trouble, decided that one
of the best ways of helping would be by buying as much as she could of
what they brought in to sell each week.  So of eggs and vegetables, fruit
and flowers, she laid in quite a store, and the children went on their way
in high spirits.  Just before they left, Joan called her mother aside for
a whispered consultation.

"Mummy, darling, do let me send the poor man one of my bottles of
eau-de-Cologne.  If his head aches, he will be so glad of it; shall I?"

"Certainly, darling, and when he is better we will send him some
magazines.  Shall we?"

In a state of great delight Joan handed over the eau-de-Cologne to Bella.
"But we will have the cork drawn first, for he might be glad to use it at
once, and I'll leave the dear little corkscrew in.  He'll like to have
that, won't he?"

"Oh yes, miss," said Bella gratefully; "he's never seen one like that
before.  Thank you, miss, I'll tell him you sent it."

Then Joan had to be carried to the window to look at Rocket and the cart,
and see Tom and Bella start on again.  "Do you think you will ever sell
all you've got there?" she asked, with wondering eyes.

"Yes, I think so.  I hope so, miss.  I've got a good many regular
customers now, and p'raps we shall get some more.  We're going to try it
for a week or two, anyway, just to see."

Tom's courage was certainly rewarded, for long before the hour when
visiting-time at the hospital began, they had sold out all they had
brought, and were able to take good, patient Rocket to the stable and his
dinner.  They had not counted up their takings yet, but Bella felt sure
that there was close on a sovereign in her purse; and they had besides an
order for half a sack of potatoes, a bushel of cooking apples, and a pair
of fowls.  They scarcely knew what to do, they were so delighted.

"Oh, Tom, won't father be glad!" Bella kept on saying; "and won't he be
surprised when he hears about Rocket!  He'll think we are getting on fine,
and won't he be pleased about it!"

"It'll help to get him better, I reckon," said Tom, with quiet delight.

Tom both felt and acted as though he were ten years older than when he was
in Norton, a week ago.  The shock and the responsibility, acting on his
thoughtful, steady nature, had changed him from a boy to a man.  Not a sad
or too serious man, yet one who felt that he had to act now, not to play;
to think out what was for the best, and to do it, and not let things
slide, or take their chance, and he took up his responsibilities with a
brave and cheerful spirit.  There was no self-pity about Tom; it never
entered his head to think he was ill-used or hard-worked.

"'Tisn't any hardship, ma'am," he said brightly, when Mrs. Adamson
condoled with them on all they had to do, now they were left alone.
"I like work better than play.  You feel then that you'm doing something.
I get tired of play.  I like a game of cricket or football, but I mean the
other sort of play."

Bella, who remembered only too well the dull, miserable years when Aunt
Emma did not like her to play, and would not let her work, agreed with Tom
heartily.  "Yes, I like work better than play too," she said emphatically.
"I think it's fine to have a lot to do.  There isn't anything makes you so
miserable as doing nothing."

From two to four were the visitors' hours at the hospital, and long before
that hour had struck Tom and Bella were waiting anxiously for the doors of
the hospital to open.  There was quite a little crowd of people besides
themselves, and every one had some little luxury they were taking to the
poor invalids inside.  Tom and Bella had fresh eggs and flowers, and, best
of all, the good news of their success that day.  They had actually earned
a whole sovereign and threepence!

To poor William Hender this was good news indeed, for it meant that his
dear ones were not in want--at any rate for the present--and the knowledge
lifted a heavy load from his mind.  "Thank God for sending me such help in
my trouble," he murmured gratefully.  "I am blessed with good children,
and no mistake!"

But Bella's happiness had almost vanished at the sight of the poor pale
face on the pillow, and the weak hands that he could scarcely raise.
She had, somehow, expected to see her father much better and more like
himself, but he looked so dreadfully, dreadfully ill and altered that an
awful fear swept over her and gripped her with an icy clutch.
In her anxiety she forgot her shyness, and went boldly up to one of the
nurses, who was standing a little way off.  "Do you think father is really
better, miss?" she asked timidly, while every nerve quivered with dread of
the answer.

"He is getting on," the nurse answered cautiously.  "It will be a long
time before he will be well, of course.  You mustn't expect to see much
difference for a good while yet."

"You do think he will get well?  You don't think he is--is----"  Bella
could not finish her question, her lips quivered so.  The nurse, who was
not supposed to talk about the patients to their friends, could not refuse
those frightened pleading eyes.

"Oh no, no! you mustn't be thinking of such a thing.  He is going to get
well presently, and you will have him home for Christmas.  What you have
to do is to keep his spirits up, and cheer him all you can, and the doctor
will cure him, and we will take care of him and send him home in time to
eat his Christmas dinner."

Bella smiled through her tears, and with the worst fear lifted from her
heart she turned to her father again.  Till four o'clock they sat by him
and talked, and he listened contentedly.  He was anxious to hear every
little detail of all they had been doing at home.  He was too weak to talk
much, but he joined in now and then, and laughed a lot at the funny things
they told him.  He was very much pleased when he heard about Rocket.

"I'm thankful you thought of it, my boy.  I've been troubling about
Bella's having that long walk in all weathers, and the mornings and
evenings getting darker and darker.  Rocket's a good steady donkey too,
I remember him; 'twas I advised poor old Mother Wintle to buy him," and he
laughed at the recollection.

The laugh raised Bella's spirits again, and their tongues wagged so fast
after that, that when the bell rang at four o'clock for the visitors to
leave, they felt sure there must have been a mistake.  "It can't be more
than three!" said Bella, quite distressed.  But all the clocks in the town
were striking four, and all the other visitors in the ward were preparing
to leave.  Bella's spirits sank again, it seemed so dreadful to go away
and leave her father there, and it took all her courage to keep from
breaking down and weeping bitterly.

"Never mind," said Tom, trying to be cheerful, "one week has gone, and the
worst one for father, I expect, and p'raps in two or three more he'll be
home again."

"The nurse said he would be home for Christmas," said Bella dolefully;
"but I think she must have made a mistake, and meant Michaelmas, for
Christmas is more than three months off yet.  He'll be sure to be back
before the Fair, won't he, Tom?"

"Oh yes," said Tom decidedly, with never a doubt.

The nurse had said Christmas, and she meant Christmas, though, mercifully
for the children, they continued for some time to feel sure she had made a
mistake, and hope burnt brightly in their hearts week after week, and
their spirits were never daunted.



CHAPTER IX.


HOME AGAIN.

The nurse had spoken truly enough.  William Hender did not die, and he got
back to his home in time for Christmas.  All through September and October
the children kept up their hopes, each week they felt sure the next would
bring the news that he was well enough to return to them; but the weeks
went by, September had slipped into October, and October into November,
and still he did not come.

The heat had suddenly broken up at the end of September, and the weather
turned wet and stormy and depressing.  Bella and Tom found the work in the
garden almost beyond their power, and they longed for their father's help
and advice; but week after week went by, and still he could not come, and
the work had to be done somehow, by somebody.

Then, in November, the blow that some had feared all along fell on them.
The doctor told Miss Hender that her brother might return to his home in a
few weeks' time, but that he would never again be fit for hard work.
He would be able to walk about a little, but he would always be a cripple
and an invalid, and quite unable to carry on his old occupation.

The news fell on them all with crushing force.  Miss Hender fell into her
gloomiest mood, and drew the most miserable pictures of the future, with
six to feed and clothe, rent to pay, an invalid man to keep, and only the
children's earnings to do it all on.

Bella saw only her poor father's sad fate--a helpless cripple for the rest
of his life, tied to the house, and with nothing to occupy his time,
he who had always been so strong and active, who had never been able to
stay patiently indoors for an hour, unless he had something to do.
And she felt that her heart would break with her sorrow and love for him.

Little Margery realised only the joy of having him back, and instantly
became full of preparations for his coming.  She had a new rose to show
him, and her Sunday-school prize, and she had five shillings in her
money-box, about the spending of which she wanted his advice.

Tom, watching her plans to give their invalid a happy welcome, decided
that Margery, after all, was the one to imitate, and he tried to throw off
the sickening sense of misery which had overwhelmed him since he had heard
the stunning news, and to follow her example.

"We've got to make the best of it for his sake," he said to Bella and
Charlie, as they worked away together, turning over an empty strip of
ground.  "It is worst of all for him, and if he sees we are all miserable,
he'll feel it is his fault, and it will make it harder than ever for him."

"I don't believe father'll be a cripple always," said Charlie sturdily;
"he's sure to get better some day, and there's certain to be something he
can do."

"But the doctors say he mustn't do anything," said Bella despondently.

"Doctors don't know everything!  Everybody makes mistakes some time,"
he added quickly, for the doctor at the hospital was one of his special
heroes.

It was a comfort to the others even to be unable to contradict him.

"Anyhow," said Tom, "we will go on as though we thought he was going to be
better soon, and he'll be able to tell us what to do in the garden, and
how to do it, and p'raps by degrees he'll find little things that he can
do without hurting himself."  And so by making plans to help the poor
invalid to be happy and comfortable, they made themselves happier too.

"I don't think we can do better than go on as we are," said Bella.  "If I
was to go out to service, or Tom was to get work anywhere, it would be one
less to feed, but we shouldn't be able to earn as much for the rest as we
do now."

