Part 3 out of 5
It's translated into every European language. A fine book--a noble
book. And so your mother took him in--like the good Samaritan.
Well, well. I'll tell you what, youngsters--your mother must be a
very good woman."
"Of course she is," said Phyllis, in astonishment.
"And you're a very good man," said Bobbie, very shy, but firmly
resolved to be polite.
"You flatter me," said the old gentleman, taking off his hat with a
flourish. "And now am I to tell you what I think of you?"
"Oh, please don't," said Bobbie, hastily.
"Why?" asked the old gentleman.
"I don't exactly know," said Bobbie. "Only--if it's horrid, I don't
want you to; and if it's nice, I'd rather you didn't."
The old gentleman laughed.
"Well, then," he said, "I'll only just say that I'm very glad you
came to me about this--very glad, indeed. And I shouldn't be
surprised if I found out something very soon. I know a great many
Russians in London, and every Russian knows HIS name. Now tell me
all about yourselves."
He turned to the others, but there was only one other, and that was
Peter. Phyllis had disappeared.
"Tell me all about yourself," said the old gentleman again. And,
quite naturally, Peter was stricken dumb.
"All right, we'll have an examination," said the old gentleman; "you
two sit on the table, and I'll sit on the bench and ask questions."
He did, and out came their names and ages--their Father's name and
business--how long they had lived at Three Chimneys and a great deal
The questions were beginning to turn on a herring and a half for
three halfpence, and a pound of lead and a pound of feathers, when
the door of the waiting room was kicked open by a boot; as the boot
entered everyone could see that its lace was coming undone--and in
came Phyllis, very slowly and carefully.
In one hand she carried a large tin can, and in the other a thick
slice of bread and butter.
"Afternoon tea," she announced proudly, and held the can and the
bread and butter out to the old gentleman, who took them and said:--
"Bless my soul!"
"Yes," said Phyllis.
"It's very thoughtful of you," said the old gentleman, "very."
"But you might have got a cup," said Bobbie, "and a plate."
"Perks always drinks out of the can," said Phyllis, flushing red.
"I think it was very nice of him to give it me at all--let alone
cups and plates," she added.
"So do I," said the old gentleman, and he drank some of the tea and
tasted the bread and butter.
And then it was time for the next train, and he got into it with
many good-byes and kind last words.
"Well," said Peter, when they were left on the platform, and the
tail-lights of the train disappeared round the corner, "it's my
belief that we've lighted a candle to-day--like Latimer, you know,
when he was being burned--and there'll be fireworks for our Russian
And so there were.
It wasn't ten days after the interview in the waiting room that the
three children were sitting on the top of the biggest rock in the
field below their house watching the 5.15 steam away from the
station along the bottom of the valley. They saw, too, the few
people who had got out at the station straggling up the road towards
the village--and they saw one person leave the road and open the
gate that led across the fields to Three Chimneys and to nowhere
"Who on earth!" said Peter, scrambling down.
"Let's go and see," said Phyllis.
So they did. And when they got near enough to see who the person
was, they saw it was their old gentleman himself, his brass buttons
winking in the afternoon sunshine, and his white waistcoat looking
whiter than ever against the green of the field.
"Hullo!" shouted the children, waving their hands.
"Hullo!" shouted the old gentleman, waving his hat.
Then the three started to run--and when they got to him they hardly
had breath left to say:--
"How do you do?"
"Good news," said he. "I've found your Russian friend's wife and
child--and I couldn't resist the temptation of giving myself the
pleasure of telling him."
But as he looked at Bobbie's face he felt that he COULD resist that
"Here," he said to her, "you run on and tell him. The other two
will show me the way."
Bobbie ran. But when she had breathlessly panted out the news to
the Russian and Mother sitting in the quiet garden--when Mother's
face had lighted up so beautifully, and she had said half a dozen
quick French words to the Exile--Bobbie wished that she had NOT
carried the news. For the Russian sprang up with a cry that made
Bobbie's heart leap and then tremble--a cry of love and longing such
as she had never heard. Then he took Mother's hand and kissed it
gently and reverently--and then he sank down in his chair and
covered his face with his hands and sobbed. Bobbie crept away. She
did not want to see the others just then.
But she was as gay as anybody when the endless French talking was
over, when Peter had torn down to the village for buns and cakes,
and the girls had got tea ready and taken it out into the garden.
The old gentleman was most merry and delightful. He seemed to be
able to talk in French and English almost at the same moment, and
Mother did nearly as well. It was a delightful time. Mother seemed
as if she could not make enough fuss about the old gentleman, and
she said yes at once when he asked if he might present some
"goodies" to his little friends.
The word was new to the children--but they guessed that it meant
sweets, for the three large pink and green boxes, tied with green
ribbon, which he took out of his bag, held unheard-of layers of
The Russian's few belongings were packed, and they all saw him off
at the station.
Then Mother turned to the old gentleman and said:--
"I don't know how to thank you for EVERYTHING. It has been a real
pleasure to me to see you. But we live very quietly. I am so sorry
that I can't ask you to come and see us again."
The children thought this very hard. When they HAD made a friend--
and such a friend--they would dearly have liked him to come and see
What the old gentleman thought they couldn't tell. He only said:--
"I consider myself very fortunate, Madam, to have been received once
at your house."
"Ah," said Mother, "I know I must seem surly and ungrateful--but--"
"You could never seem anything but a most charming and gracious
lady," said the old gentleman, with another of his bows.
And as they turned to go up the hill, Bobbie saw her Mother's face.
"How tired you look, Mammy," she said; "lean on me."
"It's my place to give Mother my arm," said Peter. "I'm the head
man of the family when Father's away."
Mother took an arm of each.
"How awfully nice," said Phyllis, skipping joyfully, "to think of
the dear Russian embracing his long-lost wife. The baby must have
grown a lot since he saw it."
"Yes," said Mother.
"I wonder whether Father will think I'VE grown," Phyllis went on,
skipping still more gaily. "I have grown already, haven't I,
"Yes," said Mother, "oh, yes," and Bobbie and Peter felt her hands
tighten on their arms.
"Poor old Mammy, you ARE tired," said Peter.
Bobbie said, "Come on, Phil; I'll race you to the gate."
And she started the race, though she hated doing it. YOU know why
Bobbie did that. Mother only thought that Bobbie was tired of
walking slowly. Even Mothers, who love you better than anyone else
ever will, don't always understand.
Chapter VIII. The amateur firemen.
"That's a likely little brooch you've got on, Miss," said Perks the
Porter; "I don't know as ever I see a thing more like a buttercup
without it WAS a buttercup."
"Yes," said Bobbie, glad and flushed by this approval. "I always
thought it was more like a buttercup almost than even a real one--
and I NEVER thought it would come to be mine, my very own--and then
Mother gave it to me for my birthday."
"Oh, have you had a birthday?" said Perks; and he seemed quite
surprised, as though a birthday were a thing only granted to a
"Yes," said Bobbie; "when's your birthday, Mr. Perks?" The children
were taking tea with Mr. Perks in the Porters' room among the lamps
and the railway almanacs. They had brought their own cups and some
jam turnovers. Mr. Perks made tea in a beer can, as usual, and
everyone felt very happy and confidential.
"My birthday?" said Perks, tipping some more dark brown tea out of
the can into Peter's cup. "I give up keeping of my birthday afore
you was born."
"But you must have been born SOMETIME, you know," said Phyllis,
thoughtfully, "even if it was twenty years ago--or thirty or sixty
"Not so long as that, Missie," Perks grinned as he answered. "If
you really want to know, it was thirty-two years ago, come the
fifteenth of this month."
"Then why don't you keep it?" asked Phyllis.
"I've got something else to keep besides birthdays," said Perks,
"Oh! What?" asked Phyllis, eagerly. "Not secrets?"
"No," said Perks, "the kids and the Missus."
It was this talk that set the children thinking, and, presently,
talking. Perks was, on the whole, the dearest friend they had made.
Not so grand as the Station Master, but more approachable--less
powerful than the old gentleman, but more confidential.
"It seems horrid that nobody keeps his birthday," said Bobbie.
"Couldn't WE do something?"
"Let's go up to the Canal bridge and talk it over," said Peter. "I
got a new gut line from the postman this morning. He gave it me for
a bunch of roses that I gave him for his sweetheart. She's ill."
"Then I do think you might have given her the roses for nothing,"
said Bobbie, indignantly.
"Nyang, nyang!" said Peter, disagreeably, and put his hands in his
"He did, of course," said Phyllis, in haste; "directly we heard she
was ill we got the roses ready and waited by the gate. It was when
you were making the brekker-toast. And when he'd said 'Thank you'
for the roses so many times--much more than he need have--he pulled
out the line and gave it to Peter. It wasn't exchange. It was the
"Oh, I BEG your pardon, Peter," said Bobbie, "I AM so sorry."
