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Title: The Forbidden Room - 'Mine Answer was my Deed'
Author: Allen, Phoebe
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Forbidden Room - 'Mine Answer was my Deed'" ***

                          THE FORBIDDEN ROOM.

                      “MINE ANSWER WAS MY DEED.”

   [Illustration: “‘Don’t you call that a pretty picture?’ said the

                            _See page 184_]

                          THE FORBIDDEN ROOM:

                      “MINE ANSWER WAS MY DEED.”


                             PHŒBE ALLEN.


                    “YOU SAID YOUR SAY.
                    “MINE ANSWER WAS MY DEED.”

                          “_Idylls of the King._”



                         [Illustration: 1901.]


CHAP.                                                               PAGE

I. “BOYS AND GIRLS, AND ALL SORTS”                                     1

II. “WHO’S WHO”                                                        7

III. NOTES AND QUERIES                                                12

IV. “IN THE ROSY SUMMER WEATHER”                                      16

V. BOAR HUNTING                                                       21

VI. “IN THE CUCKOO COPSE”                                             28

VII. COMING TO BLOWS                                                  33

VIII. OGRES                                                           37

IX. “QUITE ’STRORDINARY FUN”                                          42

X. “YOU’VE NEVER BEEN QUARRELLING”                                    51

XI. “TARRY THE BAKING”                                                55

XII. “LIVE PURE, SPEAK TRUTH, RIGHT WRONG”                            63

XIII. “NO, NO, IT IS NOT JUST”                                        71

XIV. “A PUNITIVE EXPEDITION”                                          78

XV. “FIRST CATCH YOUR BIRD”                                           82

XVI. “A COWARD’S TRICK”                                               89

XVII. EXECUTING A SENTENCE                                            96

XVIII. “WE’RE AWFULLY SORRY NOW”                                     105

XIX. “THEY HAVE NOT GONE YET”                                        115

XX. THE KING OF MUFFS                                                119

XXI. “A VERY SAD LITTLE BOY”                                         129

XXII. “NOW THESE BE SECRET THINGS”                                   134

XXIII. “TOUCH YOU!”                                                  142

XXIV. “HURRAH! HURRAH!”                                              149

XXV. A TRAGICAL AFTERNOON                                            155

XXVI. “WHATEVER WILL THE MASTER SAY?”                                162

XXVII. WHAT THE MASTER DID SAY                                       171

XXVIII. “A PRETTY PICTURE”                                           179

XXIX. “WHERE’S GASTON”                                               187

XXX. “THE BESTEST BEST”                                              193


“DON’T YOU CALL THAT A PRETTY PICTURE?”                    _Frontispiece._

THE CONTENTS OF THE FIRST FLY                                          6

SHE FOUND THEM IN HOT PURSUIT OF THE PIGS                             26


CUSHION AT JACK’S HEAD                                                58


“OH! YOU WICKED MAN. THE POOR DARLING’S DEAD”                         91


SHAKING HIM WITH FURY                                                125

“OH, I SAY, I HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL YOU!”                           138

IN A MOMENT NANNY HAD DRAGGED OFF HIS JACKET                         159

STEED                                                                168






Never within the memory of middle-aged Libbie, the dairymaid, had there
been such a bustle of preparation within the walls of Gaybrook Farm, as
on a certain June day, not many summers back.

From early dawn--which means somewhere between three and four
o’clock--old Mrs. Busson, the farmer’s wife, had been awake and astir.

From the lumber-room in the attics, to the parlour, with its high-arched
fire-place, filled in to-day with boughs of green and big bowls of June
roses, and from the cheese-room, under the roof, to the brew-house in
the yard below, every nook and corner in the roomy old farm had been
visited, on some pretence or another, by the time that noon and the
dinner-hour arrived simultaneously.

“And yet,” declared Polly, the rosy-cheeked “odd-girl,” “though the
Missus hasn’t been off her feet for all these hours, she’s as fresh as a

“Ay, as brisk as a bee amongst clover,” chimed in old Simon, the
shepherd. Leaning against the wall of an outhouse, his dim eyes
followed Mrs. Busson’s quick movements as she flitted from dairy to
larder, finally disappearing into the garden, as nimbly as though she
were seventeen instead of seventy.

“And what’s it all about?” asked Simon, slowly; “I forgets again.”

Polly sighed. Already three times that morning she had given the
explanation to the old man, and the importance of being his informant
was wearing off.

“What’s it all about?” repeated Simon.

“Don’t you mind, Simon; I told you that the Missus’ ladies, them she was
nurse two years ago, are coming down with their children to stay some
while at the farm. There! if they were all live princes and princesses
the mistress couldn’t fuss more about them. My word! Simon; the cakes,
and the pies, and the jams, and the junkets are something to see.”

“Is it boys or gals that is coming?” asked Simon, with a note of alarm
in his voice. “Be they young, or the middlin’ _mischieevious_ age?”

“Oh! that I can’t tell yer; they be all sorts, I think.”

“Mussey me! boys an’ girls an’ all sorts,” cried the old shepherd; and,
as if to make preparation at once against the approaching foe, he
whistled to his equally ancient dog, who was making an exhaustive
examination of a bare veal knucklebone, and tottered towards the

But Simon’s heart was not the only one which, amongst all the pleasant
stir of preparation at the farm, was filled with alarm at the thought of
the impending visitors.

One Gaston Delzant, a small, black-haired, black-eyed French boy, aged
seven, was literally trembling within his patent leather shoes at the
prospect of the coming guests.

He had not been long in England, and though the healthy life at
Gaybrook, and Mrs. Busson’s fostering care had worked wonders in
strengthening the feeble little creature, Gaston still looked, as the
burly farmer declared, “just a poor little snip of a frog-fed Frenchy.”

“Don’t talk that sort of unfeeling way, Busson, before the child,” his
wife had admonished him, “for, don’t you make any mistake, though he’s
slow to speak, he understands sharp enough all that he hears.”

Indeed, so far as poor Gaston’s peace of mind was concerned, this was
only too true.

He understood so perfectly all that the maids said, as they interchanged
their fears that the young gentlemen from school would teaze him out of
his senses, that on the day of their arrival, Gaston was wildly planning
some means of escape from the farm.

But perhaps the general fragrance of cakes and pies which filled the
house and imparted a flavour of festivity to the atmosphere exercised a
reassuring influence on Gaston, for after all he abandoned his intention
of taking refuge in a remote barn, the paradise of owls and bats, and
remained instead to face the enemy.

And here it was approaching in very earnest.

The clock was still striking four, and Mrs. Busson was giving her last
look to the tea-table, when the sound of wheels became audible, and
presently, through a cloud of dust from the high road, emerged the two
Noah’s-ark like vehicles, popularly known as the “station conveyances.”

“Boys and gals, and all sorts, I should say it war,” muttered Simon,
looking from behind a quick hedge, whilst with one delighted cry of
“Bless their dear hearts, there they are to be sure,” the mistress of
Gaybrook Farm flung wide her doors and flew to greet her guests.

Every part of her trim little person, from her lavender topknot to the
toes of her neat pattens, was so quivering with rapturous glee that as
she sped down her flower-bordered pathway, she seemed the very
embodiment of smiling welcome.

Yet, although Mrs. Busson’s appearance was hailed by a round of
vociferous cheering from the new arrivals, her bright face clouded
suddenly as she glanced from one carriage-load to the other.

“Why!” she gasped; “wherever is Miss Agatha--Mrs. Durand, I should say?”

“Left behind, left behind,” came in a chorus of voices. “We’ve all got
to take care of ourselves, Mrs. Busson, and we’re all going to be the
most awfully good lot that ever were.”

By this time the two flies had been drawn up behind each other, and such
was the general bustle and tumult of the alighting that when the last of
the “awfully good lot” had actually descended from the carriage, Mrs.
Busson found herself holding her head with both hands, in order to make
sure that it was still in its place.

As for Gaston, he had made a clean bolt of it, and now from behind the
case of a tall Dutch clock, which stood at the foot of the stairs,
peeped furtively at the invading host.

[Illustration: The contents of the first fly.

_p. 7._]



The contents of the first fly did not seem so alarming, at least not as
to numbers, for it only contained three occupants, human occupants that

On the front seat was a rather demure-looking girl of fourteen, whose
general air of youthful anxiety suggested that she was more or less in
charge of the party. Beside her was a dark-haired boy about a year

“‘Fat, flabby and fractious,’ that’s what you ought to be labelled,” one
of his boy cousins had declared at starting, and, though it was an
ungracious remark, and not likely to improve Andrew Durand’s temper, yet
even in the excitement of arrival, he still did not look, well--quite
the reverse of his cousin’s description.

Not only had he taken the lion’s share of the front seat of the fly, but
he had almost monopolised the back one too; first, with his feet, which
he had comfortably disposed in a line with his indolent overgrown
person, and secondly, with his innumerable possessions.

Amongst these was a canary in a cage, a guinea-pig in a box, a huge
butterfly net--its extra long handle making it an undesirable addition
to luggage--sundry tin cases, with unpleasantly sharp corners, a
geological hammer and various tools of a kindred nature, a violin, along
with divers other items, which contributed to form the pile of
non-squeezable luggage, beside which poor little Marion, the third
passenger, had to accommodate herself as best she might.

“Nonsense, she has heaps of room for her size,” Andrew had ruled at
starting from the station, when the others had remonstrated with him;
“How much more can an infant like that want?”

Marion, commonly known as Marygold, perched herself very contentedly on
the edge of the seat, and, always ready to make the best of a situation,
announced cheerily:

“I ’spect I’ll manage somehow, for all my hair can sit on the air,” and
certainly the cloud of golden hair that surrounded the sweet-tempered
little face did seem the most important part of her very small person.

Fly No. 2 was more closely packed. It contained Jack and Phil Kenyon,
schoolboy brothers of eleven and ten; their cousin, Diana Durand, who
was ten years old yesterday; Tryphoena Kenyon, always called Phoena, who
was just a year younger than Di; and last of all, six-year old Hubert,
the youngest of the Kenyons.

He was so small that, when the cheering began he jumped up on the seat,
for he felt that otherwise he might be overlooked, and he flung his hat
so frantically into the air that the latter fell into the road and he
himself toppled into Di’s arms.

“Here, hurry up, Miss Annie,” cried Phil, coming to the door of the
first fly; “don’t you see that your old go-cart’s stopping the way? I
say, can’t you give a hand to Faith and help her with all that pile of
rubbish? You don’t mean to tell me that she’s been nursing that bowl of
gold-fish all the way from the station?”

“Oh! it’s all right,” began Faith; but Phil went on:

“What a muff you are, Andrew, to want all these blessed playthings, and
here’s poor little Marygold squeezed to a jelly.” Then, calling Jack to
his aid, Phil began to grapple with Andrew’s manifold possessions in
good earnest, to Mrs. Busson’s great satisfaction. Their cousin,
meanwhile, stood by giving directions which no one heeded, and grumbling
at the way in which his property was handled. Even Hubert was more
helpful, whilst Marygold, in the exuberance of joy at being relieved
from her cramped position, was so eager to render assistance that in her
zeal she tipped nearly all the water and the inmates too out of the
gold-fish bowl.

“I think, Mrs. Busson,” said Faith, her soft voice sounding like a
dove’s note amongst the chattering of many starlings, “if you will show
me Andrew’s room I’ll put away some of his things, and get him to rights
first of all.”

“Oh! yes,” jeered Jack, “take the precious baby to his nursery, and let
him have all his toys. Shall we come and help you, Fay?”

But Faith gave him an imploring look, such as might soften the heart
even of a schoolboy on teazing bent, and, following Mrs. Busson, she
disappeared into the house.

The others were content to remain in the old-fashioned roomy porch. Here
they made friends with Dragon, the watch-dog, and Thief, a very
talkative magpie, who, in his big wicker cage, embowered in purple
flowering clematis, made a perfect picture.

“And now, please,” said Mrs. Busson, reappearing presently, “I’ll have
to be told who’s who, not but what I can see that you two”--looking at
Jack and Phil--“belong to each other, and that you’re Miss Julia’s
boys--Mrs. Kenyon, as I ought to say.”

“Right you are,” cried Phil, whilst Diana of the ready tongue added:

“And Phoena and Hubert are Aunt Julia’s children too.”

“Ah! to be sure, I can see you have your mamma’s eyes,” said Mrs.
Busson, taking Phoena’s pale face between her hands and looking into the
child’s grey thoughtful eyes. “And so your papa and mamma are still in
India, are they? And you go to school, do you, as well as your

“Oh! no,” said Di; “only Jack and Phil go to school. They’d be there now
if scarlet fever hadn’t broken out.”

“Yes, it was awfully slicey for us,” chimed in the brothers, “for, as
we didn’t catch the fever, we got off that and the lessons too.”

“Yes,” said Hubert, “it was jolly fine fun for them.”

Whether their natural protectors considered the arrangement “jolly fine
fun” too, our readers may perhaps gather from the letter which that
week’s Indian mail carried to Mrs. Kenyon, touching the matter:

“My dear Julia, how true it is that troubles never come singly. The
outbreak of fever at your boys’ school was tiresome enough, as it forced
us to begin the holidays for the children at home sooner than was
intended, and upset all our arrangements for the summer; however, we
resigned ourselves very happily to the inevitable, and I had made
arrangements with dear old Pattie for receiving us all at the farm, and
we were actually starting thither this morning, when a wire from
Edinburgh arrived at breakfast, summoning me to my mother-in-law. She is
very ill, and old Mr. Durand begs me to come at once, so I am obliged to
let the children go down to Gaybrook without me.

“There was, moreover, such indignation when I proposed sending Sarah in
charge of the party--your boys resenting the idea of having a nurse
tacked on to them so bitterly--that, after consultation with Faith, who
is as trustworthy as if she were thirty instead of thirteen, I decided
to let the young people take care of themselves; besides, I knew, what
my young rebels did not, that Pattie has already secured a very
efficient nursery-maid in disguise, namely, her niece, Ruth Argue, who
used to be nurse at the Rectory, and who is to be at the farm as long as
our party is there. And so, about an hour ago, they set off, a merry
troop on the whole, though poor Fay looked rather oppressed by the sense
of her responsibility, whilst Andrew, I regret to add, looked decidedly
peevish. If Fay were not there I should feel rather anxious about him.
No doubt your schoolboys will do him good with their wholesome chaff,
but unfortunately his aunt, with whom he has been at the seaside, has so
spoilt him and allowed him to think so much of his health, that I’m
afraid he is not likely to prove an acceptable companion. I hope he will
soon be strong enough to go to school, for then he will lose his
priggishness, but there is no question that he is very clever, and takes
real interest in subjects that most boys don’t care about. I sometimes
think if only the others would try and learn a little from him about
natural history, for instance, instead of always jeering him when he
mentions it, it would be better for all parties. Altogether, if I could
only have kept Andrew with me, I should feel happier about this
expedition. Still, they all started, rich in good intentions of showing
consideration both to Mrs. Busson and each other, so we can only hope
that they will fulfil one tenth of them.

“Always your affectionate sister,


“P.S.--I forgot to mention that the children will find a playfellow at
the farm, the grandson of old Madame Delzant, who, you remember, used to
live at Gaybrook. Both his parents, neither of whom lived in England,
are dead, and when old Madame died, some months ago, not long after the
child had arrived in England, Pattie took possession of him, and is
keeping him till it suits an uncle in Paris to come and fetch him. I am
wondering whether the presence of this small stranger will conduce or
otherwise to the harmony of the party.”



Whether the new-comers would contribute to the harmony of _his_ life,
was troubling Gaston’s mind, when he emerged from his hiding-place
behind the clock, and made a cautious survey of the intruders.

“They don’t look very cruel,” he thought, peeping through the crack of
the parlour door and eyeing them anxiously as they sat round the
tea-table, “still I’m glad that I shall have my tea by myself.”

It certainly was a very happy party that was gathered at Mrs. Busson’s
well-spread board, at which the hostess was presiding, helped by the
very efficient “nursery-maid-in-disguise.”

Mrs. Busson was quite in her element, flitting round the table, and
encouraging her guests to try one dish after the other. But it was hard
work to satisfy their curiosity on a hundred points, as well as their
healthy appetites.

Such a shower of miscellaneous questions assailed her patient ears:

“Has the grass been cut yet?”

“Dear! yes, the mowing machines have been at work all this day in the
long meadow, and there will be plenty of new-mown grass to make hay of

“And who’s asking about butterflies? Oh! yes, there’s plenty of them.”

“Ah! but are there any Hipparchia Janira out yet?” asked Andrew.

“Never heard of that kind of creature,” was the reply, whilst Phil
interrupted with, “Oh! he only means an old cabbage-butterfly.”

“That’s all you know,” began Andrew, indignantly, “but I’ll tell--”

“There, there,” broke in Mrs. Busson’s soothing tones, “if you did say
the name wrong, it’s no wonder, but there’s abundance of butterflies of
all sorts to be had here, that I do know, so I wouldn’t worry my poor
little head about the name of any particular one,” she added, in
blissful unconsciousness of Andrew’s disgust at her misplaced
consideration and of the other boys’ keen delight thereat.

Meanwhile, Diana, who liked to have a finger in every pie, was eagerly
enquiring as to the day for cheese-making.

“Oh! that’ll be the day after to-morrow, and the next day there’ll be a
grand jam-boiling. The girls are gathering the gooseberries already.”

“And what is it you want to know, my dear?”--this to Marygold.

“Will the bees be swarming soon?” enquired that small person.

“Well, that I can’t say for certain; we’ve had a fairish number already,
but maybe there’ll be a swarm yet, and then you shall make bee-music,
that you shall, to your heart’s content.”

“And--and--” asked Hubert, who between his struggles with a huge bit of
cake and attempts to make himself heard was as scarlet as a field poppy,
“is there a nice little pond, where I can catch fish with nice pinky
wriggling worms?”

“Yes, bless his dear little soul, there’s a pond to be sure, and perhaps
just a fish or two in it,” replied Mrs. Busson, proceeding to empty half
a pot of blackberry jam on to Hubert’s plate. “Well, and what is it you
are going to ask?” she added to Phoena, who had hardly eaten any of the
good cheer as yet; but though she was so silent, her small white face,
with its starry eyes, had been full of thought.

“I want to know, please, are there any glow-worms about here?” she

“Bound to be some soon, if there are none yet,” was the reply, “I’ve
seen many a one down on the bank in the water-meadow of a summer’s
evening, when the twilight’s wearing through.”

“Oh!” burst from Phoena, her face all aglow, but Andrew cut her short.

“What do you know about glow-worms?” he asked, in a tone of unmitigated
contempt, “what’s the Latin name for them?”

“She doesn’t know, and she doesn’t want to know,” cried Jack, “so you
can keep your mouldy old Latin for yourself.”

“Or talk it to Dragon,” put in Di, whose tongue had unfortunately a
rather sharp point, “for it’s only _dog_-latin, so Phil says.”

Without condescending to note this last insult, Andrew resumed his
attack on Phoena.

“You had better leave glow-worms--in fact, all insects--alone,” he
remarked, “until you’ve learnt something about them. When I’ve time, I
can teach you a lot about them; in the meanwhile, you may carry my
insect boxes for me when I go on my entomological expeditions.”

“There, if you young gentlemen want to hunt _insecks_,” broke in Mrs.
Busson, who felt that the atmosphere was becoming rather storm-laden, “I
do wish you’d hunt the garden slugs, they’re just _ruinating_ all our

“Oh! we’ll ruinate them,” cried the schoolboys, but Andrew added, “They
are, of course, most destructive garden pests. Now I wonder if any of
you know how many teeth a garden slug has.”

“Never had the pleasure of accompanying one to a dentist’s,” said Di.
Whereupon there was a general laugh.

“There’s nothing to laugh at in your ignorance,” cried Andrew, “a garden

“Look here,” cried Jack, “if you talk of that disgusting brute again,
I’ll--” but remembering his manners, he stopped short.

“Well,” persisted Andrew, “it has no less than twenty-eight thousand

“What a lot of toof-ache it must have,” said Marygold, feelingly.

“But, Andrew,” questioned Phoena, seriously, “which garden slug is that?
Is it the grey--”

“It’s the garden slug, I tell you,” said Andrew, impatiently, evidently
not appreciating Phoena’s thirst for further knowledge.

“Yes, but there are several kinds,” said Phoena, growing eager now.

“There’s the--”

“Oh, Phoena, do look at your cup,” cried Faith, from the other end of
the table, “you’ll upset your tea in another minute.”

But the warning came too late.

Carefulness at meals, or indeed at any other time, was unfortunately not
dreamy Phoena’s strong point, and before Faith had finished speaking,
the whole contents of her hitherto untasted cup had overflowed its
borders and was trickling in a whitey brown streamlet down the table.

“There, there, my dear, never mind,” exclaimed kindly Mrs. Busson, “it’s
the first cup of tea you’ve ever spilt in my house, and I do hope it
won’t be the last, by a long way.”

And as Ruth set to work to repair the damage, Andrew profited by the
diversion to ask for some lettuce for his guinea-pig, and thus change
the slug subject. He felt he had gone far enough in that department.



There was something in its irregular rambling style of architecture that
gave to Gaybrook Farm, as Di expressed it, a particularly
“holiday-house” look.

Nobody quite knew how old it was, but the various additions to the
original building, which had been evidently made at different intervals,
suggested the handiwork of several generations, and seeing that, as Mrs.
Busson was fond of saying, “Busson’s great grandfather had been born
there, and that Busson himself was no chicken, the farm must have been
standing, well over a hundred years at any rate.”

But though so strangely irregular, it was a very substantial pile of

The red, pan-tiled roof of the main portion seemed, as it were, to run
up-hill, and from under this the first floor projected, supported by
heavy black beams.

It was in this part of the house, in low ceilinged rooms, with little
old casement windows, and long window panes, that Mrs. Busson had
arranged to bestow her visitors.

For this end of the house, “the up-hill part,” as Hubert called it,
comprised all the living rooms of the family. There was the large house
place below, with the roomy parlours on either side, the best bedrooms
above, and the attics another storey higher.

Beneath the lower roof of the building, which was thatched and much
weather-worn, were all the various farmhouse offices.

Foremost amongst these was the kitchen. Oh! such a kitchen it was.
Flanked by the store-room and larders, and a dairy a little further on,
which opened out into a spacious back yard, and with the baking and
brewing-houses, and the wood and the wash sheds, it formed a regular
little quadrangle.

Over the kitchen was a long, low room, filled with linen-presses, and
fragrant with lavender and dried rose-leaves, for Mrs. Busson held fast
to old traditions in these matters of household economy; whilst almost
adjoining was a huge apple-room, and overhead the vast cheese-loft.

Between the linen room and the apple store was another chamber door (if
that door had never been there, this story would never have been
written). To judge, however, from the cobwebs which hung like a thick
grey mist about its cracks and hinges, that door must have been long,
very long unopened.

“Now mind, you girls,” Mrs. Busson had cautioned her hand-maidens,
before the children’s arrival, “whatever happens, you never let the
little gentlemen and ladies go trying to get in there.”

Unanimously, the girls promised obedience.

But that same evening, directly after tea, their mistress reiterated her

“Whatever you do, don’t drop a hint to Master Andrew of what’s in that
room,” she said, “for I’ll be bound he’d be up to some mischief, and so,
I suspect, would Miss Phoena too, if they only guessed.”

“Very good, ma’am,” said the trusty Nell (she was cheese-room maid),
“chances are, if we manage well, they’ll never so much as notice the
door. Young things are mostly for getting out of doors.”

And at starting, it seemed as if Nell was likely to prove a true

All through the next morning, in spite of the oppressive midsummer heat,
the children were flitting about in all directions.

“Like so many sunbeams at play,” Mrs. Busson declared.

Early dawn had found Jack and Phil out in the hay-field, tossing the new
hay with more energy than skill, and it had needed all Fay’s gentle
persuasions to induce Hubert to attend to the most necessary details of
his hurried toilette, before rushing out to join his brothers. As for
Di, whose swiftness of foot, combined with her ruddy locks, had long ago
earned her the title of “Scarlet Runner,” she too was up with the sun,
or very nearly, and had found her way to the little stream which ran
through the Crow-bell meadow, and was wading in its shallow waters in
search of water-cress.

Little Marygold, her whole person, saving her head, concealed in a
holland overall, was standing knee-deep in a tangle of sweet-briar,
honeysuckles, climbing roses, and a score of sweet, old-fashioned
blossoms which grew together to the left of the flower-garden, in a
patch of rank disorder, under cover of which the “posy-border” melted
into the orchard beyond, without making a too rude transition.

Marygold was supremely happy, searching the foxglove bells and the
dew-brimmed cups of the lilies, in the fond hope of discovering some of
those belated fairies, who, she firmly believed, took their night’s rest
in these flowery shelters.

“There must be some somewhere,” she cried, in her clear, piping voice.

“Oh, Phoena, do come and help me to look for them.”

But though Phoena was not forthcoming, she was not far off.

For though she had left the house, intent on reaching a certain sainfoin
field, whose brilliant blossoms gleamed bewitchingly in the early
sunlight, her wanderings had been arrested after the first few yards.
The sight of a wounded snail, crawling slowly, slowly even for a snail,
along the ash-strewn path, which led from the back yard to the kitchen
garden, had checked Phoena’s progress, who, wherever anything was sick
or sorry, was a veritable sister of pity. Moreover, having lately heard
about the snail’s marvellous faculty for mending its damaged shell,
Phoena thought this was a favourable opportunity for seeing how this
feat was performed. So, with the help of sticks and stones, she
forthwith made it a hospital beneath the shade of a laurel bush.
Converting her handkerchief into an awning above the sticks, Phoena
conveyed her interesting patient into these specially prepared quarters,
exhorting him to set to work at once on the repairing of his shell. She
would gladly have foregone her breakfast for the pleasure of watching
him, but she feared by so doing to draw public attention to her “anxious

Accordingly, she reluctantly obeyed the summons of the loud breakfast
bell, with the result, alas! that on her return, she discovered that the
thankless snail, after the way of some vagrants, had decamped!

Out of the whole party, Andrew was the only “slug-a-bed,” and even he
managed to be ready to go out by nine o’clock, having secured Faith’s
attendance on himself as bearer of his butterfly net and sundry other
things necessary to the success of his expedition.

“I say,” cried Phil, catching sight of the net, “can’t you leave those
poor beggars in peace for to-day at least?”

“Yes,” chimed in Jack, “and I call it awful hard lines on Fay; I bet she
doesn’t want to go swinking after you all this hot morning. As it is,
she’s had to feed your old gold-fish already, and clean your precious
canary. Why don’t you strike, Fay, and tell Miss Annie to look after his
own toys?”

“Because Fay always wants peace at any price,” put in the Scarlet
Runner, more promptly than pacifically. “But I wouldn’t do--”

“Never mind, Di,” broke in Faith, knowing well how swiftly such
gathering clouds might develop into storms, “we’re only going out for a
little time, because I must come home and write to mother.”

“Oh! you good Faith,” came in a chorus of heartfelt applause.

The heroism involved in writing a letter to-day roused general
admiration. But steady-going Faith generally put duty before pleasure;
sometimes, it must be owned, to her companions’ regret, notably to Di’s.
For the latter had been known to declare that she wished the man who had
invented such worrying words as “duty and obedience” had been stung to
death by hornets. But then, as Di’s long-suffering nurse had remarked
more than once during that young person’s earlier career, “Miss Diana
was a handful.”



That first morning at Gaybrook passed like a flash of lightning. There
was so much to be seen and explored. From the poultry-yard, where its
scores of feather inmates held a world of delight, to the water-meadows,
which formed the limit of the farm boundaries, and were so designated
because they were intersected by the little river Gay.

Here an old punt proved very attractive to the elder boys, when they
tired of the hay-field. To the copse, adjoining the water-meadows, Di
retired, partly to practise a little climbing in private--an exercise,
which to her regret, she could not well pursue in the London Square
garden--and also animated by the hope of surprising some big nest--a
pheasant’s perhaps.

Phoena was lost to sight amongst tall rows of peas and French beans in
the garden. “Probably preaching sermons to the bees,” Phil declared.
Hubert and Marygold agreed to join forces. They started by
conscientiously trying to secure a “personal interview” with everything
in feathers in the farmyard, Hubert doing his utmost to work the
scarlet-wattled turkey-cock into an ungovernable rage. That pleasure
exhausted, this young pair next betook themselves to a vast

This new ground promised scope for endless adventure; it suggested such
a wide field for enterprise.

In many places the high rank grass was over Hubert’s head, once
Marygold’s brilliant locks entirely disappeared, so that, as she
reminded Hubert, it must be like those jungle places in _Injia_, of
which his father had told them so many stories.

“You don’t think,” said Hubert, a little apprehensively, “that there are
any wild beasts hidden about under the grass to spring out and eat us,
you know?”

Marygold didn’t feel quite sure.

“Suppose we go and ask Mrs. Busson,” she suggested, standing still.

But Hubert dissented.

“No, don’t let’s,” he said, “because p’raps she’d be afraid for us then,
and say we had better not come in, and that would be a pity.”

Marygold thought that on the whole Hubert’s advice was sound.

“Besides,” she added, with some vagueness of speech, “I expect we’d have
time to run if any came. Lions roar ever so loud, and tigers’ eyes gleam
ever so far off. Besides, you know in the book at home with a man riding
a camel on the cover, it says there are no more wild beasts in England.”

Reinforced by these reflections, the small adventurers plunged boldly
into the grassy sea, hand-in-hand for the first few steps, but very soon
Marygold broke away with a cry of delight from Hubert. Her sharp eyes
had discovered a glorious find, the first of many to follow.

It was a currant bush that she had espied, half-buried under the rank
growth of grass, the clusters of fruit showing redly amongst the coarse
green blades that went near to hiding it altogether.

The children’s glee knew no bounds.

“I b’lieve,” cried Marygold, her voice piercingly shrill with
excitement, “that we’ve found ’Laddin’s garden with the trees bearing
the wonderful fruit that was jewels, you know.”

For now, in addition to currant-bushes, red, white, and black, Hubert
had lighted on some raspberry canes with ripening fruit too.

“Don’t you know,” went on Marygold, “that in the fairy-book it says,
that the white, red, and yellow fruit were really pearls and rubies and
topaz and--”

“I expect,” broke in Hubert, whose utterance was somewhat impeded by the
handfuls of fruit, which he had been diligently cramming into his mouth,
“I expect that it’s really a sort of buried-alive garden, for it is
quite real fruit, Marygold, and _raver_ sour.”

“I’ll tell you,” was the reply, “it must belong to the fairies, and Mrs.
Busson can’t know anything about it.”

“’Spose we keep it all a secret,” said Hubert.

“Oh! but you always say that,” said Marygold, reproachfully, “and then
you _never_ do. No, let’s say that we’ve found a garden but we can’t say

“Yes,” cried Hubert, “and let’s get a cabbage leaf and put some of the
fruit in it, just to show them that it’s all true.”

The idea was a charming one, but it was not carried out. For on their
way to the kitchen garden, Hubert pulled Marygold back.