They all agreed on that point, and Aunt Maggie, who was called in to talk
matters over, agreed with them.  "I think you've got a good opening that
it would be a sin to waste," she said heartily.  "I think the best thing
you can do is to try to increase your business all you can."

"If I could have a bit more of the garden for a run, and could get the
money to put up a bigger house for my fowls," said Aunt Emma eagerly,
"I believe I could do very well with them."

"I am sure you could," agreed Mrs. Langley warmly.  She did not add that
this was just what she had been wanting to suggest, but was afraid to,
lest it should give offence.

Emma Hender's face quite lit up with pleasure.  "If it isn't too damp for
you, I wish you would come down the garden with me and see what I think
would be a good place to have a house."

"I'd like to come," said Aunt Maggie warmly, only too glad to be friendly
if Miss Hender would let her.  "Shall we go now?"

Down the garden they all trooped, for, of course, Margery must be in
everything, and Charlie was more interested in ducks and fowls, or any
other live creature, than he was in flowers or fruit.  They examined the
present poky fowl-house and run, and then they surveyed the land, and each
one gave an opinion on the matter.

"I think if we were to put the new house next to the old one it would be
best, don't you?" said Aunt Emma.

Aunt Maggie looked about her for a minute thoughtfully.  "Well, no," she
said at last.  "I think, if it was mine, I should have a new house close
there by the orchard, and give them a run that would go right through the
hedge, so that they could have the run of the orchard too.  They would
enjoy that, and it would keep them healthy, and they could pick up so much
food you wouldn't need to feed them more than twice a day.  What do you
think about it?"

Miss Hender looked thoughtful for a minute.  "Yes, I think it might be a
good plan," she said.  She did not speak very heartily, but it was a
wonderful change for her to agree at all with any suggestion made by
Mrs. Langley.  "But there," she sighed, dropping back into her usual
melancholy manner, "what does it matter?  I don't suppose it will ever be
my lot to get it.  I don't see where the money is to come from," and she
returned to the house with all the air of a much injured woman.

That afternoon, as Tom and Bella went round shutting up the hot-beds,
Tom confided a new plan he had formed.  "I am going to learn carpentering
this winter," he said eagerly, "just plain carpentering, you know.
I want to see if we can't build Aunt Emma her fowl-house by the spring.
I'm sure she'd make it pay, and I believe she'd be better-tempered if
she'd got something of her own to look after, and earn a little by."

"I believe she would," said Bella soberly.  "I know I was."

It was only a few days later than this that William Hender came back once
more to the house he had been absent from for a quarter of a year.
The day before Christmas Eve was fixed on for his return, and in the
double joy of Christmas and of having their father back, the children
forgot for the time the trouble that hung over them all.  To them his
return made the season seem a more than usually joyful one; but Aunt Emma
felt that, because of the trouble, Christmas should be ignored by them
that year, and not kept up in any way.

"I am sure your poor father won't feel up to eating any Christmas dinner,
or having any fun, or anything," she said gloomily.  "We'd better let
Christmas go by just like any other time.  I've worries enough on my mind
to keep me from rejoicing, and your poor father the same."

Bella felt her temper rising.  "As if the trouble isn't more to me than it
is to her," she thought impatiently.  "A fine thing it would be if all sat
down and groaned and cried!"

Tom looked puzzled.  He felt that they ought at any rate to try to seem
bright and cheerful for their father's sake, but he didn't want to seem
unfeeling; yet the trouble would not grow less by looking miserable about
it, and making every one else miserable too.

"We shall have father back," he said quietly, "that'll be enough to be
glad about.  I think we ought to keep it up a bit this year, just to show
how glad we are."

"Can't you say you're glad when you see him?  Won't that be enough?"

Charlie put his own feelings quite plainly.  "Oh, Aunt Emma, we've never
let Christmas go by yet; do let's keep it up this year!  Let's have a nice
dinner and some fun!  Aunt Emma, do.  P'raps we shan't all be here by
another one."

Charlie was Miss Hender's favourite, and, as a rule, got what he asked
for, though not, perhaps, the first time.  Miss Hender was impressed by
his last words.  "P'raps we shan't all be here by another, one."

He had only meant that perhaps one of them might be out in service, but to
her mind came only the thought of a longer and a final parting, such as
they had so narrowly escaped, and the thought touched and awed her.

"Very well," she said at last; "if you are all set on a Christmas dinner,
I'll cook it for you.  I can't undertake more, my hands'll be full
'tending on your father."

"I can 'tend on father," Bella was about to say, and sharply, but
fortunately she checked herself in time, as she remembered that there were
many hours and some whole days in each week when she could do nothing for
him, and he must be left entirely to Aunt Emma's care, and depend on her
for all his comfort.  So she said nothing, and she and Tom went off to
their work, feeling thankful to Charlie for having gained so much for
them, and determined to think of some other way also in which to keep up
the happy season.

This was on the Monday, and on the Wednesday the invalid was to return,
so that already there were great bustle and excitement at the cottage,
preparing and making ready, for there really was a great deal to do.
The room which had always been used as a parlour was now to be turned out
and whitewashed and papered, and turned into a bedroom for the invalid,
that he might not have to go up and down the stairs.  Indeed, the whole
house was made sweet and bright inside and out, the garden rails and the
front door were given a coat of paint, and the garden itself made as neat
as a December garden could be, though it was robbed of some of Bella's
finest chrysanthemums to decorate the house on the longed-for day.

Their father was to leave the hospital soon after the midday meal there,
reaching home early in the afternoon before the light began to wane,
but by one o'clock the four children had taken up their position at the
top of the lane to watch for the coming carriage.

As the time drew near when it might be expected, Aunt Maggie came and
joined them, and further along the road they saw Mrs. Carter waiting to
wave a welcome to their invalid, and presently others came, until there
was quite a little gathering, anxious to show their neighbour how glad
they were to see him back.

When the long-looked-for carriage came in sight, and Tom and the children
darted forward to meet it, Bella could not go with them.  Such a lump rose
in her throat, such blinding tears to her eyes, such a feeling of love and
pity and sorrow welled up in her heart, she could scarcely restrain
herself from sobbing aloud, and turning quickly she walked stumblingly
back to the empty house.

Mrs. Langley saw her go, but she did not follow, something in Bella's face
told her she would rather be alone; but when Tom and Margery, missing her,
ran back after her, Aunt Maggie did not stop them.  She thought it best to
let them go.

Charlie, as usual, went his own way, and when the carriage drove slowly
down the lane and drew up at the gate, he was riding triumphantly on the
step, the door-handle in his hand, ready to open it.

Bella stood by, nervously dreading the alterations she might see.
Tom looked on, very grave and silent, but Margery, forgetting everything
but that her father was come back, rushed towards him with a glad cry of
welcome, "Oh, daddy, daddy!  I'm so glad you've come back," and, flinging
her arms about him, drew his face down to be kissed.

In spite of the suffering inseparable from it, it was a very happy
home-coming.  The invalid was helped into the house and put in his chair
by the fire; but before they could begin to tell or hear all there was to
tell or hear, the carriage had to be unloaded and all his belongings
brought in; so, to get it done quickly and come back to him, they all
trooped out to help.

And what a cry of excitement went up at the sight of what the carriage
contained!  For, first and foremost, on the seat that had been facing him,
they found a real little Christmas-tree.

"I saw it!" cried Charlie; "I saw it directly I got on the step."

But no one paid any heed to Charlie's shouts, for they were bringing in
the tree in triumph.  Tom flew off to get a big pot to stand it in,
and when he had planted it and brought it in and stood it in the place of
honour in the kitchen, how cheery it looked, and how fragrantly the scent
of it filled the cosy, warm room, and how excitedly they all discussed
what should be hung on its branches, until their father, sorting out one
box from the rest of his luggage, opened it and displayed little
glittering candlesticks and pretty glass ornaments which were for nothing
in the world but to hang on a Christmas-tree, and make it look perfectly
beautiful.

There was a bright blue peacock with a spun-glass tail, and a top-knot of
the same on his head, a rosy apple and a yellow pear, a bunch of grapes,
and two balls that flashed and glittered, and all were as pretty as pretty
could be, as they caught the glow of the fire and flashed it back in
dozens of different lights.

"The Sister gave them to me; they had a lot sent them for the hospital
tree--more than they could use, and she thought you would like some."

"Oh!" sighed Margery, breathless with delight, "I wish it was to-morrow
now, and that there wasn't any night, for I'm afraid if I go to sleep I
shall wake up and find it is only a dream."

Night came, though, and the next day, when Tom and Bella had to go to
Norton--for the market was to be held on the Thursday, Christmas Eve,
rather than on the Bank Holiday--and never, since they began, had the two
found it so hard to start off on their day's work.  There was so much to
talk over and to do at home, so much to show their father; things they had
done in the garden, and things they meant to do.  He consoled them a
little, though, by promising that he would not look at anything until they
were there to show him round; and then, to cheer them in their work, there
was his interest in the donkey and cart, and the packing up of their load,
and his astonishment at the number of different things they carried in it
now.

To-day there were holly and ivy and mistletoe, as well as all the usual
things.

The weather was ideal Christmas weather, and the drive in was so
beautiful, no one's spirits could go on remaining low.  In the town, too,
all was bustle and excitement.  Every one seemed to be pleased and full of
pleasant mysteries and nice secrets.  The shop windows were full of lovely
things, and the shops full of people buying them.