"Don't mention it," said Peter, grandly, "I knew you would be."
So then they all went up to the Canal bridge. The idea was to fish
from the bridge, but the line was not quite long enough.
"Never mind," said Bobbie. "Let's just stay here and look at
things. Everything's so beautiful."
It was. The sun was setting in red splendour over the grey and
purple hills, and the canal lay smooth and shiny in the shadow--no
ripple broke its surface. It was like a grey satin ribbon between
the dusky green silk of the meadows that were on each side of its
"It's all right," said Peter, "but somehow I can always see how
pretty things are much better when I've something to do. Let's get
down on to the towpath and fish from there."
Phyllis and Bobbie remembered how the boys on the canal-boats had
thrown coal at them, and they said so.
"Oh, nonsense," said Peter. "There aren't any boys here now. If
there were, I'd fight them."
Peter's sisters were kind enough not to remind him how he had NOT
fought the boys when coal had last been thrown. Instead they said,
"All right, then," and cautiously climbed down the steep bank to the
towing-path. The line was carefully baited, and for half an hour
they fished patiently and in vain. Not a single nibble came to
nourish hope in their hearts.
All eyes were intent on the sluggish waters that earnestly pretended
they had never harboured a single minnow when a loud rough shout
made them start.
"Hi!" said the shout, in most disagreeable tones, "get out of that,
An old white horse coming along the towing-path was within half a
dozen yards of them. They sprang to their feet and hastily climbed
up the bank.
"We'll slip down again when they've gone by," said Bobbie.
But, alas, the barge, after the manner of barges, stopped under the
"She's going to anchor," said Peter; "just our luck!"
The barge did not anchor, because an anchor is not part of a canal-
boat's furniture, but she was moored with ropes fore and aft--and
the ropes were made fast to the palings and to crowbars driven into
"What you staring at?" growled the Bargee, crossly.
"We weren't staring," said Bobbie; "we wouldn't be so rude."
"Rude be blessed," said the man; "get along with you!"
"Get along yourself," said Peter. He remembered what he had said
about fighting boys, and, besides, he felt safe halfway up the bank.
"We've as much right here as anyone else."
"Oh, 'AVE you, indeed!" said the man. "We'll soon see about that."
And he came across his deck and began to climb down the side of his
"Oh, come away, Peter, come away!" said Bobbie and Phyllis, in
"Not me," said Peter, "but YOU'D better."
The girls climbed to the top of the bank and stood ready to bolt for
home as soon as they saw their brother out of danger. The way home
lay all down hill. They knew that they all ran well. The Bargee
did not look as if HE did. He was red-faced, heavy, and beefy.
But as soon as his foot was on the towing-path the children saw that
they had misjudged him.
He made one spring up the bank and caught Peter by the leg, dragged
him down--set him on his feet with a shake--took him by the ear--and
"Now, then, what do you mean by it? Don't you know these 'ere
waters is preserved? You ain't no right catching fish 'ere--not to
say nothing of your precious cheek."
Peter was always proud afterwards when he remembered that, with the
Bargee's furious fingers tightening on his ear, the Bargee's crimson
countenance close to his own, the Bargee's hot breath on his neck,
he had the courage to speak the truth.
"I WASN'T catching fish," said Peter.
"That's not YOUR fault, I'll be bound," said the man, giving Peter's
ear a twist--not a hard one--but still a twist.
Peter could not say that it was. Bobbie and Phyllis had been
holding on to the railings above and skipping with anxiety. Now
suddenly Bobbie slipped through the railings and rushed down the
bank towards Peter, so impetuously that Phyllis, following more
temperately, felt certain that her sister's descent would end in the
waters of the canal. And so it would have done if the Bargee hadn't
let go of Peter's ear--and caught her in his jerseyed arm.
"Who are you a-shoving of?" he said, setting her on her feet.
"Oh," said Bobbie, breathless, "I'm not shoving anybody. At least,
not on purpose. Please don't be cross with Peter. Of course, if
it's your canal, we're sorry and we won't any more. But we didn't
know it was yours."
"Go along with you," said the Bargee.
"Yes, we will; indeed we will," said Bobbie, earnestly; "but we do
beg your pardon--and really we haven't caught a single fish. I'd
tell you directly if we had, honour bright I would."
She held out her hands and Phyllis turned out her little empty
pocket to show that really they hadn't any fish concealed about
"Well," said the Bargee, more gently, "cut along, then, and don't
you do it again, that's all."
The children hurried up the bank.
"Chuck us a coat, M'ria," shouted the man. And a red-haired woman
in a green plaid shawl came out from the cabin door with a baby in
her arms and threw a coat to him. He put it on, climbed the bank,
and slouched along across the bridge towards the village.
"You'll find me up at the 'Rose and Crown' when you've got the kid
to sleep," he called to her from the bridge.
When he was out of sight the children slowly returned. Peter
insisted on this.
"The canal may belong to him," he said, "though I don't believe it
does. But the bridge is everybody's. Doctor Forrest told me it's
public property. I'm not going to be bounced off the bridge by him
or anyone else, so I tell you."
Peter's ear was still sore and so were his feelings.
The girls followed him as gallant soldiers might follow the leader
of a forlorn hope.
"I do wish you wouldn't," was all they said.
"Go home if you're afraid," said Peter; "leave me alone. I'M not
The sound of the man's footsteps died away along the quiet road.
The peace of the evening was not broken by the notes of the sedge-
warblers or by the voice of the woman in the barge, singing her baby
to sleep. It was a sad song she sang. Something about Bill Bailey
and how she wanted him to come home.
The children stood leaning their arms on the parapet of the bridge;
they were glad to be quiet for a few minutes because all three
hearts were beating much more quickly.
"I'm not going to be driven away by any old bargeman, I'm not," said
"Of course not," Phyllis said soothingly; "you didn't give in to
him! So now we might go home, don't you think?"
"NO," said Peter.
Nothing more was said till the woman got off the barge, climbed the
bank, and came across the bridge.
She hesitated, looking at the three backs of the children, then she
Peter stayed as he was, but the girls looked round.
"You mustn't take no notice of my Bill," said the woman; "'is bark's
worse'n 'is bite. Some of the kids down Farley way is fair terrors.
It was them put 'is back up calling out about who ate the puppy-pie
under Marlow bridge."
"Who DID?" asked Phyllis.
"_I_ dunno," said the woman. "Nobody don't know! But somehow, and
I don't know the why nor the wherefore of it, them words is p'ison
to a barge-master. Don't you take no notice. 'E won't be back for
two hours good. You might catch a power o' fish afore that. The
light's good an' all," she added.
"Thank you," said Bobbie. "You're very kind. Where's your baby?"
"Asleep in the cabin," said the woman. "'E's all right. Never
wakes afore twelve. Reg'lar as a church clock, 'e is."
"I'm sorry," said Bobbie; "I would have liked to see him, close to."
"And a finer you never did see, Miss, though I says it." The
woman's face brightened as she spoke.
"Aren't you afraid to leave it?" said Peter.
"Lor' love you, no," said the woman; "who'd hurt a little thing like
'im? Besides, Spot's there. So long!"
The woman went away.
"Shall we go home?" said Phyllis.
"You can. I'm going to fish," said Peter briefly.
"I thought we came up here to talk about Perks's birthday," said
"Perks's birthday'll keep."
So they got down on the towing-path again and Peter fished. He did
not catch anything.
It was almost quite dark, the girls were getting tired, and as
Bobbie said, it was past bedtime, when suddenly Phyllis cried,
And she pointed to the canal boat. Smoke was coming from the
chimney of the cabin, had indeed been curling softly into the soft
evening air all the time--but now other wreaths of smoke were
rising, and these were from the cabin door.
"It's on fire--that's all," said Peter, calmly. "Serve him right."
"Oh--how CAN you?" cried Phyllis. "Think of the poor dear dog."
"The BABY!" screamed Bobbie.
In an instant all three made for the barge.
Her mooring ropes were slack, and the little breeze, hardly strong
enough to be felt, had yet been strong enough to drift her stern
against the bank. Bobbie was first--then came Peter, and it was
Peter who slipped and fell. He went into the canal up to his neck,
and his feet could not feel the bottom, but his arm was on the edge
of the barge. Phyllis caught at his hair. It hurt, but it helped
him to get out. Next minute he had leaped on to the barge, Phyllis
"Not you!" he shouted to Bobbie; "ME, because I'm wet."
He caught up with Bobbie at the cabin door, and flung her aside very
roughly indeed; if they had been playing, such roughness would have
made Bobbie weep with tears of rage and pain. Now, though he flung
her on to the edge of the hold, so that her knee and her elbow were
grazed and bruised, she only cried:--
"No--not you--ME," and struggled up again. But not quickly enough.