“Look! look!” he gasped, pointing to the end of the big orchard, “there
_are_ some wild beasts.”

Following the direction of his frantically waving arm, Marygold descried
the black backs of some dozen little pigs, bobbing up and down in the
high grass and looking like a shoal of porpoises leaping in the sea.

“They’re only pigs, little pigs,” said Marygold; but fired by a spirit
of adventure, Hubert dashed off in pursuit, declaring that “of course,
they were big, wild boars.”

But he was treading unknown ground, and although he was not “infirm and
old,” like the minstrel in his poetry-book, he was young and not very
steady on his feet, and presently the stump of one of those
“buried-alive trees” proved fatal to his further progress. With a sudden
yell he tottered and fell downwards amongst the grass.

Marygold, who had followed on his heels, was quickly helping Hubert to
rise, questioning him anxiously as to the extent of his injuries, when
from the depths of a dry ditch, which skirted two sides of the orchard,
an odd little figure suddenly appeared and slowly advanced to the scene
of Hubert’s disaster.

There was a droll mixture of curiosity and anxiety on Gaston’s small
sallow face as he approached this detachment of the dreaded invaders.

Libbie had given him his breakfast in the dairy that morning, when she
found that he was too nervous to face the new-comers; and since then
Gaston had betaken himself to the shelter of the big ditch in this
remote orchard, making sure that there, at any rate, he would be left to
his own company and that of the little pigs.

For the latter he entertained quite a warm affection.

But Hubert’s cry of distress had lured him out of his retreat, and
having satisfied himself that he was bigger than either Marygold or her
cousin, his fears for his own safety abated.

“Ah! where have you _harm_?” he asked, scanning Hubert carefully, who
was still gasping heavily from the shock of his sudden downfall.

“Are you the little French boy?” asked Marygold, by way of answer.

“I am Anatole Jules Gaston Delzant,” was the reply, “And I am more big
than you,” he added, as he drew himself up to his full height beside

The latter, who was entirely diverted from his injuries by the sight of
Gaston, was quite ready to make friends, all the more so when he learned
that though the French boy was

[Illustration: She found them in hot pursuit of the pigs.

_p. 27._]

nearly two years older than himself, he was not inclined to treat him as
a baby.

And so in a wonderfully short time the three children became firm
allies, and when the dinner-bell rang and Ruth came in search of her
charges, she found them in hot pursuit of the black pigs; Gaston having
greatly increased Hubert’s keenness for this sport by his accounts of
the boar-hunts in France.

“What a pity that dinner has come so soon,” said the children.



That mid-day meal was a very merry one. Everybody had so much to tell,
and each had had such delightful experiences in his or her own
particular line.

True, Di had not found a pheasant’s nest, but she had practised her
climbing to her satisfaction, if not to the benefit of her garments,
which showed sundry tattered traces of the results of her morning’s
occupation. The boys, according to their own account, had tried their
hands at everything in turn--haymaking, boating, fishing; whilst
Marygold and Hubert were so voluble and persistent in detailing their
marvellous adventures, that even Andrew was forced to allow them a
hearing, although he had tried hard to hold forth about some marvels in
natural history with which he had meant to impress his companions.

“Shut up about your old crawlers and creepers,” said Phil, “let’s hear
what the infants have to say.”

Jack actually dropped his spoon, laden as it was with cherry-tart, to
call again for details of the boar-hunt.

“By-the-way, where is that little French beggar?” asked Andrew, with
infinite condescension. For Gaston was not at table.

Though encouraged by his playfellows and urged by Ruth, he had come as
far as the threshold of the parlour, one peep through the doorway at the
big boys waiting to take their places at the table, had put all Gaston’s
courage to flight, and with a murmured “Ah! but I cannot, I cannot,” the
poor little waif had returned to his shelter in the orchard ditch.

“I expect he’s stopped behind to have some spree with the pigs,” said
Phil, turning to begin a whispered conversation with Jack.

Poor Mrs. Busson--to say nothing of poor Mrs. Busson’s black
porkers--would have trembled to hear how those two boys were plotting to
organize a jolly good boar-hunt all for themselves. As for Gaston, he
would certainly have sought a yet deeper ditch and a more remote orchard
if he had heard the tone in which Andrew announced after dinner, that he
meant to take an early opportunity of “sampling that French frog.”

Happily, however, for all parties, the effects of that singularly hot
day, coupled perhaps with the very hearty dinner, made themselves felt
even by the adventure-thirsty infants; so that all, from Andrew
downwards, readily fell in with Faith’s suggestion that they should
adjourn to the shade of the Cuckoo-copse on the other side of the

“Mrs. Busson has had two splendid swings put up there,” she announced,
“on two of the biggest oaks, and there’s a lovely stretch of moss and
bracken under the trees, where we can all sit and lounge about as we

And so, greatly to Mrs. Busson’s and Ruth’s relief, the whole party,
refreshed, but likewise subdued, by their plentiful repast, presently
decamped together to the Cuckoo-copse.

Phil and Jack, however, carefully assured Libbie that she might depend
on them to drive up the cows from the long meadow in time for milking.

“No need to call Jerry, the cowman, from the hay,” they declared.

“There, I do hope,” cried Libbie, seeing the children troop off, “that
they won’t have broken any bones before milking-time comes.”

“Hold your tongue,” said Mrs. Busson, “I’d a deal sooner break all my
own. Just you go down in a minute, Ruth, and take a birds’-eye view of
the little dears, to make sure they are going on all right.”

Ruth did go, and brought back a very satisfactory report.

“They’ve all settled down as quiet as lambs,” she declared, “Miss Fay’s
needle-working, Miss Di seems writing a letter, Miss Phoena’s got a
book, and all the young gentlemen look like going to sleep.”

“Bless their dear hearts, they must be just a picture for good
behaviour,” said Mrs. Busson fervently; and so they were, at any rate at
the moment when Ruth saw them.

“Beware of the bluest sky,” says the old adage, and the picture of good
behaviour in the Cuckoo-copse was alas! not painted in durable colours.
Di was the first to break the sleepy silence which had reigned at most
for ten minutes.

“I say, boys,” she began, “isn’t this just the sort of copse to make
exploring expeditions in?” and, heedless of Fay’s imploring look,
signifying that she would do well to let “sleeping _boys_” lie, Diana
proceeded to demonstrate how twenty travellers at least might set out in
as many different directions, without interfering with each other’s
field of enterprise.

“Oh! yes, oh! yes,” cried the younger children, “let’s start exploring.”

“P’raps we’ll find some more buried gardens,” suggested Hubert.

“Or _earfmen_, little earfmen,” shrieked Marygold.

Even Phoena dropped her book, fired by a sudden desire to hunt an ant’s

“Oh, blow the ants,” said Jack, “I want to find a jolly old fox burrow,
and dig out the cubs.”

“Plaguey hot work in this weather,” remarked Phil, with a yawn, “a
hornet’s nest, that we could blow up this evening, would be better.”

“Oh! but I’d like to find an earfman,” piped Marygold again, “one that
could hide under Fay’s thimble.”

“Shut up that rot,” said Andrew, crossly, “and I say, Di, keep out of
that nettle-bed, will you? None of you are to disturb those nettles, do
you hear, all of you, I’m the eldest, and I mean what I say.”

“Do you?” retorted Di, “and please, your majesty, why can’t I begin my
explorations by jumping into the very middle of that nettle-bed if I see
fit as I most probably shall.”

“Because, probably, amongst those nettles there’ll be some Hipparchia.”

“Now, chain up with that jargon,” broke in Jack, “we’re not going to
stand a butterfly-butcher bossing it over us.”

“You horrid boy,” cried Faith, “that sounds so ugly.”

“There, Mrs. Faith, you show your ignorance of the best verse of the
period,” was the retort, “for I was quoting from a very fine piece of
modern poetry, eh, Di?’

“Here’s the original, I declare,” said Phil, stretching out his hand
from where he was sprawling on the grass, and snatching up the paper on
which Di had been busily scribbling before she had arisen, on
exploration bent. “Capital,” went on Phil, glancing at the paper,
“you’ve improved on it since the morning. Now, pay attention, Miss
Annie, here is something worth listening to.”

“Oh, never mind about reading it now,” said Faith, whose previous
acquaintance with Di’s verses was not encouraging as to the results of
their declamation, “don’t read them now, Phil.”

Phil turned a deaf ear. Scrambling up the nearest tree, he perched
himself astride one of the branches best adapted for his purpose, and
then proceeded to declaim:

    “Will you buzz behind my coffin?”
      Begged a butterfly, “dear bee;
    For that insect-butcher, Andrew,
      Will soon have slaughtered me.
    No more upon my painted wings
      My slender form will soar,
    And, midst the flowers in sunny hours,
      You’ll never see me more.”

    “Oh! cruel is the havoc made
      By Andrew’s net and pin;
    There’s no one left to mourn me now,
      Of all my kith and kin.
    ’Twas only yesterday I found
      A widowed moth in tears,
    ‘My husband’s corpse lies stretched,’ she sobbed,
      ‘On one of his cork biers.’
    Then will you buzz behind my coffin?”
      Once more he asked the bee,
    “Right gladly,” quoth that insect,
      “If you’re sure he won’t kill _me_.”

“And now, gentlemen and ladies, you’ll kindly join in the chorus,” said
Phil, “I’ll lead it.”

    “Then down with Butcher Andrew!”
      Hark, all the insects cry,
    “Let him be caught, and pinned on cork,”
      Moans every butterfly.

And the chorus was taken up with such goodwill, and so much noise, that
every owl within a radius of at least a mile must have been startled
from his afternoon’s nap, whilst old widow Pugsley, who was a proverb
for deafness, paused in her hay-tossing to remark that “Mussa Busson had
a rare lot of merry youngsters down yonder in the Cuckoo-copse.”



Unfortunately, they were not _all_ having a song together down in that
shady copse.

Faith had, indeed, been coerced into joining the chorus; with Jack
shouting it into one ear, and Di shrieking into the other, it would have
been vain to resist, but Andrew was as dumb as a fish.

If he had had a grain of sense he would have _scored_ off his tormentors
by joining lustily in the song against himself, but instead of that, he
swelled with silent rage, whilst he reflected on the best way of
avenging this insult.

His first step in that direction was to round on Hubert, and fling him
head foremost into a thicket of brambles. Hubert’s hearty “Let him be
caught,” etc., turned abruptly into a dolorous howl, which served as the
signal for opening hostilities.

Down from his branch clambered Phil, and by the time Faith had rescued
battered Hubert from his thorny surroundings, Andrew was struggling in
the strong clutches of his cousins.

“Leave Andrew alone, do boys,” besought Fay and Phoena in one breath. By
this time, the offender was stretched full length on the ground, but Di,
whose sense of justice was always greater than that of mercy, declared
that Andrew ought not to be let off.

Even little Marygold, strong in her unfailing loyalty to Hubert, piped
out shrilly that “he ought to be made to say that he was _dreffully_
sorry, before he was released.”

“Of course, he must offer a humble apology,” said Phil, digging each of
his knees into Andrew’s sides, and shaking his arms violently to and
fro above his prostrate head, whilst Jack was adjusting what he called
“hobbles” upon his victim’s feet. “It was beastly mean of you,” went on
Phil, “to attack one of the infants, and if you won’t apologise as you
should, we’ll help you to.”

“Yes,” chimed in Jack, “you can take your choice entirely. You can
either stay where you are, and you must be jolly comfortable, I am
sure,”--here Jack seated himself on Andrew’s fettered feet,--“till we
are all tired of sitting on you, by turns, or you may now and at once
accept our terms and regain your liberty. Make your choice.”

“He must have the terms read over to him,” said Di. “Phil, dictate

“Don’t please hurt him really,” put in the forgiving Hubert, “because
the scratches have done hurting now.”

“Recommendations to mercy are not in order now,” ruled Jack, with a
gesture of command. “Shut up, will you!”--this to Andrew, who was
wriggling with all his might beneath the weight of his captors, “Di,
come here!”

After exchanging a few whispers with Jack, Di returned to her former
position under the oak, and, taking up her pen and paper, proceeded to
note the articles of the treaty. They were soon ready.

“These terms,” said Jack, taking the paper from Di, “are far too
lenient, but let me state at once, that no interruption on the part of
the public will be allowed to interfere with the course of justice.”
Then, clearing his throat, he began, “Prisoner on the ground, the chief
end and aim in administering justice being the restoration of peace to
the public, we do here invite you to return to your former position in
our midst, as a free and law-abiding citizen, on the following
conditions. That you shall, in the first place, repeat after me, in such
words as I shall dictate, a full apology to Hubert, for the dastardly
assault upon his person, whereby you sought to do him grievous bodily
harm; and, in the second place, that you shall, in a clear voice, and
with due emphasis, rehearse after Diana the said Diana’s spirited
verses, setting forth your evil deeds, the audience assisting you at the
close of each separate verse with a repetition of the chorus. Prisoner
on the ground, give tongue, do you accept our terms, yea or nay?”

“Get off, will you,” cried Andrew, who was perilously near tears.
“Faith, they’re suffocating me.”

“Oh! Jack,” interposed Faith, “do leave him alone, you will hurt--”

“My dear Faith, his well-being is in no one’s hands but his own,” said
Jack, emphasizing this statement with a rapid rise and fall of his
person on the unfortunate Andrew’s chest, “what’s simpler? he has only
to accept our terms, and then he rises a free man.”

“Fa-a-ith, I’m suf-fo-cating,” gasped the culprit.

“Oh! please, please,” besought Marygold, with clasped hands, and terror
in her face, “do let him go now.”

“You say,” began Jack, “that--”

“I’ll say I’m sorry,” gasped Andrew, “on condit--”

“No, no conditions,” broke in Jack, “you must--”

“Look here, boys, it really isn’t fair,” said Faith, “you’re two to one,
and you know that Andrew isn’t half as strong as either of you.”

“Yes,” added Phoena, “and if you go on bullying him much more, it’s
acting rather as he did to Hubert.”

“Well, there’s something in that,” admitted Jack, “after all, Phil, it’s
only poor Annie, and it’s just a girl’s trick to knock over one of the
infants to show her strength.”

“Yes, just the sort of thing a little girl would do,” echoed Phil,
“here, get up, Miss Annie, we’ll forgive you. Lend me a hand, Jack, we
must help a lady to rise properly.”

Therewith Jack seized one luckless arm, whilst Phil held fast the
other, so between them the “lady” was certainly assisted to rise, with
good will, if not exactly with courtesy!

“And now we’ll conclude this entertainment,” said Jack, “with a new kind
of _rock-it_” and with a significant wink at Phil, they set to work to
shake Andrew backwards and forwards between them, till every tooth in
his head must have trembled in its socket.

And all the time they sang loudly in his ears, to a tune of their own,
the offending chorus of Di’s song.

Though Andrew was a year older, and much taller than Jack, and “twice as
fat as both he and Phil put together,” as his cousins always assured
him, the treatment received at their hands so far cowed him, that once
released, he slunk away without a word.

But, coward as he was, he could not resist the temptation of pinching
Marygold’s arm viciously as he passed behind her.

“Oh! oh! he did pinch me hard,” she cried, with a very pink face and
quivering lips. She would have spilt her blood to avenge any injury
inflicted upon Hubert, but she struck no blow to avenge her own. “You
are a werry mean boy,” she said, “but p’raps you can’t help it, for I
heard Ruth say that you seemed a poor house-lamb sort of young

Possibly this withering remark hit Andrew harder than her small fists
could have done.

Phil and Jack greeted this statement with a roar of approving laughter,
which Andrew, happily, did not see fit to resent.

Clearly his recent chastisement had made him, _temporarily_, a wiser, as
well as a sadder boy.



For the next quarter of an hour, perhaps, certainly no longer,
comparative calm reigned amongst the little party.

But the spirit of discord having once broken bounds in their midst, the
happy peace of that glorious summer afternoon, which might have worn
away so merrily, was gone, and sad to say, wrangling soon began again.
First of all, Di, bent on being idle herself, took to teasing Phoena.
The latter was trying to read, but Di confiscated her book. Then she
ridiculed Fay, who was making a knock-about frock for Marygold’s big
doll to wear in the hayfields. Meanwhile Phil and Jack decided to give
Hubert a lesson in tree-climbing, and though they began their
instructions with the best intentions, they soon started teazing him
when he showed himself somewhat unamenable to their orders.

“Look here,” said Phil, indicating a very inaccessible limb of a birch
tree, “you’re a regular little molly, but you’ll have to climb up to
that branch and ride-a-cock-horse on it before we’ve done with you.”

“But I’ll tumble down, I know I will,” said Hubert, with an amount of
caution which his six years made very excusable.

“Well, and if you do tumble down, and if you do break your precious
little neck--”

“But I’ll be _deaded_ then,” shrieked Hubert.

“Well, and what are the odds?” asked Jack, with a coolness that curdled
Marygold’s blood, “much better that you should die like a man--”

“But I ain’t a man yet and I don’t want to die like one,” yelled Hubert,
who was being prodded up the tree now by both his brothers.

“You’re wicked, bad boys,” cried Marygold, “I’ll deliver you, Hubert, I
will deliver you.”

Therewith she flew upon Phil and hanging all her weight upon his arm,
strove to disable him from tormenting Hubert any further.

“I do wish a big ogre would come now and gobble you up,” she gasped.

Then as the boys still persisted that Hubert _must_ reach the perilous
point first indicated, Marygold grew quite desperate.

“Please, please don’t break his _pore_ little neck,” she pleaded. There
was such real horror in her voice, she looked so pitiful with her
brilliant blue eyes brimming over with tears, that the sight of her face
helped Hubert quite as effectually as any ogre might have done. For it
did gain Hubert’s welcome “deliverance.”

And Marygold gained something further still. For when she suggested that
as it had got cooler now, they might all have a really nice game before
tea time, Jack and Phil actually consented to “give the infants a turn,”
and graciously permitted them to choose the game they would play.

“Oh! ogres, ogres!” they cried, “for this wood will be just beautiful.”

“There’ll be such heaps of room, you know,” added Marygold, “for the
little innocents to play at _gaffering_ strawberries and picking up

“And such splendid bushes,” went on Hubert, “for the wicked ogre and his
blood-thirsty wife to hide in.”

“Come on,” shouted Phil, “you must all come and play.”

“‘I’ll be the ogre’s wife,” volunteered Di, “and Andrew always likes to
be the ogre because he’s only got to sit still and receive the live prey
as it’s brought in.”

“All right,” said Phil, the master of the ceremonies, “Fay’ll be the
infants’ mother, Phoena must be the ogre’s cook, and Jack his caterer,
and I’ll be the old man of the wood who’ll side with the infants.”

“At that rate,” objected Jack, “there’ll only be the two kids to bag;
there ought to be a better show of game than that.”

“Where’s that French froggy?” asked Andrew, suddenly, “we may as well
make him come and play.”

“Yes,” assented Jack, “infants, where’s his Froggy-ship to be found?”

“I think he’s in the orchard,” said Hubert, whilst Marygold added, “But
you won’t call him froggy, will you? for he’s a good little boy and very

“Oh! is he?” cried Andrew, “then we’ll have some fun with him.”

“Oh! Fay, you won’t let them tease him,” pleaded Marygold, who felt in
honour bound, if she betrayed Gaston’s whereabouts, to provide for his
safety, “you promise me you won’t.”

“No, no, we won’t bully him,” cried several voices.

Comforted by these assurances, the infants set off to fetch Gaston. They
found him sitting disconsolately amongst the long grass. Tired of
boar-hunting all by himself, he was playing with an ugly, unsavoury
looking toad.

So the children’s invitation to join their game in the wood was
acceptable, though his face betrayed some alarm when Gaston understood
that he was to play with all the big boys and girls too.

“But we’re all going to be ever, ever so kind to you,” said Hubert.

Thus re-assured, he consented to come. Indeed the prospect of a real
good romp soon raised his spirits and voice too, to such a pitch of
volubility, that Phil declared that he could hear Monsieur Frog
chattering “like a vanful of monkeys” before either he or the infants
came in sight.

“Here he is, here’s Gaston,” announced the latter, with a note of pride
in their voice, bred of a certain sense of proprietorship in the small

“Bonjour, Monsieur Grenouille,” began Andrew.

But Gaston did not heed him. His good manners might have put his new
acquaintance to shame.

Pulling off his cap, he fan straight to Faith, attracted by her gentle
face, and standing bare-headed before her, executed the most perfect

(“With his feet in the first position,” Di sneered, “and his hands
hanging straight at his sides.”)

“Good day, Mees,” Gaston stammered.

But when Faith threw her arms round him and kissed his small pale face,
he swiftly abandoned all formality and nestled up to her side, as if he
had found a long-lost and sorely-missed shelter.

“I told you he was a good little boy,” said Marygold.

“A precious Molly, though,” remarked Andrew.

“Molly yourself,” retorted Jack, “come on now and let’s begin sport.”

“And you,” said Phil, turning to Marygold, “tell Gaston the rules of the

These were of a delightfully simple nature.

“Fay’s our mother,” began Marygold, “and Hubert and you and I are her
little children and we pretend that we’ve come into the wood to _gaffer_
strawberries and pick up sticks. And we pretend that we don’t know
there’s a wicked ogre’s den behind the bushes. He’s always wanting
children to eat you know, so he sends out a bad man, that’s Jack--to
catch us. When we see him coming, Phil, (that’s the old man of the wood
who tries to protect us) comes to fight him off and we have to run away
as fast as ever we can.”

“And we yell as loud as we can,” added Hubert, shrieking this item of
information at the tip of his voice.

“There, now do you see, the wicked ogre has gone away to hide,” said
Marygold, “with his wife, that’s Di, and his cook, that’s Phoena. So
we’d better go to Fay. She’s dreadfully sorry when we get caught, but
very often she gets caught herself.”

Then from the leafy depths of an old oak, Phil gave the signal for the
game to begin.

“My little dears,” he cried, “come out to play.”

“That means, come out to be eaten,” said Hubert.

Therewith Gaston, who by this time was not so sure that this new form of
amusement was likely to prove so very charming, was dragged off to play
his part in the ogre game.

“It really is quite _strordinary_ fun,” Hubert assured him.



Certainly if ear-piercing shrieks constituted “strordinary fun” Hubert’s
statement was fully justified.

From the very onset the game was wildly exciting, even to the bigger
boys. Even Phil, as he jeered the ogre from the tall oak, forgot to call
it a baby game, and as Jack executed his “flying squirrel trick,” which
meant taking flying leaps from branch to branch, in order to view the
land, he began to think that, after all, this sport with the infants was
rather fine.

Faith, meanwhile, played her part as an anxious parent perfectly. Hither
and thither she fluttered between the different points of danger, with
out-stretched arms and skirts, like a good old hen protecting her
precious bantlings.

In and out of the hazel bushes and the briar tangles--ay, even into
nettle-beds--the infants dashed, caring nothing for pricks and stings
and scratches, so long as they could evade the long arm of Jack, the
ogre’s caterer, and escape the fierce eyes of the ogre and his wife.
These latter would now and again show themselves, glaring ferociously
through the bushes, and clamouring loudly for fresh food to be brought
to their larder.

After a time, Faith allowed herself to be taken prisoner, and for a
moment quite a solemn awe fell upon her companions whilst they watched
the proceeding which followed in the ogre’s camp.

First, the captive was securely bound to the slim stem of a birch, then
the ogre called on his wife and cook to come and judge if she were fit
for immediate dressing.

With rounded eyes and parted lips the three little ones waited almost
breathlessly, whilst Di, supported by Phoena,

[Illustration: “She shall be fed up on snail soup,” said the Ogre.

_p. 45._]

who carried a long iris leaf to represent a knife, advanced to make the

Di thrust her fingers into Faith’s cheeks, examined her tongue to see if
it would “pay for salting,” pinched her arms, and finally agreed with
the cook that she must be cooped up and fattened.

“She shall be fed up on snail soup and luscious slimy slugs,” said the
ogre--Andrew was always good at acting,--whilst Di added:

“Tadpole tea is even more nourishing than Bovril, and I’ve seen many
skeletons grow stout on caterpillars in oil.”

“See that she has them then,” said the ogre, in a voice that sounded
like thunder, “but for our immediate food, my dear wife, we must catch
some smaller fry.”

“Yes,” replied the ‘dear wife,’ “one of those little dears yonder, if
nicely stuffed and roasted, would make a tasty morsel for supper.
Suppose we order that little girl with the cloud of golden hair, which,
by the way, would make quite a pretty table garnish.”

Diana’s tone was so business-like that Marygold almost shook in her

“Or that tender youth crouching beside that ash,” said the ogre,
pointing to Gaston, “he’d make a toothsome savoury. Ah!” catching sight
of Hubert, who peeped out from the edge of a nettle-bed, “there’s a pair
of those small boys, I see. Jack, my caterer, catch them at once, and
have them served for supper as grilled green goslings.”

“Certainly, sir,” said Jack, “they’ll make delicious mouthfuls for your
greedy-ship and lady. Now, if you will withdraw, and pretend to sleep, I
will proceed to secure these desirable young dishfuls.”

Thus pressed, the ogre household retired into semi-privacy, and
immediately afterwards the air was rent with the sound of loud snoring.

“They’re only pretending to sleep,” Marygold explained to Gaston,
dragging him behind some hazel bushes, whence he could see the sham
sleepers. “They think that we haven’t heard them making their wicked
plans, you know. But, oh! look at Phil.”

Armed with a long thistle, Phil was advancing stealthily upon the ogre,
who was leaning against the trunk of a tree, snoring lustily, with
fast-closed eyes. In another minute Phil would have tickled the ogre’s
nose with the spikey weapon he carried.

But Gaston, untrained in the tactics of ogre warfare, instead of
observing the breathless silence maintained by the others, gave vent to
a loud giggle. This instantly roused the ogre to a knowledge of his
danger, and caused Phil to be ignominiously routed.

In the general confusion which ensued Marygold was captured and bound to
a tree, with the delightful prospect of being turned into a white soup
before sunset.

“You little duffer,” cried Phil, savagely, turning upon the trembling
Gaston, “you spoilt all the sport with that idiotic giggle of yours. Now
you shall be punished for that by being delivered up to the ogre in
exchange for Faith.”

“Yes, master Froggy,” put in Jack, seeing that Gaston really looked
alarmed, “you’ll have to pay for that giggle with your blood, so come

Planting his heels firmly together, Gaston resisted resolutely.

It might be all play, still, the big English boy’s voice sounded very
angry, and his face looked very fierce.

“Come on,” said Phil, giving Gaston a desperate tug.

“Oh! but, but, I pray you, have pity,” began the boy.

But his entreaty for pity came too late. Negotiations with the ogre,
initiated by Jack, were already begun.

And now Phil was addressing the ogre himself.

“Look here, you old wretch,” he was saying, “respect our flag of
truce,”--here he waved his handkerchief--“and we’ll parley with you.”
And as the ogre graciously signified his consent, Phil went on:

“Here’s a handsome offer, a jolly little roasting pig, a real Paris
_nouverty_, all ready for dressing, which we’ll give in exchange for the
victim that you caught first.”

“And if you don’t say ‘Yes,’” put in Hubert, who was well versed in the
customs of the game, “we’ll sell him cheap at the nearest cannibal
market, so you’d better make up your mind quick.”

Very pompously the ogre advanced.

“Let the article for exchange be exposed,” he said, “and on the faith of
an ogre no unfair advantage shall be taken.”

By this time poor Gaston was on the brink of tears. The sudden change in
the complexion of affairs from all the previous screaming, shouting, and
running, to the dignified air of solemnity which now invested the
proceedings, filled him with alarm. Consequently, when, at a sign from
Phil, Hubert advanced, and, seizing Gaston by one arm, helped to drag
“the article” forward for closer inspection, all notion of it being only
a game disappeared from Gaston’s mind, and he really thought that he was
facing certain death.

He was rather a baby for his age, but then he had never had elder
brothers, and this was his first experience of big English boys and of

“He--he won’t really eat me,” he faltered.

“Eat you! of course he will. Skin, bones, and grizzle,” said Phil,
thoroughly enjoying Gaston’s dismay; “someone always has to be eaten up
at the end of the game to make it real.”

“But--but the last time that you did play, who was eated up then?”
enquired Gaston, with not unnatural curiosity still holding back.

“Oh, an awfully jolly little chap,” said Phil, cheerfully, “very like
you. I don’t think he would have minded it much if they hadn’t eaten so
much mustard with him.”

“They won’t have of mustard to eat with me,” cried Gaston, “for Mrs.
Busson was this morning not able to find any.”

“Pepper’ll do as well, or better,” said Phil, coolly, “hurry up, we’re
not going to wait any longer. Don’t you hear the ogre sharpening his
front teeth on the backbone of the giant that he ate for breakfast this
morning? Come on, I say.”

“But no, no, I won’t come, I won’t,” yelled Gaston, trying to throw
himself on the ground. “I won’t be eated, I won’t be eated!”

Vainly he looked round for succour. His last friend, Marygold, was
herself a captive, and of course, Jack, the caterer, was not on his

“Be good enough to come on, gentlemen,” said the ogre, “having begun
proceedings, you’re bound to go on with them. Shall my official, Jack,
come to your assistance?”

Thereupon Jack came forward, and now, to his exceeding terror, Gaston
found himself lifted bodily between the two bigger boys and carried
forcibly into the clutches of the ogre.

The latter began to examine him at once. By this time, Gaston was a
quaking jelly.

“Hm,” pronounced the ogre, “he’ll do fairly well, provided he’s eaten at
once. Cook, come here and take my orders.”

Then, as Gaston fought and struggled with all his might, the ogre
remarked, “Now, no struggling, if you please. Don’t you know that
over-exertion on your part will spoil your flavour, and make you
horribly tough? Jack, my caterer, I fear we shall have to chastise this
small object before cooking him, as an example to others, you know.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Jack, “a nice chance of dinner we should have, if
all the legs of mutton took to kicking us, and all the calves’ heads
began to butt at us.”

“Well, make up your mind, Mr. Ogre,” said Phil, “are you prepared to
take over this little porker, or not?”

“I am,” was the reply, “and as he persists in showing fight, we’ll see
what a little beating will do for him. It answers admirably in the case
of beefsteaks, you know. Take charge of him, Jack.”

“All right,” said that official; then, with a wink at Phil, “just hold
him down a minute, while I tie his pettitoes together. Mr. Ogre, kindly
assist us.”

“Don’t be afraid,” whispered Hubert in Gaston’s ear, as he lay on the
ground, “they won’t really hurt you, Phil won’t let them.”

But _playing_ at bullying is a dangerous game with the best intentioned
of schoolboys, and Andrew was the prince of bullies when he was secure
from any risk to his own precious person. With such a tiny victim as
poor Gaston, he felt perfectly safe. But he had reckoned without his
host, or at any rate, without his host’s teeth.

For as soon as he came within biting range of Gaston, the latter, who,
as we said, had long ago forgotten that he was supposed to be playing,
caught Andrew’s hand between his teeth, and hung on to his fingers for
dear life.

Andrew danced and yelled with pain.

