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The Stokesley Secret by Charlotte M. Yonge

Part 3 out of 4

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"Master Hal!" exclaimed Purday, "don't throw them little apples

"They are red-hot shot, Purday!"

"I'll red-hot shot you if you break my cucumber frames, young
gentleman! Come, get out with you."

Probably anxiety made Purday cross as well as everyone else, or else
he distrusted Henry's discretion without Sam, for he hunted the
little boys away wherever they went. Now they would break the
cucumber frames; now they would meddle with the gooseberries, or
trample on the beds; and at last he only relented so far as to let
David stay with him on condition of being very good, and holding the
little cabbages as he planted them out.

"Master Davie was a solemn one," Purday said, and they were great
friends; but Hal and Johnnie were fairly turned out, as their idle
hands were continually finding fresh mischief to do in their
sauntering desultory mood.

"I think," said Hal, "since Purday is so savage, we'll go and look
out at the gate, and then we shall see if the telegraph comes."

Johnnie had no clear idea what a telegraph was, and was curious to
know how it would come, rather expecting it to be a man in a red coat
on horseback, blowing a horn--a sight that certainly was not to be
missed; so he willingly strolled down after Henry to the gate leading
to the lane.

"I can't see any way at all," said Henry, looking out into the lane.
"I shall get up, and so see over into the bend of the road;" and Hal
mounted to the topmost bar of the gate, and sat astride there, John
scrambling after him not quite so easily, his legs being less long,
and his dress less convenient. Both knew that their Papa strongly
objected to their climbing on this iron gate, the newest and
handsomest thing about the place; but thought Hal, "Of course no one
will care what I do when I am so anxious about poor Mamma!" and
thought Johnnie, "What Hal does, of course I may do!"

So there the two young gentlemen sat perched, each with one leg on
either side of the new iron gate. It was rather like sitting on the
edge of a knife; and John could scarcely reach his toes down to rest
them on the bar below, but he held on by the spikes, and it was so
new and glorious a position, that it made up for a good deal to be
five feet above the road; moreover, Hal said it was just like the
mast-head of a man-of-war--at LEAST, when the waves didn't dash right
overhead, like the picture of the Eddystone Lighthouse.

"Hollo! what, a couple of cherubs aloft!" cried a voice from the
road; and looking round, Henry beheld the two Grevilles.

"Yes," he answered; "it's very jolly up here."

"Eh! is it? Riding on a razor, to my mind. Come down, and have a
lark," said Osmond; while Martin, undoing the gate, proceeded to
swing it backwards and forwards, to John's extreme terror; but the
more he clung to the spikes, and cried for mercy, the quicker Martin
swung it, shouting with laughter at his fright. Henry meanwhile
scrambled and tumbled to the ground, and caught the gate and held it
fast, while he asked what his friends had been about. One held up a
scarlet flask of powder, the other a bag of shot.

"You haven't got a gun!"

"No, but we know where gardener keeps his; and the governor's out for
the day. Come along, Hal: you shall have your turn."

"I don't want to go far from home to-day."

"Oh, stuff! What was it Mamma heard, Osmond? That your mother was
ever so much better, wasn't it?"

"I thought it was worse," said Osmond.

"Well, never mind: your hanging about here won't do her any good, I

"No; but--"

"Oh, he'll catch it from the governess!--I say, how many seams shall
you have to sew to-day, Hal?"

"I don't sew seams: I do as I please."

"Ha! Is that them coming out of church!"

"Oh, it is! it is!" cried John from his elevation. "Oh, help me
down, Hal!"

But Henry did not want Miss Fosbrook to find him partaking in gate-
climbing; and either that desire, or the general terror a bad
conscience, made him and the Grevilles run helter-skelter the
opposite way, leaving poor little John stuck on the top of the gate,
quite giddy at the thought of coming down alone, and almost as much
afraid of being there caught by Miss Fosbrook coming home from

It was a false alarm after all, that the congregation were coming
out. John would have been glad if they had; for nothing could be
more miserable than sitting up there, his fingers tired of clutching
the spikes, his feet strained with reaching down to the bar, his legs
chilled with the wind, his head almost giddy when he thought of
climbing down. He would have cried, could he have spared a hand to
rub his eyes with; he had a great mind to have roared for help,
especially when he heard feet upon the road; but these turned out to
belong to five little village boys, still smaller than himself, who,
when they saw the young gentleman on his perch, all stood still in a
row, with their mouths wide open, staring at him. Johnnie scorned to
let them think he was not riding there for his own pleasure; so he
tried to put a bold face of the matter, and look as much at ease and
indifferent as he could, under great bodily fear and discomfort, the
injury of his brother's desertion, the expectation of disgrace, and
the reflection that he was being disobedient to his parents in the
height of their trouble!

There is nothing in grief that of necessity makes children or grown
people good. Sometimes, especially when there is suspense, it fills
them with excitement, as well as putting them out of their usual
habits; and thus it often happens that there are tremendous
explosions of naughtiness just when some one is ill in a house, and
the children ought to be most good. But it is certain that unless
trouble be taken in the right way, it makes people worse instead of


Hal had got into a mood in which he was tired of fears and of waiting
for tidings, and was glad to shake off the thought, and be carried
along to something new, he and the Grevilles were rather fond of one
another's company, in an idle sort of way. They "put him up to
things," as he said; they made a variety; and he was always glad of
listeners to his wonderful stories, which rather diverted the other
boys, who, though they sometimes made game of them, were much less
apt to pick them to pieces than was Sam.

Poor Captain Merrifield! what had not befallen him, according to his
son? He had been stuck on to a rock of loadstone; he had been bitten
by mosquitos as big as jackdaws--at least as jack-snipes; he had sat
down to rest on the trunk of a fallen tree, and it whisked him over
on his face, and turned out to he a rattle-snake--at least, a boa-
constrictor! Nay, Henry discoursed on the ponies he had himself
tamed, the rabbits he had shot, the trees he had climbed, the nests
he had found, the rats he had killed, in terms he durst not use when
his brother was by; or if he did, and Sam brought him to book, he
always said "it was all fun." It often seemed as if he did not
himself know whether he meant to be believed or otherwise; and as to
his intentions for his sailor life, they were, as has been already
seen, of the most splendid character! Sometimes he shot the French
admiral dead from the mast-head; sometimes he sailed into Plymouth
with the whole enemy's fleet behind him; sometimes he, the youngest
midshipman, rescued the whole crew in a wreck where all the other
officers were drowned; sometimes he shot a shark through the head,
just as it was about to make a meal of Prince Alfred!

He certainly was thus an entertaining companion to those who did not
pay heed to truth, and liked to hear or laugh at great swelling
words; and the Grevilles, on their idle day, were glad to have him
with them, and were rather curious to prove how much fact there was
in his boast of being a most admirable shot.

Meddling with guns was absolutely forbidden to all the three, except
by special permission and with an elder looking on; but the Grevilles
were not in the habit of obeying, except when they were forced to do
so; and Henry, having once begun to think no one would heed his
present doings, was ready to go on rather than be accused of minding
his governess.

So the gardener's gun was taken from the hiding-place, whither it had
been conveyed from the tool-house; and the three boys ran off
together, their first object being to get out of the Greville
grounds, where they could be met by any of the men. They got quite
out into the fields, before they ventured to stop that Osmond might
load the gun. Each was to take a shot in turn; Osmond tried first,
at a poor innocent young thrush, newly come out for his earliest
flight. Happily he missed it; Martin claimed the next, and for want
of anything better to shoot, took aim at the scare-crow in the middle
of Farmer Grice's beans. He was sure that he had hit it, and showed
triumphantly the great holes in its hat; but the other boys were
strongly persuaded that they had been there before.

"Well, come away," said Osmond; "this is a great deal too near old
Grice's farm-yard. If we go popping about here, we shall have him
out upon us, for an old tiger as he is!"

"Come along, then," said Martin.

But Hal had just got the gun, and saw something so black and shiny
through the hedge, that he was persuaded that a flock of rooks were
feeding in the next field, and he fired!

Such a cackling and screeching as arose! and with it one dying
gobble, and a very loud "Hollo! you rascal!"

"My eyes! you've been and gone and done it!" cried Osmond.

"Cut! cut!" screamed Martin; and Hal, not exactly knowing what he had
done, but sure that it was something dreadful, and hearing voices in
pursuit, threw down the gun, and took to his heels; but the others
had the start of him, and were over the gap long before he could get
to it. And even as he did reach it, a hand was on his throat, almost
choking him, and a tremendous voice cried, "You young poacher, you
sha'n't get off that way! I'll have you up to the Bench, that I
will, for shooting the poor old turkey-cock before my very eyes."

"Oh! don't, don't! I didn't mean it," cried Hal, turning in the
terrible grip; "I thought it was only a rook!"

"A rook, I dare say! And what business had you to think, coming
trespassing here on my ground, and breaking the hedges! I'd have you
up for that, if for nothing else, you young vagabond!"

"Oh, don't, don't! I'm Henry Merrifield!"

"I don't care if you're Henry Merry Andrew!" said Farmer Grice, who
was a surly man, and had a grudge of long standing against the
Captain, for withstanding him at the Board of Guardians. "I'll have
the law out of you, whoever you are."

"But--but--Mamma is so very ill!" cried Hal, bursting into tears.

"The more shame for you to be rampaging about the country this
fashion," said the farmer, giving him a shake that seemed to make all
his bones rattle in his skin. "Serve you right if I flogged you
within an inch of your life."