Peter had already gone down two of the cabin steps into the cloud of
thick smoke. He stopped, remembered all he had ever heard of fires,
pulled his soaked handkerchief out of his breast pocket and tied it
over his mouth. As he pulled it out he said:--
"It's all right, hardly any fire at all."
And this, though he thought it was a lie, was rather good of Peter.
It was meant to keep Bobbie from rushing after him into danger. Of
course it didn't.
The cabin glowed red. A paraffin lamp was burning calmly in an
"Hi," said Peter, lifting the handkerchief from his mouth for a
moment. "Hi, Baby--where are you?" He choked.
"Oh, let ME go," cried Bobbie, close behind him. Peter pushed her
back more roughly than before, and went on.
Now what would have happened if the baby hadn't cried I don't know--
but just at that moment it DID cry. Peter felt his way through the
dark smoke, found something small and soft and warm and alive,
picked it up and backed out, nearly tumbling over Bobbie who was
close behind. A dog snapped at his leg--tried to bark, choked.
"I've got the kid," said Peter, tearing off the handkerchief and
staggering on to the deck.
Bobbie caught at the place where the bark came from, and her hands
met on the fat back of a smooth-haired dog. It turned and fastened
its teeth on her hand, but very gently, as much as to say:--
"I'm bound to bark and bite if strangers come into my master's
cabin, but I know you mean well, so I won't REALLY bite."
Bobbie dropped the dog.
"All right, old man. Good dog," said she. "Here--give me the baby,
Peter; you're so wet you'll give it cold."
Peter was only too glad to hand over the strange little bundle that
squirmed and whimpered in his arms.
"Now," said Bobbie, quickly, "you run straight to the 'Rose and
Crown' and tell them. Phil and I will stay here with the precious.
Hush, then, a dear, a duck, a darling! Go NOW, Peter! Run!"
"I can't run in these things," said Peter, firmly; "they're as heavy
as lead. I'll walk."
"Then I'LL run," said Bobbie. "Get on the bank, Phil, and I'll hand
you the dear."
The baby was carefully handed. Phyllis sat down on the bank and
tried to hush the baby. Peter wrung the water from his sleeves and
knickerbocker legs as well as he could, and it was Bobbie who ran
like the wind across the bridge and up the long white quiet twilight
road towards the 'Rose and Crown.'
There is a nice old-fashioned room at the 'Rose and Crown; where
Bargees and their wives sit of an evening drinking their supper
beer, and toasting their supper cheese at a glowing basketful of
coals that sticks out into the room under a great hooded chimney and
is warmer and prettier and more comforting than any other fireplace
_I_ ever saw.
There was a pleasant party of barge people round the fire. You
might not have thought it pleasant, but they did; for they were all
friends or acquaintances, and they liked the same sort of things,
and talked the same sort of talk. This is the real secret of
pleasant society. The Bargee Bill, whom the children had found so
disagreeable, was considered excellent company by his mates. He was
telling a tale of his own wrongs--always a thrilling subject. It
was his barge he was speaking about.
"And 'e sent down word 'paint her inside hout,' not namin' no
colour, d'ye see? So I gets a lotter green paint and I paints her
stem to stern, and I tell yer she looked A1. Then 'E comes along
and 'e says, 'Wot yer paint 'er all one colour for?' 'e says. And I
says, says I, 'Cause I thought she'd look fust-rate,' says I, 'and I
think so still.' An' he says, 'DEW yer? Then ye can just pay for
the bloomin' paint yerself,' says he. An' I 'ad to, too." A murmur
of sympathy ran round the room. Breaking noisily in on it came
Bobbie. She burst open the swing door--crying breathlessly:--
"Bill! I want Bill the Bargeman."
There was a stupefied silence. Pots of beer were held in mid-air,
paralysed on their way to thirsty mouths.
"Oh," said Bobbie, seeing the bargewoman and making for her. "Your
barge cabin's on fire. Go quickly."
The woman started to her feet, and put a big red hand to her waist,
on the left side, where your heart seems to be when you are
frightened or miserable.
"Reginald Horace!" she cried in a terrible voice; "my Reginald
"All right," said Bobbie, "if you mean the baby; got him out safe.
Dog, too." She had no breath for more, except, "Go on--it's all
Then she sank on the ale-house bench and tried to get that breath of
relief after running which people call the 'second wind.' But she
felt as though she would never breathe again.
Bill the Bargee rose slowly and heavily. But his wife was a hundred
yards up the road before he had quite understood what was the
Phyllis, shivering by the canal side, had hardly heard the quick
approaching feet before the woman had flung herself on the railing,
rolled down the bank, and snatched the baby from her.
"Don't," said Phyllis, reproachfully; "I'd just got him to sleep."
* * * * * *
Bill came up later talking in a language with which the children
were wholly unfamiliar. He leaped on to the barge and dipped up
pails of water. Peter helped him and they put out the fire.
Phyllis, the bargewoman, and the baby--and presently Bobbie, too--
cuddled together in a heap on the bank.
"Lord help me, if it was me left anything as could catch alight,"
said the woman again and again.
But it wasn't she. It was Bill the Bargeman, who had knocked his
pipe out and the red ash had fallen on the hearth-rug and smouldered
there and at last broken into flame. Though a stern man he was
just. He did not blame his wife for what was his own fault, as many
bargemen, and other men, too, would have done.
* * * * * *
Mother was half wild with anxiety when at last the three children
turned up at Three Chimneys, all very wet by now, for Peter seemed
to have come off on the others. But when she had disentangled the
truth of what had happened from their mixed and incoherent
narrative, she owned that they had done quite right, and could not
possibly have done otherwise. Nor did she put any obstacles in the
way of their accepting the cordial invitation with which the
bargeman had parted from them.
"Ye be here at seven to-morrow," he had said, "and I'll take you the
entire trip to Farley and back, so I will, and not a penny to pay.
They did not know what locks were; but they were at the bridge at
seven, with bread and cheese and half a soda cake, and quite a
quarter of a leg of mutton in a basket.
It was a glorious day. The old white horse strained at the ropes,
the barge glided smoothly and steadily through the still water. The
sky was blue overhead. Mr. Bill was as nice as anyone could
possibly be. No one would have thought that he could be the same
man who had held Peter by the ear. As for Mrs. Bill, she had always
been nice, as Bobbie said, and so had the baby, and even Spot, who
might have bitten them quite badly if he had liked.
"It was simply ripping, Mother," said Peter, when they reached home
very happy, very tired, and very dirty, "right over that glorious
aqueduct. And locks--you don't know what they're like. You sink
into the ground and then, when you feel you're never going to stop
going down, two great black gates open slowly, slowly--you go out,
and there you are on the canal just like you were before."
"I know," said Mother, "there are locks on the Thames. Father and I
used to go on the river at Marlow before we were married."
"And the dear, darling, ducky baby," said Bobbie; "it let me nurse
it for ages and ages--and it WAS so good. Mother, I wish we had a
baby to play with."
"And everybody was so nice to us," said Phyllis, "everybody we met.
And they say we may fish whenever we like. And Bill is going to
show us the way next time he's in these parts. He says we don't
"He said YOU didn't know," said Peter; "but, Mother, he said he'd
tell all the bargees up and down the canal that we were the real,
right sort, and they were to treat us like good pals, as we were."
"So then I said," Phyllis interrupted, "we'd always each wear a red
ribbon when we went fishing by the canal, so they'd know it was US,
and we were the real, right sort, and be nice to us!"
"So you've made another lot of friends," said Mother; "first the
railway and then the canal!"
"Oh, yes," said Bobbie; "I think everyone in the world is friends if
you can only get them to see you don't want to be UN-friends."
"Perhaps you're right," said Mother; and she sighed. "Come, Chicks.
"Yes," said Phyllis. "Oh dear--and we went up there to talk about
what we'd do for Perks's birthday. And we haven't talked a single
thing about it!"
"No more we have," said Bobbie; "but Peter's saved Reginald Horace's
life. I think that's about good enough for one evening."
"Bobbie would have saved him if I hadn't knocked her down; twice I
did," said Peter, loyally.
"So would I," said Phyllis, "if I'd known what to do."
"Yes," said Mother, "you've saved a little child's life. I do think
that's enough for one evening. Oh, my darlings, thank God YOU'RE
Chapter IX. The pride of Perks.
It was breakfast-time. Mother's face was very bright as she poured
the milk and ladled out the porridge.
"I've sold another story, Chickies," she said; "the one about the
King of the Mussels, so there'll be buns for tea. You can go and
get them as soon as they're baked. About eleven, isn't it?"