“You nasty, abominable little wretch,” he shrieked, “won’t I pay you out
for this.”

“What are you about, boys?” cried Faith, who, tied up with her back to
this exciting scene, was terrified at these alarming sounds. “Di, do go
and see what they are doing.”

But Di was busy now giving chase to Hubert, whom she had been stealthily
trying to capture, so she had no ears for Fay.

As to Phoena, no one heeded her gentle remonstrances.

“It’s only fun, Gaston,” she assured him.

“Of course it is, we’re only rotting you,” said Phil.

“Oh, are we,” cried Andrew, savagely, breaking off a stout hazel switch
as he spoke, “we’ll see about that; ogre or no ogre, I’ll teach him to
bite me again. Hold him down, Jack, and I’ll give him the jolliest
licking he’s ever yet had.”

And before anyone could stop him, Andrew had delivered a cruel cut on
Gaston’s small prostrate person.

A piercing yell from the victim rang and echoed again through the wood.

“You shall have plenty more,” said Andrew, lifting the switch to strike
afresh, but the elder boys fell upon him.

“Shut up, will you,” they cried, “it’s beastly mean to hit such a little
chap. Trying to kick him now, are you? You’d better.” And without more
ado the cousins, aided by Hubert, who had returned, panting, but free,
brought Andrew to the ground for the second time that afternoon.

“Now we’ll see if a little beating won’t make _him_ tender,” said Jack,
wrenching the stick from Andrew.

So it fell out that the rod which he had prepared for another’s back,
fell upon Andrew’s own in no very gentle strokes.

“There, I’ll be bound that’s the best licking you’ve ever had in your
life,” cried Jack, with genuine satisfaction. “Shouldn’t be surprised if
it made a man of you, old chap,” he added, breaking the stick in two
pieces and flinging the fragments high up into a tree.

Too mortified to howl, and too cowardly to retaliate, Andrew skulked off
in sullen silence.

Gaston was nowhere to be seen. Once freed from his tormentors’ clutches
he had flown out of sight and sound of the copse.

“He went so fast, I believe he flew,” said Hubert, who, if the truth
must be told, had been so absorbed in watching Andrew’s chastisement,
that he had had no attention to spare for anything else.



“Dear, dear Miss Faith, whatever has been happening?” enquired Ruth,
anxiously. She had come to meet the little party as they returned in
answer to the tea-bell’s summons.

Once within sight of shelter, Gaston had lifted up his voice in piteous
weeping. Shaking and sobbing, he displayed the marks of ill-treatment
that he had received at the hands of his so-called play-fellows that

The sight of Andrew’s swollen nose and bleeding fingers, and the
disturbed air pervading the whole company put the finishing stroke to
Ruth’s alarm.

“You’ve never been quarrelling, I do hope,” she added, as fervently as
if the bare possibility were not to be contemplated for a single instant
by any sane person.

“Oh! haven’t we!” responded Jack, cheerfully; “and it’s done us all a
jolly lot of good.”

“And made us awfully hungry,” added Phil.

And, to judge from the promptness with which they fell upon the good
things provided for them, that afternoon’s misdoings had certainly not
blunted the mis-doers’ appetites.

The girls, however, did not follow suit. Marygold was tired, and really
very sad for Gaston, who was nowhere to be seen. Even Di was unusually
subdued, whilst Fay and Phoena were thoroughly ashamed of the results of
the first afternoon of taking care of themselves. Indeed, the latter’s
sorrowful face, and yet more, her untasted tea, attracted Phil’s
attention from his own plate.

“Hullo, Phoena,” he laughed, “whose funeral are you arranging for now?
Why, your face is as long as all King Cole’s fiddlers put together.”

Phoena started. She had been very far away in thought-land just then.

“I was thinking,” she began.

“A good thing then,” said Di, “that you didn’t upset your tea this

But Phoena went on: “I was thinking what a pity it seems that this time
yesterday we all had such a lot of good intentions, and this afternoon
we all managed to forget them so quickly.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Faith, with a sigh.

“A pity we couldn’t bottle them,” said Di, flippantly, “and label them
to be used when wanted.”

“Or pickle them,” sneered Andrew.

“No, but do listen,” besought Phoena. Somehow when her eager face was
all aglow with enthusiasm and her large eyes shining like lamps no one
could resist listening to Phoena. “I’ve been thinking how in the old
days, when they must have been just as fond of fighting as you boys are
now, they had a very good plan for helping people not to forget their
good intentions.”

“Really,” jeered Andrew, “pray how did they manage that, Mrs. Solomon?”

“Did they advertise them like Sunlight Soap?” broke in Di.

“Well, yes; they did something like that,” said Phoena; “that is, they
made their good intentions so public that for very shame sake they had
to fulfil them.”

“Oh! now I see what you mean,” said Di, who had plenty of wits when she
chose to use them; “you’re thinking of those old creatures who were
called--oh! what was their name? Cru--cru--something?”

“Cruets!” yelled Hubert, whose last spelling lesson had ended with that

“Crusaders, you little donkey,” said Andrew, with withering scorn.

“Yes,” said Phoena; “of course the Crusaders were amongst the people I
meant, for you see when they once decided to deliver the Holy City, they
did wear a red cross on their arm as an outward badge of their
intentions; but I wasn’t thinking of them so much as of Arthur’s knights
of the Round Table; that glorious company, you know, the flower of men.”

“I see,” said Di; “of course, by accepting knighthood they did advertise
their good intentions.”

“Yes, but before they could be knights they had to bind themselves by
vows to keep those good intentions,” said Phoena; “and those vows bound
them fast like chains, from which they never could be set free without
shame and dishonour until they had fulfilled them.”

“Then pray are we all to wear chains?” enquired Andrew.

“Chain up yourself,” said Phil, “and let Phoena speak, will you? Go on,

“Well, if you don’t mind listening,” she continued, “this is what I
thought. Though we haven’t got a King Arthur, and----”

“But we’ve got Mrs. Busson’s round table in the window,” put in the
irrepressible Di.

“And though we can’t get the Archbishop of Canterbury to come and bless
our sieges--yes, don’t laugh, that is the proper name for our seats--and
though we can’t have our names put in letters of gold over each of our
places, yet I don’t see why we shouldn’t have a sort of Round Table
here, and agree to promise to do as far as we can all that Arthur made
his knights promise to do.”

“But where are the heathen to come from whom we ought to smash up?”
asked Phil.

“I expect we might find something like them still,” remarked Fay.

“You see this is what my book says,” said Phoena, producing a volume
from under the table, where she had evidently been studying it out of
sight on her knees: “‘The knight was to take an oath to fulfil the
duties of his profession, namely: to speak the truth, to maintain the
right, to protect women, the poor and the distressed, to practise
chivalry, to pursue infidels, to despise all temptations to ease and
gluttony, and to uphold their honour in every perilous adventure.’”

“H’m!” remarked Jack, “rather a large order, but as Andrew always likes
to be cock-of-the-walk let’s make him the first knight, and see how he
manages to keep his vows.”

“I’ve no objection to being the Grand Master of the Order,” said Andrew,
who was secretly rather pleased at being noticed again after his recent
disgrace, “but before taking vows and that sort of thing there is a deal
to be considered. In the first place,” he continued, in the tone of
superiority that he loved to assume, “what kind of armour, I wonder,
would be suitable.”

“Oh! the right kind for you would be _plate_ armour,” said Di, quickly,
glancing at the amount of jam and cream with which Andrew had heaped his
plate, “nothing else would suit you.”

“Happy hit, Di,” laughed Phil. “If you go on at this rate, Miss Annie,
we shall have to label you the ‘hold-all’ when we take our luggage home

“You dare!” began Andrew; but happily Ruth, who was perhaps doing duty
as constable in plain clothes this evening, happened to appear at that
moment to enquire if she could clear the table--all the others had
finished their tea--whereupon Andrew, being far more anxious to clear
his plate than his character, devoted all his attention to the former

And so, when Mrs. Busson and Ruth finished dismantling the table, they
were able to record with fervent thankfulness that at any rate the tea
had been partaken of in peace and quietness.



It was rather wonderful how eagerly all the children took to Phoena’s
idea of founding a Knighthood of the Order of Good Intentions.

The fact was that in one form or another it possessed distinct
attractions for each member of that rather mixed company.

Notably to the schoolboys, to whom the prospect of being bound by a vow
to pitch into all evil-doers was highly acceptable.

“Those young beggars who are always riling the farmer by making short
cuts across his meadows will come under that head,” said Phil, “we’ll
teach them the way they should go and no mistake.”

“That we will,” echoed Jack.

“Yes, but remember that you ought to meet your foes in fair fight,”
remarked Faith. “Knights weren’t supposed to bully, you know.”

They were all indoors now, for the sultry heat of that oppressive summer
day had ended in a tremendous thunder-storm, which had driven everyone,
even the most ardent haymaker, under shelter. True, Phil and Jack were
disappointed of their row on the river, and so was Andrew of his
expedition into the lanes, where he had intended to besmear the tree
trunks with the beer and treacle mixture he had been preparing,
nevertheless all the boys resigned themselves very happily to their
enforced imprisonment, so keen were they on discussing the details of
Phoena’s scheme.

“Of course,” said Andrew, “as I’ve consented to be your Head it will be
for me to draw up the laws by which our Order is to be governed.”

There was instantly a roar of dissentient voices, above which Phoena at
length made herself heard.

“Perhaps if your name were Arthur instead of Andrew,” she said slowly,
“it might seem a pity not to make you the King, but as it is, wouldn’t
it be better for us all to agree that our King is absent--”

“Fighting the Paynims,” broke in Di.

“Exactly,” said Phoena, “and we should all be left on oath to defend the
honour of the Round Table.”

“Yes, and couldn’t we make it this way?” suggested Fay; “that the King
was to bestow golden spurs on the knight who could show the noblest
record on his return?”

“The knights always had golden spurs, I think,” said Phoena, “I don’t
think they were regular knights without them. But we might fix a certain
trial time during which every knight must do his best to distinguish
himself, and when the time is up we’ll appoint a special day and invest
him with a grand Order of Merit and--”

“And have a big banquet,” put in Phil.

“Yes, a real stuff-and-sit-down jollification,” added Jack, “infants and

“Yes, yes, infants and all,” chimed in those young parties.

“But please, how soon will that grand day be?” enquired Marygold.

“Ah! that will have to be settled,” said Faith.

“I was coming to that,” said Phoena; “you see we must allow the knights
fair opportunity to win their laurels, so as we are here for at least a
month, shall we say that the investiture--”

“Please is that the name of what we shall eat,” asked Hubert.

[Illustration: Andrew flung Mrs. Busson’s best patchwork cushion at
Jack’s head.

_p. 59._]

“Little boys shouldn’t interrupt,” said Phoena, severely. “I was going
to say, shall we fix the grand day for this day fortnight? That will
give a clear twelve week-days for all to achieve their noble exploits.”

Unanimous cries of “Yes.”

“But,” said Faith, “how are we to settle who has done the noblest deed?”

“That will be my business,” said Andrew.

“Cock-a-doodle-do,” broke in Phil, “hark to the Biddie Tom.”

“Of course it will be,” asserted Andrew, “I’m the eldest of you all,
except Fay, and she’s only a girl, of course it’s my right.”

“Bosh,” said Jack, “if only one person is to decide, then it ought to be
Phoena, she knows the most about the Round Table laws, and besides
_she’s_ sure not to be sneaky.”

“Be what?” cried Andrew, springing up, “say that again and I’ll--”

“Get another jolly good licking, eh?” retorted Phil.

“If you don’t shut up, Miss Annie, we’ll turn you out of this,” said

“I shall decline to have any share in the business,” said Andrew, “if
I’m not properly treated.”

“Which would be, of course,” remarked Jack, “to give you another
licking, but it’s too much fag.”

“You wretched boys,” cried Di, “can’t you manage to be ten minutes
together without fighting? Oh! take care, that nearly hit me,” as Andrew
flung Mrs. Busson’s best crazy patchwork cushion at Jack’s head, via

“I’m very much afraid that there will have to be another free fight,”
said Phil, drawing a long face, and straightway making himself ready to

“There need be no fight at all,” Andrew struggled to say from under a
woollen anti-macassar, which Phil had thrown over his head off the back
of his chair. “It’s my right to be the head of everything, and you ought
to support me, Faith.” He was wriggling now in Phil’s clutches.

“Well, did I ever!” exclaimed Mrs. Busson, appearing in the doorway,
“talk of a Welsh Fair, all this noise would beat it to pancakes. Well,
you are young gentlemen to talk, and no mistake.”

“To fight, you mean, you dear old Busson, only you’re too civil to say
so,” laughed Phil.

“_Fight!_ I should hope not indeed,” exclaimed Mrs. Busson, “whatever
could you find to fight about, the idea!”

“We are not exactly fighting,” began Andrew, grandly.

“What a cracker!” cried Jack.

“We were only differing,” protested Andrew, “I was trying to--”

“Oh, please Mrs. Busson, do hear what a beautiful plan we are making,”
said Phoena, “if you can stay to listen that is, for I daresay we may
have to get you to help us in carrying it out.”

“And very glad I’ll be to help you any way I can,” said Mrs. Busson, “so
just you tell me what it’s all about.”

To anyone less enthusiastic in her cause than Phoena it would have
seemed rather a formidable undertaking to initiate worthy Mrs. Busson
into the mysteries of the Round Table lore, but not so to Phoena.

True, she wisely confined herself to giving the merest outline of the
scheme, and laid the chief stress upon the two leading features in the
programme, namely, the promised distinction to be awarded to the noblest
deed and the grand ceremony which should celebrate that function.

And, wonderful to relate, instead of being fast asleep by the time that
Phoena had finished her story, Mrs. Busson was keenly awake and alive to
the situation, as her first remark satisfactorily proved.

“Well now, I call that quite the prettiest bit of play-acting I’ve ever
heard of,” she declared, “and nothing to quarrel over, I’m sure.”

“Oh, it was only Andrew trying to be disagreeable,” said Di, “he always
wants to be first, you know, in everything.”

“Now isn’t it strange?” said the old farmer’s wife, “how, ever since the
Bible days, when the good Lord chid His disciples for just such
disputing amongst themselves, there’s never been a little company but
what one of them has wanted to be first. There,” went on Mrs. Busson,
smoothing down the folds of her black silk apron, which was the badge of
her “evening dress,” “you children put me in mind of something that
happened in my young days, when I wasn’t much older than Miss Fay.”

“Oh! tell us about it,” said Di.

“Well, we were all over at grandfather’s farm, a number of girl cousins,
for it was the day before Harvest Home, and we always went to help
prepare the supper for next day, Dear me! what a sight of roasting, and
stewing, and boiling, and baking there was to be done, for grandfather
never would allow of any stint, everyone on the place was feasted. But
to come to what I was going to tell you.

“There were about a dozen of us girls in the kitchen, and for want of
knowing better, we all fell to squabbling as to who could make the best
puff-pastry, and we grew that spiteful against each other that from
saying ugly things about each other’s pastry, we finished by saying them
about each other.

“There, we got to such high words that I can’t tell where it would have
ended if grandmother had not come into the kitchen and stopped us, short
and sharp.

“‘Now, listen,’” she said, “‘this very evening, when the rest of the
cooking is all done, I’ll have each one of you make a bit of pastry
after your own fashion, and the piece that _I_ say turns out the best
shall be called the best in this house for ever after. So now not
another sound from any of you chattermags till your pastry has been into
the oven and out of it again.’

“And though we all in turn tried to make the old lady say that our own
particular recipe was bound to turn out the best, she had only one
answer for us all:

“‘Tarry the baking, and then the best will be _called_ the best.’”

“And was yours the best?” asked Fay.

“No, my dear, my cousin Rachel it was who won the day. But grandmother’s
saying of ‘tarry the baking’ came to be our favourite proverb ever after
whenever we were tempted to be over hasty in settling how any matter was
going to turn out. And so,” wound up Mrs. Busson, “that is what I say to
you, my dears, don’t spoil everything by being in too great a hurry to
make a king amongst you. Just wait patiently, and all give each other a
fair chance, and then, when you’ve really settled it amongst yourselves,
we’ll have a grand day. Trust me to make you a regular feast, with
junkets, and syllabubs, and all manner of good things. And I wouldn’t be
surprised that when the day comes you’ll all have done so well that
you’ll have to be crowned kings and queens together. And now,” added
Mrs. Busson, moving to the door, “I’ll go and see if Rob has brought in
the half sieve of cherries that I thought wouldn’t come amiss to you
staying indoors this wet evening.” And though as Mrs. Busson
disappeared, the elders of the party agreed that “all being crowned
kings and queens together” was not exactly the object that they had in
view, they all, Andrew only excepted, fully concurred in the wisdom of
her recommendation to “tarry the baking.”



The next day, directly breakfast was over, there was a solemn meeting in
the Cuckoo copse, to consider the further details in the development of
Phoena’s scheme.

“There’s only one thing that I want to say,” said Di.

“When isn’t there?” asked Jack.

“Well, but,” persisted the eager speaker, “what Phoena read out of the
book last night was all very well, but as far as we are concerned
there’s no sense in it in these days. I mean as regards keeping the
vows, we can only do the dull part, such as speaking the truth and being
kind to each other, and all that sort of thing.”

“Hear, hear,” broke in the boys.

“But as to the other part,” went on Di, encouraged by their applause,
“which really was the only nice part, what chance have we of pursuing
infidels, and riding abroad to maintain the right and of breaking lances
over wicked people’s heads?”

“Oh! but Di,” cried Phoena, “you mustn’t talk like that. Proper knights
didn’t break their lances over people’s heads as if they were only old
women’s broomsticks.”

“Oh! all right then, stuck them into people’s hearts,” retorted Di, with
a delightful independence as to the accuracy of her language, “so any
way, I’m going to propose something much simpler. Let’s all agree that
the boys are to do one brave thing every day and we girls one kind
thing. And whoever fails to fulfil this, must be summoned before the
whole lot of us and--”

“Be sat upon as we shall judge fit,” concluded Jack.

“Capital, capital!” resounded from all sides.

Only Faith dissented. Did she not know the fearful squabbling which
under the proposed conditions would most surely mar the close of each
day. “I don’t want to preach--” she began.

“Then _don’t_,” said Di, promptly.

“No, but,” continued Faith, growing scarlet, “if we bind ourselves at
all, wouldn’t it be better to try and _be_ kind instead of binding
ourselves to _do_ something kind and brave and all that? Because,
though, I can’t exactly explain what I mean, _doing_ things isn’t always
_being_ them. One may do a kind thing without being really kind.”

“What on earth do you mean?” asked Diana.

“This sort of thing,” said Faith. “Last evening when poor little Gaston
looked through the door at us all eating cherries--”

“Well, we gave him some,” said Andrew.

“Yes, and giving him a handful of cherries was a kind act, but you were
not kind in giving them to him. You called him a flabby French frog and
in such a nasty tone too, I’m quite sure that he would have been much
happier if he hadn’t had the cherries at all.”

“Yes,” said Jack, “I see what you mean, you dear pious old Fay, but look
here, we’re going to turn over a new leaf altogether, you know, and we
mean both to _be_ good and to _do_ good.”

“Still,” said Phoena, “Fay’s right, Di’s scheme won’t do. To start with,
we shouldn’t probably have all an equal chance of doing great things,
and then besides,” Phoena rather faltered over this bit of plain
speaking, “besides we are none of us so extra kind and good, you know,
that we are likely to--”

“Have some goodness to spare for every day in the week, that’s what you
mean to say,” wound up Di.

“Something like it,” admitted Phoena, “so that we had better be
contented with all trying to do our best, and then at the end of our
time we must all solemnly consider whose best is _bestest_.”

Then followed a tremendous argument as to what kind of deed should be
considered best. On this point, there were of course so many different
opinions that the discussion bid fair to last to midnight, had not
Hubert’s shrill tones asserted themselves.

“The most unselfish thing that we can do, and the thing that hurts
ourselves the most, that ought to be called the bestest deed,”
proclaimed this small self-constituted oracle.

Vague and distinctly ungrammatical as this proposition was, it was
nevertheless hailed as a welcome end to the long discussion, and was
duly carried in these terms.

“That that deed which shall be the most unselfish, and shall cost the
doer the heaviest price shall be adjudged the best.”

And as Phoena entered this important resolution into her code of rules
and regulations Faith wondered a little anxiously as to how and when
that resolution would be enforced.

If she had only guessed what was coming!

But though Hubert’s suggestion was adopted, his sudden leap into public
life, as well as to the top of the fence, whence he had delivered
himself, nearly cost him the chance of being enrolled himself into the
order at all, for the elder boys agreed that it was quite impossible to
admit such an infant on the same footing as themselves.

“He’s such an awful youngster,” said Phil, sighing heavily at the
thought of Hubert’s four years juniorship to himself.

“Of course,” said Andrew, decidedly, “we can’t have such a baby amongst

But the pitiful look on the “awful youngster’s” face softened Jack’s

“Phoena, can’t we take him in as something that isn’t a knight?” he
asked; “As a squire or a page?”

“He might go in as a valet,” said Phoena. “No, you needn’t look
offended, Hubert. A valet in those days didn’t mean a man who brushed
clothes, but simply a vassalet or little page. He began his training for
the knighthood just about your age, and valet was only the short for

“Vaseline you mean,” said Di, wickedly.

But Phoena went on:

“His chief duties were to attend his lord in the chase, to learn from
him how to shoot and use the lance, to be taught courteous ways towards
ladies, and to be ever of a modest and obedient behaviour.”

“Then, as I’m eldest, you’ll have to be my valet,” broke in Andrew.

“Only so long as you treat him properly, though,” said both boys; while
Hubert, content through sad necessity, accepted these terms.

“But what shall we girls have to do?” asked Di. “I suppose we shall have
to fulfil our good intentions in some way or other.”

“Of course,” said Phoena, “we shall have to be much more careful than
the knights to fulfil our vows and to set them a good example. In olden
times it was always the ladies, you know, who used to inspire the flower
of chivalry to do noble deeds and teach high thoughts and----”

“High jinks will be what Di’ll teach us, and nothing else,” laughed
Jack; “but I say, what about taking that little French beggar into the

“Oh! please do,” begged both the infants.

“It would be rather unkind to leave him out,” said Fay.

“He’d better look out if he comes under my notice,” said Andrew; “I’ll
show him that I can pay off old scores.”

“Take care,” warned Phoena, “or you may get turned out of the Order and
dubbed a false knight, for to revenge yourself on the weak would be
breaking your vows, you know.”

“Oh! let’s have the poor little beggar in,” said Phil, good-naturedly.
Marygold had been whispering so pleadingly in his ear.

“He is rather a Molly, you know,” objected Jack.

“And scarcely likely to be an ornament to the Order,” remarked Di.

“And very likely to be a bone of contention,” sighed Faith, who began to
realise that there might be many objections to admitting Gaston to
closer companionship with the older boys.

And so the motion for admitting Gaston into the noble company was not
carried; but when, on the next afternoon, they held high festival in the
Cuckoo Copse to inaugurate their Order, and Gaston, under Ruth’s
protection, ran to and fro, a willing helper in carrying the good things
which Mrs. Busson had provided for the feast, they all felt, as Phil
expressed it, that it would be awfully mean to keep the wretched little
chap out of their fun.

With infinite trouble Phoena had traced out a huge circle on the mossy
ground, which was to represent the Round Table, and within this magic
ring, all the viands were arranged also in a circle.

There were pyramids of strawberries and cherries, jugs of cream,
currants in a snowstorm--a confection peculiar to Mrs. Busson, composed
of whites of eggs beaten to a stiff snow and inlaid with clusters of
crystallised red currants--there were fairy foolscaps, made of most
transparent pastry, stuffed with cream and jam, there was thunder and
lightning--clotted cream, intersected with flashes of apricot
preserve--big bowls of curds and whey, with a magnificent dish of trifle
to crown the centre of the table.

Mrs. Busson had indeed spared no pains to make the banquet worthy of the

But when, after Gaston had finished helping Ruth to arrange the table
with such deftness that Ruth declared he was a regular little French
cook, he meekly followed her back to the house without attempting to
stay beside the tempting board, there was a violent reaction in Gaston’s
favour amongst all the intending merry-makers.

To the infants’ exceeding joy they were bidden to pursue the outcast and
to bring him back to the feast.

And so, with no very clear comprehension of his obligations, Gaston
joined in the banquet, and was duly enrolled as the youngest knight in
the Order of Good Intentions.

“We _must_ make him a knight,” Di had wisely whispered to Jack, “for if
he were only a valet like Hubert, Andrew would bully him so.”

[Illustration: They were bidden to bring him back to the feast.

_p. 68._]



“I wonder what sort of grand things _he_ will do,” said Andrew with a
sneer at Gaston, who, at the close of the banquet ran off to tell of his
new honours to Ruth. “Not much fear of his carrying off the prize from
any of us.”

“Not much,” laughed the schoolboys.

“It doesn’t seem to me,” remarked Phil after a pause, “that it’ll be an
easy matter for any of us to get a chance of doing anything really

“Just what I was thinking,” said Jack; “if only one had the chance of
slashing off a few Turk’s heads it would be easy enough to get famous,”
and as he lay on his back amongst the high grass, Jack made a ferocious
onslaught with his stick at the tall blades waving above his head. “But
you see where it is, however much those youngsters may break down the
fences and rob the cherry orchards, we can’t go and slice off _their_

“I should think not, indeed,” cried Faith; “why you know that you must
not even strike them.”

“We shall see about that,” said Jack, very ominously, “when the time for
action comes; but depend upon it, my fellow knights,” he added, with a
knowing wink at Phil, “it was not customary to hold councils of war in
the presence of gentle ladies.”

“Of course not,” said Andrew; “knights brought their trophies to their
fair ladies to win their praises, but they didn’t tell them beforehand
how they were going to get them.”

“They’d have been bigger duffers than I take them for if they did,”
remarked Jack.

“Perhaps in those days,” remarked Andrew, “the ladies had more go in
them than the meek and mild Fay has.”

“Now, I say, don’t _you_ jeer at Faith,” cried Phil, quickly.

“You’d better not,” cried Phoena, “or you’ll be disgraced and degraded,
Andrew, as recreant to your vows.”

“Come on,” said Jack, springing to his feet, and thrusting his cap in
true schoolboy fashion at the back of his head with the peak well over
his left ear, “come on, fellow conspira---- knights I mean, I’ve an

“May I come, too?” asked Hubert, timidly.

“And I, too?” enquired Gaston, returning at that moment.

There was a whispered conference between the elders, then Andrew said

“As my valet, you know, he will be under my control, and we might find
him useful.”

“Oh! yes, I’d be werry useful,” shouted Hubert, fervently. He was
trembling with fear lest on the very threshold of his new career he
should meet with a rebuff.

“Well, you understand,” said Jack, turning rather a grim countenance on
the small suppliant, “that you’ll have to knock under to us; if you
don’t you’ll get toko, mind that.”

“What’s toko?” asked Gaston, under his breath.

“Only a whacking,” said Hubert, as gaily as if it had been a plum bun.
“I don’t mind that.”

“Then you’re the right sort of man, old chap,” cried Phil.

At this bit of praise Hubert swelled almost visibly with pride.

“And may Gaston come?” he asked.

“He’ll have to come as knight, you know,” said Jack to Phil.

“Yes, and Andrew would be sure to fight him and spoil sport that way,”
whispered the latter in return.

“May Gaston come too?” asked Hubert again.

“No! Gaston mayn’t come too,” answered Andrew, mimicking Hubert’s tone;
“we don’t want the company of a French frog on this occasion; do we,
you fellows?” he added, addressing the other boys.

“No, he had better not come,” they agreed.

“So hop off, Master Frog, till further orders,” jeered Andrew.

“Never mind, Gaston, you’ll go with them next time,” comforted Faith.
But Gaston, seeing all the boys disappear without him, and thus
realising that, in spite of their promise, he was to be excluded from
their games, was deaf to consolation.

He stood motionless, like a small monument of stony grief, his sorrowful
eyes fixed on the opening in the thick bushes through which the others
had vanished.

“Never mind, dear little Gaston,” said Phoena, kindly, running up to him
and putting her hand on his arm, “you shall be my own knight, and we
will do something grand between us.”

“You are good,” he said, slowly, but so mournfully that even Di’s heart
was touched, “but it is not just; no, no, it is not just.”

Then he turned, and, with almost a majestic step, he walked out of the
wood. A minute later he might have been seen executing a kind of
war-dance on the top of the steep bank which separated the wood from the
fields, and muttering in his mother tongue words to this effect:

“Ha! I am a French frog indeed! Yes, yes, a frog! Ah! it is well; they
shall see, they shall see.”

Fay, meanwhile, and the other girls were speculating rather anxiously as
to what might be the outcome of the boys’ conclave.

“I do hope they’re not going to do anything very dreadful,” said Fay,
“but the boys are so foolhardy.”

“Yes,” said Phoena; “though I’m sorry for Gaston’s disappointment, I’m
glad he didn’t go with them.”

“I wish they hadn’t taken Hubert,” said Faith.

“I don’t,” said Marygold, like a cunning little woman, “’cause I expect
Hubert will tell us all about it when they come back, and the others

But Marygold was somewhat disappointed.

Hubert had been bound over to secrecy, and consequently his reticence as
to the affairs of the meeting--at this early stage of the proceedings at
any rate--was not to be shaken.

“Nuffin very important was to happen till to-morrow evening,” was all he
could be coaxed into divulging.

“I’m going to start a kind of diary,” announced Phoena at breakfast next
morning, “where I shall enter everything grand that anyone does in the
day. It’ll make it easier to settle up at the end, you know.”

“Capital notion,” said several voices.

“I expect you’ll have a not half bad entry for to-night,” said Jack,
mysteriously, upon which all the boys chuckled meaningly; and, to judge
from their long absences during the day, and their very pre-occupied
airs during meals and on all other public occasions, it was clear that
something was brewing.

“I guess,” said Di, “that at last they’ve found a wasps’ nest, and are
going to blow it up; that’s why they are in such a hurry for tea.”

For Hubert had just come to say that they had asked Mrs. Busson to have
tea half an hour earlier than usual.

“For _particular_ reasons,” Hubert had explained.

Diana’s guess was wrong, however.

What was actually planned was never let out by the conspirators, nor
indeed what actually took place, for Phoena was called upon to make no
entry in her book that evening. Only mere fragments of information
leaked out from Hubert. They were told in strict confidence to Marygold,
and, being pieced together by her elders, furnished the following
story, which was practically the true one.

By way of beginning their new career, the boys had determined to turn
their attention to the trespassers, who vexed Busson’s soul so sorely
and so persistently by straying from the footpaths through his grass
fields, and making short cuts instead.

“We’ll give them such a lesson in trespassing,” the boys agreed, “that
old Busson will bless us for ever after.”

With this laudable result in view, it would appear that they had
arranged to lie in wait, “armed to the teef” as Hubert expressed it,
_i.e._, provided with stout sticks, and concealed behind hay-stacks and
hedges, in order to fall upon the first evil-doer who should stray from
the right path. Their dream was to capture as many of these malefactors
as possible, and to drag them to the farm bound in chains.