"Oh, please don't--I mean please do--anything but have me up to the
magistrates! I'll never do it again, never!" sobbed Henry in his

Mr. Grice had some pity, and also knew that his wife and all the
neighbours would be shocked at his prosecuting so young a boy, whose
parents were in such distress. So he said, "There, then, I'll
overlook it this time, sir, so as I have the value of the bird."

"And what is the value--" asked Henry, trembling.

"Value! Why, the breed came from Norfolk; he was three years old;
and my missus set great store on him, he was as good as a house-dog,
to keep idle children out of the yard; and it was quite a picture to
see him posturing about, and setting up his tail! Value! not less
than five-and-twenty shillings, sir."

"But I have not five-and-twenty shillings. I can't get them," said
Hal, falling back into misery.

"You should have thought of that before you shot poor old Tom
Turkey!" quoth Farmer Grice.

"But what in the world shall I ever do?" said Henry.

"That's for you to settle, sir," said the farmer, taking up the
unlucky gun. "I shall take this, and keep it out of further harm."

"Oh pray, pray!" cried Henry. "It is not my gun; it is Mr.
Greville's; please let me have it!"

"What! was it those young dogs, the Master Grevilles, that were with
you!" growled Mr. Grice. "If I'd known that, I'd not have let you
off so easy. Those boys are the plague of the place; I wish it had
been one of them as I'd caught, I'd have had some satisfaction out of

Henry entreated again for the gun, explaining that they had not leave
to take it; but the farmer was unrelenting. He might go to them, he
said, to make up the price of the poor turkey-cock; how they could
have got the gun was no affair of his; have it they should not, till
the money was brought to him; and if it did not come before night, he
should carry the gun up to the Park, and complain to Mr. Greville.

With this answer the unhappy Hal was released, and ran after his
friends to tell them of the terms. He found them sitting on a low
wall, just within their own grounds, waiting to hear what had become
of him. When he had told his story, they both set upon him for
betraying them, and declared that they should send him to Coventry
ever after, and never do anything with him again; but as it was plain
that the gun must be redeemed, if they wished to avoid severe
punishment, there was a consultation. Nobody had much money; but
Osmond consolingly suspected that the farmer would take less; five-
and-twenty shillings was an exorbitant price to set on a turkey-
cock's head, and perhaps half would content him.

The half, however, seemed as impossible as the whole. Osmond had
three shillings, Martin two, Hal fourpence! What was to be done?
And the boys declared that if it should come to their father's
knowledge, Hal, who had given up their names, should certainly not be
shielded by them. In fact, he, who had done the deed, was the only
one who ought to pay.

The sound of the servants' dinner-bell at the Park broke up the
consultation; the boys must not be missed at luncheon; and they
therefore separated, agreeing to meet at that same place at four
o'clock, to hear the result of Hal's negotiation with the farmer; for
neither of the Grevilles would hear of helping him to face the enemy.

Poor Hal plodded home disconsolately. Once he thought of telling
Sam, and asking his help; but Sam would be so much shocked at such a
scrape at such a time, as possibly to lick him for it before helping
him. Indeed Hal did not see much chance of Sam being able to do
anything for them; and he had too often boasted over his elder
brother to like to abase himself by such a confession--when, too, it
would almost be owning how much better it would have been to have
followed Sam's advice and have gone safely to church.

Could he borrow of any one? Had he nothing of his own to sell or
exchange? Ah! if it had not been for that stupid hoard of little
David's, he might have had even so much! By-the-bye, some of that
collection was his own. He might quite lawfully take that back
again. How much could it be? How much did he put in last week? the
week before? Oh, never mind; some of it was his at all events; there
was no harm in taking that. Most likely he should be able to restore
it four-fold when Colonel Carey made his present; or, if not, nobody
knew exactly what was in Toby Fillpot; and after all very likely they
would forget all about it; people could not think about pigs when
Mamma was ill; or, maybe, he should go to join his ship, and hear no
more of it. So he came home, and crossed the paddock just as the
dinner-bell was ringing, opening the hall-door as the children were
running across it to the dining-room.

Miss Fosbrook, who was walking behind them, turned as he came in.

"Henry," she said, "I have sent Johnnie to dine in the nursery, for
his disobedience in climbing the gate. I certainly shall not give
you a less punishment. You must have led him into it; and how could
you be so cruel as to leave the poor little fellow alone in such a
dangerous place?"

"Stupid little coward! it was not a bit of danger!" said Hal.

"So young a child--" began Miss Fosbrook.

"Oh, that's all your London notions," said Hal. "Why, I climbed up
our gate at Stonehouse, which was twice as high, when I wasn't near
as old as that!"

"I am not going to argue with you, Henry; but after such an act of
disobedience, I cannot allow you to sit down to dinner with us. Go
up to the school-room, and Mary shall bring you your dinner."

"I'm sure I don't want to dine with a lot of babies and governesses!"
exclaimed Henry, and bounced up-stairs, leaving Miss Fosbrook quite
confounded at such an outbreak of naughtiness.

She intended, as soon as dinner should be over, to go up to him, and
try to lead him to be sorry for his conduct, and to think what a
wretched moment this was for such audacity; and then she feared that
she ought to punish him farther, by keeping him in all the afternoon.
He was so soft and easily impressed, that she almost trusted to make
him feel that it would be right that he should suffer for his

When she went up-stairs, almost as soon as grace had been said, he
was gone. Nobody could find him, and calling produced no answer.
She became quite distressed and anxious, but could not go far from
the house herself, nor send Sam, in case the message should arrive.

"Oh," said Sam, "no doubt he's after something with the Grevilles,
and was afraid you would stop him in."

She tried to believe this, but still felt far from satisfied all the
afternoon, and was glad to see the boy come back in time for tea.

He said he had been with the Grevilles; he did not see why anybody
need ask him questions; he should do what he pleased without being
called to account. Nobody told him not to run away after dinner; he
was not going to stay to be ordered about for nothing.

This was so bad a temper, that Christabel could not bear to try to
touch him with the thought of his sick mother. She knew that
softening must come in time, and believed the best thing to do at the
moment would be to put a stop to his disrespectful speeches to her,
and his cross ones to his brothers and sisters, by sending him to bed
as soon as tea was over, as the completion of his punishment. He did
not struggle, for she had taught him to mind her; but he went up-
stairs with a gloomy brow, and angry murmurs that it was very hard to
be put under a stupid woman, who knew nothing about anything, and was
always cross.


Saturday's post brought a letter, and a comfortable one. All
Thursday Mrs. Merrifield had been in so doubtful a state, that her
husband could not bear to write, lest he should fill the children
with false hopes, or alarm them still more; but she had had a good
night, was stronger on Friday, and when the post went out, the
doctors had just ventured to say they believed she would recover
favourably. The letter was finished off in a great hurry; but
Captain Merrifield did not forget to thank his little Susan warmly
for her poor scrambling letter, and say he knew all she meant by it,
bidding her give Miss Fosbrook his hearty thanks for forwarding it,
and for telling him the children were all behaving well, and feeling
properly. His love to them all; they must try to deserve the great
mercy that had been granted to them.

To the children, this was almost as good as saying that their mother
was well again; but there was too much awe about them for their joy
to show itself noisily. Susan ran away to her own room, and Bessie
followed her; and Sam said no word, only Miss Fosbrook remarked that
he did not eat two mouthfuls of breakfast. She would not take any
notice; she knew his heart was full; and when she looked round on
that little flock, and thought of the grievous sorrow scarcely yet
averted from them, she could hardly keep the tears from blinding her.
They were all somewhat still and grave, and it was too happy a
morning to be broken into by the reproofs that Henry deserved, even
more richly than Christabel knew. She had almost forgotten his bad
behaviour; and when she remembered something of it, she could not but
hope that silence, on such a day as this, might bring it home to him
more than rebuke. Yet when breakfast was ever, he was among the
loudest of those who, shaking off the strange, awed gravity of deep
gladness, went rushing together into the garden, feeling that they
might give way to their spirits again.

Sam shouted and whooped as if he were casting off a burthen, and
picking little George up in his arms, tossed him and swung him round
in the air in an ecstasy; while John and Annie and David went down on
the grass together, and tumbled and rolled one over the other like
three kittens, their legs and arms kicking about, so that it was hard
to tell whose property were the black shoes that came wriggling into

Susan was quieter. She told Nurse the good news, and then laid hold
upon Baby, and carried her off into the passage to hug all to
herself. She could tell no one but Baby how very happy she was, and
how her heart had trembled at her mother's suffering, her father's
grief, and at the desolateness that had so nearly come on them. Oh,
she was very happy, very thankful; but she could not scream it out
like the others, Baby must have it all in kisses.

"Christabel," said a little voice, when all the others were gone, "I
shall never be pipy again."

"You must try to fight against it, my dear."

"Because," said Elizabeth, coming close up to her, "when dear Mamma
was so ill, it did seem so silly to mind about not having pretty
things like Ida, and the boys plaguing, and so on."

"Yes, my dear; a real trouble makes us ashamed of our little

"I said so many times yesterday, and the day before, that I would
never mind things again, if only Mamma would get well and come home,"
said the little girl; "and I never shall."

"You will not always find it easy not to mind," said Christabel; "but
if you try hard, you will learn how to keep from showing that you

"Oh!" said Elizabeth, (and a great mouthful of an oh! it was,) "those
things are grown so silly and little now."

"You have seen them in their true light for once, my dear. And now
that you have so great cause of thankfulness to God, you feel that
your foolish frets and discontents were unthankful."