Peter, Phyllis, and Bobbie exchanged glances with each other, six
glances in all. Then Bobbie said:--
"Mother, would you mind if we didn't have the buns for tea to-night,
but on the fifteenth? That's next Thursday."
"_I_ don't mind when you have them, dear," said Mother, "but why?"
"Because it's Perks's birthday," said Bobbie; "he's thirty-two, and
he says he doesn't keep his birthday any more, because he's got
other things to keep--not rabbits or secrets--but the kids and the
"You mean his wife and children," said Mother.
"Yes," said Phyllis; "it's the same thing, isn't it?"
"And we thought we'd make a nice birthday for him. He's been so
awfully jolly decent to us, you know, Mother," said Peter, "and we
agreed that next bun-day we'd ask you if we could."
"But suppose there hadn't been a bun-day before the fifteenth?" said
"Oh, then, we meant to ask you to let us anti--antipate it, and go
without when the bun-day came."
"Anticipate," said Mother. "I see. Certainly. It would be nice to
put his name on the buns with pink sugar, wouldn't it?"
"Perks," said Peter, "it's not a pretty name."
"His other name's Albert," said Phyllis; "I asked him once."
"We might put A. P.," said Mother; "I'll show you how when the day
This was all very well as far as it went. But even fourteen
halfpenny buns with A. P. on them in pink sugar do not of themselves
make a very grand celebration.
"There are always flowers, of course," said Bobbie, later, when a
really earnest council was being held on the subject in the hay-loft
where the broken chaff-cutting machine was, and the row of holes to
drop hay through into the hay-racks over the mangers of the stables
"He's got lots of flowers of his own," said Peter.
"But it's always nice to have them given you," said Bobbie, "however
many you've got of your own. We can use flowers for trimmings to
the birthday. But there must be something to trim besides buns."
"Let's all be quiet and think," said Phyllis; "no one's to speak
until it's thought of something."
So they were all quiet and so very still that a brown rat thought
that there was no one in the loft and came out very boldly. When
Bobbie sneezed, the rat was quite shocked and hurried away, for he
saw that a hay-loft where such things could happen was no place for
a respectable middle-aged rat that liked a quiet life.
"Hooray!" cried Peter, suddenly, "I've got it." He jumped up and
kicked at the loose hay.
"What?" said the others, eagerly.
"Why, Perks is so nice to everybody. There must be lots of people
in the village who'd like to help to make him a birthday. Let's go
round and ask everybody."
"Mother said we weren't to ask people for things," said Bobbie,
"For ourselves, she meant, silly, not for other people. I'll ask
the old gentleman too. You see if I don't," said Peter.
"Let's ask Mother first," said Bobbie.
"Oh, what's the use of bothering Mother about every little thing?"
said Peter, "especially when she's busy. Come on. Let's go down to
the village now and begin."
So they went. The old lady at the Post-office said she didn't see
why Perks should have a birthday any more than anyone else.
"No," said Bobbie, "I should like everyone to have one. Only we
know when his is."
"Mine's to-morrow," said the old lady, "and much notice anyone will
take of it. Go along with you."
So they went.
And some people were kind, and some were crusty. And some would
give and some would not. It is rather difficult work asking for
things, even for other people, as you have no doubt found if you
have ever tried it.
When the children got home and counted up what had been given and
what had been promised, they felt that for the first day it was not
so bad. Peter wrote down the lists of the things in the little
pocket-book where he kept the numbers of his engines. These were
A tobacco pipe from the sweet shop.
Half a pound of tea from the grocer's.
A woollen scarf slightly faded from the draper's, which was the
other side of the grocer's.
A stuffed squirrel from the Doctor.
A piece of meat from the butcher.
Six fresh eggs from the woman who lived in the old turnpike
A piece of honeycomb and six bootlaces from the cobbler, and an
iron shovel from the blacksmith's.
Very early next morning Bobbie got up and woke Phyllis. This had
been agreed on between them. They had not told Peter because they
thought he would think it silly. But they told him afterwards, when
it had turned out all right.
They cut a big bunch of roses, and put it in a basket with the
needle-book that Phyllis had made for Bobbie on her birthday, and a
very pretty blue necktie of Phyllis's. Then they wrote on a paper:
'For Mrs. Ransome, with our best love, because it is her birthday,'
and they put the paper in the basket, and they took it to the Post-
office, and went in and put it on the counter and ran away before
the old woman at the Post-office had time to get into her shop.
When they got home Peter had grown confidential over helping Mother
to get the breakfast and had told her their plans.
"There's no harm in it," said Mother, "but it depends HOW you do it.
I only hope he won't be offended and think it's CHARITY. Poor
people are very proud, you know."
"It isn't because he's poor," said Phyllis; "it's because we're fond
"I'll find some things that Phyllis has outgrown," said Mother, "if
you're quite sure you can give them to him without his being
offended. I should like to do some little thing for him because
he's been so kind to you. I can't do much because we're poor
ourselves. What are you writing, Bobbie?"
"Nothing particular," said Bobbie, who had suddenly begun to
scribble. "I'm sure he'd like the things, Mother."
The morning of the fifteenth was spent very happily in getting the
buns and watching Mother make A. P. on them with pink sugar. You
know how it's done, of course? You beat up whites of eggs and mix
powdered sugar with them, and put in a few drops of cochineal. And
then you make a cone of clean, white paper with a little hole at the
pointed end, and put the pink egg-sugar in at the big end. It runs
slowly out at the pointed end, and you write the letters with it
just as though it were a great fat pen full of pink sugar-ink.
The buns looked beautiful with A. P. on every one, and, when they
were put in a cool oven to set the sugar, the children went up to
the village to collect the honey and the shovel and the other
The old lady at the Post-office was standing on her doorstep. The
children said "Good morning," politely, as they passed.
"Here, stop a bit," she said.
So they stopped.
"Those roses," said she.
"Did you like them?" said Phyllis; "they were as fresh as fresh.
_I_ made the needle-book, but it was Bobbie's present." She skipped
joyously as she spoke.
"Here's your basket," said the Post-office woman. She went in and
brought out the basket. It was full of fat, red gooseberries.
"I dare say Perks's children would like them," said she.
"You ARE an old dear," said Phyllis, throwing her arms around the
old lady's fat waist. "Perks WILL be pleased."
"He won't be half so pleased as I was with your needle-book and the
tie and the pretty flowers and all," said the old lady, patting
Phyllis's shoulder. "You're good little souls, that you are. Look
here. I've got a pram round the back in the wood-lodge. It was got
for my Emmie's first, that didn't live but six months, and she never
had but that one. I'd like Mrs. Perks to have it. It 'ud be a help
to her with that great boy of hers. Will you take it along?"
"OH!" said all the children together.
When Mrs. Ransome had got out the perambulator and taken off the
careful papers that covered it, and dusted it all over, she said:--
"Well, there it is. I don't know but what I'd have given it to her
before if I'd thought of it. Only I didn't quite know if she'd
accept of it from me. You tell her it was my Emmie's little one's
"Oh, ISN'T it nice to think there is going to be a real live baby in
"Yes," said Mrs. Ransome, sighing, and then laughing; "here, I'll
give you some peppermint cushions for the little ones, and then you
run along before I give you the roof off my head and the clothes off
All the things that had been collected for Perks were packed into
the perambulator, and at half-past three Peter and Bobbie and
Phyllis wheeled it down to the little yellow house where Perks
The house was very tidy. On the window ledge was a jug of wild-
flowers, big daisies, and red sorrel, and feathery, flowery grasses.
There was a sound of splashing from the wash-house, and a partly
washed boy put his head round the door.
"Mother's a-changing of herself," he said.
"Down in a minute," a voice sounded down the narrow, freshly
The children waited. Next moment the stairs creaked and Mrs. Perks
came down, buttoning her bodice. Her hair was brushed very smooth
and tight, and her face shone with soap and water.
"I'm a bit late changing, Miss," she said to Bobbie, "owing to me
having had a extry clean-up to-day, along o' Perks happening to name
its being his birthday. I don't know what put it into his head to
think of such a thing. We keeps the children's birthdays, of
course; but him and me--we're too old for such like, as a general
"We knew it was his birthday," said Peter, "and we've got some
presents for him outside in the perambulator.
As the presents were being unpacked, Mrs. Perks gasped. When they
were all unpacked, she surprised and horrified the children by
sitting suddenly down on a wooden chair and bursting into tears.
"Oh, don't!" said everybody; "oh, please don't!" And Peter added,
perhaps a little impatiently: "What on earth is the matter? You
don't mean to say you don't like it?"
Mrs. Perks only sobbed. The Perks children, now as shiny-faced as
anyone could wish, stood at the wash-house door, and scowled at the
intruders. There was a silence, an awkward silence.