The chains were to be represented by some strong whipcord, upon the
purchase of which the knights expended a considerable amount of their
week’s pocket money. They made their plans with much care. They had
learnt the “lay of the land” by heart, they had reconnoitred their
positions again and again, and had rehearsed their manœuvres at least
a dozen times during the day. Hubert had been well drilled in his part,
with a good allowance of “toko,” which he had taken in excellent part as
belonging of right to the fortunes of war; yet, despite all these
preparations, when the moment for action came the result was a failure,
and rather an ignominious one too.

They were to wait till well after dusk before beginning operations,
twilight being the time when the trespassers were always abroad. Each of
the boys was to occupy a separate position, and to be ready to spring
upon the foe or foes the instant that there was a deviation from the
lawful path, and by judicious out-flanking no culprit was to be suffered
to escape. Hubert was concealed in a deep ditch which ran so close to
the foot-path that he could not fail to note the passers-by, but he was
specially charged not to blow his whistle unless the individual did
actually transgress and forsake the beaten way.

“They must be caught red-handed,” the boys had decreed.

Loyally did Hubert fulfill his duty, though he literally hungered to see
each passing pair of feet stray into forbidden paths. But none of the
tired labourers who passed along the field showed any inclination to
wander. Hubert had to let all go by with a heavy sigh and an increased
longing for “really bad ones” to come soon.

At length, when it was growing very dusk, a short figure was seen to
vault over the stile at the further end of the field, and without
attempting to approach the foot-path, run boldly across the meadow.

Here, at last, was the longed-for malefactor.

Before even Hubert could whistle, Andrew, who was nearest to the stile,
had darted out of his hiding-place and was attacking the foe.

But instead of meeting him face to face, as had been agreed should be
done, according to the accepted canons of fair fighting, Andrew had
allowed his victim to pass him, and had then followed him and struck him
with his stick.

“I am just glad to be the very first of them all to be in the field,” he
was saying to himself, but he didn’t say it twice.

In another second the figure, who was one of the odd men on his way to
see to some yearling colts in the upper meadow, had rounded upon Andrew
and seized him by the collar. Then he shook him so roughly that feeble
cries for “he-elp” were nearly choked in his throat.

And if Phil and Jack had not come to the rescue and recognised Ned, with
whom they had already chummed over the boat, that individual, so he
solemnly assured them, would have well-nigh broken every bone in
Andrew’s personal possession.

“And sarve him jolly well right, too, for hittin’ a chap over the head
in the dark, and from behind, too,” Ned said.

“Well, you _have_ gone and made a fool of yourself, and of us too,”
cried his cousins, in deep disgust, as Ned departed. “Why on earth
couldn’t you observe our laws and behave like a man? Now, at any rate,
hold your tongue and don’t blab a word of what has happened. We wouldn’t
let the girls know for anything.”

“And so you mustn’t never say one word of it to anyone,” Hubert gravely
told Marygold, who had forthwith taken the earliest opportunity to
repeat “only a little bit of it” to Phoena, and a little more to Di, and
pretty nearly the whole to Faith.

Happily for Hubert, _they_ kept their own counsel.



In spite of the boys’ efforts to conceal the failure of their first
essay in knightly deeds, there was no doubt that it had a very
depressing effect on their ardour.

Indeed, the grand project might quite possibly have languished and died
out, if it had not been for a fresh impetus given to it from outside.
This came in the form of a letter from Mrs. Durand.

Faith had sent an account of their scheme to her mother, who entered so
cordially into their project, that she wrote, promising to award as her
own prize one golden sovereign to the best deserving of the knights. She
only stipulated that the record of the noblest deed of each should be
submitted to her for consideration.

Fay and Phoena were to be responsible for the accuracy of the list,
which was to be endorsed by all the other members’ signatures.

“I’m glad,” ended Mrs. Durand, “that you’ve taken little Gaston into
your number. A Gaston should do doughty deeds to keep up the reputation
of such a bright name in the rolls of chivalry; besides, it would have
been unkind, and therefore unknightly, to have left him out.”

Fay was careful to read this last remark out, and though it was received
with evident dissatisfaction, it nevertheless bore fruit.

Fired now by the prospect of winning a “golden opinion” the boys set to
work to consider what enterprise they could next take in hand.

Phoena furnished them with an object on which to expend their zeal.

In a certain village, Playden by name, through which they had driven,
coming from the station, she had noticed a thrush hung up in a cage
outside a cobbler’s door. The poor bird was beating itself so wildly
against the bars that Phoena felt certain that it could not have been
bred in its wicker prison, and must, therefore, have been only recently

“Now that really is a poor distressed creature that ought to be
succoured,” she declared; “I’ve thought of it ever since I saw it.”

“It shall regain its liberty before sunset,” said Jack, solemnly.

“And vengeance shall overtake its persecutors,” added Phil.

“If necessary the whole cottage shall be burnt to the ground, as a
warning to all the surroundings,” added Andrew.

“I’ve got a whole big match box in my pocket,” whispered Hubert to Phil.

“Bring it with you,” replied the latter, to Hubert’s excessive joy.

“How far off is the village?” asked Fay, not daring to show the immense
alarm with which the prospect of this punitive expedition filled her.

“Oh!” said Phoena, who had evidently given much thought to the subject,
“it’s only about a mile off; if the boys go now they will have plenty of
time to free the captive and return for dinner.”

“It rather depends,” said Andrew, “upon the amount of resistence we may

“It’s to be hoped there’ll be a jolly lot,” said Jack.

“But please remember,” Fay ventured to say, “that you must not behave
like a horde of savages. After all, the bird is not your property, and
if you want to set it free, you must start by offering to buy it.”

“I think,” said Andrew, grandly, “you may leave us to conduct the matter
so as to preserve our own honour. And now,” turning to Hubert, “you
valet, wind your horn and assemble our lieges.”

The horn was a tin pipe, from whose slender interior, at the expense of
much puffing, Hubert managed to extract a thin shrill note.

Phil and Jack being already on the field, that summons would have been
the merest formality, had Gaston not been allowed to respond to it.

But to Marygold’s delight, when poor little Delzant came flying across
the paddock in answer to the horn, he was graciously permitted to set
forth in company with his brothers-in-arms.

“There’s a short cut across the fields,” began Phoena, but a frown from
Faith stopped her.

“No short cuts for us,” replied Andrew, who privately hated fields which
might hold cattle of uncertain temper, “we march to glory on a straight
and open road.”

“Hear, hear,” from the rest of the company.

Therewith those gallant redressers of wrong sallied forth to execute
justice on the unsuspecting, and, to all appearances, law-abiding
population of the small village of Playden.

“There they go,” said Di; she had clambered up to the top of a high
gate, and was standing on the bar. “Hubert’s heading them with his pipe,
thank goodness that he’s not blowing it very loud, and Gaston is
following him. The others are marching abreast, because I suppose they
are all of equal rank, just behind Gaston. It’s such a lonely road that
they’re not likely to meet anybody. I wonder how they’ll get on.”

“I’ll never forgive them, if they come back without the bird,” said
Phoena, quite fiercely.

“I’m sorry for the poor bird,” said Fay, “still, I wish Phoena, that
you’d never told them about it. You don’t know what it may lead to.”

“Oh! you coward, Fay,” cried Phoena, “how would wrongs ever get righted
if people stayed to think what it might lead to? When would they do
anything grand if they always stopped to count the cost?”

“Well, I’m going to see what this’ll lead to,” retorted Fay, flushing
angrily. “I’m going to take the short cut across the fields, and get to
Playden before the boys arrive, and offer to buy the thrush. I’m quite
sure it’s the only way to prevent a row.”

“Oh, you traitor,” cried Di; whilst Phoena added, “If you do that,
you’ll encourage all the village to imprison other birds.”

“I don’t care,” said Faith, “that’s what I’m going to do,” and with
Marygold for a companion, she set off at a brisk rate through the

“We won’t come with you,” said Di and Phoena together.

But Faith had not gone far before Marygold, looking behind her,
announced with great excitement, that the two girls were following them.
“But they bobbed and hid behind the haystack when they saw me looking,”
said Marygold.

“I thought they’d come,” laughed Fay, “but I expect we should have done
as well if they’d kept their word and stayed at home.”



Thus it came to pass on that pleasant July morning that as old Jonas
Tubbs, cobbler by trade and a rare practical joker by taste, was
following the stitching duties of his calling, he was surprised by the
arrival of a troop of boys and girls at his door.

By this time Phoena and Di had joined the others.

“Bother my best button boots!” said Jonas, “I’d like to know what’s the
meaning of all this! ’Tisn’t as if I sported lollipops and sweetstuff in
my winder to tempt anyone, and they ain’t the sort of youngsters to want
any of my goods,” he added, casting a professional eye on the nine pair
of feet which belonged by right to the assembled party. “Well, I do
wonder what they’re all after.”

Although at first starting, the boys would have resented the idea of
being joined by the girls, yet just then they were really very glad to
see them. The truth was, that though they had found the cobbler’s
cottage easily enough, they had failed to discover the cage hanging by
the door containing the hapless victim they had come to champion.

“I believe you dreamt it all, Phoena,” said Andrew, peevishly.

“Any way,” laughed Jack, “it looks much more as if we had come on a wild
goose chase than a caged thrush one.”

“But it was here,” cried Phoena, earnestly, “I know I was not mistaken.
I’ll go inside and ask that old man.”

“No, don’t,” said the boys, quickly, “you’ll spoil sport if you do;
he’ll smell a rat then and be bound to gammon you.”

“Then I’ll go into that shop opposite,” said Phoena, “and ask if they
can tell me whether Tubbs--yes, that is the right name,” she added,
going backwards on the narrow pavement in order to read the description
of himself and his performances over Jonas’s door--“whether Tubbs does
not keep a caged thrush.”

Therewith Phoena darted into a small shop, which was evidently the
“Harrod’s Stores” of Playden, offering a miscellaneous assortment of
wares for sale, varying from bootlaces to bacon, and from mouse-traps to
smart bonnets.

“Please can you tell me,” asked Phoena of the woman at the counter, “if
there isn’t generally a bird-cage hanging outside Tubbs’s door?”

“To be sure, can’t you see it for yourself, Miss?” was the reply, and
Mrs. Bowles ducked her head under a string of brilliant handkerchiefs to
secure a better view of her opposite neighbour’s door.

“But it’s not there to-day,” said Phoena.

“No, more it is,” cried Mrs. Bowles. “Well, I never! ’Twasn’t more than
an hour ago that I saw it there with my own eyes, with a cabbage leaf
laid on the top, same as they always put over in the heat. Maybe they’ve
just taken it inside, whilst the day’s at its hottest.”

“Thank you,” said Phoena, and without noticing the woman’s
disappointment at her abrupt departure, she flew back to the others.

“That wicked old man must have guessed that we were coming,” she said,
“for the woman in the shop says that the cage was put out to-day.”

“I wish we had come earlier,” said Faith, “for it makes it much more
difficult to do anything now.”

“Nonsense,” cried Jack, “it’ll be all the more exciting. Now we must go
in and make the old beggar hand up the bird or show us where it is.”

“I shouldn’t be surprised if we have to use a little force,” said Phil,
“for if he tries to rot us about the thrush we’ll make him sit up.”

“The best way,” suggested Andrew, “would be for you two boys to tackle
the fellow, and leave me to free the bird. You deal with Jonas, and I
will open the cage and let out the bird. I’m not a bit afraid of taking
that responsibility,” he added loftily.

“Trust you,” began Phil, “to take the eas--”

But Faith broke in, “You really mustn’t set about it in that way, boys,”
she said, “you’ve no right to touch what doesn’t belong to you. Let us
go in first and offer to pay for the thrush, then when it belongs to us
we can do what we like with it.”

“But of course, he won’t sell it, he--”

“Well, let’s ask him, at all events.”

“And suppose he flatly refuses?” asked Phil.

“Then,” shouted Jack, “we’ll wreck the whole show, shop and all.”

“You can’t,” said Fay, in the severe tone that she always assumed when
she was most terrified, “you won’t forget that you are gentlemen, I’m
quite sure that you won’t.”

“And that it is the duty of real knights to redress wrongs, but not to
inflict them,” put in Phoena, who was feeling a little frightened.

Fay meanwhile had quickly stepped into the cobbler’s half-opened door.

“Good-morning,” she said, very hurriedly, “you have a caged thrush, have
you not?”

“Well, who said I hadn’t,” said Jonas, not looking up from his work.

“Oh, nobody,” said Faith, very politely, “but we saw it by your door,
and we want to know if you would sell it to us.”

Jonas Tubbs looked up from his boot-mending. There was an expression of
exceeding surliness on his face, but there was likewise a malicious
twinkle in his eye which would probably not have escaped the notice of
an older person. To Fay, however, he only appeared an abominably
cross-looking old man.

“How much would you take for the thrush?” she asked.

“All depends how much you’d like to give,” snarled Jonas.

“We’d give you--” began Faith, but the others cut her short.

“Don’t be so green as to make an offer,” whispered Di, at her elbow,
whilst the boys, who were dying to put in their tongues, repeated
Faith’s first enquiry in deafening tones. “Come, out with it, how much
will you take for that thrush that we saw in the cage?”

“Aaron,” called Jonas, by way of answer--Biblical names were evidently
in favour in the house of Tubbs--“Aaron, just come here.”

There was the sound of shuffling footsteps, accompanied by that of a
hollow cough, then a miserable-looking, undersized youth with a crutch
under one arm became visible.

“You come here, Aaron, just as a witness to this here bit of business,”
said the cobbler. “Now then, young ladies and gentlemen,” he continued,
turning to the party, which was fast filling up his small shop, “you
want to know, I understand, what I’ll charge for the thrush what you saw
in the cage outside my door.”

A look of startled surprise leapt into the cripple’s face, and his lips
jerked as if he were about to protest, but his eye met his father’s, and
what he would have said remained unspoken.

“How much I’ll take for the thrush, that’s what you want to know, eh?”

“Yes, you old stick-in-the-mud,” cried the boys, “haven’t we said so a
dozen times? Hurry up and give us an answer.”

“All in good time,” said Jonas, quietly. “You’ve heard that, Aaron?”

“Yes, father,” said the boy. There was a look on his face now of mingled
expectation and amusement, which puzzled the girls and irritated the
boys not a little.

“Repeat it after me, my lad,” said Jonas, “when parties are entering
into a contract, ’specially where they’re all strangers, one can’t be
too _partiklar_ as to the terms of a bargain.”

Aaron obeyed dutifully, whilst Phil whispered to Jack that if the old
“demon” went on much longer at this sort of game they would have
recourse to different measures.

“Now tell us the price,” said Andrew, “or it’ll be the worse for you.”

“And the better for us,” laughed Jack, who was pining for an excuse to
come to stronger measures.

But at this point Tubbs saw fit to make an offer.

“Suppose I said ten shillings?” he enquired.

Blank dismay, accompanied by a great silence, fell upon the group, but
barely for a minute. Then Jack came forward.

“You’re trying to swindle us, you know you are,” he said, “we won’t give
you anything like that.”

“Well, we’ll say nine shillings and elevenpence.”

“We’ll give you the elevenpence without the shillings,” said Phil.

“And if you don’t take care you won’t get that,” added Andrew.

Phoena, whose desire to aid anything in the form of distressed animal
life made her bold beyond her wont, added, “You ought really to be
ashamed of yourself to want to be paid at all.”

“Shut up, Phoena,” said Jack, “when girls put their oar in they spoil
everything. Now listen, Mr. Jonas Tubbs,” he continued, “we’ll give you
half-a-crown, neither more nor less, for that thrush, and if you don’t
accept our offer you’ll repent it.”

“That you will,” echoed several voices in ominous tones.

“_Wull_,” said the cobbler, with an odd chuckle, “I expect I might, for
it’s not every day that I get an offer of that sort. All right, then I
close, on condition that the very instant that you get the bird you
clear out of my place, every stick and staver of you.”

“Oh, you needn’t be anxious about that,” said Andrew, “this abominable
smell of leather isn’t so particularly nice if you don’t happen to have
a cobbler’s nose.”

“Isn’t that _raver_ rude?” asked Marygold, under her breath.

Fay set to work at once to collect the various contributions towards the
poor thrush’s ransom. In due time, after the rifling of many pockets,
the half-crown was collected and handed to the cobbler. Phoena was
allowed the proud delight of actually paying down the sum.

With an ill-concealed chuckle, Jonas slipped the sundry coins into some
safe hiding-place behind the folds of his black apron.

“Now Aaron, my lad, fetch the thrush for the young gentlefolk,” he said,
turning with a grim smile to his son.

“Yes, and look alive,” added Andrew, sharply, “don’t be all night about
it, do you hear?”

“Don’t rag the poor beggar,” said Jack, “he’s not so well off as we are
in the leg line.”

“We won’t let the poor bird fly here,” said Phoena, “for there may be
cats about for all we know.”

“I shall take over the thrush,” said Andrew, decidedly. “I’m the eldest,
and besides, I was the only one amongst you who paid sixpence towards
his ransom.”

“Yes,” said Faith, “I think it would be fair for Andrew to have it.”

“We’ll settle that when the bird comes,” said Jack, with the voice of an



“Wait a minute, Aaron,” shouted Tubbs, a minute after his son had
disappeared. “I’ll come and help you with that bird.”

Throwing aside his tools and scrooping back his wooden stool, the old
cobbler vanished in his turn into the back regions of the establishment.

“I wish between them they’d be a little quicker,” sighed Fay, who
regretted the delay in the winding up of this transaction.

She was terribly afraid that the boys, finding no outlet for the warlike
intentions they had been nursing so zealously, would relieve their
disappointment by indulging in a little civil war amongst themselves of
a singularly uncivil type. “I do wish they wouldn’t be so slow,” she

“I suppose they _will_ bring it,” said Phoena.

“I say, are you hatching the thrush?” shouted Jack.

“All in good time, young gentlemen,” came the cool answer.

“Look here,” called Phil, going to the inner door, “we’re not going to
stand this any more; if you’re going to humbug us about that bird it
will be the worse for you.”

“If you don’t bring up that bird by the time I’ve counted fifty,” said
Andrew, “we’ll make hay of your shop.”

“Come on, Aaron,” Tubbs was next heard to say--he spoke in aggressively
loud tones--“don’t do to keep little squeakers too long without their
pap and their playthings, so best see to them now.”

“Little squeakers, indeed,” cried Phil, “he ought to be knocked into the
middle of next week for daring to speak like that;” whilst Andrew
remarked, with a withering sneer at Gaston and Hubert, “That’s the sort
of remark we must expect if we go about with babies.”

“I’m not a baby,” cried Hubert, flaring up with indignation, “a baby’s a
horrid little thing that always seems crying out of its mouth, instead
of its eyes.”

At that moment Jonas appeared with the cage, cabbage-leaf and all tucked
under his arm. Aaron, with a broad grin on his face, followed close on
his parent’s heels.

“Now give me the bird,” said Andrew, stepping forward, “let me have it,
just as it is in its cage, do you hear?”

“Certainly, my young sir, by all manner of means,” said the cobbler.
“You mind, Aaron, he says he’ll have it ‘_just as it is in its cage_!’”

And as Aaron nodded assent, Jonas, with much show of deference, placed
the wicker cage in Andrew’s out-stretched hands.

The children clustered round Andrew at once, eagerly peering into the

“Let Phoena have the first peep,” said Di, and all agreed thereto.

“Oh! thank you,” she said, “but we won’t open the cage here, he shall be
set free out of doors, poor darling; you see----”

Her voice changed suddenly into an angry scream. “Oh! you wicked, wicked
man, the poor darling’s dead, quite dead!”

Yes, there was no doubt of it! With its head hanging limply on one side,
so that his beak just ruffled the pretty speckled plumage of his
breast--such a still motionless breast it was--and with his little
claws, looking like tiny stiffened

[Illustration: “Oh! you wicked man. The poor darling’s dead!”

_p. 90._]

hooks, the poor thrush lay on its back on the floor of the cage, just a
small heap of feathers.

“Do yer still think he was worth the money?” enquired Jonas.

Aaron burst into a loud laugh, moved to the display of this unseemly
merriment by the blank disappointment depicted on all the children’s
faces. But he didn’t laugh long.

For Andrew, who was standing nearest to him, struck him such a blow
across his shoulders, that Aaron, unsteady on his legs at the best of
times, stumbled, tried to save himself, and finally fell with a crash to
the floor.

At the same moment, a handful of leather bootlaces whistled round
Andrew’s ears, their brass tags making themselves felt unmercifully on
his neck and face, for the cobbler was wielding this original scourge
with a will. But, instead of attacking the cobbler, as most other boys
would have done, Andrew continued his assault upon Aaron, kicking at him
with all his might as he lay prone on the floor.

“Shut up, Andrew,” cried Phil and Jack, in one breath.

Furious as they were at the way in which they had been tricked, they
would have scorned to strike such a poor creature as Aaron.

“How can you be such a cad as to touch such a poor chap?” they said.

“Hope you like yer dead bird,” came in a muffled, jeering voice from
Aaron, who had evidently more spirit than strength, “hurry ’ome, I
would, and make a pie of him.”

Then, as he felt himself released from his oppressor, he went on, “Ah!
that’s better now, hold him off, young gentlemen.” For Jack and Phil had
pinioned Andrew from behind, and were dragging him back. In his rage,
Andrew was kicking out right and left, so that had his fellow knights
been wearing any visible armour, he would certainly have inflicted many
dints upon it.

His cousins, however, were well used to schoolboys’ mills and stuck to
their guns. Even Gaston and Hubert, at a wink from them, had risen to
the occasion. Each had seized one of Andrew’s feet and was hanging on to
it, like little terriers to a rat.

But the girls were pale and tearful. Phoena was absorbed by her grief
for the thrush’s death, but Fay and Di were ashamed of the whole

“You had no right to deceive us about the bird,” said Fay to the
cobbler, who was now calmly resuming his cobbling, leaving the “young
uns” to square up accounts by themselves; “you ought to have told us it
was dead, when we first asked you about it.”

“You ought to have asked if it was alive, if you were particular on that
point,” retorted Jonas, catching the end of his long thread between his
teeth, and suiting it to the length he desired.

“Of course, we supposed it was.”

“Never should suppose anything without knowing it for sartin.”

“But we’d seen it alive so lately,” began Phoena.

“Well, and if you had happened to have come an hour earlier, you’d have
seen it alive then. ’Twasn’t my fault, it died.”

“No, but it was your fault not to tell us that it was dead,” said Di.

“Now, blow me, if I think it was,” cried Jonas, “a civil question gets a
civil answer, that’s what I’ve always learnt. And if you’d spoken civil
to me, first go off--them boys, I mean--I’d have spoken civil too, and
acted straight with you. But, as it is, I’ve given you all a lesson in
manners, and not charged over highly for it either. And now I’ll ask you
to clear out of my place; quick march, I say.”

“You’re a werry rude old man,” cried Hubert, waxing bold; but Andrew
broke in, his tongue being the only member left free, he meant to use it
for a final onslaught.

“Now, my good man,” he began, intending to be dignified and opening his
mouth extraordinarily wide, after a manner peculiar to himself, “now my

His mouth shut with a snap, amidst the hearty laughter of all around
him. For with an aim so direct that it could not err, and with such
promptness that no interference would have been possible, Jonas had
thrown a big lump of cobbler’s wax straight into Andrew’s pompously
parted jaws.

And so this episode, which the boys had fondly hoped might end perhaps
in a little bloodshed, was concluded by this comical finale, which
provoked all the spectators from sober Faith down to little Gaston to
ungovernable merriment.

Only Andrew looked as black as the offending missile itself.

“And as that last attention wasn’t reckoned for in the bargain, you can
have your money back again,” laughed the old cobbler, producing the
half-crown, “and my best wishes along with it; that when you next try to
set the world to rights, you’ll make a better job of it. And, as for
you,” nodding at Andrew, “don’t you pick out a lame dog again to show
your strength on. Coward’s trick, I call that.”

“Ay, ay,” echoed Aaron’s voice from the background, where he had
disappeared, “a coward’s trick, and no mistake.”

So coward was the last sound that pursued the young knights as they
retreated in doubtful good order from the field of this, their maiden
essay in redressing wrong.



“We must convene a Chapter and degrade him.”

They had scarcely reached the outskirts of Playden, when Jack made this
thrilling announcement. He was perched on the upper bar of a style in
the middle of the field leading to Gaybrook, and his tone was as decided
and as impressive as the occasion demanded.

“Of course we must,” agreed Phil, tweaking Hubert, significantly.

“Of course we must,” said Andrew’s valet, in response to the tweak.

Andrew, meanwhile, the person to be degraded, was walking ahead in
solitary sulkiness.

“He ought never to have been made a knight, he’s not got anything
knightly in him,” said Phil, “if he’s kept in the Order at all, he ought
to be made to rank below Gaston.”

“But the fact is,” said Jack, “he oughtn’t to be kept in at all. It’s
the second time that he’s behaved like a sneak, and made fools of us.”

“But, boys,” began Faith, “you must remember that Andrew has never been
to school.”

“No fear of our forgetting that, Grannie Faith,” retorted Phil; whilst
Di added: “But you know if you turn him out the Order will be a very
small one.”

“Yes,” said Phoena, “but we want quality, not quantity.”

But though the boys applauded this remark, they nevertheless felt that
there was something, too, to be said for Di’s argument.

“Go on, you girls,” said Jack, “we must discuss this by ourselves.”

“I do wonder how they’ll settle it,” said Fay, who was sorely divided in
her mind as to which course would prove best to produce peace and
concord. She would have been far more troubled had she guessed the
resolution regarding the punishment to be inflicted on Andrew which had
been decided upon.

“The execution of the sentence must take place after dinner,” Jack had
ruled, “and in the meanwhile none of us must cast so much as a single
glance at the renegade knight, commonly known as Andrew Durand.”

And so rigorously did they all obey this command, that when after dinner
all the boys disappeared, leaving Andrew alone, he was so tired of being
sent to Coventry, that he quite hailed Hubert’s return as the bearer of
a formal citation. This was to summon him to appear before his
co-knights to answer certain charges against him.

“What do you mean, you little donkey?” cried Andrew, impatiently, as
Hubert was conscientiously but laboriously delivering himself of his
errand, “I was just going out butterfly hunting, and I can’t stop here
for ever listening to your rotten message.”

“You’ve got to come down to the river-meadow,” said Hubert, punctuating
each word with a nod of his head, “and if you don’t come _dreckly_
they’ll come and fetch you.”

“I shall come when it suits me,” was Andrew’s reply.

“He’s trying to be cock-lofty,” was Hubert’s report to those who sent
him, “but I believe he is coming all the same.”

“He’d better,” said his judges, “now young uns, remember your duty.”

“Yes,” said those “young uns,” cheerfully. But in truth, Hubert was
secretly quaking with fear; whilst as to Gaston, nothing but the terror
of being jeered at as a “French froggy” kept him from running away.

Accustomed to the intense stillness of his grandmother’s house, these
continual fights and rumours of fights not only bewildered him, they
were utterly distasteful to him. But, now he felt that his honour as a
Frenchman was at stake, and stay he must.

“Behold the recreant knight,” cried Jack, as Andrew approached.

“What a pity,” said Phil, “that we couldn’t kodak the scene, it’s bound
to be thrilling.”

The spot selected for this rather original court of justice was
certainly a very pretty one. Jack, the president, had taken up his
position against the trunk of a huge willow tree, whose silver-coated
branches swept the surface of the river, which gave its name to the
low-lying meadows. An old meal tub, reversed, supplied Jack’s seat,
whilst a conveniently forked branch on either side of him furnished
admirable perches for his two aides-de-camp, Hubert and Gaston. Gaston
had selected the safest branch, whilst Hubert, with great glee, had
clambered into the fork of the bough which hung so immediately over the
water, that his dangling toes just swept the rippling wavelets. Phil
apparently combined the offices of prosecutor, witness, and jury in the
oncoming trial.

Feeling secretly much alarmed, Andrew presented himself before the

“Look sharp and say what you want,” he said, “I’m going after

“We must ask the butterflies to excuse your attendance to-day,” said

“And I shall want you, Hubert, to carry my net,” went on Andrew,
ignoring Jack’s last speech.

“Wish you may get him,” said Phil, whilst Jack added:

“Now look here, Andrew, we’ve been discussing what happened this morning
and what happened the day before yesterday, and we’ve decided that on
each occasion you behaved like a horrid sneak and a coward. If you were
one of our fellows at school you’d get a jolly good licking. As it is,
we’re going to kick you out of our number.”

“Yes, we’re not going to let you join in anything again,” said Phil.

“I don’t mean to have anything more to do with any of you,” said Andrew,
“I was on my way to tell you so.”

“Oh! you thought that you were going to sneak out of your rightful
punishment that way, did you?” cried Phil; “pretty joke that.”

“Hm! you won’t find that so easy,” said Jack; “when soldiers and sailors
are dismissed from Her Majesty’s service they don’t exactly take up
their hats and say ‘Good-day’ to their superior officers, and stroll off
as if they were going to a picnic. The law takes a little personal
notice of them first, you know, just as we are going to pay a little
special attention to you now. Hm!” and Jack cleared his throat

At this signal, which had been settled before, Hubert and Gaston
descended from their perches and stood at attention on either side of
the accused, and facing Jack.

“Keep your distance, you two grinning apes,” cried Andrew; “look out,
you frog, or it will be the worse for you,” he added, giving a poke in
the ribs to Hubert, and a pinch to Gaston’s arm.

But the proud position in which they found themselves rendered both
small boys impervious to their injuries.

“Therefore we have decided,” pursued Jack, “to allow you your choice of
two alternatives; by accepting either, you will have a chance of paying
the penalty for your cowardly behaviour, and thus redeeming your

“I’m not a coward, and I’ve not behaved as one,” said Andrew.

“O-oh!” came in a prolonged whoop from the assembled audience, “don’t
you call it cowardly to knock down a wretched cripple, and then kick at
him when he’s down? Don’t you call it cowardly to spring out on a chap
in the dark, and hit him in the back, eh?”

“It was all done by mistake, I didn’t mean to do it,” said Andrew.

“Oh! all right then, you’re prepared to come along with us now, are you,
this very moment, to Playden, and apologise like a man and a gentleman
to the miserable Aaron? Look here, we’ll come with you, so that you
shan’t run a chance of being paid out by them.”

“But with people of that sort,” said Phil, “an apology is only half the
battle; you’ll have to stump up that half-crown you’ve got stowed away

“A likely story,” cried Andrew; “I’m not going near that cobbler’s den
again, I can tell you.”

“If you’re not the very biggest cad that ever breathed, you _will_,”
said Phil; “why, when we had a row with some street cads at school, and
one poor chap got his tooth knocked out, we all clubbed and gave him
five shillings, just because we were gentlemen and he was a cad.”

“I don’t care a mouldy rat,” replied Andrew, “whether you knock out a
gutter-scraper’s teeth or your own, but you won’t find me fagging over
to Playden, it’s not good enough.”