"Yes," said Bessie, her eyes cast down, as they always were when
anything of this kind was said to her, as if she did not like to meet
the look fixed on her.

"Well then, Bessie, try to make the giving up of these murmurs your
thank-offering to God. Suppose every day when you say your prayers,
you were to add something like this--" and she wrote down on a little
bit of paper, "O Thou, who hast raised up my mother from her
sickness, teach me to be a thankful and contented child, and to guard
my words and thoughts from peevishness."

"Isn't it too small to pray about?" said Elizabeth.

"Nothing is too small to pray about, my dear. Do you think this
little midge is too small for God to have made it, and given it life,
and spread that mother-of-pearl light on its wings? Do you think
yourself too small to pray? or your fault too small to pray about?"

Elizabeth cast down her eyes. She did not quite think it was a
fault, but she did not say so.

"Bessie, what was the great sin of the Israelites in the wilderness?"

The colour on her cheek showed that she knew.

"They tempted God by murmurs," said Christabel. "They tried His
patience by grumbling, when His care and blessings were all round
them, and by crying out because all was not just as they liked. Now,
dear Bessie, God has shown you what a real sorrow might be; will it
not be tempting Him to go back to complaints over what He has
ordained for you?"

"I shall net complain now; I shall not care," said Elizabeth. But
she took the little bit of paper, and Christabel trusted that she
would make use of it, knowing that in this lay her hope of cure; for
whatever she might think in this first joy of relief, her little
troubles were sure to seem quite as unbearable while they were upon
her as if she had never feared a great one.

However, nothing remarkable happened; everyone was bright and happy;
but still the influence of their past alarm subdued them enough to
make them quiet and well-behaved, both on Saturday and Sunday; and
Miss Fosbrook had never had so little trouble with them.

In consideration of this, and of the agitation and unsettled state
that had put the last week out of all common rules, she announced on
Monday morning that she would excuse all the fines, and that all the
children should have their allowance unbroken. Maybe she was moved
to this by the suspicion that these four sixpences and three
threepennies would make up the fund to the price of a "reasonable
pig;" and she thought it time that David's perseverance should be
rewarded, and room made in his mind for something beyond swine and

Her announcement was greeted by the girls with eager thanks, by the
boys with a tremendous "Three times three for Miss Fosbrook!" and
Bessie was so joyous, that instead of crying out against the noise,
she joined in with Susan and Annie; but they made such a ridiculous
little squeaking, that Sam laughed at them, and took to mocking their
queer thin hurrahs. Yet even this Elizabeth could bear!

David was meanwhile standing by the locker, his fingers at work as if
he were playing a tune, his lips counting away, "Ninety-two, ninety-
three, ninety-four--that's me; ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven-
-that's Jack," and so on; till having plodded up diligently, he
turned round with a little scream, "One hundred and twenty! That's
the pig!"

"What?" cried Annie.

"One hundred and twenty pence. Sukey said one hundred and twenty
pence were ten shillings. That will do it! That's the pig! Oh,
we've done it! May I take it to Purday?"

"It was to be let alone till fair-day, you little bother!" said Hal.

"No, no, no," cried many voices; "only till we had enough."

"And I am sure nobody knows if we have," added Hal hotly. "A lot of
halfpence, indeed!"

"But I know, Hal," insisted David. "There are eighty-nine pence and
one farthing in Toby Fillpot, and this makes one hundred and twenty-
two pence and one farthing."

"You'd no business to peep," said Sam.

"I didn't peep," said David indignantly. "There were forty-eight
pence at first, and then Susie had three, that was fifty-one--" And
he would have gone on like a little calculating machine, with the
entire reckoning in his head, if the others had had patience to hear;
but Annie and Johnnie were urgent to have the sum counted out before
their eyes. Hal roughly declared it was against the rules, and
little inquisitives must not have their way. But others were also
inquisitive; and Sam said it would be best to know how much they had,
that Purday might be told to look out for a pig at the price;
besides, he wanted to have it over; it was such a bore not to have
any money.

"It's not fair!" cried Henry passionately. "You don't keep the
rules! You sha'n't have my sixpence, I can tell you; and I won't--I
won't stay and see it."

"Nobody wants you," said Sam.

"I didn't know there were any rules," said the girls; but Hal was
already off.

"Hal has only put in fivepence-halfpenny," said David, "so no wonder
he is ashamed. Such a big boy, with sixpence a week! But if he
won't let us have his sixpence now--"

"Never mind, we will make it up next week," said Susan.

"Now, then, who will take Toby down?" said Miss Fosbrook, unbuttoning
one glass door, and undoing the two bolts of the second, behind which
the cup of money stood.

"Susie ought, because she is the eldest."

"Davie ought, because he is the youngest."

David stood on a chair to take Toby off his shelf. Solemn was the
face with which the little boy lifted the mug by the handle, putting
his other hand to steady the expected weight of coppers; but there
was at once a frown, a little cry of horror. Toby came up so light
in his hand, that all his great effort was thrown away, and only made
him stagger back in dismay, falling backward from the chair, and poor
Toby crashing to pieces on the floor as he fell, while out rolled--
one solitary farthing

Nobody spoke for some moments; but all stood perfectly still, staring
as hard as if they hoped the pence would be brought out by force of
looking for them.

Then David's knuckles went up into his eyes, and he burst forth in a
loud bellow. It was the first time Miss Fosbrook had heard him cry,
and she feared that he had been hurt by the fall, or cut by the
broken crockery; but he struck out with foot and fist, as if his
tears were as much anger as grief, and roared out, "I want the
halfpence for my pig."

"Sam, Sam," cried Susan, "if you have hid them for a trick, let him
have them."

"I--I play tricks NOW?" exclaimed Sam in indignation. "No, indeed!"

"Then perhaps Hal has," said Elizabeth.

"For shame, Bessie!" cried Sam.

"I only know," said Elizabeth, half in self-defence, half in fright,
"that one of you must have been at the baby-house, for I found the
doors open, and shut them up."

"And why should it be one of us?" demanded Sam; while David stopped
crying, and listened.

"Because none of the younger ones can reach to undo the doors," said
Elizabeth. "It was as much as I could do to reach the upper bolt,
though I stood upon a chair."

This was evident; for the baby-house was really an old-fashioned
bureau, and below the glass doors there was a projecting slope of
polished walnut, upon which only a fly could stand, and which was
always locked. No one whose years were less than half a score was
tall enough to get a good hold of the button, even from the highest
chair, far less to jerk down the rather stiff upper bolt.

"It cannot have been a little one, certainly," said Miss Fosbrook;
"but you should not be so ready to accuse your brothers, Bessie."

David, however, had laid hold of a hope, and getting up from the
floor, hastened out of the room, followed by John; and they were
presently heard shouting "Hal!" all over the house.

"What day was it that you found the door open, Bessie?" asked Miss

"It was just after dinner," said Elizabeth, recollecting herself.

"It was on Friday. Yes, I remember it was Friday, because I went
into the school-room to get my pencil, and I was afraid Hal would
jump out upon me, and looked in first to see whether he was going to
be tiresome; but he was gone."

"Yes," said Susan; "it was the day we found poor Jack stuck up on the
gate, when he and Hal were in disgrace. Oh, he never would have
played tricks then."

"Did you go up before me, Bessie?" asked Miss Fosbrook; "for I went
up directly after dinner to speak to Henry."

"Yes, I did," said she. "I thought if you got in first, you would be
scolding him ever so long, and would let nobody in, so I would get my
pencil first; and I slipped up before you had left the table."

Just then the two boys were heard stumping up the stairs, and ran in,
panting with haste and excitement, David with a fiery red ear.

"No, no; Hal didn't hide it!"

"But he boxed Davie's ear for thinking he did," added John; "and said
he'd do the same for spiteful Bet!"

"Then he never played tricks," said Susan.

"I told you not," said Sam.

"No," reiterated David; "and he said I'd no business to ask; and if
Bet went prying about everywhere, I'd better ask her. Have you got
it, Betty?"

"I!" cried Elizabeth. "How can you, Davie?"

"You have got a secret," exclaimed David; "and you always were cross
about Hannah Higgins's pig. You have got it to tease me! Miss
Fosbrook, make her give it back."

"Nonsense, David," said Miss Fosbrook; "Bessie is quite to be
trusted; and it is wrong to make unfounded accusations."

"Never mind, Betty," added Sam kindly; "if Davie wasn't a little
donkey, he wouldn't say such things."

"Where is Henry?" asked the governess. "Why did he not come himself?
Call him; I want to know if he observed this door being open."

"He is gone down to Mr. Carey's," said John.

"And it is high time you were there too, Sam," said Miss Fosbrook,
starting. "If you are late, beg Mr. Carey's pardon from me, and tell
him that I kept you."

Sam was obliged to run off at full speed; and the other children
stood about, still aghast and excited. Miss Fosbrook, however, told
them to take out their books. She would not do anything more till
she had had time to think, and had composed their minds and her own;
for she was exceedingly shocked, and felt herself partly in fault,
for having left the hoard in an unlocked cupboard. She feared to do
anything hastily, lest she should bring suspicion on the innocent;
and she thought all would do better if time were given for settling
down. All were disappointed at thus losing the excitement, fancying
perhaps that instant search and inquiry would hunt up the money; and
David put himself quite into a sullen fit. No, he would not turn
round, nor read, nor do anything, unless Miss Fosbrook would make
stingy Bet give up the pence.