"DON'T you like it?" said Peter, again, while his sisters patted
Mrs. Perks on the back.
She stopped crying as suddenly as she had begun.
"There, there, don't you mind me. I'M all right!" she said. "Like
it? Why, it's a birthday such as Perks never 'ad, not even when 'e
was a boy and stayed with his uncle, who was a corn chandler in his
own account. He failed afterwards. Like it? Oh--" and then she
went on and said all sorts of things that I won't write down,
because I am sure that Peter and Bobbie and Phyllis would not like
me to. Their ears got hotter and hotter, and their faces redder and
redder, at the kind things Mrs. Perks said. They felt they had done
nothing to deserve all this praise.
At last Peter said: "Look here, we're glad you're pleased. But if
you go on saying things like that, we must go home. And we did want
to stay and see if Mr. Perks is pleased, too. But we can't stand
"I won't say another single word," said Mrs. Perks, with a beaming
face, "but that needn't stop me thinking, need it? For if ever--"
"Can we have a plate for the buns?" Bobbie asked abruptly. And then
Mrs. Perks hastily laid the table for tea, and the buns and the
honey and the gooseberries were displayed on plates, and the roses
were put in two glass jam jars, and the tea-table looked, as Mrs.
Perks said, "fit for a Prince."
"To think!" she said, "me getting the place tidy early, and the
little 'uns getting the wild-flowers and all--when never did I think
there'd be anything more for him except the ounce of his pet
particular that I got o' Saturday and been saving up for 'im ever
since. Bless us! 'e IS early!"
Perks had indeed unlatched the latch of the little front gate.
"Oh," whispered Bobbie, "let's hide in the back kitchen, and YOU
tell him about it. But give him the tobacco first, because you got
it for him. And when you've told him, we'll all come in and shout,
'Many happy returns!'"
It was a very nice plan, but it did not quite come off. To begin
with, there was only just time for Peter and Bobbie and Phyllis to
rush into the wash-house, pushing the young and open-mouthed Perks
children in front of them. There was not time to shut the door, so
that, without at all meaning it, they had to listen to what went on
in the kitchen. The wash-house was a tight fit for the Perks
children and the Three Chimneys children, as well as all the wash-
house's proper furniture, including the mangle and the copper.
"Hullo, old woman!" they heard Mr. Perks's voice say; "here's a
"It's your birthday tea, Bert," said Mrs. Perks, "and here's a ounce
of your extry particular. I got it o' Saturday along o' your
happening to remember it was your birthday to-day."
"Good old girl!" said Mr. Perks, and there was a sound of a kiss.
"But what's that pram doing here? And what's all these bundles?
And where did you get the sweetstuff, and--"
The children did not hear what Mrs. Perks replied, because just then
Bobbie gave a start, put her hand in her pocket, and all her body
grew stiff with horror.
"Oh!" she whispered to the others, "whatever shall we do? I forgot
to put the labels on any of the things! He won't know what's from
who. He'll think it's all US, and that we're trying to be grand or
charitable or something horrid."
"Hush!" said Peter.
And then they heard the voice of Mr. Perks, loud and rather angry.
"I don't care," he said; "I won't stand it, and so I tell you
"But," said Mrs. Perks, "it's them children you make such a fuss
about--the children from the Three Chimneys."
"I don't care," said Perks, firmly, "not if it was a angel from
Heaven. We've got on all right all these years and no favours
asked. I'm not going to begin these sort of charity goings-on at my
time of life, so don't you think it, Nell."
"Oh, hush!" said poor Mrs Perks; "Bert, shut your silly tongue, for
goodness' sake. The all three of 'ems in the wash-house a-listening
to every word you speaks."
"Then I'll give them something to listen to," said the angry Perks;
"I've spoke my mind to them afore now, and I'll do it again," he
added, and he took two strides to the wash-house door, and flung it
wide open--as wide, that is, as it would go, with the tightly packed
children behind it.
"Come out," said Perks, "come out and tell me what you mean by it.
'Ave I ever complained to you of being short, as you comes this
charity lay over me?"
"OH!" said Phyllis, "I thought you'd be so pleased; I'll never try
to be kind to anyone else as long as I live. No, I won't, not
She burst into tears.
"We didn't mean any harm," said Peter.
"It ain't what you means so much as what you does," said Perks.
"Oh, DON'T!" cried Bobbie, trying hard to be braver than Phyllis,
and to find more words than Peter had done for explaining in. "We
thought you'd love it. We always have things on our birthdays."
"Oh, yes," said Perks, "your own relations; that's different."
"Oh, no," Bobbie answered. "NOT our own relations. All the
servants always gave us things at home, and us to them when it was
their birthdays. And when it was mine, and Mother gave me the
brooch like a buttercup, Mrs. Viney gave me two lovely glass pots,
and nobody thought she was coming the charity lay over us."
"If it had been glass pots here," said Perks, "I wouldn't ha' said
so much. It's there being all this heaps and heaps of things I
can't stand. No--nor won't, neither."
"But they're not all from us--" said Peter, "only we forgot to put
the labels on. They're from all sorts of people in the village."
"Who put 'em up to it, I'd like to know?" asked Perks.
"Why, we did," sniffed Phyllis.
Perks sat down heavily in the elbow-chair and looked at them with
what Bobbie afterwards described as withering glances of gloomy
"So you've been round telling the neighbours we can't make both ends
meet? Well, now you've disgraced us as deep as you can in the
neighbourhood, you can just take the whole bag of tricks back w'ere
it come from. Very much obliged, I'm sure. I don't doubt but what
you meant it kind, but I'd rather not be acquainted with you any
longer if it's all the same to you." He deliberately turned the
chair round so that his back was turned to the children. The legs
of the chair grated on the brick floor, and that was the only sound
that broke the silence.
Then suddenly Bobbie spoke.
"Look here," she said, "this is most awful."
"That's what I says," said Perks, not turning round.
"Look here," said Bobbie, desperately, "we'll go if you like--and
you needn't be friends with us any more if you don't want, but--"
"WE shall always be friends with YOU, however nasty you are to us,"
sniffed Phyllis, wildly.
"Be quiet," said Peter, in a fierce aside.
"But before we go," Bobbie went on desperately, "do let us show you
the labels we wrote to put on the things."
"I don't want to see no labels," said Perks, "except proper luggage
ones in my own walk of life. Do you think I've kept respectable and
outer debt on what I gets, and her having to take in washing, to be
give away for a laughing-stock to all the neighbours?"
"Laughing?" said Peter; "you don't know."
"You're a very hasty gentleman," whined Phyllis; "you know you were
wrong once before, about us not telling you the secret about the
Russian. Do let Bobbie tell you about the labels!"
"Well. Go ahead!" said Perks, grudgingly.
"Well, then," said Bobbie, fumbling miserably, yet not without hope,
in her tightly stuffed pocket, "we wrote down all the things
everybody said when they gave us the things, with the people's
names, because Mother said we ought to be careful--because--but I
wrote down what she said--and you'll see."
But Bobbie could not read the labels just at once. She had to
swallow once or twice before she could begin.
Mrs. Perks had been crying steadily ever since her husband had
opened the wash-house door. Now she caught her breath, choked, and
"Don't you upset yourself, Missy. _I_ know you meant it kind if he
"May I read the labels?" said Bobbie, crying on to the slips as she
tried to sort them. "Mother's first. It says:--
"'Little Clothes for Mrs. Perks's children.' Mother said, 'I'll
find some of Phyllis's things that she's grown out of if you're
quite sure Mr. Perks wouldn't be offended and think it's meant for
charity. I'd like to do some little thing for him, because he's so
kind to you. I can't do much because we're poor ourselves.'"
"That's all right," said Perks, "your Ma's a born lady. We'll keep
the little frocks, and what not, Nell."
"Then there's the perambulator and the gooseberries, and the
sweets," said Bobbie, "they're from Mrs. Ransome. She said: 'I dare
say Mr. Perks's children would like the sweets. And the
perambulator was got for my Emmie's first--it didn't live but six
months, and she's never had but that one. I'd like Mrs. Perks to
have it. It would be a help with her fine boy. I'd have given it
before if I'd been sure she'd accept of it from me.' She told me to
tell you," Bobbie added, "that it was her Emmie's little one's
"I can't send that pram back, Bert," said Mrs Perks, firmly, "and I
won't. So don't you ask me--"
"I'm not a-asking anything," said Perks, gruffly.
"Then the shovel," said Bobbie. "Mr. James made it for you himself.
And he said--where is it? Oh, yes, here! He said, 'You tell Mr.
Perks it's a pleasure to make a little trifle for a man as is so
much respected,' and then he said he wished he could shoe your
children and his own children, like they do the horses, because,
well, he knew what shoe leather was."