“He’s werry cheeky,” exclaimed Hubert, who was genuinely amazed at such
open defiance on Andrew’s part.

A sudden blow from Andrew sent him sprawling his full length on the
ground, and thus the formal character of the proceedings was entirely
dissipated. Before Hubert could find his feet again, Phil and Jack had
fallen upon Andrew, and a tremendous struggle ensued.

“Now, I say,” cried Jack, who was the first to get breath to express his
views on the aspect of affairs, “Andrew deserves a ducking.”

“And the sooner he gets it the better,” said Phil.

“Shut up, will you,” shouted Andrew, who, feeling himself powerless in
the hands of the schoolboys, with Hubert and Gaston as their helpers,
was really alarmed; “Shut up, will you? I’m not a bit afraid for myself,
but you’ll find it rather poor fun, I can tell you, to drown a chap.”

“Poor fun, do you think so? Wait and see,” said Phil; “besides, if you
behave yourself, we _may_ just stop short of drowning you; give you a
chance, at any rate, of seeing what a really good ducking will do for

“And it shall be a ducking and a half, you bet,” said Jack, cheerfully.
“Come on, you fellows,” he added, and having finished tying Andrew’s
hands and feet together, Jack gave him the first decisive shove towards
the stream.

It was a very shallow one, you know, measuring about twelve feet across
from bank to bank, and hardly deep enough at the point where the willow
grew to reach Gaston’s elbow standing upright, but Andrew’s terror of
water in any shape was only equal to his fear of cows, so that the
prospect of being thrust head foremost into the river made him wild.

“Better behave pretty,” jeered Phil. “Why, you’re wriggling like one of
your miserable butterflies when you stick a pin through them. You are
always so sure they’re enjoying it, try and enjoy this too.”

“I’m fa--ain--ting,” whined Andrew; “the doctor would----”

“Order cold water like a shot for you,” rejoined Jack. “Now then, boys!”

“Look your last, Andrew, at the pretty green fields,” began Phil,
helping in the gentle propelling of Andrew into the stream, “and the
bright blue sky, for here you are going, going, _going, gone_!”

“Now mind,” Jack had said at the beginning of the business; “we must not
really let go of this precious specimen, for it would never do to let
Miss Annie really get a wetting. We’ll only duck his head a couple of
times under the water, to give him a bit of a fright.”

But when boys are bent on tormenting each other it is not always easy to
stop short at the precise point at which they had intended to limit
their operations, and so, thanks to Andrew’s struggles partly, and
partly to the temptation that the other boys felt to keep up the idea
that their luckless victim was in real bodily danger, the exploit ended
in the whole party rolling into the river together. The water was so
shallow, and their plight was so ludicrous, and apparently so little
harm was done to anyone, that even the little boys laughed heartily.

“We’ve got a bit of a ducking,” said Jack, whose first thought had been
for Hubert and Gaston, “but we’ll soon dry in this broiling sun.”

“On the whole, it has been quite refreshing,” laughed Phil.

“Werry much so,” chimed in the little boys. But Gaston’s teeth were
chattering from the shock of his sudden immersion into the Gay.

Andrew, standing dripping from head to foot, said nothing.

“And will he go back to his kind sister Faith, and show her his little
wet jacket?” jeered Phil, as Andrew presently moved off.

“Look here, old chap,” cried Jack, good-naturedly, “do like us. Put your
jacket here to dry in the sun. This bit of grass is as good as a hot
plate any day,” and he pointed to a sun-baked patch where the younger
boys’ garments were already spread out, “and we none of us got wet to
the skin.”

“Yes, give us your jacket,” said Phil.

But Andrew, turning a deaf ear, marched off across the fields, but not
to the farm.

[Illustration: “The whole party rolling into the river together.”

_p. 102._]



“Oh, Fay, wake up, do wake up, there’s burglars at our door!”

It was just midnight, and for the last two hours an unbroken silence had
reigned within Gaybrook Farm.

But now Marygold, with her long hair tumbling over her little nightgown,
was standing beside Faith’s bed tugging at her sheets with all her
might. “There, there it is again,” as a loud but dull thud came against
the lower panels of the door.

Poor Faith, who had till this moment been sound asleep, started up in
bewildered alarm.

“It is burglars,” repeated Marygold, “and I can’t find the matches.”

By this time, however, Faith had collected both the matches and her
wits, and was lighting the candle.

“Who, who’s there?” she asked, in rather unsteady tones.

Then a very frightened little voice made itself heard.

“Oh, please Fay, I can’t find the handle, and I’m so frightened out here
in this ghostly passage, and Andrew’s dying.”

In a twinkling, Faith was out of bed, and with her dressing-gown flying
loosely behind her, was hurrying down the long passage and up the little
flight of steep stairs, which separated the girls’ rooms from those that
the boys occupied.

Poor, half-awake Hubert was meanwhile telling his sleepy story to

“I _b’lieve_ Andrew’s dying. Phil and Jack are awfully frightened ’cause
he is making such a funny noise and doesn’t seem able to _breaf_ a bit.
I was to run as fast as I could for Fay, they said, but it was all dark,
and I hit my head three times and knocked my elbow _dreffully_.”

“Suppose we go and tell Di and Phoena,” suggested Marygold; “they’ll be
ever so frightened,” she added, in a tone of distinct cheerfulness.

“Oh, yes, let’s,” assented Hubert; it was joy to create a sensation.

But before they had succeeded in awakening Di satisfactorily, or in even
making Phoena open her eyes, Ruth had swept down on these young
“pilgrims of the night,” and arrested their further exploits.

“There, Miss Di, take Miss Marion into bed with you and keep her quiet,”
said Ruth, tucking Marygold into a corner of the huge bed in which Di
lost herself every night. “And you come along with me, Master Hubert, we
don’t want you running over the house in the middle of the night and
catching your death of cold.” And with less gentleness than her wont,
Ruth caught Hubert up in her arms and disappeared with him, just when
Phoena was beginning anxiously to enquire what had happened.

“Hubert says that Andrew’s dying,” said Marygold.

“Who told Hubert so?” asked Phoena, very wide awake now and sitting up
in her bed. “Did Fay say so?”

“No, it was Phil and Jack b’lieved it,” said Marygold.

“Oh! that all, I suppose his breathing was bad and they were
frightened,” said Phoena.

“I expect if we listen, we may hear if there is much disturbance,” said

“Yes,” said Phoena, “let’s listen.”

And so she did, but the only thing she heard distinctly was presently
the sound of her cousins’ snoring; their anxiety was not keeping them
awake! Phoena’s fears, however, were not so easily allayed.

Nor did she feel reassured when after much opening and shutting of
distant doors, she finally heard the sound of hasty footsteps on the
flags of the stable-yard below, then that of horse’s hoofs. Blackberry,
the farmers’ stout cob, which did all the errands, was being led out of
the stable, Phoena made that out plainly, and then, a minute later, she
heard someone trot off at a round pace.

Phoena began to tremble in her little bed. Andrew must be very ill, she
felt sure of that now, and they were fetching the doctor.

“Oh dear! oh dear! I do hope Andrew isn’t very, very bad,” she said
half-aloud, “it’s dreadful to lie here and wonder all through the long
night. How I do wish the hours would strike faster.”

The clock struck some twenty minutes later, but Phoena did not hear it.
She had fallen asleep again and only awoke to hear Ruth bidding Di and
herself to get up as quietly as they could and go down the stairs softly
to breakfast.

“Poor Master Andrew has been very ill in the night,” she explained,
adding, that though he was better before the doctor left, it was of
great importance that his sleep should not be disturbed.

“Did the doctor say that he was dangerously ill?” asked Di.

“Dear me! no, I should hope not,” cried Ruth, “we should have to be
sending for your Mamma, in that case, Miss Di, but he has had a very
nasty attack of asthma, and Dr. Forbes says he needs all the sleep he
can get to help him over the exhaustion. There, it’s a good thing it’s
Sunday and you’ll all be going to church this morning--all, that is,
except Miss Faith.”

“What’s _she_ doing?” asked Di.

“Sleeping, I hope, poor little soul,” said Ruth, “she’s fairly worn

“Oh! Fay likes fussing with steam-kettles and mustard leaves,” said
Diana, rather contemptuously.

“I don’t know if she likes it,” retorted Ruth, “but she’s a very clever
little nurse, and as to Master Andrew, he’s the best patient I ever saw.
Poor boy, how he did suffer and struggle for breath last night, and
never a word of complaint.”

“Oh! he’s never half so horrid when he’s ill,” began Di; but by this
time Ruth had gone, taking Marygold with her, to ensure that Faith’s
belated night’s rest was not interrupted by any inroads from her usual
small room-fellow.

“Poor Andrew,” said Phoena, beginning her toilet. “I _am_ sorry he’s

“Oh! it’s his nature to be seedy,” said Di, speaking rather crossly,
because she was in sharp conflict with a tangle in her long wavy hair,
“you know that we always hear that he’s such a wonderful saint when he’s
ill and he is such a toad when he isn’t.”

“I should think that it must be harder to be nice when you are ill than
when you’re well,” remarked Phoena, rather dreamily.

“I’m sure it can’t be,” broke in Di, “because it’s always the way with
the horridest people. They enrage you so when they are well, that they
make you say and do horrid things yourself, and then they have a trick
of getting ill and going to bed and turning into such saints, that
somehow you can’t help feeling ashamed of yourself for having hated them
when they are well. I call saints of that sort ‘pillow case saints,’ for
their goodness slips off their pillow, just as easily as it slips on.
And then if they go and die--oh! bother, there’s no tucker in my frock,
how I wish Andrew wouldn’t be ill and make Fay stay in bed instead of
being here to help me. Andrew always is a bother!”

“It’s very shocking to speak so hard-hearted, Miss Di,” said Ruth,
re-appearing at this moment, “maybe you’ll be sorry for it, some fine

“Wouldn’t a wet day do just as well?” retorted Di, pertly, “why are all
the nasty things to happen on fine days?”

“That sharp little tongue of yours will bring you into trouble, Miss Di,
if you’re not careful,” said long-suffering Ruth, taking pity all the
same on Di’s unsuccessful attempts to complete her dressing. “There’s an
old saying, you know, that ‘a sharp tongue cuts its owner’s throat.’”

“Oh! you good old Ruth, don’t begin preaching so early in the day,” said
Di; “of course, I’m dreadfully sorry for Andrew and I mean to be ever so
careful not to disturb him.”

And certainly she kept her word, declaring, as she went down stairs,
that she should beg the boys to be very kind to Andrew.

But there was no need for her to exhort them on that point.

Jack and Phil were full of compassion for their cousin, a compassion
which as Di guessed, was greatly leavened with compunction.

For though no one, not even Hubert, had divulged a word of the ducking,
the schoolboys’ own conscience accused them pretty clearly as to the
cause of Andrew’s sharp attack of illness.

And though they might have been heard muttering more than once, “Well,
it only served him right!” their tone signified unmistakably, “I wish to
goodness that we’d never done it.”

Moreover Andrew’s patience and real pluck in bearing his suffering had
appealed to them strongly.

“Poor old beggar,” said Jack, “to see him panting like a steam engine
and as white as a turnip, and trying all the time to grin over it, made
one feel jolly bad all over.”

“Yes, it’s awful hard luck on the wretched chap,” said Phil, “I wish one
could do something for the poor specimen.”

“I expect,” began Hubert, with some practical shrewdness, “if we never
called him ‘Miss Annie’ again, it--”

But Jack broke in, “’pon my word, if it wasn’t Sunday, I declare I’d go
out and try and catch some of his precious beasties for him.”

“Well, I’ll go and feed his gold fish now,” said Di, getting up from the
table, whilst Phoena, without announcing her intentions, went to attend
the canary and guinea-pig.

“We’ve all got to start by half-past ten for church, remember,” said Di,
looking back from the door.

“All right,” said the boys--they were delightfully docile to-day.

“And you’ll remember to keep quiet, because of Andrew,” added Di.

And so, though Fay was not there to marshal her flock into good order,
it was a very well-behaved party that set out from Gaybrook Farm for the
parish church, on that summer Sunday morning.

“And they all behaved like models all through the service,” reported
Ruth, who had watched them rather anxiously from her exalted seat in the
gallery, “I was rather afraid how the young gentlemen might behave, if
anything went wrong with the singing, as does sometimes happen, or if
the sermon was extra long,” she confided to Mrs. Busson.

“Then more shame for you,” her Aunt had replied severely, “haven’t they
always behaved like little gentlemen in my house, so would they be
likely to forget manners in the House of God.”

“All the same,” said Ruth, “little Miss Marion did look straight at the
sight of the high pews, as if she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I
believe she was a bit frightened.”

Gaybrook Church, with its mossy leaning grave-stones on the outside, and
its old-world galleries and pews inside, along with its service which
had been unaltered for the last fifty years, were all of the most
ancient description. So that both Hubert and Marygold, who had never in
their short lives been in a high pew before, were almost alarmed when
they were shut into one of these formidable-looking boxes, which, as
Marygold remarked afterwards, “didn’t smell at all nice.”

Still it never occurred to them to behave less well than they would have
done in their own church at home, although their attention, and their
eyes too, would keep wandering to their new surroundings.

They were half fascinated, half awed, by the imposing mural tablets
which frowned down on them from over their own and their neighbours’
pews, displaying such a variety of designs and devices. One tablet
attracted Hubert greatly, from which a helmet stood out in such bold
relief that he wondered if it would take off, whilst Marygold was deeply
interested in the white marble effigy of a little girl, almost as big as
herself, kneeling in a flowing robe with clasped hands on a level with
her chin.

Why was that little girl there, she wondered, and had she been kneeling
there for a great, great many years?

“Please tell me what’s written there,” she whispered to Phoena after the
service was over; “it must tell about her death, I think.”

“It’s all in Latin,” returned Phoena, scanning the inscription under the
little girl’s monument; “perhaps Jack could tell us what it is.” But
another monument by the west door of the church was fascinating Jack
and Phil, and they had no attention to pay to Marygold.

This was the life-size effigy of a recumbent knight, painted black, and
looking ancient and grim beyond description. The shape of his shield and
his crossed legs delighted Phoena, as showing that that old knight had
been a Crusader, whilst Hubert fell in love with the hound which had
crouched for so many years in stony stillness at his master’s feet.

“Now, doesn’t it seem curious?” cried Phoena, eagerly, as they came out
of church, “that there should be a real old knight lying there? It seems
as if it was to remind us that they really _did_ live once, and did all
the grand, brave things one can only read about now.”

“But then they only got buried and painted black,” said Phil, dismally.

“But they’ll never be forgotten,” said Di, quickly.

“I should like to know what great things that grand old chap had done,”
remarked Jack, thoughtfully.

They were going through a barley field just then, where the foot-track
was so narrow that they were obliged to walk singly between the sea of
ripening, drooping ears on either side.

“I wonder,” repeated Jack, “what sort of grand things that old fellow
did so many years ago.”

The summer breeze was whispering amongst the gently swaying barley, and
Phoena was following closely upon Jack’s heels, so that she might well
have heard his musings, and answered them, but nevertheless the words
which presently rang in Jack’s ears in reply to his own questioning came
neither from Phoena’s lips, nor were they borne on the pleasant breeze,
and yet no words ever sounded more distinctly, at least so far as Jack’s
hearing was concerned.

“Whatever grand things that old knight might have done,” the voice said,
“I’ll tell you what he never would have done. He would never have
bullied a poor weakly fellow as you bullied Andrew yesterday, or held
his peace and not owned up when his victim was suffering from the

“Bother,” said Jack, audibly, “I don’t believe he would have, either.”

As they came through the porch into the house-place the children ran up
against Dr. Forbes and Mrs. Busson in grave consultation.

“No, indeed! indeed!” the latter was saying, her usually bright face
clouded with distress, “I can’t think, Dr. Forbes, how the poor child
could have come by such a chill, for as to letting him sleep in an
unaired bed, why, sir, you know me better than to believe----”

But Jack broke in.

“It was my fault, doctor,” he said; “we thought we’d give him a lesson,
so we ducked him in the stream yesterday. Is he awfully bad?”

Jack’s voice grew shaky with the last words, and he was red to the tips
of his ears.

“Not awfully bad, I hope, my boy,” replied the doctor, “but bad enough
to teach you a lesson, young man, not to play such pranks again on a
weakly fellow. You’ve caused him a lot of suffering, and a deal of
anxiety to others besides.”

“I’m awfully sorry,” said Jack, simply.

“It was just as much our faults,” chimed in Phil and Hubert; “we all

“Well, you’re all a nice set of young scamps,” said the doctor. “You are
a brave woman, Mrs. Busson, to undertake the care of them.”

“Oh! not so brave as you think, doctor,” said the old lady, with
returning cheerfulness. “I expect they’ve done their worst now, for they
are not the sort of young gentlemen to say they’re sorry and then go and
do it again.”

That afternoon a letter directed in Jack’s best writing, and posted only
with his and Phil’s knowledge, carried the following lines to Mrs.


     It wasn’t Mrs. Busson’s fault, or anybody else’s but our’s. We
     ducked Andrew in the stream, and we’re awfully sorry now.

     Your affectionate nephews,




“There, I must say, Libbie,” remarked Mrs. Busson, as she busied herself
with her Saturday’s tidying of store-room and linen-press, “we do seem
to have had a nice, quiet week since last Sunday. One may say of those
dear children that if they came in like lions, they’ll go out like

“They haven’t gone yet, ma’am,” said Libbie, in a decided, though
deferential tone, and she sighed somewhat significantly.

Libbie felt that she had paid rather heavily towards maintaining that
week of peace.

Diana had taken to making cheese instead of mischief, and to stirring up
jams instead of strife, and Libbie’s patience had not been a little
taxed by the mis-placed zeal Di had displayed in both these pursuits;
indeed, more than once Libbie had come near to losing her temper
altogether, Di having achieved the loss already of much of her toil and
time. Still it was certainly a fact beyond dispute, as Fay and Phoena
agreed, that when Di was happily occupied and Andrew was invalided,
matters went much more smoothly.

Andrew took a full week to recover from his sharp attack of asthma. On
the whole he enjoyed that week very much, for not only were the girls
his willing slaves, but the boys did their share as well in helping to
amuse him. Although they generally hated the sight of dominoes, and
voted a game of chess worse than vulgar fractions, yet whenever they
came indoors they rushed up to Andrew’s room to offer to have a game
with him, and they never once called him “Miss Annie.”

Even Gaston--though he never felt safe near the once savage
ogre--actually brought his best-loved French picture books, and,
depositing them on the chair nearest to Andrew’s door, fled back down
the passage as though wolves were pursuing him.

“It’s a pity that he’s such a frightened little frog,” said Hubert.

To Marygold’s grief Hubert had taken to copying his elder brother’s
contempt for Gaston.

“I wouldn’t like to be such a silly,” he added.

“It’s a great pity that you don’t try in a kind way to make him braver,”
said Fay, severely. “Yesterday, for instance, when he was so afraid of
being struck by the cricket ball, instead of telling him that it would
be sure to break his legs, it would have been much kind----”

“Preachey, preachey,” broke in Hubert, so rudely that Phil, who joined
the party at that moment, promptly fell on him.

“Look here, you’re getting too cheeky,” he declared, with a warning
shake: “we shall have to court-martial you. How dare you speak like that
to Fay? How dare you, you young monkey?”

“I dare what I choose,” retorted the young culprit, defiantly.

Hubert’s fearlessness in the face of chastisement always appealed
powerfully to his big brothers’ admiration, so that however much they
might threaten him with a “jolly good licking,” neither Jack nor Phil
would ever have carried out their threat on the small boy, whose pluck
was their favourite boast at school.

“You may beat me to death if you like,” Hubert proceeded to observe.

“What’s up now?” enquired Jack, who came to see what was going on.

Faith rehearsed what had taken place.

“Well, I must say Gaston _is_ an awful little muff,” said Jack; “still I
suppose we’ve got to be kind to him, so look here, Hubert. First of
all, go and tell Faith that you’re sorry for having been rude to her.”

“I’m sorry I was rude to you, Faith,” said Hubert, with the grandly
condescending air of a royal penitent, “but I was quite right all----”

“Chain up,” broke in Phil, “you weren’t asked to furnish any additional
remarks about yourself. Now go on, Jack, with what you were saying.”

“And then you must finish your penance,” continued Jack, “by fetching
Gaston, and we’ll give him a lesson in cricket.”

“And you’d better not try to frighten him over it, do you hear?” said

“I’d much raver be licked than have to play,” began Hubert.

“But small boys can’t always get what they want, even when it is a
licking,” said Jack. “Now, off you go, or you shall have the frog and a
whacking too.”

“It really would be kind,” said Fay, “to try to teach Gaston in a gentle
way to be a little more like an English boy.”

“We can try, but I don’t think that we shall ever succeed,” said Phil.

“So you’ve brought him,” cried Jack, as, a few minutes later, Hubert
came back with Gaston, whose eyes looked red with crying. “Now, look
here, Gaston, do you or don’t you want to belong to us?”

“But I do, I do,” said the boy, eagerly.

“All right; but then you’ll have to do as we do, and not be a silly
little French doll,” said Jack.

Gaston flushed as lively a crimson as his olive skin would permit. But
though he opened his lips as though to speak, no sound was audible. His
eye had met Phoena’s, and he suddenly remembered the talk they had had
on the previous day. Phoena had tried, and apparently not vainly, to
teach him how self-restraint was one of the chief duties imposed on a
young knight.

“So now,” went on Jack, “if we teach you to play cricket, you mustn’t
funk a few whacks from the ball.”

“Nor drop it like a hot potato, when you should field it,” said Phil.

“No, no, certainly not,” said Gaston, with quivering lips.

“And you’ll have to learn to climb trees like an Englishman, not like a
monkey,” said Phil; “we’ll show you the difference.”

“And, besides that, you’ll have to learn heaps of other things,”
interrupted Hubert, just a little disappointed that Gaston did not seem
more alarmed by the programme sketched out for him; “you’ll have to--”
But his eloquence was arrested by Jack, who promptly toppled him over to
teach him to hold his tongue when his elders were talking.

“Very well then, come along, old chap, and we’ll make a man of you,”
said Jack, and therewith the first lesson in cricket began.

On the whole, that morning’s instruction proved very successful. True,
Gaston could not help hopping and dancing a little, when a specially
swift ball came very close to his ears, yet he survived the ordeal
without uttering a scream or shedding a tear, which was a pitch of
heroism beyond anything that his companions could imagine. Indeed,
Phoena was, perhaps, the only one who understood something of the little
French boy’s nature, and guessed at what lay beneath his rather
uninteresting exterior. But then, like Gaston, Phoena dreamt dreams she
would never mention to mortal ear, and built lofty castles in the air,
to which none were admitted, or suffered to guess at their existence.



“I’m dreadfully afraid that those boys have been bullying Gaston again,”
Phoena remarked to Faith, some days later.

“Why, I saw them all starting out together to play cricket on the
common,” said Faith, “less than an hour ago.”

“I know, but when I came through the orchard just now, Gaston dashed
past me, with his head down, and flew through a gap in the hedge. I did
not run after him, for I saw he did not want me to notice him.”

“Really,” cried Fay, a little impatiently, “I think it must be his own
fault. Our boys are not really bullies; see how good they are to the
infants, and I’m sure if Gaston would only play with them like a
sensible boy they would be glad enough to have him.”

“Of course they would,” put in Di; “the truth is, he can’t get on with
them, because he’s such a wretched little French specimen. He’s only fit
to sit by Phoena and tell silly stories about French fairies. Ugh! I’m
glad I wasn’t born a French girl.”

“It’s no credit to you that you weren’t,” said Phoena, quickly, “and I
think it’s very unkind of you to be always reminding Gaston of what he
can’t help. He never jeers our boys for being English, and I daresay
they seem quite as silly to him as--”

“Oh, no, I’m sure they can’t,” broke in Di, whilst Faith added, “I’m
certain that Gaston would do anything to be like our boys.”

“Of course, anyone can see that,” said Phoena, “that’s why I’m so sorry
for him. I know he’d love to be treated as an equal by Jack and Phil,
for he has a deal more spirit in him than he shows.”

But even Phoena did not gauge how much Gaston pined to be admitted to an
equality with the English boys, for whom he felt an unbounded
admiration; nor did she guess how, at the same time, he resented their
jeers at his nationality. So long as his parents lived, their little
Gaston had been their _bijou_, their _petit coeur_--their jewel, their
little heart,--and he had been taught to consider France as the grandest
country in all the world, and to be proud, very proud, of having been
born a Frenchman.

So, when he first came to England to make his home with his grandmother,
it was absolutely bewildering to his seven-year-old intelligence to
grasp the reason of Madame Delzant’s Martha’s contemptuous pity for his
Frenchified ways and clothes, a pity which changed entirely into open
scorn when the old lady became too ill to leave her room again, and
Gaston was left wholly at the mercy of this well-meaning, but terribly
narrow-minded servant.

“You dare tell me, you little French whipper-snapper, that France is as
good as England, and that my cooking isn’t as much to your liking as
your old _Murrie’s_, or whatever you call her,” Martha exclaimed; “Not
eat my potatoes, indeed!”

This was when Gaston, sighing for his _pommes de terre sautées_, had
pushed aside a plate of plain boiled potatoes with a sigh.

“You’ll learn to starve a little, young gentleman, or have some English
sense shaken into you.”

Martha did not mean to be unkind to the forlorn little foreigner, but
still, she had struck at his very heart’s roots, and before he had been
many months in England, Gaston found himself wondering why the fact of
being a French boy was reckoned to him as a disgrace, which entitled him
to all manner of scornful epithets and contemptuous insinuations.

“I wonder,” Gaston said to himself one morning, as he sat on the wall of
his grandmother’s garden, “I wonder if the people in England do not like
being called what they really are. I do notice that boy who has red hair
does not like being called red-haired, and the only time that Martha
ever slapped me was when I said that she looked old. Perhaps _they_
don’t like being called English, so that is why, when they want to be
unpleasing to me, they call me a French boy. I’ll try, and see.” And,
anxious to test the worth of his new theory, Gaston slipped off the wall
and accosted an ancient man, who was trimming the laurels.

“_Jardinor_,” he began, standing well beyond the range of that
functionary’s shears, “Jardinor, you’re an Englishman.”

“Thank the Lord, I am. I’d have been ashamed to have been born anything
else,” returned old Wakeford, with a heartiness that demolished poor
Gaston’s theory.

“Well, it is droll, I do not understand,” he thought, retreating
disconcerted, and more bewildered than ever.

Yet, although in his new surroundings, his nationality was so clearly
accounted a shameful thing, Gaston was too good a patriot to be
persecuted into accounting it so himself. “On the contrary,” he said to
himself, “they shall see for themselves, that a French boy can be as
good as an English one,” and with a resolution that did credit to his
tiny frame and tender age, Gaston, in spite of many involuntary tears
and frequent failures, held fast to his determination.

All the same, his present training under the young Kenyons, though it
might in the end “make a man” of him, was actually making him very

He worshipped Fay for her gentle ways; he loved nothing better than to
be with Phoena, and listen to her quaint old stories, and he thoroughly
enjoyed a game with Marygold; but he was so afraid of being called
unmanly by the boys, that he scarcely dared have anything to do with
the girls, though he was constantly on the look-out to render them a

Both for Jack and Phil, Gaston’s admiration was unbounded; he would
accept all their knocking about as a distinct honour coming from their
hands; nor did he, as a rule, resent what Hubert did, or said. But as
for Andrew, he hated him.

But this was not due to the old ogre episode--that was long ago
forgiven. Gaston’s detestation of Andrew, and the resentment he
nourished against him, had a deeper root.

Towards the others he had the cordial feelings that a generous boy has
for those whom he knows to be manlier than himself, and was learning to
take their chaff, as it was meant; but for Andrew, with his selfishness,
his sneaking tricks, and his bragging, which was such a poor disguise
for his natural timidity, Gaston had the greatest contempt. To be made
an object of ridicule by, or before Andrew, was real torture to Gaston,
so true is it, that to be humiliated before those who we despise is
about the sharpest form of suffering of which we are capable. To be
jeered by Phil or Jack for want of pluck in tree-climbing, or for his
“butter-fingers” in letting a ball slip at cricket, was sometimes a
little trying to Gaston’s naturally quick temper, but when Andrew
ventured to taunt him in like manner, or called him “Mamselle Gaston”
when he ran away from a cow (which they all knew that Andrew would never
have faced himself), then Gaston’s spirit was sore, with a bitterness
beyond all description.

At last, Andrew’s mere presence grew to be antagonistic to Gaston, so
that no expedition or undertaking of any sort was likely to be a
success, so far as he was concerned, if Andrew was of the party.

It was because Andrew was standing by, so ready to jeer, that Gaston had
lost his temper, on the morning on which our chapter opens, when he
brought his own share in that day’s proceedings to a tragical

Though Hubert was generally sweet temper itself, he it was who began the
disturbance. Andrew had ordered him to carry his bat and stumps to the
common, just when Hubert wanted to stay in the orchard, and play at
boar-hunting with Gaston and Marygold. So the order to accompany the
elder boys to the cricket ground was very unwelcome.

“You can carry Andrew’s things to-day,” Hubert said to Gaston.

“No,” said the latter, who had no mind to serve Andrew, “you are the
valet of Andrew, I not.”

“You’d _have_ to carry them if Andrew chose to make you,” said Hubert,
incensed at Gaston’s refusal, “yes, you would, Mamselle Gaston.”

It was the first time that Hubert had ever dared call Gaston so, and,
though he felt himself under Andrew’s protection, he was half afraid.

And small wonder. The angry flame that leapt into Gaston’s eyes at his
words was ill to see.

“Don’t say that again,” he said, speaking in a slow, threatening voice.

“Hullo, you small boys, what are you about?” cried Jack, looking back,
“what’s up, eh, Andrew?”

“It strikes me someone will soon be _down_,” laughed Andrew, “these
small boys can’t settle their difficulties, eh, Mamselle Gaston?”

“Eh, Mamselle Gaston?” echoed Hubert, but before he could say another
word, before anyone could interfere, Gaston, losing all self-control,
fell upon Hubert, and dealt him such a blow, that he was sent rolling
head over heels down the grassy bank, at the top of which the fray had
begun. But Gaston had not finished with him then.

Down the bank he followed, collaring Hubert, before the latter could
find his feet, and shaking him with a fury that almost frightened Jack
and Phil. Hubert’s nose was streaming with blood, and he looked a
pitiable object when Jack extricated him from Gaston’s clutches, but
that was not directly. Jack had a schoolboy’s sense of justice, and
though Hubert was very dear to him, he knew that he must have drawn this
chastisement on himself by his incorrigible cheekiness.

“Now, you’ve both had a jolly good mill,” he said, using his own
handkerchief on his little brother’s face with rough tenderness, “and
you’ll be both a deal the better for it. Shut up, Andrew, will you?” as
the latter tried to egg the combatants on afresh. “My word, old chap,
you’ll have a glorious black eye, and no mistake, but I’ll be bound
you’ve deserved it. It’s been our fault, though, for not licking you
more. Now, Gaston, old man, come and shake hands with your vanquished

“Yes, and hold up your pecker,” said Phil, patting Gaston on the back,
“for you’re a jolly good fellow, who has learnt at last how to use his

“Yes, yes,” chimed in Jack, “he’s a jolly good fellow.”