Miss Fosbrook and Susan both tried to argue with him; but he had set
his mind upon one point so vehemently, that it was making him
absolutely stupid to everything else; and he was such a little boy
(only five years old), that his mind could hardly grasp the exceeding
unlikelihood of a girl like Elizabeth committing such a theft, either
in sport or earnest, nor understand the injury of such a suspicion.
He only knew that she had a secret--a counter secret to his pig; and
when she hotly assured him that she had never touched the money, and
Susan backed her up with, "There, she says she did not," he answered,
"She once told a story."

Elizabeth coloured deep red, and Susan cried out loudly that it was a
shame in David; then explained that it was a long long time ago, that
Hal and Bessie broke the drawing-room window by playing at ball with
little hard apples, and had not 'told, but when questioned had said,
"No;" but indeed they had been so sorry then that she knew they would
never do so again.

Again David showed that he could not enter into this, and sulkily
repeated, "She told a story."

"I will have no more of this," said Christabel resolutely. "You are
all working yourselves up into a bad spirit: and not another word
will I hear on this matter till lessons are over."

That tone was always obeyed; but lessons did not prosper; the
children were all restless and unsettled; and David, hitherto for his
age her best scholar, took no pains, and seemed absolutely stupefied.
What did he care for fines, if the chance of the pig was gone? And
he was sullenly angry with Miss Fosbrook for using no measures to
recover the money, fancied she did not care, and remembered the
foolish nursery talk about her favouring Bessie.

Once Miss Fosbrook heard a little gasping from the corner, and
looking round, saw poor Bessie crying quietly over her slate, and
trying hard to check herself. She would not have noticed her, though
longing to comfort her, if David had not cried out, "Bet is crying!
A fine!"

"No," said Miss Fosbrook; "but a fine for an ill-natured speech that
has made her cry."

"She has got the pig's money," muttered David.

"Say that again, and I shall punish you, David."

He looked her full in the face, and said it again.

She was thoroughly roused to anger, and kept her word by opening the
door of a small dark closet, and putting David in till dinner-time.

Then she and Susan both tried to soothe Bessie, by reminding her how
childish David was, how he had caught up some word that probably Hal
had flung out without meaning it, and how no one of any sense
suspected her for a moment.

"It is so ill-natured and hard," sobbed Bessie. "To think I could
steal! I think they hate me."

"Ah," said Susan, "if you only would never be cross to the boys,
Bessie, and not keep out of what they care for, they would never
think it."

"Yes, Susie is right there," said Christabel. "If you try to be one
with the others, and make common cause with them, giving up and
forbearing, they never will take such things into their heads."

"And WE don't now," said Susan cheerily. "Didn't you hear Sam say
nobody but a donkey could think it?"

"But Bessie has a secret!" said Annie.

Again stout Susan said, "For shame!"

"I'll tell you what my secret is," began Bessie.

"No," said Susan, "don't tell it, dear! We'll trust you without; and
Sam will say the same."

Bessie flung her arms round Susan's neck, as if she only now knew the
comfort of her dear good sister.

Lessons were resumed; and as soon as these were done, Miss Fosbrook
resolved on a thorough search. Some strange fit of mischief or
curiosity might have actuated some one, and the money be hidden away;
so she brought David out of his cupboard, and with Susan's help
turned out every drawer and locker in the school-room, forbidding the
others to touch or assist. They routed out queer nests of broken
curiosities, disturbed old dusty dens of rubbish, peeped behind every
row of books; but made no discovery worth mentioning, except the left
leg of Annie's last doll, the stuffing of Johnnie's ball, the tiger
out of George's Noah's ark, and the first sheet of Sam's Latin
Grammar, all stuffed together into a mouse-hole in the skirting.

At dinner Christabel forbade the subject to be mentioned, not only to
hinder quarrelsome speeches, but to prevent the loss being talked of
among the servants; since she feared that one of them must have
committed the theft, and though anxious not to put it into the
children's heads, suspected Rhoda, the little nursery-girl, who was
quite a child, and had not long been in the house.

Henry ate his dinner in haste, but could not get away till Miss
Fosbrook had called him away from the rest, and told him that if he
had been playing a trick on his little brother, it was time to put an
end to it, before any innocent person fell under suspicion.

"I--I've been playing no tricks--at least--"

"Without any AT LEAST, Henry, have you hidden the money?"


"You dined in the school-room on Friday. Were the baby-house doors
open then!"

"I--I'm sure I didn't notice."

"You didn't open them to take anything out?"

"What should I want with the things in the baby-house?"

"Did you, or did you not!"

"I--I didn't--at least--"

"In one word, did you open them? yes or no."


"What time did you go out after eating your dinner?"

"Bother! how is one to remember! It's all nonsense making such a
fuss. The children fancied they put in ever so much more than they
did, and very likely took out some."

"No; David's reckoning was accurate. I wrote down all I knew of; and
I am sure none was taken out, for early that very morning I had put
in a sixpence myself, and the cup was then full of coppers, with that
little silver threepenny of David's with the edge turned up upon the

"Then you must have left the door undone!" said Henry delighted.

"I dare not be positive," said Christabel; "but I believe I remember
bolting it; and if I had not done so, it would have flown open

"Oh, but the wind, you know."

"If the doors did open, it would not account for the loss of the

"Well, I can't help it," said Henry ungraciously, trying to move off:
but she first required him to tell her what he had said to the
younger boys to make them suspect Elizabeth.

"Did I?" said Henry, "I am sure I didn't; at least, if I did, I only
said Bess peeped everywhere, and was very close. I didn't suspect
her, you know."

"I should think not!" said Miss Fosbrook indignantly. "Now please to
come up with me."

"I want to go out," said Henry.

No, she would not let him go. She thought Elizabeth ought to clear
herself, so far as it could be done, by making her secret known,
since that had drawn suspicion on her; and when all the children were
together, she called the little girl and told her so.

"It is very unkind of them," said Bessie, with trembling lip; "but
they shall see, if they want THAT to show I am not a thief!"

"I said I wouldn't see," said Susan. "You knows Bessie, I trust

"And I," said Sam; "I don't care for people's secrets. I don't want
to pry into Bessie's."

No one followed their example; all either really suspected, or else
were full of curiosity, and delighted to gratify it.

Half a dozen slips of card, with poor little coloured drawings on
them, and as many lengths of penny ribbon!

"Is that all?" said Annie, much disappointed.

"So that's what Bet made such a fuss about," said John; and David's
face fell, as if he had really expected to see the lost pence.

The next thing, after the search had been made through all the
children's bed-rooms, was to go to the nursery: and thither Miss
Fosbrook allowed only Susan and Sam to follow her. Nurse Freeman was
very stiff and stately, but she had no objection to searching; and
the boy and girl began the hunt, while Miss Fosbrook meantime
cautiously asked whether Nurse were sure of Rhoda, and if she were

This made Mrs. Freeman very angry; and though her words were
respectful, she showed that she was much offended at the strange lady
presuming to suspect anyone, especially one under her charge.

Miss Fosbrook wanted to have asked Rhoda whether the doors were open
or shut when she carried Henry his dinner, but Nurse would not
consent to call her. "I understood the nursery and the girl were to
be my province," she said. "If Miss Merrifield heard her mamma say
otherwise, then it is a different thing."

Susan cowered into the dark cupboard. Nurse must be in a dreadful
way to call her Miss Merrifield, instead of Missy!

Nothing more could be done. The pence could not be found. Nurse
would not let Rhoda be examined; and all that could be found out from
the children had been already elicited.

Christabel could only beg that no more should be said, and, her head
aching with perplexity, hope that some light might yet be thrown on
the matter. There must be pain and grief whenever it should be
explained; but this would be far better, even for the offender, than
the present deception: and the whole family were in a state of
irritation and distrust, that hurt their tempers, and made her
bitterly reproach herself with not having prevented temptation by
putting the hoard under lock and key.

She ordered that no more should be said about it that evening, and
made herself obeyed; but play was dull, and everything went off
heavily. The next morning, Susan came back early from her
housekeeping business, with her honest face grave and unhappy, and
finding Miss Fosbrook alone, told her she had something REALLY to say
to her if she might; and this being granted began, with the bright
look of having found a capital notion: "I'll tell you what I wish
you would do."


"If you would call every one in all the house, and ask them on their
word and honour if they took the pence."

"My dear, I am not the head of the house, and I have no right to do
that; besides, I do not believe it would discover it."

"What! could a thief get in from out of doors!" said Susan looking at
the window.

"Hardly that, my dear; but I am afraid a person who could steal would
not scruple to tell a falsehood, and I do not wish to cause this
additional sin."

"It is very horrid; I can't bear it," said Susan, puckering up her
face for tears. "Do you know, Miss Fosbrook, the maids are all so
angry that you said anything about Rhoda?"

"You did not mention it, my dear?"

"Oh no; nor Sam. It was Nurse herself! But they all say that you
want to take away her character; and they won't have strangers put
over them."

"Pray, Susie; don't tell me this. It can do no good."

"Oh, but PLEASE!" cried Susan. "And then Mary--I can't think how she
could--but she said that poor dear Bessie was always sly, and that
she had been at the cupboard, and had got the pence; but she was your
favourite, and so you vindicated her. And Nurse began teasing her to
confess, and tell the truth, and told her she was a wicked child
because she would not; but it was all because we were put under
strangers! I'm sure they do set on Johnnie and Davie to be cross to

"When was this, my dear?"

"Last night, when we went to the nursery to be washed. It was our
night, you know. Oh! I wish Mamma was well!"