"I don't suppose we shall find any one at home," said Bella ruefully, as
she dismounted first, as usual, at Mrs. Watson's door, and, indeed, Mrs.
Watson was out 'shopping,' the maid said, but she had left an order for
some chrysanthemums, and two shillingsworth of holly, if they had any.

Then, how glad Tom was that he and Charlie had spent that long day on
Monday gathering Christmas decorations!  It was Charlie's suggestion, and
Charlie was to have half the profits.

Bella rejoiced doubly at every branch of holly that was sold, for, in the
first place, it had been anything but pleasant as a travelling companion,
and, in the second, the money it sold for helped to fill up her purse, and
now, more than ever, were they anxious to earn every penny they could.

The next place they stopped at was Mrs. Adamson's.  Here they found Joan
and her mother both at home.  Joan's face was full of excitement when
Bella was shown into her own little private room; but Bella thought it was
all on account of a pot of hyacinths that she was bringing her, to give to
her mother as a Christmas present.  Joan had ordered them weeks before,
and Bella had taken special pains to bring them on nicely, and now they
were to be handed over to the little owner, and hidden until the next day.

Bella soon found that it was not the hyacinths only that were causing
Joan's excitement.  "I've got something for you, too," she said eagerly,
and she drew out from amongst her cushions and under her rug several
interesting-looking parcels.

"They are secrets, and you mustn't look inside them until you get home,"
she said firmly.  "That one is for your father, and that is for your
aunt, and this is for you; that is for Tom, and that for Charlie, and this
one is for Margery.  I can't help your seeing it is a dolly, for I can't
wrap it up any better, it is so big and bulgy."

Bella tried her hardest to thank the kind little invalid as warmly as she
felt, but her surprise and delight nearly robbed her altogether of speech.

"Oh, and they shall all go on father's tree!" she gasped delightedly, as
the idea suddenly came to her.  Then, of course, Joan had to be told about
the little tree that their father had brought home with him, and she grew
almost as excited as Bella herself.

"Do put my parcels on it, and don't, please, tell them anything about them
until the tree is lighted up.  Have you got candles for it?"

Bella shook her head.  She had not thought about lighting up the tree.

"Will you, please, pass me that box on the table?" asked Joan, and when
Bella had done so, she opened it and took from it six little Christmas
candles.  "I have lots," she said; "do, please, have these."

"I do think Christmas is the most lovely time of all the year!" said Bella
to Tom, as, with her parcels carefully hidden at the bottom of her big
basket, they drove on again, and Tom agreed.

Inside the shops and outside the Christmas spirit reigned that day.
Buyers and sellers all seemed possessed with it, and so busy was every one
that there was no dawdling over the making of purchases, and the children,
though they had an even larger supply than usual, had sold out their store
quite early.

"We could start for home at once," said Bella, as the clock struck one,
"but I would like to take home just one or two little things for the
Christmas tree, and some oranges and nuts--and oh, I wish we could get
some nice little present for father, and something for Aunt Emma.
Do you think we might, Tom?"

"Yes," said Tom, without hesitation; "we'll spend the holly money--my
share of it, I mean.  You see, it won't be like wasting it; we will get
them something useful."

"Let's go and look at the shops," cried Bella delightedly.  "Oh, won't it
be fine when they see the things on the tree!  We won't let them know
anything about it till then, will we?"

They went down the street, and up, and down again, looking in at every
shop window most intently, but quite unable to decide on what to lay out
their money.  They wanted two things that must be cheap, and must be
useful, and must suit their father and aunt.

At last Tom grew impatient.  "Look here, we've got to make up our minds
and settle on something, for it's time we were getting home."

They were standing outside a drapery store at that moment--the kind of
store where they sell not only drapery, but all kinds of things--and
almost as Tom spoke the shop and window burst into a blaze of light.
Being Christmas Eve, they were going to spare no expense in making the
place look attractive.

Tom and Bella drew near for another look, and almost at the same moment
their eyes fell on the very thing they wanted, a pair of soft warm felt
slippers.  "Those will do for father, they'll be splendid!" they exclaimed
in one breath; and the next moment Bella was in the shop, so afraid was
she that some one else would be before her in securing them.

Having made sure of them, she was able to look about her, and, hanging
over the counter, she caught sight of some little grey woollen turnovers.
"One of those will be just the thing for Aunt Emma," she whispered to Tom,
"to put over her shoulders when she goes down to the fowls."

So a shawl was purchased, too, and, almost too excited and pleased to know
what they were about, the children hurried off for Rocket and the cart,
and started for home.



CHAPTER X.


CHRISTMAS.

With the thought of the warm stable awaiting him at the other end of his
journey, little Rocket stepped out so briskly that they were home in good
time after all.  Bella's thoughts and Tom's were far more perplexing ones,
for they had to decide how they were to get their mysterious parcels out
of the cart and out of sight without any one seeing them.

"I can get them out of the cart easy enough," said Tom, "but to get them
into the house is another matter.  Would it do to leave them in the shed
all night?"

"It'll have to, it's my belief," said Bella perplexedly.  "I think it's
the best we can do, and then I'll try to go down for them and hide them
upstairs before Margery wakes in the morning."

So she put the precious parcels in one of the round hampers, and covered
them over with some of the waste cabbage leaves they had saved and brought
back for the fowls.

"Are those for me?" Miss Hender asked, when she saw the leaves.

"Yes," said Tom calmly.  "I'll carry them down and put basket and all in
the tool-house for the night;" and he was gone before any one could stop
him, and Bella, with a deep breath of relief, was able to think of other
things with an easy mind.

It was splendid, they both thought, to come back and find their father
awaiting them once more, glad to welcome them, and eager to hear all their
doings.  By the time Rocket had been taken home to his supper and bed, the
afternoon had gone and darkness fallen, and then they all had tea by the
light of the blazing fire in the kitchen, which was sweet with the mingled
scents of the little Christmas tree and one of Bella's pots of Roman
hyacinths, which she had given to her father.  There was something of a
festive air, too, about the little gathering.  Father was home, Christmas
was at hand, and they had earned enough that day to keep them all in
comfort for another week.  They had got in a store of coal and wood, the
rent was ready in the rent-box, and their minds were free from debt or
pressing need.

There was much to tell and much to hear as they lingered over their meal,
but Tom and Bella found it far from easy to talk of their day's doings
without bringing in any reference to the 'surprises' now lying in the
tool-shed, and more than once they were thankful that the light in the
room was flickering and uneven, for it helped to hide embarrassed looks
and quick blushes, which would certainly have roused suspicion if
Charlie's or Margery's quick eyes had seen them.

Charlie was in a state of great delight with the three shillings, which
was his share of the holly money.  "What shall you do with yours, Tom?" he
asked, but fortunately he did not wait for an answer.  "Do you know what I
am going to do with mine?--But no, I shan't tell you yet; you'll know
soon, and then we shall have a fine time."

"I know," said Margery, who was full of curiosity, and wanted to surprise
Charlie's secret from him, "Rabbits!"

"Rabbits!" scornfully, "I wouldn't be bothered with them!"

"Canaries?" asked Bella, "or bees, or pigeons?"

"Never you mind," said Charlie, somewhat hastily.  "It isn't any good for
you to go on guessing.  You'll know when you see."  And he pointedly
turned the conversation, and actually managed to go to bed with his secret
still kept.

So did Bella and Tom, but theirs weighed on Bella's mind far more heavily
than did Charlie's on his, and she was never more glad to get up than she
was on that Christmas morning.

It was still so dark that she could not see Margery in her little bed
across the room, but she heard her breathing steadily and deeply, and as
she did not speak when Bella moved about the room a little, Bella knew she
must be fast asleep.  She did not even move when Bella struck a match and
lighted a candle, nor when she opened the bedroom door and crept
downstairs.

It had become Bella's habit now to go down first and light the kitchen
fire, so if they heard her no one would take any notice, and, once
downstairs, it was easy enough to open the front door and slip out.
It was not so easy to grope one's way to the tool-house and find the
hamper and its contents.  It was a bitterly cold morning, a keen wind
swept along the garden path, and every now and then something soft and
cold touched Bella's face, or rested on her hair.

"I believe it is snowing," she said, as she held out her hand to try to
catch a flake.  In the sky the stars were still twinkling, and suddenly
from somewhere in the distance the bells rang out their glad peal.

To Bella out there alone with the stars and the snow and the bells, it all
seemed wonderfully beautiful and impressive.  Her thoughts flew to her
mother, and the past Christmases when she had been with them, and, as she
turned her face up to the sky and the stars, it seemed to Bella as though
they must be looking straight into each other's eyes.

"We don't forget you, mother," she whispered.  "Even when we are talking
and laughing, we'll be thinking of you too, and wanting you;" and one
little star flashed and gleamed as though it understood and answered her.

In the tool-house she found the hamper and its precious contents quite
safe, and gathering all the parcels in her apron, she replaced the cabbage
leaves, and scurried back to the house.  How she got in and up the stairs
she scarcely knew.

Margery stirred as she entered and spoke, "Is that you, Bella?"

"Yes," said Bella, "I'm going down now to light the fire and get father
some tea.  You go to sleep again; it is too early to wake up yet;" and
sleepy Margery turned over in her snug bed and was asleep almost before
Bella had ceased speaking.