Surely no single moment in Gaston’s short life had ever been a prouder

For once, he was an acknowledged victor on English soil, and no one
remembered to call him “French froggy.”

But alack! alack! they did not forget for long.

Flushed though he was by his victory, Gaston was genuinely grieved at
Hubert’s pitiable plight, for he was crying bitterly now, not from his
hurts--he was not so babyish--it was the mortification of having been
beaten by

[Illustration: “Shaking him with fury.”

_p. 124._]

Gaston that brought the tears down his swollen cheeks. So that Gaston,
moved to pity, and forgetting that he was not amongst his own French
comrades, instead of shaking hands with Hubert in due form, ran forward,
impulsively, like a thorough French boy, and, throwing his arms round
the vanquished’s neck, kissed him warmly on each cheek.

This action, so natural to Gaston, was greeted with a general howl of
disgust from the on-lookers.

“Oh, I say, shut up, Mamselle Gaston!”

“Oh, you awful French frog!”

“Oh, drop your beastly slobbering, do!”

These, and various other exclamations, couched in more direct, and less
poetical terms, were hissed and hurled at poor Gaston for full three
minutes, before he realised the nature of his offence.

“Now, I say, you fellows,” sneered Andrew, “I think he’ll be ‘Mamselle
Gaston’ for the rest of his natural life; fancy any decent fellow
behaving in such a way.”

“Yes, really you French boys must be awful muffs,” said Phil.

“Of course they are,” said Andrew, spitefully, “and Gaston is the king
of muffs, eh, mamselle?”

For a moment Gaston stood quite still, looking down without uttering a
word. He was abased, but not ashamed, and, strange as it may seem, the
feeling that he was abased in Andrew’s sight acted as a stimulus to his

As some horses, at the touch of the spur, make straight for the
winning-post, so Gaston, in that moment of humiliation--a humiliation
which was all the more bitter, because it had trodden so quickly on the
heels of his short-lived triumph--Gaston vowed within himself, that come
what might, he would show Andrew yet that the “king of muffs” was less
of a “mamselle” than himself.

“Well, are we all going to stand here till midnight?” asked Phil,
presently. “Here, Hubert, shut up bellowing, and thank Gaston for making
a man of you, by giving you your first black eye. My goodness, how the
girls will stare when they see it.”

“Yes, let’s come on to the Common now,” said Jack; “you can come too,
Gaston, if you’ll promise not to slobber me,” and Jack made a very
comical grimace.

Without answering, Gaston turned away, disappearing into the orchard,
where Phoena ran up against him, some twenty minutes later. Believing
that he would be safe there, Gaston had had a hearty cry, but at sight
of Phoena, he had fled through the orchard hedge to the copse beyond.
Flinging himself down there, amongst the tall, thick bracken, Gaston had
sobbed and muttered, muttered and sobbed, in a fashion quite peculiar to

Poor little lonely creature. He was very like a fledgeling, pushed
suddenly over the edge of his nest, with no parent bird to teach him
that he had wings, much less how to use them.

“Oh, maman, maman, ma mère, ma mère!” he cried, and even as the echo of
his bitter cry came back to him, borne on the still summer afternoon
breeze, there came with it another sound, a sound of words spoken long,
long ago. “Pray, pray, my child, never forget to pray, and your good
angel will carry your prayers to Him Who cares for the little children.”
And, kneeling upright, amidst the high bracken, Gaston, who never forgot
to say the prayers that his mother had taught him, crossed himself
reverently, as was his wont, and poured out the sorrows of his heavy
heart, praying to be made brave.

But why, oh! why, he wondered, rising from his knees, had the good God
seen fit to make him that strange and terrible thing, a French boy?



Of course, Hubert’s black eye created an immense sensation, not only
amongst his immediate circle, but throughout the whole establishment,
from old Mr. Busson down to the smallest boy-labourer on the farm.

If the whole constitution of France had been represented in Gaston’s
small person, and if the quarrel with Hubert had assumed properties of
international warfare, racial feeling could not have run higher in the
worthy rustic’s breast.

“A pretty joke indeed!” they declared, “to have that young Frenchy
knocking one of _our_ little gentlemen about.”

And what a fuss Mrs. Busson made over the injured hero; whilst Ruth was
careful to remark within Gaston’s hearing, that it was a great mercy
that Master Hubert’s eye had been not hurt, for folks got sent to prison
and kept there for less than that very often.

Hubert himself made no fuss at all. He was so delighted to possess
anything so entirely un-nurserylike as a black eye, that he obstinately
refused all Mrs. Busson’s offers of raw beef applications for the
purpose of abating the swelling; and when he discovered that the “pomade
divine” with which Fay had promptly anointed his temple, was supposed to
reduce the discolouration of the bruises, he scrubbed it off with more
energy than he had ever bestowed on his face before.

“But Hubert, didn’t it hurt you dreffully?” asked Marygold.

“Nothing to matter,” he said, “but of course you girls don’t under--”

“Oh! no,” began Andrew, teasingly, “it wasn’t the black eye that he
minded, was it, Hubert. It was--”

“You’re not to say it,” shouted Hubert, crimson with rage. Andrew had
jeered him so unmercifully all the morning, for having been slobbered
like a nice little baby-girl, that he was in absolute terror lest Di
should hear of it, for Diana’s teasing was quite as merciless as the

“If you say one word,” cried Hubert, swelling with rage, “I’ll ki--”

“Yes, shut up, Andrew,” interposed Jack. “It’s a shame to rag the poor
chap, any more.”

And so, though at intervals during the day, Andrew dropped mysterious
hints anent some still deeper disgrace that had befallen Hubert at
Gaston’s hands, just for the sake of “getting a rise” out of Hubert, the
girls never discovered the nature of poor Gaston’s further delinquency.

“Well, I don’t care,” said Di, standing in the doorway between her own
room and Faith’s, “I always did think Gaston was a horrid little wretch,
and now I’m sure of it. He must have done something horribly bad, for
Jack said he’d never have forgiven him, if he’d been Hubert.”

“I’m afraid he did,” said Phoena, reluctantly, “but I’m quite sure, it
could not have been all Gaston’s fault.”

“Well, it’s quite clear,” said Fay, with the uncompromising finality of
early youth, “Gaston isn’t fit to play with our boys, we’ve tried to
make the best of him, because he was an orphan and all that, but he has
behaved like a little savage, and the less we have to do with him the

But Marygold, who had been put to bed full an hour ago, and was supposed
by her elders to be sound asleep, hid her face against the pillow and
cried softly. “Oh! dear Father in Heaven,” she prayed, “be kind to poor
Gaston, he is such a _werry_ sad little boy.”

The same thought came to soften Mrs. Busson’s heart,--very little was
needed to do that,--as according to custom, she took a last look at
Gaston, lying in his bed in the little room next her own.

“Poor little dear,” she said, looking down at the small thin face as it
lay with closed eyes on the pillow, and carefully shading her light with
her hand, that its reflection might not disturb him, “It’s a good little
face, that it is, and it isn’t his fault that he was not born a nice
English boy like the rest. It is a pity, to be sure, that he’s got to
grow up into one of those Frenchmen. Well, I’m glad at any rate, that
he’s sleeping so quiet.”

And Mrs. Busson crept away noiselessly to her own room.

Good soul! She little guessed that her softly spoken words had added the
last drop of bitterness to Gaston’s already over-full cup. The lids that
she had fancied were fast shut over Gaston’s eyes were quivering with
wakefulness, and on the ears which she believed to be securely closed in
sleep, every word of her mutterings fell clear and distinct.

From that day forward, there was a marked change in the relations
between Gaston and the other boys. Whenever they invited him to join in
their games and expeditions, he went with them, but more often than not
they forgot all about him, and the girls never reminded them.

“I’m quite sure for all concerned that it’s much better for Gaston to be
left to himself,” Fay ruled; “he adds neither to his own nor to others’
happiness by playing with them.”

“No, Hubert’s face testifies to that,” said Di.

And so even before the injured eye had gone through the various stages
of discolouration, Gaston had drifted so far away from his fellow
knights that, as Andrew said loftily, “there was no need to degrade him
formally as he had had the good sense to retire practically.”

“Nonsense,” cried Phoena, who was in no such hurry to consign Gaston to
the rank of a hopeless miscreant, “so long as none of you can show cause
why he should be turned out, and I suppose none of you can?”

“Oh! rather not!” cried Jack, “poor beggar, why should he be turned

“Very well, then, so long as we don’t turn him out, he remains a knight
of course, and perhaps some day he will do something grand, that will
surprise us all.”

“It’s very certain to be a _surprise_, whenever it does come,” said Di.
Marygold however stole away to the orchard, making for the deep, dry
ditch, whence Gaston had emerged on the first occasion of their meeting.
It had become once more his favourite refuge, only Marygold always found
him now, with his old lesson books open on his knee, trying hard to
learn those tasks which, at the eleventh hour, he remembered that
“Maman” had told him must be learnt, if he meant to grow up a wise man.

“Gaston,” said Marygold, creeping down to sit beside him in the ditch,
“they’ve all been talking about you in the wood, and they say that you
are a knight still, just the same as ever you were. And Phoena says, she
believes that you will do something ever so grand and brave some day,
that will astonish us all.”

But Gaston shook his head.

“Ah! no, that will never be,” he said, “because, because, there is, I
know not what--but no one here can understand,” he added, helplessly.

“Oh! but they will understand, we shall all understand,” rejoined
Marygold, eagerly, “and you mustn’t look so sad, poor dear Gaston,
because it makes me feel so sad for you too.”

“Ah! you are good for me, Marygold,” he said, and a gleam set all his
face alight, “you are very good.”

“But I pity you so, poor Gaston, because it’s not your fault that you
are a little French boy,” said Marygold. “Oh! Gaston, where are you
going so fast? Don’t run away.”

Gaston had started up as if he had been suddenly stung, and scrambled
over the hedge. Nor did he return for all Marygold’s beseeching.

“No, it is done; I have finished with them,” he muttered. His eyes were
dry, but his spirit had never been so sore, “even she says it now, even



“Libbie, what is that funny noise that we hear up here? It always seems
to go on and on, as if a big crowd of people were talking, only such a
long way off that it is more like a muffled, rumbling roar.”

Diana was up in the big cheese room, helping or hindering Libbie in the
making of a splendid “double duttons” for which, Mrs. Busson had quite a
reputation in the country side.

“What does that noise come from, Libbie?” Di repeated.

“Take care, Miss Di, do, you’ll be upsetting that crock there, by your
elbow,” was Libbie’s answer. “There! I do believe by the look of that
cloud that we’re going to have a thunderstorm, and if we do, all the
pans in the dairy will be spoilt before I can scald them. I wonder--”

“But Libbie, do listen,” broke in Diana. “_What_ is that funny noise?
Sometimes it sounds like a lot of voices and then again like a barrel
organ a long way off.”

“I expect that will be about it,” said Libbie. “I wouldn’t be surprised
if there’s one, playing over at Mr. Tossle’s Farm, on the other side of
Primrose Hollow.”

“But you said yesterday, that barrel organs never came into these
parts,” persisted Di; and then noting poor Libbie’s confusion, she went
on mercilessly, “Why you said yourself, that you hadn’t seen one for
twenty years, so it can’t be an organ; you know very well that it is

By this time, Di’s curiosity as to the origin of the mysterious noise,
which up to this point had not been so very great, was thoroughly
roused. “Libbie,” she said, coming round to where Libbie was at work,
and planting her elbows on the table, “Libbie, I’m quite sure now, that
you do know what that noise means, and that for some reason, you won’t
tell me.

“Whatever next!” exclaimed Libbie, with an air of such ill-used
innocence, that it only served to strengthen Di’s suspicions. “Why, what
could I know about it?”

“Oh” said Di, coolly, “you do know all about it quite well, you are only
pretending not to. Oh! yes, Libbie, you wouldn’t get so fearfully red,
if you weren’t.”

“I expect you’d get just as red, Miss Di, if you had all these heavy
cheeses to handle on such a piping hot day,” said poor hard-pressed
Libbie. “Good me! I declare that was a clap of thunder. Run downstairs
quick, do, Miss Di, and ask Mrs. Busson if she didn’t hear it.”

Di burst out laughing. “Oh! I can tell you she didn’t, for as you know
there was none to hear. No, Libbie, it’s no good, I’m determined--”

“Coming, coming Ma’am,” shouted Libbie, in answer to a call, which was
as imaginary as the thunder, and without giving Di time to say another
word, the faithful Libbie fled downstairs.

For a few minutes Di awaited her return; then deciding that she was not
coming back, Di thought she would go and help Nellie, in the boiling
down of some giant rhubarb stalks, which were to make wine.

“I’ll go and see what Nellie looks like, when I ask _her_ about that
noise,” thought inquisitive Di.

Before, however, she was half way down the steep staircase, the sounds
of Libbie’s voice conversing in agitated tones with her mistress,
reached Diana. Though she had never been guilty in her life of
eaves-dropping, she paused involuntarily now, to listen to what was
being said. Mrs. Busson was evidently engaged inside the long, low
wine-cellar, that ran under the staircase on which Di was standing, for
her voice could only be heard now and again, speaking in answer to
Libbie, who was talking to her in the doorway of the cellar.

“But good me! Ma’am,” Libbie was saying, “I tried my Sunday best to put
her off, I promise you that.”

Mrs. Busson’s reply was inaudible.

“Turn a deaf ear! goodness me, if I’d turned half a hundred, it wouldn’t
have been no good.”

Another inaudible reply from the cellar, then Libbie said, “Begging
pardon, Ma’am, I can’t see how very great harm could be done by telling
the truth; I can’t see if as how they were told exactly--”

This suggestion brought Mrs. Busson from the depths of the cellar.

“Tell them, did you say?” she cried very distinctly, “why bless the
woman, she must be clean daft! Why, Libbie Kibblethwaite, don’t you
understand boys and girls better than that? Why just the temptation to
lay hands on the tons and tons of sweet stuff that must be in that room
would be enough to tempt even Master Andrew to do something daring, and
he isn’t so specially brave either.

“No, no, that room has been closed for over fifty years to my knowledge,
and it shall never be opened whilst I’ve a voice in the matter. Tell
them indeed! Go back to your cheese-making, Libbie and just remember
to-day isn’t April Fool’s day.”

What Libbie may have replied was lost upon Di. For awakening to the risk
that she was running of being discovered eaves-dropping, she flew back
to the cheese-room and appeared to be wholly intent on counting the rows
of “double duttons” on the well filled shelves, when the unsuspecting
Libbie returned.

[Illustration: “Oh, I say, I have something to tell you!”

_p. 139_]

“It would be a mistake to ask her any more question,” Di decided; but
after a few minutes, she invented an excuse for slipping off and leaving
Libbie alone.

But it was not to the rhubarb-stewing that Di next turned her attention.
Bursting with her newly-acquired knowledge, she dashed in amongst her
companions, who happened to be all assembled in their favourite

Jack and Phil had come in from a long ride on some delightfully rough
ponies which the farmer had put at their disposal. Andrew was amusing
himself,--if not Hubert--by teaching his valet to shoot with a bow and
arrow, but they were all awaiting the bell which always rang then to
give them notice to get ready for dinner.

“Oh! I say,” began Di, “I’ve something to tell you. Infants,”--this to
Hubert and Marygold,--”run away.”

“Please mayn’t we stop?” they implored.

“Why shouldn’t they, poor little beggars?” said Jack.

“Oh! then I shan’t tell you, that’s all,” said Di.

Jack felt in his pockets. “Here’s a halfpenny for each infant that runs
as far as that fir tree,” he said, tossing the coins in the air.

“Now, Di,” cried Phil, as the “infants” ran off.

“I’ve found out this morning,” cried Di, excitedly, “that there’s a
mysterious room in the house, which has been shut up for hundreds of
years, and Mrs. Busson doesn’t want us to find it out.”

“Then,” said Jack, promptly, “it would be beastly mean of us to try to
find it out.”

“Of course it would be,” echoed Phil.

“Oh! but you haven’t half heard,” said Di, greatly crestfallen; “it’s
most exciting, I’m not supposed to know anything about it, but just by
accident, I happened to hear--”

“Oh! isn’t that like a girl?” broke in Phil, “just to listen by acci--”

“Not like all girls,” put in Phoena, indignantly, “I’ve never listened
by accident, and I’m sure Fay never has, have you, Fay?”

“Well, if it were an accident, Di couldn’t help it,” said Faith; “but it
is horridly mean to repeat what you weren’t meant to hear. And I think
considering how good and kind dear old Mrs. Busson is to all of us, it
would be very ungrateful and horrid of us to go and pry into anything
that she doesn’t want us to know.”

“Rather!” cried Phoena and her brothers in one breath. Andrew said

“I see you don’t understand,” faltered Di, on the verge of tears, “if
you’d chosen to hear me out you would have seen that I hadn’t done
anything mean or underhand either. However, I shan’t tell you any more,”
she added, “though I _could_ tell you the most extraordinary things,
things that would sound more like fairy tales than--”

“Well, chain up now, for here are the infants coming back,” said Jack,
“and the next time you do any eaves-dropping, don’t come and tell us
about it, Madam Di, do you see?” and Jack tickled the end of his
cousin’s nose with a long bracken frond, but very gently, for Jack was
never rude to girls.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, Faith,” said Di, ignoring Jack’s last remark.
“Libbie tells me that horrid old Nannie is going to pay us a visit. I am
sure I don’t want to see her, do you, Andrew?”

“Oh! of course she’s only coming to see you girls,” said Andrew.

“Who’s Nanny?” asked Jack.

“Oh! she’s our old nurse; the first, we ever had,” explained Faith.

“She’s Libbie’s sister, and lived with us till she married. I thought
she would come to see us as she lives near here. Of course, we must be
nice to her, if she comes.”

“She was never nice to me,” said Andrew.

“Nor to me either,” said Di, “but Fay never got punished by anyone, she
was born a saint.”

“Nonsense,” laughed Fay, “Nanny was very strict with us all, but I
daresay, we were troublesome enough; any way, we must behave properly to
her, when we see her.”



“Oh, I say, I say, I’ve got such a piece of news!” shouted Hubert,
running indoors to join the others at breakfast, a few mornings later.
“There’s a real big fair, with real gipsies, and merry-go-rounds, and
caravans, and lots of things of that sort at Bramblehurst, and Mr.
Busson says that he’ll put Ploughboy and Gleaner in the van and drive us
all over there this afternoon, and he says too, that--”

Mrs. Busson, appearing at that moment, took up the thread of Hubert’s
tale. “Yes, it really is quite a pretty sight,” she said, “for there’s a
lovely open green at Bramblehurst, and the different coloured vans, and
the horses, and everything dotted about make a regular picture. Most of
the gentry round about drive in just the first day of the Fair to take a
kind of bird’s-eye view of it, for the old village street is a sight in
itself as well as the green. Indeed, they do say that artists hold that
Bramblehurst Fair is as picturesque a sight as can be found anywhere,

“Oh, let’s go, let’s go,” was the unanimous chorus.

“Well, I said to Busson, last night, I said, ‘it would be a real pity if
the little gentry didn’t go to the Fair.’”

“That it would,” said many voices; whilst Fay, with her usual tact,
added, “but, of course, you’ll come with us, Mrs. Busson.”

Did she not guess how the dear old lady was dying to join the party.

“Well, if it wouldn’t be crowding you too much,” she said, modestly, “I
would be ever so pleased to come with you. But what do the young
gentlemen think about it? They could have the ponies, and ride alongside
of us, for I expect they’d weary of being inside the van for so long.”

“Oh, that would be stunning,” cried Phil and Jack. “We’ll be your

“May I sit in front, with Mr. Busson, and drive?” asked Hubert.

“To be sure you shall, my dear.”

“You promise that he won’t let Andrew have the reins,” began Hubert.

“Don’t alarm, yourself,” said Andrew, “I shan’t come with you.”

“Not come with us, Andrew,” exclaimed Phoena.

“No, I’ve got a headache, and don’t fancy a ten miles jolt in a van,”
was his singularly ungracious remark on the treat Mrs. Busson had
planned for their benefit.

“Poor Andrew,” said Fay. “I shall stay at home with you.”

“No,” said Phil, “that’s not fair. Fay’s always giving up for Andrew.”

“I don’t want anyone,” said Andrew, “I want to stay at home alone. I
shall look over my butterflies, and find plenty to do.”

“I’ll stay at home with you, Andrew,” volunteered Di, to the surprise of

“You, Di,” cried the boys, “why, only as we came along in the train, you
were saying that you’d give anything to see a real fair.”

“Was I?” said Di, “then I’ve grown wiser since then. Besides, though I
haven’t actually got a headache, I feel as if one is coming.”

“What does that feel like,” asked Marygold, genuinely curious.

“Like wanting to be left to oneself and not worried by silly little
girls,” was the very tart rejoinder.

“She’s werry cross, so perhaps the headache is getting ready,” said

Faith, meanwhile, was asking if Ruth would not like to come. Without Di
and Andrew, there would be lots of room in the van.

“If you don’t object, it might be as well,” said Mrs. Busson, “for she
might give an eye to the little ones, in case they got a bit excited and
flustered over the Show and all the set out, you know.”

“Will Gaston come?” enquired Phoena.

Mrs. Busson was doubtful. “He was an odd little gentleman,” she
remarked, and no one seemed anxious to press the point.

“I hope, my dears, that you won’t mind having your dinner at twelve
o’clock,” said their hostess, “for if we’re to have a good time at the
Fair, we shall have to get away from here at one, and then we shan’t be
home before sunset.”

“We’ll eat our dinner at ten, Mrs. Busson,” was the obliging rejoinder,
in which even the invalid of the present, and the sufferer from the
headache of the future, joined quite fervently.

Neither Hubert nor Marygold could eat any breakfast, so great was their
excitement at the prospect of the Fair. To both, there was a fearful joy
in coming within close range of the mysterious and deeply interesting
gypsies. Although they would have been terrified to encounter one alone,
under the strong escort they would have this afternoon, they would feel
brave enough to face an army of thickly-populated caravans.

“Will they have their faces stained with walnut juice?” Marygold asked.

“And, Phoena, do you think that we shall see the queen of the gypsies?”
enquired Hubert.

“I’ll tell you what would be really, awfully fine, infants,” said Phil.
“If we could find some stolen children in the vans, and carry them off.”
The infants screamed for joy at the bare suggestion.

“Oh, yes, sorts of baby earls and earlesses, or dukes, or p’raps a live
prince,” cried Marygold, whose thirst for the sensational was abnormally
large that morning.

“I expect,” said Hubert, gravely, “that I’d get made a knight straight
off, if I found a princess, and carried her home.”

“I’ll tell you what, my good friends,” remarked Phoena, solemnly, “the
days of trial are passing very fast, and I’ve not yet made a single
entry in my ledger of ‘golden deeds.’”

“Well, you see, Phoena, our exploits turned out rather badly, and then
there was Andrew’s illness, and--”

“On the whole, Andrew’s illness was a good thing for you,” broke in
Phoena, “for you know that as he was invalided for ten days, we didn’t
count them at all, so that time was given in, and you ought to have used
it to make all sorts of plans in. Now, think, we’ve only got three whole
days left to us. If someone doesn’t do something grand in that time we
shall have to write to Aunt Agatha, and tell her that she needn’t send
us any prize, because no one has earned it.”

“We’ll be disgraced and degraded for ever,” laughed Jack.

“Oh, but you are idle, false knights,” cried Phoena, really distressed
by their luke-warmness. “First you are untrue to your vows, and then,
what is worse still, you try to make light of them.”

“Wait a bit, Phoena,” remarked Di, “the three days of grace are not up
yet, and a good deal can happen in one single day,” and Di gave a very
queer little laugh.

And, oddly enough, that laugh was echoed by Andrew, although, as he lay
on the grass, with his hands clasped under his head, he seemed utterly
absorbed in watching the light, fleecy clouds which were sailing through
the summer blue overhead.

Phoena noted the laugh, and its echo, and darted a keen glance at Fay.
As the eyes of the two cousins met, they said as plainly as eyes can
speak: “Didn’t I tell you yesterday that those two are in league about

Strange to say, during the last two days, Di and Andrew had seemed to
have a deal of private business to transact together. As a rule, the
brother and sister were by no means allies; yet, only yesterday, when,
for the first time during their stay at Gaybrook, Andrew had come near
to defying Mrs. Busson’s authority, Di had been ready to champion him.

“Oh, Mrs. Busson,” Andrew had begun, “I’m very much interested in
spider’s webs, so I want to examine those which are over that sort of
door, near the linen-press.”

“Oh, you can’t go fussing there,” had been the unusually sharp reply;
“besides, it’s too dark.”

“Oh, of course, I shall take a candle,” said Andrew, coolly.

“Then, of course, you won’t,” said Mrs. Busson, very decidedly.

“But I mean to,” persisted Andrew.

“And I mean you shan’t,” was the retort. “I’m not going to have the
place set on fire, I can tell you.”

“But I shall go with Andrew, and hold the candle,” Di had volunteered.
Only she and Andrew were present, for they had taken care to wait for
this interview till the others were out of hearing.

“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” said Mrs. Busson, firmly. “If you want
spiders’ webs, you can find plenty of them down in the cider cellar.”

“I don’t choose to go down there,” said Andrew; whilst Di added, with a
thoughtfulness that was very foreign to her general behaviour: “It is
much too damp for Andrew to go underground.”

“Then stay above ground, and don’t worry,” said Mrs. Busson.

There was something so uncompromising, both in her tone, and the gesture
which she made, as though to sweep them from her presence, that both the
children felt that further remonstrance would be vain. So, with a very
ill grace, they retreated.

“Hullo, Gaston!” shouted Jack, catching sight of Gaston, running across
the top of the field, “come here, old chap.”

Gaston came immediately; the schoolboys always commanded his attention.

“Look here, are you coming with us to see the Fair to-day?”

“I--I don’t know,” said Gaston, falteringly.

“Oh, yes, come along,” said Phoena, encouragingly, “it’ll be great fun.”

“Is Andrew going?” asked Gaston, very gravely.

“No, Andrew’s not going,” said the latter, mimicking Gaston’s tone.

“Then I come, then I come,” cried Gaston, capering into the air, and
beating both heels together, a gymnastic peculiar to himself.

“Flattering for you, Andrew,” remarked Di.

“What do I care,” retorted Andrew. “As long as he speaks _to_ me with
proper respect, I’m glad enough to leave him to himself. Of course, if
he ever attempted”--this with an aggravating look at Gaston--“if he
ever attempted to touch me--”

“Touch you,” echoed Gaston, with a whole world of loathing in his tone,
“ugh! I would as soon touch a creeping, crawling serpent. Ah, no, I do
mean rather a maggot; you are not grand enough to be a serpent, make no
doubt about that.”

“That small boy hates you, and no mistake, Andrew,” said Jack, as Gaston
was turning away.

“Yes,” said Gaston, looking back, “that is true, I _hate_ him.”

“He’s very welcome to hate me, if he likes,” said Andrew. “I don’t
worship him, so there’s no love lost between us.”

“Still, I shouldn’t like to be spoken of in that way,” said Phoena,
“’specially by someone to whom I’d not been particularly kind.”

“Perhaps not,” said Andrew. “For myself, I can’t imagine that the
affection of a French frog could be of any great value.”

“It isn’t exactly that,” said Phoena, “but I should hate to be despised
as Gaston despises you.”

“Well, I call that a good notion,” cried Andrew, flushing scarlet with
indignation. “The idea of a miserable little under-done ‘parley-vous’
despising me, _me_! You are a green goose, Phoena.”

“All the same, there’s a deal in what Phoena says,” said Jack; “anyway,
I’m glad Gaston doesn’t speak like that of me.”



“Oh! hurrah! Andrew, hurrah! They’re off at last! Did you think that
they would ever start? Well, if this isn’t the rarest bit of good luck
that ever was!”

And, standing out in the broad noon-day sunshine on the grass plait in
front of the farm-house, Diana pirouetted like an accomplished dervish.
The headache that was on the road to her at breakfast must surely have
lost its way.

“What a blessing that Gaston has gone too,” said Andrew. “I was in a
blue fright that he wouldn’t, after all, just because we wanted him to
go so much.”

“Yes, but I’ll tell you what’s even better,” rejoined Di. “Nellie’s
going over to Spelmonden.”

“What for?”

“There’s an obliging old woman there who’s broken her arm or her neck, I
forget which,” said Di, “and I heard Mrs. Busson tell Libbie that Nellie
was not to hurry home. If she was back by supper-time it would do quite

“Splendid! She’ll be out of the way at any rate.”

“Yes,” went on Di, “and so you see there will only be Libbie indoors,
and Polly, who----”

“Who doesn’t count,” put in Andrew, “for she’s always running after the
pigs or the poultry, or gathering things in the garden.”

“Exactly; and Libbie is going to be busy all the afternoon in the
brew-house tapping the last barrel of cowslip wine.”

“Are you quite sure?”

“Yes. I heard her arranging with Mrs. Busson how she would bottle it
to-day. When she is once in there she’ll be safely out of hearing of
anything that we may do.”

“Hadn’t we better soon begin?” suggested Andrew. “You see we don’t know
how long it may take.”

“We must watch Nellie off the premises first,” said Di. “We’ll go and
sit under the walnut-tree near the stack-yard. We shall be able to see
the back-door splendidly from there without seeming to be watching.”

“All right,” assented Andrew.

“You’re quite sure that you have got all your tools ready, Andrew?”
enquired Di, presently, as the two young conspirators stretched
themselves on the short grass in the shade of the venerable walnut.

“No fear,” laughed Andrew; “I think these instruments ought to suffice,
even for our undertaking,” and he put his hand into his jacket pocket
and rattled the chisel, hammer and gimlet which lay concealed there.
“That sounds like business, eh?”

“And I’ve got two big knives,” announced Di, triumphantly.

“Knives? But what for?” cried Andrew.

“They may be very useful, very useful indeed,” repeated Di, with great

“What do you mean?” asked Andrew, nervously.

“Well, you see,” said Di, slowly, “we’re not quite sure what or _who_ we
may find inside this mysterious chamber; anyway I think that we may as
well be armed, both of us.”

“But Di,” said Andrew, very distinctly alarmed now, “you don’t really
suppose that there’s anyone really alive in there?”

“I’m not so sure. I heard Libbie telling that man--a man who came about
some cheeses, I think--that there were very odd customers inside there.
Yes, really that was what she said.”

“What did she say, tell me exactly,” insisted Andrew.

“Oh, well, it was when Libbie and the man were coming downstairs from
the cheese-room,” said Di. “The man asked--he was joking, you know--if
she dealt in cobwebs as well as cheese, for he had never seen such a
sight as over that door.”

“Yes, and what did Libbie say?” asked Andrew, breathlessly.