"Indeed I do my dear. And how did poor Bessie bear it!"

"She got quite white, and never said a word, even when they told her
she was sulky. But when we got into bed, and I kissed her and
cuddled her up, oh! she did cry so; I didn't know what to do. So, do
you know, I got my shawl on, and went and called Sam; and he was not
gone to sleep, and he came and sat by her, and told her that he
believed her, and knew she was as sound a heart of oak as any of us;
and we both petted her, and Sam was so nice and kind, till she went
to sleep. Then he went to the nursery, and told Nurse how horrid it
was in her; but Cook said it only made her worse, because she is
jealous of our taking part with you."

"My dear, I DO like to hear of your kindness to Bessie; but I wish
you would not mind what any of the maids say, nor talk to them about
it. It only distresses you for nothing."

"But I can't help it," said Susan.

"You could not help this attack in the nursery, but you need not talk
to Cook or Mary about it. It is of no use to vex ourselves with what
people say who don't know half a story."

"Can't you tell them not?" said simple Susan.

"No, I cannot interfere. They would only do it the more. We can
only keep Bessie as much out of the way of the maids as we can, and
show our confidence in her."

Certainly Elizabeth had been known to look infinitely more glum when
nothing was the matter than under all this vexation, even though the
servants were really very unkind to her; and her two little brothers
both behaved as ill as possible to her whenever they had the
opportunity--David really believing that she had made away with the
money, and ought to be tortured for it; and Johnnie taking it on his
word, and being one of those little boys who have a positive taste
for ill-nature, and think it fun. They pinched her, they bit her,
they rubbed out her sums, they shut up her lesson-books and lost her
place, they put bitten crusts into her plate, and did whatever they
knew she most disliked, whenever Miss Fosbrook or Sam was not in the
way; but she never told. She did not choose to be called a tell-
tale; and besides, they really did not succeed in making her life
miserable, so much was she pleased with the real kindness her trouble
had brought out from Susan and Sam. Susan could not prevent the
persecution of the two naughty little boys, but she defended her
sister to her utmost; and Sam cuffed them if they said a word or
lifted a finger against Bessie before him; and he gave her such
notice and kindness as she never had received from him before. One
afternoon, when he was going to walk to Bonchamp, he asked leave for
her to come with him, and would take nobody else; and hot day as it
was, Bessie had never had such a charming walk. She kept herself
from making one single fuss; and in return, he gathered wild
strawberries for her, showed her a kingfisher, and took her to look
in at a very grand aquarium in the fishing-tackle maker's window,
where she saw some gold-fish, and a most comical little newt. And
going home, they had a real good talk about their father's voyage,
and how they should get on without him; and Bessie found to her great
pleasure, that Sam hoped Miss Fosbrook would stay when Mamma Came

"For I do think she has put some sense into you, Bessie," said Sam.

She was so delighted, that instead of preparing to fret if Sam did
but hold up a finger at her, she looked up with a smile when he came
in her way, sure of protection, and expecting something pleasant, as
well as thinking it an honour to be asked to help him in anything.
The next day, when Mr. Carey had insisted on his verifying by the map
all the towns which he had been contented to say were in Asia Minor
(where every place in ancient history is always put if its
whereabouts be doubtful), she saved him so much time and trouble,
that he got out into the garden full half an hour earlier than he
would otherwise have done. Thereupon he told her she was a jolly
good fellow, and gave her such a thump on the back, as a few weeks
ago would have made her scream and whine; but this time she took it
as a new form of thanks, and felt highly honoured by being invited to
help him to fish for minnows, though it almost made her sick to stick
the raw meat upon his hooks.

The threatening of a true sorrow, the bearing a real trouble, and the
opening to her brother's kindness, had done far more to make her a
happy little girl than all Miss Fosbrook's attempts to satisfy her
cravings or please her tastes. These had indeed done her some good,
and taught her to find means of enjoyment for those likings that no
one else cared for; but it had been the SPIRIT of delight that had
been chiefly wanting; and when thankfulness and love were leading her
to that, it was much easier to see that the evening clouds or the
rising moon were lovely, than when she was looking out for affronts.

Nothing was said in public about the loss; and Christabel hoped that
the bad impression as to Elizabeth would wear out in the young minds
of the lesser children; but David's whole nature seemed to have been
disorganized by the disappointment. Instead of being a pattern child
for diligence and good behaviour, very fond of Miss Fosbrook, and not
only inoffensive, but often keeping John and Anne in order, he seemed
absolutely stupid and senseless at lessons, became stubborn at
reproof, seemed to take pleasure in running counter to his governess,
and rendered the other two, who, though his elders, were both of weak
natures compared with his own, more openly naughty than himself.
Sometimes it seemed to Christabel that the habit of spiting Bessie
was getting so confirmed, that it would last even when the cause was
forgotten; and yet the more she strove to put it down in sight, the
more it throve out of sight; and when she looked at David, and
thought how she had once admired him, she could not but remember the
text that says, "Thy goodness is as the morning cloud, and as the dew
shall it vanish away." She had thought it goodness based upon
religious feeling, as well as on natural gravity and orderliness; and
so perhaps it had once been, but the little fellow had fixed his
whole soul on one purpose, and though that was a good one, it had
grown into an idol, and swallowed up all his other motives, till of
late he had only been good for the sake of the pig, not because it
was right. Being disappointed of the pig, he had nothing to fall
back upon, but felt himself so ill-used, that it seemed to him that
it was no use to be good; and he revenged himself by naughtiness.

Such sturdy strong characters as little David's, when they are once
set on the right object, come to the very best kind of goodness; but
when they take a wrong turn, they are the very worst, both for
themselves and others.


The Monday after the loss of the pence was a pouring wet day. The
whole court was like a flood, and the drops went splashing up again
as if in play; Purday wore his master's old southwester coat, and
looked shiny all over; and when the maids had to cross the court,
they went click, click, in their pattens under their umbrellas.

But it was baking day, and Susan and Annie had been down to coax the
cook into making them a present of a handsome allowance of dough, and
Miss Fosbrook into letting them manipulate it in the school-room.
Probably this was the only way of preventing the dough from being
turned into bullets, and sent flying at each other's eyes, or
possibly plastered on somebody's nose, and the cook and kitchenmaid
from being nearly driven crazy.

The dough was justly divided, and an establishment set up in each
locker. Bessie declined altogether; Sam had lent her his beautiful
book of The British Songsters, and she was hard at work at the table
copying a tom-tit, since she no longer carried on the work in secret;
but at one locker were the other three elders, at the other the three
lesser ones, and little George in a corner by Susan, pegging away at
his own private lump, and constantly begging for more. Susan's
ambition was to make a set of real twists, just like Cook's; and she
pulled out and twisted and plaited, though often robbed of her dough
by the two boys, whose united efforts were endeavouring to produce a
likeness of Purday, with his hat on his head, plums for eyes, a pipe
in his mouth, and driving a cow; but unluckily his neck always got
pinched off, and his arms would not stay on! No matter; the more
moulding of that soft dough the better! Johnnie and Annie had a
whole party of white clammy serpents, always being set to bite one
another, and to melt into each other; and David was hard at work on a
brood of rabbits with currant eyes, and would let no one interfere
with him.

"Didn't I hear something!" asked Bessie, looking up.

"Oh, it's only the roller," said Sam; "Purday always rolls on a wet

Something, however, made the whole party of little bakers hold up
their heads to listen. There was a gleam on their faces, as a quick
alert step sounded on the stairs, and Bessie, the nearest to the
door, and not cramped like the rest, who were sitting on their heels,
sprang forward and opened it with a scream of joy.

There he was--the light, alert, weather-beaten man, with his loose
wavy hair, and bright sailor face! There was Papa! Oh, the hurly-
burly of children, tumbling up as well as they could on legs crooked
under them, and holding out great fans of floury doughy paws, all
coming to be hugged in his arms in turn, so that before he had come
to the end of the eight in presence, Bessie had had time to whisk off
to the nursery, snatch Baby up from before Nurse's astonished eyes,
rush down with her, and put her into his arms. Baby had forgotten
him, and was taken with such a fit of screaming shyness, that Susan
had to take her, and Annie to play bo-peep with her, before she would
let anyone's voice be heard.

"I've taken you by surprise, Miss Fosbrook," said the Captain,
shaking hands with her in the midst of the clatter.

"Oh, it is such a pleasure!" she began. "I hope you left Mrs.
Merrifield much better."

"Much better, much better, thank you. I hope to find her on the sofa
when I go back on Thursday. I could only run down for a few days,
just to settle things, and see the children, before I join the
Ramilies. Admiral Penrose very good-naturedly kept it open for me,
till we could tell how SHE was," said the Captain, with rather a
trembling voice.

"Then you are going! O Papa!" said Susan, looking up at him; "and
Baby will not know you till--"

"Hold your tongue, Miss Croaker," said the Captain, roughly but
kindly; and Miss Fosbrook could see that he was as much afraid of
crying himself as of letting Susan cry; "I've no time for that. I've
got a gentleman on business down stairs, and your Uncle John and I
must go down to them again. We sha'n't want dinner; only, Sue, tell
them to send in some eggs and bacon, or cold meat, or whatever there
may be, for tea; and get a room ready for your uncle."

He would have gone, but Susan called out, "O Papa, may we drink tea
with you, Georgy and all!"

"Yes, to be sure, if you won't make a bear-fight, any of you, for
your uncle."

"Mayn't I come down with you?" added Sam, looking at him as if he
wanted to make the most of every moment of that presence.