It was not easy to stow away a dozen paper-covered parcels in a small
space, and without making a sound.  Bella found this the hardest part of
the whole task, until it entered her head to lay them flat under her bed.
"It's lucky I make my bed myself!" she thought, as she drew the bedclothes
straight again.  "It is a splendid place, nothing shows a bit!" and she
hurried about her usual tasks full of excitement and relief.

There was a Christmasy look about the world out of doors, and a Christmasy
feeling throughout the house indoors.  The sun shone, and a few flakes of
snow fell in a lazy, casual way--enough to convince Margery that Christmas
had really come, but not enough to inconvenience anybody else.  To Margery
snow was a part of Christmas, which was not complete without it, and as
soon as she stepped out of bed she ran to the window and looked out
anxiously.

"Well," she said doubtfully, "there is snow, but very little.  I hope it
doesn't mean that it is going to be a very little Christmas."

Long before the day was over she admitted that, in spite of there being
only a very little snow, it was one of the nicest Christmases she had ever
known in all her life.

Almost as soon as their father was dressed and settled in his arm-chair by
the fire, Aunt Maggie arrived with a big and heavy basket on her arm.

"Happy Christmas to you all!" she cried cheerfully.  "Isn't it good to be
together again?  How are you feeling this morning, William?"

"Pretty well, thank you, Maggie, and glad enough to be home again!
You are coming to dinner with us, of course?"

"No, I am not, thank you," said Aunt Maggie; "an old friend of mine is
coming to dinner with me.  She was alone, and I was alone, so I asked her.
I've brought you your plum-pudding, if you'll accept it instead of me, and
there's a little parcel for each of you."

"Maggie, you've got to come to us!  You knew we should expect you!
Whatever made you go and ask somebody in?"

"Well, I knew you'd be better alone, as you ain't very strong yet, and
Miss Hender has got her hands full, I know.  But if you'll let me come up
to tea, I will, and be glad to."

"And bring your friend too," said Aunt Emma, quite genially.

"Thank you; I am sure it is very kind of you, and she'll be delighted to
come, I know.  I must run home now, for I've got my dinner to get ready."

Bella and the children, who had disappeared soon after Aunt Maggie's
arrival, came running in again.

"Aunt Maggie," said Bella, almost breathless with haste, "we were coming
down with these on our way to church, but--but we can't wait!  That's with
my love.  I've been bringing them on on purpose for you!" and she put down
before Aunt Maggie a pot of beautiful lily of the valley almost in full
bloom.  The fragrance of them filled the room.

"Lilies!" cried Mrs. Langley delightedly, "lilies?  Why, however did you
get them now, child?  I never saw anything lovelier in my life?
Old Mrs. Twining'll go crazy over them.  I never knew anybody love flowers
as she does.  Thank you, Bella, dear," and she kissed the little
flower-grower warmly.

"I've made you a besom, Aunt Maggie, but it isn't very good, I am afraid,"
said Tom shyly.  "I ain't very clever at it yet."

Aunt Maggie's pleasant face beamed.  "Bless the boy!" she cried heartily,
"he always knows what I'm in want of.  I shall find it ever so useful,
Tom."

"And I've got an orange for you," broke in Margery, who could keep quiet
no longer.

"And I've got some peppermints," said Charlie.

"Now fancy you two remembering what I like!  Thank you, dears, ever so
much.  Well, I didn't expect to carry my basket back full, I can tell you.
I am sorry I've got to hurry away now, but I'll be up again about four
o'clock.  I hope you'll have a comfortable day, William.  If I can do
anything to help, I shall be only too pleased.  You will tell me, Miss
Hender, won't you?  Well, good-bye for the time, and a happy Christmas to
you all!" and Aunt Maggie ran off as fast as she could go.

Then what excitement there was, as they all eagerly opened their parcels.
There was a warm muffler for their father, an apron for Miss Hender, a
pair of warm gloves for Bella and a thick pair for Tom for driving; for
Charlie there was a book, and for Margery a silver thimble.

"Just the very things we want!"  cried Bella delightedly, "I shall wear
my gloves to church presently; I wanted some to keep my hands warm."

"I can't wear my fimble to church, I s'pose?" questioned Margery, looking
at it longingly.

"Oh no!" said Bella, "and if you could it wouldn't show under your
gloves."

"Could I carry it in my pocket?" pleaded Margery; she could not bear to be
parted from her new treasure so soon.

"You would most likely drag it out with your handkerchief and lose it.
What would you do then?  You leave your thimble at home with father, and I
will lend you my muff, to keep your hands warm--if you will promise to
take great care of it."

"Oh, I'll be ever so careful," promised Margery eagerly, for one of the
ambitions of her life was to have a muff to carry.  Bella had a little
old-fashioned black one that had belonged to her mother, and Margery
yearned for the time when she too should have one.

They were all pleased with their presents, even Aunt Emma.  "Well, I did
want an apron," she said, as she turned it over and examined it.
"It might have been a trifle longer, but it looks a nice one."
This from Aunt Emma was wonderful praise.  "I must go and see about the
dinner now, and, Bella, it is time to get ready for church; you'll see
that they are all clean and tidy, won't you?"

"Yes," promised Bella; and when presently they all started on their walk
no one could have found fault with their appearance, not even Aunt Emma.

The snowflakes had ceased falling now, the sun was shining brilliantly,
but a keen little breeze was rustling the dead leaves still clinging to
the bushes, and nipping the noses and fingers of those who faced it.
Across the fields sounded the peals of the church bells, and along the
roads and lanes came little groups of people stepping out briskly in the
frosty air.  Every one had a greeting for every one, and almost every face
bore a brighter, more friendly look than usual.

The service, with its hymns so heartily sung, was cheerful too,
particularly the part that the children loved so much, when carols were
sung in place of a sermon.  This was a treat they would not have missed
for a good deal.  They all waited eagerly for their own especial
favourites, and when the choir broke out with--

    "Once in royal David's city
     Stood a lowly cattle shed."

Margery looked up at Bella triumphantly.  She had her favourite, at any
rate, so her anxiety was over.

Charlie's favourite was, 'God rest you, merry gentlemen,' but he was
doomed to disappointment that day; and Tom did not get his--

    "The holly and the ivy
     Now both were full well grown."

Bella had so many favourite carols, she was almost sure of hearing one or
the other, and to-day her face lighted up with pleasure when the choir
began--

    "It came upon the midnight clear,
        That glorious song of old,
     From angels bending near the earth,
        With news of joy foretold.
     Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
        From heaven's all-gracious King,
     The world in solemn silence lay
        To hear the angels sing."

As they walked home the air and the words still rang in her head:--

    "And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
        Whose forms are bending low,
     Who toil along the arduous way,
        With painful steps and slow;
     Look now! for glad and joyous hours,
        God's messengers will bring.
     Oh, rest beside the weary road,
        And hear the angels sing."

As she sang them her thoughts flew first to her father, and then they
travelled back over the past twelve months, and all the trials and changes
it had brought to them, and all the good things too.  God had been very,
very good to them.  He had given them their father back, they had wanted
for nothing, and He had enabled them to keep a home for their father to
come back to.

It rested with them still to keep a roof to shelter him, to find food and
clothing, and everything that was needed, but Bella did not let herself
feel afraid.

"I am not going to worry, God will help us," she thought, with childlike
faith in Him.  "He has taken care of us so far, and I am sure He will go
on taking care of us."

"How quiet you are!  What are you thinking of?" cried Margery, tugging at
Bella's hand.

    "Oh, rest beside the weary road,
        And hear the angels sing,"

Sang Bella, softly, as they turned into May Lane, and Tom took up the
refrain.

"Look! look! look!  There's father, standing at the gate!  Oh, do look!"
cried Margery excitedly, and, taking to her heels, she dashed to meet him,
followed by the others.

Father had to hear all about the service, and the carols, of course, but
before he had heard a half, and admired the new gloves, and shown off his
own new muffler, Aunt Emma was out, to say he ought not to stand about in
the cold, and that dinner would soon be ready, and the children had better
come in and get their hats and coats off.

Such a dinner it was, too, and such appetites they all had.  There were
two roasted fowls, a piece of bacon, a suet pudding, and potatoes and
Brussels sprouts of their own growing; and after that there was Aunt
Maggie's Christmas pudding.

"I think it has been a lovely dinner!" said Margery, with a deep sigh of
content; "and I s'pect presently I shan't feel as though I had eaten such
a 'normous lot.  I think I'll be comfor'abler when I don't," and she was
surprised that the others all laughed.

They sat a long time over their dinner, talking and enjoying themselves,
and the short December daylight was actually beginning to wane before they
made a move.

"Now," said Aunt Emma, with a sigh, as she rose, "who is going to help me
with the dishes?"

Bella looked at Tom, and Tom at Bella.  "Well," said the latter, at last,
"I want to help you, but--but Tom and I have a big secret that we want
to--to arrange, and we want to be here by ourselves,--except father, of
course,--for a bit."

"Is it a nice secret? a real one?" asked Charlie, "a s'prise?"

"Yes, a very nice one."

"We'll help Aunt Emma; come along, Margy."

"I wish I knew what it was," said Margery, still lingering and looking
anxiously at Bella.  "Shall I know by an' by?"

"Yes, yes," said Bella impatiently; "if you run away you will.
If you don't, you see, we shan't be able to attend to it----"

"Oh!" gasped Margery, and the next moment she had disappeared, and was in
the scullery.