“Oh, she said the spiders had had a good time there, for the door hadn’t
been opened for fifty years or more.”

“And didn’t the man ask why?”

“Yes, but I couldn’t hear Libbie’s answer; only when the man said,
‘Well, if that’s so I’d have a try and see what I could make out of it.’
Then I heard Libbie say: ‘Ah! that’s all very pretty, but I expect we’d
find some rare awkward customers to deal with on the other side of the

“What could she mean?” speculated Andrew. “It is odd that no one will
open that door.”

“Libbie told the man that the missus wouldn’t have it tried, not for any
sake,” said Di.

“What can it be?” repeated Andrew, with a very long face.

“I did ask the little farm boy,” proceeded Di, “what all that odd
rumbling noise in the cheese-room meant, and he looked dreadfully
scared. He said that was what he’d never been able to find out, but
people did say it was haunted by the ghosts of some wicked smugglers who
lived long ago at the farm; in fact,” went on Di, drawing largely on her
own imagination now, “from what Henry said I believe that the room is
crammed full of all sorts of beautiful stolen goods, so that no one has
ever been able to get the door open. Oh! Andrew, won’t it be grand if
we’re the very first people who have ever been brave enough to force our
way in?”

“Yes,” said Andrew, but his assent was pitched in a less jubilant key.

“I believe you’re getting into a fright already,” sneered Di.

“No I’m not; only I can’t help wishing that there was a real window, so
that we might get a peep at what is inside, before actually going in,”
said Andrew.

For though this mysterious room was furnished with a door and a chimney,
it had no window. There was only a sham painted semblance of one set in
the house wall, to match, as best it might, the other real ones.

“You see,” continued Andrew, “one hasn’t the least idea what one may see
when the door bursts open.”

“Or what may see us,” laughed Diana.

“Oh, don’t,” cried Andrew; “that’s too horrid.”

“Nonsense,” said Di. “There wouldn’t be much real courage wanted in the
world, if people could always see exactly what sort of danger they were
going to face. Why, you silly Andrew, anyone could win a page in the
book of golden deeds at that rate.”

“But you don’t think, Di, that Mrs. Busson will be very angry?”

“Angry! why, she’ll go on her knees with gratitude,” cried Di.

“Will she really, do you think?”

“Go on her knees, I say, and so will Mr. Busson, and Libbie, and
everyone in the whole place, I expect,” asserted Di, trying hard to make
herself believe in the probability of this crowd of grateful
genuflectors, who were to flock round Andrew and herself, with the
opened room as their background. “They’ll be awfully grateful.”

“It’ll be a great score over the others,” said Andrew.

“Yes, won’t it,” said Di.

“It will be such a sell for Jack and Phil,” remarked Andrew further.

“But time’s precious,” said Di, “I think we ought to be stirring.”

“But suppose Libbie hears us going upstairs,” began Andrew.

“Oh, you Master Much-afraid,” cried Di, impatiently, “suppose you run
and hide yourself with Mr. Despondency, in the pages of ‘Pilgrim’s
Progress’; won’t you give me your tools, and you go and play with
Marygold’s doll in the Cuckoo-copse?”

“It isn’t that I’m the least afraid for myself,” began Andrew, “but--”

But Di cut him short. “Now, look here, don’t be such a coward, and
listen to me. _I_ can get upstairs quietly enough, but you’re such an
idiot that I can’t depend on you for doing anything decently.”

“That’s cheek,” pouted Andrew.

“So listen,” continued Di, “Libbie has just gone into the brew-house, to
bottle the cowslip wine, so I’ll go in there and tease and worry her so
much that she won’t have any ears to spare for what you may be doing.
Meanwhile, take off your boots, and creep upstairs till you reach _the_
door. When you’re once there you can’t do much harm, because you see the
room isn’t over the brew-house, and the walls are so fearfully thick, I
don’t believe that even a dancing elephant could make itself heard

“But you will promise to come up soon,” said Andrew, terribly afraid of
being left too long within reach of this dread, undiscovered territory,
“I can’t stop up there too long, all by myself.”

“I’ll come as soon as I’ve worried Libbie into wanting to be rid of me,”
said wicked Di. “I’ll make her feel thankful to leave me to my own
devices. But don’t you begin to do anything till I come.”

“Oh, no, that I won’t,” said Andrew so fervently that Di felt sure that
on this occasion, at any rate, Andrew might be trusted to keep his word.

“Very well, then, I’m off to begin operations,” said Di, springing to
her feet. Tilting her hat over her eyes, and walking with a very
leisurely step, Di took her way to the back regions of the farmhouse.

Poor Libbie, with her head and hands engaged in her bottling process,
fell an easy prey to her wiles. If the truth were known, Libbie had been
bitterly disappointed, and so had Mrs. Busson, by Andrew’s and Diana’s
refusal to join the fair-going party. They had reckoned so confidently
on securing a quiet, undisturbed afternoon for the “flasking and
cellaring” of the cowslip wine, as Libbie termed it.

“Headaches, indeed! Stuff and nonsense,” she had said, “it’s just their
_contrariness_, and that’s all. I’d like to give them a good dose of
senna tea each, and lock them up in a dark room.”

So, when Di appeared in the doorway of the brew-house, she found exactly
the kind of reception she would have chosen.

“Now I can’t have you worrying in here, Miss Di,” said Libbie, “for as
you can see for yourself, there isn’t standing room for a well grown
rat,” and she pointed to the regiment of dusty bottles with which the
door was crowded. “Why dear me! I thought you had a bad headache. What
ever has become of it so soon?”

“It never was a very bad one, besides I don’t make a fuss about things
when I’m ill. I never do,” said Di, forgetting that _never_ is a long

“Well, I can’t have either you or Master Andrew bothering in here, this
afternoon,” said Libbie, “it’ll be your own faults, if you find it dull,
but you must amuse yourselves as best you can. Only don’t go getting
into mischief. I’ve got my work cut out for me, here.”

“And so have I,” thought naughty Di, only she took care not to say so.

“Very well,” she answered aloud, “then if you won’t let me help you
Libbie, I’ll go now.”

And very slowly, Diana turned away and recrossed the threshold.



Once out of sight of Libbie, Di bounded upstairs, three steps at a time,
flinging herself down outside the door, breathless with speed and
suppressed laughter.

“Oh! I’m glad you’ve come,” said Andrew, “it’s been quite horrid waiting
up here alone, with all that horrible noise going on all round.”

“It sounds rather eerie, doesn’t it?” said Di.

“Yes, really I do think it is rather dangerous,” began Andrew, “I--”

“Then run away,” said Di, “only leave me your tools.”

“No, I didn’t mean to say that,” said Andrew, “only--”

“Now, look here, be sensible,” broke in Di, “just hold this chair
steady, whilst I stand up on it. I want to have a good look at this
door. Here’s the candle and matches, just light it, and hand it up to
me, when I’m safe on the chair.”

From her exalted position and aided by the light of the tallow dip,
which Di had abstracted from Polly’s box in the scullery, she proceeded
to make a careful inspection of the door and doorway.

The labours of many generations of undisturbed spiders had resulted in
layers upon layers of cobwebs, which hung in grey misty folds all about
the panels and locks, and cracks, and hinges, of the long dis-used door.

These were easily swept away, but when removed, an unwelcome fact became

“Oh! I say,” cried Di, in dismay, “they’ve walled up the door!”

Not only the keyhole but every hairbreadth of space all round the door
had been filled in with solid cement. Yes, even between the floor and
the lowest panel of the door, there was a thick seam of plaster.

“Oh, the old fiends!” cried Di, jumping off her chair and stamping with
rage, “Old wretches, whoever they were! I wonder if Mrs. Busson ever saw

As a matter of fact, she had not. Otherwise, she would not have been so
anxious to keep the knowledge of that room’s existence from her little

“We are done, hopelessly done,” cried Di, “one might as well try to open
a sealed up vault as that door.”

“Are you quite sure of it?” asked Andrew, with a look of relief on his
face which was not apparent in that dim light.

His prolonged nearness to that uncomfortable rumbling noise had entirely
quenched Andrew’s ardour for forcing an entrance into the forbidden
room, and he was quite ready to abandon the undertaking without further

Not so Di, however.

“Of course, we _won’t_ be done,” she said.

“But if we can’t help it,” began Andrew.

“But we will help it, we won’t be beaten,” she said, “I’ve thought of
something,” she went on, with sudden inspiration. “Hand up your tools,
Andrew, I’ve got an idea.”

Snatching the gimlet from Andrew, Di went on her knees. With a will, she
set to work to bore a hole in one of the lower panels of the door.

“Do you see what I’m doing?” she asked, without raising her head from
her work. “I’m going to drill a hole.”

“Oh! Just big enough to peep through, I suppose,” said Andrew, thinking
this was a splendid idea.

“Big enough, you booby, to put our hands through first of all, and then
our bodies afterwards,” retorted Di.

“O-oh!” was all Andrew found to say. He was quite determined that it
should be Di’s hand that went in first.

For some time, Di worked away laboriously with the gimlet.

Then she paused. “I can’t get on with this,” she said, “I must try
something else. Go half-way down the stairs, Andrew, and stand there and
listen if you can hear me at work. It won’t do to attract Libbie’s
attention. Go quietly.”

“It’s all right,” reported Andrew, returning from executing Di’s orders.
“I couldn’t hear a sound, not from you, at least, but there’s no end of
a row going on downstairs. Libbie must have some friends to help her,
for they are jawing no end in the brew-house.”

“So much the better,” said Di; “now I’m going to do something

Therewith, seizing the hammer, Diana wrapt her handkerchief carefully
round the head.

“That’ll deaden the sound,” she said. Then taking one of the knives, she
stuck the point into the panel, upon which she had already been
operating, and then dealt a blow with the hammer on the handle of the
knife with all her might.

“Hurrah! Andrew, the wood is beginning to give,” she said, “with another
blow or two, we’ll do it.”

“Oh! dear,” gasped Andrew. “I wonder what we shall find.”

“We shall know very soon now,” returned Di, “I hope this will settle the

Therewith she dealt another furious blow with the hammer.

There came a noise of splintering wood,--Di remembered that afterwards,
clearly enough, but what followed besides, she could never recall.

Her first impulse on feeling the panel yield to her blows, was to thrust
her hand and arm through the gaping slit, with a view to laying hands on
the gold or precious stones or stores of sweet-stuff, which must surely
be within her reach; her next was to draw her arm back again with all
speed and to rend, not the door but the air with piercing, frantic

And these shrieks were echoed by Andrew.

Anxious to secure his share in the booty, he had also thrust his
hand--and his face, too--through the broken panel, and was now dancing
and yelling like a maniac.

“Shut your eyes; shut your eyes, Andrew,” shrieked Di. “Libbie, Libbie,
Libbie! Come, come, come!”

Crash went at least a dozen bottles in the brew-house, then
helter-skelter up the stairs, came Libbie, followed by her visitor.

By this time, the narrow bit of passage, which turned abruptly away from
the head of the staircase was alive with clouds of angry bees, and a
stouter heart than Libbie’s would have quailed at the prospect of
encountering such a host. It was well for her, that her visitor, who was
none other than the severe Nanny of other days, kept her wits about her.

Nanny’s first step was to seize Andrew, who, with his hair full of
humming bees and his hands held tightly over his eyes, was running
aimlessly to and fro.

In a moment, Nanny had dragged off his jacket, which was all alive with
the infuriated creatures, and rolling it up tightly, she flung it back
into the enemy’s country.

“And now run as fast as ever you can,” she ordered Andrew, “and jump
into the rain-water tank, close by the back door.”

Andrew who was even more frightened than stung, promptly obeyed, howling
and yelling so loudly all the way, that in a few minutes all the farm
hands were running to know what had happened.

“There, however any of us came out of it alive, is what I never shall
understand,” was how Libbie always wound up

[Illustration: “In a moment Nanny had dragged off his jacket.”

_p. 158._]

the narration of that tragical afternoon’s doings. “When I come to think
over it now, I don’t seem able to remember nothing but pails of water on
all sides, water dashed here and there, for all the world as if there
had been a fire. And then oh! good me, the shovel-fulls of brimstone,
which well-nigh suffocated the life out of one. There, I do say, that
with all the humming and the buzzing about one, and all the _furious_
creatures as well, one felt for all the world as if one had been turned
into a bee-hive oneself, with just a pair of boots on.

“But oh! dear, dear! What a sight poor Miss Di was! Well, there, if all
the meddlesome-matties got their reward that way, the world would be
very soon rid of them, I’ll be bound.”



“Oh! isn’t this fun, isn’t this fun?” cried Hubert and Marygold in one
breath, as by way of winding up the afternoon at the Fair, the whole
party gathered round a plentifully spread tea-table in the old fashioned
parlour of the “Cygnet” Inn.

On the whole, the entertainment had been a glorious success.

The younger children had been given into Ruth’s special keeping, whilst
the two elder boys went off with Mr. Busson, ostensibly to knock over
cocoa-nuts and shoot at stuffed pigeons and share in various similar
sports, which they considered suitable to their advanced age.

But though they returned with a cocoa-nut apiece, they each owned to
having had a turn of the “galloping horses,” and more than one go in at
the swings. To neither of these latter forms of entertainment were
Ruth’s charges admitted. And though Hubert cast longing looks at the
“merry-go rounds,” he soon forgot them for the other diversions which
came in his way.

There was a wonderful performing dog, which could tell the days of the
week; there was a big brown bear, that climbed a pole and danced a jig;
and a gold fish, the size of a herring.

This prodigy, wonderful to relate, was reported to sing like a
skylark--that is, if he had not “Happened to have caught a cold in his
head on the way to Bramblehurst and lost his singing voice for the first
time for over ten years.”

These last details of the gold-fish’s personal history were however only
furnished after the penny (paid in advance for the privilege of hearing
his song) had been safely pocketed by his mendacious owner.

A marvellous peep-show, exhibiting all the principal cities of the
world, with their “male and female celebrities, taking an airing in the
handsomest streets,” proved a huge attraction to the children.

And after the peep-show, there was the lucky-bag, with its penny dips
and marvellous possibilities.

Marygold drew a diamond brooch, and a box with the portrait of the
Prince of Wales on it. Hubert got a knife and a pincushion the latter he
intended to give to Diana; whilst Gaston drew a whistle and a shawl-pin,
with a blue bead for its head, which he at once offered to Mrs. Busson.

Then there was the gingerbread-stall, with its strutting cocks and hens,
its gilded elephants and almond-hearted knights and ladies, all very
funny to look at, the children agreed, but nicer to look at than to eat.

Faith and Phoena invested in some baskets of doubtful durability, while
Hubert made friends with a lame gipsy boy, from whom he bought a dozen
washing pegs. These he thought, would make a suitable gift for Nellie,
whom he had observed using these homely implements.

Whilst bargaining over the baskets, Phoena had kept a persistent look
out for the traces of any waif or stray, who might be stowed away in one
of the gaily painted vans, and was woefully disappointed to see none.

“You’re glad now, Gaston, that you came with us, aren’t you?” enquired
Hubert as they sat down to tea.

“But yes, I am very glad,” was the cordial reply.

“Won’t Andrew and Di be sorry that they didn’t come,” said Phil, “when
they hear all about it.”

“Rather,” said Jack, “I call it a stunning spree.”

“Yes, it is a very funny sort of place,” said Phoena, thoughtfully.

“I wish,” said Jack, “that their wretched horses were fatter.”

“Do you think that they’re werry hungry?” asked Hubert, pausing in the
act of attacking a plum bun.

“That poor thing out there looks like it,” answered Phil, pointing to a
miserable white skeleton of a pony, tethered by the roadside.

Hubert put down his cake and looked at Mrs. Busson.

“Anything wrong with the bun, my dear?” she asked.

“No,” answered Hubert, “but may I give it to the poor horse?”

Hubert was very fond of cake, but the thought of anything within his
reach that was hungrier than himself, always quenched his appetite.

“Bless your dear heart!” cried Mrs. Busson, “that mouthful of bun
wouldn’t do the poor thing any good.” Then noting Hubert’s look of
disappointment, she added, “But look here, when you’ve finished your
tea, you go out to Busson in the yard and tell him from me to ask the
ostler for sixpennyworth of oats, and then Master Jack’ll go across the
Green with you, and Master Phil too, I daresay, and help you to give
them to the poor pony.”

Charmed with this delightful prospect, Hubert finished his tea, with
equal enjoyment and alacrity, and then all the party arose from the
table to assist in the feeding of the poor white starveling.

And perhaps this closing scene was the brightest moment in all that long
bright summer afternoon.

“My word! won’t he enjoy himself!” cried Jack, who under Busson’s
directions had presented the feast of oats in a pail of water. “I bet
it’s the first time in your life, you’ve ever had such a blow out, you
wretched specimen.”

“He’s a poor, poor thing, but very ugly,” said Hubert, with more truth
than tenderness for his protegé. “Oh! Gaston, Gaston, how can you?”

For Gaston had laid his cheek against the neglected creature’s dirty
matted mane, and was stroking his untempting coat with hands as gentle
and caressing as if he were fondling some faultlessly groomed,
satin-coated pony.

“Oh! Gaston,” cried Fay, dragging him away, “he’s not fit to touch.”

“He’s so sad,” said Gaston, simply. There were tears in the boy’s big
brown eyes.

“Oh! he won’t be sad now,” said Hubert, “Mr. Busson says that he will
stop being hungry by the time he has eaten all those oats.”

“Ah! one is often sad, when one is not hungry,” said Gaston, slowly.

But no one heeded his last remark.

Ruth was running across the Green, to call them back to the Inn, at the
door of which the Gaybrook van was standing already, with old Mr. Busson
frantically waving his whip at the scattered party.

What a scramble there was to pack not only everyone, but everyone’s
newly-acquired property, into the tilted waggon.

For though Jack and Phil went off in search of their ponies, they
committed divers articles, such as cocoa-nuts, walking sticks, in great
variety, a top or two, some brilliant green performing frogs of vast
size, a rat-trap, a marvellous kite, a stuffed pigeon for target
practice, to Fay and Phoena, for the safety of which they were to hold
themselves responsible.

The homeward drive, through the long winding lanes, in the soft golden
light of the westering sun, was very delightful, if less noisy than the
morning drive had been.

After the first few miles, Hubert and Marygold fell fast asleep, the
latter on Fay’s lap. Hubert, who had yielded his place on the front
seat to Gaston--Phoena having represented to him that it was rather
selfish to monopolise it both ways--was dreaming a confusion of sights
and sounds, with his head resting on Ruth’s shoulder, whilst Fay and
Phoena were carrying on a low-voiced discussion.

“Oh! of course, you must put him down in the ledger of golden deeds,”
Fay was saying, “for he wanted to help the poor and distressed by giving
up his cake but I can’t see why Gaston should go in too.”

“Because,” said Phoena, slowly, “I think he was quite as kind.”

“Because he went and stroked that horribly dirty creature? Oh! I say
that was very dirty of him.”

“I think it was rather grand,” said Phoena, “we only thought of
comforting the poor pony’s body, but Gaston wanted to comfort his sad
heart too. For instance, I should think it was much more noble to kiss a
dirty old beggar-woman than to give her my dinner. I know at any rate,
which I’d rather _not_ do.”

“That’s true,” admitted Fay, “still I can’t understand Gaston, I don’t
think he really is a bit kind-hearted; he couldn’t hate Andrew as he
does, if he had a really good heart.”

“Of course it’s wrong to hate people,” said Phoena; “still, I’m sure
many kind people can’t help it sometimes. But just because they are
kind-hearted, they’d never be cruel to those they hate. I’m quite sure
if Gaston had the chance, he would be quite as kind to Andrew as Jack or
Phil would be, only he wouldn’t be kind so gladly.”

Fay shook her head. “When you’re as old as I am, Phoena,” she said, with
her superior wisdom, “you’ll understand more the wickedness of ha--” But
she broke off suddenly.

[Illustration: “John made a clumsy attempt to rein in his flying steed.”

_p. 169_]

The sharp clatter of quick-trotting horse’s hoofs coming towards them,
smote on their ears, and Mrs. Busson started forward with a cry.

“That’s Blackberry,” she said. “I know his trot. That means there’s
mischief at home.”

In another minute, the stout black cob, ridden by one of the farm men,
came in sight.

“John! John Honybun, what has happened?” shouted Mrs. Busson. “Where are
you off to?”

“Doctor,” was the brief reply, whilst John made a clumsy but ineffectual
attempt to rein in his flying steed.

A great consternation fell into the midst of that hitherto happy vanful.
For full thirty seconds no one spoke at all, not indeed until Blackberry
became lost to view round the corner of the long lane they were just
leaving. Then poor Mrs. Busson wailed out--

“Please God it’s not the children.”

But Phoena, with lips grown white, leant over to whisper into Fay’s ear,
“Don’t you remember we guessed that they were going to do something?”

The remainder of that drive was a very sorry affair.

Though Mr. Busson whipped his horses into a pace, which greatly
astonished those sleek, slow-going animals, it seemed to all concerned
as if the chimneys of the Farm would never come in sight. At length,
however, the old van jolted up to the door, whence they had set out so
merrily that morning.

“Please God it’s not the children,” repeated Mrs. Busson, as Libbie came
flying to meet them at the open door.

Poor Libbie, usually so trim and dainty! She looked now as if she had
been through a campaign! She was capless, her drenched hair hung loosely
over her shoulders, her face was flushed, swollen and blotched, her gown
was be-draggled and torn, her apron burnt into holes, and one hand was
tied up in rags.

“Oh! ma’am, oh! ma’am,” she cried, in piteous distress, “they’ve been
and broken through into the bee-room!”

“But speak, woman, are the children hurt?” cried Mrs. Busson.

“That’s it, that’s it, ma’am! Miss Di’s been stung that venomous, that
we’ve had to send off for the doctor. Manny’s got her into bed, and is
doing her best for her, but she’s been most _cruelly_ punished. As for
her poor eyes, it’s my belief that she’ll never see out of them again.
There, you can hear her screaming, she hasn’t left off, not for five
seconds together.”

“And Andrew?” asked Faith, whilst Mrs. Busson and Ruth flew indoors.

“Oh! he’s nothing hurt to speak of,” said Libbie, “got about twenty
stings perhaps, but Nanny’s sent him to bed and locked him into his
room, too. So he can’t take any harm after jumping into the water-tank.
But there, oh! there, what ever will the master say when he sees the
muddling mess that has been made of his house, what with all the sulphur
and brimstone that we had to burn before we could get the beasties
under, and all the buckets of water that we had to throw down, as well!
Never, no never have I seen such a set-out!”



What the master did say, was far more terrible than even Libbie had
imagined possible.

“You treat Busson properly,” his wife was wont to assert, “and give him
his dues, and he’s as mild as buttermilk; but take liberties with him
and his, and you’ll see what’s in him, then. Good me! he’d crumple up a
stone wall as if it were brown paper, and snap a six-inch iron bar, like
a cobweb!

“No, I do say, Busson hasn’t got his match in all the country round,
either for good temper or bad, according as the fit is on him, for one
way or the other.”

Unfortunately, on his return from the Fair, Mr. Busson did
consider--small blame to him--that a very great liberty had been taken
with his house. Consequently, he was promptly overtaken with the fit for
“crumbling stone walls, and snapping iron bars.”

In plain English, Mr. Busson flew into a furious rage.

“Thank goodness,” sighed poor Mrs. Busson, “that Ruth has packed the
girls off to their rooms for the night, whilst Busson was still out.”
For he had remained in the yard to discharge his duties to the horses,
and thus his return to the house, and his further initiation into the
full extent of that afternoon’s doings had been delayed some time.

But as Fay and Phoena, cowered together in their bedroom, which was
directly over the parlour, where the farmer was giving free vent to his
anger, the drift, if not all the words, of his fierce displeasure,
reached the two girls very distinctly.

Their teeth chattered, and their limbs shook, but they were too
petrified with terror to shed a tear.

Jack and Phil, following the farmer indoors, a few minutes later, after
putting away their ponies, as they loved to do, beat a hasty retreat,
though their untasted supper stood ready within their reach. They were
in blissful ignorance as to the cause of the farmer’s rage, but a look
from Mrs. Busson warned them that they were not wanted, and with the
ready tact of good breeding, they had quickly vanished to their own

“Oh, I wish,” cried Phoena, “that Ruth, or Libbie, or someone would come
and see us. It is getting so late, and it will be too dreadful it we
have to wait till to-morrow morning without knowing any more.”

“Well, we can make out something for ourselves,” said matter-of-fact
Faith. “For you can hear that Mr. Busson is evidently determined to turn
us out to-morrow morning. Just listen, now.”

“Can’t turn ’em out, you, say,” Busson was roaring. “Can’t turn who I
choose out of my own house! Well, I call that a pretty pair of walking
boots. Don’t you make any mistake about it, Missus, out they’ll go, bag
and baggage, neck and crop, leggins or no leggins, soon as ever the
sun’s up to-morrow.”

Then came the sound of pleading in a low tone from Mrs. Busson.

This was speedily cut short by the farmer’s loud voice.

“Respect for Miss Agatha, indeed! Let her teach her young ’uns to show
respect for my goods and chattels. Let her, I say, before they ever set
foot under my roof again.”

Then, after a moment’s lull, the farmer raged on anew.

“And as for that boy, this very night, I’ll give him such a thrashing as
he’ll never forget for the rest of his born days. My word! if I don’t
break a stick or two over him, my name’s not Benjamin Busson. Polly, I
say?”--this was addressed, in stentorian tones, to the girl in the back
kitchen, “where have you locked that young rascal up?”

“Oh, Busson, Busson, let him be till the morning,” the girls heard Mrs.
Busson entreating her husband, her voice shrill with alarm.

Evidently she was trying, by main force, to hold the infuriated man
back. “It will be plenty soon enough to punish him to-morrow.”

Involuntarily, Phoena thought of the scenes they had so often enacted in
their ogre games, where the pitiful ogress sought to gain time for the
luckless victims.

But how far Mrs. Busson would have succeeded or not was doubtful, if, at
that critical moment, the doctor had not appeared on the scene. His
presence produced at once a comparative calm.

“I wonder if poor Di will soon be better,” said Phoena, as they heard
Dr. Forbes going upstairs to Di’s room, whence her screams still came at
very short intervals.

Libbie had put her to bed in another part of the house.

“Do you suppose that she really will be blind?” asked Faith. “Oh, how
could she and Andrew have done such a thing!”

“I thought they were up to something,” said Phoena; “but I never
thought, after all we had said about it, that they would have done

“And I’m so sorry for poor Mrs. Busson,” said Fay, “it seems so hard
that she should get such a scolding for our ill-doing.”

“Yes, and after she’d been giving us such a happy afternoon. What’s
that?” added Phoena.

“Only me,” said Marygold, peeping through the door of an adjoining room,
where she was supposed to be asleep. “Is all the people downstairs in a
turkey-cock rage still, do you think?” she added, in a quivering tone.

Before anyone could answer, the door opened, and Nanny appeared.

Grim as she looked, the girls greeted her gladly.

“Oh, Nanny, do tell us what’s happening,” they implored.

“Get back into your bed _at once_, Miss Marion, if you don’t want a
slapping,” was the first utterance of the late nursery-tyrant; “you were
never trained under me, or you would know better than to run about

And it was not till Marygold was tightly tucked into her bed, and the
door closed behind her, with a recommendation to open it again if she
dared, that Nanny would answer the elder girls’ questions.

“Suffering, indeed,” she said, “yes, I believe you, Miss Di is
suffering. There, if you could see her now, it would cure you of wishing
to meddle with what doesn’t concern you. It’ll be ever so long, the
doctor says, before she’s quite over it. She’ll have to be kept shut up
in a dark room for many days to come. The only wonder is, that she’s
likely to recover at all.”

“Oh, poor, dear Di!” said Faith.

“Poor Di, indeed!” echoed Nanny, indignantly; “naughty Di, that’s what
she is. But then, she and Master Andrew always were the most troublesome
pair that you could find on a long summer’s day. It’s poor Mrs. Busson,
I pity. A nice time she’s having with the farmer. He’s just beside
himself with rage, and no wonder, either. A proper pig-stye they’ve made
of all that part of his house. And if Joe Wintle hadn’t had a head on
his shoulders, I can’t think where the mischief would have stopped.”

“But,” enquired Faith, “do tell us what actually happened. What was the
bee-room? We never heard anything about it before.”

“No, and you never were meant to hear about it, either,” was the grim
rejoinder, “if those children hadn’t been prying about as they had no
right to have done, they wouldn’t have known anything of it, and all
this terrible business would never have come to pass.”

“But when you say a bee-room,” asked Phoena, “do you mean a room full of
bees? I thought bees were always kept out of doors.”

“Well, and so they always are,” said Nanny, “but that was the odd thing
about this room. Years and years ago, so long ago, that no one can
remember when, a swarm of bees took possession, first of the real roof
over that room, and then of the false roof--that space, you know,
between the outer and inner walls of the upper storey--till at last,
they ended by invading the room itself. It was used, no doubt, as an odd
sort of lumber room, never as a living room, for though it has a door
and a chimney, there’s no proper window to it. Clouds of bees are always
flying round the chimney, and very often swarms come from there. There
must be thousands and thousands of bees at home in that room now. One
gentleman, so Mrs. Busson told me, who was a visitor in this
neighbourhood, and heard of the room, was very anxious to open it at his
own risk and expense, for he was specially curious about bees and their
ways, but the farmer wouldn’t hear of it being touched. He always vowed
that it should never be disturbed in his time, as his father and
grandfather had said before him.”

“Why, of course, the risk of such a thing must have seemed dreadful,”
said Faith, in awe-struck tones.

“Risk! I should think so,” said Nanny, “there, as I said, if it hadn’t
been for Joe Wintle, I don’t believe we’d any of us been left here.”

“But what did Joe Wintle do?” enquired Faith.

“Well, you see, those children had smashed in half the lower part of the
door, so they had made a fine disturbance amongst all the bees they had
dislodged, and they all came flying about like mad. So Joe, like a wise
man, rushed down to the village, and got hold of a sheet of zinc, which
he nailed right over the broken panel of the door. He put on his regular
bee-dress first; then he fitted a thick shutter over the whole door, so
there’s no likelihood now of any more bees escaping. But, oh, the
hundreds and thousands that came buzzing out, at first, you wouldn’t
believe. Every one of us got pretty nicely stung, I can tell you.”

“Were you badly hurt, Nanny?” asked Fay, politely.

“Of course I was, Miss Faith, but a blue-bag, and some sweet oil set me
right. Poor Libbie was badly punished, her left hand is just a sight;
she worked so hard to get Miss Di free.”

“I suppose Di and Andrew were dreadfully frightened when they found out
what they had done?” enquired Phoena.

“If you’d heard their screams as we heard them down in the brew-house,
you wouldn’t have much doubt of that. Both Libbie and I thought they
must have set themselves on fire, and be calling out of the flames.”

“I suppose Di was dreadfully stung,” said Faith.

“I tell you that it was only a wonder that she didn’t die, then and
there,” said Nanny, “what with the shock, and the pain. As it is, she
hasn’t come to herself yet. But there, I repeat it, I don’t pity her,
not as I do Mrs. Busson.”