"James is a good enough chap," said Perks.
"Then the honey," said Bobbie, in haste, "and the boot-laces. HE
said he respected a man that paid his way--and the butcher said the
same. And the old turnpike woman said many was the time you'd lent
her a hand with her garden when you were a lad--and things like that
came home to roost--I don't know what she meant. And everybody who
gave anything said they liked you, and it was a very good idea of
ours; and nobody said anything about charity or anything horrid like
that. And the old gentleman gave Peter a gold pound for you, and
said you were a man who knew your work. And I thought you'd LOVE to
know how fond people are of you, and I never was so unhappy in my
life. Good-bye. I hope you'll forgive us some day--"
She could say no more, and she turned to go.
"Stop," said Perks, still with his back to them; "I take back every
word I've said contrary to what you'd wish. Nell, set on the
"We'll take the things away if you're unhappy about them," said
Peter; "but I think everybody'll be most awfully disappointed, as
well as us."
"I'm not unhappy about them," said Perks; "I don't know," he added,
suddenly wheeling the chair round and showing a very odd-looking
screwed-up face, "I don't know as ever I was better pleased. Not so
much with the presents--though they're an A1 collection--but the
kind respect of our neighbours. That's worth having, eh, Nell?"
"I think it's all worth having," said Mrs. Perks, "and you've made a
most ridiculous fuss about nothing, Bert, if you ask me."
"No, I ain't," said Perks, firmly; "if a man didn't respect hisself,
no one wouldn't do it for him."
"But everyone respects you," said Bobbie; "they all said so."
"I knew you'd like it when you really understood," said Phyllis,
"Humph! You'll stay to tea?" said Mr. Perks.
Later on Peter proposed Mr. Perks's health. And Mr. Perks proposed
a toast, also honoured in tea, and the toast was, "May the garland
of friendship be ever green," which was much more poetical than
anyone had expected from him.
* * * * * *
"Jolly good little kids, those," said Mr. Perks to his wife as they
went to bed.
"Oh, they're all right, bless their hearts," said his wife; "it's
you that's the aggravatingest old thing that ever was. I was
ashamed of you--I tell you--"
"You didn't need to be, old gal. I climbed down handsome soon as I
understood it wasn't charity. But charity's what I never did abide,
and won't neither."
* * * * * *
All sorts of people were made happy by that birthday party. Mr.
Perks and Mrs. Perks and the little Perkses by all the nice things
and by the kind thoughts of their neighbours; the Three Chimneys
children by the success, undoubted though unexpectedly delayed, of
their plan; and Mrs. Ransome every time she saw the fat Perks baby
in the perambulator. Mrs. Perks made quite a round of visits to
thank people for their kind birthday presents, and after each visit
felt that she had a better friend than she had thought.
"Yes," said Perks, reflectively, "it's not so much what you does as
what you means; that's what I say. Now if it had been charity--"
"Oh, drat charity," said Mrs. Perks; "nobody won't offer you
charity, Bert, however much you was to want it, I lay. That was
just friendliness, that was."
When the clergyman called on Mrs. Perks, she told him all about it.
"It WAS friendliness, wasn't it, Sir?" said she.
"I think," said the clergyman, "it was what is sometimes called
So you see it was all right in the end. But if one does that sort
of thing, one has to be careful to do it in the right way. For, as
Mr. Perks said, when he had time to think it over, it's not so much
what you do, as what you mean.
Chapter X. The terrible secret.
When they first went to live at Three Chimneys, the children had
talked a great deal about their Father, and had asked a great many
questions about him, and what he was doing and where he was and when
he would come home. Mother always answered their questions as well
as she could. But as the time went on they grew to speak less of
him. Bobbie had felt almost from the first that for some strange
miserable reason these questions hurt Mother and made her sad. And
little by little the others came to have this feeling, too, though
they could not have put it into words.
One day, when Mother was working so hard that she could not leave
off even for ten minutes, Bobbie carried up her tea to the big bare
room that they called Mother's workshop. It had hardly any
furniture. Just a table and a chair and a rug. But always big pots
of flowers on the window-sills and on the mantelpiece. The children
saw to that. And from the three long uncurtained windows the
beautiful stretch of meadow and moorland, the far violet of the
hills, and the unchanging changefulness of cloud and sky.
"Here's your tea, Mother-love," said Bobbie; "do drink it while it's
Mother laid down her pen among the pages that were scattered all
over the table, pages covered with her writing, which was almost as
plain as print, and much prettier. She ran her hands into her hair,
as if she were going to pull it out by handfuls.
"Poor dear head," said Bobbie, "does it ache?"
"No--yes--not much," said Mother. "Bobbie, do you think Peter and
Phil are FORGETTING Father?"
"NO," said Bobbie, indignantly. "Why?"
"You none of you ever speak of him now."
Bobbie stood first on one leg and then on the other.
"We often talk about him when we're by ourselves," she said.
"But not to me," said Mother. "Why?"
Bobbie did not find it easy to say why.
"I--you--" she said and stopped. She went over to the window and
"Bobbie, come here," said her Mother, and Bobbie came.
"Now," said Mother, putting her arm round Bobbie and laying her
ruffled head against Bobbie's shoulder, "try to tell me, dear."
"Well, then," said Bobbie, "I thought you were so unhappy about
Daddy not being here, it made you worse when I talked about him. So
I stopped doing it."
"And the others?"
"I don't know about the others," said Bobbie. "I never said
anything about THAT to them. But I expect they felt the same about
it as me."
"Bobbie dear," said Mother, still leaning her head against her,
"I'll tell you. Besides parting from Father, he and I have had a
great sorrow--oh, terrible--worse than anything you can think of,
and at first it did hurt to hear you all talking of him as if
everything were just the same. But it would be much more terrible
if you were to forget him. That would be worse than anything."
"The trouble," said Bobbie, in a very little voice--"I promised I
would never ask you any questions, and I never have, have I? But--
the trouble--it won't last always?"
"No," said Mother, "the worst will be over when Father comes home to
"I wish I could comfort you," said Bobbie.
"Oh, my dear, do you suppose you don't? Do you think I haven't
noticed how good you've all been, not quarrelling nearly as much as
you used to--and all the little kind things you do for me--the
flowers, and cleaning my shoes, and tearing up to make my bed before
I get time to do it myself?"
Bobbie HAD sometimes wondered whether Mother noticed these things.
"That's nothing," she said, "to what--"
"I MUST get on with my work," said Mother, giving Bobbie one last
squeeze. "Don't say anything to the others."
That evening in the hour before bed-time instead of reading to the
children Mother told them stories of the games she and Father used
to have when they were children and lived near each other in the
country--tales of the adventures of Father with Mother's brothers
when they were all boys together. Very funny stories they were, and
the children laughed as they listened.
"Uncle Edward died before he was grown up, didn't he?" said Phyllis,
as Mother lighted the bedroom candles.
"Yes, dear," said Mother, "you would have loved him. He was such a
brave boy, and so adventurous. Always in mischief, and yet friends
with everybody in spite of it. And your Uncle Reggie's in Ceylon--
yes, and Father's away, too. But I think they'd all like to think
we'd enjoyed talking about the things they used to do. Don't you
"Not Uncle Edward," said Phyllis, in a shocked tone; "he's in
"You don't suppose he's forgotten us and all the old times, because
God has taken him, any more than I forget him. Oh, no, he
remembers. He's only away for a little time. We shall see him some
"And Uncle Reggie--and Father, too?" said Peter.
"Yes," said Mother. "Uncle Reggie and Father, too. Good night, my
"Good night," said everyone. Bobbie hugged her mother more closely
even than usual, and whispered in her ear, "Oh, I do love you so,
Mummy--I do--I do--"
When Bobbie came to think it all over, she tried not to wonder what
the great trouble was. But she could not always help it. Father
was not dead--like poor Uncle Edward--Mother had said so. And he
was not ill, or Mother would have been with him. Being poor wasn't
the trouble. Bobbie knew it was something nearer the heart than
money could be.
"I mustn't try to think what it is," she told herself; "no, I
mustn't. I AM glad Mother noticed about us not quarrelling so much.
We'll keep that up."
And alas, that very afternoon she and Peter had what Peter called a
They had not been a week at Three Chimneys before they had asked
Mother to let them have a piece of garden each for their very own,
and she had agreed, and the south border under the peach trees had
been divided into three pieces and they were allowed to plant
whatever they liked there.
Phyllis had planted mignonette and nasturtium and Virginia Stock in
hers. The seeds came up, and though they looked just like weeds,
Phyllis believed that they would bear flowers some day. The
Virginia Stock justified her faith quite soon, and her garden was
gay with a band of bright little flowers, pink and white and red and
"I can't weed for fear I pull up the wrong things," she used to say
comfortably; "it saves such a lot of work."