"Better not, my boy," said the Captain; "I've got law business to
settle, and we don't want you. Better stay and make yourselves
decent for tea-time. Mamma's love, and she hopes you'll not drive
Uncle John distracted." And he was gone.

"Bother Uncle John!" first muttered Sam (I am sorry to say).

"I can't think what he's come for," sighed Annie.

"To spoil our fun," suggested Johnnie disconsolately.

"To take Sam to school," added Hal, "while I go to sea."

"You don't know that you are going," said Elizabeth. "Papa said
nothing about it."

"Oh! but I know I shall. Admiral Penrose promised."

"You know a great many things that don't happen. You knew Colonel
Carey would give you two sovereigns."

Henry looked as if he could bite.

"Well, I shall finish Purday," said Sam, turning away with a sigh;
"and they shall have him for tea."

"Tea will be no fun!" repeated Annie. "Oh dear! what does Uncle John
come here for?"

"May not he come to be with his brother?" suggested Christabel.

"Oh! but they are grown up," said Annie.

"Can't he have him in London, without coming here to worry us in our
little time!" added Johnnie.

"Perhaps he will not worry you."

"Oh! but--" they all cried, and stopped short.

"He plagues about manners," said Annie.

"He wanted Susie and me to be sent to school!" said Bessie.

"He said it was like dining with young Hottentots."

"He told Papa it was disgraceful, when we had all been sliding on the
great pond in the village," added Annie.

"And he gave Sam a box on the ear, for only just taking a dear little
river cray-fish in his fishing-net to show Aunt Alice."

"The net was dripping wet," observed Bessie.

"Yes," said Anne; "but Aunt Alice is so finikin and fidgety; she
never wets her feet, and can't get over a stile, and is afraid of a
cow; and he wants us all to be like her."

"And he makes Papa and Mamma mind things that they don't mind by
nature," said Susan.

"Mamma always tells us to be good, and never play at hockey in the
house when he's there," said Anne.

"She has not told us so this time," said John triumphantly.

"No, but we must mind all the same," said Susan; and Sam silenced
some independent murmurs, about not minding Uncle John, by saying it
was minding Mamma.

Miss Fosbrook herself was a little alarmed, for she gathered that
Mamma was in some fear of this terrible uncle, that he had much
influence with his brother, and was rather a severe judge of the
young family. She sincerely hoped that he would not find things much
amiss, for the honest goodness of the two eldest had won so much
regard from her, that she could not bear them to be under any cloud;
and indeed she felt as if the whole flock were her own property, as
well as her charge, and that she, as well as they, were about to be
tried. She would have felt it all fair and just before their kindly
father, but it seemed hard that all should be brought before the
school-master uncle; and she was disposed to be tender for her
children, and exceedingly anxious as to the effect they might
produce. She was resolved that the Captain should hear of the affair
of the pence; but the presence of his brother would make the speaking
a much greater effort. Meantime, she saw that all the fingers were
clean, and all the hair brushed. She flattered herself that Susan's
yellow locks had learnt that it was the business of hair to keep
tidy, and had been much less unmanageable of late; but she had her
fears that they would ruffle up again when their owner, at the head
of a large detachment, rushed out to take the "fancy bread" out of
the oven, and she came half-way down stairs, in case it should be
necessary to capture them, and brush them over again.

While thus watching, the door of the dining-room (the only down
stairs room in order) opened suddenly, and the Captain came forth.
"Oh, Miss Fosbrook," he said, "please come in here: I was just
coming to look for you. My brother--Miss Fosbrook."

To her surprise, Miss Fosbrook received a very pleasant civil
greeting from a much younger man than she had expected to see,
looking perhaps more stern about the mouth and sharp about the eye
than his elder brother, and his clerical dress very precise; but
somehow he was so curiously like his niece, Elizabeth, that she
thought that his particularity might spring from the same love of

"All going on well?" asked the Captain.

"Fairly well," she answered. "Sam and Susan are most excellent
children. There is only one matter on which I should like to speak
to you, at some time when it might suit you."

"Is it about this?" he said, putting into her hand a sheet written in
huge round-hand in pencil, no words misspelt, but the breaks in them
at the end of the lines perfectly regardless of syllables:-

My dear Papa,

Please let me
have a poli
ceman. Bet h
as got at Toby
and stole our
pence which was
for a secret. Nu
rse says she is a
favourite and Miss
Fosbrook will not
find them.

Your affectionate son


"Oh! this was the letter David insisted on sealing before I put it
into mine!" exclaimed Miss Fosbrook, as soon as she had made out the
words. "We have been in great trouble at the loss; but we agreed not
to write to you, because you had so much on your mind."

"Is Bessie in fault?"

"No, no; none of us believe it; but I am very anxious that you should
make an investigation, for the maids suspect her, and have made the
younger children do so."

"And who is Toby?"

"Toby is only a jug--called Toby Fillpot, I believe--shaped like a

"I know!" put in Mr. John Merrifield, laughing. "Don't you remember
him, Harry? We had the like in our time."

"Well?" interrogated the Captain.

"Just after you left home," said Christabel, as shortly and clearly
as she could, "the children agreed to save their allowance to buy a
pig for Hannah Higgins. They showed great perseverance in their
object; and by the third week they had about seven shillings in this
jug, which, to my grief and shame, I let them keep in the glass
cupboard, not locked, but one door bolted, the other buttoned. On
Friday morning, the 11th, I know the cup was full of coppers and
silver, for I took it down to add something to it. On the next
Monday morning the money was gone, all but one farthing."

"Can you guess who took it?"

"I should prefer saying nothing till you have examined the children
and servants for yourself."

"Right!" said the Captain. "Very well.--I am sorry to treat you to a
court-martial, John, but I must hold one after tea."

Christabel pitied the children for having to speak before this
formidable uncle; but there could be no help for it, since no other
sitting-room was habitable, and there were torrents of rain out-of-

There was just time to show the glass cupboard, and the shelf where
Toby had stood, and to return to the dining-room, before the children
began to stream in and make their greetings to their uncle, Susan
with George in one hand, and her plate of bakings in the other. Very
fancy bread indeed it was! as Uncle John said. The edge of Purday's
hat had been quite baked off, and one of his arms was gone; he was
black in the wrong places, and was altogether rather an
uncomfortable-looking object. David's brood of rabbits were much
more successful, though the ears of many had fallen off. Uncle John
was very much diverted, and took his full share of admiring and
tasting the various performances. On the whole, the meal went off
much better than Christabel had feared it would. She had really
broken the children of many of the habits with which they used to
make themselves disagreeable; there was no putting of spoons into
each other's cups, nor reaching out with buttery fingers; lips were
wiped, and people sat still upon their chairs, even if they fidgeted
and sighed; and there was only one slop made all tea-time, and that
was by Johnnie, and not a very bad one. Indeed, it might be hoped
that Mr. Merrifield did not see it, for he was talking to Sam about
the change of footpath that Mr. Greville was making. There was
indeed no fun, but it might be doubted whether Papa would have been
in a mood for fun even had his brother not been there; and Miss
Fosbrook was rather glad there was nothing to make the children
forgetful of propriety.

As soon as Mary had carried off the tea-things and wiped the table,
Uncle John put himself as much out of the way as he could behind the
newspaper in the recess of the window; and Miss Fosbrook would have
gone to the school-room, but Captain Merrifield begged her to stay.

"I hear," he said, "that a very unpleasant thing has taken place in
my absence, and I wish to learn all that I can about it, that the
guilty person may be brought to light, and the innocent cleared from
any suspicion."

The children looked at one another, wondering how he had heard, or
whether Miss Fosbrook had told him; but this was soon answered by his
calling out, "David! come here, and tell me what you meant by this

David walked stoutly to his father's knee, nothing daunted, though
his brothers muttered behind him, "So he wrote!" "Little sneak!" and
"He knew no better!" Not that it was wrong to lay the case before
his father; but boys had usually rather suffer injustice than make an

"Why did you write this letter, David?" said his father.

"Because I want my pence for the pig."

"Tell me how you lost them?"

"Bess took them!"

Elizabeth sprung up, crimson, and with tears in her eyes, and Sam and
Susan were both bursting out into an angry "No, no!" but their father
made a sign to all to keep still; and they obeyed, though each of the
elder ones took hold of a hand of their sister and squeezed it hard.

"Did you see her take them?" asked the Captain.


"Then why do you say she did? I don't want to frighten you, David; I
only want to hear why you think she did so."

David was getting alarmed now, and his childish memory better
retained the impression than what had produced it. He hung down his
head, scraped one foot, and finding that he must answer, mumbled out
at last, "Nurse said it, and Hal."

"Henry, come here. Did you accuse your sister to David?"

"No!" burst out Henry at once; but there was a rounding of everyone's
mouth to cry out Oh! and he quickly added, in a hasty scared way, "At
least, when Davie came bothering me, I said he had better ask Betty,
because she had been prying about, and meddling with the baby-house.
I never meant that she had done it; but Davie is such a little jack-

"Did you see her meddle with the baby-house!"

"She said that herself," muttered Henry.

"Yes, Papa," said Elizabeth, starting forward, "I did find the doors
of the baby-house open, and shut them up, but I never touched
anything in it! Sam and Susie know I would not, and that I would not
tell a story now, though I once did, you know, Papa!"

Captain Merrifield still kept his grave set face, and only asked,
"When did you find the doors open?"

"On Friday, Papa--Friday week--St. Barnabas' Day--just after dinner."

"Was no one with you?"