Then, for nearly an hour Tom and Bella found so much to do, they scarcely
knew what to do first.  Their father had to be told all about the secrets,
all the treasures had to be brought down from upstairs, the candles fixed
in the candlesticks, and the presents arranged on the tree or around it.
They never could have been ready in time, had not their father helped
them; and, as it was, darkness had fallen before they had done, and they
had to light the lamp.  At last everything was really fixed and ready, all
but the lighting of the Christmas candles.

"Now," said Bella, "we will put out the lamp, and stir up the fire to make
it blaze, for there mustn't be any other light but that and the candles.
Tom, you go out, and see if Aunt Emma and the others are ready.  If they
are, they must wait till we call, and then we will light the candles at
once."

"They are ready," said Tom, returning in a moment; "and you had better
hurry, for they won't wait much longer."

One after another the yellow flames gleamed out against the green
branches.  "You can call them now, Tom," Bella gasped, breathless with
excitement and haste.

Tom, only too ready, put his head round the door.  "Ahoy there!" he began,
at the top of his voice, and almost as if in answer came a knocking at the
door.

"That's Aunt Maggie and Mrs. Twining," whispered Bella; "that's nice, now
they'll be able to see the tree too!"

Tom ran out and opened the front door quickly, for it was not the weather
in which to keep people waiting, and so it happened that the little group
from the door and the little group from the scullery met in the passage,
and entered the room together.

"Oh-h-h!"  squealed Margery.

"I say!"  cried Charlie.

"Well, I never!  And to think that at my age I should see a Christmas-tree
for the first time!" exclaimed old Mrs. Twining.  "It makes me sad to
think of what I've missed!"

"However did you manage it? and where did you get all the things?" cried
Aunt Emma, amazed, for she had no suspicion of what was going on.

For a while all was chatter and admiration and excitement, the elder ones
content to gaze and admire only, the younger ones eyeing the parcels with
eager, inquisitive eyes.

"Whatever can be inside them all?" gasped Margery.  "Oh, I don't know how
to wait until I know!" and Margery was not the only one who felt like
that.  Indeed, to keep them waiting long was more than Bella or Tom could
do, and very soon the parcels were being handed round.

That was a glorious moment for them all, but especially for Bella; she
alone knew all the secrets the tree held, and to whom each parcel
belonged, and she was pleased and proud, excited and nervous, but
supremely happy, all at the same time.  There was something for every one,
even for old Mrs. Twining, for, when Bella realised that she would be
there, and heard how much she loved flowers, she had brought in one of her
precious pots of Roman hyacinths for her, and placed it under the boughs
of the tree in readiness for the old lady.

"I s'pose I ought to keep it for market," she had sighed, as she picked
out the nicest she could see.  But no price that could have been paid for
it could have been half as precious as the overwhelming delight of the
poor lonely old woman, and her joyful thanks.

For Aunt Maggie there was a little vase that they had bought in Norton for
her; for their father the slippers, and for Aunt Emma the shawl, and they
all seemed quite overcome to think there were such nice presents lurking
in those branches for them.

Then came what were surprises even to Bella,--Joan Adamson's presents,
which she had not even felt through the wrappings.  The little lady must
have thought the matter out very carefully, for she had sent to each
exactly what they wanted.  For Margery there was a doll, fully dressed,
even to the little laced boots that could be taken off and laced on again.
For Tom there was a fine big book with pictures of shipwrecks and fights
and wonderful adventures.  For Charlie there was a strong clasp-knife,
which made him, for the first time, cease to envy his father.
While for Bella there was the prettiest little brooch she had ever seen.
It was only a little frosted silver daisy with a yellow eye, but to Bella,
who had never possessed but one brooch, and that an old one of her
mother's, which she was afraid to wear, it was perfect, and filled her
with rapture.  For Aunt Emma there was a nice jet hat-pin, and for their
father two white handkerchiefs.

No little Christmas-tree that ever existed could have given more pleasure
than that one did, and even after it was relieved of its burden of
presents, the children could not tear themselves away from gazing at it,
until the candles had burnt right down in their sockets, and there was no
light left to gaze by.

With a sigh of regret that the joy of it was over, they all turned away,
but only to gather round the fire, as happy a little party as one could
find that Christmas Day.  The mingled scent of the flowers and the
fir-tree made the kitchen sweet, the pretty glass toys on the little tree
caught the light of the fire and flashed back its glow. Father put on his
warm slippers, and Aunt Emma her apron and little shawl, Charlie dropped
on the rug before the fire to examine his knife again by its light,
and Margery sat at her father's feet hugging her doll in an ecstasy of
delight.

"Let us have some carols, children, shall we?" said their father
presently.  "Aunt Emma and I haven't heard any yet, and Christmas doesn't
seem perfect without a few carols."

So on they sat in the firelight and sang all they could remember,
one after the other, until at last the fire died down, and the room grew
dark.

"I think it is time now to light the lamp and see about having some tea,"
said Aunt Emma, rising from her chair.  "What does every one say to that?"

"I don't know that I want any tea, but I should like the lamp to be
lighted," said Margery, with a deep sigh of pleasure; "for, though I know
what my doll feels like, I can't say I have seen her properly yet.
But I've been busy all the time, I've been thinking about a name for her,
and I've made up my mind that I'm going to call her 'Christmas.'"



CHAPTER XI.


A STEP FORWARD.

"Aunt Maggie," said Bella, "what does that line in the Carol mean,
'And hear the angels sing'?"

It was the day after Christmas, and Bella was having tea with Mrs.
Langley.  For a moment Aunt Maggie sat gazing thoughtfully into the fire.
"I ain't very clever at putting things into words," she said at last,
"but I think what it means is, that we must stop every now and then from
thinking only of the worries and troubles of life, and the hard work, and
the squabbles and disappointments, and let our thoughts dwell instead on
what is beautiful and good--on God, Who has done so much for us, and
Jesus, Who died for us.  We must think of the beautiful things that God
gives us every day, the birds and the flowers, and the children, and our
homes and friends.  If we do that, we shall be strong and hopeful, and
there will be many glad hours for us, when we shall hear the angels'
voices in our hearts."

"I think I understand," said Bella gravely.  "We have had lots of trouble,
but we have had lots of nice things too.  I like to stop and think about
it all; don't you, Aunt Maggie?  It makes one feel happy and glad."

"Yes, dear, and it is always wonderful, when looking back over the past,
to see the way God has led us, and all the experiences we have been
through.  If we could look ahead, we should be frightened and daunted,
probably, but if we put our hands in God's hand and let Him lead us, and
if we take each day as it comes, and each duty, content to do our best,
and to do without grumbling the work that He sets us, we shall come
through without fear or alarm, and find our way smoother for us than ever
we had dared to hope for."

"I suppose every one has some work to do," said Bella; "but it seems as if
some people only play."

"Most people have something to do, and a good many find their play harder
than work; but it doesn't matter to you or to me or to any one what others
have or haven't.  God has given us certain work to do for Him and His
people.  He can't give the same work to everybody.  One has to fill one
post, and another another post.  It doesn't make it any harder for us that
some have very little to do.  We aren't any the worse off, are we?"

"No," said Bella.

"In fact, we are better off.  If everybody worked, there would be nothing
left for those who want to live by their work.  If everybody grew flowers,
nobody would want to buy yours.  If you had to make your own boots and
clothes, you couldn't make your garden pay as you do.  But I see the
kettle is boiling, and we'll have some tea, and we won't grumble because
we've got to get it ourselves, will we?"

"I'd rather make it myself," said Bella, laughing.  "Aunt Maggie, do you
know what is going to happen?"

"No.  Something nice, I hope, dear?"

"Yes.  Father says we'll have a large fowl-house put up, there by the
orchard, and we'll keep a whole lot of fowls.  Aunt Emma has done so well
with them this year.  He says he will be able to help with them, chop up
their food and feed them, and collect the eggs and wash them and date
them."

"Oh, that will be splendid!  I know it will be a comfort to him to be
doing something, and it will be good for him too.  Why, Bella, child, you
will be having a stall in the market soon."

Bella coloured, and laughed shyly.  "That is one of the things I wanted to
manage this year if we could, but perhaps we'll have to wait now.
The fowl-house will cost a good bit, and we must pay for that first."

"Never mind, child.  It will soon repay you again, and perhaps by the next
Christmas market you will have your stall."

Bella's face was radiant.  "Aunt Maggie, I wanted to ask you about
something else I want to do.  Can't I bottle some of my herbs to sell?
I've got ever so much parsley and mint and sage, and it is only wasting."

"Of course you could!  Why ever didn't we think of it sooner?" cried Mrs.
Langley, vexed with herself.  "It is the wrong time now; you must gather
it before it flowers, but we will take care we don't forget another
season, and in the meantime we must collect some nice bottles and corks."

"A stall in the market," said Aunt Maggie to herself, when Bella had run
home.  "It strikes me that before very long they'll be opening a shop of
their own, and right well they deserve to succeed too.  It isn't many
children of their age could or would support a whole family, and be so
happy in their work too."

Though the days were short now, and the hours few when they could work out
of doors, the fowl-house was built and tarred and roofed, and fitted with
perches before a couple of weeks were past, for the man they called in to
help them with the job had little else to do at that time of the year, and
there was so little to be done in the garden, the boys were able to help a
great deal; and never in their lives had they seen Aunt Emma so pleased as
she was with the new fowl-house and run.  'My poultry farm,' she called
it, and she was full of plans as to where the chickens were to be kept,
and how they were to be fed, and the different kinds she was going to
keep; but it is only fair to say that her greatest pleasure lay in the
interest her brother took in it all.