Peter sowed vegetable seeds in his--carrots and onions and turnips.
The seed was given to him by the farmer who lived in the nice black-
and-white, wood-and-plaster house just beyond the bridge. He kept
turkeys and guinea fowls, and was a most amiable man. But Peter's
vegetables never had much of a chance, because he liked to use the
earth of his garden for digging canals, and making forts and
earthworks for his toy soldiers. And the seeds of vegetables rarely
come to much in a soil that is constantly disturbed for the purposes
of war and irrigation.
Bobbie planted rose-bushes in her garden, but all the little new
leaves of the rose-bushes shrivelled and withered, perhaps because
she moved them from the other part of the garden in May, which is
not at all the right time of year for moving roses. But she would
not own that they were dead, and hoped on against hope, until the
day when Perks came up to see the garden, and told her quite plainly
that all her roses were as dead as doornails.
"Only good for bonfires, Miss," he said. "You just dig 'em up and
burn 'em, and I'll give you some nice fresh roots outer my garden;
pansies, and stocks, and sweet willies, and forget-me-nots. I'll
bring 'em along to-morrow if you get the ground ready."
So next day she set to work, and that happened to be the day when
Mother had praised her and the others about not quarrelling. She
moved the rose-bushes and carried them to the other end of the
garden, where the rubbish heap was that they meant to make a bonfire
of when Guy Fawkes' Day came.
Meanwhile Peter had decided to flatten out all his forts and
earthworks, with a view to making a model of the railway-tunnel,
cutting, embankment, canal, aqueduct, bridges, and all.
So when Bobbie came back from her last thorny journey with the dead
rose-bushes, he had got the rake and was using it busily.
"_I_ was using the rake," said Bobbie.
"Well, I'm using it now," said Peter.
"But I had it first," said Bobbie.
"Then it's my turn now," said Peter. And that was how the quarrel
"You're always being disagreeable about nothing," said Peter, after
some heated argument.
"I had the rake first," said Bobbie, flushed and defiant, holding on
to its handle.
"Don't--I tell you I said this morning I meant to have it. Didn't
Phyllis said she didn't want to be mixed up in their rows. And
instantly, of course, she was.
"If you remember, you ought to say."
"Of course she doesn't remember--but she might say so."
"I wish I'd had a brother instead of two whiny little kiddy
sisters," said Peter. This was always recognised as indicating the
high-water mark of Peter's rage.
Bobbie made the reply she always made to it.
"I can't think why little boys were ever invented," and just as she
said it she looked up, and saw the three long windows of Mother's
workshop flashing in the red rays of the sun. The sight brought
back those words of praise:--
"You don't quarrel like you used to do."
"OH!" cried Bobbie, just as if she had been hit, or had caught her
finger in a door, or had felt the hideous sharp beginnings of
"What's the matter?" said Phyllis.
Bobbie wanted to say: "Don't let's quarrel. Mother hates it so,"
but though she tried hard, she couldn't. Peter was looking too
disagreeable and insulting.
"Take the horrid rake, then," was the best she could manage. And
she suddenly let go her hold on the handle. Peter had been holding
on to it too firmly and pullingly, and now that the pull the other
way was suddenly stopped, he staggered and fell over backward, the
teeth of the rake between his feet.
"Serve you right," said Bobbie, before she could stop herself.
Peter lay still for half a moment--long enough to frighten Bobbie a
little. Then he frightened her a little more, for he sat up--
screamed once--turned rather pale, and then lay back and began to
shriek, faintly but steadily. It sounded exactly like a pig being
killed a quarter of a mile off.
Mother put her head out of the window, and it wasn't half a minute
after that she was in the garden kneeling by the side of Peter, who
never for an instant ceased to squeal.
"What happened, Bobbie?" Mother asked.
"It was the rake," said Phyllis. "Peter was pulling at it, so was
Bobbie, and she let go and he went over."
"Stop that noise, Peter," said Mother. "Come. Stop at once."
Peter used up what breath he had left in a last squeal and stopped.
"Now," said Mother, "are you hurt?"
"If he was really hurt, he wouldn't make such a fuss," said Bobbie,
still trembling with fury; "he's not a coward!"
"I think my foot's broken off, that's all," said Peter, huffily, and
sat up. Then he turned quite white. Mother put her arm round him.
"He IS hurt," she said; "he's fainted. Here, Bobbie, sit down and
take his head on your lap."
Then Mother undid Peter's boots. As she took the right one off,
something dripped from his foot on to the ground. It was red blood.
And when the stocking came off there were three red wounds in
Peter's foot and ankle, where the teeth of the rake had bitten him,
and his foot was covered with red smears.
"Run for water--a basinful," said Mother, and Phyllis ran. She
upset most of the water out of the basin in her haste, and had to
fetch more in a jug.
Peter did not open his eyes again till Mother had tied her
handkerchief round his foot, and she and Bobbie had carried him in
and laid him on the brown wooden settle in the dining-room. By this
time Phyllis was halfway to the Doctor's.
Mother sat by Peter and bathed his foot and talked to him, and
Bobbie went out and got tea ready, and put on the kettle.
"It's all I can do," she told herself. "Oh, suppose Peter should
die, or be a helpless cripple for life, or have to walk with
crutches, or wear a boot with a sole like a log of wood!"
She stood by the back door reflecting on these gloomy possibilities,
her eyes fixed on the water-butt.
"I wish I'd never been born," she said, and she said it out loud.
"Why, lawk a mercy, what's that for?" asked a voice, and Perks stood
before her with a wooden trug basket full of green-leaved things and
soft, loose earth.
"Oh, it's you," she said. "Peter's hurt his foot with a rake--three
great gaping wounds, like soldiers get. And it was partly my
"That it wasn't, I'll go bail," said Perks. "Doctor seen him?"
"Phyllis has gone for the Doctor."
"He'll be all right; you see if he isn't," said Perks. "Why, my
father's second cousin had a hay-fork run into him, right into his
inside, and he was right as ever in a few weeks, all except his
being a bit weak in the head afterwards, and they did say that it
was along of his getting a touch of the sun in the hay-field, and
not the fork at all. I remember him well. A kind-'earted chap, but
soft, as you might say."
Bobbie tried to let herself be cheered by this heartening
"Well," said Perks, "you won't want to be bothered with gardening
just this minute, I dare say. You show me where your garden is, and
I'll pop the bits of stuff in for you. And I'll hang about, if I
may make so free, to see the Doctor as he comes out and hear what he
says. You cheer up, Missie. I lay a pound he ain't hurt, not to
But he was. The Doctor came and looked at the foot and bandaged it
beautifully, and said that Peter must not put it to the ground for
at least a week.
"He won't be lame, or have to wear crutches or a lump on his foot,
will he?" whispered Bobbie, breathlessly, at the door.
"My aunt! No!" said Dr. Forrest; "he'll be as nimble as ever on his
pins in a fortnight. Don't you worry, little Mother Goose."
It was when Mother had gone to the gate with the Doctor to take his
last instructions and Phyllis was filling the kettle for tea, that
Peter and Bobbie found themselves alone.
"He says you won't be lame or anything," said Bobbie.
"Oh, course I shan't, silly," said Peter, very much relieved all the
"Oh, Peter, I AM so sorry," said Bobbie, after a pause.
"That's all right," said Peter, gruffly.
"It was ALL my fault," said Bobbie.
"Rot," said Peter.
"If we hadn't quarrelled, it wouldn't have happened. I knew it was
wrong to quarrel. I wanted to say so, but somehow I couldn't."
"Don't drivel," said Peter. "I shouldn't have stopped if you HAD
said it. Not likely. And besides, us rowing hadn't anything to do
with it. I might have caught my foot in the hoe, or taken off my
fingers in the chaff-cutting machine or blown my nose off with
fireworks. It would have been hurt just the same whether we'd been
rowing or not."
"But I knew it was wrong to quarrel," said Bobbie, in tears, "and
now you're hurt and--"
"Now look here," said Peter, firmly, "you just dry up. If you're
not careful, you'll turn into a beastly little Sunday-school prig,
so I tell you."
"I don't mean to be a prig. But it's so hard not to be when you're
really trying to be good."
(The Gentle Reader may perhaps have suffered from this difficulty.)
"Not it," said Peter; "it's a jolly good thing it wasn't you was
hurt. I'm glad it was ME. There! If it had been you, you'd have
been lying on the sofa looking like a suffering angel and being the
light of the anxious household and all that. And I couldn't have
"No, I shouldn't," said Bobbie.
"Yes, you would," said Peter.
"I tell you I shouldn't."
"I tell you you would."