"No, Papa."

"You came up-stairs first?"

"Yes; I wanted my pencil before--" and she stopped short.

"Before what?"

"Before Miss Fosbrook went in to speak to Hal," said Elizabeth,
getting red all over.

"Hal had been dining in the school-room," said Miss Fosbrook, "on
account of a little bit of disobedience."

Captain Merrifield looked keenly at Henry, who tried to return the
look, but shuffled uncomfortably under it.

"Then Hal had been dining in the school-room? Was he there when you
came in?"


"Were the doors open when you were dining there, Henry?"


"You are sure that you did not meddle with them?"

"I do not know why I should," said Henry, hastily and confusedly.
"It is only the girls and the babies that have things there--and--and
Miss Fosbrook herself had been at the cupboard in the morning; why
shouldn't she have left it undone herself, and the doors got open?"

"No, no!" cried Susan; "if they aren't fastened they always burst
open directly; and we never could have been in the room half the
morning without noticing them!"

"Then you are certain that they were closed when you went down to

Everyone was positive that the great glass doors flying out must have
made themselves observed in that room full of children, especially as
Susan remembered that she had been making a desk of the sloping part
under them.

"Does anyone remember how long it was between Hal's leaving the room
and Bessie's coming up?"

"I don't know when he went out," said all those who had been in the
dining-room; but there spoke up a voice, quite proud of having
something to tell among the others--"I saw Hal go out, and Bessie
come up directly."

"You, Johnnie! How was that?"

"Miss Fosbrook made me dine in the nursery, Papa, because Hal and I
had been riding on the new iron gate, to see if the telegraph would
come in while the others were at church; and then Hal ran away with
the Grevilles, and I couldn't get down till Sam came and helped me;
and so Miss Fosbrook made me dine in the nursery; and when I had
done, I went and sat upon the top of the garret stairs, to watch when
they came out from dinner, and ask if I might come down again."

"And what did you see, Johnnie?"

"First, I saw a wasp," said Johnnie.

"Never mind the wasp. Did you see when Henry went out?"

"I saw him come in first," said John, "and Miss Fosbrook order him up
and say she would send him his dinner, and come and speak to him
presently. So I watched to catch her when she was coming up to him,
and I saw Mary bring him up some mince veal, and the last bit of the
gooseberry pie; and then, very soon, he bolted right downstairs. I
didn't think he could have had time to eat the pie; and I was going
to see if there was a bit left, when I saw Bessie coming up, and I
whipped up again."

"Then nobody went into the room between Henry and Bessie?"

"No; there wasn't any time."

The whole room was quite silent. There was no sound but a quick
short breathing from the Captain: but he had rested his brow upon
his hand, and his face could not be seen. It was as if something
terrible had flashed upon him, and he was struggling with the first
shock, and striving to deal with it. If they had seen him in a
tempest, with his ship driving to pieces on a rock, he would not have
been thus shaken and dismayed. However, by the time he looked up
again, he had brought his face back to its resolute firmness, and he
spoke in a clear, stern, startling voice, that made all the children
quake, and some catch hold of each other's hands: "Henry! tell me
what you have done with your theft!"

Miserable Henry! He did not try to deny it any longer; but burst out
into a loud sobbing cry, "O Papa! Papa! I meant to have put it back
again! I couldn't help it!"

"Tell me what you have done with it!" repeated the Captain.

"I--I paid it to Farmer Grice; I was obliged; and I thought I could
have put it back again; and some of it was my own!"

"Fivepence-farthing!" cried David. "You thief, you!"

The child's fists were clenched, and his young face all one scowl of
passion, quite shocking to see. His father put him aside, and said,
"Hush, David! no names.--Now, Henry, what do you say to your sister
for your false accusation, which has thrown your own shame on her?"

"Oh, no, no, Papa; he never did accuse me!" cried Bessie, for the
first time bursting into tears. "He never said I did it; that was
only Davie's fancy; and it has made Susie and Sam so kind, I have not
minded it at all. Please don't mind that, Papa!"

"Come away, Henry!" said the Captain; "now that your sister has been
cleared, we had better have the rest out of the sight of these
tender-hearted little girls."

He stood up, and without a word, stroked down Elizabeth's smooth
brown hair, raised her face up by the chin, and kissed her forehead,
the only place free from tears; then he took Henry by the shoulder,
and marched him out of the room. Bessie could not stop herself from
crying, and was afraid of letting Uncle John see her; so she flew out
after them, and straight up-stairs to her own room. Miss Fosbrook
and Susan both longed to follow her, but they had missed this
opportunity; and the sound of voices outside showed so plainly that
the Captain and Henry were in the hall that they durst not open the

Everyone was appalled, and nothing was said for a few seconds. The
first to speak was Annie, in a low, terror-stricken whisper, yet with
some curiosity in it: "I wonder what Papa will do to him?"

"Give him nine dozen, I hope!" answered David through his small white
teeth, all clenched together with rage.

"For shame, Davie!" said Susan; "you should not wish anything so
dreadful for your brother."

"He has been so wicked! I wish it! I WILL wish it!" said David.

"Hush, David!" said Miss Fosbrook; "such things must not be said. I
will talk to you by and by."

"I am glad poor Bessie is cleared!" added Susan; "though I always
knew she could not have done it."

"To be sure--I knew it was Hal!"

"Sam! you did?--why didn't you tell?" cried Annie.

"I wasn't--to say--sure," said Sam; "and I couldn't go and get him
into a scrape. I thought he might tell himself, if he could ever
make up the money again!"

"Yes," said Susan; "he would have done that. He always fancied he
should get a sovereign from Colonel Carey."

"He talked till he thought so," said Sam.

"But what made you guess he had done so, Sam?" said Miss Fosbrook.
"I did suspect him myself, but I never felt justified in accusing him
of such a thing."

"I don't know! I saw he had been getting into a fix with those
Grevilles, and had been sold somehow. They said something, and got
out of my way directly, and I was sure they had done some mischief,
and left him to pay the cost."

"Did you ask him?" said Susan.

"What was the use? One never knows where to have him. He will eat
up his words as fast as he says them, with his AT LEAST, till he
doesn't know what he means. Nor I didn't want to know much of it."

"Still I can't think how you could let poor Bessie live under such a
cloud," said Christabel.

"You didn't believe it," said Sam, "nor anyone worth a snap of my
finger. Besides, if I had known, and had to tell, what a horrid
shame it would have been if the naval cadetship had been to be had
for him! I knew Bessie would have thought so too, and then he would
have been out of the way of the Grevilles, and would have got some
money to make it up."

"Then is there no chance of the cadetship now?"

"Oh, we should have heard of it long ago if there had been! So I
mind the coming out the less; but it's perfectly abominable to have
had all this row, and for Papa to be so cut up in this little short
time at home."

"I never saw him more grieved," said Mr. Merrifield. "He was hardly
more overcome when your mother was at the worst."

They started, for they had forgotten Uncle John, or they would never
have spoken so freely; but he now put down his newspaper, and looked
as if he meant to talk.

Susan ventured to say, "And indeed they had all been so very good
before. The pig made them so."

"A learned pig, I should think," said her uncle, laughing good-

"We were obliged to take care," said Susan, "or we got so many

Christabel, finding that Mr. Merrifield looked at her, helped out
Susan by explaining that various small delinquencies were visited
with fines, and that the desire to save for the pig had rendered the
children very careful.

"Indeed," she said, "I was thankful for the incentive, but I am
afraid that it was over-worked, and did harm in the end:" and she
glanced towards David.

"It is the way with secondary motives," was the answer.

Here Captain Merrifield came back alone; and his brother was the only
person who ventured to say, "Well?"

"I have sent him to his room," said the Captain. "It is a very bad
business, though of course he made excuses to himself."

The Captain then told them Henry's confession. He had been too much
hurried by the fear of being caught, to take out his own share of the
hoard, and had therefore emptied the whole cupful into his pocket-
handkerchief, tied it up, and run off with it, intending to separate
what was honestly his own. What that was he did not know, but his
boastful habits and want of accuracy had made his memory so careless,
that he fancied that a far larger proportion was his than really was,
and his purposes were in the strange medley that falls to the lot of
all self-deceivers, sometimes fancying he would only take what he had
a right to (whatever that might be), sometimes that he would borrow
what he wanted, and replace it when the sovereign should be given to
him, or that the Grevilles would make it up when they had their
month's allowance.

When he came to the farm Mr. Grice was resolved to take nothing less
than the whole sum that he had with him. Perhaps this was less for
the value of the turkey-cock than for the sake of giving the boys
such a lesson as to prevent them from ever molesting his poultry
again. At any rate, he was inexorable till the frightened Henry had
delivered up every farthing in his possession; and then, convinced
that no more was forthcoming, he relented so far as to restore the
gun, and promise to make no complaint to either of the fathers.

At first Henry lived on hopes of being able to restore the money
before the hoard should be examined, but Colonel Carey went away,
and, as might have been expected, left no present to his brother's
pupils. Still Henry had hopes of the Grevilles, and even when the
loss was discovered, hoped to restore it secretly, and make the whole
pass off as a joke; but the 1st of August came, Martin and Osmond
received their pocket-money, but laughed his entreaty to scorn,
telling him that he had shot the turkey-cock, not they. Since that
time, his only hope had been in the affair blowing over--as if a sin
ever DID blow over!

"One question I must ask, Miss Fosbrook," said the Captain, "though
after such a course of deceit it hardly makes it worse. Has he told
any direct falsehood?"