The hens were soon installed in their new quarters, and every day the poor
invalid collected the scraps of the house and chopped them up, and every
night he put the pans of food in the oven to warm, and every day, unless
the weather was very bad, he managed to creep out to give the fowls their
food and drink, and to collect the eggs.  He always washed and marked them
and arranged them for market, so that they should look most tempting,
putting all the dark brown ones together, and the light brown ones, and
the creamy white ones.

"I don't see that there's any call to take all that trouble,"  Aunt Emma
remarked, rather scornfully.  "If people want eggs they'll buy them, no
matter if they're clean or dirty, brown or white."

"But very often they don't feel that they want them until they see them
looking clean and tempting," answered her brother quietly.
"A dirty-looking egg will take away some folks' appetites, whereas a clean
one will make them feel hungry.  There was never anything but good done
yet by taking a little trouble over things."

Aunt Emma looked unconvinced, but of one thing she could not help being
convinced, and that was the good that the work and the interest of it were
doing her brother.  He no longer worried so cruelly at having to be idle;
he felt less depressed, and, as he grew more cheerful, so he grew
stronger, and by and by the pain he suffered lessened, and he was able to
walk better and do more.

So the months wore away, and March came on them all too quickly, and with
each week the work in the garden grew heavier.

"I do believe we shall have to have in a man to help us another year,"
sighed Bella, pausing in her digging, and seating herself on an upturned
flower-pot for a rest.

Tom groaned.  "And he'll cost more than he earns, most likely," he said
soberly.

"Not if----" began Bella; but what she was going on to say was never said,
and will never be known now, for at that moment Charlie burst through the
gate and along the path in a great state of excitement.

"Guess what I've done!  Guess what I've bought!  Quick, quick, quick!"

"Rabbits," said Bella; "and if you have, you must keep them shut up or
they'll eat everything."

"'Tisn't rabbits.  Guess again."

"Pigeons?" guessed Tom.

"A pair of shears?" said Bella.

"A pig?" cried Tom.

But Charlie only shook his head more and more emphatically.

"Why, a swarm of bees," he burst out, unable to keep his secret any
longer, "bee-skip and all; and the man is bringing them almost at once."

"Bees?" cried Tom.  "What do you know about bees?"

"Nothing; but I s'pose I can learn.  Come and choose a place for the
bee-skip to stand.  Where shall they go?"

"Oh, not anywhere near me!" cried Bella; "I don't like bees."

"P'raps you'll like the honey.  The man says he had pounds and pounds of
honey last year.  Come on, Bella.  Come and help me choose a spot."

Bella went, but not very joyfully, and Tom followed.  "You won't expect me
to help you look after them, will you?" she asked nervously, "for I tell
you I am afraid of them."

"Oh no," said Charlie seriously; "and when the honey is ready for market,
I'll walk behind the cart with it, for fear it should sting you."

Bella laughed.  "Tom," she called back, "can you paint a sign-board?
I'm sure we ought to have one over the gate to say 'Fruit, flowers,
vegetables, honey, eggs, fowls, porkers, and dried herbs sold here.'"

The idea pleased the boys immensely.  "Can't we sell anything else?" cried
Charlie.  "Do try and think of something."

"Perhaps Aunt Emma will sell cakes and apple-pasties, and provide tea and
coffee for twopence a cup."

"And a penny more to watch Charlie's bees," laughed Bella.  "Oh, here
comes Margery.  Perhaps she has come to say she has bought a cow!
Wouldn't it be fun!"

Charlie burst into a peal of laughter.  "Hullo, Margery!" he shouted;
"what have you got?  A cow?"

Margery stood still in the path and stared at him, her blue eyes full of
puzzled surprise.

"A cow?" she repeated, as though she could hardly believe her ears.
"How should I have a cow?  What do you mean?" looking questioningly from
one to the other.

"Do you mean to say you haven't brought home anything new?"

"Why, yes, I've got two of the dearest darling little white ducks you ever
saw in all your life.  Bella, do come and see them!  Mrs. Carter gave them
to me, and I've brought them home in a basket, but I've been a long time,
because I let them paddle in all the nice big puddles we came to, and oh,
they loved it.  Do come, all of you.  Oh, they are so pretty, and I think
they know me already.  I've called one Snowdrop, and the other Daisy.
Hark!" she cried, as they hurried after her, "don't you hear them calling
to me?"

"I should think I did," laughed Tom.  "They were shouting, 'Mag, Mag,
Mag,' as plain as could be.  I hope Charlie's bees won't begin shouting to
him, too, or we shan't be able to hear ourselves speak.  I shouldn't be
surprised if we grew to love them best of all, because they are nice and
quiet."

"You wait till they are angry," said Charlie knowingly, "or are
swarming----"

"That's just what I shan't wait for," said Bella.

"Oh!" cried Margery, as though her patience was exhausted, "don't keep on
talking so, please.  I do want to hear my ducks.  There!" as they suddenly
came on the little yellow, waddling, screaming creatures, "ain't they
lovely?"

"Lovely?" cried Charlie.  "Why, you said they were white."

"Well, they will be," she explained eagerly.  "Of course they are yellow
to begin with.  All the best ones are.  Look at their feathers beginning
to come already.  Hush, hush, dears, don't cry so!  I expect they were
frightened 'cause I went away," she explained, as she knelt down and took
them both in her arms.

"Where are they going to sleep to-night?" asked Bella.

Margery looked up with a troubled face.  "I s'pose Aunt Emma wouldn't let
them sleep in my room, in a basket?  They would be very good, I'm sure.
I wish she would." But Bella assured her there was no hope of that, and
that it would be better for the little ducks to be out of doors in the sun
and fresh air.  So Snowdrop and Daisy were, to their great delight, turned
loose in the orchard, and at night a nice roomy chicken-coop was provided
for them, and there they grew plump and white, and were as happy as the
days were long.

"Tom, you really must put up that sign," said Bella, laughing, as they all
trooped back to the house to get ready for dinner.

"Well, if I don't do it soon," said Tom, "I shall have to have too, that's
certain."

But there was no time for sign-painting for the next few months,
for already the work was almost more than they could get through.
All of them, even Aunt Emma, lent a hand with the digging and raking and
planting out; but, there was no doubt about it, they did seriously miss
their father's help.  All the weariness, the aching backs and bones, and
galled hands were forgotten, though, when the hardest of the work was
over, and they began to see the results of all their toil.

The long stretch of grey-green bushes in Bella's lavender-bed was a sight
that year, and her flower-beds were a picture.  Charlie's bees soon
discovered them, and Bella often declared that except for the time when
the beans were in flower and drew the bees away, she had no peace or
pleasure with her flowers from the time they began to bloom until after
they were gathered and sold.

"I am sure I ought to have half the profits from the honey," she laughed,
"for I nearly keep the bees!"

That summer Rocket's loads grew so large that a pony had to be hired to
take his place sometimes, for Aunt Emma's fowls and eggs added
considerably to the weight and to the number of baskets they had to get
into the cart.  So soon did they repay themselves for the cost of the
fowl-house, that before autumn was past Bella had begun once more to hope
that her dream of a stall in the market might yet be realised, and shortly
too.

They had so much to sell now, and such a variety of things, that it took
them a very long time to find customers for all, and it was very, very,
tiring work, they found, to go round from house to house, all over the
hilly little town.  It meant long, weary hours of tramping, and often they
could not get home till quite late.  Then, quite suddenly, one day, when
they had got home late, and more than usually tired, the next and
long-hoped-for step was decided upon.  They would rent a stall in the
market for the winter months, at any rate, and they would begin on the
very next Saturday as ever was.

When once this great step was decided upon, preparations had to begin at
once, and in earnest, for long white cloths to cover the shelves had to be
bought and made, to make them look clean and dainty.  In a state of great
excitement they all practised on the kitchen table how they would arrange
the things, and how they should be laid out to look their best and be most
attractive.

Margery looked on with the keenest interest.  "Oh, Aunt Emma, do let me go
with them on Saturday.  Just this once," she pleaded eagerly.  "I don't
weigh very heavy, and I'm sure the pony wouldn't mind me, and I'd be ever
so good.  I wouldn't be a bit of trouble, not the very least little bit.
May I?  Daddy, do say yes!  Tom and Bella will take care of me."

Aunt Emma looked at her doubtfully, but there was a smile at the corner of
her mouth.  "Well, take care you don't get sold too," she said;
"if you do, I shan't buy you back, I promise you.  I've a good mind to
walk in myself in the afternoon," she added, turning to her brother.
"I haven't seen Norton Market for years, and I've often felt I'd like to.
I little thought I should ever be helping to have a stall there.  I really
think I must go in, William."

"You could drive home," said Tom readily.  "Bella can manage the pony, and
I'll walk."

Bella was looking at her father, all her thoughts centred on him.
The only shadow on their day, the day when they would reach the height of
their ambition, was that he would not be there to see it.  She knew that
he was feeling it too.  It would have been such a pleasure to him, such a
grand break in the monotony of his life, if he could have gone too.