"Oh, children," said Mother's voice at the door. "Quarrelling
"We aren't quarrelling--not really," said Peter. "I wish you
wouldn't think it's rows every time we don't agree!" When Mother
had gone out again, Bobbie broke out:--
"Peter, I AM sorry you're hurt. But you ARE a beast to say I'm a
"Well," said Peter unexpectedly, "perhaps I am. You did say I
wasn't a coward, even when you were in such a wax. The only thing
is--don't you be a prig, that's all. You keep your eyes open and if
you feel priggishness coming on just stop in time. See?"
"Yes," said Bobbie, "I see."
"Then let's call it Pax," said Peter, magnanimously: "bury the
hatchet in the fathoms of the past. Shake hands on it. I say,
Bobbie, old chap, I am tired."
He was tired for many days after that, and the settle seemed hard
and uncomfortable in spite of all the pillows and bolsters and soft
folded rugs. It was terrible not to be able to go out. They moved
the settle to the window, and from there Peter could see the smoke
of the trains winding along the valley. But he could not see the
At first Bobbie found it quite hard to be as nice to him as she
wanted to be, for fear he should think her priggish. But that soon
wore off, and both she and Phyllis were, as he observed, jolly good
sorts. Mother sat with him when his sisters were out. And the
words, "he's not a coward," made Peter determined not to make any
fuss about the pain in his foot, though it was rather bad,
especially at night.
Praise helps people very much, sometimes.
There were visitors, too. Mrs. Perks came up to ask how he was, and
so did the Station Master, and several of the village people. But
the time went slowly, slowly.
"I do wish there was something to read," said Peter. "I've read all
our books fifty times over."
"I'll go to the Doctor's," said Phyllis; "he's sure to have some."
"Only about how to be ill, and about people's nasty insides, I
expect," said Peter.
"Perks has a whole heap of Magazines that came out of trains when
people are tired of them," said Bobbie. "I'll run down and ask
So the girls went their two ways.
Bobbie found Perks busy cleaning lamps.
"And how's the young gent?" said he.
"Better, thanks," said Bobbie, "but he's most frightfully bored. I
came to ask if you'd got any Magazines you could lend him."
"There, now," said Perks, regretfully, rubbing his ear with a black
and oily lump of cotton waste, "why didn't I think of that, now? I
was trying to think of something as 'ud amuse him only this morning,
and I couldn't think of anything better than a guinea-pig. And a
young chap I know's going to fetch that over for him this tea-time."
"How lovely! A real live guinea! He will be pleased. But he'd
like the Magazines as well."
"That's just it," said Perks. "I've just sent the pick of 'em to
Snigson's boy--him what's just getting over the pewmonia. But I've
lots of illustrated papers left."
He turned to the pile of papers in the corner and took up a heap six
"There!" he said. "I'll just slip a bit of string and a bit of
paper round 'em."
He pulled an old newspaper from the pile and spread it on the table,
and made a neat parcel of it.
"There," said he, "there's lots of pictures, and if he likes to mess
'em about with his paint-box, or coloured chalks or what not, why,
let him. _I_ don't want 'em."
"You're a dear," said Bobbie, took the parcel, and started. The
papers were heavy, and when she had to wait at the level-crossing
while a train went by, she rested the parcel on the top of the gate.
And idly she looked at the printing on the paper that the parcel was
Suddenly she clutched the parcel tighter and bent her head over it.
It seemed like some horrible dream. She read on--the bottom of the
column was torn off--she could read no farther.
She never remembered how she got home. But she went on tiptoe to
her room and locked the door. Then she undid the parcel and read
that printed column again, sitting on the edge of her bed, her hands
and feet icy cold and her face burning. When she had read all there
was, she drew a long, uneven breath.
"So now I know," she said.
What she had read was headed, 'End of the Trial. Verdict.
The name of the man who had been tried was the name of her Father.
The verdict was 'Guilty.' And the sentence was 'Five years' Penal
"Oh, Daddy," she whispered, crushing the paper hard, "it's not true-
-I don't believe it. You never did it! Never, never, never!"
There was a hammering on the door.
"What is it?" said Bobbie.
"It's me," said the voice of Phyllis; "tea's ready, and a boy's
brought Peter a guinea-pig. Come along down."
And Bobbie had to.
Chapter XI. The hound in the red jersey.
Bobbie knew the secret now. A sheet of old newspaper wrapped round
a parcel--just a little chance like that--had given the secret to
her. And she had to go down to tea and pretend that there was
nothing the matter. The pretence was bravely made, but it wasn't
For when she came in, everyone looked up from tea and saw her pink-
lidded eyes and her pale face with red tear-blotches on it.
"My darling," cried Mother, jumping up from the tea-tray, "whatever
IS the matter?"
"My head aches, rather," said Bobbie. And indeed it did.
"Has anything gone wrong?" Mother asked.
"I'm all right, really," said Bobbie, and she telegraphed to her
Mother from her swollen eyes this brief, imploring message--"NOT
before the others!"
Tea was not a cheerful meal. Peter was so distressed by the obvious
fact that something horrid had happened to Bobbie that he limited
his speech to repeating, "More bread and butter, please," at
startlingly short intervals. Phyllis stroked her sister's hand
under the table to express sympathy, and knocked her cup over as she
did it. Fetching a cloth and wiping up the spilt milk helped Bobbie
a little. But she thought that tea would never end. Yet at last it
did end, as all things do at last, and when Mother took out the
tray, Bobbie followed her.
"She's gone to own up," said Phyllis to Peter; "I wonder what she's
"Broken something, I suppose," said Peter, "but she needn't be so
silly over it. Mother never rows for accidents. Listen! Yes,
they're going upstairs. She's taking Mother up to show her--the
water-jug with storks on it, I expect it is."
Bobbie, in the kitchen, had caught hold of Mother's hand as she set
down the tea-things.
"What is it?" Mother asked.
But Bobbie only said, "Come upstairs, come up where nobody can hear
When she had got Mother alone in her room she locked the door and
then stood quite still, and quite without words.
All through tea she had been thinking of what to say; she had
decided that "I know all," or "All is known to me," or "The terrible
secret is a secret no longer," would be the proper thing. But now
that she and her Mother and that awful sheet of newspaper were alone
in the room together, she found that she could say nothing.
Suddenly she went to Mother and put her arms round her and began to
cry again. And still she could find no words, only, "Oh, Mammy, oh,
Mammy, oh, Mammy," over and over again.
Mother held her very close and waited.
Suddenly Bobbie broke away from her and went to her bed. From under
her mattress she pulled out the paper she had hidden there, and held
it out, pointing to her Father's name with a finger that shook.
"Oh, Bobbie," Mother cried, when one little quick look had shown her
what it was, "you don't BELIEVE it? You don't believe Daddy did
"NO," Bobbie almost shouted. She had stopped crying.
"That's all right," said Mother. "It's not true. And they've shut
him up in prison, but he's done nothing wrong. He's good and noble
and honourable, and he belongs to us. We have to think of that, and
be proud of him, and wait."
Again Bobbie clung to her Mother, and again only one word came to
her, but now that word was "Daddy," and "Oh, Daddy, oh, Daddy, oh,
Daddy!" again and again.
"Why didn't you tell me, Mammy?" she asked presently.
"Are you going to tell the others?" Mother asked.
"Exactly," said Mother; "so you understand why I didn't tell you.
We two must help each other to be brave."
"Yes," said Bobbie; "Mother, will it make you more unhappy if you
tell me all about it? I want to understand."
So then, sitting cuddled up close to her Mother, Bobbie heard "all
about it." She heard how those men, who had asked to see Father on
that remembered last night when the Engine was being mended, had
come to arrest him, charging him with selling State secrets to the
Russians--with being, in fact, a spy and a traitor. She heard about
the trial, and about the evidence--letters, found in Father's desk
at the office, letters that convinced the jury that Father was
"Oh, how could they look at him and believe it!" cried Bobbie; "and
how could ANY one do such a thing!"
"SOMEONE did it," said Mother, "and all the evidence was against
Father. Those letters--"
"Yes. How did the letters get into his desk?"
"Someone put them there. And the person who put them there was the
person who was really guilty."
"HE must be feeling pretty awful all this time," said Bobbie,
"I don't believe he had any feelings," Mother said hotly; "he
couldn't have done a thing like that if he had."
"Perhaps he just shoved the letters into the desk to hide them when
he thought he was going to be found out. Why don't you tell the
lawyers, or someone, that it must have been that person? There
wasn't anyone that would have hurt Father on purpose, was there?"
"I don't know--I don't know. The man under him who got Daddy's
place when he--when the awful thing happened--he was always jealous
of your Father because Daddy was so clever and everyone thought such
a lot of him. And Daddy never quite trusted that man."
"Couldn't we explain all that to someone?"