She paused, and recollected. "Yes, Sir," she said, "I am afraid he
did; he flatly told me that he had not touched the baby-house."

"I expected nothing else," said the Captain gravely. "What has
become of Bessie?"

"She ran up-stairs. May I go and call her?" said Susan.

"I will go myself," said her father.

He found Elizabeth in the school-room, all flushed and tear-stained
in the face; and he told her affectionately how much pleased he was
with her patience under this false accusation. Delight very nearly
set her off crying again, but she managed to say, "It was Miss
Fosbrook and Sam and Susie that made me patient, Papa; they were so
kind. And nobody would have believed it, if I wasn't always cross,
you know."

"Not cross now, my little woman," he said smiling.

"Oh! I said I never could be cross again, now Mamma is better; but
Miss Fosbrook says I shall sometimes feel so, and I do believe she is
right, for I was almost cross to Georgie to-day. But she says one
may FEEL cross, and not BE cross!"

He did not quite know all that his little girl was thinking of; but
he patted her fondly, and said, "Yes, there is a great deal to be
thankful for, my dear; and I shall trust to you elder ones to give
your Mamma no trouble while I am afloat."

"I will try," said Bessie. "And please, Papa, would you tell Nurse
about it? She doesn't half believe us, and she is so tiresome about
Miss Fosbrook!"

"Tiresome! what do you mean?"

"She always thinks what she does is wrong, and she puts nonsense into
Johnnie's head, and talks about favourites. Mary told Susan it was

The Captain spoke pretty strongly to Nurse Freeman that evening, but
it is doubtful if she were the better for it. She was a very good
woman in most things, but she could not bear that the children should
be under anyone but herself; and just as Henry lost the truth by
inaccuracy, she lost it by prejudice.

Miss Fosbrook was glad to get away from the dining-room, where it was
rather awful to sit without her work and be talked to by Mr.
Merrifield, even though she liked him much better than she had

When David came to bed, she sat by him and talked to him about his
angry unforgiving spirit. She could not but think he was in a
fearful temper, and she tried hard to make him sorry for his brother,
instead of thirsting to see the disappointment visited on him; but
David could not see what she meant. Wicked people ought to be
punished; it was wicked to steal and tell stories, and he hoped Henry
would be punished, so as he would never forget it, for hindering poor
Hannah from getting her pig.

He would not understand Henry's predicament; he was only angry,
bitterly angry, and watching for vengeance. Miss Fosbrook could not
reason or persuade him out of it, nor make him see that he could
hardly say his prayers in such a mood. Indeed, he would rather have
gone without his prayers than have ceased to hope for Henry's

Perhaps in this there was sense of justice and indignation against
wrong doing, as well as personal resentment. Miss Fosbrook tried to
think so, and left him, but not without praying for him, that a
Christian temper of forgiveness might be sent upon him.

All the others were subdued and awe-struck. It was not yet known
what was to happen to Henry; but there was a notion that it would be
very terrible indeed, and that Uncle John would be sure to make it
worse; and they wished Miss Fosbrook good-night with very sad faces.


Nothing had as yet befallen Henry, for he came down to breakfast in
the morning; but his father did not greet him, and spoke no word to
him all the time they were in the room together. The children felt
that this was indeed terrific. Such a thing had never befallen any
of them before. They would much rather have been whipped; and even
David's heart sank.

Something, however, was soon said that put all else out of his
sisters' minds. The Captain turned to them with his merry smile,
saying, "Pray what would Miss Susie and Miss Bessie say to coming up
to London with me to see Mamma?"

The two girls bounded upon their chairs; Susan's eyes grew round, and
Bessie's long; the one said, "O Papa!" and the other, "Oh, thank
you!" and they looked so overwhelmed with ecstasy, and all the three
elders laughed.

"Then you will behave discreetly, young women?"

"I'll try," said Susan; "and Bessie always does. Oh, thank you,

"Grandmamma should be thanked; she asked me to bring a child or two,
to be with Mamma when I go down to Portsmouth. We had thought of
Susan; but I think Betty deserves some amends for what she has

"Oh yes, Papa! thank you!" cried Susan, Sam, and David, from their
hearts; John and Annie because the others did so.

"Then you won't kick her out if she shares your berth, Sue?"

"Oh, I am so glad, Papa! It is so nice to go together."

"Then, Miss Fosbrook, will you be kind enough to rig them out? I
must drive into Southminster at ten o'clock; and if you would be so
good as to see them smartened up for London there, I should be much
obliged to you."

The mere drive to the country town was a great event in itself, even
without the almost incredible wonder that it was to lead to; and the
delights of which Ida and Miss Fosbrook had told them in London went
so wildly careering through the little girls' brains, that they
hardly knew what they said or did, as they danced about the house,
and ran up-stairs to get ready, long before ten o'clock.

Mr. Carey had been informed that his pupils would not come to him
during the few days of their father's stay; and Sam begged to ride in
on his pony by the side of the carriage; but he was desired to fetch
his books, and call Henry, as his uncle wished to give them both an
examination. Was this the beginning of captivity to Uncle John?
David and Johnnie were quite angry. They considered it highly proper
that Hal should be shut up with Uncle John, but they thought it very
hard that Sam should be so used too; and Sam himself looked very
round-backed, reluctant, and miserable, partly at the task, partly at
being deprived of the sight of his father for several hours of one of
those few precious days.

Miss Fosbrook wished Susan to have sat on the front seat of the old
phaeton with her father; but he would not consent to this, and
putting the two little girls together behind, handed the governess to
the place of honour beside him, where she felt rather shy, in spite
of his bright easy manner.

"I am afraid," he said, after having flourished his whip merrily at
Johnnie, Annie, and Davie, who were holding open the iron gate, "that
you have had a tough job with those youngsters! We never meant you
to have been left so long to their mercy."

"I know--I know; I only wish I could have done better."

"You have done wonders. My brother hardly knows where he is--never
saw those children so mannerly."

Miss Fosbrook could not show how delighted she was.

"I could hardly have ventured on taking those two girls to town
unless you had broken them in a little. I would say nothing last
night till I had watched Susan; for my mother is particular, and if
my wife was to be always worrying herself about their manners, they
had better be at home."

"Indeed, I think you may quite trust to their behaving well. Those
two and Sam are so thoroughly trustworthy, that I had no real
difficulty till this unhappy business."

The Captain wanted to talk this over with her, and hear her account
of it once more. She gave it fully, thinking he ought to know
exactly how his children had acted in the matter, and wishing to
explain where she thought she had made mistakes. When she had
finished, he said, "Thank you," and considered a little while; then
said, "A thing like this brings out a great deal of character; and a
new eye sometimes sees more what is in a child than those that bred
him up."

"It has been a touchstone, indeed," she answered.

"Poor Hal!" he said sadly; then resumed, "I've said nothing of it yet
to the boys--but Admiral Penrose has promised to let me take out one
with me. I had thought most of Hal; he seemed to me a smarter
fellow, more likely to make his way than his brother; but this makes
me doubt whether there can be stuff enough in him. I might not be
able to look after him, nor do I know what his messmates may be; and
I should not choose to risk it, except with a boy I could thoroughly

"Those young Grevilles seem to me Hal's bane and temptation."

"Ay, ay; but if a boy is of the sort, he'll find someone to be his
bane, wherever he goes. I'll have no more of the Grevilles though.
If he should not go with me, my brother John would take him into his
house, and keep a sharp look out after him. Just tell me, if you
have no objection, how the boy strikes you. Most people think him
the most taking of the lot."

"So he is," said Christabel thoughtfully; "he has more ease and
readiness, and he is affectionate and warm-hearted; but then he is a
great talker, and fond of boasting."

"Exactly. I told him that was the very way he learnt falsehood."

"I am afraid, too," she was obliged to add, "that his resolutions run
away in talk. He has not much perseverance; and he is easily led."

"Well, I believe you are right; but then what's to be done? I can
hardly afford to lose this chance; but Sam was always backward; and I
doubt his even caring to go to sea."

"Oh! Captain Merrifield!"

"What! has he given you reason to think that he does?" She told him
how she had found Sam struggling with his longing for the sea and his
father; and how patiently the boy had resigned himself to see his
brother put before him, and himself condemned for being too dull and

"Did I say so? I suppose he had put me past my patience with
blundering over his lessons. I never meant to make any decision; but
I did not think he wished it."

"He said it had been his desire from the time he could remember,
especially when he felt the want of you during your last voyage."

"Very odd; how reserved some boys are! I declare I was vexed that it
had gone out of his head; though I thought it might be for the best.
You know I was not born to this place. I never dreamt of it till my
poor brother Sam's little boy went off in a fever six years ago, and
we had to settle down here. Before that, we meant my eldest to
follow my own profession; but when he seemed to take to the soil so
kindly, I thought, after all, he might make the happier squire for
never having learnt the smell of salt water, nor the spirit of
enterprise; but if it were done already, the first choice is due to
him. You are sure?"

"Ask the girls."

He leant back and shouted out the question, "Sue! do you know whether
Sam wishes to go to sea?"

"There's nothing he ever wished so much," was the answer.

"Then why didn't he say so?"

"Because he thought it would be no use," screamed Susan back.

"No use! why?"

"Because Hal says Admiral Penrose promised him. O Papa! are you
going to take Sam?"

"Oh dear! we can't get on without him!" sighed Elizabeth.

"Are you sure he would like it?" said her father. "I thought he
never cared to hear of the sea."

"He can't bear to talk of it, because it makes him so sorry," said

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