"Oh, it must be managed somehow; some way must be found," she thought
desperately--and then inspiration came to her.

"Father, you must come too," she cried, "or--or it won't be a bit right.
Aunt Emma, can't we manage like this, just for once?  Suppose you drive in
with Tom and all the things in the morning,"--and she choked back her
disappointment that, after all her dreams and hopes and longings, she
would not be there herself to arrange her first market-stall,--"then I
will drive father in later in Mrs. Wintle's donkey-cart.  Do you think you
could bear the drive, father?" she asked anxiously, her eyes alight with
excitement.

"I believe it would do me good," he answered eagerly.  His face had been
growing brighter and brighter all the time Bella had been speaking, and
his poor tired eyes were as full of a wistful longing, as were Margery's a
few moments before.  "I've thought many a time how nice a little outing
would be, and I do want to see the children make their new venture,"
he added, turning to his sister.  "It's one I've been wanting for them
ever since the beginning."

So it was all settled, and in her joy and pride at taking her father for
his first outing, she quite forgot her desire to arrange their first
stall.

To Margery there was nothing wanting in her pleasure.  To be allowed to go
to Norton and sit like a real market-woman behind a real stall with scales
and paper bags and measures; to see the people come up and buy, and open
their purses and hand money to Tom or Aunt Emma, and then to see Tom or
Aunt Emma go to the cash-box and put in the money and take out the change,
was all wonderful and lovely enough, but to have her father there too made
everything quite perfect; and her only trouble was that so many hours had
to be lived through, somehow, before these wonderful things could happen.

After all, it was not so very long to wait.  To the others the time was
all too short for all they had to do.  There were fowls and ducks to pluck
and truss, and pack in the snow-white cloths in the big shallow baskets;
and eggs to pack; flowers to gather and tie up in tastefully arranged
bunches; vegetables to scrub and trim, and baskets of honey, bottles of
herbs, and home-made jams to pack.  There was a great deal to do, but
their hearts were in the work, and all felt proud enough of their little
show when it was ready.

To Margery's relief the great day came at last, and, as though it knew
what was expected of it, it dawned as bright and beautiful as any one
could desire.  All were up early, but Charlie was the first to start, as
he was going to walk the whole distance.  Tom and Aunt Emma and Margery
started an hour later, but Bella and her father did not leave until
eleven, when the day was at its warmest and brightest, and as they drove
along the sunny road with the beautiful fresh breeze blowing gently on
their faces, Bella thought she had never, never in her life before felt so
glad and proud.

Whenever they passed a cottage the neighbours came out to tell the invalid
how good it was to see him as far as that again; indeed, every one they
met had a warm greeting of some kind for him.  Then, when they had passed
all the people and the houses, and had the road to themselves, their minds
went back to the past.

When they came to the old milestone where her father used to wait for
them, Bella almost stopped the donkey, and, for the first time since that
dreadful day when they had waited there in vain for him, she could bear to
look at the old grey stone.  "I wonder when----" she began, but stopped
for fear of hurting him.  He guessed what she had been going to say.

"I b'lieve I shall walk again that far to meet you," he said cheerfully.
"You will find me standing there some day when you ain't expecting it;"
and if Bella could have been happier than she was before, she was then.

When they reached Norton the town was already full, and the market in full
swing.  Bella had never before arrived at this time, and to her it all
seemed new and strange, and most intensely interesting.  But of course the
market-house was the goal they were making for, and they could not loiter
on the way.  She was to put her father down there, and then drive on and
leave Rocket at the stable, so that she, the beginner of it all, the
founder of the market garden, would be the last to see this, the great
climax to their toil.

For just a moment she did feel a sense of disappointment.  Here was the
day half gone already, and she had not set eyes on their stall yet.
But the thought was soon followed by one of shame for her ingratitude, and
when she reached the market at last she felt she would not for all the
world have had things other than they were, or have come at any other
time.  For there, behind the stall--now showing large empty spaces made by
many purchasers--sat her father, looking more perfectly happy and content
than she had ever remembered seeing him.  And there, beside him, stood
Margery, looking on at everything with an intensely interested face.
Aunt Emma was hovering between the poultry and the flowers, trying hard to
serve two customers at once, while even Tom, though so much more
accustomed to it, seemed puzzled to know which customer to serve first,
so many were coming to him for fruit or vegetables, or to leave orders for
things to be delivered through the week, or to be brought there on the
following Saturday.  Charlie was bustling around, lending every one a
hand.

And then Bella noticed that her father was taking charge of the till,
and her eyes grew blurred with tears when she saw the pleasure on his face
as one after the other they went to him for change.  He was helping them
again, he too was taking part, and at their first stall too, and his
evident joy in it was so pathetic that she had to turn away to recover
herself before she could go up and let them know that she had come.



CHAPTER XII.


SUCCESS.

Two years have passed away since William Hender drove in to see his
children open their first stall in Norton Market, and now, to-day, he is
waiting for them once more by the old milestone.

Many a weary mile of life has he trodden painfully since last he stood
there, a strong, hale man.  Many a Hill of Despair has he faced, and
Valley of Despondency; many a time has he wondered if he could ever reach
the top of the hill which rose before him, the hill of disappointed hopes.
It had seemed to him at times that as soon as he reached the top of one
another had sprung up beyond, sometimes whole ranges of hills of pain,
helplessness, weakness.

There had been many pleasant miles too, when he had paused by the sunny
wayside 'To hear the angels sing,' and had gone on his way again refreshed
and thankful for all God's goodness to him.  And now he had, for the first
time, walked to the old milestone again, to await his children's return--
walked it without help or pain; and as he stood there waiting his heart
was very full of gratitude to his Father above, who had cared for him so
tenderly, and led him back to health again, and had given him such good
children and friends.

He had brought a little camp-stool with him to rest on till they came,
for he still had to save his strength and walk through life carefully.
A flush of excitement was on his thin cheeks, and his eyes were bright and
eager as they looked along the road; for this was a surprise he had
planned for them.

"I always looked for you as we came round the last bend of the road,"
Bella had told him, "and I always shall, I think.  I never seem able to
give up expecting you."

And to-day her expectation was not to be in vain, and the father knew
something of what their delight and excitement would be.

At last, round the bend of the road came the cart, drawn by a sturdy horse
now--their own--and as he caught sight of them William Hender rose to his
feet, for he wanted them to see him, and to see him standing upright and
strong as of old.  He had to rest his hand on the old granite stone, for
the excitement of the moment had left him trembling a little, and though
stronger than any one had ever thought possible, he would never again be
the strong man he used to be.

On they came, jogging along comfortably enough.  He could see their two
heads together, evidently discussing something very earnestly; he saw
Bella raise hers suddenly--he could almost hear her exclamation of
incredulity, of surprise; he saw her spring to her feet and throw out her
arms in delight.  Then the horse's pace was quickened, and they were
beside him--and "Oh, father!" was all they could say, but Bella's eyes
were full of tears, and both their faces were radiant.

"And I ain't tired," he said proudly, "though I think I will ask for a
lift home," he added, with a happy laugh.

Scarcely knowing what they were doing from excitement, they helped him up
into the cart, and on they jogged again, with Tom on one side of him and
Bella on the other, but Bella turned more than once and glanced back
affectionately at the old milestone, for to her now it seemed an old
friend, so connected was it with the joys and sorrows, the struggles and
successes of their lives.

"I am sure it understands," she was thinking to herself; "it really looks
as though it does," when her father's voice brought her thoughts back to
him.

"Well, what about the shop?" he asked anxiously.

"Oh, father! we've taken it!" and Bella gasped, as though alarmed at the
desperateness of the plunge they had taken.  "I forgot everything else
when I saw you, but oh, there's such a lot to tell.  Tom, where shall we
begin?  You tell it all, will you?"

"I--I seem to have so much in my head I can't get anything out," laughed
Tom.

"We'll wait till we get home, then, p'raps it wouldn't be fair to hear it
all before Aunt Emma can.  Charlie will be home, too, by the time we are.
He's been with the donkey-cart to take one of his pigs to Mr. Davis, and
he has taken a message about renting the little field.  The rent is low,
and we could keep the horse there, and the pigs, too, sometimes.  It would
be fine!"

Bella laughed.  "If we've got a field we shan't rest till one of us has a
cow to put in it, that's certain!"

"Well, I don't know but what 'twould be a good investment," her father
answered, thoughtfully; "there's no getting milk enough anywhere
hereabouts."

Bella laughed again.  "I can see that cow already," she cried, "a nice
little Guernsey, and Aunt Emma milking it.  Why, there is Aunt Emma
herself!  Whatever is she doing?  Nursing a chick?"

They had reached their own gate by that time.  "I wonder what she'll say
when she sees me?" chuckled their father.

"Doesn't she know?" cried Bella.  "Oh, Aunt Emma, Aunt Emma!" she called.

"Aunt Emma!" shouted Tom, at the top of his voice.  "Quick, come here!"

Miss Hender hurried to the gate with the chicken in her arms still.
"He's hurt his foot----" she began, but the rest of her remark was lost in
her astonishment.  "Why, William!" she cried, "where have you been?
I thought you were in the orchard!" and she stared at him as though she
did not trust her own eyes.

"Orchard?" laughed Bella; "why, we picked him up by the first milestone,
and if we hadn't stopped him there's no knowing where he'd have been by
now.  I believe he was so anxious to see his new shop he couldn't wait!"