“I suppose Mr. Busson takes a long time to get over things,” said Fay.

“I should think he’d take a long time to get over _this_ thing. There,
however the poor old lady will make it right with him, I can’t think.
Never did I see anyone fly all to bits, as he’s done. ’Twouldn’t do
Master Andrew any harm to have a taste of his displeasure.”

“Oh, but he won’t beat Andrew, will he, Nanny? You won’t let him,”
implored Faith.

“I _would_ let him, gladly, if I could,” was the merciless rejoinder--as
a matter-of-fact, Nanny had taken effectual measures to prevent such a
thing happening--“only I believe that it would break Mrs. Busson’s
heart, if anyone laid a finger on him in her house, and I’m sure I don’t
want her troubles added to.”

“But,” faltered Phoena, “shall we all be sent away to-morrow?”

“More than likely. All that is, but Miss Di. I shouldn’t be surprised if
the farmer sends her to the nearest hospital. But now I must go back to
her room; I’ve promised that I’ll sit up the night with her. And the
sooner that you two get to bed, and out of the way of doing fresh
mischief, the better. Good-night to you both.”

“Good-night, Nanny,” responded the girls. They were too dejected to
resent the glaring injustice implied in her last sentence.

The next morning they woke with very heavy hearts.

“Won’t it be an awful disgrace, Phoena,” sighed Fay, “if we really are
sent back to-day. What will mother say?”

“I shall be so sorry for Mrs. Busson,” said Phoena, “because, you see,
she will be so sad if it all ends so badly. Perhaps the farmer has waked
up in a better temper.”

“I rather hope he has,” chimed in little Marygold, “for I’m werry afraid
of seeing him, if he’s still in that turkey-cock rage.”

And so, in sooth, were her elders, whose courage was at a very low ebb
when they reluctantly left the shelter of their room for breakfast.

Even Jack and Phil were unusually subdued.

They had heard the whole story from Joe Wintle, the hero of the zinc
sheet, and they had heard also how Mr. Busson had vowed that every one
of them was to be cleared off the premises that day.

“And Joe says that the farmer is a man of his word,” said Phil.

No one had seen Andrew. Jack had tried the door of his room, but had
found it still locked.

“Poor beggar, he must be having a lively time of it,” said Phil.

“Serve him right,” said Jack, “it was a dirty trick to play.”

“Hush,” said Phoena, “here comes Mrs. Busson. Oh dear, what will she be



Well knowing all that she had gone through for their sakes, the children
felt terribly shy of meeting their hostess.

But, save that her face was a little pale, and that her eyelids showed
narrow red rims, there was nothing in her quiet, pleasant greeting, no
lack of warmth in her bright smile, to betray that anything had gone
wrong with her.

For the first time, perhaps, in their lives, Fay and Phoena realised how
much elder folk may suffer for the misdoings of the young, and how
unselfishly they may conceal that suffering from its authors.

“Well, now, my dears,” she began, and there was a certain jerkiness in
her tone now, which, to older ears would have told its own story, “I
want you all to make an extra good breakfast, and I’ll tell you the
reason why.”

Oh, then they _were_ going to be sent away. Faith felt sure of that.

“We’re going to have such beautiful weather to-day,” Mrs. Busson went
on--as if a fine day during that remarkably dry season were quite a
novelty--“that I’ve thought of a little treat for you all.”

The elder girls breathed freely.

“And it’s this. You’ve often heard talk of the old oak at Barnby.”

“Under which Queen Elizabeth is said to have drunk a cup of cider?”
asked Phoena, eagerly.

“Yes, quite right, that’s the tree. Well, suppose now you all make an
expedition to see it. It’s seven miles there, every step, but you can
take the little donkey-trap, and that’ll carry four of you at a time,
as well as the dinner and tea baskets, for you’d best not set out to
come home till it’s got cool. Now, do you think you’d like to go?”

“Of course we should,” cried the children in chorus.

Phoena, noting the look of relief on Mrs. Busson’s face at the unanimous
consent to her plan, guessed the old lady’s good reasons for arranging
that they should be out of the house for that whole day.

“And now you’ll finish your breakfast nice and quietly,” besought Mrs.
Busson, “and then you’ll just stop indoors out of the sun, till you are
ready to start. The house is still topsy-turvy after yesterday’s upset,
so we don’t want more little feet running about than can be helped.
Besides, poor Miss Di must be kept quiet.”

“Is she better to-day?” asked Fay, timidly, feeling almost guilty in
asking after one of the culprits.

“Not much, I’m afraid; she hasn’t had a wink of sleep.”

“And Andrew,” asked Jack, “will he come with us?”

“No, sir, that he certainly won’t,” said Nanny, appearing at the door,
to fetch a cup of milk for Di, “Master Andrew’s got to stop at home to
be punished, and a rare punishment we’ve thought out for him, too, Mr.
Busson and I.”

Without another word, Nanny took the milk, and departed.

Mrs. Busson hurried after her.

“What a horrid old crab-stick,” cried Jack, “no wonder that you all
hated her, when she was your nurse.”

“Small blame to Andrew that he didn’t want to see her again,” said Jack.

“Her bark is worse than her bite,” said Faith; “she always used to
threaten us with a great deal more than she ever carried out.”

“I expect,” said Phoena, with her natural shrewdness, “that she has
really been doing Andrew a kind turn, and that whatever the punishment
may be, she only invented it to get Andrew off the merciless beating he
seemed likely to get last evening.”

“It won’t be much fun,” said tender-hearted Marygold, “to go to our
picnic, and not know all the time what dreadful things may be happening
to Andrew.”

“Yes,” chimed in Hubert, “it does seem werry sad to leave him behind in
disgrace, when we are going to enjoy ourselves.”

“He has no one to thank for it but himself,” said Phil. “No one asked
him to go and kick up all this shine, and do us out of our supper last
night. He ought to be licked for it.”

A little later, Jack was quite ready to endorse Phil’s opinion.

Forgetting Mrs. Busson’s directions as to staying indoors, Jack strayed
round to the straw-yard, where he ran up against Mr. Busson.

Not heeding the signs of the times, Jack accosted the farmer--who had
rather pointedly turned his back upon him--and asked if they might have
the ponies.

The old man turned on him in a fury.

“Now, clear out of this,” he cried, seizing Jack by the ear, “I’ve told
the missus, and I’ll tell you, that I’m not going to be walked over in
my place by a parcel of ill-behaved youngsters.”

Therewith, he dragged Jack across the yard, pushing him through the
gate, and slamming it after him with quite unnecessary violence.

“Bother Andrew,” cried Jack, indignantly, rejoining the others, “I do
call it a beastly shame that he has gone and spoilt everything for us.
Look here, Phil, he’s done us out of the ponies now, for old Busson has
cut up rusty, and won’t let us have them.”

“I’d like to kick Andrew,” said Phil, with more heartiness than heart.

“I think,” said Fay, “that you may leave Andrew to the tender mercies of
Nanny and Busson. I expect that he’ll get all that he deserves.”

“I hope to goodness that he will,” said Philip, whose disappointment
about the ponies made him very vengeance-thirsty.

“Well,” said Jack, gloomily, “he has made the farmer as cross as a bear
with _two_ sore heads.”

“I hope we’ll soon start now,” said Marygold, “I don’t want to see Mr.
Busson, I don’t, at all.”

“Not much fear of your seeing him,” said Fay, “if you keep indoors, like
a good little girl.”

But Faith proved a false prophet.

For, just as the children were thinking of setting off, the door opened,
and Mr. Busson put his dreaded head in.

“Now, you little gentlemen and ladies,” he began, “just you come along
with me, and see what comes of meddling with what does not belong to
you. Never too late to learn, or too early, says I.”

These last words were aimed at Marygold, who was shaking with fear.

So a very subdued procession followed the farmer, as he strode down the
garden, and across the fowl-yard to the orchard, beloved of Gaston.

On plodded Mr. Busson through the long, rank grass, till he reached
nearly the middle of the orchard. Then he paused.

“Now, here’s a pretty sight for you,” he said, “look at it. _Look_ at

This recommendation was entirely superfluous, however.

Faith and Phoena were standing with eyes and mouth wide open, and fixed
in a rigid stare, whilst Hubert and Marygold were backing like the
traditional crabs.

“What is it? What is it?” they all asked.

“Why, it’s your brother, Andrew, doing penance, my dears,” said the
farmer. “Take a nearer look at him.”

In the middle of the orchard was a big, artificial mound, surmounted by
a flagstaff.

This table-mountain, as Phoena had christened it, had been described by
Marygold, in a letter to her mother, as being “a mile high,” and
affording a view “all over the country.”

As a matter of fact, it was about twenty feet high, and from its top you
could command a good view of the lane, which ran alongside of the
orchard. But though the surface of the mound was now so thickly
overgrown with coarse weeds and grass, that to the unknowing it might
almost appear a natural hillock, it was really entirely made up of
broken brick-bats, and crockery, and all the other miscellaneous objects
which go to form a rubbish heap. But it was a rubbish heap of ancient
date, and of very literal long-standing.

It was this table mountain that Mr. Busson had selected as the theatre
of Andrew’s punishment. A wide-bottomed tub, turned topsy-turvy, was set
at the foot of the flag-staff, and in the middle of the tub was placed a
chair, and on the chair was what appeared to be a monster straw

It was of the old-fashioned extinguisher shape, wide at the edge of the
skirt--as the cottagers term it--whence three wooden legs projected, and
tapering upwards into quite a narrow circumference round the neck.

Above this neck, and struggling out of a thick garnish of stiff,
struggling straws, Andrew’s head was just apparent. In front of the
brim of his straw hat was a huge card, bearing the words, in Nanny’s
largest writing, “Who would be a curious boy?”

A further decoration was added to the hat, in the shape of Libbie’s
scorched and rent apron, which was spread over it after the fashion of
those cloths which sometimes serve to protect hives from the undue heat.

“There now, don’t you call that a pretty picture, and all made with a
truss of straw, and a good-for-nothing youngster?” asked the farmer,
turning upon Jack and Phil, who were holding their sides with laughter,
so absolutely ludicrous did Andrew appear.

“Go away, all of you, you nasty cowards,” howled Andrew, “if you were
not such a sneaking lot, all of you, you would never let me be treated
like this.”

“Oh, I say, none of your cheek, old bee-hive,” said Jack, “you chain up,
after all the row you’ve kicked up for everyone.”

“I wish I’d kicked up ten times more,” snarled Andrew, “you’re all
traitors and snea--”

“Look here, old straw-sides,” said Phil, “you’d better take your
punishment meekly, or you may get something worse than that shied at
you,” he added, flinging a pellet of grass, which he took care should
only shave Andrew’s face.

“Ay, that’s it, my lads, pelt him a bit,” said Busson, “it won’t do him
no harm. As I tell him, if I’d had my way, I’d have given him a good
lathering last night, but there the women folk interfered, so he has got
to do bee-hive penance instead, and get no honey either. Eh, sonny?” and
the farmer brought his heavy stick down on Andrew’s straw envelope with
a playful energy, which set a cloud of dust whirling about that
unfortunate boy’s eyes and nose.

“Get away with you, get away with you,” whimpered Andrew, “if you don’t
go soon, I’ll--”

“Make your mind easy, my lad,” said Busson, “we’re all going away now,
for it’s not everyone that is so mighty fond of bee-hive company as you.
So just you bide nice and quiet there, until such time as I see fit to
relieve you, and _ponderate_ over your misdoings, that’s my advice to
you. But, just remember, that, perched up aloft as you are, I can keep
my weather eye on you from all over the place, so you’d better behave
yourself, else it will be the worse for you, and for this here stick
too, for it shall be broken in your service then, and no mistake,” and
Busson’s laugh was not pleasant to hear. “Now, young ’uns, march off,
and leave him to himself.”

“Oh, Andrew,” said Fay, screwing as close to him as she could, “are you
very miserable?”

“Get away, I hate you all,” was the spiteful reply.

“Oh, please, Mr. Busson,” implored Faith, as they trooped out of the
orchard, “you won’t leave Andrew very long up there; suppose he got very
tired of standing up on that chair, and tumbled off.”

“No fear of that happening, missy,” said the farmer, who had worked off
the worst part of his temper by now, “for before we put that comfortable
straw jacket over him, we stood him up on the chair, and tied him pretty
tightly to the back of it. Then, to make sure that the chair itself
wouldn’t budge, we slipped a chain round the legs of it, and so made the
chain taut to the flag-staff, so you see that it’s all been carefully
arranged. I’ve told him that most likely he’ll be there till the
sundown, but I’ll let him off, may be, in a couple of hours.”

“Well, really,” said Faith, as they started on their expedition, “I
think after all he has done, that Andrew has got off uncommonly well. Of
course, Nanny invented that punishment, she always used to concoct the
most fearful chastisements for us.”

“It must be disgustingly stuffy inside all that straw,” said Jack, “I’d
sooner have had twenty lickings.”

“And I’d sooner have had forty than been made such a tom-fool of,” said

“Yes, but then you are not Andrew,” remarked Fay.

“Well, at any rate,” said Phoena, “I’m very glad that we know the worst
of what is to happen to him, because now we needn’t feel so very
selfish, going off to our picnic and not knowing what dreadful
punishment Andrew might be undergoing all the time.”

“That’s true,” said Faith, “but where’s Gaston, I thought he started
with us.”

“So he did,” said Phoena, “I expect he has gone round by the road, with
Ruth, and the infants, and the donkey cart.”

“And we had better hurry up,” said Jack, “for they are going to wait for
us at the stile by the barley-held.”



“Faith, Faith! Phoena! Marygold! Oh! Somebody come and release me, I
can’t, I can’t bear this any longer! Oh! oh! how can you all leave me
here alone? How can you, how can you?”

These dolorous plaints, repeated at very short intervals and interlarded
with despairing howls, were kept up by Andrew, with praiseworthy

But so far as any visible result was concerned, he might as well have
held his peace. His cries fell apparently only on the apple trees around
him, and the grass at his feet.

“Oh! do somebody help me, do somebody help me,” he implored afresh, as
the clock struck twelve, “I’ve been here for such hours.”

He had been there for nearly two whole ones. For it was a little past
ten when Mr. Busson, with his assistant Ned--who had thoroughly enjoyed
the job--had completed the new sort of bee-hive, and gone in search of

This time, Andrew bellowed so loudly that he did bring Mr. Busson on to
the scene.

“Now look here, sonny,” he said, “I told you to keep quiet, didn’t I?
What do you mean then by carrying on this way? Chances are I’d have let
you out, if you’d behaved yourself, but I shan’t now, you’ll have to
bide there, till sun-down or moon-rise, may be, if I hear any more of
that hollering.”

Nevertheless, when he had turned his back on the orchard, Busson went
straight to the back-door, and called for Libbie.

“She ain’t here, Master,” said Polly, the odd girl.

“Well, you’ll do. Just you tell her that I’ve gone to the sale over at
Warren’s, but say that I leave it to her to look after that young master
down in the orchard. If he keeps pretty quiet, she can let him out in
another hour, but not any sooner, mind you that.”

“All right, Master,” said Polly, “I don’t expect that Libbie will be in
much of a hurry about it, the longer he is kept out of mischief the
better, she will think.”

“Well, remember to tell her, any way.”

“Oh! I’ll remember,” said Polly, and straightway forgot all about it.

And little wonder! Presently no one in the household--not even Mrs.
Busson who had wept over Andrew’s punishment; not even Nanny, who had so
carefully planned it--had a thought to bestow on the culprit in the

For Dr. Forbes had paid his visit, and his verdict on Diana’s condition
had filled everyone with grief and dismay. She was so much worse after
her restless, suffering night, and her temperature was so high, that it
was impossible to say if she would recover from the effect of the
terrible shock that her whole system had sustained.

At any rate, Mrs. Durand must be summoned at once.

“Lose no time in wiring for her,” the doctor had said, as he left,
promising to return towards evening.

“Poor lady, poor Miss Agatha,” sighed Mrs. Busson, “to think of all the
trouble she has had already, losing the Colonel when Miss Marygold
wasn’t out of long clothes, and then for this to happen now, and to
think that she’s away in Edinburgh, and that she can’t get here before
to-morrow morning at earliest.”

Thus it happened that it was not till after the doctor had paid his
evening visit, in the course of which, he chanced to ask if Andrew had
been much stung, that Mrs. Busson remembered the latter’s existence.

“That child has never been left all this time in the orchard,” she
cried, rushing back into the house. “Surely someone has seen to him.”

“Oh! good me!” exclaimed conscience-stricken Polly, “I clean forgot to
tell Libbie to let him go, and now it’s past six.”

“Why the poor lad must be half dead,” cried Mrs. Busson, “fly to him
Polly, do.”

Polly’s flight was a short one. In the backyard she met Ned.

“No need to trouble about he,” said Ned, “the master let him out I
believe before he started. He’s down in the strawberry beds, as you can
see for yourself,” added Ned, putting aside some thick growing privet
bushes, and pointing in the direction of the kitchen garden.

There sure enough was Andrew, cowering under the shelter of a big fir
tree, which grew against the wall in a corner of the strawberry beds.

“He’s mighty ashamed of himself, for he’s doing his best to hide,”
laughed Polly, as she ran back to relieve Mrs. Busson’s fears.

“Well, that is a comfort to be sure,” sighed the poor old lady, “and
now, mind Polly when the other children come home, don’t say one word
about poor Miss Di. The doctor says that there won’t be much change to
be looked for till to-morrow, and there’ll be no good done by telling
the poor dears the worst till one’s obliged. They needn’t know till
to-morrow that we’ve sent for Miss Di’s mamma.”

And so, little guessing the dread shadow that was hanging over the Farm,
the picnic party came merrily home; and though, as they entered the
house, they lowered their tones lest they should disturb Diana, they
never guessed that she was far too ill to heed sounds of any sort.

“What has become of Andrew?” they asked, after their first questions
about Di had been answered with suitable vagueness.

“Oh! he’s all right,” said Libbie, “I saw him an hour ago, he came to
the larder and helped himself to a meat pasty and a bun. He didn’t think
that anyone saw him, but I let him go, for it was natural enough that he
should feel shame-faced.”

“Beastly mean of him though, to steal from the larder,” said Phil.

“Poor beggar, I expect he was hungry,” said the more merciful Jack.

“I wonder if he’ll come to supper,” speculated Hubert.

“Here he comes,” said Phoena, as Andrew, emboldened by a call from
Libbie, stole out from his hiding place, and came rather sheepishly to
take his place at the supper-table.

“Where’s Gaston?” asked Faith, “where has he been all day, Libbie?”

“Why, surely,” answered Libbie, who was coming in with a dish, “he has
been along with you all? He started with you.”

“Yes, but he very soon ran home again,” said Faith.

“He didn’t run back here,” said Libbie, “we’ve seen nothing of him all

“But then where did he have his dinner and tea?” asked Phil, in
consternation. “Mrs. Busson,” as the latter came into the room, “What
has become of Gaston, no one has seen him since this morning?”

“Gracious alive, you don’t mean to say that anything has happened to
_him_?” cried poor Mrs. Busson; “what will come next?”

“Why, Andrew, how red you’ve got!” cried Jack, suddenly.

“Yes, you _are_ red,” echoed several voices, whilst all eyes were turned
on Andrew’s guilty face. “Oh! _you_ know something about Gaston, that’s
quite clear.”

“I asked--no--he wanted,” faltered Andrew, “at least I went to look
through the bushes, a long, long time ago and _it_ was gone, he must--”

“Oh! I guess,” cried Phoena, and in another minute she had dashed out of
doors, across the garden, and on to the orchard, with all the others
following her.

Yes, Andrew was right! _It_ had gone! There was no monster bee-hive to
be seen on the empty chair in the middle of the table mountain.

Only a cry of great dismay rang out on the still evening air, as Phoena
was seen to sink on her knees and half disappear in the high grass.

For there at the foot of the hillock, a heap of straw lay motionless,
whilst from under the straw, Gaston’s little face, ghastly and drawn
with suffering, looked out.

“Gaston! dear, dear little Gaston, do speak,” implored Phoena.

The lips moved, but no sound came from them.

“Do you see,” cried Phoena, her eyes flashing indignantly through her
tears, as she turned to follow Ruth and Libbie, who between them were
tenderly carrying Gaston indoors, “do you see Andrew must have put him
up there and got off himself.”

“Did you, Andrew, did you?” asked the boys, closing round their cousin,
who was making an attempt to run away.

“He--he heard me calling out, and he--he offered and--and--I only meant
him to stand there just a minute whilst I rested, but--but I found that
I couldn’t get back again--and then--then I thought that he must have
broken his promise to me and got away, because when I peeped through
the bushes, ever so long ago, I--I didn’t see the straw thing any more.
Oh! don’t--oh! don’t, it wasn’t my fault, it--oh! don’t--oh! _don’t_.”

For Mr. Busson had seized Andrew by the arm and was brandishing his
stick over his head.

“Well if ever I saw such a poor mean-spirited creature,” he cried.
“There, take him you boys and give him a sound thrashing between you,”
and with a rough shake, the farmer pushed Andrew towards his cousins.

But both Jack and Phil fell back from Andrew, as if by common consent.

“Touch him,” they cried, in tones of unfeigned disgust, as if he were
something loathsome, and unconsciously echoing poor Gaston’s own words,
“_Touch him!_ ugh! licking’s too good for him,” and without another word
they followed the girls into the house.



“Well, now my dear Faith, do tell me as clearly as you can what has
happened. I find poor Di dangerously ill, and Andrew shut up in deep
disgrace, and I hear that all through Andrew’s fault, the little French
boy has broken his leg very badly. And whenever I ask for an
explanation, it all seems to begin and end with a bee-room and a
bee-hive. What does it all mean?”

It was poor Mrs. Durand who spoke.

She was tired out by her hurried journey from the North, and shocked by
the disturbed condition in which she found Gaybrook Farm and all its
inmates, and was really at her wit’s ends to comprehend what chain of
events could have resulted in these dire consequences.

“It all happened in this way,” began Faith, with a heavy sigh. “Di found
out that there was a mysterious door in the house, which no one had
opened for about a hundred years. And as nobody would satisfy her
curiosity as to what was in the room, and why it had been left closed so
long, she determined to discover it for herself. So she and Andrew
agreed to force open the door, and they chose the day when we had all
gone to the fair to do it.”

“And that door belonged to the bee-room, I suppose,” said Mrs. Durand.

“Yes,” answered Faith, who then went on to give Nanny’s explanation
concerning that wonderful hive of monster dimensions and of
extraordinary long standing, and told how it had been the boast of the
Bussons, from father to son, that no one should disturb those winged

“And you mean to tell me that those naughty children broke into that
room,” cried Mrs. Durand. “No wonder such terrible results followed.”

“Indeed, they were terrible,” said Faith. “Poor Libbie will talk of that
afternoon for the rest of her life, I am sure. And oh, mother, you can’t
think how angry the farmer was, and what a bad time poor Mrs. Busson has
had in consequence. That was why we thought that, after all, Andrew was
very lucky to get off with no worse punishment than being dressed up in
a monster bee-hive, and tied up to the flag-staff on the top of the
mound in the orchard. Of course, it was dreadful to be made such a
laughing stock to everyone, and it must have been very tiring and
disagreeable altogether,” went on Fay, entering more fully into various
details of Andrew’s form of punishment; “but,” she wound up, “though it
was hard on Andrew to be forgotten, and left to himself, it was too mean
of him to make poor little Gaston stand up there in--”

“Oh, but Gaston did offer,” broke in Phoena; “at least, this is what I
make out happened from Gaston. He felt so sorry for Andrew, left behind
in such dreadful disgrace, that he ran back from us, and went and hid in
his favourite ditch, so that he might be within speaking distance of
Andrew, and yet not be seen. Then it seems that when Andrew went on
crying out so, and imploring that somebody would come and take his
place, only just to keep the straw erection upright and visible, whilst
he rested,--because, you see,” explained Phoena, “Mr. Busson said, if he
saw Andrew move, he would beat him--Gaston came out of his ditch, and
offered to help him.”

“Then did Gaston take his place in the bee-hive?” asked Mrs. Durand,
“and so set Andrew free?”

“Yes,” said Phoena, “the idea was that he should only stay there for
just long enough to give Andrew time to stretch his legs, and rest for a
few minutes; for Gaston said the weight of that straw was very tiring,
and Andrew promised that if Gaston would undertake not to move from the
chair, he would only just go round the orchard, and come back again, and
set him free.”

“And didn’t Andrew keep his word?”

“No,” said Phoena, “instead of minutes, he left Gaston standing there
hour after hour, for he would not break his promise--Gaston wouldn’t, I
mean,--till at last, worn out with weariness, and want of food, he fell
off the chair, and broke his leg.”

“You see,” explained Faith, “Gaston wasn’t tied to the back of the
chair, as the farmer had been careful to tie Andrew, so that he might
have a support at his back; for when Gaston had set him free, Andrew was
only in such a hurry to get off himself, that he did nothing for Gaston.
So poor Gaston had nothing to lean against. Oh, mother, I am ashamed of
Andrew, I am ashamed of him,” wound up poor Fay, tearfully.

“The boys say that they will never speak to him again,” said Phoena.

“None of you will have the chance of doing so for some time to come,”
said Mrs. Durand; “for I had already arranged for him to go to a tutor,
in Edinburgh, where I hope he will be taught better ways, and now I
shall telegraph to Sarah to come and fetch him away this very afternoon,
and keep him with her at home, till I can settle for his journey north.
It will depend on his behaviour there, if I allow him to come home at

“It was a terrible pity,” said Fay, “that he and Di ever thought of
breaking into that room. Is it really true, mother, that yesterday the
doctor thought that Di might never get better?”

“It is indeed,” said Mrs. Durand, “and though he hopes now, that by
God’s mercy she may recover, Dr. Forbes says that it will be long before
Di is quite well again. She has had a sharp lesson for her disobedience,
which she will never forget all her life. And now, children, as regards
poor, dear little Gaston, we must all think what we can do for him,”
added Mrs. Durand.

“He’ll have to have the golden prize,” cried Hubert, coming into the
room, so as to catch the last words, “for we all agreed, didn’t we? that
the one who did the unselfishest thing, and the thing that hurt
themselves the most, should be called the bestest of them all.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The pride of the summer was gone, as Mrs. Busson termed it. The harvest
fields had been cleared, and the apple-gathering was about to begin,
when the grand feast, which was to celebrate the achievements of the
Knights of the Order of Good Intentions, was at last held.

Matters had turned out very differently from what they had expected,
when the children had first planned it all.

Andrew was away in disgrace, and Gaston, though he made a brave show of
being well again, was still on crutches, whilst as to Diana, with her
white face, and closely-shaven head, she looked like nothing but a thin,
pale ghost of the merry “scarlet-runner” of the earlier summer days. If
the truth must be told, Di, who had not distinguished herself,
especially either by her patience or gentleness during her illness, was
never heard again to jeer about “pillow-case saints.”

“Yes, it has all ended very differently from what we thought,” said
Faith; “and it seems so odd to think that by this time to-morrow every
one of us will be far away from here, even Gaston.”

For to Gaston’s great joy, his favourite uncle was coming the next day
to take him back to France, and the others were all leaving for home by
the morning train.

To all, the end of their eventful visit to Gaybrook had come.

Of course, Gaston was the hero of the day.

Ever since his accident, the children had vied with each other in making
much of him, whilst Jack and Phil had delighted Gaston beyond words, by
declaring that there was not a fellow in their school who would have
stuck more pluckily to his guns than Gaston had stuck to his bee-hive.

“And you are glad that you have won the golden prize, aren’t you,
Gaston; werry glad?” said Marygold,--she had claimed to sit next to him
at the feast--“and you will be ever so proud to show it to your uncle.”

“Ah, but,” broke in Hubert, “you don’t know everything yet,” and he and
Marygold laughed mysteriously.

For before that day was done, there was another surprise in store for
Gaston. Another gift was to crown that proud day.

This was revealed, when, at the end of the banquet, all the boys
suddenly disappeared, and all the girls became too excited to be able to
answer clearly Gaston’s questions as to the boys’ movements.

Presently they re-appeared, scampering across the paddock, Jack and Phil
leading a little Welsh pony between them, with Hubert perched on its

“For it’s saddled, and bridled, and shod, you see,” cried Marygold,
dancing round Gaston in wild delight, “and though it’s not much bigger
than Dragon, the watch-dog, it’s dreffully strong, and goes very fast.”

“And it’s to go back with you to France,” put in Hubert, “because,
Phoena says, a real knight _must_ have a steed.”

Gaston was beside himself with joy and astonishment.

Ever since he had seen the boys ride, the possession of a pony had been
the theme of his wildest dreams, and now he could hardly trust his eyes
and ears. It seemed as if the fairies, he still loved to believe in, had
brought him the fulfilment of his dearest wish, straight from fairyland.

The weeks at Gaybrook had been mostly sad and sorrow-stained, but now
this one golden day would gild all his memories of the English farm for

“But, but,” he cried, “who gives it me, who did think of it?”

“We have all joined together to get it for you,” said Phil, “infants and

“And Andrew sent all his year’s savings out of the bank,” said Faith.

“Poor Andrew,” said Gaston, deeply touched, “but--but how came the idea
to your heads, how came it then?”

“How did you get the idea to help Andrew?” laughed Di.

“Oh, but that was quite different,” said Gaston, “that came, because I
did know so exactly, oh, so very exactly, what he was feeling.”

“But then,” asked Marygold, in genuine astonishment, “but then, Gaston,
had you ever been tied up in a bee-hive?”

“No,” said Gaston, simply, “but I had been lonely, too.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

she was nurse to years ago=> she was nurse two years ago {pg 2}

their natual protectors=> their natural protectors {pg 10}

Andrew annouced after dinner=> Andrew announced after dinner {pg 29}

to be ignominously routed=> to be ignominiously routed {pg 46}

It you were one of our fellows at school=> If you were one of our
fellows at school {pg 99}

hopping and and dancing a little=> hopping and dancing a little {pg 118}

Gaston dashed passed me=> Gaston dashed past me {pg 119}

Dalzant’s Martha’s contemptuous pity=> Delzant’s Martha’s contemptuous
pity {pg 120}

pommes de terre sautèes=> pommes de terre sautées {pg 120}

teasing was quite as merciless as the boys=> teasing was quite as
merciless as the boys’ {pg 130}

By this time, Di’s curiousity=> By this time, Di’s curiosity {pg 134}

you do know all about it quite well, you only pretending not to=> you do
know all about it quite well, you are only pretending not to {pg 135}

There wouldn’t be be much real=> There wouldn’t be much real {pg 152}

said Lobbie=> said Libbie {pg 154}

It sound rather eerie, doesn’t it?=> It sounds rather eerie, doesn’t it?
{pg 155}

cried Hubert and Marygold in one breadth=> cried Hubert and Marygold in
one breath {pg 162}

These dorlorous plaints=> These dolorous plaints {pg 187}

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Forbidden Room - 'Mine Answer was my Deed'" ***

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