She was standing with her arm round her father's shoulder, looking from
one to the other with eyes full of love and gladness.  They were all of
them, indeed, so excited and pleased they scarcely knew what they were
doing.

"Oh yes, the shop!" cried Aunt Emma.  "I'd forgotten that for the minute.
There are more surprises nowadays than I seem able to take in.  Well, what
about it?"

"We've taken it!" cried Tom and Bella in one breath; "we've actually taken
it.  What do you think of that?  Isn't it enough to frighten one to think
of?  We are actually full-blown tradesmen, Aunt Emma.  'Hender and Co.,
Florists and Market-Gardeners.  Fresh eggs and poultry daily.  Moderate
prices.'  That is what is to be painted over the shop window.  Oh, Aunt
Emma, can you believe it?  I can't.  It doesn't seem real a bit," and she
threw her arms round Aunt Emma too, and hugged her in her excitement.

"Well!" gasped Miss Hender, really overcome.  "Well!" and for a time she
could not find another word to say.

"I can't believe it," she said later, as they sat around the tea-table.
"P'raps when I've seen the place and the name painted up I shall be able
to."

"And when you see the brass scales----"

"And have the cleaning of them," put in Aunt Emma, with a knowing nod.
"If you are all given up to growing things and selling them, somebody must
do the housework and the cleaning, and that'll be my part, I reckon."

"Mine too, Aunt Emma; I'll keep the shop tidy."

"You can help at any rate," said Aunt Emma, for Margery, strangely enough,
had, as she grew, shown a greater liking for housework than for gardening.

"I would clean the shop, and polish the scales and things," said Bella
meekly.

"Oh no, you couldn't," interrupted Aunt Emma, feeling that she had perhaps
been a little severe.  "You can't do everything.  If you help earn our
living for us all, it is our work to look after the house.  You haven't
got time and strength for both.  Don't you be trying to do too much,
Bella.  You're barely seventeen yet, you know."  Aunt Emma's voice
trembled a little, for she still found it hard to let any one see the
kindly feeling that was in her heart.

"Will you have to live in Norton altogether?" asked Margery dolefully, for
she did not like the thought of losing Tom and Bella.

Bella, who read her feelings, hastened to comfort her.  "Oh no," she
cried; "we've only taken the shop and a room behind it.  Such a nice
little room, Aunt Emma.  You will have to come in and have tea there
sometimes.  The top part of the house is let to some one else.  We shall
drive in every day with the fresh things to sell, and come home at night.
I think florists and greengrocers--doesn't it sound grand, daddy?--don't
do much after the morning, and I should think we could shut the shop at
four or five in the afternoon every day but Saturdays.  Don't you,
father?"

"May I come in sometimes and serve the customers?" asked Maggie eagerly.

"Of course you shall."

"When I've got a pig to sell will you carry it in too and sell it for me?"
asked Charlie quite gravely.  "You would put it in the window for me,
wouldn't you, so that people could see it?"

"Of course," answered Tom, with equal gravity, "if you would sit there and
make it behave.  We don't want the window broken, for we haven't insured
it yet, and we don't want all our things spoilt."

"It would be a wonderful attraction," went on Charlie thoughtfully, as
though he had not heard his brother; "it would draw crowds, and give you
such a start-off.  I think you'd have to pay me so much an hour, it would
be such a fine advertisement."

"It would draw people to the window, but I don't know that it would bring
them inside," laughed Bella.

"Of course people would think you were for sale too," said Margery;
"it would be awkward if they wouldn't buy the pig unless you went with
it----"  But her sentence was never finished, for Charlie chased her out
of the kitchen, and they finished their dispute in the garden.

"We'll begin tea; we won't wait for those harum-scarums," said Aunt Emma,
lifting a tart out of the oven; and the four drew cosily round the table.

Bella always loved those evening meals at the end of the long day in
market, when they sat and enjoyed at their leisure the good things Aunt
Emma provided, while they talked over all that had happened at home and
abroad.

To-day seemed a day set apart, a special day, for had not their father
walked to the milestone to meet them?  This, in Bella's eyes, was a more
important event than the taking of the shop.  From the garden came sounds
of laughter and screaming, the sober clucking of the hens, and the louder
calling of Margery's ducks.

"We shall be very lonely, Emma, when these two are away all day, shan't
we?  I don't know what we shall do, do you?"

Their father spoke half-jestingly, yet there was something in his tone
which was far removed from jesting.  Tom looked from Bella to his father
and back again.  With his eyebrows he seemed to be asking her a question,
and evidently she understood and signalled her answer.

"Father," said Tom nervously, for he was always rather shy of speaking
before others, "we've thought out a plan, and we wondered if you'd fall in
with it, or--be able to, or----"

"Well, my boy, I will if I can, if--well, if it isn't one to benefit me
only.  It seems to me you're all thinking always what'll be best and
pleasantest for me, and I ain't going to have it; I ain't a poor invalid
any longer."

"Well, it isn't to benefit you only, father," chimed in Bella eagerly;
"we think it will be best for all of us, and I think you'll think so too.
Go on, Tom."

"Well," said Tom, "it's this,--that you go in to the shop every day with
Bella; you can keep accounts and do that sort of thing better than I can,
and----" he broke off suddenly, almost startled by the look of pleasure
which broke over his father's face, the sudden lightening of the sadness
which, unconsciously, always showed now in his eyes.  To be at work again!
to be able to give real help, to be a working partner! To the man who had
for so long borne an enforced idleness, who had had to sit by and see
others work beyond their strength because he could do nothing to help--it
seemed too good to be true, a happiness almost too great.  "Do the work?"
Of course he could do it.  It would put new life into him to be a man
again and worker.

"But what about you, Tom?  It would be a bitter disappointment to give it
up, wouldn't it?"

"Disappointment?" cried Tom; "why, there's nothing I'd like better.
You see, if you can be in the shop, I can stay at home and give all my
time to the garden, instead of having only the evenings after I get back.
Then Aunt Emma and Charlie and I can look after things here; and, if we
run this place, and you and Bella run the other, we ought to get on A1.
Don't you agree, everybody?"

Tom gained courage as he went on, and, indeed, his father's undisguised
pleasure in the plan was enough to encourage any one.  But Tom was
cautious too.  He put all the arguments before his father, as though he
had shown reluctance, and had to be won over; for what they wanted, above
all things, was to make him feel that his help was really needed.
He succeeded in his aim, too, and without any help from Bella, for the
pathos of her father's joy brought a lump into her throat and a mist
before her eyes that prevented her speaking a word.

"I think I'll go for a little stroll," she said quietly, when she rose
from the table, and something in her voice and face prevented any one from
hindering her.  Out through the garden she went, and along the quiet road,
where the soft mist of evening was creeping up and the birds were calling
their last good-nights.  On she went, and on, until she reached the old
grey church, standing so protectingly in the midst of the green graves,
which seemed to nestle about its sides as about a mother.

Bella opened the churchyard gate and walked along the path to a far
corner, where a white headstone gleamed out distinctly from the dark holly
hedge behind it.

"In loving memory of Isabella, wife of William Hender.  Aged 29," ran the
inscription.

Bella sat down on the curb which outlined the long, narrow grave, and
leaned her head against the stone.  "Oh, mother, mother, if only you had
been here too, everything would have been just right!"  She put her arm
around the little cross caressingly, and leaned her cheek against it, but
the coldness of it brought back to her memory the coldness of her mother's
brow when last she had kissed it, and she drew back quickly again.
It seemed so hard and unresponsive.  "She knows, though she isn't here.
I am sure she knows," and she turned her face up to the darkening sky,
where already the stars were beginning to shine.

    "Like silver lamps in a distant shrine,
     The stars are all shining bright,
     The bells of the City of God ring out,
     For the son of Mary is born to-night,
     The gloom is past, and the morn at last
     Is coming with Orient Light."

The lines and the haunting air of the old carol came pouring into Bella's
mind.  "It isn't Christmas, but all the rest fits to-night and--and every
time," and there in the gathering darkness she sang softly to herself--

    "Faith sees no longer the stable floor,
     The pavement of sapphire is there,
     The clear light of heaven streams out to the world,
     And the angels of God are crowding the air,
     And heaven and earth, through the Spotless Birth,
     Are at peace on this night so fair."

All the way home along the quiet road the lines still haunted her--

    "And heaven and earth, through the Spotless Birth,
     Are at peace on this night so fair."

She was singing softly as she reached her own gate.  She did not see her
father standing inside and looking over it.

"Lassie, that's what I was feeling, but didn't know how to put it into
words," he said, with an unusual gentleness in his tone.

"Oh, father, are you here?  Isn't it damp for you to be out?" she asked
anxiously, for Bella was always nervous for him.

"I couldn't go in, child, till you were home.  It seemed to me you weren't
happy about something."

Bella, as she tucked her hand through his arm, reassured him.
"Why, father, I was too happy, that was all!  I was so happy I had to go
away by myself for a bit, so that I--shouldn't make myself silly, and I've
come back happier than ever.  There's Aunt Emma at the door calling to us.
There's such a lot to talk about, that if we don't go in and begin we
shan't have finished till morning;" and she led him back between the neat
flower-beds to the open door, where, in a glow of warm light from within,
Aunt Emma stood awaiting them.

The End



Printed by MORRISON & GIBB LIMITED, Edinburgh.





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